Tom left Dr. Connors house with his whole body coursing with nervous energy. His mind was racing with the implications of his discovery, and he was experiencing a dizzying array of emotions. But there was something more. He was feeling incredibly strong proddings arising from his subconscious mind. First, one desire he understood too well was that he was ravenously hungry. So he went and bought an extra large pizza and then ate the whole thing in his car. His second urge was a feeling that he didn't remember experiencing before; he felt a tremendously strong urge to exercise. Driving past some teenagers at a skate park, he went to a sporting goods store and bought himself a really cool long board. Joining up with the other skaters at the park, soon he was basking in all of his former joys when he used to snowboard.
But there was something different; a sensibility that was unlike any he had ever experienced - he was good. He seemed to be incredibly agile, quick and strong. Soon he was doing Indy nose-bones and totally nailing a sweet 360º shove-it-to-boneless. He kept working the half pipe long after the rest of the skaters had left. When he was alone, he started pushing himself to do moves that should have been physically impossible for a human. Tom continued working out his wiggles that he felt in all of his limbs. He pushed and he pushed until he felt better than he had in a long time. Everything was starting to become very clear and crystallizing in his mind. Suddenly he was running to his car and driving to his old neighbourhood.
It was time for round two.
He walked the dark streets, staring into the malevolent faces of those who chose to haunt the lonely, deserted alleys and shadows, to prey on the weak and degenerate. They stared back at him like trapped vermin, with a ferocious bravado, thinly masking the fear and mistrust they suffered for all of their fellow creatures. Eventually he recognized a thug he knew to be a drug dealer. Walking swiftly up to him, he grabbed him by the front of the shirt and shoved him into the brick wall behind him. "I'm looking for Cisco. You seen him?" Tom hissed.
"Hey get off me man. You crazy. Whoa, whoa, whoa." Tom lifted him up off the ground.
One of his enforcers came up from behind Tom and tried to stab him. Tom without looking around, dodged the blow and windmill kicked the enforcer across the face. All without letting go of the dealer. "Okay, okay, okay. Cisco don't work this neighbourhood no more. You'll find him if you go up ten blocks." Tom dropped him and he fell on his backside. As he walked away, the dealer yelled after him, "Man, you dead. You hear me, fool? I've seen your face."
Tom walked along swiftly, then paused as he passed a little convenience store, owned by a Mexican family. Among the other Mexican paraphernalia, Tom stopped to stare at a Nacho Libre mask on display. 'There's something to be said for anonymity,' he thought as he bought it.
As he was paying for his mask, he happened to look in the window of a nearby sporting goods store that carried jerseys and sports memorabilia for the University of Richmond.
"Well, what do you know? The 'Richmond Spiders,'" Tom said to himself, as he admired the U of R cycling team jersey and a red hoodie, both emblazoned with their blue spider logo. "Seems appropriate."
Cisco was sitting in his Escalade along with two of his soldiers, waiting for a business phone call. He didn't see anyone approach his vehicle, but the back door opened and he heard a decrescendo scream come from his goon that had been sitting behind him. Then something or someone that moved with an unnaturally rapid speed punched his driver several times in the face, knocking him out. He grimaced, as he felt the familiar pressure of a gun barrel being pressed against his head. "Go ahead, scream. There's no one here to take mercy on you." a voice said vehemently from behind.
Cisco swallowed. "Hey, what do you want?"
"I want Prince. Where can I find him?"
"He is where he always is. At the Eight Ball Bar, where our hangout's at. But you'll never get in there. We got tight security, you know?."
"We'll soon see who's got a plan and who's dead. One more thing, and tell me the truth, or tomorrow your boy here will be sponging your brains off the dashboard. Who shot the Miller kid, and his grandfather? Was it you?"
Sweat beaded down Cisco's face. "Man, I don't know who did that, I swear!"
"Ahh!" Tom shouted in frustration, and slammed the short pipe he was holding like a gun across the back of Cisco's head.
Prince and some of his guys were sitting around a table in their headquarters, counting unmarked bills and surrounded by guns. They were interrupted by some banging from the second floor, followed by the sounds of furniture being knocked over. Their eyes followed the sound and they all paused what they were doing and looked up. "Someone's upstairs. You two, check it out." Prince pointed at two guys and they pulled out their weapons and went to investigate. As they went up to the second floor, they switched on the lights and looked around. Entering the room, they could see that one of the windows had been smashed open. They looked at each other nervously, and cautiously continued looking around the abandoned furniture. They were suddenly greeted by darkness as the light bulbs shorted and exploded. The one guy, fumbled for his cell phone, and touching a button, held the faint light up to see in front of him. His eyes strained to make sense of the shapes before him through the diffused light. As he held the light up to eye level, his heart leaped into his throat as a menacing figure wearing a Mexican wrestling mask materialized out of the darkness. He had time to scream in terror before he was silenced.
Below, Prince asked, "What the hell is going on up there?"
Another goon responded, "They're probably being scared by some pigeons." They weren't left to speculate for long. A human blur came rolling down the stairs on a long board and moved towards them at startling speed. Prince and his men opened fire, exploding windows, mirrors and liquor bottles around the room in their vain attempt to defend themselves. With lightning speed, this terrifying figure, costumed in the ironically comical mask of a luchador, went around the room incapacitating each of Prince's soldiers, one by one with blows from the skateboard. Finally, Tom tackled Prince, pinning him to the ground, with an iron grip around his throat. "Why did you kill Latrell Miller?" he demanded. Prince struggled to make a sound; a response, a cry for help, to beg for mercy, but the tenaciously powerful hold on his trachea would not permit even a squeak to escape his lips.
Holding Prince in his death-like grip, Tom could feel with each finger the vertebrae in his victim's neck starting to crack, as his pitiful life began to ebb away. When he stared into Prince's eyes, he saw the reflection of his own malignity, like a surrendering to the inevitable. Then, a memory started to stir in Tom's brute mind. "This wasn't justice." April's voice said in his head. "Latrell wanted justice."
"Justice," Tom said aloud, his grip loosening as he grappled to recall the concept of justice, like someone struggling to remember a dream too long after they've woken up. The faint outlines were there, but his reasoning was fighting with the question: 'What is justice?' Finally the pieces started to slowly fit together, as Prince began to inch away from his grasp. Acting reflexively, Tom punched the gangster across the jaw, rendering him unconscious.
Pulling out his camera, Tom started snapping pictures of their clubhouse. Guns, drugs, laundered money, anything that could result in criminal charges. Then he set the camera up on auto timer and took photos of himself dressed as a Mexican Wrestler and UR Spiders fan in various poses pretending to break up the scene. Calling 911 from one of the gangster's phones, he called in a fire, then proceeded to set it and extinguish it rather quickly. He then clambered up to the top of the buildings across the street to document the arrests.
The next day, Tom was in the lab with Dr. Connors, as they ran computer simulations creating a lizard hybrid with a rat that was missing a limb. When they entered in the decay rate algorithm, after a few slight adjustments in their formula, they were able to simulate successfully a rat that regenerates its limbs. Then next step was to create the serum and actually inject a live host rat with a retrovirus to allow it to regenerate. "Now we will see if our little chimera can survive the introduction of another species' DNA." Connors looked over at Tom. "The suspense is killing me."
"This is the most exciting thing I've ever done." Tom said.
That evening Tom and Gwen were working late, going over calculations for different possibilities for DNA traits to pass on when creating their hybrids. Tom's phone buzzed. He glanced at it and ignored it. He could see it was M.J. His phone buzzed again. "Aren't you going to answer that?" asked Gwen.
Tom sighed and picked up his phone. "Hello, pumpkin. I'm sorry but you've caught me in the middle of something."
M.J. said on the other side, "I was just calling to make sure you didn't forget our plans for tomorrow night. And to hear the sound of your voice."
"Yes, I won't be able to make it, I'm afraid."
"Oh, that's too bad. What am I supposed to tell my friends as to why you can't come?"
"You'll think of something I'm sure. And I should tell you that I don't believe I'll be able to make any of our other engagements in the foreseeable future. My work has just become all consuming, and it demands my undivided attention."
"Look I'm sorry, pumpkin, but if we're being honest with ourselves this thing lasted longer than probably either of us anticipated. And if it makes you feel any better, I really did enjoy our time together. Anyway, I sincerely wish you all the best and a cheery adieu." said Tom hanging up.
Gwen stared at him. "Did you just break up with someone?" Tom nodded. "Man what has gotten into you lately? You're so aggressive."
"I'm just thinking more clearly, like I've had a revelation."
"Well how did she take it? Was she mad?"
"Positively livid I should think. She's very prone to rage, that one."
"Kind of a dick-move, don't you think; breaking up with her over the phone like that?"
"Look, I thought we had an understanding. I don't judge you, and you don't judge me over our personal lives," Tom said, without looking up from his microscope.
"Speaking of personal lives, I was going to invite you to my family's house for dinner. My dad really wants to meet you."
"Because he wants to meet my brilliant science partner who's going to help his favourite daughter change the face of medicine. Dinner's at eight."
"Can't wait." Tom said, smiling.
Something had been weighing upon Tom's mind. How deep did the corruption in law enforcement go? Could he hope for justice for Latrell if he simply left the matter in the hands of the police? He had the photos, which he had anonymously emailed to the authorities, but he debated in his mind taking it a step further. Before he met Gwen to go to her parent's house, he passed by the office of the Daily Bugle, a relatively small independent news outlet in the city. He informed the receptionist that he had some photos that would interest the editor and would be willing to sell them along with the story. He was instructed to wait. As he waited, there was activity all around him as people of all ages and occupations rushed around, calling and yelling orders.
As Tom waited, growing bored, his attention eventually turned to a young woman who was also sitting in the waiting area. She was fashionably dressed, and looked very comfortable in her surroundings, projecting an image of being an important part of the operation. She had long brown hair, just past her shoulders, wore big hoop earrings and a thin leather jacket. As Tom stared unabashedly at her captivating face, he was reminded of the famous quotation by Edgar Allen Poe's character Francis Bacon: "There is no exquisite beauty, without some strangeness in it's proportions." She may not have been considered a classical beauty, with her very large eyes and a full, large mouth, but everything about her was coloured with a lovely sweetness.
"Are you a reporter?" Tom asked.
"Freelance photojournalist," she said, discreetly flipping through photos on her tablet, but turned away slightly so that he couldn't see them.
"I'd like to be a journalist one day. Today I'm just trying to see if they'll buy some photos of mine. And ideally, I'd love to write the story. But I guess we'll see."
"I wouldn't get my hopes up," she said distractedly.
"Could I show you a couple of photos and get your professional opinion?"
She looked up at him disinterestedly. "I suppose." Tom opened his iPad and showed her the photos he had taken. At first she was critical of some of the angles, and lighting, not knowing that Tom had posed the pictures and taken them with a self-timer. Slowly she started taking note of the photos' content. "How did you get these?" She looked at him with a wry smile.
"Long story. Anyway, I'd love to have some way to keep in touch with you, maybe we could exchange professional courtesies. Like if I need photo advice or, who knows maybe I could even help you with something. It never hurts to have connections, right?"
Carmen looked at him warily but amused. Finally she shrugged. "Sure, why not? Here's my email. But please use it very discreetly." Excellent, thought Tom.
The receptionist called, "Miss Carmen Bolkonsky? Mr. Jameson will see you now."
Carmen got up to leave, and on her way out, stopped and turned around. "Here's a little professional advice. If you're going to be taking crime photos like that, you might want to consider using an alias, to protect you and your loved ones." She lightly tapped the doorframe and walked out.
After Carmen and what seemed like a hundred other people were called into the Editor's office, Tom was called in. "J.J. Jameson?" he asked.
"Gimme, gimme. You got something for me or what? Come on, I don't have all day," Jameson said. He grabbed the tablet and scanned the photos. "How did you get these?"
"I was trying to put together a photo-documentary on New York street crime," Tom lied, "when I stumbled across this. Can you use it for a story? Would I be able to write it?"
"I'll tell you what, kid, and this is the only offer you're gonna get, take it or leave it. There's no way in hell you're writing the story. And we're going to buy these pictures from you for a price that you will undoubtedly find to be niggardly and unacceptable. But what you are also receiving is an open door to bring more photos like this. Do we have a deal?"
"Yes sir," Tom said, shaking his hand.
"Fine. Now get out of my office. Betty!" he yelled for his secretary and a very pretty girl with dark hair poked her head into the office. "Get me copy on the phone!"
Outside Jameson's office, Tom began talking to the secretary. "What's your name?" she asked.
"Peter. Peter Parker," Tom said, just having thought of a sobriquet. "And what's yours?"
"Oh, everyone around here calls me Betty."
"Well, Betty. I hope I'll be seeing you again very soon."
That night, Tom was enjoying a lovely meal with Gwen's parents, Kim and Colonel George Stacy. It was plain to see that Gwen's parents were extremely proud of their academically gifted daughter, and supported her in whatever pursuit she put her mind to taking on. They asked a variety of questions concerning their studies and their work at Oscorp while displaying great interest, which made up for their shortfalls in comprehension.
As they were serving the coffee, Gwen's mom mentioned the breaking news story she had just seen on TV before they had served dinner. "There's these photos of a masked vigilante who took down this criminal street gang," she said. "The pictures are incredible."
'That was quick,' thought Tom.
"What is happening to this city?" interjected Gwen's father. "Every nut bar thinks he has the right to take the law into his own hands. Well this isn't Mogadishu, and last I checked, we have a police force to handle these things."
"Maybe he's just trying to help." Tom found himself alone with six eyes staring back at him questioningly. He'd better play it cool. "I mean, it's probably just a guy who knew some things and wanted to offer assistance to the police."
"Yeah, but that's what I'm saying. If a citizen knows something that will help the community, he is duty bound to go the official authorities in charge and share that information. Taking the law into his own hands just gets innocent people killed." The colonel seemed like he was only getting warmed up.
Tom opened his mouth to say something, but he felt Gwen's hand on his leg. "Mom, can I give you a hand bringing in the dessert plates?" she asked, and gave Tom a look.
Tom understood. "But you're right. We need to respect the uniform, at all levels of society." George seemed to distracted by his own thoughts to acknowledge, and from behind him Gwen mouthed 'Very diplomatic.'
George was about to launch into another tirade. His wife interrupted, "Honey, at least wait to carry on your moralizing until after we've had our cake."
That night, the company legal counsel came to Dr. Julian Connors' office. "Irrfan Khan, how good of you to come," Connors said warmly. "Now what is this pressing matter that you just had to speak to me about."
"Well, I'll get right to it," said Khan. "Norman Osborne is suing us."
Connors waved dismissively with his hand. "Then we'll countersue if we have to. Trust me, my friend, this is of no great concern."
"No Julian, it is. He's threatening a legal battle on many fronts and has made alliances with several of our competitors who are joining in with him. He has sufficient evidence that he could at least convince a judge to put production of all of our most lucrative products on hold, as well as our research laboratories. The biggest problem, is that the military will not look kindly on putting a moratorium on the products that we make for them, and will put incredible pressure on us to cut a deal with Osborne."
"You think that he wants to be reinstated as CEO?"
"Yes, and he has inflammatory information that his lawyers can use to shut us down while making him look like an innocent victim of an evil corporation."
"I know, but I'm just laying out the strategy of the other side. We need to get out in front of this and quickly, or we will be shut down as they review and probe the company, division by division."
Connors tapped his fingers with latent rage after Khan had left his office. He had overcome many enemies and opponents to get to his position, but quite possibly Norman Osborne loomed foremost. And here, he was so close to curing himself of his own disability! He looked down at his tragic stump where his arm used to be, and deliberated. More than anything else, Connors desired to be respected and admired as a truly great scientist. He had dreamed since his youth that history would immortalize him and lift him to the level of scientific visionaries who had changed the world, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo or Albert Einstein. As a biologist and a physician, he aspired to be revered and at the same time loved as had been Louis Pasteur and Alexander Fleming for discoveries that had changed the course of world history and thus potentially save the lives of millions.
He could not and he would not allow a greedy hobgoblin such as Norman Osborne to threaten his research. He had to act before his greatest discovery was shut down and misappropriated from him. At once, he went down to the lab to check on Freddie, the lab test rat who had been infused with lizard DNA. He was in a fitful state of slumber, but all vital signs were positive. Connors looked on Freddie with great affection. "My most recent scientific child, my most extraordinary chimera. You have saved me." And with that, Connors went over to the vials containing the lizard DNA in the retrovirus and filling a syringe, he announced to the ages, "Julian, your rendezvous with destiny has finally arrived."