The Chimera Within

Chapter 9

Tom once again found himself at the offices of the Daily Bugle with photos and a story. This time, he wanted to sell the photos to see if their investigative reporters could get some answers. He made the pleasant re-acquaintance with Betty, the pretty receptionist, who, smilingly, directed him to wait, as Mr. Jameson would see him in a minute.

Tom took his seat beside a tough, streetwise looking guy in a leather jacket. The guy eyed Tom with squinted eyes, and then held out his hand to shake. "Howya doin? Name's Eddie Brock. You got some photos to sell?" He gestured towards Tom's camera, while balancing a toothpick in his mouth.

"Um, maybe." Tom wasn't really in the mood for conversation.

"Alright! A would be photojournalist, eh? Look, kid I'm going to make you the deal of a lifetime. I also got some photos, but I'm protecting a cover, see? So how's you like to make a trade? I'll bet you mine are juicier than yours. What you got? Pictures of Britney Spears in her bathrobe?"

"Not exactly…" Tom started to say, when Brock started showing him his photos. 'Holy crap!' he thought, as he found himself staring at photos of the murder of the congressman, and his fight with the assailant. Tom grabbed the tablet and flipped through all of them. "Is this all you have?" he demanded.

"All I have?" Brock asked, perplexed. "I'd say that that's plenty."

"But you don't have any more of the guy dressed as the Mexican Wrestler?"

"Naw, once he KO'd the guy in black, I hightailed it out of there. Why you ask?"

"Well, I'm afraid I won't be able to trade with you," and Tom showed him his photos.

"Hell's bells! You were at the same place as me."

"But I didn't get my camera out until most of the action was over," Tom said, truthfully.

"Well, look here, pal. My cover identity is worth protecting to me, see? It's my bread and butter. So how's you just add my photos to yours's and sell them all together, see? That way, I'm protected and you owes me a favour. Whatya say?"

"Okay," said Tom, thinking that it did actually fill out his own photo story.

And with that, Eddie Brock passed over his photos and left. Tom was soon called into J.J. Jameson's office. "Who the hell are you?" Jameson yelled, as his standard greeting.

"More photos sir, of the crime fighter dressed as the Mexican Wrestler," said Tom, meekly.

"Great. Great." He grabbed the phone. "Betty! Get me copy on the line! I got it. Masked vigilante, known as The Mexican… No, no, that's too racially inflammatory. Known as the Luchador, gets into firefight in the middle of Manhattan street. Three victims, including well-known Congressman Dr. Miles Warren murdered. That's a great headline. We'll go from there."

"But sir, that makes it sound like the Luchador murdered the Congressman. You're not going to do any reporting into the identity of the man who was the attacker?"

"What are you still doing here? Since you stuck around, I'll give you some free advice. Mystery men who look like everyone else don't keep people up at night. But a freak roaming the streets, leaving a wake of collateral damage, that'll sell newspapers. Now get the hell out of here. Betty! Get in here!"

Tom was unceremoniously ushered out of the office. For the moment, he was at a loss as to what to do. He went to a bar and ordered a whisky. His shoulder was still bleeding a little and he wanted to forget his worries and unanswered questions. His aimlessly played with his phone. Then he came across Carmen's number. 'She might have an interesting perspective,' he thought, dialling. She picked up. "Hello, Carmen? This is Peter Parker. I mean, I think I introduced myself as Tom Jones, just before you told me to use a nom de plume. Could I trouble you for a bit of advice?"

"Well I'm up to my eyeballs in Irrawaddy dolphin corpses. But I guess I can spare you maybe, two minutes. What's up?" Tom informed her of his dilemma. "And you just handed over the photos without inquiring into his identity or at least following up with the police investigation? Come on, Jones, I thought even you were better than that. What do your journalistic instincts tell you?"

"That there's something very strange at work here. Probably a cover up."

"Uh yeah. Hello! Random former military assassins don't use high-powered rifles to steal wallets of influential congressman. You didn't stick around to see what the detective assigned the case had to say?"

"No, I had to leave. But I can look into that."

"Yeah, you'd better. Because between the press, the District Attorney and the Federal Government, this thing is going to be spun so that the public won't ask any more questions. Be a reporter. Ask the tough questions that the establishment don't want to answer. They're just protecting their own asses and are not looking out for anyone else's interests, no matter how much they say that they're trying to prevent 'panic.'"

"Thanks. I have a few clues to start with."

"I have a detective that owes me a favour. I'll text you his info. Good luck."

Tom was able to get a hold of the detective, a certain Detective Leary, but it turned out to be a dead end. The police knew little more than Tom. The mystery assassin managed to escape shortly after he was cuffed and thrown into the back of a squad car. Thus the cops never ran his prints, or never even got a photo to run through face recognition. Tom, on the other hand, did have a clear picture of his face. He also had a photo of a small insignia on his jacket. The small logo had a cartoon skull with the slogan 'Despite what your momma told you, violence does solve problems.' He called up his old friend Beaker. It was time to challenge their hacking skills by attempting to access the FBI database. They managed to successfully do so and identified Tom's assailant as Frank Castle, a former U.S. Army Delta Force operator. When they cross-referenced the insignia and M.O. of the shooting, they were able to find one other hit; an assassin matching his description had taken out an investigative journalist, and tried to disguise it as a robbery. Tom gulped. That killing had been attributed to an enigmatic gun-for-hire known as The Punisher, and it seemed that he had leaked that little information himself to embellish his burgeoning reputation.

"Okay," said Tom, drawing the conclusions for himself, "Obviously somebody with serious juice hired this Frank Castle to take out the Congressman. But who hired him?" Tom had run out of leads, and exhaustion was starting to catch up with him. He returned to his dorm room and flipped on the TV. He was about to drift of to sleep when the news caught his attention. Connors was doing a press conference in France, dutifully flanked by Iraklis and Gwen. To much ceremony, he was announcing an Oscorp joint charity with the Methuselah foundation to offer regenerated organs to people without insurance. "I am informed that the average cost of a heart transplant in the United States costs somewhere in the neighbourhood of $700,000." Connors said. "How many more can live if we can offer regenerated organs to everyone, at a paltry fraction of this price? How many of your loved ones would survive? How many amputees, like myself, could restore themselves for a long and happy life? How long could you live?" He seemed to be asking the viewer.

Tom's ears were buzzing. He was so tired. The whole day had been a roller coaster of seeming moves and countermoves. Part of him was very contented to hear of Connors' humanitarian work. Tom was fully in agreement with sharing the technology. Mariah was just one of millions that could benefit from their research, so why shouldn't all benefit? He fell asleep, thinking that the day's events might just protect his precious heart valves and his gift of life for Mariah, his love, after all.

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