By AlonzoMosleyFBI <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: June 2008
I looked down at the keycard the old guy had just handed me. On one side was a magnetic strip running the length of the card. On the other side was printed, in big block lettering, "THUG #6".
"What is this crap?" I asked him.
The two other guys I'd been teamed up with both turned to look at me. The old guy, who had introduced himself as Nigel St. John, considered me for a moment, one eyebrow raised.
"Exactly which crap are you referring to?" he finally asked.
I held the card up to him. "My name is Joseph Drayton, not THUG #6."
He smiled, amused at my annoyance. "We have not replaced your name, Mr. Drayton. THUG #6 is a title: Temporarily Hired Underworld Goon."
I stared at him in stunned silence.
"You're a hired goon, Mr. Drayton," he explained. "Don't start putting on airs."
It was all I could to keep from decking him; that and the money he promised once the job was done.
"Well, why #6 then, huh? Why couldn't I be #3 if there are only three of us?"
"Three gentlemen on another job have been given numbers one through three. These two are Four and Five. And you," he jabbed a finger into my chest, "are number Six." His change of expression told me that he had had enough of this line of questioning.
"Right," I said.
"Anyway, the job is simple. Your primary function will be to help unload and transport some cargo that's coming in via freighter this afternoon. Your secondary function is to deal with any problems or obstacles that we may encounter during this endeavor."
"What's the cargo?" I asked.
"That's none of your concern, Mr. Drayton."
Great. Odds are that it's drugs. This is fine way for me to start a new life in a new town.
"With these cards, you'll be able to enter the Pier 29 warehouse at the downtown docks. Be there by 4:30 this afternoon and remain there until I arrive." He was almost to the door when he stopped and turned to look at me. He gave me his politest smile and said, "Oh, and welcome to Metropolis, Mr. Drayton."
When I arrived on time at the warehouse, Numbers Four and Five were standing outside the service entrance. Four was reading a newspaper and Five was staring slack jawed at the door.
"What are you two doing out here? Why haven't you gone inside?"
"This friggin door won't work," Five said. "We've been trying the card for the past ten minutes and nothin'."
He demonstrated this for me, and I could see right away that he was feeding the card in the wrong direction.
"Give me that," I said as I snatched the card from him. I flipped it over, swiped it, and the door buzzed open. Four immediately went inside. Five, who was definitely a few wontons short of a PuPu Platter, just stared at me as if I'd just made the Eiffel Tower disappear.
"It's a gift," I said finally. "Now get in."
The warehouse was a small one: Three aisles ran the length of it and the pallets of goods were rarely stacked higher than fifteen feet. At the far end, where the big bay doors opened out onto the harbor, there was a large open space that was bare except for a forklift parked against the wall and a couple of old wooden chairs.
St. John wasn't there yet, so Four and I sat down next to the forklift. Five contented himself with wandering around the place.
"You ain't from around here, are ya?" Four asked after a minute or two of chit-chat.
"No. I just got in on Friday, so I don't know much about Metropolis. So, do you know what the deal is with this St. John? Is he some big crime boss?"
"Nah. He's just a flunky for some millionaire who don't want to get his hands dirty."
Ah, a middleman; a right hand guy to a big boss. That made sense. Still, he had the presence of someone who could run his own syndicate. I didn't doubt that he wanted to.
"Isn't it a tough town to work in with, uh, him around?" I pointed at the folded up newspaper in Four's hand, the front page picture of a man in tights half visible.
"Heh. You ain't kiddin'. But, you know, you gotta make a living."
He opened the paper to reveal the full picture. It showed Superman standing next to a woman I was pretty sure was reporter Lois Lane. In the background, I could make out a crop duster and a frizzy haired blonde being led away in cuffs.
"Nice legs," said Four, referring to Lane. I nodded in agreement.
"So, if you thought it'd be tough, why'd you come here?" Four asked.
"An old friend of mine told me that if I came to Metropolis, he could get me a legit job on the docks. When I got here, he didn't have squat lined up for me. The only thing he could hook me up with was this strong-arm stuff. No offence."
"Don't worry about it," he replied with a dismissive wave.
"I wanted to make a new start," I said. "I even sold my piece before I came here. Now I'm back where I started."
"Well," said Four with a smile, "at least it's at the docks."
There was a loud crash from the other side of the warehouse. We jumped out of our chairs and ran down the nearest aisle, trying to figure out where the noise came from.
"Hey," called Five. "Over here."
We saw him on top of a bunch of crates that rose far enough to reach the high windows, one of which I noticed was open. He pointed to the ladder he used to get up there and we went up to join him. We found him looking down into a formerly empty crate whose lid apparently hadn't been strong enough to hold up a human being. Inside, amidst the splintered remains of the lid, a dazed figure was staring up at the three of us.
"You're right," I said to Four. "Those are nice legs."
World famous investigative reporter Lois Lane was clearly bored.
She sat there tied to a chair, gagged and blindfolded. None of this kept her from expressing herself. Her head was tilted to the side slightly and she was tapping a high-heeled foot on the bare concrete floor. I sat in a chair opposite keeping an eye on her, though she certainly wasn't going anywhere.
"You're Lois Lane, aren't you?"
She turned her head in my direction, but didn't bother to try and speak since it would only come out as a mumble. Mostly out of boredom myself, I walked over and removed her gag.
"You've been through this before, haven't you?"
"On occasion," she said after flexing her jaw muscles a bit. "And usually, something would have happened by now."
She had a point. The sun was starting to set outside and St. John wasn't here yet. So here I sat with nothing to do but admire this woman's physical charms, and boy she had them.
"So, why are you here?" I asked her.
"Somebody gave me a tip that something big was happening here this afternoon," she said, then countered, "Why are you here?"
I smiled. "None of your business, Miss Lane."
"They're coming!" yelled Five, who was sitting up near the window Lane had snuck in through. I quickly replaced her gag, which she seemed to accept eagerly. Anything to get this show on the road, I guess.
St. John came through the service entrance trailed by a geeky looking guy in a tweed coat. He immediately caught sight of the woman and shot me a disapproving look as he approached.
"What?" I protested. "Can I help it if she snuck in here? You didn't ask us to guard the perimeter or anything."
He was just about to say something condescending when he moved closer and was able to see the face behind the blindfold. A look of realization, followed quickly by exasperation, crossed his face.
Without saying a word, he motioned me to follow him to the corner of opposite of where she was. When we got there, he leaned in and spoke barely above a whisper. "What exactly happened here?" he asked.
"It's like I said. She snuck in here through one of windows and started snooping around. She accidentally fell into an empty crate and knocked herself senseless. Then we tied her up, blindfolded and gagged her."
He listened to me patiently. Unlike before, I could feel that his irritation wasn't with me but with the situation in general. "You did well," he said finally. "We'll keep her as she is for the remainder of our activities. Then, we will drive her across town and let her go."
"Let her go? But she saw all our faces?" It's not that I was interested in offing her, but I fully expected St. John to be. For all his upper crust manners, he struck me as someone who could be very ruthless in the right circumstances.
"Correction: She has seen your face and the faces of your two dimwitted companions." He motioned to Four and Five. "Besides, it is imperative that she be set free before 7:00 tonight."
"What the heck for?" I asked.
"She has an engagement this evening."
"How do you know that?"
Nigel paused for the briefest of moments before making a sanctimonious smile. "It was in the Society section of the paper, of course. Or perhaps you never make it past the Sports page."
"Actually, I mainly read the Business section."
St. John considered me for a moment, and then walked over to the forklift. A pair of sound dampening headphones hung next to the driver's seat. He removed them from their hook and positioned them over Lane's ears, which prompted her to thrash her head about in frustration.
"There. That's better. Now you behave yourself, Ms. Lane." He then spoke to Four. "Move her so that she is behind the forklift and out of view."
Four proceeded to drag the chair backwards while Lane kicked the air like mad. I had made my way back to the middle of the room where the geek was standing when St. John joined us.
"Now then, the ship should be here any minute, Dr. Kaupfman."
"Doctor?" I asked.
"Yes," Dr. Kaupfman replied. "I'm a chemist."
Chemist? Crap. Drugs it is, then.
A ship's horn blared on the other side of the bay doors. Five went to the control box for the doors and pushed the button that opened them.
St. John suddenly pressed something into my hand. "All right, Mr. Drayton. You've proved yourself smarter than your two companions so far. I'm entrusting you with handling the Captain."
I looked down in my hand and saw a wad of hundreds clipped neatly together.
By the time the doors had opened completely, the ship's crane had already swung its arm over the side and was slowly lowering a large wooden platform. The contents of the platform included the ship's captain, a burly deckhand and half a dozen metal boxes.
The Captain held a clipboard. He was reading off an itemized list and having trouble with the names of the contents: "Toluene, Isosafrole, Ambergris, Animal Pher ... Phera ... Phera-money"
The deckhand bent his neck to look at the clipboard himself. "Money? You got cash in these things?"
Kaupfman grabbed the clipboard. "That's Animal Pheromones," he said, flipping through the papers and scanning them intently. "Damn."
"What is it?" asked St. John.
"It doesn't name which animal the Pheromone originates from. Looks like Ms. Montgomery is keeping that secret to herself, which means we can't acquire more once this supply runs out."
"Can you still reformulate it, Doctor?"
"It's possible she ordered proportions of the ingredients to correspond to how much goes into each batch. Even if that isn't the case, I think I can extrapolate the formula after a few tries."
"I need a signature for this," interrupted the Captain.
"Sure," I said, taking the clipboard from Kaupfman. "Where do I sign?"
"Nowhere. This stuff has to be signed for by Miranda Montgomery. And none of you guys look like a Miranda to me."
"Listen, Captain," I said. "I know this isn't how you usually do business, but I also know that you don't want to hold this stuff any longer than necessary, whatever it is."
"What about the signature?" the Captain asked.
"St. John is the kind of guy who'll take responsibility. He won't leave you to twist in the wind."
I offered my hand to the Captain and he reached out to shake it. I doubt even the deckhand standing next to him saw me palm the bills. The Captain smiled and put his hand in the pocket of his pea coat.
"So you can vouch for the stiff?"
I smiled. "Yeah. The stiff and I go way back." All the way back to this morning.
The Captain considered this and then nodded to the deckhand. He was bending down to lift the first crate when we all heard a scraping sound. I turned around and saw Lane shuffling her chair into view and loudly mumbling through her gag.
The deckhand froze in mid-lift and then turned to the captain for a sign of what to do next. The captain motioned for him to set down the crate. Then he pulled the money back out of his pocket and tossed it to me. "Perhaps another time, buddy," he said as he grabbed the control that would lift them back up into the boat. "This ain't what we signed on for."
Yeah, I thought with some sympathy. You and me both, pal.
Before I could decide how to best deal with the situation, Four and Five had both drawn revolvers from their coats.
"No," St. John said to the Captain. "I'm afraid that won't do."
St. John motioned for me to start unloading the boxes off the platform myself. The deckhand, who now had his hands up, was scowling down at me.
"Real stand up guy, huh?" the Captain asked, referring to St. John.
"Yeah," I replied as I lifted the first box with a grunt. "A real prince."
I carried the boxes one at a time off the platform and into the warehouse, placing them near Lane and the forklift. All the while, Four and Five had their guns trained on the two men on the platform. As I set down the last one, I heard a woosh behind me.
"Good evening, gentlemen."
I turned to see Superman himself standing protectively between the platform and my two enumerated and armed partners. On instinct, I moved in front of Lane. Whatever happened, I didn't want any innocent civilians hurt during all this.
"I'm afraid this cargo has been impounded."
And that's when the shooting began.
One of the first details I'd ever read about Superman was that he was bulletproof. One thing I never found out until that moment, though, was whether bullets hit him and then fell to the floor or if they bounced off him. Well, I'm here to tell you first hand that those suckers ricochet like kernels in a popcorn popper.
I felt a sting in my shoulder and crumpled to the floor at Lane's feet. She was hopping around on the chair with even more energy than before. Though she still couldn't see anything, I guessed that she could hear the gunshots through the dampeners. If I could have yelled loud enough to breach them myself, I would have told her to stop bouncing around before she landed wrong and punctured another part of my body.
I clutched at the wound and felt blood seep through my fingers. Though I was starting to become lightheaded, I was aware that the gunshots had stopped and that Superman was now at Lane's side, undoing the rope and removing all her head gear.
"Lois, are you all right?"
"Oh, I'm fine." She smiled. "Just another day at the office."
"Just how did you get here?" he asked her.
"Miranda Montgomery called me from jail and told me about the shipment."
Superman furrowed his brow. "You mean she told you to tell me all about it."
Lane flashed a crooked smile. "Well... uh... yeah. How do you know?"
"She called your desk again after you left and Clark talked to her."
Lane rolled her eyes. "Figures."
"Lois, just promise me that you won't get captured and tied up on a pier again anytime soon."
She placed a hand to her heart. "I promise."
"Uh, little help?" I gasped.
Superman bent down beside me and stared intently at my shoulder. "The bullet passed clean through. There's only tissue damage. Hold still."
I felt a burning in my shoulder about a second before I noticed the red beam connecting Superman's eyes to my wound. The beam disappeared, only for him to shift my body and do it again to the exit wound in my back.
"Thank you for protecting Lois, Mr..."
"Drayton. Joe Drayton."
"You appear to be smarter that your two companions, Mr. Drayton."
"Hell, Superman, I've been in town less than 48 hours and even I know not to fire a gun at you."
"Ah, Superman. Thank goodness you arrived." St. John was standing next to us, all civility and graciousness. Kaupfman was hiding behind St. John, looking like he didn't want Superman to get a good look at him.
"Mr. St. John, you do realize that all of Miranda Montgomery's equipment and supplies have been seized by the police as evidence," Superman said. "This shipment would have fallen under that warrant."
"Of course," he said calmly. "Mr. Luthor discovered this morning that Ms. Montgomery took her first payment from him to purchase more ingredients for her diabolical perfume. He sent me to intercept the shipment so that we could then turn it over to the police."
"And him?" Superman asked, indicating the cowering chemist.
Without missing a beat, St. John said, "I brought Dr. Kaupfman along to ensure that the possibly volatile materials were handled properly."
"Why didn't you contact the police directly?"
"Well, given that this was being shipped to one of Mr. Luthor's warehouses, he wanted to make sure everything was handled peaceably without armed law enforcement possibly provoking an incident."
Superman looked back at Four and Five, who were now tied up. "Looks like law enforcement weren't the ones you needed to worry about."
"I'm terribly sorry about all this, Superman," he said. "What can I say? You can't find good help these days."
St. John stared down at me. I could read volumes in that face. It told me to keep my mouth shut about anything that could implicate him, because if I made things complicated he could make sure I was dealt with.
"I hate to change the subject," St. John continued, "but I believe Ms. Lane has plans to accompany Mr. Luthor to a charity benefit tonight. He'd be very disappointed if she couldn't make it."
"I thought that I'd be done with this in time to make the benefit," she said. "Of course, I didn't plan on getting tied up. I don't know if I'll be able to get there in time."
He held his arm out to her. "I have a car waiting outside. We can stop by your apartment so you can freshen up. Does that sound agreeable?"
"Yes, Mr. St. John. That would be fine." She turned to the two of us. "Thank you, Superman, and thank you, Mr. Drayton." She took St. John's arm and they walked together towards the exit.
An odd look crossed Superman's face and for a split second I thought he was going to stop them, but instead he turned in the direction of the port authority police boat that had pulled up to dock next to the freighter. A dozen policemen were now in the warehouse, taking care of business.
He called the cop in charge over to where we were standing. "Sergeant. This is Mr. Drayton. Would you see that he gets checked out at the hospital?"
"Sure, Superman," the sergeant replied. He helped me up, being careful of my shoulder.
"Don't worry, Mr. Drayton," Superman said. "I won't forget what you did for Lois and I'll put in a good word for you."
"Thanks, Superman. I appreciate that."
I watched with just a bit of awe as the superhero effortlessly rose into the air. He stopped just outside the bay doors and turned back to look at me.
"Oh, and Mr. Drayton? Welcome to Metropolis." He grinned, and he was gone.
(A special thanks to my wife, Mrs. Mosley, without whom I would have never been able to write this.)