I don’t remember falling asleep. Up until the point things went foggy, the day had been void of any real drama. I uploaded the program to the server before I left and it went off without a hitch. After that, Heather gave me a ride home where I spent most of the afternoon watching cartoons and trying to ignore the news coverage from the previous night.
I’d just got back to the couch with my microwaved meal when I felt tired… maybe I’d overdone it? Then poof, here I am in a car going down the highway. I could tell from the road noise and the forward motion; we were going pretty fast. I had a hood over my head and my hands were bound together. I figured there was a driver and at least one other to keep me occupied just in case.
The car started slowing down. I felt the force of a left hand turn and then we stopped. The gear shifter moved all the way to park and the engine went silent. Three doors opened and I felt a hand pull me from the car. Not roughly, just with enough gusto to let me know to move along with it. I stumbled blindly on the path the hand guided me, only stopping when I heard a door open. We took a few more steps and stopped again.
A hand removed my hood and another freed my hands. We were in the middle of an empty warehouse and three people were standing beside me. Each was wearing a mask – Spades, Hearts, and Clubs. Spades moved forward and extended a hand. “Welcome to our little hangout Mr. Staley.”
The light was dim, flickering even. The place smelled like mold and the floor had some major cracks in it. It made me question the integrity of the foundation. “This is quite the place gentlemen.”
Spades laughed at my comment. “Don’t judge a book by its cover. We already made that mistake with you.”
“I would like to offer my sincerest apologies.” The man in the Hearts mask stepped to me. “Especially after the unfortunate incident at the bank, my instincts told me you weren’t The Dark Lion, but the digital trail led us to you.”
“I honestly had no idea John Wonderton is him. He always came off as aloof and a tad incompetent, but not a super.”
Clubs removed his mask and revealed his alter-ego; Phil Jenkins. “He fooled us all Jericho. Personally, I think he set it up to make it look like you were The Dark Lion just in case anyone looked into him. You were the fall guy just in case shit hit the fan.”
Little did they know just how close to being right they were the first time around. “Part of me is kinda pissed, but the other part of me is pretty impressed. It means I’m not working for a complete moron.”
Spades and Hearts joined Jenkins in removing their masks. I had to control myself – they were Owen Walker and Jeff Trelewicz! Walker looked exactly like the pictures I’d seen in the press releases, younger with brown hair and a politician’s smile. Trelewicz was a larger man, closely shaved head and a scar running down the side of his face. He tried to look polite, but the overall effect failed. “Wait just a minute…”
“I know this is a lot to take in Mr. Staley, but yes, you know me as Owen Walker, CEO of gl-O-bal Labs. I’m sure you have many questions for me.”
I summed everything up perfectly in just one question. “Why?”
“A good question, yes why would we do this? The answer is simple, but also a bit abstract, so I ask you to follow close along with me.” He motioned with me to take a walk with him. I don’t think there was much choice in the matter.
As we walked, “You remember The Negative Man don’t you?”
How could I forget that name? “Yeah, I remember him.”
“When he rose to power a few years back, he showed me something. Power isn’t earned, it’s taken. He had the city on the cusp of disaster, and then he left.” He opened another door which led into a much more impressive room. “We plan to finish what he started.”
It was like we teleported from a dusty old warehouse to a space station. Computers lined the wall attached to huge monitors above. Some were obviously tied to traffic cams, others hacking into various security systems. What made this room barely tolerable for me was it was stark white. The brightness of the paint, floor, lighting, and equipment were almost blinding.
Spades, or Owen Walker if we’re using names, must’ve known about my condition. He pulled a pair of stylish sunglasses out of his jacket pocket and handed them to me. “This should help.”
As soon as the dark tinted lenses were over my eyes, everything felt much better. “Thanks, this will keep the headaches at bay.”
“An interesting condition…” His eyes lingered for a minute before moving on. “This is our base of operations. From here, the city is our playground. We know what targets we can hit and on what days. I’ve even taken the liberty of making a spreadsheet that tells us everything from police shift changes to which coffee places certain targets enjoy.”
Jenkins and Trelewicz were standing by the door. “I’m guessing you put this together with gl-O-bal tech Phil?”
He smiled at the acknowledgement. “This is my life’s work. Owen was kind enough to see my true potential and gave me the tools to exploit it. With this,” he pulled a Mercury 5 out of his pocket, “I can control all of this from anywhere on the planet.”
“I’m confused; I have no powers and my skillset overlaps with Phil’s. What could you possibly need me for?”
Walker motioned me to have a seat in front of a particularly impressive computer. “As you know, we’re a member short. With some of our more complicated jobs on the horizon, I need Clubs in the field with Hearts and myself. By taking the Diamonds mask, you’d be our eyes and ears from here, making sure the operations run smoothly.”
Here came the tricky part. I had to do this just right. “I’m not an idiot, so trust me when I ask this. How do you know I don’t work for The Dark Lion? Why trust me so completely already?”
The three of them looked at each other before a group laugh actually made me a bit mad. Jenkins saw my face and tried to smooth things over. “Jericho, it’s not that we don’t think you’re capable, but what reason would that asshole need you? You can’t fight and apparently Wonderton is a closet computer genius.” His smile sorta went away. “Besides, I combed your entire digital history. You’re clean man, like really squeaky clean.”
Well they weren’t complete fools. I figured Jenkins would’ve done something like that. “So my role would be from here, communicating with you?”
“You would become the brains of the operation while we would function as the heart and body. Together, we’ll finish The Negative Man’s wonderful work!” Walker said it with such conviction that he reminded me of a crazy minister.
“What about The Negative Man? He’s back you know…”
“So it would appear, but just in the shadows for the time.” He sounded disappointed. “Hopefully by continuing our work and throwing his name out there, he’ll see a reason to join with our cause.”
Trelewicz’s phone buzzed. “It’s time boss.”
“Ah yes, the three of us have some important matters to take care of, but before we go,” he walked to the back of the room and opened a drawer. He pulled a box out of it and walked back over. “This is for your Jericho Staley.”
There was a flip latch, so I undid it and the top popped open. Inside was a shiny mask in the shape of a diamond. I carefully lifted it out, the metal was lightweight and cool. “I guess this means I’m in?”
“Welcome to The Aces, Diamonds. You get tonight off, but tomorrow evening, work begins.”
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