Curveball Issue 17: Enemies Within

Part Three: Scrapper Jack

The Tides is an upscale restaurant and nightclub with a downscale gimmick: it only looks seedy. The food, drink, and entertainment are top-notch, the service is exceptional, security is always on point. It’s the perfect place for rich people to go when they want to feel like they’re slumming without actually having to slum. It’s also open all night, making it a convenient spot for rich, all-night revelers.

It’s 3 AM now, and it looks like business is good.

Jack Barrow stands outside the cinderblock building and stares up at the entrance. There’s no one lining up to get in at the moment, but a few seconds ago a rowdy group of well-dressed drunk socialites stumbled through the heavy metal door with more enthusiasm than grace. Standing by the door, leaning against the wall, is a heavily-muscled man in an oil-stained tank top and heavy canvas pants. His massive arms cross in front of his chest, his face wears an expression of disinterested menace. He looks like a thug—a typical street-smart bouncer—but the high-tech earpiece gives it away.

Jack smiles slightly and climbs the steps.

The bouncer eyes him warily. Jack is dressed in his “uniform:” heavy black leather jacket, thick motorcycle boots, white t-shirt, faded denim jeans. It’s not the right weather for the jacket, Jack isn’t sweating, and the bouncer picks up on that. He doesn’t stop leaning against the wall, but Jack can see him tense.

“Not tonight, buddy,” the bouncer says.

Jack doesn’t stop until he’s at the top of the steps, then looks at the bouncer.

“Go on,” the bouncer says. “Let’s not make this a thing, OK?”

“Then let me in,” Jack says.

The bouncer pushes himself off the wall. He doesn’t move to Jack, and he doesn’t uncross his arms. He’s a little taller than Jack is, and he looks bigger. “Management reserves the right to refuse service.”

“You’re not management,” Jack says. “But if Mike Boyle wants to keep me out, that’s his business. All he has to do is say so.”

The bouncer narrows his eyes. “You know Mike?”

“Knew him,” Jack says. “Look, I don’t want any trouble. Just tell him that Jack Barrow is here. If he doesn’t want to be seen, I’ll be on my way.”

The bouncer frowns and considers his options. Then he touches his earpiece. “Guy named Jack Barrow wants to see Mike. Claims he knows him.”

A brief silence follows as they wait.

The bouncer’s hand rises to his earpiece again. “Step over here. They want to see you on camera.” He points to a spot immediately in front of the door.

Jack shrugs and stands on the spot, looking around for the camera. He doesn’t see anything.

The bouncer holds his hand up to his earpiece, frowning slightly as he listens. Finally he nods. “OK. Sorry for the trouble. Mike’s waiting for you at the bar.”

“Thanks,” Jack says, and steps inside.

The nightclub is to the left, the restaurant is to the right. The first thing Jack notices is that both the nightclub and the restaurant have a bar—for that matter, the nightclub also has tables, and he sees people sitting at the tables eating food as they listen to a guy playing pretty good Spanish guitar on the small stage at the far end of the room.

Jack crosses into the restaurant, which appears to have been designed to look like a saloon from an old western. The floors are scuffed hardwood, the tables are all round with simple straight-backed chairs set around them, and a long bar stretches the length of one wall. Most of the crowd is at the front, near the door. It thins out considerably the farther in you go, and at the very far end, sitting on the very last stool at the bar, is Michael Boyle.

Back in the day he was rail thin and wiry, a little on the short side, with thick, curly red hair. Back then he was always a little unnerving to be around because he was always watching everything, all the time. He’d size you up in a second—you and everyone else in the room—and you could see the wheels turning in his head. It was exhausting to watch him sit and think.

He’s not like that now. He looks tired. Haggard. He slumps over the bar, head drooping, one hand idly playing with a half-empty tumbler of yellow-tinted glass. He has more wrinkles than most men at his age, making him look ten or fifteen years older than he should. He doesn’t look like Undermind any more. He looks like a tired old guy sitting at a bar.

Boyle doesn’t look at him directly, he just glances at Jack’s image in the long mirror behind the bar, and raises his glass a few inches off the bar by way of salute. “Jack.” Even his voice sounds old and cracked, like a wall just on the verge of crumbling away. “Drink?”

Jack shrugs, then nods. Boyle gestures with his glass to one of the bartenders, and in short order an identical yellow-tinted glass tumbler is set in front of Jack.

They toast in silence, then drink. It’s scotch, good scotch. Jack takes a moment to appreciate it.

“You look good,” Boyle says.

“Thanks,” Jack says. “Sorry for dropping by. If you’re anything like me, you don’t appreciate reunions.”

Boyle smiles slightly. “You, I don’t mind. Business or pleasure?”

“Business,” Jack says. “Still don’t mind?”

Boyle shrugs. “I don’t mind, but I don’t have much to offer. I’m retired.” He gestures vaguely. “Retired, and just tired. I don’t really have my head in it any more.”

“No shame in that,” Jack says. “I like the place.”

Boyle’s smile grows a little, softening the lines on his face. “Yeah. I did good here. Nobody thought this location would work, but I did my homework. And the staff… it’s all about your employees. Mine are only slightly corrupt.” He chuckles at that.

“I get that you’re out of the game,” Jack says. “And I’m the last guy who’d try to pull you back in.”

“What about you?” Boyle turns to face Jack now, and there’s a hint of his old self in his eyes. “You’re the last person I thought would be back in the game.”

“I’m not,” Jack says. “Not exactly. This is… unique.”

The curtain draws back, and suddenly the old Boyle is there: absolutely still on the outside, working like crazy everywhere else. He finishes his drink and sets the empty glass down on the bar. “Let’s talk in my office.”

Jack takes his drink with him.

Boyle’s office is nice and large, a combination living room, executive office, and fully-stocked mini-kitchen. The front sports a u-shaped couch and a flatscreen TV and stereo system. The middle of the room has his desk, a fancy one with a cherry oak top, with three comfortable chairs in front and a fancy executive chair behind. In the back of the room are a few heavy, metal filing cabinets set against the left wall. The mini-kitchen, which includes a small stove, sink, and a full-sized refrigerator, is set against the right. On the far wall is a large window covered with large, dark gray blinds.

Boyle sinks into the fancy executive chair. “Lock the door—deadbolt at the top—then have a seat.”

The deadbolt slides into place with a satisfying click and Jack turns his attention back to the man sitting behind the fancy desk.

Boyle gestures to an empty chair. “Might as well make it official.”

Jack nods, crosses the room and sits, placing his drink down on the desk. Boyle immediately picks up the drink, slides a coaster under it, and sets it down again.

Somebody’s proud of that desk.

“So, Mr. Barrow, how can I help you today?” Boyle is looking even more like his old self—Jack can practically feel the wheels turning as the smaller man focuses on his new client.

“I need to know about a company that does business in New York. Nobody knows much.”

Boyle nods. “And the name of this company?”

“Haruspex Analytics.”

For an instant the old-Boyle facade crumbles. Boyle’s eyes widen, his body goes rigid, and his jaw clenches as he sucks in air through his teeth, hissing loudly. The moment passes, and the old-Boyle facade returns: he leans back in his chair, his left arm folded around his chest, the right hand resting under his chin. His eyes narrow, his brow furrows, he purses his lips thoughtfully.

“You’ve heard of them,” Jack says.

“Yes.” Boyle opens a desk drawer and produces a bottle of scotch and a fresh yellow-tinted tumbler. He opens the bottle, fills his glass, and tops off Jack’s. “Yes, I have. What are they to you?”

Jack frowns. The question is a little too casual given Boyle’s initial reaction.

“They’re mixed up in something I’m working.”

Boyle grabs his tumbler and drinks quickly. He exhales, sets the empty glass down with a thunk, then grabs the bottle of scotch. “Go work something else.”

Jack shrugs.

“I’m not kidding.” Boyle fills the tumbler almost all the way to the top. “They are not good people.”

We are not good people,” Jack says.

We are far better people than most of the law-abiding public who ever pointed their fingers at us and called us ‘villain,’” Boyle says. He sets the bottle down. “Haruspex, though… they work hard for that title.”

“What do they do?” Jack asks. “So far all I’ve got is that they sell security software for computers.”

“They do that.” Boyle picks up the tumbler, drains it in seconds, then sets it back on the desk with another thunk. “That’s their cover story. The truth… well, I don’t know the truth.”

He grabs the scotch and refills his tumbler to the brim.

Jack points at the bottle. “You’re hitting that a little hard for not knowing what they do.”

“I don’t need to know,” Boyle says. He drains the glass a third time; when he sets it back down on his desk—no coaster, Jack notices—his eyes are a bit glazed. “First time I ever heard about them, I admit I was curious. I was retired, but I still had contacts, you know? So I reached out to one and asked a few questions.”

Boyle considers the bottle of scotch, then pushes it away.

“They killed him, Jack. They did it in a way they shouldn’t have been able to, in a place they shouldn’t have been able to get to. It was a mess—he didn’t go easy. Then they sent me a goddamn sympathy card with a newspaper article covering the whole thing. They wrote ‘thinking of you’ at the bottom of the card.”

Jack raises an eyebrow. “That sounds a bit loud for these guys.”

“It’s different for me,” Boyle says. “I talk their language. They weren’t interested in hiding from me, but they also weren’t interested in killing me. It was too close to my retirement, back then. I had too many allies.”

“You still have allies, Mickey.” Jack leans forward. “If you need protection—”

Boyle’s laugh is bitter and hollow. “No point. Don’t get me wrong, Jack, I appreciate it. You’re a stand-up guy, and a hell of an ally in a straight-up fight. But these guys are…”

He breaks off, shrugs, then sinks back in his chair, closing his eyes. “Tell me something, Jack—let me ask you a question. When we first started out, where did you think we’d be right now?”

Jack considers the question. “Ruling the world, I guess.”

Boyle laughs again, the genuine article this time. “I guess that’s what I thought, too.”

“Didn’t work out that way,” Jack says.

“It did not,” Boyle agrees. “Too bad for everyone. You know, I never believed in utopias until I met LaFleur…”

“He never promised us a utopia, Mickey,” Jack says. “You remember the speech.”

Boyle nods. “Yeah, yeah. ‘There is no perfect way, only a best way. And the best way is still a road paved with suffering, and sacrifice, and men and women who will die before our struggle ends…’ He was real good at killing the mood sometimes.”

“He never wanted mindless support,” Jack says. “He was always weeding out people who were in it for the wrong reasons. He wanted people in for the long haul. You know. Resolve.”

“Yeah,” Boyle says. “Grim, sober resolve… Well. Dammit. When you put it that way…”

He stands suddenly, pushing the chair away with enough force to send it a few feet out into the room. He goes over to one of his filing cabinets and pulls out the top drawer. It slides out until it reaches the end of the rails, then stops. Boyle tugs harder, and the entire drawer pulls out and crashes to the floor, banging and scraping against the cabinet all the way down. Files—real, honest-to-God paper files—fly into the air, fluttering around Boyle like oversized confetti.

“Jesus, Mickey…”

Boyle waves him off. “Nevermind that. Hold on a second.” He reaches into the cabinet space with both arms and tugs. Moments later he pulls out two heavy metal boxes. “Here we are.”

Boyle staggers, both from the weight of the boxes and from the scotch, as he makes his way back to his desk. He drops the larger box on the desk in front of Jack, then retrieves his chair and sits, the smaller box resting in his lap.

Jack looks at the large box. “What’s this?”

“It’s how you approach a problem sideways,” Boyle says. “You know the difference between active and passive sonar?”

“I guess,” Jack says. “Active sonar is more accurate, but it makes noise, so the Germans can tell when you’re using it.”

Boyle’s mouth quirks. “Germans?”

“Old war movies,” Jack says. “Anyway, passive just listens, right? If you listen long enough you can track the movement of whatever you’re listening to.”

“Good enough. Well I started listening to anything that might be Haruspex-related. I didn’t hire anyone out, I didn’t communicate with anyone, I didn’t store anything on a computer. I just listened, and took notes, and eventually I started to get a feel for who the players were. It’s all in that box.”

Jack looks at the box again.

“Go ahead, Jack. Take it.”

Jack picks up the box. It’s a rectangular, light gray box with a flip-top hinge. The latch is a lever that flips right to lock, left to unlock. He flips the lever to the left and the top pops open a bit, as if the contents were under pressure. He opens the top and sees a stack of notepads. He pages through the first notepad—page after page is covered with Boyle’s research, written in tiny black script.

“That’s a lot of passive sonar,” Jack says.

Boyle laughs.

“Thanks for this.” Jack closes the box and flips the lever to the left, locking it in place.

“Don’t thank me just yet.” There’s something funny in Boyle’s voice—it’s light and cheerful, in the way someone tries to sound when they’re trying not to cry. Jack looks up and sees Boyle, staring at Jack intently. The smaller box in his lap is open, revealing a heavy caliber revolver.

Jack looks at the gun, then at Boyle. “Mickey…”

“Funny thing about those guys.” Boyle’s voice is still cheerful—forced-cheerful—but his attempt at a smile looks more like a grimace. “A week after I got that letter I found a bug in my office. A good one—I almost missed it. I tore the office apart looking for more, found a few… and then a week later I found the same bug, same make and model, in the exact same location I found it before. So I tore my office apart again, found a few more, and a week later, guess what I found?”

“Just put the gun on the table,” Jack says.

“Nobody ever saw them come in,” Boyle says. “Nobody was aware that anyone unauthorized had been here at all. There was nothing on any of my surveillance equipment—and that was stuff I installed myself, Jack. I’m a guy who knows what he’s doing when it comes to things like that.”

“Calm down,” Jack says.

“I figured they were politely letting me know that they were keeping tabs on me,” Boyle says. “They wanted me to know that they were listening, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Think about that, Jack. Think about what it means. It means they’re listening to us talking right now.”

“Mickey.” Jack stops trying to be soothing and makes his voice as hard as it can go without shouting. “You know that gun isn’t going to do a damn thing to me. So put it on the table and calm down.”

Boyle’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. He looks down at the gun in his lap. Then he smiles and shakes his head.

“Gun’s not for you, Jack.”


“You’re probably going to want to go out the window. Just my advice.”


“You’re being played, Jack.” Boyle picks up the revolver and calmly places the barrel in his mouth.

Jack is already moving, but he’s not a speedster. He’s sitting, the desk is in his way… there’s too much between him, the man, and his intent. He’s vaulting over the desk when Boyle pulls the trigger. The sound is enormous, deafening, just like every other time. Boyle’s head jerks back as his body falls back into his chair. There is no exit wound.

The room smells like gunpowder.

“Jesus, Mickey.” Jack can’t hear past the ringing in his ears. He stares down at the body a moment, then turns to grab the metal box off the table. He sees the doorknob on the office door moving; someone is trying to get in. He still can’t hear anything, but he imagines people are shouting right now.

You’re going to want to go out the window. Just my advice.

Jack runs to the window. He doesn’t bother slowing down—a foot away from the wall and he jumps through the window, crashing through the blinds, shattering through the glass, and landing in a crouch in a narrow alley between the restaurant and another building. Glass tears at his clothing, but it does nothing at all to him, and after he shrugs the tattered remains of the blinds to one side he gathers his strength and jumps.

You’re being played, Jack.

It’s not flying, but it does what he needs. In seconds he’s a block away from the restaurant. In a few more seconds he’s further still. A few seconds later he stops running, orients himself, and makes his way back to the safehouse. He has reading to do.

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