Curveball Issue 34: Shades of Red

Part Five: Crossfire Safehouse, NYC

CB isn’t entirely sure where this safehouse is—he passes out before they arrive, and when he wakes up he’s on a cot, covered in bandages, his shoulder in a splint.

He sits. It hurts to sit, but he can do it. He’s sore from head to toe, but his head is clear—good sign—and his shoulder only hurts marginally more than the rest of him does. It’s a small room, about twice as wide as the cot itself, and only a little longer. A small trash can sits beside the cot, and he can see the tattered remains of his t-shirt spilling over the side of it. A clean canvas button-up is draped over a folding chair; his boots sit at the foot of the cot. Next to his boots is a pair of brown slippers.

He smells coffee.

He pulls on the canvas button-up, managing to get his left arm through the sleeve, and contents himself with letting the right side just drape over his arm. He slips into the slippers, and shuffles to the door.

The smell of coffee is stronger.

The door opens into a small kitchen consisting of a gas stove, an old refrigerator, and a single-basin sink. On a short counter to the right of the sink sits industrial coffee maker with a mostly full pot.

“Mugs are under the counter.”

The kitchen opens into a small common room. Street Ronin sits on a faded orange couch, feet propped up on a scratched coffee table. His visor and the uniform’s balaclava sit on the cushion to his right. He looks tired.

CB rummages under the counter until he finds a chipped ceramic mug. He pours himself a cup and shuffles into the common room, sinking into an old overstuffed chair. He sips his coffee and sighs.

“Where’s Jack?”

Street Ronin shakes his head. “Still out there. Probably doesn’t think it’s safe to make his way here. He hasn’t been caught, if that’s what you’re asking. It’d be all over the news if they actually caught Scrapper Jack.”

“Maybe. What about us?”

“Well, the brazen kidnap of a US Senator—Liberty’s grandson, at that—is all over the news right now,” Street Ronin says. “Not much footage, though, and what little they’re showing on TV is pretty grainy. Smartphone video at night still isn’t anything special. There’s a clip of you hanging off the back of the senator’s car, but there’s never a clear shot of your head. Every time it looks like there will be, the video gets distorted, or the camera gets jostled and all you see is the city skyline. That something you did?”

CB sips his coffee and thinks. “Not on purpose, but it works that way sometimes.”

“Well,” Street Ronin says, “we got the job done, and they don’t seem to know who we are. We made really good time, too. Three and a half minutes. By the time the Senator’s driver had finished calling it in you were already peeling him out the back.”

“I’ll take the win,” CB agrees. “Everything else set up?”

Street Ronin nods. “We have a satellite link to the Nautilus ready to go. I can guarantee privacy for at least the first call. The Senator is tied up in one of the spare rooms.” He points to a narrow hall at the end of the common room. “Door on the right. He’s a little banged up, but it’s nothing serious. He doesn’t seem to be resisting.”

CB frowns. “I don’t like Toby, but he’s not stupid, and he’s not a coward. You sure he’s tied down?”

“I didn’t use rope.”

CB sets his coffee down on a side table and sighs. “We should probably get on with this.”

Street Ronin nods, then reaches for his visor and balaclava. “After you.”

* * *

Senator Morgan’s chair looks like a cross between an electric chair used for executions and Frankenstein’s recliner. A wide metal band encircles Morgan’s torso—not tight, but small enough to make it nearly impossible for him to slip out of, especially from a sitting position. Both arms and legs are similarly manacled, and to top it off, each arm and each leg is separately handcuffed to the chair. The senator isn’t blindfolded, however, nor is he gagged. He doesn’t look particularly surprised when CB walks in. Or worried, for that matter.

Senator Morgan stares at CB levelly. “I expected you earlier.”

“I wanted a cup of coffee first.”

The senator shakes his head. “I didn’t mean earlier today. Earlier. Earlier this month. Earlier last month. Every time I stepped into my bedroom I half-expected you to be lurking in the shadows, ready to rendition me to… here, I suppose.” He looks around the room. His voice turns dry. “I expected something a little shinier.”

Shinier?

Senator Morgan shrugs. “At this point I assume you’re working with Gladiator again. And Regiment, too, I hope.” He glances past CB as Street Ronin, now in full uniform, steps into the room. “Working with Crossfire makes a certain amount of sense. But did you really have to pull my niece into it?”

“I don’t know,” CB says, heat rising. “Did you have to murder my best friend?”

“Yes,” the senator says.

CB takes an involuntary step forward. Street Ronin catches his arm. It’s not a firm grip, but it’s the arm with the bad shoulder. He steps back. He takes a deep breath.

“You admit it.”

“Yes,” the senator says. “I admit it.”

“You admit that you murdered your grandfather because he learned about Project Recall?”

The senator’s voice hardens. “I’ll go farther than that. I admit I murdered my grandfather because he told me to.”

“Because he told you to,” CB sneers. “That’s a likely story. Why would he do that?”

“Because I was the more important asset,” the Senator says. Then, in a lower voice: “His words. Not mine.”

CB stares at the senator, frowning. “Asset.”

“Asset,” the senator repeats. “CB, I’ve been waiting for you to do… this… for a while now. It was my only way out. And there are still a few things you’re going to need to do, or I’m a dead man.”

“You’re full of shit,” CB snaps. “You’re trapped, without backup, and you’re spinning bullshit just to stay alive. How exactly are you an asset?”

“Because I’m not just the man who ordered his assassination after he started investigating Project Recall,” the senator says. “I’m also the man who told him about it in the first place.”

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