Wilbur stared forward rigidly as police officers and CSI technicians poured in and out of Bruno’s. Almost a dozen mafioso had been attacked with an explosive device and gunned down at the scene, along with two men in dog masks and a third who had been strangled in a car. Nothing had yet been confirmed, but Wilbur caught a particular word lingering in the air – Blackout. The cops had given Ryan a codename.
He checked his phone. Nisa had been unable to contact Jessica. Fritz was worried he might have been one of the victims – Wilbur assured him he wasn’t. Jeff wanted him to call immediately, so he did.
“Hey, Jeff, are you inside Bruno’s?”
“No, no, I wish.” He sighed and chuckled. “I’m uh. In a bit of a bind here.”
That raised Wilbur’s hackles – Jeff actually sounded distressed. “What’s up?”
“Mr. Blackout has sent me some blackmail. I work in Major Cases, see, so I keep tabs on all the major gangs and criminal syndicates who operate in the city limits. Ryan wants a dossier with this information or Jessica dies. He sees any cops at our meeting spot? She dies. If the info turns out to be false? Cops die.”
Wilbur jogged into a secluded alley. “Hold up. Jessica? Jessica Napier?”
“That’s the one.”
“Are you aware that three of the victims were in the process of robbing the joint?”
“Yeah I overheard.”
“She was the fourth robber.”
Wilbur took the phone away from his mouth. You’ve gotta be kidding. So that explains why Nisa can’t get in touch… Putting it back he asked “So what are you planning on doing?”
“I’m going to have to give it to him. We’ll try to minimize the bloodshed later, but I’m not putting my co-workers in his crosshairs. I just can’t do that. Can you come and watch my back – out of sight – in case he gets squirrely?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. Just text me the address and when you’re going in.”
The view of Lake Erie from the Port of Blackburn was more beautiful than it had any right to be. Faint celestial lights glistened on waters that stretched past the horizon. Waves gently lapped against docks that were littered with heavy machinery. Watching the area during the day was like watching the heart of Blackburn beat. Surveying it at night was an exercise of hoping for a better tomorrow.
Of course a villain had to just spoil the mood.
Wilbur had been keeping watch over a far, unused dock for nearly an hour. Ryan, armor and all, was waiting beside his van where Jessica was presumably still inside, and hopefully still alive. Fortunately, Ryan hadn’t noticed him peering down from a flight of stairs.
His phone began to buzz. It was Jeff, of course.
“I’m pulling in now. Hopefully this all goes over smoothly.”
The mental image of Jeff and Jessica’s brains dripping into the lake popped into Wilbur’s mind. He shook it out. “Yeah. I’m not far if you need me.”
A minute later Jeff’s Corvette pulled up and the detective got out, carrying a handful of manila folders. Ryan whipped out his gun and Wilbur jumped. A tense moment later and Ryan waved him over with his free hand. Wilbur exhaled. After perusing the contents to his liking, Ryan opened the van’s backdoor, revealing Jessica bound with extension cords. He took a step back and let Jeff pull out a knife and cut her loose. Her expression was distant and blank. When that was done, Ryan waved them off with his gun. Jeff drove off as Ryan stayed behind in his van.
Slowly, Wilbur relaxed his grip on the railing. That could have been the end of that, but Wilbur had him right there. He had no intention of calling the police and putting them in harm’s way. If he was really a hero, now was the time he could take him out before anyone else got hurt.
Wilbur made his way down to the van, staying out of the mirror’s line of sight before rushing up to the driver’s side door. He took a breath before throwing it open. Ryan jerked in surprise but recovered quickly, tossing the dossier aside and reaching for his sidearm. Wilbur directed the barrel away and wrested control of the gun before hurling it into the lake. Infuriated, Ryan slammed his boot into his gut, causing Wilbur to stumble back. Then he hopped out of the van.
“You stupid prick – can’t you mind your own business?!”
“Not when your business involves murder!” Wilbur wheezed.
“Murder,” Ryan scoffed. “Murder would imply those insects I squashed were people. You took a good look at what Skinnyman was doing in his labs, didn’t you?”
Wilbur straightened himself out. “I did.”
“Then why are you here?!”
“Maybe Skinnyman’s man deserved to die, but that’s not your call to make.”
“It became my call to make when they murdered my sister! What would you have done if you’d gotten your hands on the man who killed your parents?”
Wilbur refused to ask himself that. “What about Jessica? Does she deserve to be executed for robbery?”
“Robbery? Try that and peddling Mouse’s poison to every corner of the city, and God knows what else she’s done for her mother.”
“I – what?” Wilbur jolted. “Poison?”
Ryan laughed. “You don’t even know who you’re defending, do you? If you had actually climbed down from your ivory tower, you’d know who Mouse was. Just go home, rich boy, this is beyond you.”
Having heard enough, Wilbur threw out his hand, electricity snaking forward. Ryan braced himself against the van, but didn’t seize up upon impact. “Huh,” he said with a laugh. “Guess the insulation really works.”
Wilbur lept to close the distance, whipping a kick into Ryan’s head. Ryan grunted in pain before throwing the door open. Wilbur bounced around to throw a few jabs, but stopped but when he noticed the glint of a knife. Swinging swiftly, Ryan forced him back. He had to wait until his opponent went for a stab before grabbing his wrist. A glancing slash grazed his leg, cutting through the material just enough to slice his flesh. Nonetheless he ignored the pain, palming the weapon away. Ryan rolled onto his back and kicked into his shin. Wilbur jumped back and took his fighting stance.
“Get up, take your beating like a man!”
Letting out a scream of frustration, Ryan got up and took his own stance. It was more of a boxing position, hands balled into fists, but he moved surprisingly quick for such a heavily armored man. Wilbur was more used to slapping away probing strikes and kicks, so when Ryan unleashed a flurry of punches he got socked right in the chin. Even with his helmet he could really feel it – Ryan’s gloves must have packed a wallop. Wilbur countered with his own quick jab. It probably hurt his hand more than Ryan, but it gave him an opening to launch a piston kick to the lower ribs.
That too didn’t seem to phase the raging man, who spewed a string of expletives as he wrestled Wilbur, leg sticking out, to the ground. Ryan straddled him before pounding his helmet. He didn’t want to know what his head would have looked like without it. He grabbed ahold of Ryan’s collar before pressing a button on the side of his glove, unleashing an electrical charge. Once again, it was no sell. He did his best to roll directly onto Ryan’s ankle, which caused him to buckle. Throwing him off, he hopped back and resumed his stance once more.
“Did Higgins call you here?” Ryan asked, backpedaling and fiddling with his vest.
Laughing, Ryan shook his head. “You need to stop treating people like they’re idiots, boss man. I read the news. I know your little alter ego rescued Detective Higgins a few weeks back. Enough time to establish a rapport.”
Crap, he got him there. “I never got his name,” he settled on. “What does it matter?”
“You’re actually down here, working with him to bag me, instead of tracking down Skinnyman and finishing him off.” He scoffed. “Is this all this is to you? A glory hunt? Are you getting your kicks, man? You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Skinnyman wasn’t the one who shot up a restaurant.”
“Will you cut the sanctimonious bullshit?! You don’t have the stones to step on the maggots feeding on this city’s corpse. It’s not pretty, doesn’t put your name up in lights.”
Wilbur balled his fist before jabbing a finger at Ryan. “Then why don’t you go find Skinnyman and kill him?! Why does it have to be me?”
Ryan let out a long exhale. “I can’t – don’t know who he is. And sooner or later, the cops will put me down. I’m fine with that. But before I go, I’m taking as many of these rat bastards as I can with me.” He retrieved a grenade from his vest and pulled the pin. “And anyone who gets in my way.”
Wilbur began sprinting down the pier, but when he realized Ryan had tossed the grenade ahead of him, he dove into the lake. The early spring waters went right through his heavy clothes, chilling him to the bone. The grenade exploded at a harmless distance, but he could do nothing but watch with chattering teeth as Ryan drove off with the dossier, planning God-only-knew.