by Randy Lander
It's a cliché that New York's waterfront is a crime-ridden area. Freighters from all over the world coming in carrying illicit cargo, dirty men with two days of beard growth waiting to unload it into warehouses, gunsels and thugs waiting in every alley and nook for work or suckers. The picture is set in many people's minds.
In this particular case, the cliché holds water, as six very powerful criminals wait in an alley, watching a Russian freighter begin to dock. The men waiting for the freighter are mostly of the dockworker type, smelling of the ocean and looking like they haven't bathed, shaved or changed clothes in days. Not all of them, however. A group of about a dozen is dressed in finely tailored suits. Rather than wearing the weary expression of dockworkers, they wear the sharp, alert faces one would expect on a group of Russian mobsters waiting for delivery of a very special cargo.
In the alley, two of the criminals were having a discussion, much to the chagrin of a third.
"What about Void?"
"It sounds stupid, Beetle."
"It's not better than Spot?"
"It's not better than The Teleporter."
"Oh Christ Electro, that is so unbelievably retro."
"Would both of you shut up!"
The last came from the leader of the group, a man in a green and yellow jumpsuit, with four steel tentacles emerging from a harness melded to his waist. Doctor Octopus, leader of this new Sinister Six. The Spot, the newest member of the group and the one under discussion, silently said thanks to Octopus for stopping the discussion. They had tried, and failed, to come up with a codename for him, and it didn't matter to him anyway, because he was only in this long enough to humiliate Spider-Man.
He glanced over at Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture, who had brought him into this in the first place. The old man was staring intently at the Russians, watching as the dockworkers started to climb the gangplank of the ship.
"I'm still unclear on something," Toomes said, his voice crackling with age. "What exactly does the Russian Mafia want with a stolen nuclear warhead?"
Octopus didn't turn to look at Toomes, keeping his eyes focused on the ship as well. "The Russian Mafia doesn't want anything with it. They are simply the ones with the military connections to know where to send a salvage ship. A Russian submarine sank recently, and their contacts in the military told them when and where."
The woman who had taken up the identity of Beetle spoke up now, her face hidden behind the green and purple faceplate of the armor. "They may not want it, but the terrorists they're planning on selling it to want it a lot. They'll use it to strike at an American target, and that's not just money for the Russians, it's a strike at the country that turned most of them into criminals."
The Sinister Six watched, and waited for the cargo they wanted to come off the ship.
One of the well-dressed men broke off from the rest of the group. He wore a dark black suit, impeccably tailored to fit his form. Unlike the others, he didn't wear sunglasses, instead revealing his cold blue eyes. His hair was cut into a blond buzzcut, looking like every American's impression of a Russian tough guy.
He stepped on board the ship and walked past the dockworkers, until he saw them carrying a large box with spray-painted radiation symbols off the ship. A quick glance let him assess the situation. Four men, all with their hands full, each with an Uzi submachine gun hanging off their shoulders by a strap. He nodded once, to himself, and then began to move.
In one quick motion, he had put the box between himself and the others down on the docks and drawn out his 9mm Makarov pistol. He put it to the head of one of the workers carrying the box and fired, and the box went crashing to the ground on that corner. The other three dropped the box as the eleven men on the docks began drawing their weapons in surprise and anger.
As he grabbed the neck of the dockworker nearest him and gave it a vicious twist, the man fired his pistol again, killing one of the other dockworkers who had begun to fumble for his Uzi. The other man managed to bring his to bear before he got shot, and the Uzi fired, but the bullets simply went wild, striking parts of the ship and setting some of the boxes on fire.
"What the hell?" Beetle muttered, looking on in surprise.
"Doesn't matter," Doctor Octopus said. "We'll need less of a distraction this way. Spot, stay ready."
The man grabbed the nearest submachine gun and fired, bringing down five more men on the landing plank, sending their bodies splashing into the water. He aimed the gun at the eleven well-dressed men and barked out, in Russian, "Josef Millovich, KGB. You are all under arrest for treason."
It was then that the Sinister Six made their move. Bursting from the cover of the alley, they put their various powers into action. Doctor Octopus rushed forward, walking on his metallic arms and yelling out orders. Beetle was in the air, firing her electro-blasts at the remaining dockworkers, which had begun to take up positions with their Uzis. Electro fired his electricity at the tightly grouped mobsters, cackling as the power arced through them. Vulture had taken to the air, flying close to Doctor Octopus.
Of course, none of this was visible to Millovich or the men on the ship. Mysterio had turned on all the fog machines he had secreted earlier, covering the entire area in a thick, soupy mist that only the Six could see through using the goggles Octopus and Beetle had designed.
No, all that Millovich could see was the man dressed in white with black spots that had suddenly appeared next to him.
"Sorry about this," he said.
Millovich let the Uzi drop, along with the body of the man who owned it, and aimed his pistol at the Spot. He spoke, in deeply accented English.
"I do not know who you are. But you will be dead if you are still there in two seconds."
"Fair enough," Spot said. The crate suddenly dropped, as if a hole had opened underneath it. Millovich looked down and saw that was exactly what had happened...a black hole seeming to lead to nothing had taken its place. When he looked up again to fire, Spot was gone, having teleported away at the same time.
The mist cleared, and Millovich was alone with several confused dockworkers. On the docks were the bodies of the other mobsters and all the thugs who had been taking up positions. There was no sign of the Sinister Six or, more importantly, the bomb.
Millovich cursed under his breath and dove off the ship as the workers recovered their wits and started firing on the KGB man in their midst. As he splashed into the water, he realized he would need help to find the bomb. And he knew just where to get it...
Peter walked into the NOW newsroom, a big grin plastered on his face. His visit to England hadn't exactly been a joy, since he was there to cover the funeral for Captain Britain,* but it had felt like a nice paid vacation away from Jonah Jameson and all the craziness of the recent crime wave*, and he'd spent last night having a joyful reunion with his wife and daughter. Joyful reunions with a gorgeous model always put a smile on Spidey's face. (*See Crusaders #5 and the Crime Wave mini-series, respectively - Randy)
His smile faded, however, as he picked up on the mood in the newsroom. NOW was sedate compared to the Daily Bugle, that was true...a more modern facility, clearly planned out better than the hodge-podge of old desks that made up the Bugle staff room. Today, however, it wasn't just sedate, it was downright morose. Peter fingered the rolls of film he had and headed toward Lance Bannon's office, looking curiously at all the staffers as they gave him looks of sympathy and pity.
Was he about to be fired? Lance had been really upset that he didn't answer his pager, and Peter couldn't exactly tell him about his Spider-Man activities...maybe he'd finally snapped and fired him while he was gone.
Joy Mercado, the lithe blond who was Executive Editor for now, put her hand on Peter's chest as he headed toward the glass door that read "Lance Bannon, Photographic Editor."
"Joy, what's going on? Everyone's acting like someone died!"
"Someone did. Lance was murdered last night."
Peter stopped cold. He wasn't a great fan of Lance, nor was he a stranger to having people he knew murdered, but that didn't mean he ever got used to it. Mary Jane had once told him that he took every death personally, like he should have prevented it. True to form, Peter's first thought was that he had been out of the country when Lance needed him.
"He...I...do the police have any clues?"
"Let's talk in my office, Peter."
Joy took his hand and led him toward her corner office. Peter could feel the eyes of everyone on him. He wondered what they were feeling...sympathy for someone who just heard of a co-worker's death, or shock at his insensitivity about the "who died?" comment.
The wood and glass door quietly closed behind him as he stepped into her office and slumped into a chair opposite her desk. She pulled another chair over and sat down.
"I had a message from the police when I got in last night. One of Lance's girlfriends found him. I know you have some sort of friendship or deal with Spider-Man, so I think you ought to hear what they told me."
She paused to light a cigarette and take a long puff off of it. "Lance had an illegal pistol in his hand when they found him. The hand was on the floor, severed by a blade that was shaped like a bat."
Peter's heart sunk. He didn't just feel responsible...he was responsible. Those weapons belonged to the Hobgoblin, one of his enemies. But why would Hobgoblin murder Lance Bannon?
"Peter, what I'm about to tell you doesn't leave this room. I'll probably come out eventually, but if it comes from you, you'll never work at this magazine again. Understand?"
"The coroner found that the cause of death was electrocution. But he also found...he found that Lance wasn't who we thought he was."
"Joy, I don't..." Peter's head was spinning. Electrocution? Sounded like Hobgoblin's finger blasters.
"There was an inordinate amount of cosmetic surgery done. His entire face had been reshaped."
"He wasn't Lance Bannon. The police tell me Bannon died a few years ago, but the records about it had all been lost until recently. Also, everyone who knew anything about the case has either been missing or is still missing."
The sinking feeling in Peter's stomach wasn't getting any better. Hobgoblin murdering someone who wasn't even Bannon, someone who was obviously very well-connected. Why put someone into a position as photography editor at NOW magazine? There would be no benefit to it for someone who could make witnesses and cops disappear. No benefit except one...
Getting close to Peter Parker. Finding out just what his connection to Spider-Man was.
Peter was so lost in thoughts and fear, his mind spiraling through every possible bad guy who could be behind it, that he didn't realize Joy was still talking to him.
He snapped back to attention and shook his head.
"Sorry, Joy...it's a lot to take in."
"I know. Look...I know this is a bad time, and I know this is going to make me sound like one cold witch, but with whoever-it-was dead, I need a new photo editor. I'm offering you the job."
Peter felt like he'd just taken a punch in the face from the Rhino. His expression obviously betrayed that.
"You can take a couple days to decide, Peter. But I know you'd be great, and I know you shouldn't be wasting your time being a photographer. Truthfully, you probably shouldn't be wasting your time as a photo editor, but at least you could support your wife and daughter while you work toward what you really want to do."
Peter stammered a thank you and escaped the office as fast as he could. In some corner of his mind, he was thinking about Joy's offer, but mostly he was thinking about a man who had cosmetic surgery to get close to him. He had to know who it was, and who had sent him. He had to know what he had found out. He prayed it wasn't too late, and his identity as Spider-Man wasn't compromised.
The Spot looked on, along with the rest of the Sinister Six, as Doctor Octopus placed the crate they had stolen inside a specially constructed chamber. It was the same kind of glassed-in chamber he had originally created his tentacles for, using them to manipulate dangerous materials inside a safe environment.
While the rest of the Six watched in giddy anticipation, Spot was considerably more nervous. He was just a scientist, someone who went looking for a way to get over his humiliation by Spider-Man and found international criminals looking for a recruit. It had seemed like a match made in heaven, but now, as he watched a stolen nuclear warhead being unveiled, not knowing the ultimate goal, he wondered if he had made a huge mistake.
He shuddered as the crate fell apart under Octopus' tentacles. Standing in the middle of the glassed-in case was a slightly muck-encrusted nuclear weapon. Russian symbols were inscribed along the side.
From behind him, he heard a loud pop and he ducked instinctively. When he stood back up, everyone was laughing at him as Mysterio poured the champagne he had uncorked.
"You seem nervous, Dr. Ohnn," Octavius said, never taking his eyes off the nuclear prize. "Not having second thoughts, are you?"
Yeah, Spot thought, I'm starting to feel like I'm in over my head, like I might crack and run to the authorities. And would you please kill me horribly please?
"Of course not, Dr. Octavius. I'm just...not used to this the way the rest of you are."
"Relax, Spotty," Electro said as he took one of the glasses of champagne. "Nobody knows we're here, and the guys you have to worry about don't carry guns anyway. They carry webslingers."
"Yes, and he doesn't know where we are either," the woman known as the Beetle replied. "We're in the clear, Dr. Ohnn. Relax."
Relax, Spot thought. Sure, four well-known powerful criminals and one clearly dangerous woman surround me, and nobody knows where I am. I should feel perfectly safe.
Matt Murdock shook the hand of his client as he walked out the door of the City Courthouse.
"Don't worry, Mr. Hernandez. You didn't do anything wrong, and we can prove it."
"Gracias, Mr. Murdock. You are a good man."
Murdock smiled as he watched Hernandez away. The smile turned into a wry grin as he heard a voice from the alley behind him.
"Boy, there's something you lawyers don't hear often, huh?"
Matt spoke, his blind eyes staring off into the street. His radar sense was clearly focused on the man clinging to the alley wall behind him.
"How are you doing Peter? How are Mary Jane and May?"
"They're doing alright, but their fearless provider is feeling a bit nervous."
"I can tell," Matt said. He didn't mention that he could pick up on Spidey's anxiety with his heightened senses.
"I need a favor, Matt. A guy I know, Lance Bannon, was murdered the other day. Turns out he wasn't Lance Bannon, and now I'm afraid he might be someone who was trying to get close to me. I need to know..."
"If your secret is safe."
"Right. I mean, I remember what happened when you..."
Peter let his voice trail off. Neither of them needed reminding of what had happened to Daredevil when Kingpin had uncovered his identity. Kingpin was an enemy of Spider-Man as well, and they both knew it.
"Lance Bannon? I'll do some checking and get back to you, Peter. Stop by the house?"
"Sure. I'd love it if May could meet you."
Mary Jane was putting May down for her nap and she smiled at her daughter. After three hours of crying and feeding, belching and more crying, she was finally asleep.
It lasted for all of a minute before the ringing doorbell woke her. She began wailing again, louder than a tiny person should have been able to, and Mary Jane rolled her eyes as she picked her up and began running down the stairs.
She held May in the crook of her right arm as she pulled the door open. She was immediately on her guard when she saw an unfamiliar face. He looked to be in his late teens or early twenties, wearing tousled white-gray hair and a dirty leather jacket and jeans. He was handsome, but he looked anxious, panting as if he had run the whole way here.
"Peter...Parker," he gasped between deep breaths.
"I'm his wife," Mary Jane said. "Can I help you with something?"
"Flash...Thompson...big green guy...tail...needs help...old guy...told me to find...Peter Parker...tell him...to get Spider-Man."
Mary Jane struggled not to look surprised. It sounded to her like the Scorpion had been after Flash and Ben Urich. If Ben was desperate enough to risk Peter's secret, one he had just learned, things must be bad.
"Come in," Mary Jane said. "Sit down. I'm..."
"Mary Jane Watson," the boy said.
She looked surprised now.
"I'm in college," he gasped out. He took a deep breath to compose himself and then said, "I've seen more than my fair share of your photos hung up in dorm rooms."
She smiled. She had been nervous about letting this stranger in her house, but something about his manner told her she could trust him.
"I'm Johnny Gallo," he said. "Listen, ordinarily I'd be thrilled to be alone in a room with you, but I need to find your husband. It's a matter of life and death."
"It always is," Peter said as he walked in through the door.
"Mr. Parker? My name's..."
"Johnny, I heard you," Peter replied. He was standoffish, wondering if this guy was what he appeared, or if he was another plant like "Lance Bannon" was. He didn't like that his daughter was screaming at the top of her lungs. Even though he'd learned that it didn't necessarily mean anything, since she did it at all hours. "What I didn't hear is what you're doing in my house."
"Ben and Flash are being hunted by the Scorpion," Mary Jane said.
Peter was still skeptical. That was just the kind of thing someone would use as a diversion.
"How did you know this?"
Johnny didn't answer. Peter got ready for him to make his move. He had caught him in his bluff, and any second now he was going to go for a hostage. Try to take Mary Jane or May. He reached into his jacket and Peter moved. Fast. He was across the room and had grabbed Johnny's wrist, twisting it. Johnny yelped in pain and surprise.
"Peter!" Mary Jane yelled.
A golden disc fell out of Johnny's pocket, landing on the floor with a loud thump. Mary Jane and Peter both stared at it while Johnny stared, with the same awe and surprise, at Peter.
"How did you do that? I've never seen anyone move that fast before!"
Peter took his eyes off the disc and looked at Johnny. He had moved fast, but not so fast as to be unusual. Why was Johnny so surprised?
"I'm a mutant," he blurted out. "I'm faster and more agile than most people, and I've got this tingly sort of sense that warns me of danger. It's how I rescued Flash and his friends from...Scorpion?"
"You'd be surprised how fast a man can move when he's trying to protect his wife and daughter," Mary Jane said. She held up the gold disc. "What is this?"
"It's something a friend of mine made for me. With my abilities, it's better than mace for self-defense. But that wasn't what I was reaching for. This is."
He produced a piece of paper with three words hastily scrawled on it. "Hobgoblin = Roderick Kingsley."
Peter let out a low whistle. No wonder someone was after Ben and Flash...wait, Johnny had said friends, plural...that probably meant Betty, too!
There was a knock at the door and it creaked open. They all turned to look, except for May, who just kept wailing unhappily.
Matt Murdock poked his head in the door, wincing in pain. May's wailing was about twice as loud to his sensitive ears, and he was having trouble concentrating. Not so much trouble that his senses didn't pick up an extra body in the house.
"I wasn't expecting a convention," he said.
"Mary Jane, maybe you could take May back upstairs?"
Mary Jane nodded. She didn't know the truth about Matt's alter ego, but she knew he was blind, and knew that blind people often had heightened hearing to compensate. She walked upstairs with May, as the crying receded into the distance.
"Johnny, could you give me just a minute, and then I'll go with you?"
Johnny walked out the front door to wait on the porch. Matt looked at Spidey. "Something you need help with?"
"No, I can handle it. Did you find anything out?"
"You better sit down. You're not going to like it."
Peter sat down on the couch. Matt sat down on the chair across from him.
"They ID'ed the body. It belonged to a hitman named Nicky Ferino out of Chicago. And yes, he did work for the Kingpin at one point. But he wasn't one of his regular guys."
Peter swallowed hard. His mind was swirling. Betty, Flash and Ben were in danger. He had to focus. But what if Mary Jane and May were in danger? What if Kingpin knew?
"So...what are you saying?"
"I'm saying I think you're in the clear. Trust me, if Kingpin knew, you'd know something about it by now. You'd have some hint. But you may be right to be worried. Ferino probably was put in that position to get close to you. Someone suspects that Peter Parker has something to do with Spider-Man. Anything you can do to make that connection less clear would help."
Matt stood up. "Are you sure you don't need help with whatever it is that kid is waiting on you for?"
"No," Peter said. "But thanks, Matt."
"I'll keep an eye out for you, Peter. And if you need my help...you know where to find me."
"Thanks again," Peter said, standing to shake Matt's hand.
He walked outside with Matt and looked over at Johnny. "You ready to go?"
"We need to find Spider-Man," Johnny said.
"First we need to make sure my friends are okay. Then I'll call Spider-Man."
Silver Sable relaxed in the luxury penthouse that was her home in New York. She sipped at her glass of champagne and listened to the sounds of Brahms playing softly over her stereo system. Being a mercenary had its benefits. Her organization, the Wild Pack, more than paid the operating expenses of her home nation Symkaria, and gave her the money to enjoy life in the fashion she had become accustomed to.
It also gave her security. She knew that while she was here, she wouldn't be disturbed. Several men and women, highly trained, guarded the entrance, and high-tech security was everywhere.
So she was surprised to see a man walking out of her bathroom, washing blood from his hands.
"Good evening, Silver."
She spun and aimed the small pistol under her pillow at the man. She relaxed slightly when she recognized him.
"Good evening, Josef Millovich," she said in Russian. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
He switched to Russian as well. "Right to business, eh? Pity."
"At any rate, I was working undercover in the Russian Mafia and was supposed to recover a stolen nuclear warhead. Things were going fine until there was a second attack. Mist of some kind, blocking my view, and a man dressed in white with black spots who teleported the warhead away. As they were leaving, I recognized another one of them as Doctor Octopus. There were six of them total."
Sable slipped out of her Russian, and into her European-accented English. "Octopus...six...are you telling me the Sinister Six have a nuclear weapon?"
"Da. And I would like to hire the Wild Pack to recover it. Quickly and quietly."
"Not the Wild Pack," Sable said. "Not this time. We need someone with more expertise in the Sinister Six."
"We need Spider-Man."