Missed Calls

His daughter had played a game on his phone this morning, draining a little more than a quarter of his battery. He still had some time before work, so he plugged it into his charger and went about his normal morning routine. After showering, putting his clothes on, and going downstairs to make his lunch, he kissed his daughter goodbye. It wasn’t until he was halfway to work that he realized he had left his phone at home on the charger.

If he turned around to get it, he would be late. He couldn’t be late. He would have to go the day without his phone.

It felt strange to him to walk around with an empty pocket. He never noticed how much he had grown used to having it with him at all times. The absence of it almost made him feel naked. Still, he had work to do, so he tried to push it out of his mind and get to it.

Suddenly, his ringtone blared loudly in his mind for a few seconds.

It was almost enough to make him jump. As it was, it increased his heart rate and momentarily sped up his breathing. Out of instinct, he reached to his pocket before remembering he didn’t have his phone with him when he came up empty. A glance at the clock showed that it was only twenty minutes until he went to lunch.

The day’s half over, he reminded himself. Only four more hours after I get back from lunch. His lunch dragged on, him not having his phone to update or browse through his social media sites. He was forced to pay attention to some soap opera that was playing on the television. It was mounted on the breakroom wall too high for him to reach the buttons and he couldn’t find the remote. One of his coworkers must’ve hidden it again. Bastards.

After the hellish lunch he just experienced, he was happy to go back to work for once. He had just reached a productive groove when he was interrupted again by the sound of his ringtone. This time he did jump because of how loud it sounded in his head, although he was able to keep himself from reaching for his pocket that time. The clock said that he had only been back from lunch for an hour. Only three more hours to go, he thought.

The next hour breezed through and because he didn’t have his phone, he decided to skip his final break. He found his groove again, doing well above his normal production. Before he knew it, a bell on the wall rang out, signaling that there was ten minutes left in his shift. With his quota hit, he stopped what he was doing and planned on not doing anything until it was time to clock out. Then, he heard his ringtone again.

Like the first two times, it gave him a start, but it didn’t ring out in his head as loudly that time. Annoyed, he vowed to never be stupid enough to forget his phone again.

When he got home, he found his daughter playing with his phone once again. He took it from her and told her to go play with her own toys. She huffed, but did as she was told. As she was walking away, she told him that he was getting texts all day. Only one text showed up, from his wife asking what he wanted to do for dinner. He was going to ask his daughter about it when he saw that he had voicemails. Those had the same alert tone that his texts did. That must have been what she heard.

The first message was from his brother. He listened as his sibling frantically told him that their grandfather had been rushed to the hospital. As the message was playing, he looked through his phone log and saw that the only missed calls he had were from his brother. The other messages had to be from him as well.

Another frantic rambling greeted him on the next one. His brother was practically begging him to call back, saying that it didn’t look good and that the doctors were saying that his grandfather didn’t have much longer. The third message consisted of his brother bawling, telling him that their grandfather had passed away.

Tears began rolling down his cheeks as he put his phone down on the table in front of him. Through the tears, he saw that his phone log was still open. The first call came in twenty minutes before he went to lunch. The second call came an hour after he got back from lunch. The final call came ten minutes before he clocked out.

Crying even harder now, he went through his phone’s settings until it let him play his ringtone. As the music came from the speaker, he buried his face in his hands. His wife came into the room, asking what was wrong. He didn’t hear her, though. He was listening to his ringtone.

The song his grandfather asked him to use.

 

My WordPress Anniversary

I checked my notifications today and I got one that said it was my WordPress anniversary today. Seven years ago today I started this here blog. It honestly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.

According to my site, I’ve published 707 posts during that seven years. That’s barely over a hundred posts a year. There are probably some bloggers out there that hit 700 posts in less than half that time. Hell, maybe the majority of other bloggers put up that many posts that quickly. I’m kind of on the outside as far as what the people around these parts do.

My 700 posts have been a mix of things. I’ve told you all stories. Sometimes they’re fiction. Sometimes they aren’t. I’ve told you about my beautiful daughter, Baby E, who just finished her last day of preschool on Thursday. The school celebrated it by having a picnic for everyone at the local park. She got to run around with her classmates one last time before going to kindergarten next year. It rained for two hours that day….the two hours we were down at the park. She was muddy and soaked by the time we got home.

I’ve told you Left 4 Dead, Star Wars, Spider-Man, and Superman stories.

I’ve told you stories about my own characters: Captain Procrastination, DICO, and other various tales such as Dead Set.

Lately though, I’ve been doing most of my writing offline. There are two books that I’ve been working on that are close to being done, but there’s still no set time on releasing them (As soon as I have something definitive for you, I’ll definitely post it). Those two projects are collaborations with other authors. The one I’m working on now is just me and I’ve found that working on a project alone means that I don’t write as fast as I do with others. Taking on projects with other writers forces me to focus more because I don’t want to let them down or make them wait on me.

Another reason I’m writing more offline is because I’ve been having trouble lately thinking of things to write about on this here blog. I used to have ideas pop into my head all the time. Now they’re few and far between. Maybe it’ll start coming back to me soon. Or maybe I’ll have to do another prompt post. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what the future holds.

To end this post, I’d just like to say thank you to anyone who has ever taken the time to read the words coming out of my fingers. There are a lot of blogs out there, many of which have much better writers than I, that you could spend your time on. The fact that you chose to spend yours with me is truly humbling. I’m grateful for every one of you. I wish you all a wonderful night

 

Ghoul Fan Fiction Finale

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With five guns now swinging my way, I didn’t have time to check on the Punisher’s condition just yet. I hoped that I could get all five men with one long burst from the automatic pistol. After I mowed down the first two men, the gun began clicking. Damn. I was out of ammo. I dropped the empty gun and drew the two pistols I had in my shoulder holsters.

By that time, the remaining three men had trained their guns on me and opened fire. I was hit by a barrage of bullets. None of them really did any major damage to me. Most of my coat and shirt were gone. My left pinky finger and my right middle finger had been shot off. Although I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, I was pretty sure my hat was now gone too.

Their shots did nothing to slow my own attacks. My trigger fingers worked furiously, sending speeding metal at the jackasses who were doing their best to kill me. Two of them fell with new holes in their bodies. The third man had taken cover before I could get him in my sights. A metallic ring sounded off to my left and I remembered that he was the grenade thrower.

While the grenade wouldn’t kill me, being blown up would severely hamper my ability to do….anything, really.

I dove to my right and hoped that it’d be enough. The explosion came as I hit the floor. Looking back to where it had gone off, I saw that I was now missing my left foot. It wasn’t ideal, but it could’ve been a lot worse. My guns had miraculously managed to stay in my hands, so I made ready for when the grenade thrower moved from cover to check on his handiwork.

Sure enough, he peeked around the corner to look in my direction. I shot the second I saw his head. From the other side of the room, someone else shot at the same time I did. Grenade thrower’s head literally exploded as two bullets tore through it. The Punisher stepped out of the doorway he had been using for cover, the barrel of his assault rifle smoking.

There were some dents in his body armor, and some small cuts on his arms and legs, but the grenade didn’t do him any major damage. I assume he found something to hide behind before it went off. “What’re you doing here,” he gruffly asked.

“Saving your life,” I replied while rolling my eyes. “Now, could you stop being an ungrateful ass and hand me my foot?”

Grunting slightly in response, he did as I asked. Once I had my foot back in place, I picked my two fingers off the ground and reattached them. To test them out, I held up my right middle finger up to the Punisher. “It works,” I said.

He ignored my awesome joke and moved further into the mansion. We made our way through the rest of it with ease. I would go into a room first and draw all of the fire. That left the Punisher free to take them out without having to worry about being under fire himself. It was the most efficient fight I had ever had in my “superhero” career. Well, when working with someone without powers, anyway.

The last room we got to was the master bedroom. When I busted down the door, Dallos stood alone. He was unarmed and holding his hands in the air. “I give up,” he pleaded. “I surrender.”

I thought of the sadness I saw on Amanda’s face when her spirit talked to me. “He’s all yours,” I told the Punisher as I turned and walked out of the room.

I wasn’t sure what he was going to do to Dallos, but I was sure that I didn’t want to be there when he did it. Besides, the sounds of the gunfight had been noticed. Police sirens played outside the house. Flashing red and blue lights could be seen in the windows in the front of the house. I needed to get the hell out of there.

I took off my shirt and trenchcoat, since they were nothing more than tatters now, and grabbed replacements from one of the other bedrooms. The shirt was fine, but there wasn’t a coat as good as my trenchoat at obscuring my face. Grabbing the best thing available, I threw it on and vowed to put my ring back on as soon as I possibly could. I also tucked a change of clothes under the jacket for when I found a place without any cameras.

The police were only at the front of the mansion at that point, so I was able to slip out the back undetected. I took a random route for a while, just in case someone was behind me. After finding a suitable place, I put on my  ring and changed my clothes. Once that was done, I hailed a cab and took it back to my office. Just like last time, I walked in to find the Punisher sitting behind my desk.

“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t figure out that you had taken the file,” he asked.

“I honestly don’t care that you know I took it,” I responded.

“I’ve seen firsthand that bullets don’t do much against you,” he grinned as he pulled something out of his pocket. “I also saw you run from a grenade. You made my work tonight far easier than it normally is, so it would be a shame if I had to use this on you. Give me the file, and we’ll part ways as friends.”

If I had lips, I would’ve smiled. Instead, I said, “Crop dust.”

He began to frantically look around, but didn’t see anything. I could tell he was debating using the grenade, but there was no guarantee that he’d be able to escape the blast when I was this close to him. Within seconds, his arms began to droop. Not long after he slumped over completely.

“Paralyzing gas,” I told him. “A friend of mine got it for me from S.H.I.E.L.D. It works really fast once it gets into the bloodstream. Another benefit of being dead is that I no longer have blood, so it doesn’t affect me at all. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever need this setup, but I like to be prepared.

“I could easily kill you right now, and I bet that I’d be the best friend of many spirits roaming the city tonight if I did, but I won’t be doing that. What I am going to do is drop this off at the police station. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the people in this file probably have enough people paid off that this won’t hurt them too much, but I think some of them will face some time because of this.

“All I’m really sure of right now is what will happen if you get your hands on this: My city will gain a lot of new spirits. You may not care, because you’re done with them once they’re dead, but I do. I don’t want to have to deal with a lot of disgruntled mobsters that you set your crosshairs on.”

I walked over to stand in front of him and put my face right in front of his. “I know you can hear me, so listen up. You’re going to stay right where you are until the gas wears off and then you’re going to disappear from my life forever. I’ve heard you’re not to big about letting things go, so if you ever get the urge to come after me, I want you to remember something. I want you to remember how many people you’ve killed. How many of those spirits would help me against you?

“Sure, you could hurt me with that grenade, but you still wouldn’t kill me. And, once I recovered, I would use every one of those spirits to find out every single thing about you. With help like that, I’d be able to take you out before you even knew I was coming after you. Or, maybe I’d use them to warn every person you’re targeting that you’re coming after them. I suppose I could always scare away anyone who supplies your gear, too. There’s really no end to the things I could do to disrupt your crusade.”

I walked to the door, put my hand on the knob, and turned my head towards him. “No matter which option you choose, I will always be ok in the end. All you’re really doing is choosing how hard your life will be from now on. It’s up to you, Frank.”

With that, I walked out the door, hopefully to never see the Punisher again.

Ghoul Fan Fiction Part 7

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Aa much as I wanted to run out the door to help the Punisher, there was some unfinished business to take care of here first. The fate of an innocent child was far more important to me than the fate of a man who spends his nights on a murder spree. “Why’d you take the boy,” I asked. “Are you, or one of your sons, his father?”

“What,” Cook cried, his face crinkling up in disgust. “God, no. I’ve known her since she was born. She grew up with my kids. She was like a daughter to me and a sister to my boys. It’s just that if I didn’t get him, who knows where they would’ve stuck him. I took him because I thought he should stay with family.”

I let my gaze drift over to Robert, who was studying Cook’s face. Making up his mind, he gave me a slight nod of his head. “Ok, Cook,” I said. “Here’s the deal. From now on, you’re out of the business.”

“Dallos will kill me if I try to back out.”

“After tonight, you’ll never see Dallos again, so don’t worry about it. I’m going to assume that, like McKenzie, you have a number of legitimate enterprises?” Cook nodded, so I continued, “Good. You’re going to focus on those and raising Amanda’s son. You will care for him as much as you do your own. I will have someone watching you at all times, Cook. If you do anything to hurt that boy, I’ll be back and when I get done with you, you’ll look worse than me.”

That last part put a little fear in him. I didn’t have time to stick around and press the issue. Instead, I took the elevator back downstairs and ran outside. A couple was out front about ready to climb into a taxi. Once again, my horrid appearance worked in my favor. Not only did the couple run away upon seeing me, but the driver did too. It was about time something went my way.

I punched the address McKenzie gave me for Dallos  into the GPS and gunned the engine, letting the navigation unit catch up as I went. I knew the general area fairly well, from my own time as a taxi driver, but I didn’t know exactly where. Another throwback to my taxi days was knowing the best routes to take to avoid traffic. It still took longer than I liked to get there, though.

The last few blocks were a little odd. Through the city, I moved at a frantic pace. Out here, among the large estates that made up this neighborhood, everything seemed calm and serene. I started wondering if I had come to the wrong place. That’s when the sounds of gunshots began echoing through the night sky.

A gate barred the entrance into Dallos’ estate, so I plowed the cab right through it. Or, I  attempted to, at least. The gate was a lot sturdier than it looked. It stopped the car flat. Still, the taxi did enough damage to it that I was able to squeeze through it. I ran the rest of the way to the front door. When I flung it open, I was greeted by one of Dallos’ men.

With one look at me, he dropped the automatic pistol he was carrying. “Oh, hell no,” he said as he raised his hands and started walking out the door behind me. “First, the Punisher and now some dude who looks like he’s right out of Night of the Living Dead? Nope. I’m done. I ain’t getting paid enough for this bullshit.”

I watched him go, not knowing what to do. That was definitely a first for me. Shaking it out of my head, I picked up the gun he dropped and went deeper into the house. Trying to pinpoint where the gunshots were coming from based solely on the sound was impossible for me. Having no ears has its drawbacks, folks. So, basically, all I was doing was blindly walking around.

In the second hallway I walked down, I found the billiards room. Going inside, I quickly located the flash drive behind the vent, grabbed it, and put it in my pocket. Before I had a chance to put the vent back, a shot rang out behind me. The bullet tore through my trenchcoat and out of my chest.  I turned to see another henchman standing there with a smoking gun. His hands trembled when he saw that his shot did no damage to me.

“We gonna do this the easy way or the hard way,” I sighed.

He replied by repeatedly pulling the trigger. The only thing he accomplished was putting more holes in my coat. Now, I was angry and he wouldn’t like me when I was angry. One squeeze on the automatic pistol sent a small spurt of lead in his direction. He fell backwards, landing with a groan. I didn’t see any blood coming from his torso, so he must’ve been wearing a vest. There were holes in both his left thigh and the opposite shoulder.

I thought about finishing him off, but just walked out of the room instead. As a general rule, l avoid killing people, especially since they might come back to haunt me. If this guy ends up going, it won’t weigh on my conscience. I gave him the chance to walk away and he chose to shoot me.

I checked my pocket to make sure that the man’s barrage of bullets didn’t hit the flash drive and breathed  sigh of relief when I found it intact. I continued on into the next corridor and hoped that the growing decibel level of the gunshots meant that I was getting closer to the action. I was.

As I rounded a corner, I saw that there were five men firing into an open doorway. Three other men lay dead around the room. Obviously, I had found the Punisher. I raised the automatic pistol just as one of the men threw something into the room with Frank. “Punisher,” I yelled to get his attention. “Grenade!”

The men, hearing my cry, turned their guns on me. My weapon started barking out seconds before the grenade exploded. I glanced at the doorway long enough to see nothing but a cloud of dust come out of it.

Ghoul Fan Fiction Part 6

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Once again, the Punisher looked pissed that I was having a conversation that he couldn’t hear both sides of. I didn’t care. “Cook took your grandson,” I asked, not really believing. “With you and Amanda both dead, your grandson gives him no leverage over anyone. Why would he do that?”

“I’m a ghost, not a mind reader, you jackass,” McKenzie retorted. “How the hell should I know?”

“He has two sons around that age,” the Punisher interjected with a shrug. “Maybe one of them is the father. Or, maybe it’s Cook himself, if she had a thing for older men.”

“They had better not be,” Robert fumed. “She told me it was some boy from school. I swear if any of those three even thought about touching my daughter, I’ll kill all of them.”

“Focus, people,” I hollered. “Let’s get back to what matters. We have a deal, McKenzie. If you tell me where you hid those files, we’ll go get your grandson.”

“It’s behind an air vent in Dallos’ billiards room.”

“You hid your files in Dallos’ house?”

“If I was trying to hide something from you, would you look in your own house for it?”

“Good point. Wouldn’t he notice that the air flow is being disrupted, though? There’s no way those files are letting air go by them.”

“They’re on a flash drive.”

“Amanda said you kept all your files on paper because you didn’t trust computers.”

“Do you know how many people in this city are in the business? I’d need a warehouse to keep files on all of them on paper. I was forced to make an exception.”

“It’s really annoying when you talk to people who aren’t there and don’t tell me what they say,” the Punisher grumbled.

“It’s not important,” I countered. “Let’s just go get his grandson.”

“I don’t think so. I’m going to Dallos’ house to get the files.” The look on my face must’ve shown my confusion  because he clarified, “I still heard your side of the conversation, genius.”

I thought back. Had I said where the files were out loud? Damn it! I had.

By the time I turned to try to convince the Punisher to change his mind, he was already halfway out the door. “Let him go,” McKenzie said. “We don’t need him. You’re immortal, right?”

“More or less.”

“Then you’ve got nothing to fear from a bunch of guys with guns.”

I stood up and got my gear together. Once I had both of my shoulder holsters on, and full, I put a couple of extra clips of ammo in my pocket. An old rickety jacket was thrown over my shoulders to cover the guns up as I walked out of my office.

When I was around halfway to Cook’s house, I ditched the old jacket in an alley and put on my tan trenchcoat, that I had been carrying underneath the other jacket. I put on the other garment that I had under my jacket, my brimmed hat, and pulled up the collars. My face needed to be as obscured as possible. Once I had it hidden as best I could, I pulled off the magic ring. Immediately, I returned to my actual appearance.

“What did you do that for,” McKenzie griped disgustedly.

“As far as the world knows,” I replied, ignoring the ghost’s tone of voice, “Jonathan Martin is just a regular private investigator. If a surveillance camera catches him entering, or even near, a place right before a gun fight breaks out, his life becomes far more difficult. For tonight, I’m Ghoul.”

“If you say so, pal,” I thought I heard Robert mutter, but I ignored the dead bastard.

The remainder of the walk was fairly uneventful. Most people ignored my horrid appearance. I told the few who didn’t that I was on my way to a zombie walk, which they applauded. That’s one of the great things about living in New York City. Nothing is considered weird here.

Unlike Dallos, who had a house out in the suburbs, Cook resided in a fairly swanky building in the city. Swanky enough to have a doorman, anyway. I had a way around him, though. All I had to do was walk up to him and show him my face. Naturally, he freaked and tried to run away, but I  grabbed him by the collar of the ridiculous looking jacket they made him wear and made him open the door first. Once he did, I released him and he ran away screaming.

After I got inside, McKenzie, who had been here many times before, directed me on where to go. I got on the elevator and hit the floor number he indicated. While I was going up, I pulled my guns out of their holsters, expecting trouble as soon as the doors opened. There was none.

The doors opened up directly into the living area, an entertainment room by the looks of it. Cook sat on the couch watching TV, with the infant in his hands. Obviously, he heard me approach because without turning around he said, “It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. Amanda wasn’t supposed to die. But, Dallos moved too quickly. I couldn’t stop him.”

“Where are your bodyguards?”

“I don’t have any. I’m a secret mobster, remember?”

He turned to face me for the first time. To his credit, he didn’t react to my visage. “I thought you were the Punisher,” he admitted.

“No,” I responded, “I’m much more charming than he is. I can, however, kill you just as dead as he can if you keep lying to me. Now, where are your bodyguards?”

“I’m not lying. Not tonight, at least. There’s nobody here but us. Everyone else is at Dallos’ house.”

Uh oh. “What are they doing there?”

“Dallos killed Amanda  because he didn’t believe her when she said she couldn’t get the file for us. He thought she was working with someone else to hide it from us. After he killed her, he said we wouldn’t need to look for her partner because they’d come after him for revenge. So, now he’s got all of our guys, plus some extra muscle he hired on, waiting for whoever shows up.”

Damn, I thought. The Punisher is about to walk into an ambush and I have no way of warning him.

Ghoul Fan Fiction Part 5

 

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As soon as the Punisher told me that he wasn’t planning on killing her, I should’ve known something was wrong. The aura of death surrounding Amanda told me it was coming, but I pushed it aside when I took her away from him. I still felt it, even if I didn’t admit it to myself. Had I listened to it, maybe she’d still be alive right now.

“Hey, Martin,” the Punisher snapped my last name. “What the hell is going on? Why were you whispering to nobody?”

“You know how the Hulk is green and can throw heavy things?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I got the green part down. I just can’t pick up cars. What I can do, though, is talk to the dead, and Amanda’s spirit just came to me.”

“You think you can talk to ghosts?”

“So do ghosts. And I have three of them here that want to talk to you.. A woman with two children. Do you want to talk to them…. Frank?”

If I were in a different situation, I might laugh at his facial expression. It was rage, confusion, and sadness all rolled into one. I didn’t have time for laughs right now. “What’s it gonna be,  Frank,” I asked impatiently. “You gonna talk to them?”

“Fine,” he conceded with a snarl. “You can talk to ghosts. But if you ever bring up that woman and the children again, I don’t care how unkillable you think you are, I will find a way to end your existence.”

Once again, I wanted to laugh. Oh sure, he could blow me up into a million pieces. That would certainly slow me down while my body put itself back together, but he couldn’t kill me. Trust me, more powerful people than him have tried.

“Fine,” I mocked his earlier tone.

“What happened to her?”

“All she said was that she left the place I had her stashed to get her son and that ‘they’ were waiting on her.”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“I’m assuming she’s talking about her father’s associates, Cook and Dallos.”

“She better not be talking about Cook. I made it very clear to him that nothing was to happen to her.”

“What are you talking about? You’re in contact with Cook?”

“I’ve gone up against a lot of gangsters in my time, but McKenzie was one of the smartest I’ve come across. Hell, I didn’t even know about him until about a month ago. The only reason I know about him is Cook. He never said how, but he and Dallos found out about him. They weren’t very happy that their old friend had been conning and using them.

“So, they decided to start making some side deals on their own. The problem with that was they weren’t as smart as McKenzie and they caught my attention. I busted in on a deal that Cook was making with the Russians for some guns. He started cowering when the shooting started. After I killed everyone else, he tried making a deal with me. I played along with it at first, but eventually we came to an understanding.”

“And what was that?”

“He’d tell me everything he knew in exchange for me not killing his two sons when I took down the family. They were low level guys who really hadn’t done much anyways, so I was ok with giving him that one. That’s when he told me about McKenzie and what was in his files.”

“Sorry, but I  kinda tuned you out when you told me what was in there earlier. I was shocked when I saw Amanda walk in. What’s so important that’s in those files?”

“Dirt on every mid to major organized crime figure in the city. I don’t know how he did it, but he got incriminating evidence on all of them. That way, if anyone pushed too hard to find out his true identity, McKenzie would blackmail them into backing off.”

“Well, I’m sorry to say, but I think that file is lost. McKenzie wouldn’t tell me where it was, and Amanda didn’t know.”

“How can you be sure that she doesn’t know where it is?”

“Because she hired me to find it. I asked her dad where it was, but he wouldn’t tell me.”

“I’ll tell you now,” a voice interrupted. Robert McKenzie stood behind the Punisher, staring at me. “But, if I do, you have to do something for me.”

I held up a finger to stop the Punisher before he started talking. “What do you want me to do,” I asked him.

“When they killed my daughter, Cook took my grandson. I  want you to get him back.”

Ghoul Fan Fiction Part 4

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My pal Dane, aka The Black Knight, wasn’t home. From the looks of it,  he hadn’t been here in a long time. That’s why I felt confident that he wouldn’t get upset that I broke in. (Author’s Note: From what I can gather, The Black Knight now resides in the Marvel dimension known as WeirdWorld.)

After getting Amanda settled down, I asked her what was really going on. “Most people don’t know this,” she answered, “but my father was one of the most powerful people in the city. He was the leader of one of the families.”

“If he was a Don, or whatever the hell they call themselves nowadays, how is it that nobody knows that?”

“I asked him that once myself, when I finally caught on to what he did for a living. He reminded me of how he used to laugh at the gangster movies when the leaders would lead from out front to prove how tough they were, that they were in charge. He said it was the heights of arrogance and stupidity to do that because all you were doing was making yourself, and your family, a target.

“It made more sense, he said, to be the man behind the curtain, to be the puppeteer pulling the strings. They can’t take a shot at you if they don’t know you’re there. It was how he protected us.”

“How did you find out what he did? I would think that he didn’t want you to know about it.”

“He didn’t want anybody to know about it. There were only a couple of guys in his organization that knew more than half of what he had going on. I only found out because I stumbled on to the books for the restaurant and studied them. I figured it would be a good way for me to learn more about real world accounting than I could in my accounting class. When I looked them over, I saw some inconsistencies and I confronted him about them. He was laundering money. He told me everything after that.”

“So who’s running things now that he’s gone?”

“There are two guys who are in charge now. Both of them are named John, so we called them by their last names, Cook and Dallos. They’ve been friends with my dad since elementary school. Dallos is the enforcer. Cook is the brains of the operation. They thought my father was just a flunky like them. The orders stopped coming as soon as he died, so it wasn’t long before they figured it out.”

“I doubt that they were thrilled about being kept in the dark like that.”

“If they were angry, they didn’t show it to me. They came to me a couple of days ago saying that they had found all of dad’s files except for those of the restaurant. Apparently, there was something missing from the other files that they really needed and they figured it had to be mixed in with those.

“They said that if I found it for them, they’d make sure I’d be taken care of. I’m still family to them. I said that I’d find the papers for them, but I didn’t care about the money as long as I got to keep the restaurant. Dad really loved that place.”

Amanda’s eyes dropped to the ground at the memory of her father. For a second, I thought she was going to cry, but she pulled herself together. “What happens now,” she asked.

“From what I know about the Punisher, he’s not one to let this drop. At least, not without a good reason. So, I’m going to go give him a good reason.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

I turned to her in triumph, a big grin on my face. A deep frown greeted me in return. “Oh, come on,” I protested. “That was the perfect place for that line!” The frown was joined by the shaking of her head. “Whatever. I’m going to go have a chat with the Punisher. You stay right here. This place can’t be traced to you and the only one who can tie me to it in any way is the guy who owns it. Speaking of which, if a guy in black armor, with a wicked looking sword comes in, just tell him you’re with me.”

“A man with a wicked looking sword? Great. I feel safe now.”

“Don’t worry. He won’t hurt you. He’s an Avenger.” Well, he used to be anyway, I said in my head. “Don’t leave this apartment for any reason. We brought enough food with us to last you a few days. I’m not sure I’d trust anything left in his kitchen. I’ll come back as soon as it’s safe. I promise.”

“Are you sure you’re gonna be able to find this guy?”

“I am a detective, you know. Besides, and I hate to have to use another movie quote,  but something tells me that I won’t be finding him. He’ll be finding me.”

Two hours later, thanks to traffic, I was proven right. I unlocked, then opened, my office door to find The Punisher sitting behind my desk. “Tell me where the girl is,” he demanded.

“Or else what,” I countered. “You can’t kill me. I’m already dead. And because of the dead thing, I don’t feel pain anymore, so you can’t torture it out of me either. So, here’s what I propose: Don’t kill the girl, and I’ll …”

“I’m not going to kill the girl. I never was.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that?”

“I’ve been doing this a long time. By now, I can tell who is in the business and who isn’t. She clearly isn’t.”

“You shot at her. I jumped in front to take the bullet.”

“If I shot at her, I would’ve hit her. I shot at you because you made a move towards me.”

“If you weren’t there to kill her, why were you there?”

“I was going to try to scare her into giving me her father’s papers.”

“Why is everyone so eager to get their hands on these papers? From what Amanda said it was just accounting sheets that showed he laundered money through the restaurant.”

The Punisher began talking, but I didn’t hear him. My focus was now on the ghost that had walked through my office door. “I have a son,” the ghost explained. “They were waiting for me when I went to go get him. I thought he’d be safer with me.”

“You should’ve told me,” I whispered. “I could’ve…”

“I’m sorry for getting you into this mess,” the ghost interrupted. “Goodbye.”

I punched the wall as it disappeared. “No!”

“What’s your problem,” the Punisher asked. “Who were you talking to?”

“It’s too late. I’m too late. They killed her. She’s dead.”

“What are you talking about? Who’s dead?”

“Amanda. They killed Amanda.”