Charon & The Widowed: Dead, to Begin With.
"It's gone." Charon slammed his fist down on the desk infront of Joe, who just looked up at him from a monitor which was overlooking Skyway City, and blinked. Joe scribbled something on a pad of paper, looked back towards his monitor, and typed something with one hand. With the other hand he held up the paper.
You really need to calm down. Also, specifics would be nice. You can't just storm in here and declare 'It's gone.'
He dropped the pad exactly as Charon read the last word and began typing furiously with two hands. A snarl suddenly appeared on his face as if something was going horribly wrong on his endless network of computers, informants and cameras. He swiveled his chair around to a monitor behind him, and pressed a button on another keyboard, he then turned around to face Charon, who was waiting for Joe's full attention before he continued.
"Her body. Gone."
A look of dismay came over Joe's face, and he stopped everything he was doing. The typing stopped, and all that could be heard between them for a good three minutes was the humming of computer monitors, the beeps of messages as informants gave Joe his clues, and the low dimming of the low quality lights Joe used in his various safe houses.
The phone rang and broke the silence, but Joe simply lifted the reciever and slammed it back down, hanging up on whatever tip he was about to be given, which rarely ever happened. Joe was always trying to get all the information he could lay his hands on, it wasn't often he would simply hang up on a tip. Something had to be seriously wrong for him to give up valuable data.
Finally, he lifted his pen and pulled one of his millions of pads of paper to his side, he sat there for a minute looking at the paper, as if he couldn't really think of anything to say. Even a man who can't speak can find himself stuck for words when he finally gets to express himself. Finally, the pen met the paper and Joe scribbled just one word. He then looked down it it for a second before holding it up.
Charon didn't reply. A slight nod of the head indicated his acknowledgement. They both stared at each other for a few more minutes as Joe puzzled for something to say to Charon. Joe knew how much Maria had meant to Charon just by the fact of what Charon had become in the years since her death. He had become what one could only describe as obsessive. He was completely obsessed with stopping the crime that plagued the streets of King's Row, Paragon City and even on occasion the world, and twice in Charon's heroic lifetime that Joe could count, the Universe, albeit at the side of one of Paragon's cosmic heroes. He had seen the determination Charon showed towards his cause. He had seen in it his eyes the night Charon had saved his life from the Freakshow that ripped out his voice box and rendered him unable to speak, when Charon had effectively saved his life.
And that's why whenever Charon needed help, which to be fair wasn't often, Charon usually found his own tips and leads, Joe would strive to help him in anyway. Whether it had been something he'd seen on the monitors on one of the thousands of tips that came in each day. But how on earth could he find something to say, when someone had stolen Maria's body?
The phone rang again and broke the silence.
Abigail Plains trudged through the snow, the wreath held frimly in her hands as she walked towards the police headquarters. The snow had been falling since last night without stopping, and since today was Christmas Eve she did what she always did, every Christmas since his death. She went to see him, and tell him she loved him for one of the days of the years she missed him the most. Christmas was always a time they'd spent together, and with him gone it seemed so empty. So painful. A void that could never be filled. Visiting his grave came no where near to filling that big, black void where her heart used to be, but it's something she had to do.
As she climbed the steps towards the police headquarters, she saw Blue Steel keeping a vigil as the snow fell onto his helmet. She had heard since awakening from her coma that he had been present at her husband's funeral. She'd never thought to thank him, or even talk to him. Maybe another day.
She walked past a gaggle of police officers trying to keep warm outside the HQ.
"You working Christmas, Dave?"
"Yeah, I gotta. Apparently there was a jailbreak at the Zig last night. Sounds like The Boss, Gabriel, the Lyricist, Agent Orange, XIII... All sorts of guys got out. Not to mention the Gamester’s still doing his thing with those weird snowmen. You?"
"I'm gonna be at home with my kids, man. Christmas is no time to be out here." The second officer trailed off as he looked out over King's Row, as steam rose out of the snow. Robert had never worked Christmas. He always got it off to spend with her. Always.
If The Boss was out, that was big trouble though. As the Widowed, she had fought the Boss hundreds of times before. He was the leader of one of the hundreds of King's Row gangs. His particular fetish was a couple of underground gambling clubs for villains. The Boss would tempt heroes into traps using bait of some kind, something that meant alot to them, that would really rile them up, and then guide them to a spot where a well known villain, or an equally pissed off hero was, and try to spark a fight. The villains in the club would watch on monitors and lay bets. Widowed had tracked his main casino a long time ago. It turned out that, although the Boss looked human, he was actually a demon himself. It was a hard fight, but she'd sent him to the Zig sometime last year.
Gabriel was less of a problem. He was some religious nut who thought he was earth's incarnation of the Arch angel. He picked targets that he saw as virtuous, and murdered them in an attempt to liberate them from the pains of life and send them to heaven. He wasn't much of a challenge though. The Widowed and many other vigilantes who frequented King's Row had put him in jail over the years. Somehow he always managed to get out. She'd heard he was reformed as of recently, however. Or at least that's what the rumours from inside were. Sounds like a very strange comment to make about a crazy religious murderer, but he'd found God. Just a different kind of God than the one he believed told him to kill people.
The rest of them were small fry. The Lyricist was some nut who spoke in song lyrics and left clues that led to gimmick style crimes. He was also a total little punk. As Widowed, Abigail had knocked four of his teeth out with one punch. Agent Orange could corrode things, but didn't have the brains to do anything clever with his powers, and XIII was just some big orange monster. Mindless, really. Surprisingly, it didn't often kill people. Only when frightened or backed into a corner. As far as Abigail knew, it's mission was to get back to whatever created it.
If they were all out for Christmas, though, it wasn't good. She planned to suit up and go out tonight. No doubt someone would be planning something to coincide with Christmas. There was so many nutjobs around Paragon City, and especially King's Row, that she knew at least one of them would be planning something big for the Holidays. Not to mention Boxcar and Bloodywedd were still out there.
She rounded the corner around the back of the Police headquarters. She'd recieved a nod from Blue Steel on the way past him. She couldn't really tell if he remembered her from the news stories when her husband died, or if he was just giving her one of those standard 'Be safe, citizen,' nods that all the Golden Boys seemed to give out as if it were nothing. It didn't really matter anyway.
She made her way around to the police graveyard as her feet crunched in the snow. The squeaky gate blew in the wind, and the graveyard was deserted except for the bussle of a few police officers at the far end. But as she got closer to where her husband was buried, she saw there was police tape surrounding the area. More importantly, there was police tape surrounding Robert. She dropped the wreath to the snow as she began to run towards his grave. What was going on? What were they doing to him?
"What are you doing to my-" she began, but she trailed off as she got closer to the grave, and saw, as the snow drifted gently onto her head, that it was empty.
Joe held up the pad. The hum had stopped. He had shut down all his systems except the main terminal in order to concentrate on this one problem. It was more important than anything else that could be coming in right now, short of the return of the Winter Lord.
Charon reached into a pouch of his utility belt, and pulled out a peice of cardboard. Joe could only see when it landed on his desk that it was a Christmas Card. On the front was pictured a jolly Santa Claus sitting infront of a roaring fire, a smile on his face.
Joe opened it with one hand as Charon loomed over him. He looked down and saw, stuck to the Christmas card using letters cut from newspapers and magazines:
'Well tonight thank God it's them
Instead of you.
Joe read it again as it sat on his keyboard.
"Stuck to the grave. Adhesive."
It wasn't often that Joe didn't know what to say, but this was twice today. Apart from the fact that he knew the words from somewhere, he didn't have a clue. He turned around and put them into a search on his main terminal, booting up a computer on his left.
Might have it on CCTV.
He held up to Charon without looking at him, and then dropped the pad as he typed on two entirely different keyboards with each hand. He then furiously scribbled on his pad and held it up again.
Okay. No CCTV, whoever it was wiped it out. And the quote is from a Christmas song. Do They Know It's Christmas.
It meant nothing to Charon. He spent every Christmas either out on patrol or getting drunk in his apartment, if you could even call it that anymore. It was just an empty apartment block full of empty, dusty rooms. It hadn't been cleaned since 1990, and the only room which was anywhere near in working order was the basement, which he used as a training room. The main training room was in the tower, however, all he had in his basement was a punching bag, some weights and a dart board for practicing with his knives. If he spent Christmas in his apartment, it was either in the training room or upstairs getting drunk. He'd have watched TV, if he had one anymore. In fact, he couldn't recall the last time he'd ever watched a TV program.
What do you think it means?
Joe held up.
"She's dead. I'm not. Simple. However - Card says 'Them.' Plural."
Joe was still searching on the computer with half a mind, skipping through CCTV cameras, informants.
Joe held up, and turned his full attention to one monitor. He furiously typed something to an informant, and watched a monitor to his left. All Charon could see past Joe's head was the top of the PCPD building.
A police officer has also been exhumed. Robert Plains. Was murdered by gang members three years ago.
Joe's fingers were a blur as he sped through pages and pages of information on Robert Plains. Sometimes it surprised even Charon how fast he could gather information. He'd seen him do this a thousand times, and it never ceased to amaze him how fast he could pull up all the information there is to know on one single person. Picture after picture of Robert Plains sped across the screen as Joe searched pages and pages of info, pictures and surveilance footage from various sources. Pictures of Robert Plains' dead body from the crime scene sped across the screen right before Joe got it.
Widow. Abigail Plains. Which strangely also brings up this.
Joe rolled his chair across the floor so Charon could see the monitor he had been working on, and began typing on another system. Charon moved forward and bent down to look into the monitor, and found himself staring into the one remaining eye of the Widowed.
The Christmas card lay on the dresser in front of her.
She pulled the gloves on tight and grabbed her hat from where it lay. She placed it on her head and looked into the mirror poised on the wall. She found herself doing this quite a few times before she left her apartment for the night to patrol. She would stand and look over her scars, and remember that each one was worth it if she could bring the kind of crime that killed Robert to it’s knees. She was once Abigail Plains, now she was just a bitter old hag with a thirst for vengeance. But today, she wasn’t thinking about the revenge, she was thinking about the cause of the revenge, which usually she tried her best to block out of her mind. She replayed his death in her mind.
Why? Why would someone want to dig up Robert’s body? It didn’t make any sense to her. But then, she wasn’t thinking clearly. If she’d have thought about it, there were a few suspects she could put in the frame. Bloodywedd was insane enough and more to have done this for whatever reason. She’d probably just see it as some sort of sick game.
What about Boxcar? He had plenty of motive… He’d been the one to kill Robert in the first place, and he was a master of dark powers and necromancy. It was conceivable that Robert was his next target as a potential pawn in the long fight with the Widowed.
Eventually, between tracing her scars across her face, these thoughts did occur to her, but she couldn’t think about it any longer. All she knew was she had to get out onto the street and start asking some questions. As soon as she got out there and started busting some heads she’d get some answers. And if she didn’t get some answers she’d get a few screams from the pain she was causing, and in the mood she was currently in, that would do.
The mood itself? The feeling was hard to describe. It was something like a mixture between a second awakening of grief and sheer rage. She seemed to be going through all the emotions she’d felt when she’d awoken from her coma, all over again. She just couldn’t figure it out.
By the time this train of thought had ended, she’d fully geared up, and was heading out of the back door of her safe house, ready to do what she did every night.
Someone had gotten the drop on her. She spun around, and in a fluent motion brought a kick down on her stalker. It landed in the mid section, and he staggered back. She pushed herself forwards towards him, and balled up her fist, bringing it flying towards his face.
But he caught it in his open palm, and twisted it. She cried out in pain. He let go and pushed her back.
He stepped into the light.
She immediately recognized him. She spent a lot of her time in King’s Row. After all it was one of the darkest, dirtiest and seediest places in the whole city. The entirety of Paragon needed help, but King’s Row was simply dying of the cancer that was drugs and street crime. She dedicated most her patrol time to that zone, and she had seen him around. She’d never met him, or worked with him, but like the other vigilantes in the city, she held great respect for him… Even if there were rumors he was a little insane.
Wait. He knew her real name. How?
‘Wait, how did you find me? How do you know my name?’
She noticed he was holding his side where she’d planted that kick. She smiled a little on the inside knowing she’d managed to cause pain to someone with the reputation Charon had.
‘Crey. Have an… Aquaintance. Good with technology.’
She knew it must have been tied into those bastards somehow.
‘Listen, no disrespect, but did you want something? I have something that really needs attending to.’
He passed her the piece of card he’d been holding in one hand. She moved it around in the darkness to try and make out the image on the front.
Santa Claus. This card was identical to the one she had found at the bottom of Robert’s grave. She opened it hastily and pulled the card up to her face so she could read the message inside.
‘Well tonight thank God it’s… It’s the same. How did you get this?’
‘Stuck to the grave… Of my…’ He trailed off.
She figured it out. It didn’t take long to put two and two together. He was exactly the same as her. Just trying to avenge the death of someone he once loved. Still did love, otherwise why would they be dressing up in combat suits every night to fight crime that never stopped, to try and suppress evil that couldn’t be stopped; To treat a disease with no cure.
‘And she was gone?’
‘Are there any more?’
‘No. Checked police files. Two bodies exhumed. Your husband’s. Maria.’
It didn’t take much thinking to realize who Maria was. She was his equivalent of Robert. She was his reason to still be alive, his purpose, and his inspiration. She was what kept him alive, going out every night. She was what Robert was to her. They were both bound to someone dead, someone who, although they were gone, they could never truly let go.
‘Do you have any leads?’
‘Few. Showtime. Gamester. Showtime - Socialist, insane, anti-capitalist; hatred for me. Knows identity and only way to get to me is Maria. Gamester – part of the larger plan?’
Charon, she found, was extremely hard to understand. He seemed to only say the bare basics of sentences, but then again that fit with what she’d heard, all business, no time for anything else. She found herself wondering that if, underneath the costume and all that shielding, he was dying on the inside as well. Was the absence of the body of Maria tearing him up as much as the absence of Robert’s was shredding her up inside? She couldn’t be sure if what he put up was a front, or whether he truly had distanced himself from all emotion.
As for his suspects, she has had run-ins with Showtime. He was completely insane, and nothing was beyond the reach of his insanity. She’d actually heard about some of his schemes against Charon in the past, and suffices to say that some of them were sick enough to show that Showtime was definitely capable of doing this. The Gamester, though, was a mystery to her. All she knew was that he was dropping presents all over the city that either contained wonderful surprises, or truly horrifying ones. She’d heard a story just two days ago that a homeless guy had opened a box to be sprayed in the face with nerve gas. He wasn’t a pretty sight when the cops found him, to say the least.
‘I’ve got a couple of suspects. Bloodywedd is pretty much like your Showtime lead, she’s so whacko she could have done this and more. Boxcar is a member of The Skulls. He was the one who originally killed… He’s into necromancy and dark magic. He’s a sick bastard, to say the least.’
Charon just grunted.
‘You don’t talk much, do you?’
And with that, he turned around and walked off. She figured that if anyone could help her, it was he; after all, between them they had more leads than she had on her own, and if she knew anything by what she’d heard, he had quite a reputation for getting the job done. Also, he seemed to have a place to start looking, which was more than she had. As he scaled a building to its rooftop, she decided she’d stick with him, and somehow, they’d get Robert back.
‘He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, he’s going to charge parents an extortionate price…’
The song seemed to travel through the house, like some bad odor. The children were asleep in the bedrooms, having dreams of the morning that was slowly coming, dreams of Father Christmas, riding the skies on his sleigh, flying reindeer taking him higher and higher, to heights that only the heroes could imagine. Dropping presents down chimneys for the good boys and girls, and lumps of coal for the bad. But deep down, the children knew they were good boys and girls, and they would get what they asked for.
Sadly, in reality, this was King’s Row, and in particular the neighborhood within the Row that ten or twelve years before had been referred to as ‘The Basement,’ as low as you could go. That nickname had disappeared a long time ago, along with The Basement Boyz, the would-be aggressors of the people that lived there. Charon had seen to that. But this neighborhood, lovingly renamed ‘High Park,’ was still as poor as it once was, and now, still as awash with crime. These kids would get something when they woke up in the morning, but it could be far from what they asked for.
However, nobody could have expected what this family got the night before Christmas.
For somewhere in the house, something was stirring, as quiet as a mouse.
Whispering the lines of his very own Christmas ditty, Showtime went about his business, taking the presents from underneath the tree, and leaving horrifying surprises of his own. He was wearing a black and white Santa Claus suit, illuminated by the lights from the Christmas tree, which twinkled in the darkness. Over his shoulder was a sack filled with his very own ‘toys,’ menaces that could cause all kinds of pain and torment. This was his first house visit of the night, and he planned to visit every house in Charon’s old neighborhood before he rested.
Showtime skulked around the house in his black and white Santa Claus suit, looking for the mince pies. All this crime was making him rather hungry, and it would be an awful waste if he let the mince pies be destroyed.
Eventually, he found cookies. He found himself thinking that these weren’t quite as festive as a plate of mince pies and a glass of eggnog would have been, but all the same he downed the milk in one, and gobbled the cookies on the plate, all the time humming the tune to Silent Night. Or at least that’s what it resembled, Showtime got bored after a time and the song seemed to shift into another Christmas favorite. He took a moment to take in a breath of winter air, and then headed over to his presents, to make sure they were still working as intended. And just as he was about to leave through the window, to step into a rocket powered sleigh he had fashioned from a shopping cart and a few rocket packs stolen from the shipment that Arachnos had intercepted on their way to Ms. Liberty, Showtime got quite a surprise.
The foot connected with his face at amazing speed, breaking some bone in his face and sending him flying back through the apartment window and straight into the Christmas tree. Charon stepped into the apartment, with the Widowed standing to his side. Showtime couldn’t be sure which one of them had hit him, but whichever one it had been, it was exceedingly painful. There was already blood seeping into the white fur trim of his greyscale Father Christmas mockery. He could not allow this. Charon descended on him. He was going to have to move fast if he wanted to get out of this one. He reached into his sack, and pulled out a black box covered with white ribbon. He slammed it to the floor, and on cue, the whole room filled with smoke. Showtime dashed forward and past Charon, diving from the window into his makeshift sleigh.
The Widowed headed for the window.
‘No. Presents under the tree. Traps for the family. Dispose of them.’ And with that, he was gone. Charon fired a grappling hook into the night, which she could only assume somehow miraculously connected with the shopping sleigh. It was only then that she realized somewhere in the smoke, that the children of the household had awoken, and were standing in the doorframe in absolute terror.
‘Oh God. Look, kids, stay back, okay? Just stay back.’ Abigail tried to reason with the kids. She’d always loved kids, before… The accident. Sadly, kids didn’t love her anymore. They tended to take one look at her scarred face and run in terror. Today was no different, except that this time the kids didn’t run as expected, they just stood in the doorway, petrified.
She reached under the tree and pulled out the one present that still remained there, a black box the size of a television, wrapped up neatly with white ribbon. She pulled a small blade from her utility belt. It was something she never used in battle, it was more for situations like this, where she had to cut through something, usually rope for one reason or another, as fast as possible. She sliced the ribbon open. That’s when one of the kids started to cry.
She turned to look to the doorway, where the youngest had tears streaming down his face. She removed the lid of the box with her free hand, keeping her eyes on the kids.
‘Don’t cry honey. Look, everything’s going to be fi-.’ She turned her head back to the box and saw what was inside.
‘Oh my God.’