Walter Franke sat in the small interrogation room, comfortable in the way of a man who’d been in this situation a thousand times before. It didn’t matter that he’d never stepped foot into this particular room before today, or that he’d never met the supervillain handcuffed to the table across from him. Everything about this was familiar, up to and including the tangled knot of anxiety his guts had twisted themselves into.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
“That’s not my problem,” said the supervillain.
He called himself Dr. Blood. He wasn’t a doctor. He hadn’t even made it through a full semester of college. The local agents had found him at home, thankfully, so Walter wasn’t subjected to whatever disastrous eyesore he called a costume. He wore a black T-shirt with some kind of pentagram-type thing on the front, and his dark hair was drowning in gel. The small strip of facial hair going from his lower lip to the tip of his chin might have technically been a goatee, but it didn’t deserve the designation. In short, everything about him made Walter want to punch him in the face.
“It’s most definitely your problem,” Walter said. “If you want to walk out of this room, you need to make yourself useful.”
Dr. Blood ignored Walter’s gaze and looked sideways at the wall. “Fuck you, man. I already told you I have no idea where she is.”
“And I’ve already told you I have trouble believing that.” Walter opened the folder in front of him and spread out the papers to make a point. “Dr. Blood and Madame Morphine. Going over these police reports is like reading the world’s most pitiful romance novel. You’ve been arrested together no less than six times. She visited you in prison regularly for three years. When she ended up in prison, you got arrested again trying to break her out. Now she’s in Chicago, less than a two-hour drive away from you, and you expect me to believe she hasn’t even called?”
“I haven’t talked to her in months. We broke it off.”
“And why is that?”
Dr. Blood shrugged exaggeratedly. “I don’t know—maybe because she’s a crazy bitch.”
“And a stud like you could do so much better.”
Walter drummed his fingers against the table, considering. “It must piss you off, then. You’re spinning your wheels robbing liquor stores in Milwaukee, while she’s moved on to bigger and better things. Not every small-time jerk in a costume gets a chance to work with the Belmontes.”
“What?” His eyes narrowed. “She’s not working with the Belmontes.”
Walter would have argued, but there was something in the punk’s tone that made him pause. Dr. Blood wasn’t denying the fact out of reflex. The way he said “Belmontes” made it sound like that single piece of information was wrong, that Madame Morphine was working with someone else.
“Who’s she working with, then?” Walter asked.
Dr. Blood clamped shut his mouth and looked away. A master manipulator, this guy.
“Come on,” Walter said. “She broke up with you. You don’t owe her anything.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to snitch.”
“Is it worth going to jail over?” Walter leaned forward over the table to glare more intently. “Because if you’re deliberately holding back information, I’ll lock you away for obstruction of justice. And it doesn’t sound like Madame Morphine will be coming to visit you this time.”
Dr. Blood’s jaw tightened, and Walter waited. The seconds ticked by, but the supervillain didn’t speak up.
“Fine.” Walter slowly gathered back up the papers and stood. “Your funeral.”
He walked out the door with a deliberate pace, but Dr. Blood didn’t call out for him to wait. That was fine. Walter would let him stew for a while. He closed the door firmly behind him and spared a glance for the audience gathered in front of the two-way mirror. Harris was there, his right foot tapping against the floor so fast it was hard to follow. So were three agents who had work to do elsewhere, and Walter’s boss’s boss.
“Glenn,” he greeted the latter.
“Walter,” said the white-haired man. “I need a word in private.”
Walter barked at the others to get back to work and walked with Glenn down the hall. They were at the Chicago branch, so Walter didn’t have a corner office they could talk inside. Instead, they walked past the meeting rooms until they found one that was unoccupied. Walter was about to follow Glenn inside when he spotted one of the agents assigned to watch Mr. Lucifer coming out of the elevator.
“Mullur!” Walter called. “Anything?”
The young agent jogged up to him. “No, sir. It’s been the same as usual. He goes out for brunch, does a lap around the lake at the park, and then reads by the pool. He has to know we’re watching him.”
Walter nodded. He hadn’t been optimistic, but he’d hoped. “Page me if he slips up.”
Mullur went off, and Walter closed the door to the meeting room. Glenn stood by the table, ignoring the half dozen office chairs. This would be quick, then.
“Any leads?” Glenn asked.
“Nothing solid yet,” Walter replied.
Silence followed this five-word exchange, and Walter waited for Glenn to get to the point.
“You should have gotten approval before going to the press with this.”
And there it was. “We ask the public for tips on the whereabouts of supervillains all the time,” Walter said. “The thing about those stupid costumes is that they’re really easy to spot.”
“This isn’t about putting Joey Giordano and Madame Morphine on the news. This is about White Knight. You can’t just tell the public he’s been kidnapped five seconds after the fact. The country’s in a panic! The news hasn’t shut up about it for ten seconds since the story broke, and every Tom, Dick, and Harry is calling their local police station and congressman demanding to know what we’re doing about it. People are holding candlelit vigils, for Christ’s sake.”
“People are keeping their eyes open,” Walter countered. “If Giordano or Morphine take a step outside, we’ll know about it. You know what would’ve happened if I asked the public for help without disclosing White Knight had been taken? Squat. Nobody cares about another boring mobster. Nobody cares about some second-rate criminal like Madame Morphine. People care about White Knight. The hotline we set up has been ringing nonstop—”
“Exactly!” Glenn gesticulated wildly. “We’re getting more calls than we can handle, and they’re full of worthless crap. Even if we get a legitimate tip, it’ll be buried under all that trash.”
“Maybe so, but it’s better than getting no calls at all.” Walter ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Look, Glenn, the damage is already done. What’s this really about?”
Glenn straightened his tie. “A warning. If this circus keeps up for days only to end with White Knight’s corpse, the public is going to want blood. And they’re not going to be satisfied with just supervillains. The DSA will face an inquiry, and somebody’s going to get sent to the chopping block.”
Somebody meaning Walter. Just what he wanted to hear right now. His fingers twitched, and he desperately craved a smoke.
“Great. Thanks for coming all this way to warn me, but I need to get back to work.”
Glenn bristled, obviously thinking Walter wasn’t taking this seriously enough. And maybe he wasn’t. Walter couldn’t find the effort to worry about public opinion, an inquiry, or his own career.
David Del Toro was one of his, and if Walter didn’t bring him home, then he deserved the chopping block.
Wow, Dr. Blood has a mouth. Sorry about that. Sorry about the wait, too. I’m going to be so glad when summer vacation comes and I can get a break.