Frank’s voice echoed through my head as I stood outside the King’s Crown Building.
“Are you sure about this? You could get yourself killed in there. You don’t have any idea where these people even are.”
“I don’t have a choice,” I said to him in return. “They want to hurt my daughter and the only way I’ll be able to see her again is if I hurt them. This ends tonight.”
I pulled on the pair of leather gloves I recently bought. I spent the better part of yesterday making sure they were broke in for use with my sword. Before that, I spent every one of the last seven days on various tours and independent walkthroughs of the King’s Crown. I wanted to know every inch of the building that I could before I tried to break in to it. With nearly a hundred stories to search, I needed to eliminate as many ahead of time as possible. In all those days, I narrowed my search down to twenty. I would take them each on one at a time if need be, but I would find these bastards and cut them down.
I wanted my daughter back.
It was just past one in the morning. The front doors of the building were open twenty-four hours a day except on Sunday mornings, so I could just go right in. But from there, I would have to make my way up the elevator or the stairs. The elevators were secured at night with an electronic lock that only could be bypassed by a keycard swipe. The keycards only offered access to limited locations based on the business to which they were related. Not even the front desk security could access more than the first four floors by elevator.
The stairwell on the other hand only had a simple door lock that kept the doors secure on each level. They were all accessible after six a.m. or in the case of any power failing or sudden emergency. Or by anyone with a sword that could cut them off their hinges.
I walked through the front doors. The two men at the large security desk just past the gates barely looked at me walk in. The large overcoat I wore made me look like any number of the many business people that passed their desk on a chilly fall night like tonight.
I walked past them and through the large open lobby. The open area spanned up for the next three stories and created a beautiful effect with the massive chandelier that hung high above. I didn’t call attention to myself by looking at it now.
I reached the elevator bank at the back of the lobby. I pressed the button to call one down. I knew that anyone could enter the elevators at this time of night; the keycards were only necessary to make them work from the inside.
I glanced to my left as I waited. The stairwell sat down a short hallway, just past the public bathrooms. The hallway kept it just out of the security desk’s view.
I glanced back at the security guards. They continued about their work, ignoring me completely.
The elevator dinged and the door opened. I waited a second longer before I sprinted to the stairwell entrance. The elevator door slid back closed somewhere behind me. I hoped it would be enough to keep the guards from any suspicion.
I summoned the sword in to my hand. I carefully dug the tip of the blade in to the space between the door and the frame. It sliced down through the lock mechanism with only a little bit of force.
I willed the sword away, pulled the door open and walked in to the stairwell. I quickly shut the door behind me. Holding the door shut, I pulled the rubber band off my wrist. I wrapped the band around the inside handle, then stretched it out against the wall. I pulled the roll of duct tape out of my coat pocket and used it to tape the other half of the rubber band to the wall. It wouldn’t hold against a strong tug, but it would keep the door shut. The security guards wouldn’t be able to notice any difference from the outside of the room.
Satisfied with my handiwork, I started up the stairs. I took them two at a time. With twenty stops to make over the next ninety floors, I needed to make fast progress up the stairs. I had only about five hours to finish my search before the building would start filling with people.
My first stop was the eighth floor. I counted each locked door as I past it, as only a few of them were actually labeled with numbers. At my pace, I reached floor eight in just over a minute. I called the sword back, broke the lock, and made the sword vanish again. I walked in the dimly lit room.
The records I found online showed the floor was rented by a group called Valhalla Securities, Incorporated, but I couldn’t find anything about what the company did online. As I walked through an open room filled with cubicle after cubicle, I began to suspect it wasn’t what I wanted. Still I knew I needed to do a full search of each floor, so I continued past the cubicles.
I found four side offices, and all looked like regular corporate suites. Men’s and women’s restrooms, a conference room, and a pair of small break rooms reminded me more of Thursday nights on NBC than anything sinister.
I walked back out in to the main area and studied the thirty or forty cubicle desks again. Low walls did little to separate employee from employee and made them easy to look over. A few were empty, but most seemed regularly used. Various family pictures and papers individualized them all. It felt like I was invading someone’s personal space, which I suppose I was. And I might have to do it eighteen more times before my night was over.
I started back to the stairwell. One down, too many more to go, I thought. I turned to go down the short hallway towards the stairs. A massive figure stood shadowed in the light coming from the stairwell.
I instantly recognized the massive frame and the metal plates on his ski mask. The sword in his hand was different than the one I remembered, but it should be. I still had the one he lost.
“I’ve come for Gram,” Warcry said. “Either you hand it over or I slice you to ribbons, blondie.”
I didn’t know for sure he meant by Gram, but I was pretty sure I could make a pretty good guess. I summoned the sword back to my hand.
Warcry screamed with rage and charged towards me. I ducked out of the way just before he could cleave me in two. His blow cut in to the carpet and flooring. He left a large gash as he pulled his sword free.
I used his momentary distraction to swing my own sword, but he moved with a speed that didn’t match his massive frame. He brought his own sword and parried my attack away.
“Give me Gram, woman! Give it to me or Tyrfing will eat your soul!”
From the way he swung the blade down at me, I could only guess that Tyrfing was his new sword. I brought my blade, clearly Gram in Warcry’s eyes, up to block the blow. Though the sword didn’t buckle under the massive blow, I felt the ripples of force from the strike go straight down my arms.
I brought the blade around in a wild over the head swing that he easily batted away with Tyrfing. I ducked under his next swing, but he kicked me away to prevent my return blow from landing. We continued like this for several minutes, each of us trading blows, but no one actually landing a strike. I pushed off from him with my last attempt and backed away.
I stood several feet away from him, panting. I could tell from his shoulders rising and falling that our continued back and forth was also taking a toll on his energy.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere, Warcry. Let’s end this now before security finds us and we both get arrested.”
“Not until you give me Gram. I want my sword back.”
“Gram and I are quite happy together. I’m not giving it to you. No offense, but you’re kind of intense with the whole sword thing. Maybe you should back off a little, switch to a weapon a little more family friendly.”
“Give me the sword or I will suck your soul from your body.”
“Many men have tried, buddy.”
I wasted no time. I ran in full speed and aimed for his knees. The move took Warcry off guard, but only for a moment. He brought the sword down to parry, but I was ready for that.
I brought the sword sharply upwards as I reached him. The blow landed just above his guard. It sliced straight in to his fingers and took several of them off.
He struggled to grab Tyrfing with his free hand before it hit the ground. I pivoted and slashed my sword across his forearm, deep enough to cut in to the muscle, but not far enough to actually sever the arm. His arm and hand fell slack and Tyrfing fell to the carpet.
I dropped to the ground and grabbed the blade. I pushed off and away with my feet. I slid just out of his reach before I kippuped to my feet. With both blades in my hands, I faced the injured Warcry.
“Give them to me, fool! You don’t know the dangers you put yourself in!”
“I’m willing to take my chances,” I said. “Now stand down or I’ll take you out!”
“You there, stop!”
I caught a glance of the three security guards in the stairwell behind Warcry. I cursed under my breath. I may have disarmed Warcry, but I gave my position away to security in the process.
I looked around for a means of escape. The elevator was across the room, but I still couldn’t access it without a security card. The only other path was through Warcry and the security guards, and I didn’t really fell like beating down an honest schlub trying to earn his ten bucks an hour.
So I turned and ran through the cubicles. Or rather past them, as I made my way towards the plate glass windows that filled one side of the office.
I brought the swords up in twin arcs just before I reached the windows. They cut in to the glass like it was water. I crashed through the cut-out oval. It shattered as both it and I plummeted towards the street below.
I willed Gram and Tyrfing both away just before I hit the ground in a pile of glass. The glass cut me all over and I think I cracked one knee out of place, but I was able to get up and limp my way away from the King’s Crown Building. Thirty seconds later I was on my bike and streaking away from the scene of the crime.
The only thought on my mind as I sped down the nearly empty city streets was my complete failure. Tonight was my one chance to break in to the King’s Crown Building and get answers. Now they would be ready for any intruders, and my week’s planning was wasted. I was no closer to taking down the bastards that wanted to kidnap my daughter.
I stopped outside a motel on Martin Luther King Boulevard about five minutes later. I pulled a pair of quarters from my pocket. I quickly deposited them in the standalone payphone across from the motel office. It was nearly three a.m., but I knew he would answer.
“Wha—? Hello, who is this?” He definitely sounded like he just woke up.
“Jet, it’s me.”
His voice suddenly perked up as he realized who was on the phone with him. “Hey! I was wondering when you would call. You might even say I’ve been waiting for it.”
“Yeah? It’s good to hear that,” I said. “I’ve had a tough week. Sorry I didn’t call sooner. Do you think I could stop by tonight?”
“Tonight? I—Yeah, that’s no problem at all. I would love to see you tonight.”
“Great,” I said with my best happy and excited voice. “I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
“I’ll see you then. Bye.”
I hung up the payphone and closed my eyes. The tears wanted to flow, but I wouldn’t let them. I failed tonight. I failed myself, but more importantly I failed Tarsha. All I could feel was pain. I needed to feel something, anything, else.
As a song once said, it was time to fuck the pain away.
I started the bike and shot off towards Jet’s apartment.
Hagan Ebernburg didn’t like leaving his abode deep inside the King’s Crown Building, but he would do it for a momentous occasion such as today. Still he wore heavy gloves as he walked in to the visitor’s room of the Marysville Reformatory for Women. Never could be too careful with germs, especially around several hundred felons.
Every female convict in the state was held in this one facility, but it was one specific inmate he wanted to see. She waited for him on the other side of glassed partition, the regular visitor’s set-up for a maximum security convict.
Even in her early sixties, she was still a very beautiful woman, quite young in appearance for her age. Her hair showed its natural red still at the roots, but as it fell down to frame her face it was mostly a silvery white in color. The bright orange jumper she wore did little to add to her fair-skinned complexion.
She gave him a thin smile as he sat down across from her. She picked up the phone through which all their communication would need to travel.
“Your reputation precedes you, Mister Ebernburg. I’ve heard of the ‘reclusive German billionaire’ that lives high above the rest of Valhalla. But I don’t understand why a man as important as you would want to talk with me. I don’t chit chat with people like you. I rob them.”
“Of course you do, of course you do. That’s the reason you’re locked behind these bars for the better part of the next century, isn’t it. Over eighty charges of grand larceny, nearly as many charges of breaking and entering, several more assault charges. You were a naughty kitty when you were a cat burglar. Too bad your own husband turned you in.”
“I had my reasons for committing the crimes. He had his reasons for locking me up.”
“So I would suppose. But you and I both know your criminal history stretches back far longer than just a string of burglaries. All the way back to the days of the illustrious international criminal organization known as EMPIRE, I do believe. Tell me, what do you think the guards would do if they knew they had the mysterious and elusive Miss Mayhem in their very midst?”
“They would do very little as she received a full pardon from the United Nations. And it was Madam Mayhem by the time she retired in 1975.”
“Retired and switched sides, you mean. You gave up your criminal ways, your anarchist background, all for the love of one man. A man that you fought for years. The two of you retired to a peaceful little existence in Valhalla. He went to work for the sheriff’s office and you sat at home and played homemaker. You even gave him two beautiful children. But it wasn’t enough for you, was it?”
“You know a lot, Mister Ebernburg. You should also know when to shut your mouth.”
“No, your loving family was not enough for you at all. You couldn’t just play Susie Housewife any longer. You needed to have adventure in your life again, so you started to rob the rich and give the money from your fenced goods to the poor of the city. And all it got you was locked up by the man you loved. A sad, sad story.”
“So you have enough connections to have figured out my past. Why does this require a visit to me? If you want to try to help the city get me for some more crimes, all you have to do is present the evidence to the D.A. I’m sure the current deputy mayor would be happy to see it be fully prosecuted.”
It was Hagan’s turn to smirk. “You misunderstand me. I didn’t come here to bury you under more charges. I came here to see you freed. My lawyers have already gone to work on a parole agreement. It’s finished and in the hands of a state judge that just happens to have a close relationship with one of my associates of the oldest profession. He’s ready to sign it and send it here. All you have to do is say the word and you can be out of this hole forever.”
“What’s the game, Mister Ebernburg?”
“No games at all. I only ask that you do what you once did for EMPIRE for me. I want you to give your body and soul to our cause. I want you to let my master’s power flow through you. He will recreate you as someone that can truly bring the kind of power to the world that you once dreamed.
“Quite simply, all I ask you for is your soul. Are you willing to give it to us, Mary Elizabeth Benjamin?”
“It’s Byrne again, Mary Elizabeth Byrne. I gave up his name when Luther married that bitch Audrey, God rest his soul.”
She looked away from him for a moment. After a few brief seconds, she met his eyes again.
“If you can get me out of this place, I’ll do anything for you, Mister Ebernburg.”
“I thought you would see it that way. But please, call me Hagan.”
He turned and waved in a guard. “Please get in touch with Judge Marshall Pillman. I believe he has some paperwork for your warden.”