I'm ushered towards a large, crumbling warehouse. At least, from the outside it seems to be crumbling. Its facade rises up out of a lot overgrown with weeds and debris. The empty, rusting husks of cars sit in the lot, vines wrapping themselves around the metal bones of the cars like worms on a corpse. The dusty windows of the warehouse burn with interior light, and a sign denoting the place as a former autoparts factory swings lazily on one of the three hooks that used to keep it up."Nice place,"
I comment to the man who is clearly the leader of the group of men sent out to...capture me I guess. "I would have figured the gang controlling a part of New York City would have nicer digs."
He's taller than me by quite a bit, reaching at least six foot. His dark, black skin melds with the shadows and his dark clothing, and he has an athletic build. If I had to guess, I'd say he's in his mid-to-late thirties, but I'm terrible at guessing those kind of things.
"We don't control anything," the guy spits back my way. "We protect the people here.""By driving cops out?"
I ask with skepticism.
He snorts, "Yea, because they've done such a good job keeping people safe. Doin such a good job that they had to bring in some robots to take care of you. Yet we got you in a second.""I'm here because I didn't want to have to put you down in front of your crew,"
my shoulders shrug with a fake, apologetic motion. "Didn't want them to make fun of you when you got back to the clubhouse."
Looking over, I see the wide, bright smile he's shooting my way. He's enjoying this, that's for sure. But there's no malice in the look. He may not particularly like me, but I'm not his worst enemy either.
"You believe anything you want to believe, Spider," he nods towards the warehouse. "You're heading into Tombstone's house now. He'll be the one who judges whether you get to work in the Bronx.""Tombstone? Seriously?"
"You might want to watch that tone, little miss," my escort warns. "Tombstone ain't as patient as I am."
As we approach the large, metal door covering the entrance to the old factory begins to rise with a rusty squeal of protest. As it does, the warm, orange light from inside spills out like a wave of comfort. It washes the cold, December air away from me like a toasty hug. I can hear the signs of life emanating from inside, and I look over to my guide. He motions towards the entrance with an exaggerated bow, and I head for it.
We step into the building, and I'm shocked with what I find inside. It's a makeshift city. Tents and salvaged furniture dot the inside of the great hall, set up like neighborhood streets. Members of the gangs and people who I assume have taken refuge here mill about like neighbors who have known each other for years. Smiles dot their faces as they cook over grills or griddles, sharing food with their families and their friends. Children play soccer in the space between the tents, and their laughter fills the air like music. I can even spot some Christmas decorations around the area. Not only has the gang taken up in this place, they've made it a home."This is...really cool,"
is all I can get out, cursing myself for my lack of eloquence. "It is not what I was expecting in the slightest."
"That's what everyone says," the man beams. "But I'll let the big guy tell you about it. I'm just a grunt."
We pass by a group of women sowing together ripped clothes, salvaging what can be from the pile in front of them. They look up at me, showing mostly indifference in their eyes. I say mostly, because I can see fear there too. Fear, I assume, that I will tell someone about their safe haven here. Let someone know who will come and ruin everything they've built. I don't blame them. This might not be everyone's ideal living situation, but it's all these people have. They deserve it."Hey, what's your name?"
I ask my guide as we traverse the meandering paths of tents towards the center of the old warehouse.
"Surprised you're interested," his eyebrows raise. "But if you gotta know, it's Davis. Aaron Davis. Used to be a petty shakedown man. A burglar. A good for nothing prowler. That's before Tombstone found me and gave me a purpose."
I look at him sideways. The pride in his voice when he talks about the life they've built here is evident. Still, they are a gang. They've clashed with police a few times already. They probably will again. But...I just can't find anything wrong with what they're doing. This refuge they've built and these people they've helped? It's commendable. That I have to admit.
Still, this could be a smokescreen. This...Tombstone could be using everyone here for some nefarious goal. The way Aaron is talking, he could damn well be a cult leader. They're known to foster complete devotion in their followers, and Davis is very clearly devoted.
Going further into the warehouse, we pass by a functioning auto shop. Members of the Pale Riders are hard at work souping up the cars in front of them, installing illegal spead boosters, new engines, and who knows what else. Must be where they get their money from. Makes sense.
Each member dons a denim vest, the hallmark of any good biker gang, I figure. And that's clearly what they are. Or at least what they were at one time. The sigil on the back of the vest shows a headstone with an Celtic-like cross on it. Tombstone certainly knows how to market himself.
The members of the gang barely seem to notice me. Some nod my way as I scan the area, watching the sparks fly off the cars as they chop them up for parts. One thing I don't notice in the work area is drugs. None being used and none hainging around to be pushed. That makes me feel a little bit better about all this.
I'm so engrossed with the goings on of the Pale Horses, that I don't notice the massive shadow that passes over me like a solar eclipse. Once I realize what's happened, I turn to find myself towered over by the man known as Tombstone.
Sometimes you'll read a person described as a "mountain of a man". I don't know who came up with that description, but I have to assume it came to them after meeting the gang leader towering in front of me. He stands well over six-foot-five, and his chest is seemingly as broad as one of the cars his men are working on. He looks down on me with intense, black eyes, and a face as white as a ghost. His thick arms are crossed over his chest as he studies me. He looks like a statue hewn out of snow-white marble. Unmovable and eternal."So,"
he rumbles in a low baritone, "you're the Spider. I expected you to be bigger."
He relaxes a bit, sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck parked behind him. He nods to his lieutenant Davis, and the man leaves."And I assume you're Tombstone,"
I cross my own arms and look at him sideways. "You're...well you're pretty much exactly what I assumed you'd be."
He laughs, a booming, canon of a laugh, "Yea. I get that a lot. What do you think of our little home here?""It's impressive,"
I have to admit. "Not what I expected.""Good,"
he smiles. "Now you can get the fuck out of the Bronx and leave us alone."
The smile quickly twists into a sneer. He doesn't move, but the malice begins to roll off of him. "You know I can't do that,"
I stand my ground. "There's someone making poison in this part of town. Poison that's infecting every inch of this city. I can't sit around and let that stand.""Ah. now you care about the little people. When you can look like a hero. When all you have to do is stop the bad guy,"
he spits. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?""It means you swing around New York like you own it. Like it doesn't matter. Like what follows in your privileged wake isn't trouble from one end to the other. Never noticing what your cost is. You pretend to be doing what you are to help people. But really it's just to indulge your power fantasies."
Anger starts to bubble up inside of me, "You think I don't notice? Think I don't care about the lives that are affected by the people who try and stir up trouble in this city? You're wrong. I know all the names of the people who died in the Surfer's attack.""Big fuckin' deal,"
he laughs, this time quietly. "You know some names. What have you done to make their families lies better? What have you done to make sure it doesn't happen again? You may be good at stoppin bad guys, but you ain't no hero, Spider.""Says the guy who beats up cops,"
I fire back instinctively."There you go, hiding behind the pillars of power,"
he smiles knowingly. "You think cops are always the good guys, when you know damn well they aren't. Not always. Maybe not even half the time. Hell, you're clinging to that even after Mayor McCrazy got elected, and you became priority number one over night. Power structures can be corrupted. Yet you sit here and pretend you can still work with them and make a difference. Not only that, but making metahumans officially targets doesn't help either. I got at least six mutants living here who are scared for their lives on the streets now that cops are looking to appease the mayor's edict."
He's not saying anything that hasn't crossed my mind in the past few months. The NYPD has become a thorn in my side, and the Goblin patrols are even worse. DeWolff and Dad are the only ones who will talk to me, where when I first started cops would take selfies with me half the time. Deep down I want to think that this malice wasn't always there, that they're just following orders...
But the saying about those following orders pricks at the back of my mind."I can't save something without at least trying to give it a chance. The police aren't perfect, I agree. But if I can become the hero you talk about, I can help bring them back from the brink. Make them the heroes they should be, instead of what they've become,"
I respond. "And that's all I'm asking from you. A chance to work in the Bronx. A chance to find the source of the Octopus's Ink and cut it off for good. I won't get in your way. As long as you don't get in mine.""Is that a threat, little spider?"
he stands, straightening his imposing figure yet again. "Because you would not want to tussle with us.""Maybe not,"
I shrug. "But if you stop me from stopping the Octopus, or stop the cops I'm gonna need to arrest him, we're gonna find out just how tough you are, Tombstone."
Another booming, echoing laugh is followed by a smile, "Well, maybe we might just have to see that play out somewhere down the road. You want to try and take down the Ink dealer? Be my guest. But you remember what I said. You can stop the bad guys you want. But until you stop leaving a wake of human wreckage in your path, you ain't no hero. Now get out of here."
Our gaze locks for a few, silent moments. My hands clench in fists, but not in rage. More of annoyance, out of anything. Annoyance that this gang leader has cut straight into the heart of my recent crisis of faith so easily.
I fire a webline to an open window above, and make my way towards where I think the Octopus is holding up.