His first mistake had been coming to this anonymous warehouse on the outskirts of the city alone and at night, without telling anyone where he was going or what he was doing. Novo was simply too caught up in the investigation. His need for justice and order, to right what he saw as wrong, had always been his greatest strength and his fatal flaw. It had led him to reveal things that those in power might wish stayed hidden. But it blinded him to many inconvenient practicalities as well. Such as, how he was going to get out of this mess of his own creation.
That was the matter at hand now, and it left him cursing his own shortsightedness. If he had texted Mary Sue before donning his full length leather jacket and heading out for the night. Or after. Or really, at any point along the continuum of events that had led him to here.
But Mary Sue, being a practical sort, would have phoned the police, who would have arrived here before he had a chance to confront this master of villainy and reveal his true plans. And that would have denied Novo his moment of triumph. A triumph that now tasted like bitter chalk at the back of his throat.
For the warehouse, empty but for the odd pieces of equipment at one end, and the flagrantly dangerous vat of acid at the center of the room, was a distraction. It was a feint by a criminal mastermind, to hide his true intentions. That was why Novo had come. He needed to know the truth. He was going to do battle with the darkness.
At best he had managed a draw, though he was the only person who would make that optimistic an assessment, given his hands and feet were bound and he was hanging from a hook suspended above the vat of acid. It did, he allowed, present some difficulties, but he had time to figure a way out of them. The hook had not started its descent into the acid, after all.
As he was pondering various scenarios for his miraculous escape, a man stepped from the shadows to where Novo had a clear view of him. His face was painted red, as were his hands, but otherwise he was dressed innocuously. He looked up at Novo and smiled. “We meet at last.”
Novo felt thrilled and could hardly keep the smile from his face.
At last. It was all beginning now.
“You at least owe me the courtesy of your name.”
“My name is not important. But you can call me the Red Man.”
Novo was silent, staring down at the man’s red face and his terrible smile.
“I told you it was a terrible name.” Another figure emerged from the darkness. A woman, smartly dressed, with her dark hair thrown back across her shoulders.
The Red Man looked irritated. “Not now.”
“Doesn’t it sound like he’s playing at some racist redface thing?” the woman called up to Novo.
“The thought crossed my mind,” Novo said.
“I’m not,” the Red Man said. “This isn’t a race thing at all. What about his name? Novo. What the hell is that?”
“I think it’s cute,” the woman said. “I’m Natasha, by the way.”
“It sounds like a car name,” the Red Man muttered.
“I’m going to make the world anew,” Novo said defiantly, ignoring his perilous present circumstances.
“That’s sweet,” Natasha said. “See, you should think of something like that. Something that defines what you’re trying to do, not just how you look. Right?”
“Why did I start this?” the Red Man said, shaking his head in annoyance. “It doesn’t matter. He’s in no position to make the world anew now, is he?” He chortled, a short, barking sound that made Novo wince.
“You’ll never get away with this,” Novo said, and immediately felt ridiculous. “Sorry, that was beneath me.”
“It was beneath this entire enterprise,” the Red Man agreed.
“I think it’s cute,” the woman said, in a voice that suggested she was practiced in giving encouragement.
“At any rate,” the Red Man said, ignoring Natasha, “you are in no position to thwart my plans. You’ll not be making it through this night alive.”
There was a control panel at the base of the vat, controlling the hook and chains that suspended Novo, and the Red Man leaned down and pressed one of its buttons. After a pause, where it sounded as though the chains were shifting gears, the apparatus lurched into motion and Novo began to descend. It was a gradual descent, nearly in slow motion, with both the Red Man and Natasha gazing up at him idly, while he struggled against the bonds that held him. Not too much, for there was always the possibility he might somehow slip free of the hook and drop into the acid.
The Red Man grew visibly bored and began to walk from the room. “Goodbye Novo. Let’s see you find your way out of this one.”
“Aren’t you going to reveal your plan to me?” Novo said, unable to hide the desperation in his voice. “Isn’t that what this is all about?”
“I thought so, but it’s been done, right?”
“He’s just embarrassed. He thinks you won’t be impressed,” Natasha said. “Go on and tell him. I think it’s very good.”
“No. I’m not telling him.” The Red Man flushed with anger. “Another time, perhaps,” he said in parting to Novo, striding back into the shadows toward the exit.
Natasha followed behind him, stopping to give a polite wave. Novo grimaced in return.
Time was growing precariously short, he realized, looking down at the acid. He would need to find a way out of this doom and try again to determine the Red Man’s nefarious plans. Novo had been certain the Red Man would tell him this night. Who didn’t want to reveal their plans, after all? That was the entire point of the enterprise.
He began to kick his legs, setting the chain into motion, so that he swung in an ever-widening arc across the vat. Now, he just needed to ease the rope over the hook as the arc of his passage carried him beyond the reach of the vat. If he timed it perfectly, he would sail free of the acid and land unscathed on the ground.
He was just beginning to swing beyond its perimeter when the woman returned to the warehouse, hurrying up to the vat. She went to the control panel and turned off the mechanism, suspending him above the acid, sickeningly close, but safe. She looked up and smiled at him.
“I just couldn’t bear to let him kill you like that,” she said. “He so wants to tell you his plan, and he will I’m sure. He just needs the confidence. He needs you, really. He needs his nemesis.”
She paused, looking around the warehouse, as though to assure herself they were alone. “Anyway. It’s been a pleasure. I’m sure we’ll meet again Novo. I’ve called the police, so they’ll be here shortly to let you down. Until next time.”
Natasha turned and left before Novo had a chance to process what had happened and respond. He was left to hang, alone with his thoughts. In the distance he could hear the sound of sirens.
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