ALL MARVEL CHARACTERS AND SETTINGS ARE THE PROPERTY OF MARVEL INC. AND THEIR RESPECTIVE AFFILIATES. I DO NOT OWN ANY RIGHTS TO ANY MARVEL INC. OWNED CHARACTERS
CITY ON FIRE
A Call to War
Jon sat on the edge of his bed with a lit cigarette perched between his lips, as he stared at the Daily Bugle on his table. The morning sun shined through the window in such a way it seemed to highlight the headline: 8 DEAD AFTER GANG WAR SHOOTOUT.
The paper read two of the eight slain were children; a twelve year old boy and his nine year old sister. They took a shortcut that led them in the middle of a shootout between two unknown gangs whom police say are fighting for territory in Clinton; aka, Hell's Kitchen.
“Unknown gangs, my ass,” he spoke with a Scottish brogue, before taking a deep drag. He knew the police were well-aware who was really involved in the shootouts and bombings that had killed a total of eighteen innocents in three months. He also knew they'd keep out of it for as long as they could. They'll wait until the gangs have nearly killed each other off, before they swoop in and put an end to the killing.
The phone rang on the stand beside his bed. Jon looked at it for a moment as it rang again. And again.
On the fourth ring, Jon sighed as he picked up the phone. “*Ahm!*” he coughed into the receiver. “Yeah?”
“You read the paper today?” a familiar -aged- voice asked.
“I don't read the paper, Red,” he turned his eyes from the table. “Too much politics 'n not enough funnies.”
“You lie as well as a televangelist standing in front of Saint Peter,” Red chided. “You see what's goin' on out there. What the hell ya gonna do about it?”
“Last time I checked, the city was chalk full'a guys wearin' tights who're more than happy ta' do somethin'.”
“New York's a big place, son; them folks get worn thin really quick and some of them ain't always home to clean house.”
Jon shook his head. “Still tryin' ta' find me some redemption, old man?”
“I'm just trying to get your ass outta that hole you call an apartment,” Red's voice grew firm, “Get you out and get you doing something with your life.”
John laughed. “And joinin' the insane vigilantes squad is yer idea of doin' something with my life? Gimme a break. I'm just another average-Joe, tryin' ta' scrape by.”
Red quieted for a moment. “We both know you ain't exactly average.”
Jon's eyes narrowed as though he were staring daggers at Red through the line. “I told ya, I don't use it anymore... and I don't plan ta' ever again.”
“So you just gonna root yourself in that crappy apartment and feel sorry for yourself?”
“Ya'd rather I get back on the sauce?”
“What you doin' ain't much different; killin' yourself is killin' yourself.”
“Dammit, Red. Why are ya gettin' on my ass about this? Can ya even gimme a reason why I should bother? Huh? Hell, just one?”
Red quieted again. “If I tell you, you have to promise me not to do anything stupid.”
“What do you got that'll get me actin' stupid?” Jon flicked the ash off his cigarette. “Besides constantly givin' me a headache?”
“Promise me, boy.”
“Aye, aye. I bloody promise. Now spill.”
“It's Susan,” Red stated. “Her and Joseph moved back into the Kitchen last week.”
Jon froze. He dropped his cigarette to the floor as he stepped out of bed. “Where are they?” he asked as his body switched to auto-pilot; changing out of his dirty clothes into slightly fresher ones.
“Nothing stupid,” Red pointed.
Red sighed in defeat. “Think once, ya damn fool. She moved back a week ago. Where do you think she'll be?”
Jon didn't have to think long before hanging up and running out the door.
30 MINUTES LATER...
Jon stood against a brick wall at the corner of an alley. His chest heaved from the ten minute run through the busy streets and cluttered alleys. His eyes scanned the seven story apartment building across the street. Movement through one of the third story windows made him catch his breath.
Looking out the window was a beautiful woman with light brown skin and long dark wavy hair. Though he couldn't see her eyes from where he stood, he knew they were a deep brown; so deep he used to fall into them every night when they were married.
“Susan,” Jon breathed.
The door to the building opened and his attention was brought to an old man stepping out wearing a beat-up green sweater and slacks. His skin was almost as black as coal and his hair was gray with slivers of white.
Jon slid back down the alley a few feet and waited, as the old man walked around the corner.
“A week?” Jon growled. “A bloody week. Ya think ya coulda' told me my wife 'n kid were back in town, eh? When were ya plannin' on tellin' me?
“Don't you be givin' me lip, boy,” the old man, Red, countered. “You think I'm gonna let you rock her boat any more than it has been already?”
Jon narrowed his brow. “What the hell are ya talkin' about?”
“She's been havin' a rough time, Jon. That's why she's back in this god forsaken city. Don't think seein' the husband she thought would be dead by now is best for her.”
Jon began to protest, but soon let the anger leave him in a heavy sigh. Red was right. The last time he saw her, it was the worst day of his life. No doubt it damaged her life as well and his son's.
“At school. They're havin' a service there for those kids who got caught in that shootout the other day... they were Joseph's classmates.”
Jon inhaled sharply, as the thought of his son in place of one of those kids ran through his mind. “A week,” he repeated. “'Bout round the time ya started pushin' me harder on this vigilante thing, in'it? Definitely explains why.”
“Ever since they came back, I've been afraid everyday she goes out job-hunting or when Joey goes to school. I'm just a retired Fed with a bum leg. Not much I can do to protect them. But you-”
“Aye, me,” Jon cut-in. “Me – being not exactly average – could.”
They stood in silence; neither man looking the other in the eye. Red waited for a reply, as Jon stared at the ground in thought.
“Come on!” Red snapped his fingers. “Like you said, there are plenty of fellas out there doing what the police can't or won't do. You'd just be one more.”
“That easy is it? Just throw on some spandex 'n hop the rooftops. Maybe top it off with a mask; maybe with a big horse's ass on my forehead?”
“I ain't askin' you to play dress-up. I'm askin' you to at least do something. You know who's really behind this gang war nonsense... and you know how they operate.”
Jon raised his head and stared daggers at Red - in person this time. “I get involved in this 'n things will definitely get worse before they get better... if they get better.”
“Whatever it takes,” Red stared back at him, resolute. “This war is getting outta hand, even with the heroes this city already has runnin' around. We could do with another.”
Jon rolled his eyes and turned back down the alley. “I'll do it, Red,” he said, as he walked away. “Just do me a favor.”
“Don't call me a bloody hero.”
Next Time: City On Fire, Part 2: Like Old Times