Friend In Deed

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Friend In Need by John Murdock (Saturday, July 07, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Whispers by Seraphym (Wednesday, July 11, 2007)

(posted Saturday, July 07, 2007)

Frangar non flectar "I am broken, I am not deflected."

They called him "Paulie the Piston" for the machine-like way he used his fists. And he didn't belong here.

Of course, every jerk here in the Isles that had been sprung in the periodic Arachnos prison breaks said that. At least they did on the rare occasions they talked to someone from Paragon City. And of course, every time that happened, the response was a wary nod and perhaps some eye-rolling. But in Paulie's case, he had found one man, and a man with some authority and reputation, who believed him.

That man was John Murdock, Commissar of the CCCP.

It had helped that Paulo Salucci had grown up in King's Row and had a good familiarity with the CCCP in the first place. He'd seen John burst onto the scene a couple years ago and followed the man's crime-fighting career with interest.

After he'd been dragged, unconscious, from his cell in the Ziggursky Penitentiary and registered on Arachnos' books, he'd found his way to the place closest to his home that he could safely go to, which was the Pocket D dance club. There, drinking his sorrows away and lamenting his plight, he met John for the first time in person. Murdock was one of the few that had paid Paulie any mind, actually listening to him instead of writing him off as another "villain". When John had actually taken up his cause, Paulie was astounded and deeply appreciative. Later, while the hero continued to work on his case, Paulie offered his services to the man when things needed to be taken care of in the Isles. There were ways for folks to get in and out of both the Isles and Paragon, both discreetly and not-so-discreetly. More often than not, though, it was easier to simply have someone already where you needed something done. Since Paulie was somewhat familiar with his newfound "home", he figured that the least he could do for Murdock was to let him know that he had a friend in the Isles.

When Paulie read about the explosion at Portal Corporation, his heart sank. Once or twice he had seen Astra fly joyfully through the club on some errand for her Father; now and again John had been interrupted in their conversations by a call from Sera. Once he had brought JJ with him to the meeting and when asked about Astra's twin, he had pulled out a well-worn newspaper article about Aedan winning a math prize in his first year of college. It was obvious even to a blind man how much John loved and cherished his family. And as a man with strong family ties himself, he could immediately relate.

Three weeks ago, he'd been contacted by John about something big that he'd need the Piston's help with. Paulie hadn't hesitated, despite warnings of danger for the both of them. There were no final dates planned, but Paulie had made sure to slip John a small map of a location in Cap au Diable, hidden deep under the elevated buildings of Aeon and his Arachnos cronies. It's where Paulie had made his home in the Isles.

Tonight, it was there that he sat, his little television playing a worn VHS copy of 'Rocky' for background noise as he carefully redressed his wounded hands. His knuckles never healed, one of the side effects of his 'emergence' as a mutant. It was not an exacting task per se, but it was one that required concentration. The bandages had to be wrapped exactly right, or he couldn't move his fingers--worse, circulation got cut off. Probably somewhere there was a magic bandage that would do all of that and stop the pain in his hands as well, but so far he either couldn't find it or couldn't afford it. He had a notion that maybe it was best that his hands couldn't heal the old wounds; they served as a reminder to him, and a warning.

Then came a gentle tap on Paulie's shoulder. He stood quickly and whirled around, fist raised and ready to defend himself. He could make out the vague shape of whoever the interloper was; he was in one of the shadows cast by the dim light coming from the television set, and was blurry around the edges for some reason. With a small click, the outline of the man became sharper, reforming into a recognizable silhouette. "Y'know, y'ought to have better locks on your door. And don't leave your back turned to it for that long." John Murdock took a step forward out of the shadows, grinning lop-sidedly, and yet without real mirth. "Evenin', Paulie."

Murdock's grin looked like something pasted on; a habit rather than an expression. As if memory prompted "you're supposed to be grinning now" and muscles obeyed. "Ah, Gahd Dahmit, Johnny," the Italian said, dropping his fists and taking a deep breath. "Usually don' really have ta worry 'bout it, y'know. Aftah I kinda left a pile o' Hellions out in fronta th' door a coupla months ago, y'know. Nobody wants t' really come an' try wit' Th' Piston, 'cuz I'll f*** 'em up good."

John nodded. "We might have to put your reputation to some use, with this job. I've got some extra gear for ya, along with compensation. Once this gig is over with, you've also got a ride back to Paragon, if y'want it. There's still some trouble with your legal status, but I was able t'clear most of it up before things went south---back home." John shook his head, as if to shake himself out of whatever memories threatened to creep to the surface. He hefted a large black duffle bag, letting it land on the floor in between them. "Take whatever y'find two or more of in there, and suit up whenever you're ready to move out. Is this place gonna be secure?"

"Y'know that helpin' you's is compensation enough, Johnny," Paulie said, shrugging slightly. Kneeling, he unzipped the duffle and started rummaging around in the bag. "There's some real easy ways of getting this place secure. Y'know, I got a part of th' ceiling in th' tunnel out there on a tripwire. Jus' set that sucker off an' instant barricade. I can get in pretty damn easy, I jus' punch through, y'know."

"Sounds good. If anything goes sour, or we get out of contact for some reason, we meet up here. More than a few hours, though, an' you'll want to book it out of the Isles. Ready t'go find a hole in the ground? You're the guide on this tour, tenderfoot."

There was something subtlety off about Murdock. All the warmth Paulie had seen in him before was gone--and with it, most of the life. What was left was purpose-driven, though to what purpose, Paulie was not sure. Still... "Sure t'ing, Johnny. Y'got a target picked out, or are we doin' some foragin'?"

"We'll start in Nerva, and work from there. I don't wanna get picked up on Arachnos' radar, but I do wanna get some attention while doin' this. Just enough for the one we're goin' fishin' for. Think we can manage?"

The Piston grinned widely. "If there's anythin' I've been gettin' good at, it's keepin' offa Arachnos' radar."

John unholstered his concealed sidearm, pulling back the slide just enough to make sure a round was chambered. "Rock an' roll."