The rise of the fat mogul (the defenders saga book 2) (page 4)

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CHAPTER 4

 

The offer from Damon Memphis/Dennis Murphy returned to Buddy’s mind as he walked to the bus stop.  Perhaps his sister was right.  There was more he could be doing to help balance the family budget.  And if Murphy really was willing to pay them to do the types of stuff they were already doing, would that really be so bad?  It’s not like they’re really going to be able to allow Flores to do whatever he’s doing without looking into it, right?

What really helped clinch the deal with Buddy was that Maggie had decided to take a catering job.  She hated catering.  And there was no way she would ever consider catering to a bunch of comic book nerds as the exclusion to that fact. 

The more Buddy thought about it, the more he realized it all made sense.  Zero had been keeping them all on a tight regimen of nightly patrols, daily patrols, training, and strength exercises.  Between all of this, there was barely any time left to sleep, much less actually stay awake for a normal job. The offer from Damon would technically fall under the heading of ‘actual superhero duties’, meaning not only would it be a whole lot more fun than processing insurance claims, it might mean Zero would loosen up on all the other stuff he was having them do on a daily basis. 

Although working for the man who used to be Dominion should be the stupidest idea the world had ever known, Buddy found himself coming to the conclusion that it might also be the one that made the most sense.

The bus arrived and Buddy stepped on.  He fished three quarters out of his pocket to place into the money slot.  He nodded at the driver, who closed the door and drove away as Buddy walked down the aisle to find a seat.

As always, Buddy tried to look no higher than a person’s knees.  Making eye contact was a surefire way to ensure the trip would be filled with inane conversation with an absolute lunatic.  Not that Buddy thought everyone who rode the bus was crazy, just the ones who would inevitably lock eyes with you if you made the mistake of looking anywhere near eye level. 

He sat down in the first open bench available and pulled out his phone to try texting Alexa once again as someone plopped down onto the seat beside him.

“Hey! It's you!”

Buddy kept his eyes on his phone, not daring to show the person who was now next to him that he had any interest in continuing this conversation.  He cautiously mumbled, “Hi.”

“Pretty crazy, huh?  Running into each other like this?” he asked.  Buddy noticed, out of the corner of his eye, the man’s arm moving in a circular motion, presumably in an attempt to get Buddy to make the mistake of looking up.

“Yep,” Buddy growled, continuing in his attempt to write four words on his phone.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” the man’s voice sounded sad.

“Nope,” Buddy grumbled, focusing his attention on finding the button that would make one of those smiley faces, because he knew Alexa liked to see those as a way to show he wasn’t mad.

The kid dug around in his pocket and after some difficulty, fished out a pair of yellow goggles, which he placed over his eyes as he leaned forward, directly into Buddy’s line of sight.  He looked up at Buddy, smiled an obnoxious smile, and then rushed to shove the goggles back into his jeans pocket.  “I didn't think the mask thing made such a difference,” he whispered.

“I'm not sure it does,” Buddy whispered back, hoping the kid hadn’t noticed that Buddy had, in fact, seen the whites of his eyes.

“So, I had meant to ask you last night.  You heading out to the Con tomorrow?  The RLSH is supposed to have a whole big section dedicated to the movement.  I heard they were going to be taking over about a quarter of the west wing.  Even supposed to have a few big exhibitions going on, including, or so I’ve heard, a parade!”

“I’m sorry,” Buddy said, finally looking up from his phone, dangerously making eye contact in the hopes that what he said next might be able to do what his lack of visual engagement had failed. “I really have no clue who you are.”

“Wow!” the man smiled larger.  “I didn’t realize how much my costume hid my looks.  I guess a pair of glasses really could work as a disguise, huh?”

Buddy stared blankly at the young man, disappointed that his final attempt had also managed to fail.

“I'm the,” the young man began, then leaned in and spoke in a hushed tone, “bumblebee!”

“Oh, Bumblebee!” Buddy exclaimed loudly.  Bumblebee quickly brought a finger to his own lips and made a loud shushing noise, looking around rapidly in every direction to see if anyone had noticed.  Buddy looked around as well, seeing that absolutely no one was paying any attention to them.  They all appeared to know about the rule of avoiding eye contact at all costs.

“We've got to keep that on the down-low, man.  My enemies could be anywhere.”

“Riiight,” Buddy responded, a smile now appearing on his face. 

“So, what about it, you heading to the Con?  I didn't see you at the prep meeting this morning.”

“Oh, um, yeah, that SuperCon thing, right?  Not this year, kid.”

“But it's the RLSH event of the year.  It's the best time to network and get to meet new people for team-ups and everything.  Heck, supers from all over the world will be here.”

“Yeah?  You don't say,” Buddy said quietly, not sure how to respond to such an exuberant excitement for something Buddy considered to be so far beneath him.

“I suppose you're not too worried about networking and all that, what with you already having a team and everything, huh?”

“Yeah, that's it.  Too many friends already.”

“I wish I had that problem.”

“Um,” Buddy muttered, not sure whether he even wanted to reassure this kid and give him the wrong idea.  “I, um, don’t believe that for a second.  A, er, cool guy like you?  You’ve gotta be beating them off with a stick, right?”

“That’s what my mom always says!”

“Sounds like a smart lady.”

“She sure is!  Anyways, since you've already seen me out of uniform, I guess it doesn't do any harm to formally introduce myself.  I'm Talmadge Jones.”  He extended a hand to Buddy.

Buddy reluctantly took the hand.  “Buddy Jackson.”

“It's great to get to officially meet you Buddy.  Maybe I'll see you around sometime.”

“Yeah, maybe. . . “

“And seriously, you should reconsider going to the Con.  It's a lot of fun.”

“Maybe next year.”

“Well, if for some reason you do manage to find yourself there, make sure to stop by my booth and say hey.  All members are supposed to be set up in the main RLSH section, but since this is my first year, I thought I’d spend a few extra bucks and get my own space in the exhibitor’s section, you know to sign autographs and whatever.”

“Sure, sure,” Buddy said, looking out the window.  “Oh, looks like this is my stop.”  Buddy pulled the bell cord, hearing the familiar ding come from the front of the vehicle.

“Barber Street, huh?  I haven't been down here in ages.  You work here?”

“Something like that.”

“Cool.  Maybe I'll have to stop by sometime and say hello.” The bus slowed to a stop, brakes screeching to a halt.  “Where do you work?”

Buddy stood and squeezed his way in front of Talmadge into the aisle.  “Um, well, I guess you could say I work all over.”  Buddy winked.  “You know us RLH whatevers.”

“Oh, I get it.”

“I'm sure you do.  See ya.”  Buddy walked down the aisle to the door.

“Bye, Buddy!” Talmadge yelled after him. 

CHAPTER 5

 

As Buddy approached the diner, he noticed a figure silhouetted on the rooftop.  He walked around the corner and jumped to the fire escape.  He made it to the top with only a moderate amount of difficulty and found Alexa oblivious to his noisy arrival, still standing on the far side of the building and staring off into space.

“Doing a solo patrol tonight?”  Alexa jumped at the sound of Buddy's voice.

“Oh, Buddy, you scared me.”  She turned her face away from him again, looking off into the distance.

“Are you alright?” Buddy asked as he neared her.  “I’ve been texting you all day.”

“Oh,” she responded flatly, “yeah, I must have had my phone turned off or something.”

“You with your phone turned off?  Something must really be up.”

Alexa turned to him, tears in her eyes.  “Buddy,” she began, but was unable to continue.

Buddy ran to her side and wrapped his arms around her.  “What's up, Lex?” He asked as he held her tightly against himself. 

After a brief moment, she pulled away and turned from him. She took a deep breath before finally speaking again.  “I’m sorry, Buddy.  I—“ she cut herself off. 

“Hey,” Buddy said, pulling her into himself once again, “hey, don’t worry.  I’m here.  Is this about seeing Damon yesterday?  I should have told you earlier but--”

“No, it’s not that.  Well, I mean, that’s definitely not helping, but--”

“Is it Arthur then?  You know he wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, right?  No matter how crazy he’s gotten he’s--”

“It’s not that, either.  Sure, I’m feeling a little off because he’s starting an army and hasn’t even stopped by to say hello or ask me if I want to help out.  I mean, it’s not like I would have joined him or anything, but it would have been nice to--”

“Does this have to do with whoever you’ve been going off to meet once a week?”

“Yeah,” Alexa said as she turned on her heel to face Buddy.

“So it’s really not Flores, then?  I wasn’t going to say anything back there, but—“

“It's my dad, Buddy.”

“Oscar?”

“It’s the only dad I know about,” Alexa said through a forced laugh.

“Oscar’s the person Murphy was getting all worked up about?”

“Yeah, well, you know, I had wanted to tell you, but—“

“That’s great, Lex!  Are you and him getting along, like, I mean, are you patching things up?”

“Yeah, it’s going pretty well.  It actually kinda surprised me.  I started visiting him after the whole thing happened with Dominion.  Being so close to death really put things into perspective for me.”

“You’re telling me,” Buddy frowned.

“I knew that being one of The New Defenders was what I wanted to do, but I also knew that meant something might happen to me.  Something bad.”

“Sure, I get it.  I was there.”

“It made me realize that my time might be short.  That I might not have as much time as I thought to fix things with him.”

“I’m so happy for you, Alexa!” Buddy said as he laid his arm across her shoulder.

“Yeah, it's been amazing. In fact, the only reason I’ve been able to keep from telling everyone is because I was afraid of what the MHDT might do if they found out my dad was meeting with me, the fugitive superhero.”

“Sure, I get it.  He said the same kinds of things when me and Zero had our chat with him.”

“Right, so,” she said, pausing to take a deep breath.  “This morning I went to see him to tell him that things have changed, that we would be able to have a real relationship again, instead of this secret one we've been having for the past few months.”

“I’m still not seeing what’s got you so worked up.  This all sounds like great news.”

“It is.”

“Okay, so what's the problem?”

Alexa burst into tears once again before blurting out, “He's dying, Buddy.  My daddy's dying!” She buried her face in his chest as she sobbed.

Buddy placed his hand behind her head, not knowing how to respond.  They stood there for what seemed like forever, the only noise being the muffled sound of Alexa sniffling.

Finally Buddy broke the silence.  “Lex,” he started.  After a short pause, “Lex, are you sure?  I mean, well, you know…are you sure?”

Alexa stepped away from him and walked toward the edge of the roof, sitting on the wall that separated them from the street below.  “It's cancer, Buddy.  I guess it's pretty far advanced.”

“But,” Buddy paused again, choosing his words carefully as he followed her, “but Oscar's one of the best doctor's out there, right? Shouldn’t he have known about it before it got too bad?”

“I guess he did.”

“Oh,” Buddy said shortly.  “But, he’s got to have a cure, right?  Last time I talked to him, he was telling me about how people like us were the key to being able to cure all disease and there was a way to cure all diseases or something.”

“He says he's been working on re-developing the Super-Cure ever since The DOA was disbanded.  In fact, he told me the day he found out he was sick was the day after the first Mind Wipe.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what does he need?  Blood, organs, what?  I'll give him anything I can to help things along.”

“I asked him the same thing.”

“And?”

“He says he already has everything he should need to come up with the cure, but nothing’s working.”

“Oh,” Buddy hung his head.  “Look, Lex, I'm sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.  Maybe if I hadn’t run away when I did, maybe it wouldn’t feel like he’s being taken away too soon.  I mean, I started talking to him because I thought I might die, not the other way around.”

“But, it’s not like he’s going to die tomorrow, right?  How bad is he?”

“Really bad.  When I stopped in this morning, he couldn't even get out of bed.”

“And you didn’t know about it until today?”

“I guess he’s really good at hiding it.”

Silence hung in the air around the two until Buddy blurted out in excitement.  “What about Carl?”

“What about him?”

“Carl knows stuff about working with supers and stuff, doesn't he?  I mean, he was able to get my powers back, right?  Couldn't he help?”

“Well, maybe, but--”

“But nothing.  Oscar used to be one of my best friends, or at least that’s what they tell me. And you’re like a sister to me.  If there’s anything I can do to help, I’m doing it.”

“Wouldn't Maggie be pissed if she heard you say that?”

“Nonsense.  Maggie feels the same way about you.  She has to; otherwise she would have kicked us all out of her apartment by now.”

Alexa laughed awkwardly.  “I suppose you're right.  But that doesn’t really change the fact that there’s no way for us to get to Carl while he’s down in The Bunker with Artie.”

“Yeah,” Buddy said as he paused to think.  “And you don’t have any way of getting in contact with Flores?”

“Nothing.”

“Hey, there you guys are!” came Ryan's voice from the distance, accompanied by the thrumming sound of his propulsion pack.  “Buddy, where have you been?  You were supposed to come help me test out my new holographic duplicating device.”

“Really?  I thought I was just making that up.”

“What?” Ryan asked.

“Nothing, just an excuse I gave Maggie earlier.”

“Oh,” Ryan said as he neared them.  A look of concern crossed his face as he registered the tears on his sister’s cheeks.  “You alright, Alexa?”

“It's Dad.”

“Yeah?  What’s he up to now?”

“He's dying.”

“Oh,” Ryan paused.  “Didn’t you know that?”

“You knew?” she shouted, running at her brother and grabbing his lapel as he landed.  “You knew our father was dying and you didn't think to tell me?”  She lifted him up in the air above her head and shook him.  Using her speed, Buddy could make out nothing more than a blur of red as she got her aggression out on her sibling.   She finally stopped moving and Buddy saw something escape her hands and fly high into the air.

“Whoa, sis,” Ryan said after he stopped his ascent and returned to the group.  “Can’t say I’ve ever experienced your super-rage before.”

“Shut up, Ryan!  If you’re telling me that you knew about Dad’s cancer and never told me, you deserve—“

“Of course I knew about it.  He's been in rough shape for years, long before you left the house.  I just always assumed you knew.”

“You can't just assume that type of thing, Ryan,” Alexa said as she ran to her brother and picked him up once again.

“Alexa!” Buddy yelled as he separated them.  “Relax, okay.  I'm sure Ryan didn't mean to keep this from you.”

Alexa glared at her brother before finally relaxing her shoulders.  “You're right.  I'm sorry, Ry.  It's just been a tough day, you know?”

“Sure.  So, you finally told Buddy you've been visiting Dad, huh?  Been wondering how long you were going to keep that a secret.”

“You knew?” Buddy asked.

“Of course I knew.  You think I wouldn't be aware that the prodigal daughter returned to the very house I live in?  Sheesh.  How's Dad doing?  I’ve been holed up in the lab and haven’t had the chance to stop by his wing of the house for a few days.”

“Really bad, Ryan.  He couldn't even get out of bed when I stopped by this morning.”

“Ah, yeah.  That seems to happen about once a month.  He always tried to put on a good show when you were around, though.  Didn’t want you to worry, I guess.”

“So, he's been like this a lot lately?”

“It comes and goes. Some days he's just like good ol' Dad again.  Then, like almost out of nowhere, he hits a bad patch and, well, you saw him today so you know.”

“Yeah.”

The group stood in an awkward pause before Alexa broke the silence.

“Hey, Ry, Dad built The Bunker right?  Do you know if he has any blueprints lying around or anything that might show us a back door or something?”

“Reconsidering Damon's offer, huh?”

“Not exactly.  Buddy came up with a pretty good idea that Carl may have something to offer Dad in his research for a cure.  Only problem is, Carl's locked up down there.”

“Not a bad thought.”

“You think Dad would be up for helping us find a way in?”

“If there's one thing Dad's always up for, it's getting fresh eyes on his research.  A close second is showing off his designs.”

“Well then,” Buddy said as he clapped his hands together.  “Sounds like it’s time to take a trip to the storage shed.”

 

Buddy was overwhelmed with glee as the trio approached the storage shed, which was only two blocks down from Maggie’s Diner.  To look at it from the outside was nothing spectacular, just one of many orange doors stretching on down an alley-like concrete surface.  In fact, to look at the inside of the actual building wasn’t all that amazing either.  However, the items within this 10x10 cube were two of the only trophies Buddy had retained from their battle with Dominion.

Upon opening the door, Buddy smiled as he was greeted by the sight of the XM1202, which dominated the space.  The tank-like vehicle more commonly referred to as D.A.W.N.’s Mobile Unit was a miracle of technology.  Unfortunately, it was all but useless ever since D.A.W.N.’s AI matrix had been locked up down in The Bunker. 

Ryan kicked one of its enormous wheels as they walked past.

“It’s a big hunk of junk now, eh?” he said dejectedly.

“Don’t let D.A.W.N. hear you say that,” Alexa reprimanded as she pulled the rickshaw out of the corner and into the alley.

“You know,” Buddy replied, “I’d give anything to hear that robotic angel’s voice again.”

“She’s not a robot,” Ryan corrected, “she’s an artificial—“

“Don’t get so hung up on labels, kid,” Buddy said as he slapped Ryan on the shoulder.  “She’s an angel.”

“If I remember correctly,” Alexa said as Buddy closed the door to the shed behind them, “the last time we talked to her, you couldn’t get away from her fast enough.”

“The last time she was around, she saved our butts from Dominion,” Buddy argued.

“Right, and you still wanted to run,” Alexa laughed.  “Now, get in.  We’ve got work to do!”

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