Disclaimer: I'm trying something new with this, that could very well be code for 'this fic will suck.' You have been warned. A big tree attracts the woodsman's axe

The Woodsman's Axe

The room was heavy with the sweet smell of decomposition and the floor slick with splattered brains. The smell cut through the peppermint oil he'd applied to his upper lip and the brains made his footing precarious, his shoes had been chosen for their style not their utility.

The stiff was seated in the center of the room dressed in his uniform, minus the hat which had been blown off by the same shot that had taken off the top of the man's head.

"What's your story?" he mumbled to the corpse. The man cut a handsome figure dressed, as he was, in the finest Savile Row had to offer, an immaculately manicured hand checked the service revolver still clutched in the dead officer's hand. "What caused you to do this?"

He made a slow survey of the room, immediately noting the stack of papers propping up one of the legs on the former occupant's table. It proved to be a fortuitous find. The document proved to be a record of the man's thirty years on the force, from his first year as an idealistic rookie till his last years as a burn out after the corruption and futility had beaten him down. The man had wanted to be detailed, wanted to explain what had brought him to the brink and finally pushed him over the edge.

"Anyone would have done the same if they lost their family like that," he assured the stiff. "Especially if they knew that the killer would spend no more than a month behind bars before breaking out to kill again. You've got nothing to be ashamed of."

The blame lay with the officials who refused to do their duty and the capes who insisted upon keeping their hands clean. The definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Sometimes he felt like the only sane man in a mad world.

He stared at the corpse's twisted features for a few moments, feeling a kinship with the man who'd shared his story post mortem.

"I'll make a deal with you," he told the corpse. "I'll give you a measure of vengeance in exchange for the use of your name and face." It probably wasn't advisable to use his own for a bit, not until tempers had cooled anyway. "No need to thank me, we're both getting something we want. Me a new identity and purpose, you the man who killed your wife, children, and grandchildren. So what do you say, do we have a deal?" A smile lit his face. "Excellent. I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to have to ensure that you're not found, at least not for a while."

It hadn't been hard to find a hiding place for his new friend. The town was dying, the industry gone and the psycho infestation had seen to that. His first task complete, he set about his mission.


An hour in the public library gave him all the information he could hope to get about his target. Humans were creatures of habit, that applied even to the crazed individual that had aroused his ire. Correction, that applied especially to the crazed individual as his mania had compelled him to ruthlessly adhere to the pattern that fit his chosen theme.

The information he found drove home the necessity of his actions: past, present, and future. The target had been responsible for thousands of deaths and the local authorities, both official and otherwise, had done nothing to end the man's reign of terror. It was a pattern that repeated itself time and time again in places all over the world.

'Perhaps there'd be a reason to continue his new game with new targets in other cities?' The world was always in need of more garbage men. The thought was not unattractive. It was something to think about later, his target was something to think about now.

He spent another hour researching the major players, developing several interesting theories about the pivot that, if correct, would make things considerably easier.

It would take time to plan the climax and more to set things up. No reason not to occupy himself with some of the smaller problems in the mean time.


He held his new badge in front of the peephole with his left hand and knocked on the door three times with his right. It didn't take long for the apartment's occupants to answer the door.

"What is it?" a muffled voice demanded.

"Here to collect your fines for Sergeant Walters," he replied, his right hand wrapping around the grip of his new revolver.

With luck, one of the neighbors would report the conversation to one of the investigating officers and trigger a further investigation that would end the career of one of the city's most corrupt cops. It was far more likely that none of the scared people, cowering behind the thin plaster walls would admit to hearing a thing. Even should one gather up enough courage to testify, chances were that the force would protect its own and the citizen would quickly become intimately familiar with the harbor. Such was life in the city.

"It's Wednesday," the voice protested.

"I'm just doing what I'm told," he replied. "Why don't you let me in and we'll talk about this."

"I don't know what there is to talk about," the voice said, accompanied by the sounds of a dozen locks disengaging. "But . . ." the door opened and the voice trailed off. "Who are you?" the newly revealed drug dealer demanded.

"Just a guy on vacation," he replied, sticking the pistol under the dealer's chin and pulling the trigger.

He stepped over the body and shot two men sitting on a filthy looking couch, the only visible piece of furniture aside from the television. Granted, his vacation hadn't exactly been voluntary, but that was all water under the bridge, especially now that he'd found something to occupy his time.

He carefully checked the apartment for further targets before stripping the place of the cash and a few other needful things. Step one to fulfilling his self assigned mission was gathering up the necessary resources. He hit a dozen more dealers before the day was out and ended three muggers on the way back to his temporary home.


Bob Walters had been a cop for twenty five years. He'd been corrupt from the start, from the day he joined the academy he'd thought nothing of pocketing the odd dodgy dollar. Nothing was too low and during his time on the force, he'd done it all; murder for hire, protection, theft. His badge had made him immune to the city's notably slow wheels of justice.

He'd just stepped out of his favorite watering hole when the world had spun and he'd woken up back in his apartment, tied to his favorite chair, a shadowy figure hovering overhead.

"I've so been looking forward to meeting you, Sergeant Walters," he said as he prepared things.

"Who are you?" the policeman demanded, struggling against his bonds.

"A friend of a friend," he replied, flicking the needle to disperse the air bubbles. "The straps aren't too tight are they?" wouldn't want them to leave tell tale bruises.

"What are you doing to me?" the corrupt cop demanded shrilly.

"Incompetent as they are, the local force takes the deaths of its officers rather seriously." He had to admire that. "It'd be rather obvious if I shot you," he continued. "I don't mind the thought of stirring up a nest of hornets, but not when there's no point to it. We're going to give them something that won't arouse them, an accident, an overdose, something sadly common in this city."

"You can't do this!"

He ignored the man and injected the needle into a vein, locking eyes as he pushed the plunger home.

"Why?" the officer demanded.

"I needed something to do," he answered honestly, seeing no reason to lie. "Goodnight."

He waited until the man had stopped moving before removing the straps and carefully leaving the apartment. No need to clean up, policemen were expected to socialize with each other in their off time, anything he'd accidentally left behind could easily be explained away. Any cleaning, could lead to suspicion.

The trip home was a bit more eventful than he'd have liked. First he ran into a bit of the local wildlife, it was nothing to worry about, a very small fish in a very large pond. The problem was that the little fish's struggles had attracted the attention of a larger predator, one that seemed intent on stealing his kill.

"Some reason you stopped me?" he asked, eyeing the masked man.

"You were going to kill him," the masked man growled.

"He was going to kill me, I rather think that makes us even," he replied.

"We don't kill!" the masked man insisted.

"You don't. I however reserve the right to resort to any means in defense of my life," he said flippantly. "Good day." He turned and began walking away.

"Stop or I'll stop you," the masked man growled.

"Do so and I'll have you charged with assault," he shot back without bothering to turn around. "As I've committed no crime, you have no right to impede my exit." He paused. "Actually, by what right are you bothering me now? Are you a member of some police force?" He fingered 'his' badge, trying to determine if he was proficient enough in his new role to step into the lime light.

Upon getting no response, he turned to find an empty street. It seemed his playmate did not wish to debate the legalities of his existence. He had to admit, if only to himself, that the masked man had made one hell of an exit. Annoying while still driving home just how wide the gulf between their respective skill levels was. Shrugging it off, he took a circular route back to ensure he wasn't being followed and then settled down to think.

It was quite unnerving to realize that he'd drawn the notice of the capes, if for only for a short time. He'd let himself get careless, it was not a mistake he'd make again.

He sighed, time to change identities again. Such a shame too, he was really getting to like this one and he hadn't finished the job yet. Still, a deal was a deal and it was his own fault that he was going to have to burn this one.

His little meeting drove home another fact, he was really going to have to distract the masked man if he wanted to have the room to complete his mission. Confirming his theory about the pivot point had just become a priority.


It wasn't hard to chose his next face and it amused him to no end that he'd chosen a man who had no face of his own, metaphorically speaking. He never understood what attracted minions to their madmen, it was something he'd have to look into in the future, the minion wasn't going to be speaking to anyone else again.

'Not bad for a temporary look," he mused to himself, admiring his reflection in the mirror, it even came with its own outfit.

A couple quick robberies netted everything needed for the next level of the game and two late night outings set the stage for his friend's final scene.


The warehouse had been chosen with care. In the middle of the old industrial district, it was away from everything. Not even the homeless inhabited its ghostly remains, there were better places to sleep closer to the population center. It suited his needs perfectly.

"Seems a bit disrespectful to do this to you after all you endured," he told the corpse as he maneuvered it. "On the plus side, you're going to die a hero and you're helping me confirm something I need to confirm before I can finish up that project I was working on for you." He picked up a crowbar and smashed the stiff's knees. "I don't think you'd mind," he mused, smashing the corpse's left elbow.

It hadn't been easy to get a sample of his old friend's voice, but it should have been. After checking a hundred places, he'd finally found it on the man's answering machine. It's always the last place you check and the first place you should have.

"This is Sergeant Max Rosenthal, badge number 6521947," he wheezed. "I need to report a bomb."

"Where is the bomb, Sergeant Rosenthal?" the dispatcher asked calmly.

"Somewhere on the east bridge," he replied. "He didn't say where it would be."

"Units are on the way, Sergeant. Are you in need of assistance?"

"No, don't come near me and don't try to trace this call!" he shouted, getting into his role.

"Max, this is the Commissioner," another voice broke in.

"Hey, Jim," he replied with forced cheer.

"You've been missing for three weeks," the Commissioner said calmly. "Where have you been?"

"It's been three weeks?" he gasped. He checked his watch, a couple more seconds before he needed to end his performance.

"Where are you, Max?" the Commissioner persisted.

"I was given a choice," he said calmly. "There are two bombs; one under the bridge where it could kill a thousand if it went off during rush hour., the other somewhere more isolated where it will kill only one person."

"You," the Commissioner sighed.

"Me," he agreed. "I'm not going to tell you where I am, Jim."

"I understand," the Commissioner said. "But we can . . ."

"No, we can't," he interrupted. "I'm not going to let you." He checked his watch again.

"Wait!" the Commissioner barked. "There's still time . . ."

"Goodbye, Jim."

He dropped the phone and fired one shot from the service revolver before tucking it back into the corpse's hand.

He was out of the old warehouse with seconds to spare before it erupted into a large cinematic fireball. It was quite pretty to watch, unfortunately, it also attracted the wrong sort of attention so he was unable to stick around and enjoy it.


His new face grinned as he dropped envelopes containing copies of a modified form of the cops's suicide note into a mailbox addressed to: the mayor, the Commissioner, and every media outlet on the east coast.

The next day, every newspaper in the city had a similar headline, talking about the 'hero cop that saved a thousand trying to clean up Gotham from beyond the grave.'

'It was a good likeness,' he thought to himself, admiring the photo on the front page. The story was even better; it told of a man who'd lost everything to one of the city's madmen, who'd refused to give in to the madman's demands, who'd done his best to clean up the city from the coffin. Some of his better work, he had to admit. Shame about losing the identity, but he really had kept it too long.

He dumped the newspaper into the nearest garbage can, it was time for phase two. He glanced down at his once-fine suit, after he had a chance to replace his wardrobe. Something that screamed money would be best, which was how he found himself walking into one of the city's most exclusive shops.

"What can I do for you . . . sir?" the tailor asked, unsure of how to deal with his newest patron, his trained eye picking out the former glory of the man's tattered clothing.

"I'm in bad need of a new suit," he replied. "Price is no object to the one I'll buy today so long as you can get it on me today. I'll expect the price to go down on the next few I buy."

"How will sir be paying for this?" the tailor asked.

"Cash," he replied, reaching into his pocket and withdrawing a neat stack of hundred dollar bills.

"Very good, sir." The tailor had to restrain himself from snatching the wad. "Which options does sir wish to have on his suit?"

"What are you offering?"

"It's quite fashionable to add a discreet layer of armor under the lining," the tailor said. For men in what he assumed was his new client's line of work, the city was filled with them.

"I suppose it would be in this city," he agreed. "Why don't we do that. I want the first suit to be wool, herringbone gray, dressed to the left, and cut to conceal a firearm inside the waist on the right."

"Of course, sir," the tailor agreed, sure that his suspicions had been confirmed. "Would sir care to freshen up in back before his first fitting?"

"Sir would," he agreed. He paused. "How possible would it be to add a tuxedo to that suit for today?"

"Depending on sir's budget, very possible," the tailor replied.

He withdrew another stack of hundreds from his pocket and handed it to the man. "Do it."

Five fittings and several thousand dollars later, he walked into the lobby of one of the city's more luxurious hotels.

"Good afternoon, sir," the hotel clerk said with a bright smile. "How can we help you today?"

"Is the penthouse available?" he asked.

"It is, sir," the clerk agreed. "How long will you be staying?"

"Why don't we say three weeks for now with the option of taking another two later," he replied. It was unlikely that he'd stay in one place more than half a dozen days without feeling the need to move to another, but there was no need to tell that to the drone on the other side of the desk.

"Your name please, sir?"

"Cash," he replied, putting his briefcase on the counter.

"Your first name, Mr. Cash?"

"In advance," he said.

"Of course, sir," the clerk agreed. "I've reserved the penthouse for Mr. A.D. Vance Cash for three weeks with an option to stay two more. Will that be all?"

"Have a nice Chianti waiting for me in my room," he added after a moment of thought. "Rufina if possible, another Classico if you can not get Rufina."

"I'll see to it myself, sir," the clerk agreed, pushing his key across the counter. "Enjoy your stay."

"I intend to," he agreed. He glanced at his watch. "Is it too late to get a ticket to the charity dinner?"

"It shouldn't be, sir, I'll have the concierge get you a seat."

"At the head table if possible, close to it if not."

"Of course, sir."


He'd just changed into his new tux when there was a knock on the door.

"Come in," he called out.

"The concierge has arranged a seat for you at the head table, sir," the bellhop reported.

"Wonderful, how much do I owe you?"

"Compliments of the hotel," the bellhop replied.

He reached into his pocket and withdrew a handful of cash. "Split it with the concierge," he ordered.

"Yes, sir!" the bellhop agreed, eyes wide.

"There should be about five thousand dollars in that, I want at least twenty five hundred to go to the concierge."

"I understand, sir," the bellhop said quickly. "I wouldn't try to cheat him, sir, he's my uncle."

"Why he sends you to give good news to people staying in the penthouse?"

"It is, sir," the bellhop laughed.

He handed the boy another hundred dollar bill. "Come get me twenty minutes before the event starts."

"I will, sir," the boy agreed. It started in an hour, after he was supposed to go home, but there was no way in hell he'd let one of the others near his golden goose.


He walked into the benefit and slowly scanned the room. Three of his potentials were there including the number one. Time to, hopefully, confirm some suspicions.

"Mr. Cash?" the organizer asked.

"Yes?" He suppressed a smirk. "What can I do for you?"

"It's what I can do for you, Mr. Cash," the organizer replied. "If you'll follow me, I'll show you to your seat. You'll be next to Mr. Wayne this evening."

"Beautiful," he said. Time to get a look at his number one.

He followed the organizer to his seat and eyeballed his dinner companions.

"Glad you could join us," his number one said. "I'm Bruce Wayne, this is Commissioner Gordon, and the lovely lady to my right is Ms. Carlile, the one to your left is Ms. Bradford."

"Vance Cash," he introduced himself, using the name the hotel had assigned him.

"What brings you here Mr. Cash?" the woman to his right asked.

"After hearing what that hero cop did, how could I not make an appearance?" he replied, eyeing the playboy. "The man was a hero in life and he was a hero in death. The least I can do is attend a benefit in his honor."

"What do you think about what he said about the super heros?" the woman to his left asked.

"First of all, I wouldn't characterize them as super heros. The cop was a super hero, he gave up his life to keep the city safe, this city would be clean if there were ten more like him on the force." He turned to the Commissioner. "Not to disparage your men, but the man we're talking about was exceptional, everything an officer should be."

"I won't argue with that," the Commissioner agreed. "Max really rose to the occasion. I . . . I'll admit that I wouldn't have expected it from him. He was a beat sergeant when I joined the force and he never went any higher. He was a good cop, but I had him pegged as the type that would put in his time, take his pension, and move to Florida. I can only hope that I show half the courage he did if I'm ever in a similar situation."

"Hear hear," he agreed. "Regarding the so called 'super heros,' the officer was right, it's a game to them. They have powers normal people don't, sure they catch the crazy bastards, but then the bastards just hop out of prison to commit crimes again."

"Are you saying the heros should kill?" the playboy asked. "Wouldn't that make them as bad as the villains they fight?"

"There's a big difference between murdering a group of children and killing a man trying to kill a group of children," he replied, pleased that he'd managed to provoke some reaction from his number one. "Leaving that aside, how many times have the so called heros saved one of their foes? There are cultures that say that if you save a life, you then become responsible for the person you save. Good or bad. The so called heros have saved the lives of their foes so the game can continue, and that's what it is to them, a game. I can respect someone that refuses to kill their opponents, I can not respect someone that saves a life knowing that by doing so, they condemn thousands to an early grave."

"What makes you say they think it a game?" the playboy persisted. "Hasn't our hero saved the city before?"

"Something that would not have been necessary so many times if he hadn't saved the lives of the ones responsible for putting the city in peril in the first place," he replied. "Why don't we consider your city's 'hero' for a moment. What are his powers?"

"Several are rumored, but none have been confirmed," the Commissioner stepped in.

"Untrue," he disagreed. "Your hero has at least one power, the same power most of this table have. Money. How else would he acquire all of his technological toys and training? For all we know, he's sitting at this table with us right now?" He was disappointed but not surprised when the playboy did not react. "Him or his backer anyway. Your city's cape is one of the ultra rich's hobby, something to amuse them, something to stave off boredom."

"You really think that?" the woman on his left asked, horrified by the notion. "People are dying."

"Mostly the poor and middle class," he retorted. "Faceless hordes, not something our mysterious billionaire would care about. A selfish bastard in other words, meaning it could not possibly by you, my dear lady," he added.

"Still . . ." the playboy began, only to be cut off by the arrival of several armed men.

"So our entertainment arrives," he said, taking a sip of wine. "I had wondered if they'd show."

"You sound as if you expected them," the Commissioner said neutrally.

"Just playing the odds," he replied. "They seem to like interrupting charity benefits, I assumed they wouldn't be able to resist one held in honor of a cop that defied them and ruined their scheme."

He noted the playboy's disappearance, he also noted that none of his other suspects had moved a muscle.

"True," the Commissioner sighed.

"If the news reports are to be believed, we'll be treated with a bit of incoherent ranting before your cape arrives," he said, taking another sip of wine. "I'll assume you have a dozen or so men in the crowd ready to save the day if the cape fumbles."

"That's not the sort of thing I can comment on," the Commissioner said quickly.

"Of course," he agreed.

The balcony shattered and a dark figure dropped into the room.

"The man of the hour has arrived," he observed. "I must admit that he has good form, you can see the way he's been able to seamlessly incorporate several styles into his own."

"Do you know much about fighting, Mr. Cash?" the woman on his right asked.

"I dabble," he admitted. "It's good exercise, I'm nowhere close to the cape, but I know enough to get an idea." He didn't take his eyes off the fight. "Looks like things are about to climax."

They watched as the cape and the masked madman traded blows until the cape came out on top and disappeared. Several uniformed police burst through the doors to collect the fallen henchmen and their boss.

"And so the game continues," he stated, noting the playboy's return. Coward or cape? "How many times has that madman been caught now?"

"Several," the Commissioner admitted.

"Only to escape to kill again," he continued. "Be much easier if the courts would impose a more permanent sentence."

"I don't have anything to do with that side of it," the Commissioner replied. "We just lock 'em up and try to keep 'em in."

"Till they get handed off to the asylum," he stated. "I'm not blaming you or your officers for the actions of the courts." Which brought up another thought, someone in power wanted the madmen on the streets. Who and why? His first thought was that they made magnificent distractions, it kept both the capes and the police focused away from dirty politics. Something to look into later. "Or for what happens after they're handed off and out of your control."

"You don't think there's any chance of rehabilitation?" the playboy asked.

"I don't think it's worth spending a thousand innocent lives to find out," he replied. "I understand that you have a different opinion."

"What do you mean by that?" It was faint, but the playboy's eyes colored with suspicion.

"Doesn't your foundation provide much of the asylum's funding?" he asked innocently. "Why, what did you think I meant?"

"Nothing," the playboy said quickly. The man looked at his watch. "If you'll all excuse me, I have somewhere else to be right now."

"It is getting late," he agreed. "I suppose I'd better get back to my room. Ladies, gentlemen, I wish you a good night."

He returned to his room and had just enough time to change into his new suit and pour a glass of wine before he was joined by a bit an unwelcome but not unexpected guest. One would think the man would show a bit more caution, perhaps dealing with the irrational had clouded the man's thinking and made him complacent?

"Who are you?" the cape growled.

Ignoring the masked man, he walked over to the phone and dialed the switchboard. "Hello? I need the police, some madman has broken into my room."

The phone was wrenched out of his hand and he was slammed into a wall.

"I asked you who you were?" the cape demanded.

"The man who is going to have you charged with assault and illegally entering his room," he replied calmly. He examined the cape's chin, the only part of the face not covered by the mask. It seemed like a close match, circumstance had made him something of an expert in facial features.

"What did you have to do with the attack at the charity benefit?" the masked man persisted.

"Do you happen to know what the response time is in this area?" he asked. "One figures that it couldn't be too long."

They both heard the sound a key entering the knob.

"This isn't over," the cape promised.

"You have no idea," he replied to the now empty room.

The door burst open to reveal several uniformed police officers, guns drawn.

"Are you okay, sir?" the lead officer asked.

"I am," he agreed. "You managed to scare him off."

"Do you have a description of the man who attacked you?" the officer continued.

"He was dressed like the masked man who foiled the attack on the benefit earlier today," he replied.

"Why would he bother you?" the officer demanded.

"Who can say," he replied. "There's no guarantee it was the same man. Anyone can put on a costume."

"True," the policeman agreed, relaxing a bit. "I'll put out the word that we have a possible impostor on the loose. Do you want to press charges?"

"If you can identify the man who did it," he agreed.

The officers spent the next few hours taking his statement and collecting evidence.

"Hotel detective," a plain clothes man introduced himself. "Do you want to be switched to another room?"

"I'm afraid I won't be staying in your fine hotel," he replied, regret coloring his tone. "I would however appreciate it if you would change your records to indicate that I have been changed to a new room. I will of course pay for it."

"I think that can be arranged," the detective agreed. Especially in light of the fact that the man had not demanded a refund. "Let me, on behalf of the hotel, express my sincere regret that this happened while you were in our care."

"You have nothing to regret," he replied. "Who can predict what a madman will do."

"Makes it a bit difficult to prevent it from happening," the detective agreed.

The sun had arisen by the time he left the hotel and he took a meandering path around the city to shake any tails on his way back to the old industrial district. It was time to put the next phase of his plan into motion.


It took three more weeks before the target decided to escape from the asylum and another two days to locate the man's latest hideout. The termination was going to require a bit of thought. The target regularly went against the cape, someone who's skill eclipsed his own.

He lowered the binoculars to think. It was a pity he wasn't a better shot, one round from an anti-material rifle could solve most problems. Explosives were another possibility. How he wished he had access to his usual resources, how much that would simplify things. Of course, if he did, he wouldn't be here and wouldn't need something to alleviate his boredom. It was funny how those things worked out sometimes.

Poison was out, no telling how the target's odd bio-chemistry would react to toxins. Perhaps he could see about acquiring a heavy machine gun? Be much more difficult to get and much less precise than an anti-material rifle. He tentatively approved it as plan A, he'd only get one shot at this. If he failed, he'd alert both the target and the cape which would dramatically lower his chances of success. Best to just leave town and make another attempt in several months after the heat had died down, he decided. Better to wait than to sabotage his chances of success.

The second complication to overcome was the cape. The man would not tolerate the use of lethal force against anyone, no matter who the target was. He admired that about the man, it was good to have a personal sense of honor, to have lines that could never be crossed. He honestly wasn't sure if he was strong enough to stick to a similar or even his own code.

One solution was termination, to take the cape before hitting the nemesis. That solution got very little consideration.

He was a bad man, he knew that. Still, sometimes bad men liked to pretend to be good, if only for a little while. He briefly considered justifying his actions with the thought of all the lives that would be saved by the death of the target. They said that the ends justified the means, but that was a cop out, he knew that. Perhaps it was better to say that he was a bad man doing bad things to other bad men to pretend that he was good? That sounded a bit more accurate. Taking the cape would strip away his illusion and ruin the point of the entire exercise. Similarly, disabling the cape was also out. The city needed its masked defender. Besides, it was unlikely he had the skill to do it, the gulf separating their respective ability levels was depressingly vast. That left distraction, he had to outthink his opponent. It all depended on whether he was better at lying than his opponent was in ferreting out the truth.

He had all that he needed to complete the operation, if only he hadn't thought up a plan which such a slow chance of success. Oh well, planning was never his forte, no point regretting the fact that he hadn't spent more time on it in the past, only thing to do about it was make an effort to improve in the future.


It wasn't hard to find an arms dealer. He'd simply grabbed one of the psycho's minions and broken things until the man had agreed to talk. After disappearing the body, he'd taken his new face along with a briefcase full of cash down to the docks to make an exchange.

"One 870 shotgun with fifty rounds mixed slugs 'n buck, one Sig 220 with fifty rounds, one M2 machine gun with two belts, and three LAW rockets." The arms dealer looked at him. "What are you planning to do with all this?"

"What am I going to do?" His new face grinned. "I'm gonna have a blast."

"I'm sure." The arms dealer signaled for his men to load the merchandise into his newest customer's van. "You know the rules. You hit one of the parts of town I say are off limits and you get cut off."

"Don't worry about that," he assured the other man. "The toes I'm going to step on don't belong to you."


He spent the next day in preparation and set up. It wasn't easy to lug the heavy crew served weapon up several flights of stairs to his observation post, but he'd managed. It had driven home how out of shape he was, wages of living an easy life he supposed. All that was left was to set things into motion.

Luck was with him that night, the cape's signal went off and it was not due to the actions of his target. Lack of sleep was probably not a big handicapped for the cape, but he'd take any advantage offered. Many small advantages added up to one big one, something he needed if his plan was to have any chance of success.

He picked up the tape recorder he'd purchased wearing his last face. He'd gone through so many in the past couple of days, he was having trouble keeping track of how he looked and sounded. He grinned, one of his old instructors would have called it 'good training.' Pity it wasn't raining.

"I know what's under your mansion, I know what you do at night, so will the newspapers if you don't bring me a hundred million dollars," he said into the microphone. "You will find instructions in locker number five seven five in central station, those instructions will lead you to another set of instructions, which will lead you to another, which will lead you to a pay phone. You will receive a call on that phone at fourteen fifty five. If you do not answer, your information will be released. If you are late, your information will be released. If I even get a feeling that you aren't playing straight with me, your information will be released."

Everything he'd read about the man combined with his amateur psych profile indicated that he'd be reluctant to bring in outsiders to deal with the problem. It was possible he'd bring in a few members of his 'family' for support, it was probable the man had a non combatant or two on tap. With luck, the rat line he'd created would delay the cape enough to complete his mission. If not, well, what fun would any game be if you had a one hundred percent chance of success? Ruined the whole nature of a game it did.

He arranged delivery for the distraction and immediately changed faces. The cape was too good to take lightly, one slip and the game would be lost.


He felt a rush of adrenaline as the seconds counted down. This was what Edmund Hillary felt when he reached the summit, what Drake felt when he took his first ship, what the doughboys felt when they went over the top. This was what it meant to be alive.

He'd decided to start with the machine gun, followed by the rockets after he ran his first weapon dry. He pulled back the charging handle and set the sights on the target's chest. Time to shine. He dumped the first belt into the target's chest, cutting the man in half. The second was spent rendering the surprised minions harmless.

He glanced at the rockets, seemed like they wouldn't be needed. Still, waste not, want not. Three sixty six millimeter HEAT rounds flew into the room and detonated, one after another. All that was left was the clean up.

He grabbed his shotgun and darted down the stairs. Time to end this round.

"Why?" a wounded henchman gasped. The man was propped up against a wall with his intestines pooled in his lap. "Why?"

He answered with a twelve gauge slug to the face. 'Because you stood out, because your boss looked like a challenge, because I was bored,' he thought to himself. A brief search revealed three more survivors, three more shots solved that problem.

He glanced down at the corpse of his main target and put two slugs into the crazed man's chest and another through the throat. Bullets were cheap, no sense not being careful. Two more to the throat meant only a thin strap of skin connected it to the body. A quick cut detached it entirely and he escaped the warehouse with his bloody trophy. Every second he stayed was a second closer to capture, it wouldn't take the cape long to figure out that he'd been tricked, he intended to be far away from the target's blood drenched hideout when the masked man arrived to investigate.


He regarded his target even as the lifeless eyes of his target regarded him. It had taken some time to prepare things: First, he'd placed what was left of his target into a large glass jar. Then, he'd filled the jar with alcohol. Finally, he'd placed the jar into a velvet lined teak box he'd had constructed for the occasion.

The question was, what to do with it now? He couldn't keep it. For one, it was incredibly tacky. For another, his current lifestyle was much too transient to burden it down with useless possessions.

In a flash, it came to him. Why not dump the whole issue into someone else's lap and let them deal with it? It was a strategy that had worked in the past, no reason it shouldn't in the future.

After a moment of thought, he decided to include a note apologizing for the appalling amount of rudeness he'd displayed at the charity dinner and for the ruse involving the blackmail attempt.

He'd have to make a point of doing something nice for the playboy in the future, but what to get for a man who had the resources to have most everything his heart desired. Again he lamented the loss of his normal resources, perhaps it would be best to leave things as they were until he'd lifted his exile? He'd have to just wait and see what the future held.

He slipped out of town after arranging for his package to be delivered, something told him the cape would not be amused by his little gift. Such was life, there were more cities, more targets, and more places to hide from his stereotypically tragic past. It wouldn't be long before enough time had passed to think about breaking his involuntary exile, might as well enjoy his game while it lasted.

And that, as they say, was that. Not a bad way to pass the time all things considered.

AN: No, I'm not going to tell you who the main character is. Feel free to figure it out yourselves. I will say that the inspiration for this was Mr. Black, or rather what people thought Mr. Black was in the earlier chapters.

Lots of beta by dogbertcarroll

More polish applied by Silas Dunsmore

Typo by Daenerys

Deleted Scene by Me

The question remained, what to do if he ever ran out of madmen to target? Perhaps he could move to the capes after that?

After a bit of careful consideration, he rejected that idea. It was less sporting to go after targets that wouldn't respond with lethal force. The time to go after capes would have been before he started his current game, no point in taking a step back.

Omake/Scene by Silas Dunsmore

Just a thought, but somewhere in the charity dinner scene, possibly around the "game" reference, you might drop in something about a "playground romance":

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know, boy likes girl, boy pulls on girl's pigtails, girl hits boy, repeat ad nauseum. In this case, that madman is obsessively in love with the other madman, he commits horrible crimes to gain the
other's attention, and in return receives the gentle chastisement he so desires. No heroes or villains there, just the sex games of two evil men using innocents as the playing pieces."

"That cannot be true," the playboy growled.

"From a psychological viewpoint, it's quite obvious. Domination and submission, sadism and masochism, bondage, discipline. Leather costumes, masks, tools and toys. Scenes. Incidentally, sir, you suddenly sound hoarse. Quite growly indeed. I'd recommend a teaspoon of cider vinegar followed by a tablespoon of honey, several times a day."