A little shorter, this time.
I swear I'll stop coming up with new guys after this and develop the others I created already. I swear!
James Reginald Courtier drummed his fingers on his desk, lips pursed. Across from him, a man in a suit and tie, a briefcase settled across his lap, shivered, looking ready to wet himself. James loved making them squirm. Becoming a supervillain was worth it, just for the underlings. They were so very gullible, so ready to jump at a moment’s notice. He’d started shaking the moment James pointed the gun at him, as if he was actually going to shoot. He sat there, instead, and the underling didn’t run – he knew there were armed guards just on the other side of the door, and if he took one step from his chair before James allowed him to, they would blow his brains out before he could think.
Like James was going to shoot. Of course, he had before, but not for something as stupid as getting his suit a little dirty. If he got his money dirty, on the other hand—
Well, actually, James sort of liked his money dirty.
That was how crime kings worked, after all. He chuckled, lowering the gun to the desk. The underling sighed in relief, his fingers curling and uncurling around the suitcase’s handle. For a moment, he seemed completely lost in thought, as though getting to keep his life had just knocked the breath out of him.
James cleared his throat. “The reports, Wellington?”
The underling gasped and nodded. “Right, right. Sorry, Mr. Panzer, sir.” He heaved the briefcase up onto the desk, pulling out the papers and carefully offering them to James, who snatched them away more violently than was necessary.
“You may go,” he said, waving a hand. The underling looked full of joy, snapping the briefcase shut and hurrying out, giving the guards frightened looks.
James thumbed through the pages, eyes drifting over the words and not taking in much. Most of the Blackwings’ recent jobs had gone smoothly; none of the bigwig heroes had caught onto the change in his operation yet, and Senyen Tsukaba had never given them enough trouble to make note of. There had been bigger crime kingpins to take down. They would have to notice the Blackwings soon, but until they did, he would enjoy the quiet ease of stealing millions, even if he already had billions.
A few kids in primary colors had tried to stop one of his more open-air heists, but they’d been knocked away easy enough, even if some of the loot had gotten a little charred and one of the lower thugs had a few broken ribs. Some ninja-freak woman had interfered with an international deal, but there was still hope of settling it well. And then…
And then there were three reports in a row of failed operations. James spread them out across his desk, rubbing his temple. They weren’t even similar jobs – just a random deal here and another there. And they’d all been stopped by one woman: Triumph.
James furrowed his brow, glad his mask hid the worry on his face. This was what he’d been afraid of. Who better to figure him out than the one remaining person in the world who truly knew him well? There was his father, but he was very ill, and probably didn’t even read the news any more. James had put him in a home after his mother had died. He couldn’t deal with playing the part of a rich bachelor, running the Blackwings, and caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s. He didn’t have to worry about him figuring out what his new job was.
His ex-wife, on the other hand…
When James had been a superhero, Bulletproof, his marriage, although at a rough point, had been relatively secure. He fought with Rosa, but the family that fights crime together stays together. He’d been the armored defender, and she had been the attacker, her hands morphing and firing off bullet-like projectiles like machine guns. Early on, that had actually been what had almost torn them apart, but they’d realized later that an experience liking being given blood transfusions by aliens should have brought them closer. Suddenly, divorce was no longer a topic of discussion, and their sex life was revived.
Then a villain – some nobody, who should have been easy to take care of – tried to kill Rosa. James had blocked the bullet, but he couldn’t get to his mother in time. Before she was even pronounced dead at the hospital, he’d decided to set aside his mask. His marriage seemed to end in almost the same moment.
And so the divorce had gone through, relatively quietly. He didn’t see Rosa anymore, but he still mingled with their common friends, the super-powered ones who knew their secret identities. Outside of that, he was suddenly the rich playboy he had always been times ten, his comfortable safe haven, the home where he’d been called Jimmy instead of James R. Courtier, only a memory. He soaked in the luxury; Rosa’s leaving hadn’t even put a dent in his fortune or reputation. He lived the good life – in theory, anyway.
And then the mob bosses started approaching him. He’d barely noticed Senyen Tsukaba and the Blackwings at first, and that was what caught his eye later. He put on a new mask, vowing to improve the world from inside its most vile parts. He became Panzer, who worked underground. He gained the trust of the crime lords and the fear of the thugs.
He’d intended to fix things – really, he had. The game he played consumed him, though, and soon he found himself gleefully holding a knife in Senyen’s gut, twisting it just to see his face screw up in pain. When Senyen’s heart stopped beating, he stepped out of his office and declared himself the new leader of the Blackwings.
He didn’t really like the name. He’d wanted to change it to the Bloodwings, but that would mean starting over from nothing, and they already had shirts. James had wondered what sort of crime syndicate really had shirts with their name on it, but it didn’t matter. Soon, the world would fear those shirts.
And so it came to be that James – Panzer – sat at Senyen’s desk in a new chair (Senyen’s old one had gotten a little bloody). He had cameras installed and guards placed outside the door to prevent any attacks of the sort he had used on Senyen. Not that a knife or gun could hurt him that easily, anyway. He was the bulletproof man, after all.
He was still staring at the reports – he’d read over the rest, and they were similar to the first in that they were uninterrupted operations and, therefore, of no interest at that point – when he decided to retire for the night. He returned home, prepared to crawl into bed.
The phone rang just as he entered his room. He sighed, let it ring for a moment, and then turned back to answer it. “Hello?”
“Jimmy.” It was Rosa. James was surprised – they hadn’t spoken since their divorce had been finalized a month before. She hadn’t called him Jimmy since his mother had been shot a month before that. “I thought your butler would get it.”
“Rupert sleeps at night,” James said, sounding cross, “and so do I. You woke me up. What is it?”
“You don’t sound – well.” She hesitated. Then, suddenly, she blurted, “I’m pregnant.”
James blinked. “Already? What, are you going to come begging me for money now? Your new fuckbuddy can’t dish out enough to feed another little mouth?”
“No!” James smiled. He’d played it just right, just to hear that tone of anger and insult in her voice. “I don’t have a fuck— James. It’s yours.”
He couldn’t have heard her correctly. It couldn’t be his. They hated each other now. He was a supervillain. “I – what?”
“I know it’s hard to take in, but—”
“You waited two months to tell me you were carrying my kid?” he roared, face going red. He rubbed his temple. “What the hell were you waiting for? Were you just planning not to tell me?”
“James!” She sounded angry still, but a little panicked, too. “James, no, I’ve only known for a few weeks! I couldn’t tell you right after the divorce, I – I had to wait.”
And again James wondered: did she know? Was that why she’d targeted the Blackwings? Was that why she was telling him he was going to be the father of a superhero’s son? If she did know, when would she say something to the others? When would the bigwigs come to his house and demand Panzer’s head on a platter?
She spoke in softer tones. “James, I’m sorry to spring this on you so late at night, but you’re always busy now. I – just thought you should know, just in case—”
“Just in case what, Rosa?”
For a moment, he thought she might have hung up. Then she said, “Just in case you cared anymore.” And then she did hang up.
James put the phone back on the receiver. Shaking his head, he shuffled off to his bed, yawning.
So he’d be a father. So what? It wasn’t like he’d ever see the kid. If he had to pay child support – well, it certainly wouldn’t have much affect on his wealth, especially now that he had extra cash coming in. He wouldn’t let it bother him.
Besides, he had a party the next day at six, and he was planning to kill the head of the Gann Gang at midnight – one at the latest. He needed his rest.