Max Rand finished his drink and his conversation with those at the bar, threw some bills onto the counter, and headed out to the parking lot. He had a high feeling, and it wasn’t just from the cocktails. His most recent paycheck from MacGuffin Industries included a notable bonus, further evidence of his success and position. He had risen through the ranks at work, but there was another element to the story. What most of Max’s colleagues did not know was he also had criminal ties. In addition to his legitimate business dealings, he also used company time and resources to engage in activities such as money-laundering on behalf of various criminals. This had netted him a high profit margin and a secure rank in a prominent gang. His ascension and success in both legitimate and illegitimate business fields had made him arrogant, and this round of imbibing and bragging had only served to embolden him.
At this point it was dark and there weren’t many cars in the lot. Max went to where he had parked, only to see an empty place. He looked around in confusion and some alarm, trying to determine if he’d misremembered where he’d parked or if his car really were missing. Then he noticed a sign taped to the wall in front of the parking spot. He tore it loose and read it. It was a note explaining that his car had been moved to the back lot. The note crumpled in his grip as anger rushed through his system. What possible explanation was there for this? What was this, some kind of scam? He headed toward the back lot steamed and determined to have someone’s head.
Once he arrived at the paved area that served as the back parking lot, he started scanning the row of vehicles. He saw something that made him freeze. His car was there, sure enough, and it was a short walk away. However, standing by it were three figures. The two men flanking the central figure wore almost identical outfits consisting of a turquoise shirt, blue-grey pants, a dark gray belt, and short reddish-brown boots. They both wore dark blue jackets, but the Latino’s jacket had red orange sleeves and the Korean’s had silver sleeves. Attached to their belts were wide utility pouches which resembled fanny packs. The bulk of the pouches gave an indication of the ample stock of weapons and other gear they contained. Both men bore confident looks which seemed to say, “Listen, buddy, you’re not so tough”. They seemed menacing, but it was the central figure that was truly unsettling. He wore a dark blue hat and a dark blue trench coat with some kind of silvery-blue chain mail worn underneath, but it was his form that was attention-grabbing. He was half-man, half-iguana, and on top of that his skin was light blue. A row of short white spikes ran down his head and along the tail which poked from the bottom of his coat. His legs bent backward at a curved angle, and each of his hands and toes was clawed. His demeanor, while not arrogant, was even more confident than that of his associates, as if he were assured that there was nothing he couldn’t handle. He flicked out a long, purple, forked tongue at Max. It didn’t take long for Max to realize that he had run into Gerard Ripley, the leader of the bizarre criminal organization called Basilisk, and his top henchmen, Estes and Kim.
Basilisk, like the Mafia, controlled a larger group of non-members, but it was not your ordinary gang. Of course, that was apparent by the fact that the leader was an iguana man with a number of unique weapons. A large number of its members, even some of the low-level members, had superpowers or other special abilities. For instance, Estes could turn himself into liquid form and pound opponents like a wave while Kim could control both light and darkness. Despite the organization’s criminal activities, members of Basilisk had, at times, been dubbed “anti-heroes”. Not only did they have integrity and a definite set of morals, but they also combated other criminals and even those who could be labeled “supervillains.” It was well-known how formidable the members of Basilisk were, especially Ripley. Many criminals avoided Basilisk like a grizzly bear. In fact, some gangs even had an unwritten rule that if members should encounter Basilisk members while on a job, then regardless of any sort of ranking they should either try to arrange a meeting to discuss a partnership or abandon the mission. Serious consequences awaited those foolish enough to attack Ripley and his associates. Max knew all this, but he didn’t care at the moment. His swaggering and unclear state had made him foolhardy.
The trio moved to meet Max. “Good evening,” greeted Ripley, smoothly tipping his hat. “You’re Max Rand of MacGuffin Industries, correct?”
“Yes, and I know who you are.”
Ripley chuckled. “I guess I am rather distinguishable, aren’t I? Well, since no further introduction is needed, I’ll cut straight to the chase. I know you belong to a rival gang, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Max bristled at Ripley’s forwardness, as he liked to think that he did a good job of keeping his gangland ties and corrupt activities a secret. Ripley continued, “Just hear me out. You may think you’re in a high position right now, but I can offer you security and power that you could never achieve if you stayed where you are. Surely you’ve heard about all Basilisk has to offer, and how it takes care of its own. All I would require in return is for you to bring me certain files that you have access to.”
“That’s right.” He tapped his right coat pocket. “I have a list right here. It doesn’t matter if they’re hard copies or digital as long as I get them.” He grew solemn. “You see, one of my subordinates is being eaten up.” He unconsciously placed a hand over his abdomen. “Stomach cancer. He’s only been given a couple months to live. I met with him and he told me it’s God’s judgment because he scammed some people out of a lot of money years ago. Cancer strikes people of all walks of life, so only the Lord knows if he’s right and it really is divine judgment for past sins, or if this is something that would have happened either way.”
Estes and Kim looked stern, but Max thought he saw their eyes starting to brim with emotion. Ripley sadly stared in silence for several moments as thoughts flowed through his mind. Then he snapped back to the present, removed his hand from his stomach, and continued. “He says he’s asked for forgiveness and isn’t afraid of death. No, all he wants is to atone for his doings. He’s already made full financial restitution, plus interest, to those he robbed so long ago, but he wants to do more. He pointed out that there are heinous scammers out there- scum who swindle seniors, single parents, veterans, small business owners, etc. out of their life savings. They’re literally the kind of lowlifes who devour widow’s houses. He told me that those detestable parasites deserve to be brought down, and I agreed fully. In fact, we should have done something long ago. I found an informant who gave me a lead on how to obtain information on some of these creeps.”
“That’s where I come in?” asked Max.
“Exactly. Some of your… business associates are guilty of horrible things. Once we have the information on them, we can work on a case-by-case basis, turning some over to the authorities and dealing with others personally. You’ll be doing a great service by fetching me the files on these monsters, and you’ll receive great benefit from doing it. This is a great opportunity for you. Collaborate with me and your reward will be great. Refuse and the consequences will be frightening.”
“You-You’re kidding, right?” asked Max.
“Why would you think that? Criminals all over know about my power, and about my vengeance. You may think it over if you’d like.”
“No thank you,” replied Max brusquely.
The gang leader’s expression began to harden. “You really shouldn’t be so rash. In fact, you should be honored that I approached you. I have various ways I could get those files, but I chose to make you this offer. I’ll give you one more chance to think about this decision.”
“Don’t bother. The answer’s still ‘No’.”
He reached for a weapon, but Kim temporarily blinded him before he could use it. As he covered his eyes, Estes began to pound him. Ripley and Kim rapidly joined the melee. In under a minute they had subdued Max and secured him to a nearby telephone pole.
“Tsk tsk. Such a bad decision,” commented Ripley. “Some brats just can’t appreciate good offers when they hear them. Well, I can’t say I didn’t try, right?”
He stood directly before Max. “Have you ever heard of a film called The Mask of Fu Manchu? It was based on a novel by Sax Rohmer, and sadly it was one of the most racist films ever made. However, there was an interesting plot development. Fu Manchu revealed that he had a drug which, when injected into a person’s system, caused the victim to become no more than an extension of his will. Just a small amount would cause the subject to be completely under Fu Manchu’s control. The subject would do whatever was wished of him. Do you know why I’m telling you this?” He reached into his trench coat and took out a long silver vial and a hypodermic needle. “It’s because, my dear fellow, I’ve managed to duplicate that drug.”
“You…You can’t be serious!” replied Max incredulously.
Ripley joked, “No, it really was one of the most racist films ever made.” He chuckled as he filled a fourth of the syringe with the green fluid from the vial. He replaced the vial and noted, “There’s just one more ingredient needed before administration.”
Ripley rolled up part of his left sleeve and then pulled part of his gauntlet free from the band holding it in place, exposing the scaly blue skin of his wrist. He held the syringe, tensed himself, and jabbed the needle into his flesh. Slowly, deliberately, he pulled back the plunger, drawing out some of his own blood. Afterward he removed the syringe from his wrist and shook it to further the blending process. Max’s shock turned into alarm as he watched the dark red fluid mix with the chemical concoction. He panicked and fought to escape from his bonds, but Estes restrained him further.
Kim summarily put an adhesive bandage on Ripley’s wrist. Ripley thanked him, readjusted the sleeves of his chain mail and trench coat, and looked toward Max. After observing him sadistically for a few seconds, he brusquely walked over to him, unceremoniously ripped his shirt sleeve using one of his claws, and menacingly held the needle over his arm like a stiletto.
Max begged, “No! Don’t do this! I can-”
“I acted nicely and gave you a chance to cooperate of your own free will,” interrupted Ripley. “It’s too late now.”
Without another word he jabbed the needle into the exposed skin of Max’s arm and injected the drug into the frightened gangster. Max flinched from the pain, and within seconds he began to feel the drug’s effects. His nerves felt on fire at first, but then it seemed like a dark fog was enveloping his consciousness and sinking into his brain. After that he experienced a feeling of drifting and detachment, as though he were being cut off from himself.
“A smaller dose would still be effective, but would leave you completely aware of your actions,” he heard Ripley explain. “You’d be fully aware of what you were doing, but you’d be completely unable to stop yourself. You’d be a sentient living puppet instead of just a living puppet. You should be grateful that I want to make sure you stay in my control long enough to complete this mission.” That was the last thing he remembered before his consciousness faded.
A short time later Max was back on the grounds of MacGuffin Industries. He pulled into the driveway, parked his car, and used his key to enter the building. If any of his colleagues had been there at that time of night, they would have noticed that Max moved with the resolute and unruffled air of a man determined to take care of business. However, unless they looked closely, they might not have noticed that his eyes were glazed and vacant. Moving swiftly Max entered one of the offices, went to the filing cabinet, and removed certain manila envelopes. After double-checking to see that they were the files that he had been requested to fetch, he closed everything back and returned to his car.
Throughout the drive to the office he had sat almost unmoved, his only thoughts being to drive safely and complete the errand he had been given. However, as he made the return trip, memories of what had happened earlier that night began trickling back into his consciousness. He remembered everything – Ripley’s offer and his refusal, his brief and ill-conceived attempt to combat the gang leader and his bodyguards, and finally being injected with the drug which had robbed him of his free will. Max didn’t think much of this recollection during the first part of the drive back. It seemed like a dream or a television episode, something with no bearing on reality. As he got closer to his destination, however, the fog in his mind started to dissipate. The reality of what had happened and was happening slowly became clear, and he started to grow alarmed with each passing minute.
By the time he reached his destination he had regained almost all of his consciousness. Looking through the window he saw Ripley, Estes, and Kim confidently waiting for the files. Ripley extended his hand and made a beckoning motion. Max hesitated, but then he found himself opening the door and exiting the vehicle with the envelopes in hand. Now he understood exactly what Ripley had been talking about earlier. It felt like he was a prisoner in his own body. Robotically and against his own will, he started walking toward the trio.
“Move that way,” Dart Tongue ordered while nodding his head to indicate the desired direction. “Put your back up against the telephone pole.”
Max’s mind screamed, but his body obeyed. Shuddering, he could only watch as his right arm, the arm holding the files, automatically extended in response to Ripley’s approach. As Ripley took the files he quietly yet mockingly asked, “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Estes and Kim rapidly bound Max to the telephone pole with strong cords. Ripley handed Kim the files for safekeeping, then removed a switchblade knife from his coat pocket and flicked it open. Max wanted to struggle, to attempt to break free, but his body refused to move. He could only pant in fear and watch as Ripley held the blade close to his throat.
The gang leader flicked out his tongue before joking, “This is about where we came in, isn’t it?” He chuckled and added, “What’s with all the sweat and the heavy breathing? Where’s that bold attitude you had when you all but spat in my face in response to my generous offer of Basilisk membership?”
He paused so his words could sink in and then continued. “You made the decision to oppose me, to try to stand in the way of my organization combating these heartless con artists, and just look at what that got you – a position of utter helplessness.” He drew back the knife. “This is where it ends.”
His limbs still paralyzed, Max closed his eyes and braced himself. However, instead of feeling searing pain, he heard a “thunk!” at his side. He opened his eyes and looked at Ripley, who wore a triumphant grin as he removed his right arm from close to Max’s left hip. With his heart still pounding out of his chest, Max glanced down and saw the knife close to his hand, its blade halfway embedded into the wooden pole.
Ripley looked into his eyes and told him, “After the drug wears off you may cut yourself free. Just know that for the rest of your days you’ll have to live with the fact that you couldn’t do one single thing against me. You were totally in my power, and you only live because I allowed it.” He held his claws against Max’s throat and added, “You’ll have to live with that realization for the rest of your life, and if you ever oppose me again, it will be a short and abject life indeed.”
Ripley, Estes, and Kim triumphantly turned and coolly left without another word. Max started to watch them depart before collapsing into a dead faint.
Written by Raidra