She didn't meet the Kingpin at the brothel again. She hadn't expected to, either. He didn't seem like the type of man who would meet in the same place twice unless he was certain it was secure, and the brothel was definitely not secure. They met in a tavern parlor this time, and Felicia used the back door again. She kept her cowl up to hide her hair. Sometimes she thought about doing something about it—dying it or at least cutting it shorter so it was easy to hide—but Felicia liked her hair, and she was perfectly capable at doing her job even with hair like hers. She had proved that on more than one occasion.
The Kingpin's two bodyguards flanked the door, and they glanced at her sourly as she entered. She dragged a chair from the table over to the door and stuffed it under the knob to keep anyone from coming in. She turned another chair around and sat on it backwards, arms resting over the back, and arched an eyebrow at the big man across the table. The bag she had been carrying she left on the floor beside the chair. His cane leaned against the edge, and she knew he had to have been sitting on several chairs to support his weight.
"Do you have everything I asked for?"
Felicia smirked. "Of course I do."
She picked up the bag from beside her chair and swung it only the table. The Kingpin winced, then opened the bag and pawed through the contents inside. The bag jingled as he sifted. He looked up, eyebrows coming together.
She stood, still straddling the chair, and removed a pouch from her belt. She handed it over, and the Kingpin peeked through, lifting out vials and squinting at them. He pushed the bag of jewels off to the side and Felicia eyed it while he examined the chemicals. He looked up at her, distinctly scowling now.
"Something is missing."
She pulled a vial from her belt, filled with the green liquid the Spider had procured. She handed it across the table before resuming her seat, and the Kingpin took it reverently.
"Where did you find it?" he breathed.
She snorted. "It wasn't easy, let me tell you. If I'd have known I'd be nearly killing myself for a little vial of green liquid, I'd have charged a considerably higher rate."
A bag landed on the table in front of her with a heavy bang. Whatever was inside rattled around, jingling like coins. She glanced behind her at one of the guards, trying to decide which of them had thrown it, before turning back to the bag and opening it. Inside were gold coins, and they would certainly total to a sum that was more than she had asked for. Much more. Good enough for her. She tucked the pouch into her belt.
"Do you know what this is, Master Thief?" the Kingpin asked, still holding the vial of green fluid.
She shook her head. "Nope. I have no idea."
The big man looked away from the vial and locked eyes with her for a moment. "Black Cat," he mused, "how do you feel about…power?"
Felicia arched an eyebrow. This was getting interesting. "Not interested. Power isn't shiny."
"Only business I'm interested in is my own."
"Interesting… You're a curious case, Master Thief."
She smirked. "I'll take that as a compliment. Honestly, Baron Kingpin—"
"—Whatever. What do I need power for? I've never had much respect for authority. It's why I can steal from them."
The Kingpin paused, pressing the tips of his fingers together and staring blankly. Felicia sat, unsure of whether or not this was a dismissal. She was beginning to grow uncomfortable—he had been sitting like that for a while—when he finally stirred.
"You're not the least bit curious as to what I wanted with these chemicals?"
She shrugged. "Not in the slightest."
The blindfold came off, and she could see again. She was inside, somewhere in a basement, from the look of things. They had blindfolded her when leaving the tavern. The Kingpin, somehow put off by the fact that she didn't care about what he was doing—or impressed, it was hard to tell—that decided to show off a little. But they'd blindfolded her when loading her into the carriage. Not that it mattered, of course, because Felicia knew every inch of town. She'd counted turns, and she could tell from the smell in the air that they were near the docks.
She would find it again.
The basement was damp, and the electric lights—the newest thing—buzzed loudly and flickered on occasion. She didn't think they were supposed to do that. Her footsteps echoed loudly as she trailed behind the Kingpin, who swung his cane like his was conducting an orchestra. Clearly, it was more for show than anything else. The bodyguards flanked her, one on each side, as if she couldn't escape if she wanted to. She pretended, for their benefit, that they were effective, but kept an eye out for potential escape routes just the same.
The corridor abruptly narrowed as they took a sharp left, and one guard moved in front of her while the other moved behind her. She purposely swung her hips a little more. The corridor emptied into what Felicia took to be some kind of viewing chamber. There was a large window set into the wall that looked into another room. It looked like the worst kind of surgical room she had ever seen—beds with bloodied wrist straps, instruments that looked like they were more for torture than healing. As she watched, the Kingpin rapped a door with his cane. She hadn't noticed it until now; it led into the horrific room on the other side of the glass.
A door within the hospital room opened, and a man in a white coat entered, dragging with him a girl who couldn't have been more than eleven. Felicia bit the inside of her cheek and tried not to look as horrified as she felt. This girl had to have been one of the missing children. She was dirty, and a little damp looking, as if she had been kept somewhere where the ceiling leaked and couldn't escape the drip.
The man in the coat strapped the girl into one of the beds. Felicia wondered why she wasn't fighting, but the girl moved sluggishly. Maybe she'd been drugged. Felicia glanced sharply at the Kingpin.
"What is this?"
He looked at her, his face filled with rapture. "We're attempting gene modification. We think we can give normal human being super powers. Alas," he added, turning back to the window set into the wall, "we haven't had much luck so far. We keep trying, you see." The man in the coat stuck a needle into the girl's arm and depressed the plunger. Felicia winced. "But we can never seem to get it right. They exhibit…fatal side effects."
"Fatal?" Felicia arched an eyebrow.
For a moment, the girl on the table did nothing. Then she began to writhe. Felicia watched as her teeth elongated and she began thrashing about more violently. Felicia was sure she'd rip the table right out of the floor. She watched as the girl became something feral. She made cries like nothing Felicia had ever heard a human make, and her eyes had turned a startling shade of yellow. The girl screamed for a while longer. She ripped at the bonds holding her to the table. And then, suddenly, it was over, and the girl stopped. It was as if someone had flipped a switch, and she just dropped and lie there limply. The man in the white coat shuffled over to check her. After a moment, he turned to the window and shook his head.
The Kingpin sighed, as if it were all a tragedy. Felicia fought the desire to vomit. "They've all been like that—increased aggression, becoming something…like that. But now that you've brought us these chemicals, well…" He produced the vial of green liquid from his coat pocket and looked at it fondly. "I believe we may be on to something. Imagine it—a superhuman race. They could instantly heal from battle wounds, fight all diseases. They could never be killed."
He clearly expected her to say something, so she forced a thoughtful expression. "Yes… It's an interesting concept."
The Kingpin nodded, tucking the vial away in his coat. "Isn't it just." He pulled out a pocket watch and glanced at it. "It will be dawn soon. It would perhaps be best if we returned you before then."
"So what's the next movie?" she asked as the bodyguards blindfolded her before stuffing her into the carriage. She whacked her head on the ceiling and swore under her breath.
"We spend some time mixing up a new formula," the Kingpin replied. "Then we set up a proper testing facility and make adjustments according to our findings."
"Of course," she murmured, and was silent for the rest of the ride.
She swung herself onto the landing right outside her window. She gave her rope a tug, unhooking her grappling hook from where she had swung, opened the window, and slipped inside. She closed and latched the window as fast as she could, left the grappling hook sitting on the floor. She made for the steps, jogging down them two at a time. She found the Spider sitting up on the edge of her bed, adjusting his mask, as if he had just put it back on. The book he had been reading when she left sat on the table beside the bed.
"You're back! It's dawn, I was starting to worry something hap—"
"We don't have a lot of time," she said, moving quickly across the room. "We need to plan, and then we need to move."