The ends of a long trench coat hung around a barstool, draped around the shoulders of the burly Frank Castle. Sitting by himself at a strip club's bar, he set down an upside-down glass on a ten-dollar bill, cracking his neck and yawning quietly. He never looked up at the girls dancing on the platform above the bar, instead just staring at the lights from the stage as they flashed on a puddle of booze on the counter.
The woman working behind the counter, a beautiful blonde in a checkered shirt tied up like Daisy Duke, traipsed over to the end of the bar to meet him, leaning down on both elbows and flashing him a sultry smile. He looked up slightly at her and nodded, face expressionless.
"That all, hun?" the woman asked with pursed lips, pushing on his glass with two fingers. "One drink? Just having a nightcap or something?"
Frank shook his head slightly, leaning into the counter. "Nah. Still got work tonight."
"Yeah? What kind of work?"
"The kind that keeps you late."
"Story of my goddamn life, let me tell you." She looked down the counter at the men on the other stools, all drunk and whooping at the girls up on the stage. "Interesting place to come if you just want to have one drink and stare at the counter."
Frank pressed his tongue to the inside of his cheek, nodding neurotically to himself. "You got rooms in the back, yeah? Private rooms?"
She raised her eyebrows at him, briefly taken aback. "That a question?"
He smirked and shook his head, gesturing behind him to a set of stairs along the far wall. "Upstairs, yeah? Any chance I can get up there?"
"Sorry, hun. You want a private dance, no problem, but the, uh… the booths, you gotta talk to the owner for that."
"So I go up there, they aren't gonna let me in?"
She hesitated. "What are you, a cop or something?"
"'Cause you gotta tell me if you're a cop. Else it's, like, entrapment, n'shit."
"I'm not a cop." He paused for a moment. "…And no, it's not."
The woman pursed her lips at him, then gave half a shrug, leaning away from the counter. "No. They ain't gonna let you in unless you know the owner. But hey, don't let me stop you from trying."
"I'll try my luck." Frank stood from the stool and gave a charming smile, tapping on the glass. "Thanks for the drink. You have a good night, ma'am."
Patting his hand one more time on the counter, Frank stepped away from the bar, his trench coat falling away from the stool and trailing behind him. The woman behind the counter smirked with him as he turned his head from the girls on stage, multicolored lights flashing against his hair. He ascended the stairs in the back, heading straight along the balcony for a darkened door in the counter. The lights in the showroom died down in the doorway, and as he stepped inside, Frank disappeared into a darkened hall.
The door led to a small, darkened lobby illuminated only by one dim light from the ceiling. At the end, a pair of double doors guarded by a bouncer- a massive, muscular man a head taller than Frank. Frank approached him, his combat boots digging into the velvet carpeting beneath them. The bouncer stood from a chair by the door and took a few steps forward to block his entry.
"I want to get through here," Frank said brusquely, scratching the back of his head and gesturing to the double doors.
The bouncer snickered at him. "Yeah, no shit. Who doesn't? But it's a reserved space."
"Let me correct that. I need to get through here."
The two of them stared each other down, the bouncer unflinching. "You got business with Crystal, it can wait. She's with a well-paying customer right now."
"Tsch." Frank shook his head. "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Fine. What do you want, huh?" Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out his wallet, sifting through bills. "Hundred? Two hundred? I'll give you three, then you let me through."
The bouncer stared with disbelief, placing a hand on Frank's shoulder to push him back. "You a cop or something? You have to tell me if-"
"I'm not a cop." Frank took a breath. "Just- hm. Looking for a good time."
They locked eyes, Frank's face deadly serious. The bouncer grimaced, pushing him back with one hand again. "You're not getting in unless you talk to the owner, pal."
"Sorry. Don't have time for that."
"Come on, man," the bouncer declared quietly, scratching his nose. "Just get lost. I don't want to get physical, here."
"Yeah. Tsch. Yeah, yeah. I was, uh, I was thinking the same thing." Frank scratched his chin.
Doing a double take, the bouncer stood over Frank, scoffing. "…That supposed to be a threat?"
"No need for that. Just need to get through here."
"Well, it's not happening, so-"
Stepping forward, the bouncer placed his hand on Frank's shoulder again, and he moved in with a sudden shout, shoving the bouncer into the wall next to the double doors. His hand on the bouncer's collar, Frank landed two hard punches in the sternum before throwing a wide haymaker across the face, leaving a nasty bruise. Limp, the bouncer slumped back against the wall, and Frank held him carefully by the collar to lower him safely to the ground.
Removing his wallet from his pocket again, Frank stood over the man's unconscious body thoughtfully for a few moments, then dropped the bills on him before grabbing the man's chair with one hand and carrying it through the double doors. The lights got even dimmer the further into the hallway he went.
Coat dangling at his sides, Frank marched forward, the music blasting from the showroom's stage now faint in the narrow hall. Eyes wide, he stopped short at a pair of two doors that led into directly adjacent booths, separated by a dividing wall. Without a word, he set down the chair with one hand and leaned it against the knob of the rightmost door, jamming it shut. He pulled open the other door with one hand, and it slammed against the wall nearly hard enough to break it.
Inside the booth was a woman covered only with a pair of pasties, leaned against the bench at the back of the extremely narrow booth. She jumped with surprise as the door flung open, eyes quickly darting to Frank's shadowy face.
"Hey, what the hell is…?" she trailed off. "Can't you see I'm busy here-?"
Opening his coat, Frank placed opened up the front of his trench coat and lifted the bottom of his shirt, revealing the handle of a gun tucked into his waist.
With sudden shock, the woman got to her feet, pressing her back against the grimy wall of the booth. "Oh, shit…!"
He licked his lips, gesturing very slightly behind him with his head to kick her out. Not breaking eye contact, she shimmied past him with her back against the wall, squeezing through the doorway before taking off running toward the double doors at the end of the hall. Frank replaced her in the booth, shutting the door and taking a seat on the bench, scratching his chin as he took a look around. The wall dividing the two booths was a paper-thin wooden plank, adorned right in the center with a glory hole at waist height. Frank scrunched his face at it with distaste.
"Hey, what the hell is going on in there?" shouted a weaselly man's voice from the other booth, the wall rattling as he pounded a fist against it. "Crystal? You okay? What the hell is going on?"
Frank scratched his chin thoughtfully and leaned into the wall, which rattled as his shoulder brushed against it. "You stick that thing in here, Ray, you're not gettin' it back."
The man in the other booth scoffed incredulously, taken aback. "What- what the fuck? Where did Crystal go? Who in the hell are-?"
"-Doesn't matter who I am, Ray." Frank paused for just a second. "You and I are gonna have a little chat, you got that?"
As he spoke, he pulled the gun from his waistband and fiddled with it, attaching a silencer retrieved from one of the pockets on the inside of his trenchcoat. On the other side of the booth, the door rattled around as Ray tried to escape, to no avail.
"Let me be real clear with you, Ray," said Frank coolly, examining the now-silenced pistol in his hand. "You are not the one I'm after. You are in with some guys who are even bigger pieces of shit than you. I need your help getting my hands on 'em."
"You're a fucking lunatic. Did you lock me in here? Do you have any idea who you-?"
Frank cocked the gun as Ray spoke, aiming it downward and pressing the silenced barrel against the thin wall. He tapped the trigger once, and a silenced gunshot rang out in the booth as a second hole opened up in the wall. Blood squelched through flesh on the other side, and Ray screamed with pain, clattering around uselessly.
"That hit something? Sounds like that hit something," Frank said with a snicker, pulling the gun from the wall and holding it at his side again.
"Fuck… fuck…" Ray groaned weakly.
"Ooh. Sounds bad."
"Not tonight, Ray."
"You're out… of your god… god damn mind…"
"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that." Frank smacked his lips and slid back in his seat, readjusting the gun as he lined it up with the wall. "Tell you what, I've got seven more in the chamber here-"
"-so you might want to start talkin' to me, Ray. Huh? What do you think, Ray? You feel like talkin' to me here?"
"Don't kill me, man."
"Yeah… we'll get to that part, Ray."
"Jesus Christ… what do you want…?"
"I want the man you work for. Julius Carbone."
"Fuck! Are you serious? Carbone? Are you fucking serious?"
"I dunno, Ray, what do you think? You think I'm serious?"
"I don't work for fucking Carbone! Not directly! I've never fucking met him! You think I'm that fucking important? You are pissing off the wrong people if you are going after Carbone…"
"Alright, then, Ray. Alright then." Frank thought for a moment, fiddling absentmindedly with his gun. "Who, then? If not Carbone."
"Man, I can't tell you that."
"You can. I just shot you in the leg, Ray; you really want to-?"
"-I can't. You have no idea what they'll do to me if they find out. They'll kill me."
Narrow-eyed, Frank nodded slowly, returning the gun to its position pressed against the wall. "I'll kill you."
"Christ. Jesus Christ."
"You praying? You praying, Ray?"
Grimacing, Frank stood, marching out of the booth. The door swung open, and Frank thrust his foot into the chair on the adjacent one, flinging open the other door and storming inside. Ray, a skinny brown-haired man with his pants down, flinched as Frank entered the booth, pressing his back to the wall.
Frank placed the barrel of the gun against Ray's forehead, face severe. His trench coat hung open, revealing a vest spray-painted with an insignia of a skull.
"Jesus Christ. You're the… the Punisher… you're… alive…"
"Yeah? What gave it away?" He clenched the handle of the gun, finger steady on the trigger. "Don't pray, Ray. Nobody's saving you. You hear me? Nobody's saving you. Pieces of shit like you don't get saved."
"Okay… okay… just take it easy…"
Ray raised his shaking hands in front of him, forehead sweating against the barrel of Frank's gun.
"The man you work for," Frank repeated violently. "If it's not Carbone, then…?"
Ray hesitated for barely a second, then widened his eyes, nodding furiously. "Fondozzi! Jesus Christ! Fondozzi! Okay?"
Frank didn't flinch. "Fondozzi?"
"Mickey Fondozzi! He's a soldier! One of Carbone's soldiers! He's small time and I'm even smaller; I'm telling you, man-"
"Then it was him you were with the other night. Fondozzi."
"What? What other night?"
"Monday night. At the pier."
"Wh- yes! Yes! Fondozzi, th- that's right…"
"The deal that went down. The guns. That was Fondozzi?"
"That's right! It was him. At the pier. L- look, you want him, that's fine. If they aren't gonna trace it back to me. Look!" Hands trembling, Ray reached a hand down to his ankle, pulling a business card out of the pocket of his dropped pants. He slipped it to Frank, who held it in his free hand and glanced at it briefly. "That's my guy. My- my contact," Ray explained slowly. "They're gonna meet at the pier again. Next week. Monday or Tuesday. That's the guy I was supposed to contact. You want Fondozzi, that's where you'll find him."
"Good." Frank nodded but didn't lower the gun.
Ray shot him a fearful look. "Okay, so…"
"At the docks. What you told him. Those guns- you used 'em in a raid? On a bank?" Frank's eyes turned wild for a moment. "You used them on civilians? That's what you told him. That was true. Yeah? You used those guns to kill civilians?"
"I- I- I…" Ray's face sank as he spoke, expression turning to horror. "I… I'm not a bad guy."
Frank nodded solemnly, smacking his lips. "Yeah. Yeah."
"I don't understand." Ray gulped. "I thought you- I thought you were going after your family. The- the guys who killed your family…"
"Look, man, I don't- Carbone family- Fondozzi didn't have anything to do with- I didn't have anything to do with that…"
"Yeah. Yeah, I know."
"I'm not a bad guy, man…" Ray shot him a terrified, pleading glance.
Frank nodded, just once.
Blood splattered against the back of the booth, and Ray's body slumped against the back wall. Frank stepped out through the door, removing the silencer and tucking it back into the pocket of his trenchcoat. As he marched back down the hallway, he tucked the pistol into his waistband, closing up his trench coat and covering up the skull.
"One batch. Two batch." Frank stopped just outside the double doors, taking a deep breath and grimacing. "…Shit."
He stepped back into the light of the club, and the double doors shut on the dark hall, leaving nobody inside.