Author's note; I'm back, baby! I apologize for the long wait between chapters, but I was waylaid by a band of mutants over at Westchester County, hence a number of X-related stories. Hopefully chapter 6 won't be so long in the making. Thanks for the feedback. It's chicken soup for my ego.
And yes, I know that the first part of this song translates as 'One, two, three, fourteen'. Take it up with Bono, he wrote the fakakta thing!
The jungle is your head--
I'm feeling so much stronger than before
Your eyes are wide
And though your soul it can't be bought
Your mind can wonder
Hello, hello... (Hola)
Hello, hello... (Hola)
I'm at a place called Vertigo (¿Dónde estás?)
It's everything I wish I didn't know
Except you give me something--
I can feel--
"Vertigo"Patches of sunlight spiked through the slowly growing blanket of high clouds that heralded Autumn in New York as Peter escorted Mary Jane and his aunt May to the cozy sidewalk cafe that Mary Jane had recommended for their Saturday afternoon date. More sweaters and jackets were being worn by pedestrians as the days grew shorter and the nights began earlier. Even May Parker, who normally would have been comfortable in a short-sleeved blouse and blue jeans, was sporting a beige cable-knit cardigan to ward off the mid-September chill. As they relaxed at their table overlooking Rockefeller Center, Peter reflected that there wouldn't be many more days of this sort of outdoor lunch this year. Looking over the plaza, he realized that soon the plaza would be set up for skating, while the annual Christmas Tree would shine with its thousands of lights. Christmas, he realized. Hopefully I'll have saved up enough in the next couple of months for gift shopping. Assuming Mr. Ditkovitch doesn't have any surprise rent-hikes in the works. As the waiter brought their sandwiches, he resolved to not worry about the immediate future, but to simply enjoy this afternoon with his two favorite women. Life was going well for him now, he had no desire to question his good fortune.
"...And the moment you first stepped out of the car, Mary Jane," May smiled as she related her first memory of their red-haired neighbor, who was now sitting across from her, "Peter started tugging at my dress, asking, 'Aunt May, is that an angel?'"
MJ laughed happily between nibbles of her Tuscan chicken salad. "You really said that, Peter?" she dimpled prettily as Peter blushed beet-red, eliciting an amused smirk from his aunt.
A mortally-embarrassed Peter tried to hide his face behind his Reuben sandwich. "I was six years old!" he protested with little conviction.
"Well, I still think it was adorable," May nodded, a sly smile on her face. Mary Jane took some sympathy on her boyfriend and gently patted his hand.
Peter turned his attention to his aunt in a desperate bid to change the subject. "So, Aunt May, how's the new apartment coming along?"
"Oh, quite nicely, thanks for asking," May answered between bites of her linguini carbonara. "It took me a while to get used to the new place but the neighbors have been very friendly. I've made quite a few new friends there. In fact they invited me to join them on a motor tour of the state."
"Really!" Peter raised his voice a trifle in genuine surprise.
"Oh yes, we're planning on renting a bus, perhaps a trailer, and spending a week next summer taking in the sights." Peter arched an eyebrow at this news; as glad as he was that his aunt was becoming more active, especially after Ben's murder, he somehow hadn't expected to see her living like a gypsy. The mental image made him smile.
"Uh, Peter..." MJ nudged him slightly, whispering sotto voce in his ear.
"Oh, yeah," Peter gasped, remembering the real reason he and MJ brought her to lunch. "Actually, Aunt May, we were hoping you'd have a weekend free next summer. Uh, late June, right, MJ?"
May began eyeing her nephew suspiciously, as a faint hope dared to grow in her heart. "What are you two planning?"
"Oh, nothing much," MJ feigned innocence as she extended her left hand, showing off a diamond solitaire engagement ring. "Just a wedding..."
May gaped like a fish at the sight of her long-departed sister-in-law's engagement ring on Mary Jane's finger. "Wha...how did this happen?"
"I asked, she said yes," Peter positively beamed as he finally said the words he had longed to say for so many years. "Mary Jane and I are getting married!" To punctuate this announcement, MJ leaned toward her fiancée and kissed him gently on the cheek, happily draping her arm around his shoulder.
After a moment's shock, May's lips turned upward in an enormous and welcoming smile. "Why, that's wonderful!" She reached around the table to embrace both her nephew and future niece. "Congratulations, the two of you! I'm so happy for you. Of course I'll make plans to be there. Welcome to the family, Mary Jane!"
"Thank you, Mrs. Parker--" Mary Jane began, only to be silenced by a curt wave of May's hand. "Please," she corrected Mary Jane in a stern but loving voice, "it's 'Aunt May'!"
"Okay," MJ laughed, "Aunt May. And thanks again."
May, true to Peter's prediction a few days earlier, launched into a flurry of questions; "So, have you two made any plans? Arrangements with a chapel, anything like that?"
Before Peter and Mary Jane could assist Aunt May in officially launching their wedding plans, a waiter slid up to the table, balancing a large bottle on a silver tray in his hand. "Pardon me, but is this the Parker table?" he asked.
Peter nodded happily, "Yes it is."
"For you, Mr. Parker." The waiter thrust the bottle into Peter's hand, his smile the smile of a man anticipating a large tip. "With congratulations on your impending nuptials."
Peter held the bottle and read the label. Dom Perignon. Mary Jane gasped when she recognized the label. "Peter," she breathed, "That's not any ordinary grape juice. That stuff goes for at least a hundred bucks a bottle!"
"Two hundred, actually," the waiter informed them. "That bottle is an exceptionally fine vintage." The waiter's appraisal nearly caused Peter to drop the bottle; only reflexes heightened by the mutagenic effects of his spider-bite allowed him to avoid breaking the bottle over the concrete floor.
"There must be some mistake," Peter nervously tried to push the bottle back to the waiter. "We didn't order any champagne."
The waiter shook his head, his unflappable smile still gracing his face. "No charge, sir. The gentleman told me that he had heard you announce your engagement, and sent this bottle to your table, with his complements."
"Well, that's nice, huh?" Peter glared skeptically at the bottle.
"Did he say who he was?" Aunt May asked gently.
"No, sir, he wished to remain anonymous," the waiter shrugged. "I'll be by with the check, sir."
As the waiter left the table, Peter and his lunch companions found themselves staring at the bottle of Dom Perignon, puzzling over their unknown benefactor. Peter and MJ glanced briefly at each other, then at May, who simply chuckled. "Don't look at me, dears, I don't know anyone wealthy enough to spend two hundred on a bottle of champagne."
MJ suddenly grinned, turning back toward Peter. "But we do, right?"
Peter's eyes widened when he followed MJ's train of thought. "Harry? You think he sent us the champagne? His idea of an engagement gift?"
"Maybe we could ask him later?" MJ suggested.
"Wha, and embarrass him?" Peter countered, laughing slightly.
"I think there's a card on the bottle, Peter," May suggested. Peter glanced at the foil around the cork, and first noticed the silvery elastic cord that held a small hand-milled paper card to the bottle.
"Must have missed that, Aunt May," Peter grinned sheepishly. "Okay, let's check it out." Peter slipped the elastic off the bottle and opened the card. The card, printed on an ink-jet printer in a clean san-serif font, contained a single line of text:
"Can Spider-Man come out and play?"
"Get down," he whispered tersely.
MJ's eyes fixed onto Peter's forehead, observing the knotting of veins between his eyes. "What, what does it say?"
"GET DOWN! BOTH OF YOU, NOW!" Peter shouted, the words exploding from his throat with a force that shocked May. MJ, knowing that voice, gently placed her hand on May's arm, leading her away from the table as Peter vaulted the sidewalk railing and bolted away from the café.
Clutching the bottle in his hand, he rushed pell-mell down the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians right and left. Two teen-age girls scowled at the rude young man who almost knocked them down in his mad rush down the sidewalk. His eyes darted around the street until he located an alleyway. Surreptitiously stealing glances left and right, he produced a strand of webbing and tied it to the bottle. He kicked off his shoes and began to scale the grimy alley wall, the other end of the web strand clutched in his hand.
Thankfully there wasn't anyone to see him employing his natural ability to stick to walls as he rapidly ascended the wall. Reaching the top ledge of the building, he started swinging the bottle over his head like a bolo. After three widening arcs, he released the webbing when the bottle was on an upward swing. He released the breath he was holding as he watched the bottle's trajectory, shooting upward away from any people or structures, before exploding at about a hundred feet above the tops of the nearby buildings. Shards of glass rained over the immediate area, as startled New Yorkers on the street below gasped and looked around, wondering what happened.
As Peter watched the last gray whiffs of smoke from the exploding bottle being pulled away in the fall breeze, he thought he could hear a faint roar of a jet engine. Craning his head around, he saw a faint silhouette of a vaguely humanoid figure, perched on a v-shaped wing. As the glider-shape grew smaller in the horizon, Peter could swear he heard a chilling cackle.
"Harry," he breathed. "Damn you."
When the explosion rattled the windows, MJ and May craned their heads toward the sound along with the rest of the patrons at the café. "Peter," May gasped. "He ran toward that explosion! Could he have…"
"He's fine, Aunt May," MJ assured her, "he'll be okay." Inwardly, she found herself wishing that she was as confident as she sounded. He'll be fine, she reminded herself mentally. After all, he's Spider-Man.
Five minutes later, MJ caught sight of Peter running toward the café. "MJ! Aunt May!" he shouted as he approached them. The two women stood up and approached the railing where Peter met them, gasping for breath. "You two okay?"
"I've been worse," May admitted sternly. "But what about you? You were closer to that explosion than we were. What happened?"
"I dunno, Aunt May," Peter stammered, secretly catching MJ's eye. The red-head nodded, silently agreeing to back whatever story Peter came up with. "I saw that explosion too, but it was high in the air, nowhere near any buildings. Looks like no one was hurt."
"That's a relief," May nodded. "But why did you suddenly run off like that anyway? And what happened to that champagne bottle?"
"Oh, that," Peter cringed slightly. "Uh, I had to ditch it. I thought the cork smelled funny. Like it had gone bad."
May scowled unbelievingly at her nephew. MJ sighed quietly as she turned to Peter; as much as she loved him, she didn't like being stuck in the middle, unable to confide in the sweet woman who had raised Peter. "Peter," she suggested while her fiancé stood staring into the sky, "could I talk to you for a moment?"
As she led Peter away from Aunt May, she glared at him, her eyes flashing fire. "What's going on, Peter?" she whispered. "What was in that bottle?"
"I'm guessing chemical explosive and some flash powder, by the smell," Peter whispered back. "But the card, that's what triggered my spider-sense."
"Why?" MJ asked, puzzled. "What did it say?"
"It said, 'Can Spider-Man come out to play?', MJ."
MJ's sudden gasp didn't escape Peter's notice. "What is it?" he asked.
MJ shook her head, fear and shame coloring her cheeks red. "I should have told you sooner, Peter," she admitted. "I just didn't want to worry you—"
"Okay, now I'm worried," Peter warned her. "What happened?"
"A few days ago," MJ started hastily, "just after Sergey called me about that part on 'When Harry Met Sally', there was another call. Some computer-like voice, saying, 'Can Spider-Man come out to play?'. I thought it was just a crank call; I mean, my face was in the papers twice for being rescued by Spider-Man." She began to gasp, and Peter could see tears welling in her eyes. "I didn't think it was serious. It just spooked me at first, though. I'm sorry, I should have told you…"
Peter felt a brief surge of anger at discovering that MJ had kept a secret from him. But one look at the trembling young woman beside him dispelled his ire. MJ didn't scare easily, Peter knew that much. He remembered seeing her at the pier earlier that year, held hostage by Octavius. She didn't cry once, she stood almost defiantly against her captor. But something had scared her deeply. And Peter sensed that what caused her fear was the same thing that was scaring him now. The idea that the Green Goblin had somehow returned.
"Shh, shh," Peter took MJ into his arms, rocking her slightly as her sobbed. "It's okay. Just, next time someone pulls a stunt like that, let me know, okay?"
"Okay," she promised. "Next time, you'll be the first to know."
"Good," Peter nodded, reluctantly breaking the embrace. "Look, MJ, would you do me a solid and take Aunt May home, and stay with her 'til I get back? Please?"
"Sure, Peter," MJ nodded. "But what about you?"
"I have to go see a man about a glider." MJ stared incredulously at Peter, but he smiled gently at her. "Don't worry. I'm going as Peter, not as—" he showed her his hand, middle and ring fingers resting on his palm in a 'web' fingers formation. MJ nodded, smirking.
As the couple returned to May, MJ said, "Aunt May, would you like me to drive you to your apartment?"
"I'd like that very much," May smiled. "But what about you, Peter?"
A faint siren could be heard up the street, faint but growing louder. "I'd better hang around," Peter said. "Once the cops are here, I should tell them what I saw. Wasn't much, but I did get in close enough to see what was happening. I'm sorry about leaving you alone, Aunt May—"
"Please, Peter," May smiled slightly, assuring her nephew. "Mary Jane and I will be fine."
"I'll be back in a couple of hours," Peter promised his aunt as he hugged her. "Love you," he added.
"I love you too, Peter," May breathed. As she turned toward Mary Jane, the red-haired actress offered her arm and escorted her away from the café.
MJ turned back one last time to glance at Peter. "Go get 'em, Tiger," she whispered. Peter nodded grimly, before heading away, toward the sirens.
Fifteen minutes later, after giving a brief statement, he waved his hands in the air, flagging down the first available taxi. After three cabs passed him by, a fourth pulled over. As he entered the cab, the driver extinguished a foul-smelling cigar into the dashboard ashtray and asked, "Where to?"
Peter grimly replied, "The Oscorp building."
"Liz," Harry greeted his receptionist as he strode toward his office. "Are we still on for dinner tonight? I wanted to go over some figures for the Ad Astra prototype."
"You know how to show a lady a good time, Mr. Osborn," Liz quipped.
"A thousand pardons," Harry smiled. "I just wanted to crunch a few numbers. Once that's done, you shall have my undivided attention."
"Please," Liz answered. "I'd settle for a majority share of your attention. O'Shannasey's at 7:30 it is?"
"I'll pick you up after I'm done here," Harry answered as he headed for the oaken office door. "Hold my calls for now, please."
"Oh," Liz suddenly chimed. "There's a Peter Parker in your office. He came in while you were with the board of directors. He seemed rather agitated, so I told him to wait."
"Thanks," Harry nodded. "I'll see him right away." As he pushed the office door open, he wondered why Peter was making a surprise visit.
Before he took two steps into the office, he felt a hand grasp his throat and lift him off of the floor. "Can the Green Goblin come out to play?" a harsh voice snarled as Harry tried to loosen his assailant's grip. Harry turned to face his attacker, only to find himself staring into the eyes of Peter Parker. Never before had Harry imagined that Peter's face could be contorted into such a mask of hatred, or that he would ever see murder in the pale-blue depths of his eyes. But that's exactly what he saw that moment.
In a second, he found himself slammed hard against the picture window that dominated the side of his office, Peter's hand clamped hard on his throat, pinning him like a moth. "What was it your dad said? 'See how a hero is rewarded'? Well, let's see how a psychopath who threatens my family is rewarded! Give me one good reason why I shouldn't break your neck right now!"
"The security camera behind you for one thing," Harry rasped. Peter twisted his head around, eyeing the black reflective dome in the ceiling. "The guards should be here any minute now," Harry continued calmly as Peter's grip on his neck slackened enough for Harry to free himself.
True to Harry's word three armed men charged into the office, service pieces aimed directly at Peter. "Don't move, buddy!" the lead guard shouted as his two subordinates grabbed Peter's arms and pinned them behind his back. Peter managed to keep his rage in check; he didn't want to risk hurting the guards by breaking free with his full strength. "Mr. Osborn," he asked, turning to his employer, "are you okay? We saw this man attack you on our monitors…"
"Yes, Axelrod, I'm okay," Harry assured the guards. "You can put your guns down. This is Peter, a friend from high school. We were just roughhousing. Nothing serious."
"Roughhousing, sir?" Axelrod asked dubiously. "It looked pretty nasty on the monitor."
"Like I said, Axelrod," Harry raised his voice, "there's nothing wrong here. Peter is a friend. I appreciate your prompt arrival, but I'm not in danger. You're dismissed for now."
"But sir, I—"
"What part of 'you're dismissed for now' didn't you understand?" Harry intoned sternly. Axelrod stood silently for a moment, before signaling to the other guards. The two guards released their grip on Peter's arms and followed their senior supervisor out of the office. Just at the doorway, Axelrod turned to his employer. "I'm going to keep my eye on this office once I'm in the control room again."
"And I feel safer knowing that," Harry assured the guard. Axelrod nodded and left silently, and Harry gently shut the door behind him. Turning back to Peter, his smile faded, his mouth becoming a grim line across his face. "I just lied through my teeth to keep you from spending the night in jail, Peter," Harry spoke in tones of quiet menace. "So given the circumstances, I feel that you at the very least owe me an explanation."
"I owe you?" Peter gasped as he circled the office, maintaining a six-foot distance from Harry, his arms hanging warily at his side, his entire body a loaded spring on a tenuous catch. "What about that stunt you pulled today, handing me a booby-trapped champagne bottle? Whatever your beef with me or Spider-Man, keep Aunt May and Mary Jane out of it or so help me…"
"Wait, time out!" Harry shouted. "What champagne? What the hell are you talking about? I was at a board meeting today from 10 a.m. to about five minutes before I walked into my office!"
"Oh yeah?" Peter challenged. "Then I suppose you're telling me that you didn't send crank calls to MJ, impersonating the Green Goblin?"
"Why would I do that?" Harry defended himself. "I hate the Goblin as much as you do! Besides," Harry's tone grew more desperate. "I wasn't out of this building since I got here at seven in the morning! I was at the board meeting all day! I have at least twelve credible witnesses; I was hashing out design schematics for the Ad Astra long range shuttles! And Liz was with me all the way from the boardroom to the office!"
"And you weren't joyriding on one of your daddy's gliders either, I can assume?" Peter accused menacingly. Harry gasped as Peter nodded once. "Oh yeah, I heard that jet engine. I saw the glider flying off in the distance. And you're the only one who has access to your dad's weapons caches."
"I'm telling you," Harry insisted, "that I wasn't—" His voice trailed into silence as a terrible thought came to mind. "No—" he half-whispered, half-prayed. "It can't be…" Harry rushed to his desk, pressed the control, alt and delete keys on his keyboard and started scanning through his computer systems, his eyes affixed to the monitor. Peter stood by in silence, intently watching as his high-school friend searched his computer systems. "Oh man," he whispered after about five minutes. "This is bad."
"What, what's bad?" Peter asked worriedly.
"When I first found my dad's private cache of Goblin weapons," Harry spoke in rushed tones, "I used his secret files to discover the rest of his caches. I catalogued and inventoried everything he had created, down to the last pumpkin bomb, so once I had the time to destroy his entire stockpile, I'd make sure I had indeed destroyed everything. I found six caches, scattered throughout the city. And one of them," he finished, turning the monitor around on its base to show Peter, "was emptied. I hadn't even monitored the caches for the last three months or so, since I was occupied with my deep space projects. But someone located the Manhattan cache, directly under the Flatiron Building in Times Square. Looted it clean."
Peter gasped at the implications. If what Harry was saying was true, and the image he witnessed on the screen, of an emptied warehouse as observed by the security camera gave proof to Harry's statement, then someone had access to the Goblin's arsenal.
To the Goblin's knowledge.
To the Goblin's secrets.
Before he could follow this thread to its terrible conclusion, a familiar stirring of the hairs on the back of his neck began to intensify, like the gradually increasing ringing of an alarm bell. "HARRY!" Peter cried as he lunged over the desk and tackled the Oscorp CEO, rolling him to the ground. Just as Harry opened his mouth to ask why Peter had landed on him, a deafening explosion rocked the office, as shards of glass rained over the two of them. "Harry!" Peter whispered urgently. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Harry groaned as Peter lifted his weight away from him. So that's Spider-Sense, he found himself thinking absently, as he scrambled to his feet. "But what happened?"
"I happened, Harold Osborn," an eerie, computer-altered voice rasped against his ears. Harry and Peter spun around, facing the huge jagged hole in the window, and the dark figure perched outside.
The glider was Norman's; neither Peter nor Harry could deny it. Gunmetal gray, razor-edged corrugated steel wings mounted on either side of the cylindrical jet engine, with a horned grate on the nosecone that resembled a bat's head. The costume was different, however. He wore orange leggings and arm coverings made from what Harry recognized as a flexible Kevlar-like substance. The latex mask was a sickly yellow, with eyes and teeth visible behind its troll-like features. A tattered yellow-orange hood covered his head, with matching short cape draped over his shoulders. The chest, gloves and boots were a dark green-gray, and appeared to be made of the same Kevlar fabric. Peter gasped as he saw the object in the opponent's hand; it smoked faintly, sparks flying out of its crude eye-holes. A pumpkin-grenade.
"So nice to see you two here, Osborn, Parker," the assailant regarded the two men with a faintly clinical air. "I have things I would say to the two of you! Oh, and any guards watching in the surveillance room, I'd advise you not to come near the office. Or my next grenade will take down your boss!" The goblin-masked figure shifted his glider slightly, moving close enough to grasp Harry by the throat. "Tell them, Osborn," he ordered. "Tell them to keep their distance." Peter tensed up, fighting the innate terrors that the Goblin had always given him. He silently cursed the security cameras that recorded this invasion; without them, he thought he'd have a better chance of attacking this new Goblin without betraying his identity. He glanced at Harry, catching his eye, and nodded once. Play his game, he thought silently. For now.
"You heard him," Harry barked, his eyes focusing on the security camera. "Keep your distance!"
"A wise decision," his assailant snarled as he relaxed his grasp on Harry's neck. "Now that we can converse uninterrupted, I will explain my actions."
"No need to explain, Gobby," Peter muttered, his rage barely contained. "You're trying to be the next Green Goblin, that's all!"
"Green?" the intruder chuckled darkly. "My name, Parker, is Hobgoblin. And before I'm done, this city will learn to respect it!" Returning his attention to Harry, Hobgoblin continued; "I am not Norman Osborn. I have ambitions beyond merely terrorizing innocents, or seeking revenge against shareholders. Yes, I know the whole sordid story. But I assure you, I have no intentions toward revenge. I have bigger fish to fry."
"Remind me to be impressed," Harry answered. "What do you want from us?"
"I want something from each of you," Hobgoblin stated, the latex mask almost smiling cruelly over his face. "First, Parker. You seem to have a professional relationship with the city's current media flavor of the month, Spider-Man. I want you to give him a message; tell him I wish to confront him. I assume you got my message earlier, am I right?"
"You sent the bottle?" Peter shouted. "You son of a BITCH!" Rage overtaking reason, Peter charged at Hobgoblin, who shrugged his shoulders, pointing a finger at Peter. A brilliant burst of sparks cascaded from his gauntlet toward Peter, knocking Peter backward. "Temper, temper, Parker," Hobgoblin cackled. "Norman hadn't even field-tested these power gauntlets. They do pack a wallop. The equivalent of ten-thousand volts in one blast."
"Stop it!" Harry screamed. "You've proven your point, Goblin! Just state your business!"
"Tell Spider-Man, Parker," Hobgoblin snarled. "Tell him that I will take him down. Or I will take down the people you love." The sprawled figure of Peter Parker only glared at Hobgoblin, anger smoldering in his eyes.
"As for you, Osborn," he addressed Harry with a cold contempt, "I have managed to appropriate one of your father's bunkers, and plundered his Goblin technology. And I must say, I can't blame him for keeping this glider to himself. It's a most exhilarating experience, the power I control now. But I know that he has other stashes. And I'm certain that you know where they are."
"And you want me to hand them over?" Harry hazarded a guess.
"Indeed! I'll give you one week to gather all the pertinent information and present it to me. You can keep your company, I have no interest in your corporate holdings. All I want is the legacy of the Goblin. And you will give it to me."
Harry stood before the grinning creature that hovered before him, his legs shaking but still holding strong. He smiled mirthlessly in front of the Goblin, before answering; "Do the words, 'Get bent' mean anything to you?"
"You have one week, Osborn," Hobgoblin snarled. "Or else I will level your corporate headquarters, at nine a.m., just as the day shift arrives. Thousands of your employees will die, either from the initial explosion, or from falling debris. The media will assume terrorists, but you will know better. Either you give me all of the Goblin's weapons, or witness as everything you built up from your father's ashes will fall, and I will pick the secret of his other caches from the bones of your company. One week!"
Peter managed to make it to his feet, the residual effects of that energy blast wearing off quickly. Before he could consider another attack on this new enemy, Hobgoblin raised his pumpkin grenade and smashed it onto the floor in front of him. Instantly a cloud of acrid smoke billowed from the shattered grenade, filling the room completely. Peter's eyes stung and he couldn't shout to Harry from needing to cough constantly. Within ten seconds, the smokescreen was dispersed by the offices' air-conditioning vents, by which time Hobgoblin had disappeared. Only the distant roar of his glider, now over two miles away, remained. That and the shards of glass that littered Harry's office and the gaping hole in his window.
Almost immediately after the smoke cleared, Axelrod and his two junior officers entered the office, observing the debris from Hobgoblin's attack. "Mr. Osborn?" Axelrod asked. "We have the entire incident recorded. Who—what was that?"
"That, Axelrod," Harry shook his head sadly, "is a new problem. One that I trust you to help me with. I want that window replaced with bulletproof glass immediately. And consider the security budget for both the main offices and Ad Astra doubled. Hire extra men if you have to. I'm not letting some costumed maniac destroy my life's work."
"I'm sorry we couldn't do more, sir," Axelrod replied grimly.
"Not your fault, friend," Harry assured him. "But we definitely need to beef up security at Oscorp. We'll go over the details and make a plan tomorrow. Dismissed."
"Yes sir," Axelrod shot to attention and beckoned his lieutenants to follow him out of the office. For now, Harry reasoned, Oscorp was safe. For now…
"Peter," Harry asked, approaching his friend, who stood dumbly, staring out of the glass maw and toward the city skyline. "You okay?"
"He doesn't know," Peter whispered. "Whatever your dad had hidden away, Hobgoblin didn't find everything yet. He doesn't know that I'm Spider-Man. But he knows that there is a connection between us. And he knows about May and MJ." He turned away from the window and faced Harry. "I have to take him down. And quickly."
"Amen to that," Harry answered. "He said he would destroy Oscorp, and with the weaponry from Dad's Flatiron cache he could do it. No way in Hell I'm handing that monster any more weapons."
"Harry," Peter said suddenly, "I owe you an apology. I first saw that Hobgoblin dude on his glider after the bottle exploded, I jumped to the wrong conclusion."
"Don't do this," Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Peter, I know about Spider-Man, I know about Dad, and I know where he kept his toys. You see a guy on a Goblin glider, he makes threats against your family, what are you supposed to think? It's Occam's Razor."
Peter's eyes widened with surprised recognition at Harry's observation. "Dad used to quote that principle," Harry continued. "The idea that the simplest solution is the most likely one."
"Something like that, Harry," Peter corrected. "Occam's Razor originally was a principle of logic that states that you shouldn't make more assumptions than the minimum necessary to explain something. Dr. Connors likes to quote that one." Surveying the damage of Hobgoblin's attack, he added, "I guess I cut myself shaving with Occam's Razor this time."
"Don't sweat it, Peter," Harry insisted. "Right now, we need to concentrate on the Hobgoblin."
Peter glanced sidelong at Harry. "'We', Kimosabe?"
Harry chuckled darkly. "He's threatening my company, my employees," Harry reminded Peter. "You think I'm going to stand by and do nothing? I don't think so. Anything I can do to help, let me know!"
"Thanks, Harry," Peter took Harry's hand in his own, shaking it firmly. "I just hope I don't have to take you up on it too soon. This is going to be a different situation than taking on your dad."
"Why? Hobs didn't strike me as being as insane as Dad at the end," Harry commented.
Peter nodded. "That's exactly the point. Hobgoblin may be evil, but he's not psychotic. I saw his eyes when he attacked me. They were cold, calculating. Not wild and insane. He has his faculties. Against the Green Goblin, I had to get tougher." Taking one last look out the shattered window, Peter concluded, "Against Hobgoblin, I'm going to have to get smarter."
Next: Chapter (Sinister) Six