The Octopus' Spawn

Prologue: Lawyers and Doctors

The early light of April dawn streamed through the bedroom as Anna Smith, Esquire, packed her suitcase, preparing for the important bar association meeting in New York City. The plane was going to take off in four hours.

Her husband, Jake Winthrop, was still in bed. "Woman! Why isn't my breakfast here! I'm starving!"

Anna opened her mouth to speak. "Get it yourself, you lazy pig! If you want breakfast in bed, try sleeping in the kitchen!" Of course, the great lawyer didn't actually say this. Black and blue didn't go to well with a red business suit.

Jake wasn't always a wife-beating pig. When he was dating Anna, he showered her with gifts, flowers, and chocolates. He always walked on the outside of the street when walking with her, and always opened doors and pulled out chairs.

But soon he started getting jealous. He insisted that Anna go to work without makeup, and in dowdy dresses that even her mother wouldn't be caught dead in. "You're a beautiful woman, Anna," he'd say. "I don't want the other men getting ideas. I don't want you putting ideas in their heads. You belong to me. Remember that." This progressed to Jake controlling the finances, what she could do and whom she could see. The slightest transgression could throw him in a temper—if she even mentioned that she had gone to lunch with a male attorney to discuss a plea bargain, Anna would end up with bruises that would last for weeks. Jake constantly said that women were permanently immature, like babies, only with nicer figures.

The lawyer racked her brains, wondering what went wrong. She could grill a prosecution witness and a few minutes later they would be telling her what they did, who they did it with, and why they did it. But the questions she couldn't answer were the ones she asked of herself. She carefully brushed concealer on her face, trying not to make the black eyes hurt more.

The bruises were from the latest fight, last night. Jake had shouted, as usual, that she was his wife and property, after dredging up her every single disobedience from all fourteen months of their marriage. Finally, Anna had had enough. She hit him first. At six foot three and 185 pounds, she hadn't been called "Hammerhand" in high school for compliments' sake.

Anna's sister, Samantha Laufey, always asked her why she didn't leave him. Laufey said he was the one who was wrong, not her. He had no right to treat any woman like that.

But Anna didn't know if she could trust Laufey anymore. It was during that same fight that he told her in so many words he'd slept with her sister—and she was far better in the bedroom.

"Woman!" Jake yelled. "Are you gonna let me starve? Get me some food! What do you think a wife is for?" Thanks to her, he also had a black eye.

Anna snapped. "There's a certain thing now, it was only invented recently, in the 1920s. It's called a McDonalds, and they have one right down the street. And it's probably better food, by the way you talk about my cooking."

"What about the house? It's a mess. Why can't you clean, like a normal wife does?"

"Why can't you go to work, like a normal husband does?"

He would have hit her right then, but he didn't want the Hammerhand treatment again. Jake contented himself with looking his wife over.

"Red. I should have known it would have been red."

Anna was wearing a red pantsuit and jacket, which horribly classed with her red hair.

"You're going to give men ideas. You're my property, remember that."

Okay, so he wasn't Mr. Romantic, and she wasn't Martha Stewart. She sighed. How did Miss Most Likely to Succeed, the "Clarence Darrow in a skirt," as one law newsletter called her, get into this mess?

Anna checked herself into the New York City hotel, and threw her suitcase on the bed. The conference wasn't until the next afternoon, and she could unpack later. Right now Anna needed a good stiff drink. Maybe she'd meet a handsome guy, and talk to him. Heck, maybe she'd even dance a few times. Anna wasn't anyone's property. Jake would do well to remember that.

Anna entered the bar. A lone barstool sat next to the counter. Sitting on the next barstool over was a man, bobbing the olive up and down his martini with his finger. Anna checked him out.

The strange man had messy brown hair, and he wore a black leather trench coat and matching gloves. He had a long, straight nose, and he was scowling, but the rest of his face was hidden behind dark sunglasses. Only the keenest observer would notice the metal pincers peeking out from beneath the coat, but most of the people there were too pixilated to observe much.

The former scientist now known as Doctor Octopus took notice of the lawyer. "What do you want, lady?" he growled.

"Well, excuse me!" Anna snarled. "Mister, I just want a drink! Is this barstool taken or not?!" No normal New Yorker would say that, in that tone, to Doc Ock, but Anna was from California, and she hadn't got where she was (professionally, that is) by being timid.

"No it isn't. Sorry for snapping at you like that." For his part, the doctor was relieved that someone was bold enough to talk to him like that, like he was another rude guy at a bar, not a criminal freak with mechanical tentacles welded on his back.

"That's okay. Bartender! Get me a tequila!" Anna shouted. "By the way," she said to the man, "I didn't quite catch your name."

"I thought everyone knew about me by now," remarked the scientist.

"Well, I don't," retorted the lawyer. "I'm from California. I've got a law convention here."

"Ah, the land of fruits and nuts. Very well, then—Dr. Otto Octavius." He extended a gloved hand, which Anna shook. "Anna Smith, Esquire. Let me guess—women troubles?"

"Among other things. It's been hell ever since my wife died. It devastated me. I even attempted suicide once."

"I'm sorry," Anna stated. "You seem like a very nice man."

"Not everyone would agree. At least you have a husband."

Anna looked. She had forgotten to remove her wedding ring.

"Yes—a husband who hits me when he's there, and cheating on me when he's not." It was amazing what alcohol could do; three tequilas and an indeterminate amount of martinis, and these two people who barely knew each other were now divulging their personal love lives. Anna paused. "With my own sister."

The next few hours went in a blur. The doctor and the lawyer even danced a few times. If she wasn't so stewed, Anna would have refused when Dr. Octavius offered to escort her back to her hotel room. "An attractive woman like you shouldn't be out in the New York City streets alone at this time," he said. If she wasn't so drunk, she would have asked herself, What if he was a murderer or something? No way, she finally decided. He was so nice, and so haunted somehow. So she went with him to the hotel.

Nine months later, Jake Winthrop looked at his brown-eyed, brown-haired boy and knew that the shoe had been on the other foot.