Hello all,

Well, the next chapter of Through a Glass, Darkly should be up tomorrow, but in the meantime...I thought I'd have a little fun and post this.

This is an extreme AU...no Bang, Static's the only one with his regular powers, and Virgil and Richie do not know each other. I also left it deliberately ambiguous as to when this is taking place, so that you can draw your own conclusions.

Writtenbecause my dear Cyphy (hah! Told you I'd do it!)wanted it...so here you are, dearie. 'Tis not near enough to repay thee for all you have done for me, but the lowly minion (don't ask) hopes thou dost enjoy it. It's certainly fun to write.

Disclaimer: I just like to play with the toys...none of them belong to me. Please don't sue.

The docks of Dakota City were not his favorite place. The shipping industry had been moving out for years, and the whole area was slowly withering to nothing. Once-thriving businesses were literally rotting on their foundations, and only about twelve of the nearly thirty slips on the waterfront ever saw ships these days. The place was fraught with old, abandoned warehouses, too many back alleys with busted lights, and too many vermin infestations—not all of them bugs or rats.

Besides…the place smelled like dead fish. Add that to the nearly ninety five degree heat, and it made for unpleasant working conditions.

All in all, mucking around on the docks was not the way Richie Foley, private investigator extraordinaire, had been planning to spend his Saturday morning. He didn't have to look hard to find the place he had been summoned to—there was already a crowd of policemen, reporters, and the usual gawkers gathered on one of the slips. Great. He always loved working in the middle of a circus.

Grumbling to himself, he pulled his car up behind a couple of black and whites in the loading section in front of one of the older warehouses, and exited the vehicle. He knew he didn't look especially professional in just his shirtsleeves and suspenders...but there was no way in hell he was going to wear his suit jacket in this heat. Besides, his hat was jammed over the sweaty blond spikes of his hair. That counted for something, didn't it?

Automatically, he checked to make sure his gun was secure in his shoulder holster, and proceeded down to the docks. He flashed his PI license at the uniforms doing crowd control, even though they were already waving him through. It wouldn't do to have anyone accusing the fine Dakota police department of playing favorites and not following procedure.

In actuality, Richie knew he was luckier than most 'flatfoots' on that front. He'd always enjoyed a good working relationship with the Dakota police, and very few of them had a problem with calling him in on 'their' cases, if they thought he could help. Part of it was because his partner and mentor in the PI business, Joe O'Leary, was a retired captain of the force. Part of it was because Richie himself had been a beat cop for a year before deciding it wasn't for him, and following his captain when Joe opened his Investigation office.

Most of it was because Richie was damn brilliant at what he did.

At the tender age of twenty three, Richie had more solved cases under his belt that many detectives and PI's with twenty years experience. Kidnappings, thefts, murders…and the occasional cheating husband. He'd faced them all, and unraveled them with an efficiency and skill that seemed to border on supernatural. Oh, Joe's experience and not inconsiderable 'cop instincts' had been invaluable…but everyone knew Richie was really the driving force behind the success of their office.

It had earned him a bit of celebrity around Dakota, and his name was starting to be known in outside law enforcement circles as well. That wasn't why he did it, though. In truth, he'd have kept at it no matter what. He loved the challenge of it—the intellectual thrill it gave him to look at clues and suspects, and put them all together, like pieces of the ultimate jigsaw puzzle.

He loved the feeling it gave him; knowing that what he was doing was making a difference in peoples' lives, bringing criminals to justice. Just last month, he had solved the abduction of the six year old daughter of one of Dakota's wealthier families. He had been the one to track the kidnappers to their hideout, to lead the police to the girl before her abductors could harm her, or worse. As her hysterically sobbing mother had embraced her, the girl's father had rushed to Richie's side, grasping his hand and tearfully proclaiming over and over that Richie was an angel sent by God. It was for moments like that, that Richie stayed in this business, and knew he would stay in it until he just too old to chase the bad guys anymore.

"Hey, Richie! Over here!" He was startled out of his musings by a gratingly familiar voice, and couldn't hide his wince as a slight figure suddenly broke free of the milling gaggle of reporters and rushed towards him. He shot the uniforms a dirty look when they did nothing to stop the woman currently bearing down on him like a charging rhino, but they merely snickered at him and went back to trying to herd the other reporters back from the crime scene. He schooled his features into a blandly pleasant mask.

The young, dark haired woman stopped beside him, huffing slightly, from the run in heels, and the heat. Unlike him, however, the oppressive heat had served only to give her face a rosy, healthy glow. It wasn't fair…she certainly hadn't left her suit jacket in the car. The smart skirt and jacket she was wearing still looked crisp and clean. Richie knew he himself was sweating like a pig.

"Freida. Always a pleasure," he said without much sincerity. It wasn't that he precisely disliked Freida. He admired her dedication to her profession, and unlike many others in her field, she could always be counted on to report the facts truthfully. She was just…enthusiastic in her pursuit of said facts. Annoyingly so. And he suspected she had a bit of a thing for him.

"Richie, hello. Can I get a comment?" She smiled brightly at him, pencil poised over her pad of paper.

"It's hot," he replied, trying his best not to smirk. She actually moved to write his words down, before arresting the motion and glancing up at him with a slight frown marring her pretty features.

"About the case," she huffed, and Richie wasn't sure if she was just not in the mood to play their usual word games, or if his sarcasm had genuinely gone over her head. "What've we got here?"

Richie looked around with exaggerated thoughtfulness, rubbing his chin. "Looks like a crowd of people."

"Richie!" She glared at him, planting her hands on her hips and looking for all the world like an angry schoolmarm about to scold one of her students. Richie lost the battle with the smirk that wanted to twist his lips.

"Freida, I've been here a grand total of three minutes. I haven't even seen the crime scene, yet, because someone decided to stop me and ask for comments."

She blinked at him for a few seconds, and then a blush colored her already flushed cheeks a darker red. "Oh. Well, when you know what's going on—"

"You'll be the first one I say 'no comment' to," he said, smiling with false cheeriness. Then, he tipped the brim of his hat to her cheekily, and hurried down towards the dock before she could say another word.

He proceeded toward the epicenter of all the activity, exchanging greetings with the cops he knew. When he reached the concrete slip itself, he saw that the coroner's wagon had arrived, and the whole area had been cordoned off by sawhorses. He smiled when he recognized the figure barking out orders to all the others. "Adam!" he called, waving one arm.

The tall man turned at the sound of his name, and an answering smile lit his normally grim face as he recognized who had called him. "Hey, partner. I was startin' to think you weren't gonna show up to the party."

Richie shook the other man's hand firmly, reaching up to clap his former beat partner on the shoulder as he came up beside him. "Eh, you know how I like to be fashionably late," he replied amiably. Adam laughed quietly. He and Adam had remained good friends after Richie had left the force, and it was often Adam who called Richie in on cases. "So what've we got?"

Some of the cheerfulness vanished from Adam's face, and the older man frowned faintly. "Dead body. The night watchman found him just before he clocked out at dawn. Near as we can tell, he's been here all night. Coroner's just loading him up now. It's Ferret, Richie." Adam's voice was quiet.

Richie sighed heavily, and took his hat off, running one hand through his sweaty hair. "Ah, damn it," he muttered.

"I know he was one of your informants," Adam said.

"Yeah…I just talked to him last week. Poor guy." Richie jammed his hat back on his head and stuffed his hands in his pants pockets. Ferret had been a small-time fence…a nervous, little man whose pawn shop was more crooked than a pretzel shop; and usually the best source of information for illegal activity going down on the west side of town. Richie had even liked him, a little. As much as one could like a small-time criminal who sold out his fellow criminals for money. Still, Ferret had been basically harmless. "How'd he buy it?"

It was a standard question, but in Dakota it had taken on new meaning. People sometimes died in strange ways in Dakota City.

"Shot…took four to the chest." Richie frowned at that. Ferret certainly hadn't been going to win any popularity contests…but Richie couldn't think of anyone who might be that pissed at the informant.

"I gotta tell ya'…this case is pretty low on our priority list right now. I thought you might wanna take a look, since you knew him, and—" Richie was moving before Adam had finished his sentence. He headed for the cordoned off area, and the other police all gave way for him, standing back to watch an acknowledged master at work.

It was easy to find the place where Ferret had met his end. Blood had stained the concrete of the shipping slip a dark rust color. It was still tacky, and slightly shiny with moisture…but it was obvious the bloodstains were hours old. Richie knelt down beside the stains, and tilted his head, regarding them critically for a moment. His eyes narrowed slightly, and then he glanced up at the Coroner's Wagon, just in time to see one of the coroner's assistants closing the back door on a covered stretcher.

"Hold up a sec!" Richie called, popping lightly to his feet. He jogged over to the wagon and banged twice on the back doors to catch the attention of the attendants. The door opened after a few moments, and an older man peered out, confusion on his craggy face. "Hey, Phelps, let me take a look before you cart him off," Richie said, recognizing the coroner.

"What for, Foley? Nothing to see but a dead rat. Damn bastards…fewer there are, the better." The man moved to slam the door, but Richie caught the edge firmly, a patently false smile fixed on his face.

"Just let me take a look, Phelps." He resisted the urge to roll his eyes as Phelps sighed heavily, before releasing the door and moving back onto the bench.

Richie hopped up into the wagon and moved to the stretcher taking up most of the clear space in the back. He unzipped the heavy black body bag to reveal Ferret, forcing himself to look at the corpse with a cold clinical eye. Seeing a dead body never got easy (and he prayed it never would), but he'd developed a kind of professional detachment over the years. It was more difficult to maintain that detachment when it was someone he'd known, though.

Just as Adam had said, there were four small holes in Ferret's shirtfront, each surrounded by splatters of blood. If Richie had to guess, he'd say they were made by a .38…but he couldn't be sure until he saw the ballistics report. His eyes narrowed further as he examined the wounds.

"Got a pair of gloves?" he asked at length. Phelps heaved a put-upon sigh, but reached down to a black medical bag by his feet and withdrew a pair of rubber gloves. "Thanks," Richie said pleasantly, ignoring the man's sour expression.

He snapped the gloves on and reached down to Ferret's body, lightly probing the bullet wounds. Phelps hadn't bothered to re-button the dead man's shirt after making his initial examination, and Richie pushed the lapels open, revealing the chest.

"What the hell's this?" he asked, sharply.

Ferret's chest was covered with angry, raised welts. They were a deep, purplish red in color, streaks of paler red radiating from each of them…almost like the lines of blood poisoning. There were no wounds or punctures on any of them that Richie could see…it almost looked like an allergic reaction. Phelps leaned forward, and shrugged.

"Hard to say. All the shit these scumbags put in their bodies, could be anything." Phelps did not sound as though he was particularly keen on finding the answer. Richie grit his teeth, and went back to looking over the body. Ferret hadn't been one for hard drugs, Richie knew. He moved upwards, lightly running his hand over Ferret's skull. Finally, he turned first one, then the other of Ferret's limp arms, searching the crook of the elbows critically.

After another few moments, he pulled back and re-zipped the body bag. Pulling the gloves off, he tossed them casually to the floor of the wagon, and straightened. "Thanks, doc," he muttered, then opened the back door and jumped out.

After the oppressive heat inside the wagon, the air outside felt blessedly cool for a few moments. Adam was waiting for him beside the rear doors of the wagon, and raised one eyebrow as Richie slammed the doors again, thumping the side twice to let the driver know he was done. The wagon pulled away almost immediately, and Richie turned to face Adam again.

Adam took one look at his face, and sighed heavily.

"I'm seein' a lot of overtime in my future," the older man groused as Richie strode back over to the blood-spattered concrete.

"Question, Adam. Would you just lie still while someone shot you four times?"

"I take it that's one of those rhetorical questions? Whacha got, Rich?"

"I think Ferret was already dead when he was shot. Probably already dead when he was brought out here."

Adam's brow furrowed. "What makes you say that?"

"Look at the bloodspots here." Richie pointed to the dark stains on the concrete. "There's no smearing, no spurting. You seriously gonna tell me he didn't thrash around at all?"

"Might have been unconscious," Adam countered.

"True. But there were no head wounds…he didn't look roughed up. I'll have to see the bloodwork…but something doesn't feel right, here."

"Why would someone bother shooting him if he was already dead?"

"Adam…if you hadn't known that Ferret was one of my informants…if you hadn't called me down here...I think we both know how much attention a dead stool pigeon would have gotten in the department."


"I don't mean you wouldn't do your job," Richie assured hastily. "Geez Adam, you're one of the best cops I know! I just meant we both know how things go in this city."

Adam looked as though he wanted to protest, but after a moment, he subsided. "Yeah…yeah, you're right," he sighed. He rubbed one hand over his face, wiping at the sweat that had gathered. Richie watched sympathetically…he well remembered how hot the black uniforms got in the summer. "All right, Rich…so then what was whoever killed Ferret trying to cover up?"

Richie rubbed the back of his neck, and thought of the angry welts covering Ferret's chest. "I don't know."

"But you have some ideas." Richie glanced over at Adam, raising one eyebrow. Adam chuckled dryly. "Richie, I was your partner for a year. I know that look. Anything you wanna share?"

"Let me do some digging, see if I can find something solid for you to take to your captain," Richie replied, grinning at his friend. "I'll let you know."

Adam nodded solemnly. "I'll have someone send the reports over when we're done here. You need anything, lemme know."

"Thanks, man. I'll give you a call as soon as I have anything."

"Sounds good. Hey, we still on for tonight?" When they had been partners, Richie and Adam had put in a couple nights a month at a local community center—playing basketball with the kids, supervising lock-ins, tutoring, and the like. Richie rather suspected Adam's intense interest in volunteering had a lot to do with the opportunity it gave him to talk to the center operator's daughter, but he knew his friend enjoyed the time with the kids, too. So did Richie. It was a tradition they had worked hard to maintain after Richie had left the force.

"Wouldn't miss it," he said easily. Adam nodded, and clapped him on the shoulder again.

"All right, I'll pick you up at four then. Don't let Freida get her claws into you on your way out." He winked cheekily, and Richie rolled his eyes. The two began walking back towards where Richie had parked his car.

"C'mon, man, can't you do something about her? I can't even take a whiz without her asking for a comment!"

"Thanks for that mental image. Just remember…you can run faster than she can."

"I hate you."

"Sure you do. Say hi to the Cap for me. See ya' at four!"

"Later, Adam."

Richie made his way back through the crowd, pleased to note that with the body gone, most of them had dispersed. He groaned, though, as he realized that the reporters were still out in full force. Freida was at the head of the pack, staring down towards the docks, and even from a distance, Richie fancied he could see the impatient expression on her face. Damn it, he was too hot to deal with her right now.

Fortunately, he hit upon a solution before she saw him.

Grinning to himself, he ducked into one of the side alleys between the warehouses. It would be a bit of a hike to walk around to where he had left his car…but it was slightly cooler in the shade cast by the tall buildings, and hey, if it got him past the reporters, he was willing to hike to Timbuktu and back. He pulled his hat off, and fanned his face with it as he walked, his mind working a mile a minute.

He knew that, as cold as it sounded, there was no real logical reason to make a big deal out of Ferret's death. He hadn't deserved to die…but Ferret had made his choices in life, and unfortunately, they had been choices that were practically guaranteed to drastically shorten it. Richie hadn't wished the man any ill will…but it wasn't like they had been friends. From practically the moment he had laid eyes on the crime scene, though, he had felt that something was wrong—that something bigger than what it appeared to be had gone down. Richie had long ago learned to go with his instincts, and they hadn't failed him yet.

He had only gone a few yards when something caught his eye. He paused, shoving his hat back on his head. The warehouse he was currently walking past had not been in business for several years, if the dilapidated state of the building was anything to go by. Most of the windowpanes had been busted out or boarded over, and those that were still intact were opaque with grime. There were several 'No Trespassing' signs on the walls, and trash and debris littered the ground around it.

So why was there a fresh set of tire marks leading out of one of the loading bays?

Richie walked over to the tire marks, thick lines of black laid down on the asphalt. Whoever had left them had been in a hurry…and even assuming this place wasn't abandoned and the owners were just really bad housekeepers, the tire tracks were too narrow to be an industrial vehicle. Richie knelt down beside the marks and lightly ran a finger over one of them. No doubt about it…they had been made very recently. Within the last day, if not a matter of hours. And out of a warehouse only a few hundred yards from where Ferret's body had been discovered? It was too much of a coincidence.

Richie turned his gaze thoughtfully to the loading bay door, then to the row of windows beside it. A rusted oil drum lay beneath one of the panes, and he quickly moved toward it. Turning it over so that the solid bottom was facing upwards, he leaned hard on it, decided it would take his weight, and then scrambled up on top. Gingerly, he grasped the window frame, and peered through the dirty pane of glass. He couldn't see a damn thing. Huffing softly, he stretched his body further to one side, craning his neck to look through one of the busted out holes in the windows.

The place certainly looked abandoned, at first glance. Richie's eyes narrowed, though. He couldn't see much from this angle, but there was enough light streaming through the many windows, even as dirty as they were, to make out a few details. The most important of which was that the place was too clean.

On the outside, the building looked ready for a wrecking ball. The inside, however, showed no dirt…no debris. Things had been swept clean and stacked neatly along the walls. Someone had been in there, and recently, too. Richie knew the police had probably searched the businesses immediately around the area where Ferret had been left, but he doubted they had gone this far. It was, indeed, too much a coincidence for Richie's liking.

He bit his lip and leaned back a little, examining the windows. There was no way he'd be able to lift the bay door by himself…that left the windows. Awkwardly, he reached up to get a grip on another part of the wooden frames, and hoisted himself up onto the brick ledge just underneath the windowpanes. It was a tight balancing act—the ledge was only about four inches wide—but he could do it. He'd be sending his clothes to the cleaners when he was done here, though. The largest pane of glass, just to his left, was mostly broken out already. It shouldn't be too hard to bust the rest out with the butt of his gun and then jump down into the warehouse. In the back of his mind was the thought that maybe he should go get Adam…but he didn't want to tie up any of the officers if this turned out to be a dead end, and it was a fairly safe bet that whoever had left the tire tracks were long gone if they'd had anything to do with Ferret's death.

He got a more secure grip on the window frame, unholstered his weapon, and raised it over his head, preparing to bring it down against the filthy glass.

"You know, I thought you law enforcement types were supposed to keep people from breaking and entering."

The voice sounded from directly behind him, nearly against his ear, and he started violently, losing his grip on the window frame. Without the steadying balance, he teetered off the side of the ledge, unable to get a good enough footing to keep himself up. With a surprised cry, he tumbled to the ground, narrowly missing the barrel he had climbed on. He landed on his back painfully, neatly cracking his head against the asphalt. His gun hit the ground beside him, and he snatched it up without thinking about the movement, thumbing the safety off and bringing it to bear instinctively.

He recognized the face grinning down at him before he could fire, though. He considered doing so anyway for a few seconds, before reluctantly raising the muzzle of the gun to the air, flipping the safety back on.

"You," he muttered angrily, picking himself off the ground. One sleeve of his shirt had caught a rough edge on the window frame and was now sporting a large tear. Fortunately, that seemed to be the only casualty of the fall. He glared balefully at the person who had startled him, to no effect. The other's smug grin remained firmly in place.

There were a great many strange and wondrous things in the world. Richie fully acknowledged that fact, though his mind tended to be more analytical than most. Sometimes those strange and wondrous things came in a very human (or at least human-seeming) package—protectors, champions of mankind with amazing powers. Metropolis had Superman. Gotham had the Batman. Detroit had the Green Lantern.

Dakota had a pest.

"What do you want, Static?"