Disclaimer: All characters are property of Marvel. No profit is being made from their use. Suing me would get you nothing.
Author's Note: Bet you're all shocked to see this so soon. Or 'soon,' anyway, when compared to the gap between chapters two and three. I got inspired, I guess. Don't expect consistence from me, though, or you'll be disappointed, especially since classes are going to resume soon. And I apologize for the typos that seem to be cropping up in my chapters lately; I've been doing most of my writing late at night when I'm too tired to catch misspellings, and I've been relying on Spell Check to find my errors. Apparently, this has not been a good thing. I'll try to be more careful in the future, though I know one or two will still slip through. This is a slower chapter, by the way, since not all aspects of detective work are exciting. It is, however, important, so bear with me. I apologize that I'm not the greatest when it comes to writing interrogations; dialogue isn't my forte, and I'd be useless when it comes to questioning witnesses. I also can't figure out why this story seems to be told mostly from MJ's point of view. It's not what I intended; that's just how things are working out. Don't worry; Otto's role will continue to increase. Promise.
Shot in the Dark
Four – Old-Fashioned Detective Work
She is here, Father.
Otto didn't look up at the sentry actuator's announcement, not wanting to break his concentration, but he did lift his hand in a casual wave. He hadn't been certain Mary Jane would follow through with their plans to meet up in his lair, and he was pleased she had come.
She is still carrying the gun.
He wasn't surprised. This was a dangerous neighborhood, and he was the deadliest resident. That she left the gun in her purse rather than carry it in spoke volumes about her trust in him. Maybe their partnership would work out well, after all. She won't use it on me, he assured them. At least, he didn't think she would.
We would not let her use it.
Mary Jane announced her presence by clearing her throat and saying archly, "You call that 'old - fashioned detective work?'"
Now Otto looked up from the laptop's monitor and grinned. "This is much easier than breaking in to the police station, locating their records room, searching for the correct files, and then getting out without hurting anyone."
Mary Jane blinked as what he was doing sank in. "You're hacking in to the police files?"
Otto nodded. "Thank goodness it's the age of the electronic filing system," he said. "The police have some rather ingenious protections around their files, but it's nothing that we," Otto gestured towards the upper left actuator, which was hooked up to one of the computer ports by a cable, "can't break into." Otto nodded towards a pile of papers on the table in front of him. "I've managed to get the reports on Peter's attack, and the statements from our battle on the train. I'm also going to find records for all the prisoners Peter had a hand in putting in prison – a truly massive undertaking," Otto sighed, massaging his temples. "Those are kept in the prison computers, and it's going to take awhile finding them all."
Mary Jane grabbed the papers and flipped through the statements from the train passengers, nose wrinkling as she realized just how much work would be involved. "I think I can narrow this down a little," she said. "Peter told me that when he lost his mask, he regained consciousness in the first car of the train, and that's… that's where you found him," she finished awkwardly. "I don't think anyone in the rest of the cars saw him."
"That is helpful," Otto said. "It should eliminate most of the names right off the bat." It would certainly make Mary Jane's job easier, anyway, since she was the one who was going to have to question these people.
"Did you figure anything out from the police reports?" Mary Jane asked. He could hear the frustration in her voice; she'd told him the previous night that she was going to talk to Captain Stacy after visiting Peter that morning, and he guessed the news hadn't been good.
"No." Mary Jane's face fell. "I have some theories, though, and tonight, I'm going to go out and start questioning the city's criminal element. I don't know if the assassin was contacted directly, or if someone put out word they were looking for a hit man, and if the latter is the case, I might be able to trace that back to whoever ordered the hit." Otto disconnected from the police mainframe and shut down the laptop. The actuator pulled the cord from the port, and it vanished down the hollow 'throat.' "Looks like we've both got our work cut out for us."
From the determined set to Mary Jane's chin, he knew she was up to it. "Are you going to have time for this?" Otto asked. "What about your job?"
"I'm on leave," Mary Jane said quietly. "My heart hasn't been in acting, not with Peter in a coma. I'm sure my understudy is elated to have the starring role."
Otto's lips thinned as he picked up on the most important nugget of information. "So there's no change in Peter's condition, then?"
Mary Jane's shoulders slumped. "No. He may heal faster than a normal person, but this is beyond what his abilities can handle. The doctors still give him a fifty-fifty chance of survival. And Aunt May doesn't look too good, either. She hasn't been eating or sleeping enough, and the doctors are worried about her." Then she straightened, a determined look on her face. "The sooner we find the shooter, the better." She held up the sheaf of papers that held the contact information for everyone who'd been on the train, as well as their statements and where they'd been seated at the time of the attack. "I'll get started on this right away."
Otto was surprised, but pleased with her willingness to dive straight in. Despite her determination, he'd expected to be doing most of the work himself. Perhaps their partnership would be a successful one, after all. She placed the notes in her purse and stood up. "I'll come back later this evening and let you know if I learn anything," she said.
He nodded and closed the laptop. "Good luck. And be careful," he said emphatically. "We could be dealing with someone very dangerous."
"You're dangerous, too," Mary Jane said bluntly.
"True. But even I couldn't bring down Spider-Man," Otto pointed out.
Mary Jane shuddered, and Otto found he could emphasize with the girl's fear. Whoever they were dealing with was dangerous, powerful… and probably wouldn't hesitate to eliminate anyone standing in his way.
After poring through the lists, Mary Jane narrowed it down to some two dozen people she needed to question. Of that group, two were from out of town, which would make contact more difficult. One passenger hadn't left contact information. Two more were children who had been riding with their mother – she wasn't sure what information they could provide, but she wasn't going to leave anyone out of her interrogations.
She devised a cover story that she hoped sounded plausible: she would claim to be a reporter for the Daily Bugle who was doing a human interest story about survivors of super-powered-being encounters. In keeping with the paper's negative bias towards Spider-Man, she'd try to undermine his heroics – oh, how it would hurt to do that to Peter! – and see how many of the passengers came to his defense, and how effusively they did it. She'd also keep her ears open for hints that others had asked similar questions; knowing that someone had been asking around and getting a description of that person could be valuable information.
She waited until it was nearly evening, when most people would be coming home from work. After fixing a pot of coffee to keep on hand, Mary Jane began making her calls.
The responses she received were varied, and mostly discouraging. Most of the rescued passengers were indignant that she would insult their hero, and a few of them even chewed her out for it. One caller had launched into a tirade liberally sprinkled with every possible variation of the F-word, and, white faced, Mary Jane had hung up on him. A few others had been more ambivalent regarding the incident, grateful Spider-Man had saved them but feeling he was indirectly responsible for the attack on the train in the first place. Mary Jane put a question mark next to these names. Some of them hung up as soon as Mary Jane introduced herself as a reporter, and Mary Jane resigned herself towards the possibility of having to question them in person. A couple of people didn't answer their phones.
Last on her list were Mrs. Laura Devine and her two young sons, Timothy and William. Mary Jane leaned back, nursing her coffee as she thought about how to handle them. After much debate, Mary Jane decided to visit Mrs. Devine and her two sons in person. She doubted their mother would allow a strange reporter to speak to them on the phone, and if she spoke to them in person, she might be able to persuade the woman that she was harmless. And children tended to say things that adults wouldn't dare.
She checked the time and saw it wasn't too late, not even six in the evening yet. She'd have time to visit their apartment before she was supposed to meet up with Otto. Better to get this done now, she thought, going to her room and getting changed.
The apartment where the family lived was across the city, and the bus seemed to move with agonizing slowness down the clogged streets. It gave her time to collect her thoughts. Her acting abilities weren't up to par, with all that was going on, but she had to hold herself together. It had been easier contacting people over the phone; they couldn't see her eyes well up with tears when she spoke badly of Peter.
Mrs. Devine answered at her knock. She was a mousy, middle-aged woman with a pleasant attitude that immediately put Mary Jane at ease. When Mary Jane told her that she was a reporter, however, the woman's expression became guarded.
"Have a seat," she said gruffly, gesturing towards her couch. Mary Jane did so, setting her duffel bag beside her and pulling out the legal pad she'd used to scribble her notes upon. "Would you like something to drink? Coffee? Water?"
"I'd like some water, thank you," Mary Jane said. Mrs. Devine went off to the kitchen, and Mary Jane glanced around. It was a small apartment, well-kept but a little shabby. If someone paid her for information, she hasn't invested it into her household. Mary Jane began to feel guilty for her subterfuge.
There was a days-old issue of the Bugle on the coffee table, the cover showing a picture of a smiling Peter next to one of his photos of Spider-Man. She felt her throat constrict at the painful reminder. Worse, it now means that she – and every other passenger who's seen this – now has a name to go with his face! She wondered if this was part of the reason for Mrs. Devine's attitude, knowing that Spider-Man was being wrongfully accused, and was actually the victim. Mary Jane picked up the paper and skimmed through the article, frowning at Jameson's anti-Spider-Man take on the shooting.
On the other hand, at least Jameson was taking this personally and forcing the city to pay attention to the shooting; most of the other papers buried the few and far-between updates behind endless articles about the upcoming mayoral election.
The sound of a glass impacting with the tabletop alerted Mary Jane to Mrs. Devine's presence. She picked up the glass and took a sip, smiling at her hostess in thanks. The woman didn't return it; she just sat in the battered easy chair set perpendicular to the couch. She was perched on the edge, as though ready to take flight if Mary Jane pushed her too far. "What do you want to know?" she asked at length.
"I just wanted to ask you a few questions about the battle between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus aboard the train. Where are your children? They were on the train too, right?"
Mrs. Devine frowned. "They're out playing with friends."
"Do you know when they'll be back? I'd like to talk to them, too."
"I'd prefer to leave them out of this," Mrs. Devine said, her lips thin. Mary Jane noted the reaction; clearly, someone else had harassed her children about the subject.
"All right. I'm looking for details about your experience on the train." Rather than string the woman along, as she had the others she'd spoken to, Mary Jane decided to take the plunge. "Especially what happened afterwards. I heard that Spider-Man was unmasked."
"You heard wrong, Ms. Watson. If that's your reason for coming, then I'm afraid that I can't help you." Mary Jane squirmed under Mrs. Devine's glare.
Mary Jane hated herself for this. She found she wanted to tell Mrs. Devine the truth about her relationship to Peter/Spider-Man, and beg her for her help. But she couldn't; the woman knew too much already. If only I could think of a better line of questioning that wouldn't be suspicious!
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave, Ms. Watson," the woman said stiffly, getting to her feet. Mary Jane replaced the notepad in her duffle bag and stood as well. Though Mrs. Devine hadn't been the most forthcoming, Mary Jane was certain she hadn't been the one to reveal Peter's identity. That flash of anger at her hint that Spider-Man was less than honorable hadn't been feigned.
"I'm sorry to have bothered you," Mary Jane said. She thanked the older woman and left, still feeling the woman's glare burning a hole between her shoulder blades.
It was getting late, but she still had time before she was due to report to Otto. She decided to wait for the children; it was almost dark, and they probably wouldn't be out much longer. So she sat on the stone steps outside the apartment complex's main doors and waited.
About half an hour later, her patience paid off. Two young boys split off from another group walking down the sidewalk and ran towards the building. They slowed when the spotted Mary Jane, looking at her curiously.
Their resemblance to Mrs. Devine was obvious, and she stood up and walked over to them, schooling her face into an expression that she hoped looked utterly harmless.
"Are you Timothy and William Devine?" Mary Jane asked. The boys eyed her suspiciously.
"Yes," the eldest, Timothy, said finally. He sidled away from her, keeping out of her reach. At least some parents still teach their children not to talk to strangers.
"I just wanted to ask you a few questions about Doctor Octopus's attack on the train," she said brightly. "I'm a reporter," she added. She'd said it so often, that she was almost beginning to believe it herself. The two boys looked impressed, but they still remained cautious. "I'll give you five dollars apiece if you talk to me," she coaxed. The boys exchanged glances, and then held out their hands expectantly. Mary Jane arched a brow; they had a good grasp on how this worked.
"You must have been frightened when it all happened, huh?" Mary Jane asked.
The brothers nodded, then William piped up, "But we knew Spider-Man would save us. He's not bad, like that paper says. He's not at all like that evil Doctor Octopus!" he said fiercely.
She wondered what they'd think if she told them she was working with said evil doctor. "So he's a real hero," Mary Jane said. "Tell me about what happened."
The boys launched into an enthusiastic re-telling of the battle, which involved re-enacting and much embellishment; in their version, Spider-Man could actually fly, and Doc Ock had run in fear of the mighty hero. They did let slip the one thing Mary Jane had been hoping for – they'd mentioned Spider-Man had lost his mask and that they had been the ones who had retrieved it from where it had fallen to snag in the gap between the cars. She seized upon this gratefully; she hadn't known how she would let them know she knew they'd seen Spider-Man unmasked. "You saw Spider-Man's face?" she asked.
The boys immediately clammed up. William had a frightened look on his face, as if he hadn't realized until then how much they'd told her. "No," Timothy said, trying vainly to cover their error.
"But you said you did," she pointed out.
Their expressions were stony, and their gaze darted towards the entrance to the apartment complex. But she was blocking their way, and finally, Timothy said, "We made a promise not to tell, and we won't."
"So, you can't tell me who he is?" she said, feigning disappointment. The boys shook their heads emphatically.
"Someone else came to ask Mom, and we didn't tell him, either, not even when he offered us money," Timothy said. "A lot of it."
"A whole suitcase full," William clarified.
"It would have bought us a lot of comics," Timothy said wistfully. "And we could have gone on that vacation Mom's always saying she wants to go on."
"But we didn't take the money. We all promised Spider-Man we wouldn't tell," William said proudly. "We kept our promise."
"This man who asked you… what did he look like?" Mary Jane asked.
Timothy scrunched up his face in thought. "He wore a suit. A new-looking one. And sunglasses."
That proved to be the extant of his recollection. Mary Jane suppressed a sigh of exasperation; after all, they had provided her with more information than anyone else. And it meant that someone with serious cash had been looking for information – and had probably found it from one of the passengers of that ill-fated train ride. Mary Jane graciously thanked the boys for their information, and left for her rendezvous with Otto.
Otto listened to Mary Jane's recitation of her findings without comment. When she finished, she drew a deep, nervous breath, wondering if she had failed – Otto's expressionless face certainly didn't give her much hope of a job well done. But after a moment he nodded. "It's about what I expected, though what you learned from the children is certainly more than I'd hoped for. It confirms that someone with money – a lot of it – is behind the hiring of the assassin. That rules out all of the petty thieves that Spider-Man has put behind bars, though I'll look into recent bank robberies in case someone stole the cash to hire the shooter. Can you think of any high-profile people he put behind bars who may have a grudge against Peter?"
Mary Jane just shook her head. "Besides Harry, Norman Osborn was the only one with the money and the motive, as well as the knowledge of Peter's identity." At Otto's confused look, she clarified, "He was the Green Goblin."
"Ah," was all Otto said. Then, after an uncomfortable silence, he asked, "Can you use that gun of yours?"
Mary Jane started, casting him a guilty look. How had he known? The actuators, of course. She shouldn't have been surprised that the actuators could see through her purse. She wondered just what else the metallic monstrosities could do… One of them swiveled in her direction, as if sensing her thoughts, and she shivered. He's my ally… he's not going to hurt me… "I've had some practice," she said, keeping her voice steady. This subtle reminder that her partner wasn't normal had unnerved her. "I can hit the target, anyway. I… I don't know how I'd be if I actually had to use it on someone, though."
"This could be very dangerous for you, Mary Jane," Otto said. "The more I think about this, the less I like you being involved. These people won't hesitate to kill you if you find out too much. I can protect myself, but you…" He shrugged.
But you have already been kidnapped by two supervillains, Mary Jane mentally completed. "I can't just sit back and do nothing," Mary Jane said firmly. "I'm a part of this now, and I won't rest until whoever is behind this attack is brought to justice."
"That's what I thought you'd say." Otto turned away and began to stride across the rubble-strewn warehouse floor, beckoning for her to follow. "I set up a few targets for you, so you can practice."
Mary Jane was about to protest that she knew how to use her weapon, then stopped herself. She was involved in something potentially very dangerous. It wouldn't hurt to keep in practice. She nodded her thanks and moved to a distance from the targets approximating that in the firing range and assumed her firing stance. She ignored Otto as he left to attend to other matters, blocking out the creaks of the rotting timbers in the wind and the scuttling sounds that surely belong to rats, and took aim. She squeezed off several rounds, and was pleased when three of her four rounds hit the target, one of them nearly in the center.
"Good," Otto said approvingly. Mary Jane started; she hadn't known the scientist was watching. "But you're going to have to work on shooting without taking up position every time. If someone attacks you, they won't stand their waiting for you take up your firing stance to shoot." Mary Jane colored slightly. He was right; she did take too long getting into position before she fired. That was fine in a firing range, but if she was actually attacked… She shuddered, and prayed it would never come to that.
"You're right," she admitted. "When I bought the gun, it just… it never occurred to me that I might actually end up in a situation like this. And no one really taught me the proper way to use a firearm – I just know enough not to accidentally kill myself."
"Maybe I can help," Otto said, taking the gun from her hand.
Otto held the gun with far more comfort than Mary Jane had. With practiced ease, he ejected the clip and counted the number of rounds left. Rather than replace the clip, however, he stared at it, his expression distant. "Is everything all right?" Mary Jane asked worriedly.
Her question startled him out of his reverie. "I was just remembering," he admitted. "It was my father who first put a gun in my hands. He was terribly disappointed in me, my father was; he wanted a son that was strong, athletic… instead, he had me, who he viewed as being soft and weak, never mind that I was the smartest child in my class. He tried to get me into sports, but every attempt failed miserably.
"So, in one last, desperate attempt to 'make a man out of me,' my father took me hunting. He hadn't touched a gun in years, and I'd had no practice with one. But he was determined to haul me off into the wilderness and make me kill something. We drove upstate to a tract of forest that some of his friends said was a good place for deer, and my father left me at an old deer stand while he went to scout out the area. I waited for two hours for him to return, and when he did, he was limping and yelling for me to grab our gear because we were leaving. My father, a 'real man,'" there was no mistaking the sadistic glee in Otto's voice, "had shot himself in the foot." Mary Jane gave him a tentative smile; she wasn't sure whether to find the incident funny, or to be disturbed by Otto's evident delight in his father's pain.
"It's a shame, really," Otto continued mildly, "because while my father was gone, I practiced shooting at targets. And I discovered something: I was good." Otto slammed the clip back into place, turned, and fired. He hit the target dead center. "The path of the bullet is a matter of physics, and I was able to apply what I had learned to hit the target." His lips twisted into an ironic smile. "Had my father not been such a lummox, I may have been able to show him I wasn't such a disappointment, after all." Otto fired again, and from the look on his face, he could have been imagining that the target was his father's face.
"Still got it," Otto said with satisfaction. "I hadn't held a gun for awhile after that, until… We had a gun, Rosie and I. I was away often, and I didn't like leaving her alone in the city, so we bought a pistol. It's been awhile since I practiced with one, though." His face had become serious as he spoke about his wife, and his tone contained an edge of sadness. And then the moment of vulnerability was gone.
Mary Jane wondered what had brought on this sudden outpouring. Was he attempting to gain her trust by opening up to her?
Or maybe he'd been alone for so long that he needed it.
Otto turned towards her. She assumed it was to hand her the gun, but it seemed the scientist wasn't done showing off yet. Without so much as a backwards glance, Otto raised the gun, pointed it behind him, and fired at the target again. The resulting hole was only about an inch away from the other holes grouped in the center.
"That was incredible!" Mary Jane said. And alarming; she'd assumed that one could remain safe by staying out of reach of the actuators, but Otto's skill with a gun meant he was deadly from a longer range, as well. "I've never seen anyone hit the center without looking."
"Actually," Otto said sheepishly, "I cheated. I sighted through the actuators' 'eyes.'"
"You can see what they see?" Mary Jane asked, intrigued. Otto nodded. "What's it like? It must be confusing!"
"It was disorienting at first," Otto admitted, "especially when I was trying to see all four of them at once. It's like having…" Otto paused to think about it. "Like having four television screens inside my head. It doesn't interfere with my normal vision, but it can be distracting as hell. What really threw me, though, were the colors."
Otto nodded. "I'm colorblind. Or mostly, anyway; I can see the color red, but that's about it." Otto shrugged, saving Mary Jane the effort of offering any sympathy. "It's not as bad as it sounds; I've lived with it my whole life without a problem. I would never have known what I was missing until I began to see through their eyes."
Abruptly, Otto changed the subject. "It's getting late. Do you need an escort to your apartment?"
Mary Jane consulted her watch and blinked with surprise when she saw the time. It was nearly midnight. "I'll just call a taxi. Er… could you wait with me until it arrives?"
Otto agreed, and stood with her outside the barrier fence until her ride arrived. In the chilly night air, Mary Jane hugged her arms around herself and shivered, wishing she'd brought her jacket. To take her mind off the cold, she asked, "Where are you going tonight?"
The scientist considered for a moment. "I made some contacts during my, erm, criminal career. I'll speak with them first. I also know of some criminal hangouts." He smiled thinly. "With my reputation, I should be able to intimidate someone into talking."
Mary Jane decided not to dwell on whatever intimidation tactics Otto might use. She resolved not to press him for details the following morning. As long as his methods produced results, she didn't care.
A set of headlights appeared, making their way slowly down the rutted track. It had to be the taxi. She turned to see Otto slipping away before the headlights could catch him. Before he could vanish, Mary Jane called out to him. "Good luck," Mary Jane said fervently.
He stopped and turned back, giving her a nod of acknowledgement. With that, Otto set off into the night.
To be continued…
In case anyone is going to try to call me out on this, I know most cases of colorblindness are red and green deficient, but in my biology classes, I've heard of cases where red is the only color that can be seen. Considering the fact that I envision this as being like Sin City, where only certain colors exist in the black-and-white film, it seemed appropriate.
And I hope no one objects to Otto's little revelations to MJ. He is trying to gain her trust, after all, and I've been itching to use this scene somewhere in the fic; it's one of the first I came up with. There's really no room for it later in the story.