Title: L.A. Knights: First Knight (1/1)
Feedback: Please be gentle.
Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.
Rating: Just a little bad language.
Spoilers: Anything and everything.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: Changes in the stream of time ripple far and wide, affecting the fate of many, including a certain Pretender. An Emerald Flame story set during Emerald Spark chapters 17 and 18.
Author's Note: This story occurs simultaneously with Emerald Spark chapters 17 and 18. Credit to Anime Ronin and Drake, who helped me a lot with plotting this and writing several segments of dialogue.
Sydney looked at the books before them, shaking his head. "I'm worried about Jarod."
"You're always worried about him, Sydney," Miss Parker replied dismissively.
"This is different, Miss Parker," he said, gesturing at the table again. The books were primarily focused on abnormal psychology, profiling, organized crime, and chemistry. "These clues he's left us... he's going after a hardened criminal, someone without mercy or remorse, someone freed of the bonds of civility. Jarod fights fire with fire, and I fear, this time, he may get burned."
"I'm serious, Andrea!" Sydney snapped, using her first name to show her just how very serious he was. "Jarod isn't ready for this. I pray to God that he's never ready."
"And this motherf*cker moves around all the time?" Simon Phoenix asked, pacing the room restlessly like a big cat.
"Yes," answered the most recent addition to his inner circle. As far as Phoenix was concerned, Jarod Hofmann was one of the best in the business, starting with opium and heroin in the Middle East before graduating to work for the Columbians, then defecting to Phoenix's crew.
"Then how do you find him?"
"I don't," Jarod explained. "He finds me, boss. He does business with me, but he doesn't trust me."
Phoenix stopped, looked up, and said, "Smart man." He sat down, propping his feet up on the table and leaning back, and said, "Okay. Find him. Get me a sample. If it's pure quill, let him know we're in business."
"You got it, boss," Jarod nodded, then turned as the doors to the warehouse blew open. An oddly-dressed young woman strode confidently into the warehouse.
"Well, well, well..." Phoenix declared as he put his feet down and stood up.
"You're going down, Phoenix."
"Green Lantern! Ooh!" he gave her a mock shiver. "I'm scared. What are you gonna do? Arrest me? You've got nothing to pin on me. Kill me? Are you really ready for that, Girl Scout?"
"Wanna try me?" the young woman sneered.
"Hey, I know!" Phoenix said, grinning like a madman. "Let's talk movies. What kinda movies you like, huh?"
Jarod watched the confrontation. The woman blinked at the question, clearly confused as Phoenix made his way over to a filing cabinet. Jarod frowned. He knew there was a gun there, but it was loaded with the golden bullets Phoenix had told him to make. He had assumed it was for ornamental reasons, but suddenly, he wasn't so sure.
"Action? Romance? Comedy? How about spy movies?" Phoenix continued on. "You a Bond fan? 'Cause I lovvve me a good Bond film. My favorite, though, has got to be..."
He turned, pistol in hand, and Jarod watched as green energy flared around the young woman.
"...The Man With the Golden Gun."
Her eyes widened as the bullet pierced her energy shield... and then her gut. Jarod flinched.
"Or golden bullets, in this case," Phoenix amended, watching his newest lieutenant out of the corner of his eye. "What do you think I am? Stupid? Way you've been hittin' my people, I knew you'd come knocking on my door sooner or later, greenhorn." He glanced over. "Jarod, clean up this mess."
Jarod controlled his reactions as he walked over to the fallen young woman. Leaning over her he assured Phoenix, "Don't worry, boss. I'll take care of her."
And he meant every word.
Moving her quickly enough without drawing suspicions was a challenge, even for Jarod, but he had pulled it off and managed to scrounge up the necessary tools for trauma surgery. It had been touch and go, but she had pulled through, even though he had had to use a saline drip instead of a proper blood transfusion. He watched as she stirred awake.
"Wha- where am I?" she muttered.
"I had a feeling you wouldn't want official scrutiny," Jarod said, "so I took care of you myself."
"What are you, a doctor?" she asked, looking around. She frowned, "Wait, you're one of Phoenix's men."
"I have many skills," Jarod smiled.
She snorted, "Yeah, I'll bet. You were undercover, weren't you? Who are you supposed to be, huh? Batman?"
"Who?" he blinked at her blankly.
"Batman," she repeated.
"...Bat... man?" Jarod frowned, trying to process what she could possibly mean by that. "What does a flying, echo-locating mammal have to do with this?"
"Whoever you are, you've got to get out more," she said, shaking her head. "Read some comic books. I have a real good feeling they'll become a lot more relevant in the near future."
"I'll take that under advisement," he said, walking up to the IV hooked into her arm. He jabbed a syringe in the IV bag and injected its contents into it.
"Wait, what are you...?" her voice was alarmed, but she never finished the question as the anesthetic took effect.
"Now to get you somewhere safe," Jarod told the unconscious girl. With her stabilized and out of the peculiar costume, he could slip her into the hospital without raising too many red flags.
Jarod Greene looked up at the sign above the store. He had taken a short trip to Costa Verde to do some research. The city was far enough from L.A. and out of the way enough to be outside Simon Phoenix's immediate sphere of influence, and as far as Phoenix knew, Jarod Hofmann was in Mexico, having a face to face with a new supplier, one who was paranoid, but very well-stocked.
Of course, he would have to return with a sample to satisfy Phoenix that the supplier was the real deal. Fortunately, he had planned for this and made sure he had a miniature chemistry lab at his disposal. For all his flamboyance and borderline insanity, it wouldn't do to underestimate Phoenix, a man who could best be described by three words: sadistic, intelligent, dangerous.
He stepped into the store.
"Can I help you?" Samuel Osbourne asked. The man who had just entered his comic store looked a little lost. He might have founded one of the largest comic store chains in America, with worldwide penetration, but there was something soothing about running the counter.
The man turned and smiled, nodding at him. "Yes. I had some questions, and someone suggested I look to comic books for the answers."
"Well," Sam shrugged, gesturing, "if you're looking for comics, you've come to the right place. What did you want to know?"
"Who is Batman?"
Sam stared. "You don't know who Batman is?"
"Maybe not if you grew up in a hole in the ground."
Jarod tilted his head and said, "Funny you should put it that way."
"Riiight," Sam said slowly. I really should get around to checking out the new branch in Lawrence...
California was getting a little too weird lately. Especially with what he was hearing out of Sunnydale.
"I think we've got ourselves a new business partner," Phoenix said, wafting the vapors toward him, careful not to inhale too much. This meeting was on a catwalk over one of the chop shops he ran. "This shit is good, Jarod. My compliments to your supplier."
"I'll be sure to pass that along," Jarod inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Also, some of our... other... investments have been paying off as well." He hefted the briefcase and laid it on the table. He popped it open, revealing the money within.
"Damn," Phoenix stared, shaking his head. He looked at his other lieutenants, "Why do I keep you guys around again?"
There was a long moment of quiet fidgeting as they exchanged looks. Finally, Jimmy Vyers spoke up, "Because his techniques are very risky, sir. High risk, high reward."
"What's life without a little risk?" Jarod riposted.
"A lot poorer if you don't pull it off just right," Jimmy glared.
"Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy," Phoenix sauntered up to Vyers, placing his hands on his shoulders. "Did you perhaps forget who you work for?" His hands flashed, and even Jarod was startled as he slashed Jimmy's throat. "Too risky?" Phoenix called out, turning to face the rest of the chop shop, letting Jimmy fall to the ground, choking on his own blood. "Boys, you work for me, you risk it all! And don't you forget it!"
Jarod forced his hands to unclench. Perhaps he was being too ambitious, targeting Phoenix. He wasn't like his usual targets, guilty of a single murder or even a series of lesser crimes. Phoenix was a monster, and the only thing that kept the police from him was the simple fact that police didn't survive on his turf. It was clear, though, that his usual methods would not be enough.
A storm of emotions slammed into Jarod as he immersed himself into the role of one eight-year-old boy on one particular night in Crime Alley. He sucked in a sharp breath as he ended the pretend and placed the comic book down.
"Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?"
"We're more alike than I would have imagined, Bruce," he murmured to the comic book character, ignoring the film playing in the background. "More alike than I thought possible. But now, I understand."
And indeed he did. He understood the drive that such a traumatic event could instill in an eight-year-old boy. He understood, more than most, how a child could grow up with such a thirst for justice. Justice... and family.
Yes, that was something he was very familiar with. Bruce Wayne would never get his family back... so he made his own. There was a lesson to be learned from that.
Phoenix sat in his chair, thoughtfully staring at the sample Hofmann had brought in. His feet were propped up on the desk, and his fingers were gently steepled across his chest, tapping together as he let the oddities that had been gnawing at him run rampant through his mind.
"Something wrong, boss?"
"Yeah, you could say that, Bill," he answered. Bill was one of his lieutenants, one who had served him long and well and miraculously survived Phoenix's violent bouts of whimsy. "What do you make of Jarod?"
"Jarod?" Bill's face twisted in distaste. "He's an upstart, and I don't like him, but he does the job, he rakes in the money, and he got us the pure quill." After a moment, he added sourly, "He's f*cking perfect."
"Yeah," Phoenix nodded. "Perfect." He took his feet off the table and stood up. "Just a little too perfect," he said as he began pacing. "So why ain't we ever heard of this guy before? More importantly, why would a man of such talents be working for me instead of striking out on his own?" He suddenly stopped and whirled to face Bill and said, "Tell me, Bill, you ever see him kill a man?"
"I..." Bill started, then froze and frowned, dark suspicions forming, "no. No, I haven't."
"That's what I thought," Phoenix nodded. "My cop sense is tingling. Get a couple of the boys together. Ice him. Tonight."
Bill gave a crooked smile and answered, "With pleasure, boss."
The door crashed open, and Jarod dove over the couch as bullets flew overhead.
This was not in the plan, he thought as he scurried over to the kitchen, bullets trailing behind him. He scooped up a knife from the counter and took cover behind the range. A few more bullets slammed against the range, ricocheting off at the shallow angle. There was a lull in the gunfire, and he stabbed the gas line.
"Stop!" he called. "One spark, and we all die!" He peeked out and saw just who was shooting at him. It was Bill, one of Phoenix's lieutenants, along with two of his lower level thugs. All three were reloading. "Bill, what the hell are you doing?"
"Your streak of luck's over, Jarod," Bill gloated, holstering his pistol. He pulled out a knife from his belt and said, "And I don't need a gun to kill you. There's a reason I keep telling people to call me Shank."
Jarod stepped out into the open, kitchen knife in hand. Bill grinned nastily. Jarod backed away warily, nudging over near the range and judging the timing of just how much gas had escaped the pipeline, then smirked and said, "I said one spark."
His hand darted for the range's controls and twisted it.
Click, click, click.
Jarod darted across the small kitchen and hurled himself through the window, and the three criminals threw themselves back out the door into the living room, even as the fireball filled the room.
John Spartan had pulled another late-nighter. The precinct's garage was nearly deserted as he headed for his car.
"Rumor has it you want to nail Simon Phoenix."
John spun, weapon drawn, but found nothing. A hand reached from behind him and took the pistol away, before its owner stepped back and said, "I can give him to you."
He turned, watching the other man warily and debating whether he could get his backup piece or not, and asked, "Who are you?"
"Agent Jarod Watts, DEA," the man said, flashing a badge and ID card with one hand and handing John his pistol back with the other. "I've been working deep cover in Phoenix's gang for a while now, and he's made me."
"Then why come to me?" John asked, safing and holstering the pistol. He studied Watts as he waited for an answer. The DEA agent looked like he'd been through the wringer, and he was definitely favoring his right shoulder. He was also standing awkwardly, clearly trying to minimize contact between his clothes and his back.
"You were closest, and I'm sure I was sold out by someone on the inside."
"He's got people in the DEA now?" John frowned.
"Are you really surprised?"
John thought about it for a moment, then shrugged, "No, not really."
Jarod drummed his fingers on the table, frowning as he went over the data he had painstakingly collected on Simon Phoenix. He had made an error somewhere, a miscalculation. His cover had been perfect; Phoenix should have had no reason to suspect him... yet he had. He absently popped a Pez in his mouth as he tried to figure out where he had gone wrong. It was rare for a pretend to fail so completely.
Could it be that there was such a thing as having a cover that was too perfect? In the past, his covers were essential. They had to be bulletproof, able to stand up to the most intense scrutiny by everyone from law enforcement to multibillion-dollar corporations. Had that perfection worked against him this time?
What had he missed?
The radio chattering in the background suddenly caught his attention.
"In other news, a municipal bus with thirty passengers on board has gone missing. Police are investigating, but the bus was last seen entering the no man's land territory claimed by notorious drug lord, Simon Phoenix."
Jarod stopped and rose to his feet. His time had just run out. He looked around. It was too soon. He wasn't ready. He didn't have a plan.
His gaze fell to the closetful of Batman paraphernalia he had accumulated. The apartment that he had incinerated had been carefully crafted to match his persona as Jarod Hofmann, and most of his real possessions had escaped the flames.
Jarod couldn't stop Phoenix, he thought grimly as he approached the closet. Jarod can't save those hostages. He pulled out and held up the Halloween costume he had picked up on a lark.
But maybe Batman can.
Jarod -- Batman -- watched as John Spartan bungee jumped from the helicopter, shot the thug who opened fire on him, then cut himself free. Spartan was storming Phoenix's stronghold with all the grace and subtlety of a bulldozer.
Batman ducked through the shadows and sprinted down into the building's understructure. He had scanned the building with thermal imaging and found no sign of the hostages, but the basement was well-insulated.
He stopped at the doorway at the base of the stairs and lashed out through the doorway, catching a guard across the throat. The hitman dropped his gun and struggled for air even as Batman spun around him and put him in a sleeper hold. A moment later, he eased the hitman's unconscious body to the ground, turned, and continued through the service tunnel.
Moving with a compromise between speed and stealth, Batman made his way through the dimly lit tunnel toward the basement beneath the burned out tenement building Phoenix used as his main headquarters. Within the first week, Jarod Hofmann was quite familiar with the building. He surprised and knocked out two more guards before he reached the basement.
It was lit by a single flourescent light hanging from the ceiling, giving him plenty of light to see that his hunch had paid off. One wall of the basement was rigged with cages, and he could see the hostages inside the cages. He also spotted five gunmen.
Immersing himself in the mind of the man who had proven so dangerous to the Hyperclan, a group far deadlier than a mere quintet of gunmen, he came to the obvious solution.
The shuriken he had were mass-produced, stamped metal, picked up from a mall stand selling knives and other ornamental bladed weaponry. They weren't lethal, not unless he coated them with poison, but they were excellent for, say, breaking glass... like the glass tube of a flourescent bulb.
Once the lights went out, he moved quickly, relying on his memory of where the gunmen were. The first two fell without a struggle, but the third smacked him in the side with the butt of his pistol before he could disable him... and then the other two opened fire, aiming for the sound of the struggle.
After a moment, the gunfire died down.
"Did we get him?" one of the gunmen asked hesitantly. He pulled out penlight and turned it on, sweeping it left and right. "Where'd he go? Where is he?"
"Right here," a voice whispered in his ear. He spun and barely caught the image of a cowl and a fist before unconsciousness claimed him.
The last gunmen backed away from where his companion had fallen until he half-tripped over the unconscious body of one of the other gunmen. He spun reflexively and fired, only to have a hand clamp down on his wrist, forcing the gun up.
"You should be more careful."
"Last time, Phoenix," John Spartan warned, aiming a pistol at Phoenix. "Where... are... the hostages?"
"To hell with the hostages!" Phoenix retorted. "This is between you and me."
"Yeah," John agreed, thumbing his pistol's manual cocking hammer back. He already had a round chambered, and the pistol was a double-action, but now, it was on a hair trigger.
Phoenix ducked low, waving the lit blowtorch near the gasoline-soaked floor. "What? What? What you got, soldier boy? Do something. Go ahead. Heheheh. You're up to your ass in gasoline," Phoenix chuckled as John lowered his gun slightly. "Set your ass on fire!"
He straightened up and used the blowtorch to light a cigarette. As he disengaged the blowtorch, John stepped forward, raising his pistol again.
"Is it cold in here," Phoenix asked, his voice eerily calm, "or is it just me?"
"It's just you," came a gravelly voice neither of them expected. A shadowy figure leaped forward and tackled Phoenix, wrapping him in a billowing black cape and carrying him away from the pools of gasoline.
John stared as the two combatants vanished through another doorway, "You've gotta be shitting me." He shook his head, "Never a dull moment in this town."
He charged after them, only to find Phoenix trussed up upside down, dangling like pinata and laughing like the maniac he was. John looked over and found himself face to face with the cowled interloper moments before said interloper turned and leaped out of the window, vanishing into the night.
"The hell?" John sputtered, staring out the window after him.
"Hoohoo!" Phoenix cackled. "That's why I love this town! Ha haaa! I'm gonna like him! Move over, Spartan. You're old news. Ha ha haha!"
"Shut up, Phoenix!" John turned and pistol-whipped him.
"Ooh! Ooh!" Phoenix called out, shaking his head clear. "Police brutality! Police brutality!"
"You have the right to remain silent," John pistol-whipped him again. "So shut up already."
"Uh, Miss Parker?" Broots said hesitantly.
"What is it, Broots?"
"I've found Jarod," he answered, holding up a copy of the L.A. Times, displaying its prominent front page photograph of Jarod.
She snatched the newspaper from his hands and stared. "'Jarod Bruce, founder of Bruce Enterprises, has quickly become one of L.A.'s newest celebrities after...'" she trailed off, then looked up. "Son of a bitch!" She hurled the newspaper to the ground. "Sydney!"
Just thought I'd take a different look at the Emeraldverse.