Guerrero knew it probably said something about him that Suicide Slum was the only place in Metropolis he could actually relax. The rest of the city was too modern, all glass towers and jagged skyscrapers - the best city in the world for a sniper (Guerrero had done some fine work there in his day) but unnerving at ground level.
Truth be told he'd avoid the city entirely but he had a dead guy in a parking garage to get to the bottom of and sometimes you had to go where the tips took you. Not that the tip had been of much use, but he could always find a use for a new contact. And if he'd had to drag himself out to the Cape capital of the world, at least the various Metropolis improvement committees hadn't torn down the Ace O' Clubs for another condominium just yet.
He leaned against the bar and scanned the crowd; there were the usual types found in criminal dives the world over, lean-faced grifters rubbing shoulders with no-neck enforcement goons, down-on-their-luck gamblers in sharp suits trying to hustle up a game, the angry drunks who'd been kicked out of the city's more respectable booze halls. A group of broad shouldered made men he pegged as belonging to Vincenzo DiNozzi's organization took up two whole tables, daring anyone to squeeze past them- odd to find them in a place like the Ace. The DiNozzi he'd known had run a higher-class business. And almost hidden in the back was a square-jawed man in a blue suit eying the crowd and trying to look casual; the only way he could more obviously be a reporter was if he'd stuck one of those old-timey press passes into his hat.
Then Jesus Dacosta walked in and the reporter made perfect sense. For a guy barely over thirty Dacosta had logged a lot of years in the life; he'd even worked for the Old Man's group on and off for a while, mostly doing delivery work and low-level menacing. He'd never really developed the instinct to raise up high in any one organization but he had a knack of flying just under the radar. An information broker after Guerrero's own heart, even if he was a little too soft to ever really use his knowledge to its full potential.
Dacosta's true passion wasn't crime or blackmail, though; what the man loved was the press. He'd never met a reporter he wasn't ready to spill all of his crimes to like a religious man banging on the door of a confessional - off the record, of course. Guerrero would bet good money that half of the "unknown sources" quoted in Metropolis' papers could be traced back to Dacosta. Since the he was usually careful not to give away the nuts and bolts of the business - and especially since most mob bosses loved publicity the way they loved cigars and bad suits - his bosses usually left his little hobby alone. They'd actually run a job with Dacosta a year or two back and found thinly-veiled details of the case splashed all over the San Francisco papers the next day. Winston had complained for weeks, but Chance had eventually convinced him that the whole thing had probably brought them business. Guerrero grinned at the memory; Chance had always had a soft spot for the kid, even back in the old days.
Things were stirring at the DiNozzi table. Guerrero watched their eyes follow Dacosta's progress through the bar, warning bells chiming in his head. Made men hanging out in a bar like the Ace on their own time may not have made sense, but a group of them settling in for an ambush worked perfectly.
None of his business. Absolutely, completely none of his business.
Guerrero sighed. He'd been hanging around with Chance too long. He shifted at the bar and caught Dacosta's eye. "Dude. Been a while."
Dacosta stopped, an uncertain half-smile frozen on his face. "Guerrero? Hey, man, how long you been in town? How's Chance been?"
"Just keep walking this way like you were meeting me the whole time," he said, keeping his voice low and his body language loose. DiNozzi's guys were still watching, and Guerrero thought he saw one of them take a good long look at him. He motioned to the bartender and passed a shot along to Dacosta. "Don't look back," Guerrero said, watching Dacosta down the shot. The reporter was watching them now, too; there were too many eyes in this place. "Someone upset about your side business?"
"What? I don't..."
"You've got a squad of Vin DiNozzi's guys staring you down. Any idea why?"
Dacosta went pale as a ghost and the warning bells in Guerrero's head got louder. He grabbed Guerrero's arm. "You gotta help me. They're here to kill me, I've been dodgin' them for days now."
This is what every day of Chance's life is like. "Dude, what did you spill?"
"Nah, man, you don't get it." He leaned close. "I'm turnin' State's on DiNozzi. That's why I'm meetin' with a reporter in the first place, some guy from the Planet named Kent. Sort of a neutral ground kind of thing before they bring in the prosecutor."
"Never figured you for a snitch, Dacosta."
"They threatened my kid. The DiNozzis, they found out I got a family now and they threatened my kid so I wouldn't work with any of the other families."
"Well, they're on to you. The ones over there made you already, and I'm pretty sure one of them made me."
"Guerrero, man, please. You, Chance, you were always the guys good at getting out of these kinds of things." Dacosta's eyes were wide with panic. "Please, man. They were after my kid, what else was I supposed to do?"
And Baptiste's voice chose that damned moment to echo in his head. How is the little one? He squeezed his eyes shut. "Lots of things, dude. Hell, not like you don't have Chance's number." DiNozzi's boys started moving, apparently sick of trying to figure out what Dacosta was up to. "All right, dude, here's the plan," he said, and for a second he thought Dacosta was going to pass out from relief. "You look casual, you follow my lead. No improvising." Dacosta nodded and Guerrero tried to figure out when exactly he'd lost his mind. "Good. There's a back exit, start moving towards it." He prodded Dacosta towards the rear of the bar, one eye on DiNozzi's approaching goon squad. Halfway to the corridor leading to the back entrance, when he was sure the mobsters had bought it, Guerrero overturned one of the heavy oak tables and dove behind it, his gun out in one fluid motion. He saw Dacosta follow his lead in his peripheral, then popped up from cover and put a bullet between the lead mobster's eyes. He ducked back down, smiling despite himself. It had been a while. "Well, that's one."
The table shuddered as they fired back, but so far it was holding. Guerrero emptied his gun, dropping two more and winging a third. "Dude, tell me you're carrying."
Dacosta handed him a nine millimeter. "Welcome to it. Better shot than me anyhow."
Bullets whizzed by his head when he tried to take another shot and he hunkered back down; the table was beginning to splinter and it was time to find an escape route. The reporter had already run for it - probably the last night he went slumming at the Ace -and there was an almost clear path to the back entrance if they kept low. "Crawl. I'll cover you." Dacosta's jaw tightened but he nodded, dropping to the floor to commando crawl towards the back. Guerrero popped off another shot but couldn't even see if he'd hit before having to duck down again.
And then his phone rang. He glanced down and sighed; of course Chance would decide now was a good time to check in. He flipped the phone open and turned on the speaker. "Hey, Guerrero, I know you said you were looking into something today but we just got this job..."
"Dude. Not the time." Another round of bullets slammed into the table; he glanced over at Dacosta and estimated he had to keep this up another ninety seconds.
"Are you getting shot at? Where the hell are you?"
"Not local." He got off another shot and heard a satisfying string of curses; he guessed there were still three up. Normally sending seven goons after one snitch would have been a bit much, but DiNozzi always had been one for overkill. "I'm fine. I'll check in later."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the table splintered open and Guerrero felt searing pain explode in his shoulder. The impact dropped him to the floor and for a second his vision went white; he heard Chance's voice coming from the phone and focused on it to keep himself conscious until the adrenaline could kick in. He did a quick status check: in-and-out, no broken bone, could be a lot worse. Blood streamed down his arm but bullet wounds always bled a lot, that wasn't a sign one way or another yet; he dragged himself back to the rapidly diminishing cover provided by the table. He saw Dacosta stop almost at the door and start to turn around; Guerrero just gave him a look and Dacosta kept moving. He shook his head; no wonder Dacosta and Chance got along so well, they both turned to mush in the same circumstances.
Speaking of. He fired two more shots over the edge of the table, just to keep them from getting any ideas, then used the gun to hook the phone back next to him. "Hey, dude."
He heard Chance let out a long breath. "Scared the hell out of me. How bad?"
"Don't know yet." His shirt was already soaked through and blood was still bubbling out; the bullet may not have hit bone but it had clearly hit something. "Told you, I'll check in later, Jun-Chance," he said, correcting himself midstream. He felt the first cold edges of actual fear wrap around his spine; he didn't make slips of the tongue, it just didn't happen, and confusing Chance's name like that was a bad, bad sign.
When Chance spoke again Guerrero knew he'd caught the slip. "Where are you?" he demanded, all joking around gone from his voice.
"Metropolis," he said, and he heard Chance swear. "Told you...wasn't local." His head was fuzzy and his vision starting to swim, all signs that shock was creeping up. He heard footsteps approaching. "Catch you later, dude," he said, ending the call before Chance could make an argument. If this was going all the way bad, no reason to make him hear it.
The first goon to reach him was the one who'd made him earlier, and this time Guerrero recognized him-had actually hired him on for some strong-arm work a few years past. "Hey, Ray."
"Man, Guerrero, what're you doin' here?" He leveled the gun. "This ain't nothin' personal, all right?"
Guerrero never understood why people always had to be so chatty about this. "Just get it over with."
He realized that the blood loss must have been even worse than he'd thought, because his eyes started playing tricks on him. Just before he passed out he could have sworn he saw Superman step in the way of the bullet.
He woke up to the sound of Dacosta panicking. "-don't even know. He dies Chris Chance is going to all over town freaking the fuck out. You gotta help us out Supes, please."
"No one's going to die." Guerrero opened his eyes just in time to see red eye beams shoot towards him, then felt burning all through his shoulder. "That should stop the bleeding," Superman said, "but you're still going to want someone to look at that shoulder."
"Think I still know someone," Guerrero said, scrambling to get his wits back around him. The three of them were on a rooftop, God only knew how far from the Ace but definitely no longer in the Slum. He flexed his arm; it hurt but he still had good range of motion. "Thanks."
Dacosta grinned. "Welcome to Metropolis, man. Everyone gets one."
Guerrero wondered how many people could say they'd seen Superman roll his eyes. "Mr. Dacosta tells me that you saved his life."
Guerrero waved that away. "Temporary insanity."
"And did I hear him say that you work with Christopher Chance?"
That perked Guerrero's ears up. He hadn't known Chance and Winston's little business had started attracting Justice League-level attention. "From time to time. He in trouble?"
Superman frowned. "Quite the opposite. He did some good work when the mayor's daughter was kidnapped three years ago. I was hoping you could pass along my compliments."
Guerrero thought Chance would swoon if he ever got word that Superman thought he had done a good job. "Think that can be arranged." Suddenly the sound of gunshots rang out, followed by a piercing alarm. "What now?"
"Shit, that DiNozzi? They follow us?"
"No," Superman said, peering over the side. "It's a robbery." He cocked his head to the side, as if listening to something. "We're above Meyer's Jewels, they must be after the Karshtan diamond. This is where it's being held until it goes on display at the museum tomorrow."
Guerrero looked over and saw three masked men run out of the store below, followed by a larger man casually strolling along. The ringleader, Guerrero supposed, and on a second glance he wondered if "man" was the right word. The skin on the right side of his face was peeled away, revealing a skull of shining chrome and an eye that glowed red like a laser sight. This is why I hate doing business in Metropolis. "Any idea what that is?"
Superman tensed up, an absolutely terrible sign as far as Guerrero was concerned. "Metallo."
As if he'd heard, Metallo chose that moment to look up, his face lighting up with what looked like Guerrero to be pure delight. "Superman! So glad you could make it!" A compartment opened in his chest, revealing a glowing green rock where his heart should be. "Why don't you come down and join us?"
Superman gasped and doubled over, almost tumbling off the roof before Guerrero and Dacosta dragged him back. "Kryptonite," he wheezed out, turning a sickly pale.
Then Guerrero felt something in his mind click into place. "Meyer's Jewels. This used to be Lecey's nightclub, about ten years ago. I've been here before."
Dacosta looked up. "Oh yeah, someone assassinated the lieutenant governor from up here around that..." he trailed off. "Oh."
Guerrero smiled to himself, walking along the edge of the roof. "There should be an access panel right...around..." He stepped on something that rang hollow. "Here. Dude, help me get him down here while we figure something out," he said, heaving the panel open. He felt a whoosh of air and whirled around to see Metallo rising above the edge of the roof.
"I don't like to be kept waiting, Superman," Metallo said, firing green energy from his palm. "And who are your new dead friends?"
"Dude, hurry it up!" He ducked as another volley of energy flew over his head. He heard the heavy thunk as Dacosta shoved Superman through and followed after him, tossing Guerrero a gun. "Here! Saved this for you!"
He picked up the gun, dropping to one knee beside the open panel. He should still have one shot left. Time to make it count. "Dude. Still time to back out of this."
Metallo pulled to a stop, hovering in midair. "Am I supposed to be scared?"
Guerrero fired. The bullet went straight into Metallo's glowing red eye, sending sparks flying as he howled in rage. Guerrero didn't stick around for the retaliation, dropping through the access panel and closing it after him. He landed hard, pain radiating from his injured arm. "You take him out?" Dacosta said.
"Think I just pissed him off. Tell me he's better," he said, nodding over to Superman. The building shook as Metallo started firing into the roof, bellowing various threats against Superman. Guerrero dragged himself over to see for himself and hissed in a breath. Superman was still writhing in agony, his lips tinged with blue and his breathing ragged. "C'mon dude, snap out of it. That thing's gonna kill all of us."
Superman's eyes fluttered open. "Sorry," he whispered. "Kryptonite...like poison to me." He actually managed to crack a grin. "Not...very impressive rescue." He gasped, spasming with pain and grabbing Guerrero's hand.
Guerrero squeezed back, feeling more out of his element than in his entire life. "Not gonna get you killed here, dude. We'll think of something." The building shook again, one of the blasts breaking through the roof feet from them. He ran the heist through his mind; that kind of thing took planning and he didn't judge Metallo to be one of the great mind of the century. "Superman. Stay with me, here," he said, waiting until the superhero's eyes focused. "Does Metallo run with a crew?"
"Does he belong to a group, or is he free lance? Who runs him?"
"I...Secret Society, I think." He groaned again, shuddering.
"Secret Society. That's Grodd," Guerrero said, swearing under his breath. He didn't have any dirt on the mind-controlling gorilla villains of the world.
"Nah, man," Dacosta spoke up. "Calculator took the Society over, like, three months ago."
"Calculator? Noah Kuttler, or some other guy using the name?"
"Same guy it's always been, far as I know."
Guerrero smiled. That he could work with. "Someone save my phone?" The building was rocked by another blast, throwing everyone to the ground. Dacosta slid the phone to him and Guerrero moved a few feet away. "Keep him alive," he ordered, ignoring Dacosta's how do I do that look. He felt Superman's eyes on him as he called up the number, adding all kinds of pressure he really didn't need at that moment. It rang twice, then he heard Kuttler's nasal voice. "Calculator, here. What's your crime?"
"Dude!" Guerrero said, the building taking another hit. "Call off your robot."
There was a second's pause. "Guerrero? That you? How've you been, it's been what, four years...?"
"You heard me. I know you're running the Karshtan job. Pull the plug and call off your flying metal pet."
"Are you in the middle of that? No problem, I'll just tell Metallo..."
"I'm not negotiating. Pull the plug, call him off."
Calculator laughed. "C'mon, Guerrero. Why would I do that? And don't use the usual 'I know where you sleep' line, because you're good, but not that good."
"Because you have that sweet Russian thing holed up in Bensonhust. How's her fire insurance? Paid up?" He felt sweat trickle down his back; if Calculator proved to be a complete sociopath this was going to be a lot harder.
Luckily, Guerrero thought he'd drawn just a little bit of blood. "I have no idea what you're..."
"She put blue lights out on the bushes for Christmas last year." There was silence on the line. "And how's your old man? Florida's nice this time of year, isn't it."
"Pretty big words for a guy Metallo's about to incinerate."
Very slight quaver in the voice. Good. Very good. "You sure that's how it's going to go down?" He dropped his voice low. "Dude, you do not want to go to war with me. Bad for business, both my business and yours. Grab the diamond some other time, I don't care, just call off Metallo now."
There was a long pause on the line, long enough for another blast to open a hole in roof. Guerrero looked up and saw Metallo hovering above, glowing energy charging up around his hand - then he saw his head cock to the side. "What? Why?" Metallo barked out. "But I have him! You can't..." Metallo roared in outrage and flew up, firing a double blast at the street below for a little gratuitous collateral damage before streaking away.
"Good decision, Kuttler," Guerrero said.
"Guerrero. This isn't going away, and I don't forget things."
"There's a bullet somewhere with my name on it, dude, but I'm pretty sure you're not going to be the one firing it." Calculator ended the call without another word and Guerrero sank to the floor. He could bluster all he wanted, but Calculator was a bad enemy to make. He let out a long breath. Well, it was done, and it wasn't the last enemy he would ever make by a long shot. He looked over to Superman and Dacosta. "Everything okay over there?
Superman sat up, the pallor already gone. "You have Calculator's number on your speed dial?"
"You don't want to know half the guys on my speed dial." He sighed. "We good here?"
Superman stood up in response, ducking so he wouldn't hit his head on the ceiling. "Never better." He grabbed them both - Guerrero noted how careful he was not to jostle his shoulder - and flew them up to a nearby, non-hole-riddled roof. "Anything I can do for you, either of you, name it."
"I think this idiot still has a meeting with a reporter and a DA to make," Guerrero said. Dacosta started blathering at Superman and Guerrero took the moment to step away and dial Chance's number. "Told you I'd check in."
There was a moment of stunned silence, then Guerrero grinned as Chance blurted out an impressive string of curses. "What the hell happened? I've been calling nonstop!"
"Got tagged through the shoulder. I'll live."
He heard a long sigh of relief, then Winston's voice chiming in from the background. "You see? I told you everything was fine."
"You did not," Chance answered back; over the sound of bickering Guerrero could make out a dull roar.
"Dude. Are you at an airport?"
Guerrero shook his head. "I told you, I'm always fine. And what was your plan, anyway? Break down every door in Metropolis?"
"There...was slightly more to it than that," he said, in the tone that said Guerrero had guessed absolutely right.
He glanced over to Superman. "Stay on the line, dude. I'm putting you on speaker, there's someone here who wants to talk to you," he said, walking towards him and mouthing it's Chance.
Superman smiled. "Mr. Chance," he said, his voice booming. "This is Superman."
Guerrero heard a barely-muffled squawk. "Um...hello, Superman. Sir."
"I wanted to compliment you on the fine job you did on the kidnapping case a few years ago. I don't think I've ever seen better work."
"I...um, thank you."
"I hope we can work together sometime."
"So do I, sir. That...wow. That would be an honor."
Guerrero wondered whose head was closer to exploding, Chance because Superman was complimenting him or Winston because he was trying to figure out how Guerrero had managed to meet Superman. He took the phone back off speaker. "Don't pass out, Chance."
"What are you doing out there?"
"Tell you when I get back, dude. And you can fill me in on that job."
"Didn't take it. For some reason I though a friend of mine was getting himself shot up on the other side of the country."
"That had to kill Winston."
"He's sending you a bill."
Guerrero laughed. "Good luck collecting on that. See you back at base." He hung up, hoping it would be as easy as that. His arm ached and he needed to find someone to patch him up before he went anywhere. "Hey, Superman. Think you can keep this guy out of trouble and get him where he needs to be?"
He grinned, the expression more layered than Guerrero thought Superman had intended. For some reason Guerrero flashed back to that square-jawed reporter in the bar, and just how fast Superman had shown up. Of course, that was supposed to be his thing, and it was probably just coincidence...but still. He wondered. He shook the thought away; asking that kind of question was verging on gift horse in mouth territory in this situation. "Well, if you'd drop me back on the street I'll leave you to it. I've got to find a way back to San Francisco."
"You know, the Justice League has a teleporter on our station. And doctors to look at that bullet wound. You're welcome to both."
Guerrero pulled up short. "You...want me on your superhero space station?" Even to Guerrero that sounded like a terrible idea.
Superman raised his eyebrows. "You saved my life, of course. Being friends with the Justice League should carry some perks, don't you think?"
The world had turned sideways somewhere along the way. "Sounds like a plan." He cocked his head to one side, considering. "Unless Batman's up there. Got some bad history with him."
Superman chuckled. "Who doesn't?"
Someday one of these hero types was going to figure out he wasn't one of them, but it didn't look like today was that day. "Dude. Let's do this." Friends with the Justice League definitely had a certain ring to it.
And after all, he could always, always find a use for a new contact.