Kato waited for the smoke to clear before he turned off the engine. The dazzling green headlights were left on. He got out, this time with nun-chucks in-hand. He saw figures running through the thinning smoke. They were finally pinned in the green orbs of the Black Beauty and stopped. He grinned savagely at the slack-jawed expression on Tony Matizello's face.
He advanced on the man, gracefully cautious. He eyed the guards on either side of him, but none dared to move. He stopped just short of Matizello, and stared hard into his eyes. From behind Kato and out of the waning smoke, came the Green Hornet. He too, advanced slowly, not looking anywhere else except Tony's face.
The silence that filled the hanger was unearthly, highly unnerving. Britt would have enjoyed the thrill he felt had it not been for the fact it took everything he had to walk straight, look straight, breath evenly and appear confident.
"What's the matter, Matizello? Don't you believe in ghosts?"
His voice shattered the precious silent and even sent waves of pain through his own head. Tony Matizello snapped back to reality and struggled to regain some sort of control of the situation.
"Ghost, Hornet? Ghosts are hardly so loud and destructive. I knew you weren't dead-if only I could be so lucky."
"Luck had nothing to do with it. You had your chance, you made the most of it and you failed."
He bared his teeth. "Well, that won't happen again, will it?"
Tony drew himself up and looked the masked man over with smug confidence. "Besides, Hornet. How can a mere man be anything more than he is? No mask can ever hide mortality. Look at yourself. I can see some of your face-you're beaten, you can hardly stand on your own two feet and you're sweating up a storm. You're sick. And you know it-so don't think you can fight and win. Not against Grom. Not this time."
Britt held up a hand. "Before you release the hounds-I just wanted to give you my regards on that speech of yours today. Very clever-the double-talk will have them scratching theirs heads for weeks. That leaves you plenty of time to get everything in order. I just wonder what that 'everything' will be."
"Double-talk? They can believe what they want. Perhaps my father was mob, perhaps he wasn't. Me, I'm simply a businessman. That's all. I have money, and I want to use it. That 'everything' will be plans-big plans."
"Ah. Plans. Like that…plan you had for me?"
"And it was a shame you didn't go along with it, Hornet. If you had, you would have seen it was just the beginning. If you had, you would have been the right-hand to a man who has the ways and means to go places. My name won't be the only thing people know me for after I'm through-what I've done, what I've accomplished will be my legacy."
His chin tilted upward, a cunning gleam in his eye. "In another year, Hornet, the mayoral election will take place. The incumbent mayor has half the resources I have and…the people will want change. How does…Mayor Tony Matizello sound? And who knows? From mayor, to governor, to president. The Presidency, Hornet. That's what you could have had."
Both Kato and Britt smirked.
"Yes-what I could have had. Interesting, considering it will never work. The double-talk today doesn't do anything except reaffirm the fact we all know: you and your father were and are dirty. It's a shame he died before he could go over for it, though. Erm-what did he die from again; a heart attack? Or something like that?"
"What do you think?"
"I think…this time, it's going to end much differently. Whether or not you murdered your father is icing on the legal cake. You're going down for reaching too high, too fast. I said it once and I'll say it again-You're finished."
Matizello held a small remote control up in the air, his finger over the red button.
"The last time you said that, your man there had to carry you out. Do you expect anything less this time around?"
Britt shook his head, eyes never leaving the remote. The Hornet Sting slid from his sleeve into his hands. Matizello was backing away, his men enveloping him and cutting him off from the looming fight. Kato maintained his stance in front of his partner, nun-chucks at the ready.
Yet again, time had the nerve to stop and from the shadows, thundering footsteps emerged. There were only two really dark areas in the rather illuminated hanger-the outmost edges of it and Britt fired shots from the Sting at both. The jarring screams of an animal in pain or in shock broke time's lock and sent it tumbling forward.
Kato was inundated by the mass of guards-never had Britt seen him in finer form. They seemed to bounce off, fall back or collapse at the slightest touch. The nun chucks in his hands were a blur. He wanted to jump in and help him but remembered his warning: If there's too much risk, I'm pulling you out.
He couldn't leave, not now, not again. He had to win!
From the shadows, another roar issued forth and Britt readied the Hornet Sting once again. However, there was one small problem-he couldn't see straight. With wavering aim, he fired into the shadows on either side of him. The shadows to his right suddenly became alive.
The giant stumbled forth, batting the air around him as sparks rained down. When his eyes found Britt, he stopped, regarding him with an uncertain stare. Suddenly the band of metal around his neck vibrated and the creature yelped. Grom threw himself at Britt, who dove out of the way. His back slammed into the side of a car and for a second, his world went topsy-turvy and his stomach warned him not to do that again. He swallowed and stood unsteadily, waiting for the next attack.
The creature walked right past the mess that was Kato and the guards still fighting, without noticing them. Britt could go nowhere with his back up against one of the vehicles so he ducked around it. The beast would have to move the car to get to him (no doubt that wasn't beyond the thing's capabilities) and when he did….Britt felt uneasy using the Sting on another human being. He knew it would cause devastating injuries but…."
He hazard a look over the vehicle's backend and saw Grom had stopped his advance. He had finally caught sight of Kato single-handedly turning the mass of guards into a jumbled pile of unconscious bodies and decided to watch. Britt straightened and pondered moving out from behind the car. He dumped that idea when the metal collar around the giant's neck yet again vibrated violently and the creature twisted itself with a pained yell. He saw Britt watching and stumble-ran at him like a bulldozer gone haywire.
That collar-that collar was the device that prompted the giant to do violence. It must shock him or cause some kind of pain. He acted upon it by taking his agony out on whatever or whoever was nearest. Cruelly efficient.
If Britt could disable that collar, the giant would lose any will to destroy. There would be no way for Matizello to control it. From what Britt had seen, the giant needed to be controlled or it would just stand there, gazing off into space.
Britt stood to his full height, giving the beast plenty of target. As Grom grew dangerously close, he aimed the Hornet Sting at the beast's neck. Again, the double-vision issue weighed heavily on his conscious. If he chose the wrong image, the shot would go wide. If he chose the right image but was just a smidge off-center, he could kill him. He didn't want that either.
He had no choice now, however. Because the giant had his fist pulled back once again, ready to deliver a crushing blow-a death blow, most likely. Britt aimed-and prayed. The Sting whirled gently and its hit caused the collar to snap, crackle and smoke. The giant tumbled backward with a strangled cry, grabbing recklessly at the collar.
Britt thought for one wild second he had hit the creature, injuring him but then saw he hadn't. Grom held the broken collar in his paw. He suddenly wrapped his fist around it and crushed it to pieces. Then, he simply plopped nosily to the ground. Waiting. The Green Hornet could now admit he had indeed seen everything.
Kato appeared next to Britt, his cap skewered and mask slicked with sweat.
"What did you do?"
Britt held up the Hornet Sting. "You said he didn't like it."
Kato grinned but stopped when he saw Britt waver and lean himself against the nearest vehicle.
"Are you okay?"
Britt pushed his hat down and gently fixed his mask. "I will be when we get out of here. C'mon, we've got to find Matizello."
Matizello angrily smashed the remote against his close-circuit television screen, breaking both. He had seen the Hornet defeat Grom-even in his weakened state the man had managed it. Tony had indeed underestimated him. He stood, quickly going over what needed to be done. He was in the main building of the compound, in his office.
It was obvious the duo would search it next. He had already sent his lawyer and any other essential personnel out the back-hoping they'd escape before it was too late. It was just Tony Matizello now. It was all up to him. He opened his main drawer in his desk and reached in for his weapon. Out came a very dangerous looking gun.
Next, he dumped whatever paper was in the wastepaper basket, onto his desk. Then, he pulled out his gilded Zippo lighter. After a few agonizing seconds of fiddling around with it, Tony managed to pulled the lighter fluid tube out.
He broke it over the paper, dumping every single drop. He lit a match and unceremoniously tossed on the paper. It immediately caught and Tony stepped back to admire the small blaze. From small blaze to big blaze, no matter what happened to him, the police would never find anything here.
Matizello hefted the gun and held it close to him as he left his office, the fire crackling behind him. When he met the Hornet and his partner, he'd drill them both and leave them to burn up along with everything else. He'd take one of his cars and make a break for Mexico. He always had wanted to go South of the Border.
He ran down the steps as quietly as he could, stopping on each landing to listen. When he he didn't hear anything suspicious, he continued on, until he was on the ground floor. It was a wide open space-he hadn't quite decided what to do with it yet. Too late now. As it was such, his footsteps echoed loudly, cringe-worthy in fact.
"Okay, Hornet. I know you and your small friend are in here, somewhere. Waiting. You might as well face me."
Stillness greeted him and he felt his temper rising. "I have no nerves left for this! Answer me!"
He was tempted to fire a warning shot in to the air, but his bullets were precious; meant for a much better end. From the corner of his eye, he saw movement. Not large, small-the partner. He kept his gun at his side, waiting. Soon, the movement expanded and the partner walked toward him, taking up a diagonal stance. Matizello sneered, his nostrils flaring and catching the first whiff of smoke. His fire was burning nicely.
"What's the matter, Hornet? You can only answer me by sending your man out? I didn't take you for a coward." He extended his gun arm and aimed at Kato, his finger resting on the trigger.
"…Maybe you need some gentle persuasion, hm?"
He saw the partner shoot a look back to the shadows, then settle back on Matizello. From the same shadows, the Green Hornet melted forth. He walked behind his partner and stood on the opposite side from him in the same diagonal position. Matizello moved the gun to the Hornet and aimed at his heart.
"Do you smell that, Hornet? That's smoke, my friend. My compound is slowly burning down around us. After it has consumed this part, it will spread to the others, until nothing is left. The only question is: Should I shoot you both to death now and save you a world of agony? Or should I just leave you, wounded, to be burned to death? Now, I think the first choice is far too kind. So…."
He steadied his aim and narrowed an eye. His finger flexed. Both men tensed, the partner shooting looks between the gun and the Hornet.
The Hornet yelled suddenly and as Matizello moved to fire, a sharp pain exploded in his gun hand. He jerked and the shot went wide. A sharp, metal dart had embedded itself in his hand. Matizello saw the partner step back into his stance as the gun fell from his grip. When the gun clattered to the cement floor, the Hornet immediately rushed Matizello and tackled him. Matizello swung wildly at the Hornet's head with his good hand and even landed a few hits. Until, that is, the Hornet delivered a few himself.
Matizello felt himself being pulled to his feet and pushed, back first, into the wall behind him. His head bounced sickly off the hard surface and he needed to blink to bring focus back to his vision. Up close and personal, he saw the Hornet was in much worse shape than he. His left eye was nothing but a slit and the bruising extended from what Tony guessed to be the eyebrow line down to his jaw line on the same side. His right eye was unfocused and as he was held in the Hornet's grasp, he could feel the man wavering.
Tony licked his lips and tasted blood. He also became aware of the sticky wetness of the liquid dripping down his nose.
"I'll…I'll give you one thing, Hornet. You are one tough sucker."
The masked man sneered and tightened his grip on the suit's collar.
"Yeah, crazy right? You never thought I'd come back. You thought you'd made your point. The few people who survived a run-in with Grom were usually too scared and beaten to do anything about it. How could a guy come back for more? I'm the Green Hornet, pal. Once I want something or someone, I take it."
The Hornet's nose was just inches from Matizello's.
"Now I got you."
He stuck something on Tony's forehead, giving it a hard smack just to make sure it stuck. Matizello tried to feel what it was but he was being jerked off the wall. The Hornet pulled hard then spun him around in a dizzying turn. Matizello fell to the floor, his gun lying too far away to reach. The Hornet approached menacingly and drew a gun from his pocket. It was a green pistol, the same he had seen the vigilante use on one of his guardsmen.
"Now…answer me this-should I shoot you to death here and save you a world of hurt, or should I leave you wounded to burn to death? It seems to me the first is just a bit too kind so…."
Tony recoiled at his mocking tone and raised a hand in front of his face. Green gas filled the air around Matizello's head, overtaking his sense and rendering him completely unconscious.
Britt stared at Tony Matizello's limp form, made two-fold by the double-vision. When the adrenaline had begun to pump, he found his focus returning if only a little. It was a relief to feel normal again. Now, the adrenaline was waning, the aches were returning and it was twice as difficult to stay on his feet.
Kato's strong hands grabbed and braced Britt against his side. He half-led, half-dragged his much heavier partner out of the building just in time to see flames leaping from the topmost floors. Britt pulled on Kato to make him stop and Kato planted his feet to keep from toppling over.
"I can make it."
Kato looked doubtful but let go.
"Get…get the Black Beauty. I hear sirens."
Indeed, still far off, still faint, police sirens were wailing. Kato pulled the remote controller out of his pocket and pushed the starter button. From the next building over, the Imperial's engine growled. He hit the reverse button and tires fought for traction on the pieces of downed wall. When the Beauty was fully out of the building, he brought it expertly around to them. Kato put the controller back in his pocket and opened the back passenger door.
Seeing his partner was about ready to keel over, he helped him, for the most part, fall in. Kato took up the driver's seat and pulled his mask, cap and gloves off. Britt pushed himself into a sitting position, his good eye scrunched up in pain. Kato gasped and sat forward in his seat.
"What?" Britt groaned.
"We have a friend."
Britt was too exhausted to look and gently took off the mask and hat.
Britt's words were becoming slurred, a cause for much concern. Kato looked back at him, brow furrowed.
"Yes, a giant friend who happens to be blocking our way."
Britt squinted out the front windshield. Yes, indeed. Grom the giant was standing right in front of the car, pinned in the headlights and staring very dumbly at them. Kato could see by the way Britt was having difficulty grasping the situation that the night had pushed him over the edge. Who knew how much more damage he had done? In short, with the police quickly approaching and Grom in the way, Kato needed to act fast to get Britt home and safe.
He went to his control console and flipped the green switch labeled gas.
"Sorry about this." he muttered as a double-barrel full of gas shot forth from the car's front end. The giant batted the air, twisting and turning until its motions became sluggish and his yells faded. Instead of falling like a downed tree, heavily and uncontrolled, Grom lowered himself to his knees, then face-planted, out completely.
Kato jammed the car in reverse to get away from him, then slammed it into drive, tearing up the barren landscape on the desperate ride home. In the backseat, Britt was slumped. Kato couldn't tell if he was passed out or asleep.
All during and after the Matizello's 'press conference', Casey had sat out in the city room on pins and needles. Forget her office, it was too lonely with too many memories she didn't need right then. They had gotten the precious extra and the evening edition out. Each were chalked full with fun facts and information about the city's newest, boldest gangster. She had to hand it to the man. He sure knew how the play the public-while they pondered "Was he or wasn't he a mobster?", he could go off and make whatever plans he wanted.
She sincerely hoped Britt would be successful. Axford had stayed behind with a skeleton crew at the Sentinel, his heart set on being there when the story did break. Casey, on the other hand, begged off his invitations to stay and went home. She took a nice, long, warm bath, trying to undo the knots of tension between her shoulder blades. Then, conscious of the time-it was after ten-thirty at night, decided on a comfortable dress she could easily wear out and to bed if need be.
At eleven pm, the phone rang. She started, stared, then answered.
Kato's voice sounded so tired. "Ms. Case, I need you again."
This time, it was she who had to help Kato get Britt from the garage to the study's couch. It was not something she would opt to do again. They couldn't call Scanlon, he was still at the scene, so it was up to Kato to undress him. Casey had offered to help but he told her to get the ice bags and cold compresses and, most definitely, coffee ready in the kitchen.
Kato worked to get the suit coat off, the scarf unwrapped and the topmost buttons undone on the shirt. Next came the shoes. By that time, Casey had the ice bag on his face and the cold compress around his neck. The touch of her hand against his good cheek as she stood, brought him to. His hand grabbed hers and she started. A relieved smile appeared as he gave it a squeeze.
"Thank you." he whispered.
She leaned down to whisper in his ear. "You're welcome."
Kato returned from putting the Green Hornet costume in the bedroom to see the quite touching scene between his boss and Ms. Case. He cleared his throat softly to let them know they weren't alone. The color rose in Ms. Case's cheeks and she turned away to pour coffee.
"You're awake." he asked as he sat down in the chair nearest the couch.
"If you could call it that."
"We did it, Kato."
"Yes, we did. No small thanks to your stubbornness. You promised."
"That if there was too much risk, I could pull you out!"
"We never lost control of the situation. You never had to worry about that."
Kato made a disbelieving noise.
"I didn't say anything, did I?"
Casey smiled lightly at their banter. If they could do that, Britt was…better. All three jumped the next moment as someone pounded heavily on the door to the apartment and held the buzzer down. Kato stood, looking as panicked as his cool demeanor would allow.
She waved him off, motioning she'd get it. Britt didn't try to sit up, he remained still and quiet. Only one person would make such an entrance-Axford.
"Britt Reid! Reid! Kato! Somebody! I gotta talk to you!"
Britt nodded to himself. Yep. Axford. Casey looked over her shoulder at them before answering. She deftly moved herself to block Axford from entering and kept the conversation outside. Her hand remained on the knob but had the door partially open so they could hear from inside.
"Mike, what are you doing here? Has something happened?"
"Yeah, but I gotta tell Reid."
"Um, you can't, Mike. He's…he's had a relapse. Sick all over again. You don't want to see him, trust me."
Kato and Britt laughed to themselves at her excuse and Mike's reaction.
"He's still sick? Holy crow-I can't believe it! And at a time like this! His father would never have let that be an-"
"Mike. Could you just tell me what's going on? Minus the dramatics?"
"Huh? What? Oh…fine! For your information, the Sentinel just got a call form the DA's office. Seems he got an anonymous tip earlier tonight, about Tony Matizello. The caller said that if he wanted Matizello, to head out to that there compound he keeps on the city outskirts, at ten tonight."
"Well, it's after eleven now-did the tip pan out?"
"Did it? You bet it did! They get down there to find the place on fire, Matizello out cold and-get this-a real, honest-to-goodness giant knocked out too!"
"Oh my gosh!"
"Yessir, but that's not the half of it! Guess what they found on Tony Matizello's forehead!"
Axford chuckled gleefully, just bursting to share the news. "The seal of the Green Hornet!"
Casey gasped appropriately. "No! Really?"
"Yep-it seems the Hornet got sick of Matizello's high-hattin' ways and took care of him. You know, one crook to another."
"Yep. Me and a couple of other Sentinel boys are heading out there to get some pictures and ask some questions. Wait until the morning edition comes out!"
"…Are you sure I can't see Reid?"
"Well, I'd hate for him to have to read about it in the morning…."
"Don't worry, Mike. I don't think he'll mind. Make sure it's a good story, though!"
"I will, I will. Whelp. I better be going, car's waiting for me."
"Okay, Mike. I'll see you tomorrow morning!"
"Yeah, yeah…." Axford stopped, thoughtful. "Ya know, Casey. You'll never hear me say this again, and I'd never thought I'd say it myself, but I'm glad the Green Hornet got Matizello."
They heard the smile in Casey's voice. "So am I, Mike. Good night."
Britt listened for the door to close and for Casey to come back to the couch. All he could do was smile, relax and let sleep take care of the rest.