Drake Mallard leaned forward intently, studying the objects on his kitchen table. There was a connection. There was always a connection. No criminal was capable of leaving the scene of a crime completely free of incriminating clues—
"Wow, Dad, if you wanted some Gander-ade, I'm pretty sure we have a whole six-pack in the fridge."
"Oh, good morning, Gos," Drake said distractedly.
Gosalyn slid into a chair and watched him. "Sooo, big night? An empty Gander-aide bottle, a torn up Whiffle Boy display, and some dirty flyers for game night at Seventh Street Toys." When he didn't answer, she propped her elbow on the table. "Are you sure you didn't get a concussion at the power plant the other night?"
At that, Drake straightened up. "I'll have you know that this isn't just dirt on these flyers." He pointed an emphatic finger at them. "It's soot." This left his daughter less than impressed, so he went on, "Take a close look at this Whiffle Boy display. At first glance, you will notice it's been massively mangled, and you might assume that St. Canard's lunatic toymaker Quackerjack was behind it."
With a yawn, Gosalyn said, "It's kind of early for Darkwing mode, Dad."
"What? Oh." Drake laughed sheepishly. "Well, as I was saying, I don't know anyone else who would bother to mutilate a cardboard floor stand this thoroughly, but then I remembered—I've seen this display before. It held the tie-in merchandise for Whiffle Boy Laser Blaster Cannon Pinball, and it had LEDs all along the edges."
"Oh yeah!" Gosalyn said brightly. "We stood next to it forever the day that we had to go get your copy of the game signed—"
"Yes, well," Drake interrupted, "whatever the reason I happen to remember, it seems to me that if Quackerjack was there destroying Whiffle Boy toys, then Megavolt may have been along for the ride to steal some lights. The bottle, on the other hand," he went on, tapping at his beak, "suggests something else entirely."
"Is that one of the stolen ones, DW?" Launchpad's voice asked as he entered the kitchen.
Drake watched him pour a bowl of cereal for himself, then said dryly, "I haven't run the serial number through the Gander-ade database yet, believe it or not."
"Want me to get on that for you?"
When Gosalyn giggled, Drake just rolled his eyes. "That's okay, LP."
Gosalyn picked up the bottle. "So what gives, someone's stealing Gander-ade?"
Plucking the bottle from her hands, Drake replied, "Half the convenience stores in the city have been hit. Whoever's doing it doesn't take anything else, just cases and cases of the stuff."
"Do you think it's Megavolt and Quackerjack?" Gosalyn asked.
Drake shook his head. "No. I think it's the same fiery fiend I ran into at the power plant the other night. But this is the second time evidence has presented itself that this new fire-throwing villain and Megavolt are working together—and if Quackerjack's in on it too, we may have a problem on our hands." He shook his head and flicked the sooty flyers away. "I hate it when my enemies team up. And I hate it even more when I don't even know who one of them is."
Gosalyn's mouth was hanging open. "Wait," she said, "you didn't tell me that you met a new villain who can control fire! That's cool, Dad! Can I come along when you go and beat him the first time?"
"No," Drake said sternly. "You shouldn't be along with me anyway—I mean, even if I do always beat the bad guys—people like Megavolt and Bushroot and Liquidator are dangerous, super-powered jerks. But at least I know what to expect from them."
"More or less, at least," Launchpad added helpfully.
Which just reminded him of the fiasco at the power plant. Drake grit his teeth. "Yes, exactly, Launchpad. But my point is, Gosalyn, I don't want you around any new super-villains. They're dangerous and unpredictable, and usually crazy."
"At least not until you get a handle on them?" she asked innocently.
"Yes, exactl—" He stopped and glared at her as she was hopping up from the table. "Now, wait a second, young lady, I'm not sure you take St. Canard's criminals seriously enough—"
Gosalyn smiled at him. "I take them plenty seriously, Dad. I just know that in the end you always win."
"Well." Drake puffed out his chest. "Be that as it may—"
"So that's why I'm coming along just as soon as you know who the Flame-Thrower is," Gosalyn added.
She departed before he could argue with her, and Drake looked at his sidekick and housemate. "Launchpad," he said, "do you ever get the feeling that the one personality in this city that I'll never overcome is my own daughter's?"
Launchpad chuckled. "All the time, DW. All the time."
Negaduck's warehouse was silent. Well, not silent. There was never really silence; even when everything around you was quiet you could hear that annoying ringing in your ears, which Megavolt could rarely seem to tune out, actually. A motorcycle roared by outside; a bird chirped somewhere near the door. Quackerjack jingled every time he shifted, and even a faint burbling was audible from Liquidator. But Negaduck and Luminas didn't move, staring each other down.
And then, Negaduck laughed. The sound was so unexpected that the rest of them jumped. "You've gotta be kidding me," he said, still chuckling. "You? Why would I let you join my criminal gang? You're lucky I haven't killed you already."
Luminas took a deep breath, apparently inoculated against the threat to her life by Megavolt and company's repeated mention of it. "Because I'm a super-villain," she said, "and I'm good at it."
"Are you?" Negaduck asked, his tone dripping with vitriol. "Name a couple big heists for me then, dollface."
She bristled. "Well, they weren't here, I just got to St. Canard—"
"Oh, I'm more up on current events than you might think," Negaduck interrupted, studying his fingers. "Have you worked with the Beagle Boys over in Duckburg?"
"Er…I met them in a bar once…"
"Taken out Gizmoduck?"
"Uh, he probably doesn't know I exist—"
"Have you robbed a single bank?"
"I, um, haven't needed that kind of cash yet…"
Negaduck shook his head. "And let me guess, you haven't had a single run-in with Darkwing Duck."
"Yes, I have!" Luminas said triumphantly.
Before she could go on, Negaduck waved a dismissive hand. "I know all about the fiasco at the power plant. Hiding in the shadows and popping out after Megavolt's done most of the work doesn't count."
"Gee, thanks, Boss—" Megavolt began, surprised that Negaduck was giving him that kind of credit.
"Shut up, Sparky," the mallard said without looking at him. Crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at Luminas, he said, "So you have a blank résumé. You've caused negligible mindless destruction, you haven't taken out a single doofus hero, and I would guess that, were I to obtain your criminal record, it would be thinner than Bushroot's list of friends. No, wait." He held up a hand. "Nothing could be that miniscule."
Luminas gave him a heated glare. "Look, I've moved around a lot, okay? I've been on the run. I killed some people back in New Duckton, and—"
"Oh, sure," Negaduck said. "What did you do, eyelash-bat them to death?" Flames licked at her fingers and that was the first thing that seemed to interest Negaduck about her at all. "Your super-power might be worth something to me," he admitted casually.
She scoffed. "Yeah, I've heard about what other people's super-powers mean to you."
Negaduck studied her. "You know, part of me enjoys the fact that you have the guts to mouth off to me. Unfortunately for you, it's a pretty small part." Making a dismissive motion with his hand, he said, "I think I'll have to pass. But try coming back when you've done something besides rob convenience stores to steal Gander-ade." When Luminas stiffened, he chuckled nastily. "What, you think I hadn't figured out who was doing that? Sorry, Lumens, or whatever your name is, but I'm surrounded by enough losers on a daily basis. I don't need another one hanging around."
She remained very quiet and very still for a moment. Then she said, in a tone that suggested she was using all of her self-control to keep from yelling, "You know who I think the loser is?"
"Oh, I wonder what you're going to say?" Negaduck said mockingly. "I'm going to be so offended that a two-bit chimney starter thinks I'm a loser."
Her mouth shut and from the looks of it, she was clamping her teeth together. Maybe, Megavolt thought, this wasn't going to go so badly after all.
Then she raised an arm and shot a jet of flame straight at Negaduck's hat.
With an inarticulate shout, the duck ripped the fedora off his head and stamped on it until the flames were gone. The rest of the Fearsome Five didn't move a muscle, except Megavolt, who put a hand briefly to his eyes and shook his head. When he looked up again, Luminas had taken at least one step back, Negaduck's fists were clenched at his sides, and his teeth were gritted. "You have five seconds to get out of my sight," he snarled. "After that, I'm going to stop caring that I just picked up this outfit from the dry cleaners!"
For one absurd moment, it looked like she was going to object. Then her senses returned to her—sort of—because she turned, without looking at anybody, and walked towards the warehouse door, back rigidly straight. No doubt she was going for a dignified exit. Megavolt almost wanted to speak up and tell her that Negaduck was serious about the five seconds, but then again, she was about to find that out firsthand.
"Time's up," Negaduck announced, pulling out a rifle and firing it.
It blew a hole in the wall, missing her only by about a foot, and Luminas bolted the remaining few feet to the door, wrenching it open and leaving it swinging behind her.
"Well," Negaduck said, "would you look at that. Getting up early put me in a bad mood, but this day's already been productive. The only thing that could make it even better would be if I didn't have to look at the four of you…"
The hint didn't have to be given twice. Megavolt, Quackerjack, Bushroot, and Liquidator booked it out the door, and Negaduck slammed it shut behind them, locks clicking into place in case any of them changed their minds—though why they would was beyond Megavolt.
He glanced around the parking lot, but Luminas was, unsurprisingly, already gone. For a purported super-villain, she was kind of a disaster, Megavolt thought. Maybe he should have expected it. Anyone who shot flames from her hands probably wouldn't be the most emotionally stable person in the world.
Quackerjack produced his pogo stick and hopped onto it. "It's been fun," he said with a wave, "but I have toys to create and gamers to terrify—"
"Hold it," Liquidator said, grabbing Quackerjack by the collar of his enormous ruff just as the jester was about to bounce away. As Quackerjack made strangled sounds and massaged his throat, Liquidator said, "I want to discuss an opportunity with the three of you. Where can we meet?"
There was silence. Quackerjack coughed and said, "I'd offer my toy factory, but the thing is, see, I was working on these toy soldiers, and somehow they started strapping on bomb vests and taking out everything around them…"
"Tasteful, as always," Liquidator sneered. "What's the problem?"
"They set up a perimeter around the door so if you go inside you might get your foot blown off." Quackerjack looked musing. "I'm going to have to figure out a way around them…I could probably rappel in from the ceiling…"
Bushroot looked despairing at this, and, with a long-suffering shake of his head, offered, "We can go to my greenhouse. It's safe."
"Is it?" Megavolt asked meaningfully, rubbing at his backside where one of Bushroot's plants had "defended" itself against him with a large and very pointed spike. All he'd been doing was trying to re-charge! So maybe he took out a few daisies. Bushroot could grow more. Luckily its aim had been bad.
Liquidator snapped his fingers. "Safety is always a relative term when it comes to super-villains. Reggie's greenhouse it is."
"And when should I expect the company?" Bushroot asked, not sounding all that pleased about the prospect.
The watery canine grinned before swirling into a sewer grate. "Last one there's Darkwing bait."
The Ratcatcher roared down the road, morning sunlight glinting off its newly waxed body, as Darkwing kept a watchful eye out for any potential crimes. Not that there were likely to be any at this time—heck, there was still rush hour traffic—
"DW, look out!" Launchpad's shout made Darkwing glance towards the traffic in front of him, which was at a complete standstill.
He slammed on the brakes and the Ratcatcher came to a stop just in time, its front tire inches from the bumper of the car in front of him. "Thanks," Darkwing said sheepishly to his sidekick, who had resumed eating the box of donuts that they'd picked up for breakfast. "Guess my mind's someplace else."
"No problemo," Launchpad said. "What're sidekicks for?" Popping another donut in his mouth, he asked, "Thinking about that new villain, huh?"
Drumming his fingers on the handlebars and craning his neck to see what was causing the hold-up, Darkwing said, "Thinking about him and trying to figure out what his game is. If we assume that he's the one grabbing all the Gander-ade, then there aren't any unexplained crimes in the city."
"Well, that's good, right?"
"Good but boring," Darkwing grumbled. "Anyway, we have a new super-villain on our hands here. They normally go for something a lot flashier for their first crime in St. Canard than stealing bottled drinks. Are you sure there was nothing on the crime report for this morning?"
Launchpad shook his head. "Not a thing."
The brake lights of the car in front of him blinked off and Darkwing took his own foot off the Ratcatcher's brake pedal and put it on the accelerator, ready to move out, only to have to frantically stop again as the car only inched forward by about a foot. Darkwing blew on the Ratcatcher's horn—a moral victory, if nothing else—and slumped over the handlebars, then glanced over as his sidekick, still happily chowing down. "Say, LP, any of those donuts left?"
"You're in luck," Launchpad said cheerfully. "Last one!"
Darkwing took it and ate it happily, musing that a decent criminal would steal donuts, not sports drinks. Then again, the donut had made him thirsty, thirsty enough that a Gander-ade sounded pretty good. There was a convenience on the other side of the street, and as the traffic was still going nowhere, Darkwing revved the Ratcatcher, made a U-turn, and zoomed into an available parking spot in front of it.
"Is this place going to be hit next?" Launchpad asked, sounding excited.
"Er," Darkwing said, "that's…exactly what I'm going in to check on! Just a little investigative work by this city's most vigilant vigilante!"
"I'll come in and scope the place out, too," Launchpad said.
Regretting his pronouncement slightly—he really just wanted to get downtown to the art museum, or the toy store—Darkwing said, "Oh, sure. Hey, would you mind grabbing a Gander-ade for me?"
The two of them entered the store, which was mostly empty, besides a few commuters buying a cheap cup of coffee. For a few minutes, Darkwing paced around, making a great show of studying the drink cases which were, indeed, fully stocked with Gander-ade. Launchpad picked a couple out and headed up to the cash register, where he got in line behind a young woman.
"Oh—darn it, I don't have any change," the woman at the register was saying as she dug around in her pockets. "Look, I'm only ten cents short, can't you give it to me?" Darkwing perked up, his natural gallant tendencies aroused.
"Sorry, lady, that ten cents comes out of my paycheck," the clerk said boredly.
Her ears swiveled backwards in irritation but she shoved her bottle of Gander-ade towards the clerk. "Fine," she snapped. "You're lucky you still have any of this stuff to sell."
Darkwing stepped in at that moment, a dime in his fingers. "Excuse me, I think I have this covered," he said grandly. The cashier blew a bubble with her gum and took the ten cents, along with the change that the surprised girl had put down on the counter. "Thank-you-come-again," she said in a monotone.
"Er, thanks," the young woman said to Darkwing, grabbing her bottle and stepping away from the counter. She was dressed like she'd been out all night clubbing, in a short black dress and tall black boots, and black gloves shoved into one pocket.
"The pleasure was mine, madam," he said, tipping his fedora to her.
She wiped her hands on her dress, and Darkwing noticed there was soot in the creases of her palms. Without saying another word, though, she slipped out the door. Darkwing watched her go, his eyes narrowed slightly. His keenly honed vigilante senses were going off, but he couldn't put his finger on why. With a shrug, he turned back towards Launchpad, who had just finished paying for their own Gander-ades.
"Find anything, DW?" Launchpad asked cheerfully.
No, not a thing, but he wasn't about to admit that. Darkwing cleared his throat. "Considering that this is one of the few convenience stores that hasn't been robbed yet, it seems prudent to keep a watchful eye on it." He peered around, then leaned closer to Launchpad and said in a low tone, "We'll be back tonight. If our fiery felon wants his Gander-ade, he'll have to get through Darkwing Duck first."
He twisted open his bottle and took a swig of it, then choked. This villain, whoever he was, sure wasn't stealing Gander-ade to drink the stuff. Blech. Whatever he was doing with it, Darkwing intended to find out.
Megavolt rapped on the door to Bushroot's greenhouse, still stewing about Quackerjack's antics during the drive over. During those times that Megavolt was in a good mood, Quackerjack was…fun. Madder than a March hare, of course, but he wasn't bad company, and there was definitely a…a…heck, a kinship between them. They could be, Megavolt guessed, close, depending on the situation.
Today had not been one of those situations, and it perhaps went without saying that Megavolt wasn't in a good mood. That idiot jester had spent the first three-quarters of the drive bouncing all over the road in front of Megavolt's car on that stupid pogo stick of his—and once or twice actually on top of the car—causing Megavolt to side-swipe a semi, two minivans, several innocent street lights, and an electric car, whose owner he'd shouted his apologies to. After he'd skidded along the median for several feet, he'd gotten fed up, stuck a finger out the window, and zapped Quackerjack, timing his bolt of electricity for maximum pain and injury, possibly death depending on how and where the duck hit the ground.
There was a bang on the greenhouse glass and Megavolt jumped back, sparks flying of his hat, as he frantically searched for the source of the sound with every intention of frying it. Bushroot's plants would not come after him again—
But when he looked through the glass wall, he could see Bushroot's pet Venus fly trap pawing at it, tongue hanging out while it slobbered everywhere.
"Who is it, Spike?" came Bushroot's voice. "If it's that Quackerware salesman again, I swear—oh, it's you."
"Those Quackerware people won't leave me alone, either," Megavolt said as Bushroot opened the door. "I've actually been tempted to buy that stuff once or twice, it holds up really well when they use it as a shield against my voltage." Spike jumped at him and Megavolt swatted at the Venus fly trap before Bushroot pulled it away.
As the door shut behind them, water poured out of the hose, coalescing into Liquidator as he said, "Don't be fooled by inferior products and deceptive marketing!"
"Huh, you should talk," Megavolt said.
"It takes an expert swindler to know one," Liquidator replied with a grin.
Looking around the greenhouse, Megavolt asked, "So why are we here?" A palm frond was dangling in his face, and he brushed it aside impatiently. That elicited a flash of panic in Bushroot's eyes before the plant-duck hastily motioned to the tree, which then lifted its leaves higher.
"All in good time," Liquidator said. "We can't have a meeting of the Fearsome Four without our fourth member, after all."
Bushroot raised his eyebrows, probably at Liquidator's inflection, and Megavolt said casually, "He got held up."
Not for long, though, because the jester arrived shortly, his energy moderately dissipated, his affection for Megavolt noticeably cooler, and his pogo stick, the rat was pleased to see, significantly mangled. The two of them bickered until Quackerjack picked up one of Bushroot's potted flowers and slung it at Megavolt's head—at that point, the plant-duck intervened and insisted everyone just calm down.
"Liquidator," Bushroot said, clutching several plants to his chest, "maybe you can tell us what this is about before Quackerjack destroys any more of my violets?"
"The Liquidator is only too happy to comply," he replied with a wide smile, then motioned for the others to move closer. "It occurs to me that our emerging fiery competitor may have just provided us with an advantage in today's overcrowded super-villain market," he said.
"How so?" Bushroot asked curiously.
Megavolt cocked his head, an odd, and unexpected, pang of guilt worming through him at the way everything had gone with Luminas. "Yeah," he echoed. "How so?"
Liquidator gave him a look that made Megavolt uncomfortable. He always seemed like he knew what was going on in other people's heads, and Megavolt didn't appreciate it. "We can use her as leverage," Liquidator said. "Negaduck wants to be a controlling interest in our limited liability company—"
"Who has liability? Not me," Quackerjack giggled.
Ignoring him, Liquidator went on, "—but we're not happy with the financial arrangement."
"My dignity's not too happy with the arrangement, either," Bushroot muttered.
Liquidator put a hand on his shoulder. "Exactly."
"So what are you suggesting?" Megavolt asked, putting his hands on his hips.
"I'm suggesting we help her," Liquidator said flatly. "For the low, low price of being in eternal debt to the four of us, the lovely Luminas can join the city's most fearsome villains, provided we give Negaduck an incentive to sign the dotted line and agree. The Liquidator can even offer her an interest free, introductory rate."
Bushroot glanced at him, looking bemused. "I'm surprised—I figured you'd be the last one to want her to join. Won't a sixth member cut into your profit margins?"
Raising a finger, Liquidator said, "Ah, but as you so astutely pointed out, my green friend, you can't put a price on dignity."
Quackerjack perked up at this. "You're not saying we use her to take out Negaduck, are you?"
One of Liquidator's eyebrows arched while Bushroot's and Megavolt's eyes snapped from Quackerjack back to him. Was that what Licky was implying? Sure, all of them had thought about killing Negaduck before—if anyone deserved it, it was him—but he'd proven his stranglehold over them time and again. And the plan was to have Luminas take him out? Luminas was…well, she didn't exactly seem all that on top of…anything.
"Haven't you ever heard of subliminal advertising?" the dog asked.
"Wait, wait," Megavolt said, waving his hands in front of him. Bushroot looked terrified at the mere suggestion of doing Negaduck in, which put them in rare total agreement. He glared at Liquidator and jabbed a finger into the side of his own head, demanding, "Are you insane? Last time we tried to kill Negaduck—"
"—there was an unlikely and unfortunate intersection of events and market factors that even the savvy businessman couldn't have predicted." He glanced at Bushroot, which seemed to soften his expression. "Of course, I would never make any business decision without one hundred percent approval from all board members. Well." He paused and grinned wolfishly. "With one exception."
"I don't approve," Megavolt snapped.
Giving him a cool look, Liquidator replied, "Market research only suggests that we keep the option open. And it would further the risk-reward ratio to have someone around who owes us."
"Licky has a good point," Quackerjack offered. "Negaduck controls the game and I'm tired of playing by his rules. I say we do it." He folded his arms over his chest. "He stopped playing fair a long time ago. Besides, we don't have to send Fireball in to kill Negs. Not right away at least."
"So now we're sending her in to kill him?" Megavolt asked.
Quackerjack's eyes gleamed. "Aw, did you get attached to her?"
"No!" he snapped. "But, you know, she's—we were all starting out once, and I just think…" He was seriously regretting ever opening his mouth. Because he didn't care about Luminas. He certainly wasn't attached to her, the idea was preposterous. He'd only met her yesterday! And frankly, if he never saw her again, it wouldn't bother him in the slightest. "…I just think she should have a chance to make it," he finished lamely.
The three of them stared at him for a long moment, then Liquidator said, "With this business plan, she'll have it."
Bushroot tapped thoughtfully at his bill with a leafy hand. "And if we do decide it's time to get rid of Negaduck," he said slowly, "who takes the fall when it doesn't work?"
"If, Reggie, if," Liquidator said, drawing a doubtful nod from Bushroot. "And all projections indicate that laying the blame solely at the high-heeled feet of our soon-to-be newest member is just good business sense."
After a moment of thoughtful silence, the plant-duck gave a resigned shrug. "I have a feeling I might regret this, but okay."
Then they all looked at Megavolt, who narrowed his eyes and asked, "I wanna know who's going to talk Negaduck into this."
"The Liquidator will sacrifice himself on the altar of goodwill," the dog said with a grin. "Now, if that's your only concern, are you in, Megavolt?"
He rolled his eyes. Not much point in holding out when they'd all agreed. Besides, Liquidator might say that he wouldn't make any decisions without all of their go-aheads, but he knew perfectly well that two out of three was close enough for the dog. "Oh, fine."
"Good," Liquidator said with finality. "Then if there are no further questions for the presenter, I have an appointment with our grand and glorious leader."
In a moment, he had disappeared back into the hose, leaving the three of them standing in his wake. Quackerjack picked up a few empty pots and began juggling them, and it was a mark of how deep in thought Bushroot was that he didn't stop the jester. Eventually, Bushroot looked at Megavolt and said, "If Negaduck agrees, you should probably be the one to track Luminas down."
This took Megavolt completely by surprise. It wasn't that he'd forgotten, exactly, why he was there, but his mind had drifted to a vaguely formed idea, already in blueprint form in his mind, that seemed promising, though he'd need to get it down on paper to really tell and yeah, it kind of made sense that he'd find Luminas—
His mind came to a screeching halt, and then he looked at Bushroot and demanded, "Why me? You have legs, don't you?"
Bushroot held his hands out. "Well, yes, but it's just—you came to Negaduck's hideout together, I assumed she'd spent the night with you—oh, no, I mean, that's not what I meant—"
"Keep talking, Bushbrain," Megavolt growled, his fingers crackling with electricity. "I could really go for some fried vegetables."
Putting a hand to his forehead, Bushroot said, "I just meant that you've spent some actual time with her. If she's going to trust any of us, it's going to be you, right?"
"I don't get the feeling she's very trusting."
"Well, you know what I meant."
"No, actually, I don't," Megavolt said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Just because I let her come back to my lighthouse, that doesn't mean I have some sort of special…thing with her or something."
Bushroot opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again. Finally, he said, "Look, if it's all the same to you, I already have to deal with one person on a regular basis who can burn me to a crisp. It's not really the most pleasant sensation, so can you just…I don't know, take this one for the team?"
Megavolt stared at him, his eyes narrowed, until he grudgingly acceded, "I guess Liquidator went to see Negaduck."
"Yeah," Bushroot said eagerly, "and that's definitely not going to be fun."
"And I guess I'm less likely to scare her off than Jingles over there," Megavolt said, indicating Quackerjack with a jerk of his head.
"Yep, that's for sure," Bushroot agreed with an emphatic nod.
Megavolt gave him a sidelong look. "And I'm not afraid of everything, like you."
Bushroot continued nodding until Megavolt's words sank in. "Hey!" When Megavolt just shrugged and grinned nastily, the plant-duck scowled and asked impatiently, "So, will you do it?"
Making a face, Megavolt said, for the second time that day, and feeling even more like he was going to regret it than the first time, "Oh, fine."
Negaduck was washing blood off his hands when Liquidator flowed under the door, having already knocked and received a gruff affirmative that he could enter. "Can't you just come in like a normal person?" the duck asked.
"The Liquidator prides himself on being as far from a normal person as it's possible to get."
"Yeah, no kidding," Negaduck muttered sarcastically. "What's this about?"
Forming himself into his normal canine form, Liquidator said, "My fearsome fellows and I have been discussing the business proposition that Megavolt's young associate presented this morning."
With a sneer, Negaduck asked, "Oh yeah? Did you find it as pathetic as I did?"
"I consider any deal presented to me from every angle," Liquidator said. "And I think we should give serious consideration to Luminas's request to join the Fearsome Five."
Negaduck rolled his eyes, turned the faucet off, and dried his hands. "First of all, if she joined, we couldn't be the Fearsome Five anymore, and I happen to like the name. Second of all, I didn't like her."
"The Liquidator feels compelled to point out that you don't like any of us," he said with his most charming smile.
It had never sold Negaduck on anything, and that trend didn't change now. "You know, Bud, I hope you're not trying to pull something," he said, sitting down at a desk and picking up a gun. "If you are, I might just have to pay your family a little visit."
Liquidator stiffened and his smile vanished. He'd prepared himself for this tactic. It didn't make him any less angry to have it used on him, though. "There's no need for that. I've always adhered to the terms and conditions of our contract."
"Contract, schmontract," the duck said with a shrug, cleaning the muzzle of a handgun. "You should know I only hold up my end of a bargain for as long as I feel like it."
Taking a step forward, Liquidator snarled, "Leave them out of this, Negaduck."
Without glancing up at him, Negaduck said casually, "It's pretty ironic, isn't it? I mean, look at you. Nothing can hurt you. You can be frozen solid, crushed, evaporated, turned to cement, and in the end, you always get out of it. But I have to admit, Licky, out of all of you bozos, you've been the easiest to keep in line." He looked up, smiling nastily. "Score one for the cold and heartless, right? We don't have anybody to worry about. By the way, what are your sons' names, again?" The two villains glared at each other, and then Negaduck went on, "Of course, it seems to me that I might not even have to go as far as your estranged family. Things seem pretty cozy between you and the rest of the witless wonders. I might just decide to dispose of one of them…"
Liquidator just smiled coldly. You didn't get to the top in the St. Canard business world by being an honest businessman. A good lie was as useful a tool in the arsenal of a salesman as a wide, reassuring smile. "The Fearsome Five has always been about increasing my own profits. Do what you want to the rest of my villainous co-workers. This is just business."
"Hm." Negaduck eyed him, and Liquidator's nonexistent heart relaxed slightly when the mallard didn't bring up his family again. "Yes, your single-minded obsession with getting richer has always been useful. Which begs the question: why would you be championing a sixth member? That'll cut into your profit margins, Licky."
Bushroot would be one unhappy customer when he found out that he and Negaduck had said nearly the same thing. With an easy shrug, Liquidator replied, "Because the potential for increasing our earnings increases exponentially with another super-powered member. I had Megavolt run the numbers," he threw in, even though he'd done nothing of the sort. But Negaduck was predictably corporate and would rather watch paint dry than consider the realities of a financial endeavor.
"And with our luck Darkwing Drooling Idiot will just recruit a sixth member of his Justice Ducks." Negaduck spat the name like it was profanity. Suddenly, he sat up. "Wait, that's it." He chuckled darkly to himself. "Oh, that's good. Why didn't I think of it before? Tell you what, Liquidator. You like making deals, so here's one. Lighter Hands didn't impress me with the range of her criminal experience."
"And as the powerful and respected leader of a criminal gang, that makes you nervous," Liquidator said. "You do have an image to maintain."
Negaduck smiled smugly. Mean and ruthless, maybe, but just as susceptible to flattery as St. Canard's other caped clown. Liquidator allowed himself an internal eye-roll. Ego had been the downfall of many a mogul, corporate or criminal. "You know, sometimes I wonder how you put up with the rest of those morons," Negaduck remarked. "You're the most with-it villain I've ever met—except myself, of course." He grinned more widely. "So here's my offer. I'm tired of Darkwing Duck destroying my depraved designs. If Charcoal Breath can kill that do-gooder, then she can join." He chuckled. "And if she gets taken out while she's trying, then at least I don't have to think about her anymore."
Liquidator mulled that over. Negaduck's stipulations were minimal, which could only work to his, and his comrades', advantage. "I believe I can speak for my partners in crime by accepting your offer," Liquidator said.
Experience had taught Liquidator that if Negaduck looked pleased, things might shortly be heading into the red for the people around him. Except this time, he was sure, he had the upper hand, even if the duck thought he was going to come out on top. "Your pal Luminas has three days," Negaduck said. "After that, if Darkwing Duck is still alive and she's still in St. Canard, I'll personally make sure that she finds a reason to leave."
"An offer, I'm sure, that she won't be able to refuse," Liquidator said drily.
He turned to go, starting to form himself into a puddle to slip back under the door, when Negaduck said, "Your family has a lovely home, Liquidator. If I smell a rat, it won't stay that way."
Liquidator kept his expression neutral, nodded once, and slid under the door. On the other side, though, something made him stop, and he heard Negaduck chuckle evilly, "And when you fail, Luminas, just remember—no one gets away with making me mad. Or setting my hat on fire."