Jack leaned against the wall at his post, playing a game on his phone. He didn’t care if he got caught; this graveyard shift was seriously dragging. He’d finally talked to Holly and she wasn’t interested. Now he was going to have to deal with seeing her every day, all dark wavy hair and sexy glasses, knowing he’d mucked it up.
The door at the far end of the corridor hissed and Jack fumbled his phone back into his pocket. A man approached, his long black trench coat flapping around his calf boots.
Jack straightened and looked stiffly ahead. “Mr Inkovic, Sir.”
Inkovic nodded at the door and Jack unfroze to swipe his pass and punch in the code. The stern head of security stepped through as muffled cries and the squeal of shoes on polished marble drifted from the far end of the corridor. Jack took a step away from his post. Inkovic cleared his throat and Jack stopped. He backed up to his spot by the door and stood to attention.
The noises grew louder and then a small party turned the corner. Four security personnel surrounded a fifth person. As they neared, Jack could see it was a woman. Her suit jacket hung off her shoulders and her hands were bound behind her back. Two of her escorts held her upper arms and manhandled her forwards.
Jack watched them until Inkovic coughed again and then he fixed his gaze on the end of the corridor. The group moved towards them. When they drew level with Jack the woman dug her heels in.
“Move, bitch!” One of the men hit her in the back of the thigh with a knight stick. She fell to her knees and Jack couldn’t help but look. She lifted her head. Locks of dark hair fell forward from the clip at the back of her head. A gag pulled tight across her mouth and tears gathered in her eyes. She looked up at Jack over glasses that had slipped down her nose.
Her eyes widened and then the two guards by her sides lifted her over the threshold. Jack turned to follow them. “Wait, what’s going on? Where are you taking her?”
Inkovic stepped in front of him. The man was a few inches taller than Jack’s six two, and Jack wasn’t used to looking up to anyone. Inkovic’s eyes darkened and Jack stepped back into the corridor. With a whoosh, the door closed, leaving him alone at his post.
What the hell had just happened?
Jack paused with his key hovering by the lock of his mail box. “Huh?”
The woman beside him smiled. “Apartment 206? You’re Jack, right? I’m Holly. I’m 203.”
“Er, yeah. Hi.”
She turned away to unlock her mailbox. Jack opened his while he tried to think of something else to say. Holly lived in the apartment opposite his. He passed her door at the top of the stairs every day. He knew she did her laundry on Tuesday nights and every Friday she ordered takeout. Why couldn’t he think of anything to say that didn’t make him sound like a creepy stalker? “So, er, how’s things?”
“Good, thanks.” She flicked through her letters. “How you finding the apartment? You’ve been here, what, six weeks?”
“About that, yeah. The apartment’s not bad. The neighbours are great.”
He shuffled through his mail, until he came to an envelope with a red crest and tore it open.
“What’s that?” Holly asked, looking over his shoulder.
“My first paycheck.”
She stared at the letter, forehead creased.
“Umm, listen,” he said. “This might sound crazy, but would you like to get a coffee some time, or dinner maybe?”
Still looking at the letter she took a step backwards. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Jack glanced at the letter and then back at his neighbour. “Why not?”
Holly put her mail in her purse and backed towards the revolving door. “I’m sorry. I just… I don’t date henchmen.” She turned and pushed through the door.
Jack hesitated by the door for the next few moments trying to decide what to do. Clearly something had happened. Perhaps one of the security team had caught Holly trying to break into somewhere restricted. But, surely that didn’t warrant tying her up and hurting her like that.
Did the police know? Should he do something?
A loud bang from the far door made him jump. He grabbed his stun gun. Another impact put a massive dent in the door and a third sent it crashing to the ground. Jack levelled the pistol as the dust from cracked plaster settled. A breeze ruffled his hair but there was only empty space behind the door. He took a step closer.
Something hit him in the back and sent him flying into the wall six feet away. He sagged down, clutched his shoulder and rolled to face his attacker. A bright red cape whipped his face and set his eyes stinging.
“Stay out of my way and you won’t get hurt, kid.”
Kid? Who was this guy calling kid! Jack staggered to his feet. “This is private property, I’ll have to ask you to leave,” he said. He blinked his watering eyes and the figure in front of him swam into focus. “Captain Awesome?”
The lycra suited hero stomped forward and seized him round the neck in one gloved hand. Jack instinctively grabbed the arm but couldn’t get any leverage against the man’s superhuman strength.
“Listen up. Your buddies brought in a girl, which way did they take her?”
Jack let go with one hand to point at the door.
“Good choice. You might want to reconsider your choice of employer.”
He let go. Jack’s bad knee gave way as he hit the ground and he stumbled back. He clutched at his throat. “What the hell is going on?”
Captain Awesome aimed a ringing kick at the door.
“No, I’m serious, because you’re the second person to act like I’m one of the bad guys.”
The Captain flattened the door and strode through. Jack scooped up his pistol and jogged after him.
Captain Awesome disappeared into the labyrinth of corridors but Jack followed the trail of crumpled security guards and smashed doors. As he moved through the building, which seemed far bigger than he’d ever imagined, a siren sounded and flashing lights lit up at every intersection.
He followed the sound of shouts and crashes to a ripped doorway. Beyond, a huge room opened up. Steps descended into a wide, oval amphitheatre and the ceiling rose to a high dome overhead. As Jack reached the door a huge mass of concrete and twisted metal sailed towards him from the arena below. He ducked behind the door frame as it hit and stove in the wall. More yells and bangs echoed from the room beyond; Captain Awesome throwing his weight around.
Jack peered round the debris. The superhero darted around the room in a blur, taking out security personnel as they arrived from various entrances. How could one technology firm need so many security guards? He was starting to suspect he was missing something here.
A platform descended down the opposite wall, bearing a number of security guards wearing a different uniform to his. They guarded a man in a white suit and several others in grey and black business wear. Captain Awesome jumped to the centre of the auditorium, his attention entirely focused on the newcomers.
“Ah, Captain, how good of you to join us,” the white-suited man said.
“Where is Holly Spencer?” His voice was low and gravelly. Jack wondered why the city’s superhero was going to all this trouble for one woman. He didn’t rate his chances if Holly and Mr Lycra pants over there were an item.
“Why, she’s right here.”
Another whir of machinery preceded a muffled shriek. Jack leaned around the blockage in the doorway. To the right the seats parted, and a new platform emerged from below. Holly sat, strapped into a chair covered in lights, cables and copper coils. A shiver ran up Jack’s spine.
“You son of a bi—argh!” Captain Awesome dropped to his knees. Below him a circle in the floor glowed green.
“Now, now, Captain. Language, please.”
“What have you—”
“Done to you? Do you really think I’d lure you here without a way to, ahem, neutralise those pesky powers of yours?”
Jack looked back towards Holly. Inkovic stood beside her, but otherwise she was unguarded. The main attention was on Awesome. He slipped out from behind the wreckage and dropped down to the walkway around the outside of the auditorium, behind the rear row of seats.
“Let her go,” Captain Awesome growled.
“All in due course, Captain. Once I have disposed of you, I’ll get the information I need from your girlfriend and then she’ll be free to go.”
Jack ran, head down, until he reached a set of steps which lead to the platform where Holly was held. He peeked over the back of the seats. The white suited man laughed and the floor beneath Captain Awesome turned yellow. It shone more brightly and the super hero groaned.
Jack checked his stun gun — standard issue with the job — then holstered it and started down the stairs. He approached Holly and Inkovic. Holly glanced at him first and he put his finger to his lips. She looked at Inkovic and then back to Jack. He drew his pistol.
Inkovic turned. “What the hell are you doing here—” he looked down at Jack’s insignia “—newblood?”
Jack hastily dropped the hand with the pistol to his side. “Heard the sirens, sir, I thought—”
“You don’t have clearance for this section. Get back to your post and stay there!”
Inkovic turned back to watching Captain Awesome so Jack shot him in the side of the head. Before Inkovic even sagged to the ground, Jack was at Holly’s side. He untied her gag.
“How do I get this thing open?” He tugged on the metal straps across her wrists.
“How am I supposed to know?”
“Does it have a power switch or something, a key?” He circled the chair. On the back a panel blinked with lights and switches. He tried one and the chair began to hum. He toggled the switch again and the hum died. Bad idea!
In the amphitheatre below, Captain Awesome howled with pain.
“Do something!” Holly twisted to look at Jack. “We have to help him!”
“You don’t think he can handle himself?” Jack said, as he inspected the buttons again.
“I’m trying.” He drew his pistol and aimed at the control panel. This was probably a really stupid idea.
The pulse from the stun gun hit the chair and fizzled across the control panel. The lights went out and with a quiet pop the manacles holding Holly sprung open. She untangled herself and ran to the railing at the front of the platform. Jack joined her. Below, the lighted ring beneath the superhero flared red and the captain arched his back in agony.
“He’s killing him!”
“Would you mind explaining what the hell is going on?”
Holly shot him a withering look and then pointed to the platform. “Your employer, Dr Diablo, is about to kill the one man who can stop his plans to destroy the city and hold the rest of the world to ransom.”
“Dr Diablo, head of Diabolical Industries? The world’s greatest criminal mastermind?”
Jack shook his head.
“Where have you been living, the moon?”
Behind them, Inkovic groaned.
“Come on, we should get out of here.” Jack grabbed her arm.
Holly pointed to the captain. “We can’t just leave him like that. We have to do something.”
“That thing needs power, right? I know where the main breaker room is. We can cut the power to the whole building.”
Holly grinned. “Now that sounds like a plan.”
Jack lead her back the way he’d come in. “Good job your boyfriend left us a route out. My card doesn’t access these areas.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
They jogged side by side through the dim corridors.
“No. He did try to kiss me one time.”
Holly looked over at him. “Jealous?”
Jack’s bad knee buckled and he stumbled mid stride. “Me? No… when you say tried?”
Holly grinned at him.
They reached his post and he paused to get his bearings.
“Er, this way,” he pointed down one of the corridors. “We need to get to utilities. It’s in sub-basement three. Down—”
A fist connected with his face. “Not so fast, newblood,” Inkovic growled.
Jack backpedalled and shook his head clear. Inkovic grabbed for Holly but she ducked out of the way. When Inkovic lunged for her again Jack blocked him. “I should probably make it clear that I quit.”
“Too bad. Good henchman are so hard to come by these days.” He flew at Jack with a series of well-timed punches that Jack was pushed to deflect. He stepped back with every volley, barely blocking each blow. “The army invests so little in hand-to-hand combat these days.”
Jack countered another three showy martial arts moves from his opponent, then ducked in under the next high punch and jabbed his elbow into Inkovic’s ribs. When the man bent forward, Jack brought the back of his head up into his face with a satisfying crunch.
Jack threw his arm around Inkovic’s neck and ran him head-first into the opposite wall. “They teach us to win, not to look good.” Jack growled.
Inkovic dropped onto his hands and knees and Jack aimed a kick at the side of the head, but before he could make contact Inkovic swept his legs out from under him. He landed on his back, bad knee throbbing from the blow.
Inkovic grabbed for him but he rolled away. He came back to his feet, favouring his right leg. The shrapnel damage to his left knee wasn’t up to this sort of punishment. His opponent stood and swiped blood from his nose.
“You’ll pay for this insubordination.” He lunged.
Jack dropped onto his back, brought a boot up into Inkovic’s stomach and used the man’s momentum to flip him over. The man hit the ground hard and awkward. Jack swung himself over on top of him, grabbed two fistfuls of the man’s collar and smashed his head against the floor. Inkovic’s eyes rolled back. Out cold.
Jack staggered to his feet, panting.
“Not bad for a henchman,” Holly said.
“Did you hear the bit where I quit?”
“Yes I did. Now come on, we have to get moving.”
“Right.” He limped after her.
The main utilities room wasn’t even locked. Jack found a couple of flashlights in a cupboard by the door and handed one to Holly.
At the far end of the room stood several massive circuit breakers. Jack threw the first lever and the building answered with a groan. Holly grabbed the next one and the lights went out. Jack switched on his flashlight. They threw the final breaker and the machinery in the room shut down.
“That has to be it,” Holly whispered in the sudden silence.
“We should get out of here before someone comes looking.”
“And we need to get back to Vince.”
“Er, could you just, you know, forget I said that.”
“Captain Awesome’s real name is Vince?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
She hurried out of the room and Jack set off after her.
They passed a dozen henchmen on the way back to the main auditorium, but none tried to stop them. Jack was, after all, one of them, and he was clearly escorting a prisoner into the facility, not out of it.
They reached the door to the auditorium just as Captain Awesome swept away the mangled concrete with one hand. In the other hand he held a struggling Dr Diablo by the back of his jacket and shirt. The hero took one look at Jack’s hand on Holly’s arm, charged forward and hit him in the chest hard enough to throw him into the wall. He slumped down, wheezing.
“Stop it!” Holly yelled. She darted between them before the superhero crushed Jack beneath his boot. “Don’t!”
Awesome paused and readjusted his grip on the squirming villain. “Miss Spencer, I think it’s time you leave.”
“I’m not leaving Jack here, he just saved our asses!”
Jack sat forward, wincing. “I’m okay. You only broke a couple of ribs. I’ll be fine.”
Holly helped him up and he leaned on her as they followed Captain Awesome.
“You know, you don’t seem like such a bad guy.” Holly said.
“I’m not a bad guy!”
“Then why the hell did you take a job working for ‘evil incorporated’?”
“Bad career advice.”
“I got a medical discharge.” He paused to catch his breath. “This career advisor they sent me to, he told me about this place. Said he knew a guy who could get me in, and they pay well.”
“Next time, read the fine print.”
“Let’s get you to an ambulance.”
Once they arrived at the hospital Holly took off. Not that he blamed her. She’d been through a lot. As it turned out one of his broken ribs had poked a hole in his lung, so they admitted him for minor surgery.
The afternoon of the next day, he was sat in his hospital bed watching highlights on ESPN when someone knocked on his door. He muted the TV. “Yeah?”
Holly entered carrying a newspaper and a big helium balloon that said THANK YOU. ”I wanted to see how you were.” She tied the balloon to the rail at the end of the bed.
“I’m doing okay. You should have seen the other guy.”
“I did. He accepted a medal from the mayor today.”
“Is that where you got…” Jack pointed at the balloon.
“Nope, that I got especially for you. Along with this.” She unfolded the newspaper on his lap. “Captain Awesome may have got a medal, but I made sure everyone knew the whole truth.”
The front page headline read “Henchman Turns Hero” and below she’d gotten hold of one his military photos, in full uniform with his army medals.
“Security Guard Jack Canning foiled his employer’s plans to murder beloved city super hero Captain Awesome last night.” Holly read. “A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Canning, along with many other ex-soldiers, was recruited into Dr Diablo’s private army under false pretences.”
Jack picked up the paper and Holly settled on the bed next to him.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Jack scanned down the page. Holly must have gone straight to work as soon as she’d left the hospital. She had details of his family, military exploits, and she’d tracked down the career advisor and exposed a whole network of corrupt recruitment agents working for Diablo.
“Police chief Wells stated, ‘there’s a job for Canning right here if he wants it.’” Jack read.
“She was very impressed.”
“So was I.”
She took the newspaper from him. “Lieutenant Canning is currently recovering in hospital,” she read. “And this reporter really hopes that coffee invite is still open.” She peeked at him over the top of the newspaper.