Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The important parts of my momentous conversation with Greyghost:

"First thing. Who's this trying to kill me?"

"The short answer to your question is Underhand."


"The long answer. Empire City has always had an extensive criminal underworld. Many competing organizations lived in shifting equilibrium with each other. Then, in the late 1980s, the appearance of super-powered criminals destroyed that balance. One man was able to take control of the situation. He assembled his own roster of super-powered criminals and methodically drove out all others who had power.

"First he assassinated Tobias Whale and Billy Ring. Then he settled down for a long war against the others. He had Luther Mahoney jailed. Joe Broz and Chairface Chippendale left town. He forced Arnold Zeck to surrender and bought off Chodo Contague. Finally, five years ago, he ran Kien Phuc to the ground and killed him. Now he is the only authority over crime in Empire City, and his influence extends elsewhere on the East Coast as well.

"I am trying to catch him at it."

"Who is he?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know? You just gave me his life story. Who is he?"

"Nobody knows who he is. His lieutenants refer to him as Underhand."

"'Underhand', for God's sake. What is with you guys? Why can't he call himself 'George'?"

"As I say, I've been trying to find out who he is. It has proven to be both difficult and dangerous. So Cruickshank and I have developed a plan to draw him out. We've invented a man, Dieter Solarin, a Bardician weapons dealer, and we're going to use this identity to threaten Underhand's financial interests. Your trip to the bank was preliminary to this process."

"And this guy's guys" [I refused to call him 'Underhand'] "are already checking out Solarin, and found out about John Caruthers from somewhere, and are trying to track him down."



"If they look long enough, eventually they'll find you. It's more likely that they'll lose interest. I plan to give them more urgent things to worry about."

"I don't just want to rely on that. I'd rather, you know, do something."

"Yes. Unfortunately I have no advice for you. Short of living in this office around the clock, there isn't anything that will keep you safe. Your best defense is anonymity, and that's beyond our control."

"So I should just trust you."

"You mean, as I'm trusting you? Yes, but more than that: you should help me."

That was a nasty thing to say. Not only did it imply that these guys, whoever they were, might want to try torturing Greyghost's secret identity out of me, and that it was up to me to resist it, but also that I had signed up for a war against all the crooks in Empire City without noticing it. For months I had felt like the guy who just feeds the fish and drives the car, while my boss was out doing something that didn't affect me. I liked it better that way.

"Where's Bardicia?"

"Mm? Oh. It's in the Balkans, between Anatruria and Tsergovia. They've been fighting for their independence for centuries now but they'll never get it."

"And this Dieter Solarin stuff fits into your plan how exactly?"

"You'd do better to ask Cruickshank. He's much more conversant with the finer details than I am. Essentially, I'm trying to do two things: cripple Underhand's organization financially, and provoke him into some kind of action that will expose him. You should read the Underhand file; it's in the cabinets under 'Building Insurance--Grant Street'."

Sneaky. "All right, I will. Now, the next thing. Vacation time..."

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