Hammer was pleased with the video he got out of Potts. Of course, he didn't plan on getting his finger bitten, but that gave him plenty of justification to kick the bitch, and that felt quite gratifying. Women got way too many allowances in the corporate world and it felt great to finally be able to remove the kid gloves and treat her like an equal. Once he had the raw footage, it was no problem to just edit out the bad parts.
But he had no intention of calling Mr. Prom King Rock Star so he could whine about not talking to her live. Oh, no. Hammer was in charge this time and he wasn't planning on giving any ground to his metal britches rival. No call meant no trace. Besides, there wasn't a cell tower within miles of here.
He recorded his own message to Stark from his webcam, added the edited video from his little exchange with Potts, and put it all on a mass-produced USB jumpdrive. The jumpdrive was sealed up in a padded Overnight Express flat rate envelope (postage already paid, in cash, a month ago, according to Amar). Hammer addressed it to Anthony Edward Stark, care of Stark Industries' New York executive offices. If he wasn't already in New York, someone would call him. He only put "Hammer Industries" in the return address, not wanting to spoil the surprise too soon. He grinned at his handiwork and peeled the wrapper off a new cherry Tootsie Pop to celebrate.
In addition to that convenient platinum credit card he'd supplied, Amar had hired some muscle dudes, gunmen, and various other mercenaries—gophers, drivers, lookouts, and such. Hammer liked having goons again. He was the brains, but when it came to petty stuff, he had "people" for that. He summoned one of the gopher-goons.
Hammer held the envelope back as he studied the guy. He didn't care about his own fingerprints. Stark was going to know it was him anyway, but he didn't want any of his goons traced. There was no telling where Amar dug them up. "Put some gloves on first—winter or work ones, nothing that'll make you stand out." Normal people didn't walk around with rubber gloves on.
The gopher pulled some driving gloves from a jacket pocket and put them on.
Hammer extended the envelope. "Take it to Queens and find an Express mailbox and drop it in. It's just a jumpdrive, not Anthrax or ammo or anything illegal. No need to hide or act paranoid. You're just mailing an envelope. Be casual."
The guy nodded and took the package. Surely any idiot could do this, couldn't he?
"No big hurry either. Watch the speed limits," Hammer warned to his back.
Another nod from Gopher Goon, who didn't even look back.
Hammer took a few minutes to savor the glorious cherry sweetness in his mouth that matched the sweetness of his mood. He was safe here, in the Villa. He held the trump card and Stark was finally going to be taken down a few pegs. Life was good.
"I ain't gonna deal with that bitch if you let her shit her pants," some muscle dude said as he approached from the direction of Potts' holding cell. "She smells bad enough after pissing herself."
Much as Hammer relished her tied up, helpless, and as uncomfortable as possible, the goon had a point. There was a toilet in the room, but she couldn't use it as she was. Reluctantly, he said, "We got what we needed. Go ahead and untie her."
Muscle Goon mumbled something about opening his big fat mouth and risking rabies.
Hammer pretended he didn't catch it. He was tempted to go watch, but he was slightly nervous Potts would break loose and knee someone in the nuts or something. Sure, Muscle Dude could eventually subdue her, but Hammer had already been bitten once. No need to go risk his nuts too.
Instead, he wandered to the kitchen to see what was for dinner. The cook Amar hired, a guy named Mel, wasn't anywhere near the culinary artist Hammer had once had as his personal chef, but since anything was better than prison food, this hash-slinger wasn't so bad.
"What's on the menu?" Hammer asked.
"Chili and cornbread," Mel stated flatly.
Not Hammer's favorite, but it smelled homemade and fresh, and still zillions of times better than anything he'd eaten at Club Fed.
"Do we have cheese?"
"Just cheddar," the guy said.
Not so long ago, Hammer would have turned his snobby nose up at that. He could eat a hundred dollars worth of fine imported cheeses with his aperitif and not give it a second thought, but this was not that life. "Mmm. Sounds great, Mel," he said sincerely.
He grabbed a bottle of Pepsi from the fridge and twisted off the cap. After removing the lolly from his mouth, he tipped the bottle back and guzzled the sweet nectar of life with total abandon. Carbonation burned a little still, but he was starting to get re-acclimated to all the things he'd missed.
Some of those things still had to wait, but Hammer had a lot more patience now that he was out of the hellhole. Like the ransom demand—a call would have been fifty times faster, but it meant giving up too many advantages. Besides, it had to drive Stark, the King of Impulse, crazy to be kept waiting. The delay represented only a minor inconvenience to Hammer as long as he was comfortable and safe here in the Villa.
He set the Pepsi down and returned the lolly to the corner of his mouth. Ah, the delicious sugar rush.
Muscle Goon came out of Potts' holding cell with what looked like bloody panties in his hand. Hammer didn't give a damn if the guy had raped her while she was still tied up. How many times had he had to endure rape over the past months? All of that was her fault. She was just a means to an end now. Since she'd done her part for the ransom recording, she was almost (but not quite) expendable. But unless Muscle Dude retaped her mouth, it could have been a rather dangerous proposition. Hammer couldn't decide if he was envious or not. She was such a bitch and not even that pretty.
"I didn't do this," Muscle Dude said in response to the stare. "She took 'em off herself 'cuz the piss made 'em wet and she was cold. Kinda freaked when she saw the blood though."
"She's just trying to make you feel sorry for her. Women bleed like that every month."
He held a dry corner of the underwear by the smallest bit of thumb and forefinger he could manage. "What do they do with these then?"
"Chuck 'em," Hammer said. What did Potts think this was, her personal Chinese laundry? She had better not complain when she took the nasty little rag off herself.
"Can I give her a blanket? I think she really is cold. Her lips were turning blue and shit."
Hammer waved indifferently. "I don't care."
"How about water?"
It really wouldn't do to have her die of thirst, at least not before Amar's friends had what they wanted. "Yeah, whatever."
"Food?"She didn't deserve it. She should have to suffer, like he did. "If there's any cornbread left after all of us eat, she can have that. Nothing else." How poetic was it to feed her bread (of a sort) and water? Damn, that was almost as good as his 'they're about to run out of ink' line he'd thought up for the Expo. He was the genius this time and nothing was going to stop him. He was going to win.