Hammer couldn't remember anymore how long he'd been locked up. It seemed like years. Sure, whoever built this place tried to make it look less like a cage, but anyone who thought this was anything close to a country club had obviously never been a member of a real one. No masseuse. No drink service. No beautiful women in bikinis. And the food absolutely sucked. He didn't expect them to serve organic gelato and salmon carpaccio, but the reality was far worse than he could have imagined. It was even worse than public school cafeterias, and doubly so because he had no other choice, day in and day out. Bland, overcooked, and everything was either mushy slop or hard enough to chip a tooth. They couldn't even make a decent slice of toast.
Stark had been right about the twink thing and while it sickened Hammer to be used like that, at least it bought him protection from having his “pretty boy” face bashed in and his stomach punched every time he turned around. A couple of his “protectors” even slipped him an occasional butterscotch or hard peppermint because they thought he was getting so weak that he'd end up in the infirmary, and therefore not available to be their toy. Hammer didn't ask where they got candy, but he'd lost any kind of pride that might have provoked him to refuse. He dreamed of tootsie pops nearly every night.
“Hammer, you got an attorney consultation,” one of the guards droned.
That's odd. I fired all my lawyers. Maybe one of them was trying to get back on his payroll. He would utterly enjoy telling whoever it was to go to hell. No one had ever visited him before, but he was fine with that. He didn't want to be seen like this. He would have refused the lawyer too, but for the promise of some entertainment. He made no comment as he followed the guard to the visitation area. He was led to a different room from the one where all the other guys saw their wives, girlfriends, kids, and mothers. The door was marked “Confidential.”
The guard opened the door and stepped aside to let Hammer enter, then he left and locked the door behind him. The prisoner saw immediately this was not one of his lawyers. He couldn't be older than 25 and he wore a suit that looked like he got it off the rack at Wal-Mart. He was also quite ethnic, like maybe Mexican or Indian or something. Hammer didn't really know how to tell races apart, except he didn't think he was African-American. The hair was jet black, but straight. Has to be an intern or office flunky. “If you're from Bowker, Simon, and Doubleday, I'm not changing my mind. The entire firm is fired and that's final.”
“Please sit, Mr. Hammer,” the man said with a heavy accent. It sounded like the typical customer support accent—India or the Philippines.
Hammer slid into the chair. “Where are you from?”
“My name is Amar Tariq Deshpande. I was hired by your sister.” Here, he paused to give him a probing look.
Does he know? Hammer shook his head mildly. “I don't have a sister.”
“Really?” Amar Whatever opened a file folder. “Records indicate your mother gave birth to a girl five years before you were born. Ashley Marie Hammer.”
“She died in a drowning accident at age three.”
“Yet she owns a Swiss bank account and several other holdings which you manage for her.” The file folder yielded up bank statements, property deeds, dummy corporation documents and various other pieces of evidence that could get Hammer in serious trouble with the IRS—maybe even more trouble than he was already in. He laid them out on the table, making sure Hammer could see what each piece of paper represented.
“You're my lawyer, right? This is privileged information,” Hammer warned, slapping his hands down on the papers.
The dark-skinned man carefully gathered all the documents back into the file folder, pulling them firmly from under his grasp without asking permission or offering apology. “Since, as you pointed out, you have no sister, then it is true no one has hired me as your lawyer. Therefore, you will cease speaking to me as if I am beholden to you. I am not your employee. However, you should consider perpetuating this cover with the guards and other inmates, because only lawyers may speak to prisoners without the security cameras and listening devices.”
So this slick young darky had dirt on him, and he knew there was still money out there that he'd managed to keep hidden. Hammer had originally done it for tax purposes, but he'd also kept it from from his lawyers, so they couldn't sell it off like they'd already done his house, his cars, and all his stock in Hammer Industries. “So what is this, blackmail? You handle my appeal and take all my...” he curled twin fingers in air quotes, “sister's property in payment, and if I refuse, you leak that file and I get further screwed.” Hammer tried not to think of the literal ramifications of the word he chose, but everyone said this was the 'easy' place to do time. He couldn't wrap his head around anything actually worse.
Amar showed no shock on his face and his voice was calm when he spoke. “Actually, Mr. Hammer, we don't want any of this.” He lifted the file about four inches and dropped it back on the table.
“I am not at liberty to reveal who sent me. You are not in any position to demand that information, so I suggest you banish your curiosity.”
“You dug up my secrets, but you're not here to cash in, so what do you want?”
“We wish to do for you what you did for Ivan Vanko. Wonderful, the irony, is it not?”
This guy said he wasn't his lawyer, so Hammer wasn't sure if he could still claim attorney-client privilege. “What do you think I did?”
Darky opened his briefcase and placed the file folder in it. “If you don't want our help, that is your concern. Good day, Mr. Hammer.”
“Wait. I didn't say I didn't want your help. Come on. I don't have any idea who you are or what you want. How do I know I can trust you?”
He shrugged. “You do not. But you did not ask Vanko if he wanted your help before you gave it to him, did you?”
The man had a point. He'd gone to the trouble of lying about being his lawyer so they could talk privately. How much better could Hammer really expect it to get? “You're right. Don't go.”
“I am here to help you, but do not make the mistake of thinking you are in control of this deal. You will owe us and if you do not keep your side of the bargain—”
“You'll take everything I have left.”
Amar nodded curtly. “After we kill you.”
Before he arrived here, Hammer wouldn't have agreed to anything that put him in anyone else's debt to that degree or risked jeopardizing his legal appeal. But his outlook had changed. This place was intolerable and he was ready to do anything to get out. “What's my side of the bargain?”
“We want Iron Man.”
Get in line. Hammer bit down the urge to say it aloud. “I had two dozen drones and a Russian genius with badass armor and it wasn't enough. I don't have any of that anymore and last I heard, Hammer Industries was being chopped up and sold in pieces.”
“It is rumored you are a smart man. When you come up with a plan, we will get you out. I will check back in a week.”
“Wait. A week? No!” Panic entered his tone, although he fought to hide it. “I know how to get to him: Pepper Potts. Kidnap her and demand the armor as ransom. If he doesn't have his suit, Stark is just a blowhard. Bullet to the brain and he's gone.” He surprised himself with the level of violence he was suggesting. Publicly, he'd always treated their rivalry like professional wrestling—a lot of smack-talk and posturing, just to keep them both in the press. They could even pretend to be civil if the situation warranted it. But prison had changed him. He still wanted Stark's reputation ruined and he really wanted him to suffer, but in the end, nothing was as important as removing him from the picture—permanently.
Darky quirked a brow. “This plan would be acceptable. Are you certain you can do it?”
“You already know what I'm capable of or you wouldn't be here, would you?” Hammer felt some of his old swagger return. It wouldn't come fully until he was out of this place, but he felt more like himself than he had on months.
The mysterious “lawyer” reopened the briefcase and removed the file folder again. He shuffled through the documents and selected one to set in front of his “client” on the table. “We highly recommend this as your base of operations. It was the most difficult item to connect to you and we erased the connection after we found it. No one will find you here.”
Hammer grinned. He hadn't been there in a while, but it was indeed a very stealthy little hideaway. “Yeah, I can fly us out there.”
“No you can't. Your pilot was an employee of Hammer Industries and your Gulfstream G5 was not in your sister's name.”
Which meant it was no longer his. Damn. “Do I have any resources at all?”
Amar patted the folder. “Only what's in here. But as I said, we wish to assist you. You should be ready to give us a list of your needs as soon as we perform the extraction.”
Extraction. I like that. “So what's the plan? File in a cake?”
The briefcase was still open. The lawyer moved more papers out of the way and pulled out what looked like a plastic brownie pan in a ziplock bag. He removed it from the briefcase and then removed the pan from the bag, carefully keeping it horizontal. Hammer could now see the “pan” contained a pink powder. Also in the bag was a small jar of petroleum jelly, which the lawyer passed to him. “Apply this to your entire face.”
Hammer removed his glasses and smeared the greasy gunk on his face. This was rather beneath him, but wasn't everything in this hellhole? He didn't want to give his benefactor any reason to run out.
Darky twisted off the cap of a water bottle and dumped it in the pan. Using what looked like a fudgesicle stick (Who got to eat that? Hammer wondered miserably), Amar stirred the water and powder together. It formed a pink liquid and then a gel, at least, that's what it looked like to Hammer with his glasses off. Amar stopped stirring and slid the pan across the table to Hammer. “This is for your face impression.”
“Wait. How am I supposed to breathe?”
“It is quick-set. You can hold your breath for ten seconds, can you not?”
Why did this feel like the set-up to some cruel practical joke? He stared at the pink goop.
His hesitation provoked Darky to the harshest tone yet. “Do it now or your extraction will be delayed.”
Hammer leaned over the table, drew a deep breath, and lifted the pan up to meet his petroleum jelly-greased face. The stuff squished into his eye sockets, around to his ears, and under his chin. He had a good idea what it was going to be used for, so he did his best to keep still while the mud hardened. He counted off the seconds in his head, but left it there a little longer for good measure.
“Lift slowly from one end,” Amar instructed.
Hammer pulled the chin end first. A sucking noise accompanied the release of the vacuum and a perfect imprint of his face remained in the plastic tray.
The lawyer returned the tray and the vaseline jar to the plastic bag, zipped it closed, and hid it beneath file folders and papers in the briefcase. He tossed Hammer a wet-nap.
As the prisoner cleaned the petroleum jelly from his face, the lawyer latched the briefcase and stood. “We will be in touch, Mr. Hammer.”