For those who haven’t solved the clues to which universe “Code Red” is a fan fiction of yet, it’s about to be revealed here in Chapter 4! As before, the Short Story button on the menu bar is the easiest way to access all previous chapters. Or click here for Chapter 1 if you’re just joining our saga.
“I’m calling my attorney right now! This is kidnapping, or fraud, or, or, something illegal!” Greg Tarleton stuttered from the back seat of the town car.
Whipping out his mobile phone, he unlocked the touchscreen but then cursed under his breath.
“Yeah … about that,” the driver said coyly. “Funny thing about this town car. It’s actually plated with signal barriers. Isn’t that cool how they can do that? I just love technology, don’t you?”
“Look buddy, I don’t know what kind of ransom you’re asking for, but just wait ’til you face my lawyer. She’ll have your head for this!” The man’s voice boomed.
“If she’s hot she can have more than just my head,” the driver said, glancing back at Tarleton in the rear view mirror and winking.
The driver’s playful arrogance was making anger eclipse Tarleton’s panic over the revelation about the Swiss assets being discovered, though who knew if that was actually true. Tarleton wedged his phone back into his pocket and drummed his sausage-like fingers on the arm rest.
“How much?” the executive asked curtly.
What is this, some kind of joke?! And why does this guy sound so familiar? Despite the tint on the town car windows, the blinding angle of the setting sun made it difficult to get a good look at the bushy bearded driver.
“Cut the crap, buddy. We both know that you — whoever the hell you are — found out about the hidden assets and are blackmailing me to keep you quiet. So, how much?”
“Oh, no price tag. I don’t need any extra pocket change, thanks,” said the driver. The car pulled up to a red light, and the driver settled back in his seat, stretching out a single hand on the steering wheel. “Nah, extortion isn’t really my thing. See, I like to think of myself as a good guy. Some people may accuse me of being a tad cocky or dramatic, but I think it’s all warranted.”
“Don’t need any extra pocket change?!” Tarleton sputtered. “You’re a petty criminal dressed as a limo driver!”
Rush hour traffic was in full force. The light had turned green and now red again, yet the car had barely moved at all. Outside on the street, horns honked wildly as more cars tried to maneuver into their lane.
“Oh! You like my costume? I thought I looked rather dashing, wouldn’t you say?” The driver smiled at his reflection in the rear view mirror, straightening his bow tie and stroking the heavy brown beard that covered his entire lower face.
“Costume?! Jesus Christ did you just escape from an institution?”
The driver ignored the question. “Ya know, Nick said I should leave collecting you to someone less … high profile … than myself, but sometimes it’s good just to be out among the plebs, don’t you think?”
At this, Tarleton unbuckled his seat belt, grasped onto the headrest of the front passenger seat, and hoisted his round body as much as he could in the town car. He maneuvered so that his pointy nose was mere inches from the driver. Greg’s face beamed even redder in the glowing late afternoon sun.
Suddenly, the driver pressed a button near a cup holder, and a small panel opened in the dash, revealing a taser that shot forward on a mechanical arm and stopped within an inch of Tarleton’s face. Giant beads of sweat rolling down his forehead, the executive quickly yanked his pudgy neck back and sat back down in the back seat.
“Nuh, uh, uh,” the driver said, tsk-ing as if the angry executive were nothing more than a lingering mosquito. “I may be here to rescue you, but that doesn’t mean I trust you, Tarleton.”
“Rescue me?! Jesus Christ, you just kidnapped me! Who the hell could you possibly be rescuing me from?”
“Greg, Greg, Greg,” said the driver evasively, sounding amused. He scrunched up his face and scratched at his bushy beard. “We’ll have plenty of time to chat once you’re debriefed and we know you’re not bugged.
“I’m feeling generous today, though, so I’ll give you a little hint. This is about way more those hidden assets. My group, well, we’ve got bigger fish to fry than some illegal Swiss accounts.”
“Your group?” asked Tarleton bitterly.
The town car rolled to a stop at yet another red light.
“Yeah, Greg, you might have heard of a few of my buddies,” the driver said with a smirk. With that, he leaned around, his left arm stretched lazily to the wheel, and used his free hand to peel back his beard in one swift motion. Handsome with twinkling brown eyes and a neatly trimmed goatee, the driver flashed a perfect smile at the executive.
“T-t-tony–” Tarleton stuttered, gasping.
“You can call me Mister Stark.”