Welcome to Chapter 6 of “Code Red.” As usual, the easiest way to navigate to prior chapters is through the Short Story button on the menu bar of my blog. Or just click here for Chapter 1.
“You may have more money than God, but this is still kidnapping!” Greg Tarleton snapped at Tony Stark from the backseat of the high security town car.
Tony ignored the comment, whistling to himself as he navigated the vehicle into an unassuming parking garage on a quiet side street. Rolling down the window, he pressed his palm against a slick black touchscreen and punched in a code. A set of thick doors whooshed open, and the town car rolled to a stop in an interior garage.
“I’d have expected more security measures for the Avengers Tower,” the captive executive grumbled from the backseat.
Tony chuckled. “Firstly, it’s Stark Tower, named after yours truly. Secondly, you’ve got another thing coming if you think I brought you to my team’s headquarters. Even people we rescue can’t get in the top security places.”
Greg’s face puffed red, anger flaring again. “Why the hell do you keep saying you rescued me?!”
“The team’ll debrief you in a moment. And before you get any ideas, this building has a cell signal barrier too, so no phone calls.”
Making eye contact with himself in the rear view mirror, Tony adjusted his bow tie one last time, admiring his reflection. “So you like my driver’s uniform, huh? I think I look pretty sexy in it myself.”
The portly executive glowered as Tony escorted him out of the car. A sleek, well-appointed office room greeted the two as Tony badged them in. A man with a round face and warm brown eyes approached as they entered. He wore a lab coat and stuttered slightly as he spoke.
“Nice ensemble, Stark,” said Bruce Banner, his face twitching in a quick smile.
“Why thank you, Brucy! I was just telling our guest here that I do think I look rather fetching in this uniform. Where are the others?”
Bruce Banner led the trio to a windowless conference room. Already seated at the mahogany table were a handsome, clean-shaven man with neatly parted brown hair and a buxom woman with a short, deep red bob.
Tony Stark clapped his hands and rubbed them eagerly. “Well, gentlemen — and, uh, lady — our visitor here is anxious to understand why we’ve rescued him. Or, as he calls it, ‘kidnapping.'”
“That, that’s right! This is, is, illegal! I don’t care how famous or rich you circus freaks are!” Greg snarled.
“Easy there, buddy,” Steve Rogers said calmly. “We’re here to help you. You’ll thank us when you understand what AIM had planned for you.”
Tony immediately noticed Greg’s eyebrows knot visibly at the mention of AIM. Is that confusion … or something else?
“AIM,” Tony began cautiously, “stands for Advanced Idea Mechanics. They’re a rogue scientific think tank.”
“Rogue is a euphemism for bad guys,” Natasha Romanov interjected. She examined her freshly polished nails, as if the present project bored her.
Tony nodded, continuing. “In the interest of security, we obviously can’t go into a lot of detail, but essentially they were planning to kidnap you today and subject you to some experimental testing to use you for their ends.”
“What the hell are you going on about? Do I look like my name would be Abigail Green?!” Greg exploded.
Silence fell over the conference room. A vein bulged in the executive’s forehead, sweat beads forming.
“Abigail Green?” asked Bruce. The crew exchanged confused glances. Greg Tarleton gulped hard, his face reddening.
“Shit!” Tony exclaimed. “He’s not Code Red. We rescued the wrong person!”
“I … thought you kidnapped me for ransom to exchange for her safe return.” He massaged his temple and squeezed shut his eyes before muttering, “God, George is gonna kill me for this…”
“George?” Steve Rogers asked. “As in … George Tarleton, the AIM scientist?”
Natasha sat straight up, eyes widening. “Tony, how on earth did you confuse a young female programmer with this corporate pig who’s apparently in on the job we were trying to foil?”
“SHIELD didn’t give us a gender, let alone a name, Natasha. All the intel SHIELD provided was that AIM was planning to kidnap someone in the Legal Risk department of The People’s Bank.”
“So how’d you land on this scumbag?” Bruce asked.
“I had Jarvis research the asset tag from the IP address SHIELD got their intel from. We couldn’t decrypt anything AIM was transmitting, but we could tell they were tapping into a machine belonging to one Gregory Tarleton.”
“Messaging,” Greg grumbled quietly, pouting like a petulant child.
“What was that?” Bruce asked snappily, slamming his palm on the table.
“AIM wasn’t spying on me, you idiots! We were messaging through my programming logs.” Greg sighed, glancing around at the looks of suspicion. “What? Cat’s out of the bag anyway, why should I care if you know how I talked to them?”
Tony Stark rubbed his forehead, scrunching his face in consternation. Anticipating the follow up questions from his teammates, he elaborated further. “Since we only had Greg’s asset tag and name to go off of, and since SHIELD’s intel didn’t uncover anything about a co-conspirator inside the bank, we thought Greg was the target.”
“… Which means,” said Bruce, breaking the silence, “the real Code Red is out there, still vulnerable to AIM’s plan.”
Greg Tarleton appeared slightly at ease for the first time that evening. He glanced down at his Rolex, his face smug.
“I hate having my evening stolen from me by a bunch of science experiments with God complexes. But on the bright side, if things went according to plan, you all are too late in realizing your little mistake.”