The Double Deuce Score

Michael Panush

Harvey Diamond stared out the window of his father's descending hovercar, looking down at the island city of Syntheisa. Harvey was thirteen-years-old, a scrawny boy with straight dark hair and spectacles, who felt odd in his white tuxedo like his bowtie was choking the life out of him. He had grown up in the suburbs outside of Omnopolis and never been to Synthesia before, but he'd heard of it. Everybody had. It was a fully artificial pleasure city, a completely independent stretch of land in the mid-Atlantic created wholly for gambling and resort hotels. Every kind of pleasure was offered in Synthesia and no law existed to regulate it. Staring down at the pleasure city, looking at the oddly shaped hotels and casinos with their endless kaleidoscope of neon lights, was like examining a gaudy and glowing coral reef. In the center of the island, behind a flat expanse of steel split with a forest of fountains that shot colored jets of water, was the Double Deuce Casino. It was one of the biggest casinos in Synthesia. Harvey and his father were going to rob it.

The hovercar started to descend, aiming for the large parking lot opposite the Double Deuce. Harvey's father, Dante Domino, sat next to him. "My son," Dante said. "Your bowtie is slightly off. Allow me to fix it." Dante's fingers moved to his son's neck and dexterously went to work. Dante didn't entirely look like his son. He was broad-shouldered, with coiled muscle under his dark dinner jacket sleeves. Dante had curly hair and a thick Roman nose below dark eyes. His own bowtie was perfect. He was a world-renowned master thief, but his scores had lessened as he grew older. This would hopefully be a return to form – and he had asked his son to help. Dante had divorced Harvey's mother before the boy was born. He'd visited him many times during his childhood and Harvey always loved those visits. He'd agreed instantly to help his father rob the Double Deuce.

Chester, Dante's gorilla butler, friend and comrade, was at the wheel of the sleek, pearl-colored hovercar. Chester's hairy hands spun the wheel, swinging the car around and neatly setting it down in an open spot, right next to the entrance of the Double Deuce Casino. Chester was a massive, shaggy ape with a glowing electric monocle set in one eye. Chester hummed softly as the car stopped. Without saying another word, Dante opened the car doors.

They all stepped out and stared at the Double Deuce. It was a sprawling structure of cool blue glass and steel, built around a monolithic tower that resembled a giant stack of multicolored poker chips. A hand of neon cards, showing all deuces, glittered in sequence above the glass double-doors. Tourists poured in and out of the doors in a never-ending flow. It looked like a palace. Harvey put his hands in the pocket of his pale tuxedo and felt his eyes widen. Robbing a place like that suddenly seemed impossible.

Dante noticed it. "Are you nervous, my son?" he asked.

"A l-little," Harvey lied. He was terrified.

"That is fine." Dante patted the boy's shoulder. "It is always good to be a little frightened before something important is done. But we have our plan. Stick with it, and we won't fail in our endeavor." He nodded back to Chester. "Stay here until you receive the signal from your communicator," he explained. "Then grab the bags and meet us by the vault doors."

Chester hummed softly in response. Dante gave him a wide grin, kept his arm on Harvey's shoulder and steered the boy to the casino doors. They walked through the large, glassy doors together. As soon as he stepped inside, Harvey was nearly overwhelmed by the riotous blast of light and color. Behind a large lobby, row after row of slot machines clicked and whirred, each emitting a soft bank of light. The bigger games were further away, set on slightly raised platforms. Baccarat, roulette wheels and more were offered, all played on tables of blue felt that matched the carpet. Synthesian tourists sat before the slots, while waitresses in tight blue uniforms, short skirts and pillbox caps weaved through the rows of machines and offered free drinks.

Dante steered Harvey down one of the rows. Slot machines clicked and worked on both sides and Harvey tried to tear his eyes away from the spinning symbols and pumping levers as his father led him further into the Double Deuce Casino. "Now, you go up and perform your part of the plan," Dante explained as they walked. They left the slot machines and passed by some of other games. "I will remain here, very close by, until I am needed."

"You'll be here?" Harvey asked. He could hear the anxiety in his voice. They passed a long table where a dealer in a vest in bowtie was tossing out cards to a small crowd. "You'll just wait for me, until I'm finished?"

"Perhaps I'll gamble," Dante said. "It will pass the time." He stopped walking and his eyes darted to a woman at the edge of the gambling table. She noticed him as well, her dark eyes lifting from the fan of her cards. She carefully set the cards face down and approached them, hands on her hip. She held out her hand. Dante swept low and kissed it. "Margot Wren," Dante explained. "What a pleasurable coincidence, to find a beauty like you in such a beautiful place as this."

"Dante." Harvey stared up at Margot. "Charming as ever." She was indeed beautiful. Her short dark hair framed a heart-shaped face, with brilliant green eyes. A pair of small round sunglasses rested on the tip of her nose, like a second set of eyes. She wore a short coat and long trousers, all of some midnight black cloth. Her eyes darted to Harvey. "Your son?" she asked. "I can see the resemblance. He's as handsome as his father."

"T-thank you, m-ma'am," Harvey managed. "You're really handsome as well –pretty, I mean – or beautiful, ah, I mean…" He trailed off. His father always seemed to know the perfect thing to say in any situation. Dante Domino never lost his cool. Harvey couldn't compete.

"We're visiting the casino," Dante explained. "And you are?"

"The same," Margot agreed. She turned back to her cards. "Excuse me, Dante. I've a round to win." She had already stepped back to her table. She swept her cards and stared at them again. Dante and Harvey continued walking towards the rear of the main hall. Harvey's eyes stayed on Margot Wren, running up and down her form.

They neared the end of the large chamber. "Who is she?" Harvey asked.

"An old friend." Dante pointed to the edge of the room, where a small stairwell waited. "That will bring you up to Ollie Peacock's office. I'll wait for you here." He patted Harvey's shoulder and gave him a big grin. "Remember – you are a Domino, even if that is not your name. Now go and make me proud."

"Yes, daddy," Harvey agreed. "I'll try." He left his father behind and went to the stairwell.

He clambered up the stairs quickly and came to a smaller lobby, where a pretty secretary in one of the blue waitress outfits was working at a small computer. She looked up at Harvey and smiled quickly over her glasses, which flared up at the ends. "You're the Diamond boy?" she asked. "With his school paper?"

"Harvey Diamond - from St. Joshua's Academy, ma'am," Harvey said. He approached her desk and bowed his head. He was using the real name of his private school – and he really did work on the St. Joshua Student Paper. He usually wrote reviews of comics and adventure stories, occasionally typing up sports scores or school news or something equally boring. They had no idea that he was here, though. Dante had said that a little truth was important for any falsehood.

The secretary beamed at him. "And you got all dressed up for the occasion? Isn't that darling?" She tapped a button on her desk. "Just wait here a moment, dear heart. I'll buzz you in." The button hummed. The large, metal-lined door behind her creaked and swung open. "Mr. Peacock is waiting for you, Harvey," the secretary explained.

Harvey nervously returned her smile and walked into Ollie Peacock's office. Peacock was the man who owned the Double Deuce. His office was a throne room suitable for a king of Synthesia. The blue carpet was speckled with iridescent green spirals. An angular glass desk sat in one end, while sleek chairs and couches of black kid leather lined the walls. Behind the desk was a wide window, looking down at the casino floor. Ollie Peacock stood behind his desk and walked over to Harvey when the boy entered. Peacock was a portly man in a blue tuxedo, with a matching cummerbund and drooping bowtie. He had only a few strands of blonde hair, nearly invisible on his wide head. Fat round glasses covered his eyes.

Peacock held out his hand. "Harvey Ruby!" he said. "Good to meet you!" He grabbed Harvey's hand and pumped it. "Welcome to the Double Deuce. You find everything all right? That's grand. Ain't it a nice place?" Peacock steered Harvey to a chair in the corner and set him down. "You ready for the interview? I sure am." Peacock then pointed to the corner. "Oh, and don't mind Bruno. He's just my bodyguard. IQ of a clam, but he's harmless – unless I give the word."

Despite himself, Harvey looked at Bruno. Bruno was a powerfully-built tank of a man in a rumpled, sharkskin gray suit. He wore a fedora, even indoors, with a square jaw and small eyes visible under the short brim. Bruno just stared straight ahead, like he was being hypnotized by the far wall. The bodyguard's presence might make Harvey's job more difficult. It certainly made the job scarier. But Harvey forced down his fear. He'd get through this and get the job done.

"Thank you for inviting me for the interview," Harvey said, trying to be polite. "I'm sure my classmates will be fascinated about how a casino is run. And it's, ah, Harvey Diamond, actually." He stood up from his chair and walked to the center of the room. His eyes darted to the desk. "Could I use your desk?" he asked, pulling a small pad and pen from his coat. "To write on?"

"Of course!" Peacock nodded rapidly. "So, what do you want to know?"

"How about what it takes to run a casino?" Harvey asked. "What does one need to be in your position, I guess?" He rested his pen on the pad and this looked at the desk. At the end of the desk, resting on a silver pedestal, was a small plastic card. That was what Harvey needed.

"Oh, that's easy – it's just a matter of knowing the right people." Peacock started talking. Harvey scrawled down his word, as his free hand inched out towards the pedestal. "You see, after the Cuban Missile Disaster made the world a bit hotter, a whole new bunch of powers arrived from the next level of the Cold War. You remember the Disaster, when so many mushroom clouds were blooming? Nah, you don't remember. You're too damn young." Harvey's hand neared the pedestal. His fingers scraped the edge of the card. His hand shifted position. "Ain't that right?"

Another card slipped halfway out of Harvey's sleeve. Harvey froze. "Yes, sir," he said quickly.

"That's grand – to not remember those days after the bombs fell. It's a blessing, Harvey Emerald. A blessing." Peacock had turned away and was back to talking. Harvey finished his work. He let the duplicate card slide out of his sleeve and hit the pedestal. He snatched up the real one and tucked that into his sleeve.

Then he stood up. He came to his feet and smiled at Peacock, as he pushed up his glasses and tucked away his pen and paper. "Well, I think that's all I need for my interview," he said. "Thank you, very much, Mr. Peacock. You were very helpful."

"That's all?" Peacock asked. "One question?" He shrugged. "Well, it makes sense. Kids your age got no memory anyway." Peacock escorted Harvey to the door. He opened it and gestured to the lobby. "Well, it was fun, Harvey Sapphire. You come back when you're a bit older – and bring a little dough with you. The Double Deuce guarantees a good time."

"Thank you, sir," Harvey said. He stepped into the lobby. "I'm sure it does."

Then he headed down the stairs. His father was waiting. The keycard seemed heavy in his sleeve, pressing against his cuff. A little layer of sweat covered his forehead and cheeks. He'd be glad when this whole thing was over.

Harvey met his father at the other end of the casino, near an unmarked steel door. It was locked, but Dante had used a small handheld laser the size of a pencil to melt it. Chester was there was well, wearing a bulky trench coat. Harvey hurried to their side. He let Dante embrace him and then Chester reached down and clasped his hand. Harvey patted Chester's shaggy fingers. He always liked the gorilla. Silently, he took the keycard from his sleeve and handed it to Dante.

Dante held the keycard to the light. He pushed open the door. "Peacock suspects nothing?"

"I don't think so," Harvey agreed. "He was a nice guy – and he gave a good interview."

"Then we will only steal a limited portion of his vast fortune." They walked past the doorway and down another hall. This one ended at the casino's vault. Two massive vault doors stood at the end of the hall, both cast of solid steel. It would take a team of men and a cluster for dynamite to burn through that steel. There were no guards at all, because there was no need of them. The only way in was the keycard in Ollie Peacock's office – the same one that Harvey had just swiped. Harvey held out the keycard to his father, who took it and plugged it into a little control panel in the side. The steel doors groaned and shifted. They rolled open.

There were mountains of paper money inside, all set in neat stacks. A few mounds of gold and silver bricks rested on the polished steel floor as well. Piles of jewelry – collateral for big card games – sat in rude piles in the corners. Chester stepped in first, opening his trench coat to reveal several nylon bags. Harvey, Chester and Dante worked to fill the bags.

They moved quickly. "Don't try and fit in everything," Dante said, tossing a pearl necklace into his bag. "Remember, our robbery should go undetected until Peacock counts up all his money and possessions, which he will not do until next week." Dante moved to a stack of dollars next. He began to stuff the bundles of cash into his bag. "I must say, my son, that you have a done a brilliant job. Peacock is completely unaware. Our profits will be somewhat modest – but still staggering – and we will walk out of the Double Deuce with no trouble at all. All in all, this is a spectacular robbery. And I owe it to you."

Harvey looked at his father. He could see the pride there, in the way Dante's eyes shined. Harvey felt his cheeks growing wonderfully warm. He felt proud as well. He finished setting a gold brick into his bag and then another treasure caught his eye. It was balanced on the top of a pile of dollars – a little round, shimmering orb the size of a marble. It seemed to be a pearl.

"Dad?" Harvey asked. "What's this?"

"Hmmm?" Dante snatched up the pearl and examined it. He held it up to his ear. "An artificial pearl it seems – containing some electronics. It's data storage, perhaps. I do wonder what it is doing within a Synthesian Vault, though." He slid the odd pearl-white orb into his pocket.

As if in mocking answer to his question, the lights in the vault – and in the whole Double Deuce Casino – went out. Harvey gasped as darkness filled the vault. Dante grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the vault. Chester followed them, moving on the knuckles of one hand with a bag stuffed full of stolen cash slung over his thick shoulder. They stepped into the dark hall and Harvey heard more noises drifting from the main casino hall. There was a chorus of screams, louder than the clanks and whirring of slot machines. A rattle of gunshots followed. As Dante's son, Harvey had heard gunfire before. He had never gotten used to it. His polished dress shoes tapped nervously on the carpeted floor. He felt sick. Then he heard more footsteps and saw an emergency light flicker to life above them.

Three people were heading their way, coming down the hall. Harvey recognized them - it was Ollie Peacock, Bruno and Margot Wren. Peacock talked as he hurried down the hall. "Don't worry at bit, Miss Wren. Your employers in the Legion Eternal were wise to trust me to store the Pearl. There's no safer place in the world than my vaults. I've spent a fortune on those steel doors." He walked closer and Harvey saw the keycard – the fake – in his hands. "The only thing that could open them is resting right in my hands. We just gotta open it up, grab the Pearl, and SPYDER won't have a chance of getting it." Then Peacock stopped walking. He stared at the opened door.

He had said some names that Harvey recognized. SPYDER was one of the freelance espionage organizations that had flourished after the Cuban Missile Disaster. They were founded by ex-Gestapo and SS men, but welcomed defecting CIA and KGB agents in their folds. The Legion Eternal was a similar organization, created by aristocrats from the Mediterranean and Europe. They cloaked their violent nature with old-fashioned class. Their names alone made Harvey shudder. SPYDER appeared to be attacking the Double Deuce – for something called the Pearl that belonged to the Legion.

Peacock looked from the open door to Harvey, Chester and Dante. "How—" he asked.

"I paid one of your staff to make a copy of your key," Dante explained. He reached into his coat. "You're holding that copy right now. My son stole the real keycard, right from under your nose. It was a clever little operation of mine, I must say. Now stand aside, Mr. Peacock, and let me leave."

Margot looked at Harvey. "How old are you, kid?" she asked.

"Thirteen, ma'am," Harvey said quickly.

"Thirteen." Margot glared at Dante. "The boy's just thirteen-years-old, Dante, and you've brought him into our world."

Dante's hand rested inside his dinner jacket. Harvey knew he was going for a gun. "Don't talk to me of shame, Margot. All words ring hollow when they leave your beautiful lips." He turned back to Peacock. "Step aside, sir. I don't care about this Pearl. I care for my son's safety and my score and right now you are endangering both. So step away or I will draw my pistol and put a round or two through your knees. What do you say?"

"What do I say?" Peacock snarled. "You rob my joint and now want me to let you go?" He turned to Bruno. "Break this guinea thief's goddamn neck."

Bruno's impassive face split in a smile. A second later, Bruno hurled himself across the hall and landed on Dante. He tackled Dante and they both went down together. They hit the carpet. Dante got the handle of a silenced automatic pistol from his coat before Bruno grabbed his arm and rammed it against the wall. Dante responded by ramming his forehead against Bruno's face. Harvey heard the crunch of bone. It was like a twig had been snapped. Bruno's nose was broken and blood ran down to his lips like an overextended moustache of rust. Harvey felt sick just watching it. He took a step closer. He had to help his father. Chester dropped the bags of loot and moved to do the same.

"Uh-uh." Peacock grabbed Harvey's arm. Harvey felt something cold pressing into his cheek. It was a snub-nosed revolver. Chester froze, his electronic and normal eye darting to the gun poking into Harvey's face. "You seem like a nice kid. I don't want to hurt you, but I've made a deal with the Legion Eternal and I'm not letting those fellows down – so be a good boy and stay put." He looked up at Margot, a guilty grin flashing across his face. "I told you that I could keep the Pearl safe. The Legion Eternal was right to trust me. You picked my vault to store the Pearl, didn't you? You made the right choice, honey. You really did."

Margot drew closer to Peacock. She had a hand in her pocket. "I know – because I think my employment with the Legion is gonna come to an end."She drew a small black rod, like an undersized billy club, from her pocket. It ended with a pair of metal prongs.

"What?" Peacock asked. He turned to stare at her.

"Yeah." Margot gave him a quick smile. She pressed some button on the baton. The prongs at the end crackled with a band of electricity. It sparked and danced, like a bit of live fire pulled from a bigger blaze. "See, I'm leaving the Legion Eternal and joining up with SPYDER. The Pearl is my ticket in. And I thought you'd keep it safe so I could steal it at the right time –but I guess was wrong." She slammed the stun baton into the small of Peacock's back. Peacock gasped as electricity burned. His remaining hairs stiffened. He toppled over backwards. Margot stepped next to Harvey.

The boy was shivering and terrified. He stared up at her, frightened by her beauty as much as the baton in her hands. Then he heard a loud, guttural roar from Bruno. Harvey and Margot looked at the fight going on the floor – just in time to see it end. Dante had drawn his pistol and used its butt to bash Bruno's skull until the bodyguard twisted out of the way. Bruno rolled over, but then came to his feet. His own hand slipped into his suit. Dante moved fast.

"Harvey!" he cried. "Catch!" The Pearl seemingly appeared in his palm and then was flying through the air. It landed in Harvey's hands. Harvey dropped the Pearl into his pocket. It was very light. He could hardly feel its weight. Dante turned to Chester as he spun around and leveled his automatic at Bruno. "Get him to the car!" Dante cried. "Get him to safety!"There was desperation in Dante's words, and they made his accent thicken. Harvey hated to hear it. But that was the last thing he heard, before Chester moved.

In a single motion, Chester shed his trench coat and bounded across the carpeted floor. Harvey's feet left the floor. He felt Chester's thick fingers across his chest and then he was over the gorilla's shoulder and on the ape's back. He grabbed Chester's back, feeling the soft fur under his fingers as he struggled to hold on. Chester began to run. He pounded down the hall, moving on his feet and knuckles. Wind rushed through Harvey's hair. He struggled to hold on. Chester reached the end of the hall and then bounded into the main casino floor. Harvey looked up and tried to see what was going on.

It looked a like a battle had broken out among the slot machines and card tables. Many of the slot machines were overturned, some shattered and spilling their coins on the carpet like blood from a body. Most of the tourists had fled, or were cowering with the staff in the corners. In the center of the Double Deuce, striding towards the rear like they owned the place, was about a dozen soldiers dressed in jet black uniforms and round helmets. They looked a little like Nazi soldiers from a WWII movie, though the submachine guns in their hands were utterly modern and lethal. SPYDER insignias – an extended black web on a silver background – gleamed on the sides of their helmets. They were led a by a tall fellow in a black trench coat and peaked cap, with the SPYDER badge above the brim. The brim shaded his face, though one of his eyes still shined. Harvey saw his head turning to follow Chester's progress across the cluttered floor.

"Kill the gorilla," he ordered in a harsh, American accent. "Bring me the boy."

The SPYDER troopers raised the guns and started to shoot. They fanned out, drawing closer as their guns chattered at their waists. Bullets hummed through the slot machines. Brightly-colored metal machines burst and clanged as they were blasted to fragments. Neon debris sprayed into the smoky casino air. Harvey held on and gritted his teeth. Chester continued to run. Harvey could only imagine what would happen if he was caught – and he never wanted Chester to be harmed on his account. Harvey glanced over his shoulder. He was surprised to see Margot Wren running after them. She was in league with SPYDER, but what could she do against Chester?

They neared the door. One SPYDER trooper stepped in their way. He raised his submachine gun – but was seconds too slow. Harvey caught a glimpse of his terrified eyes before Chester crashed into him. The gorilla's heavy forearm bashed against the SPYDER agent's chest, cracking ribs and hurling him back. His boots left the ground. He went through the glass window, screaming as he shattered his way through. Chester pounded past him without a backwards glance. He hurried outside and made for the parking lot.

The hovercar was waiting. Harvey saw it draw nearer. He began to feel a little better – though his father was still back there in the Double Deuce. Of course, there was no reason to harm Dante, because Harvey had the Pearl. Still, Harvey didn't want to leave Dante behind. His belly felt hollow as Chester slid to a stop before the hovercar. Chester roughly deposited Harvey into the passenger seat and swung behind the wheel. The gorilla started the car. The engine hummed. It lifted off the ground and rose into the sky.

Harvey looked up at Chester's dark, leathery face. "Thank you," he said. "You saved my life, Chester. But my daddy – my dad – is still back there. We have to go and get him." Harvey tried to think of a good tactic. "Maybe we can circle around, and go through the back? Do you think that would work?"

Chester hummed softly in response. The hovercar leveled and started to drive forward, away from the Double Deuce. Something clanked on the back. Harvey turned around. He saw a pronged grappling hook, rammed into the side door like a harpoon into the back of a whale. A stout metal chord hung from the end of the grappling hook. It was becoming shorter, dragging whatever it carried closer and closer to the car. Harvey leaned off the side of the hovercar and peered down, at the well-let streets of Synthesia and the fading Double Deuce. He saw Margot Wren, hanging onto the other end of her grapple gun with both hands. She was being drawn closer with each second.

"Chester!" Harvey cried. "It's Miss Wren – she's coming up!"

It was too late. Margot had reached the hovercar. She grabbed the edge of the car, pulled herself up and landed neatly in the back seat. Margot smiled at Harvey and Chester. "Hello, boys," she said. "Mind if I join you?" The electric baton was in her hands, already swinging towards Chester. She jabbed the edge into Chester's back. Harvey could smell burning hair and heard Chester howl in pain. He struggled to reach over and grab the baton from her hands.

A second later, Margot's hand shot out and pushed him back. She grabbed Chester's shoulder. "I'm sorry, big fellow," she said. "But you're taking up too much space. Besides, I want to drive." She gave her arms a twist. Chester was pushed over the door and out of the driver's seat. His bulk carried him over. He was already out from the electric shock and didn't even cry as he fell down. Harvey yelped in terror and tried to reach him, but he was too late. Chester plummeted down – and landed in the middle of the large ornamental fountain below them. The splash deposited most of the water on the sidewalk next to the fountain's base.

Margot sat in the driver's seat. She gave the wheel a spin. Harvey stared at her, eyes full of terror. "You…you…" He tried to think of something to say. "You threw him out of the hovercar."

"Sorry, kid. He was in my way." Margot steadied the hovercar. She pointed up ahead, to a large hotel overlooking the rigid coast of Synthesia. "All SPYDER wants is the Pearl. They get the Pearl, they pay me, and everybody's happy." She turned to the boy. "And right now, you've got the Pearl."

"Yes." Harvey fumbled in his pockets. He pulled the Pearl out and held it close, afraid it would roll away and be lost forever. "I've got it right here. You guys can have it if you want. My father and I – and Chester – we don't even want the Pearl. You can have it without any problems."

"Hmmm." Margot shrugged. "Colonel Raker won't like that. He doesn't like it when anything's too easy." The hovercar drew lower. The hotel had dark steel sides, so it looked like a giant square tombstone sprouting out of the edge of Synthesia. The hovercar came to a stop on the wide, cement roof. More SPYDER troopers were there, assault rifles and submachine guns in their hands. Harvey noted a helicopter as well, a sleek, jet-back SPYDER aircraft with a fat bubble cockpit and bristling with rocket pods and machine guns. Margot killed the engine and stopped the hovercar.

Harvey stared at her. "Colonel Raker?" he asked. "Who is he?"

"You'll meet him soon enough," Margot said. "And kid? I don't envy you for it."

The SPYDER guards swarmed the hovercar. Harvey was pulled out and led away. He struggled and tried to squeeze free, but it was pointless. They took him to a door on the roof, which led down to the penthouse suite. Margot followed. Harvey kept telling himself not to worry. He'd hand over the Pearl, SPYDER would let him go and everything would work out. He told himself that a thousand times – and it didn't help. He was still deathly afraid.

The penthouse was richly furnished. It was done up in black and red satin, with angular tables and chairs in the corners. SPYDER agents sat uncomfortably or stood in the corners. Some stood by the wide windows, which looked down at Synthesia. None of seemed to be at home in the place. Harvey figured they would have preferred a Spartan set of barracks. Two of them dragged him through the penthouse and to a living room at the far end. Harvey stared out the window as he was pulled through the penthouse. Synthesia looked the same as it had when he arrived. There were blaring sirens and no police vehicles visible. It made sense. There was no law to speak of on the artificial island.

The two agents roughly tossed Harvey down in a high-backed chair in the corner. Pliny sat there and looked at SPYDER troopers as they walked to the door and stood at attention. He tried to adjust his bowtie and look somewhat presentable. The door opened again. Margot Wren walked inside. The man with the peaked cap – Colonel Raker – followed her. He removed his peaked cap and set on a table in the corner. Harvey now saw why his eye had gleamed. It was an electric implant, made of shiny black metal that matched his uniform. A thin glowing green strip ran vertically across the eye, like a malformed pupil. Colonel Raker stared at Harvey.

"This is him?" he asked. "Domino's son?" He folded his gloved hands. "He doesn't look like much, Miss Wren."

"He's just a boy," Margot pointed out. "And he would have helped his father rob the Double Deuce without a hitch. I think that's impressive."

"It is, I suppose." Colonel Raker had auburn hair in a brutal crew cut. Both his eyes stared straight ahead, like he hadn't even noticed Harvey. He approached the boy and knelt down, so that his eyes were level. "Good evening, Harvey," Colonel Raker said. He reached into his coat and withdrew a long combat knife. Colonel Raker raised it, letting Harvey examine the serrated edge. "My name is Colonel Roland Raker. Now, this looks painful, doesn't it? Well, it is. A knife very similar to this one is responsible for ripping out my eye. I received no compensation from that injury – one of the many reasons I defected from HAWC to SPYDER," he said. "Now, why don't you tell me where the Pearl is or I'll use this blade to carve off pieces of your face."

Harvey stared back. He tried to be brave. He tried to think of what his father would do. "I'm not afraid," he said.

"You are," Colonel Raker corrected him. "Lambs always fear wolves."

"Raker." Margot pulled the Pearl from her pocket. "He already gave it up. He and his father have no interest in it. They're thieves – not spies. We're different fish, even if we often swim the same waters. So there's no need for your usual tortures." She handed over the Pearl. Colonel Raker took it. "Try not to look so disappointed."

Colonel Raker examined the Pearl. His mechanical eye whirred. "It's fake," he announced. "A normal pearl – not the miniaturized data storage device that we need. Dante Domino must have switched it. It's a cunning plan of his. I've read his file. He's pulled those often enough." He looked back at Harvey. "You and your father played a trick on us. He must still have the Pearl on him – or have secreted it away somewhere in Synthesia." Colonel Raker's hand fell on Harvey's shoulder. His grip was light. "I don't know where," he announced. He raised his knife. "I'm going to find out."

"Is this really necessary?" Margot asked. She sounded bored, but a little desperation crept into her voice. Harvey could hear it, even over the pounding of his heart. His eyes remained fixed on the knife. He was trying his best not to scream. "You're not gonna capture Dante by cutting up his son."

"You're a woman with a woman's prejudices and stupidities," Colonel Raker replied. "I wouldn't expect you to understand." The knife drew closer to Harvey's cheek. Harvey went very still. His eyes followed the point of the blade. It seemed very thin, like a toothpick. It drew closer and closer. Harvey wanted to close his eyes. He wanted to cry. He thought of his father and kept still.

The door to the dining room slammed open. Colonel Raker paused. The knife froze, just an inch from Harvey's face. Harvey peered over his shoulder. A SPYDER agent stood in the door, a handheld radio in his hands. "Sir?" the agent asked. "There's a call for you – from the Double Deuce. They say it's about the Pearl."

"It better be." Colonel Raker stood up. He tucked the knife into his coat and looked down at Harvey. The boy finally broke his stillness. It was like some pressure had been released. He shook and struggled to hide a whimper. Colonel Raker's hand shot out. The gloved hand struck Harvey's cheek, unleashing a stinging slap. "I'll be back shortly," Colonel Raker explained. "The lamb and the wolf have more to discuss." Then he turned and walked out the room. The door slammed behind them.

Margot and Harvey were alone. Margot stood near the window. She pulled a cigarette from her coat and lit it, then smoked as she stared out the window at the flickering sea of neon light. She seemed to be avoiding Harvey's eyes. He couldn't take his own eyes away from her. Finally, she turned back and looked at him. "It's not my fault," she said suddenly. "Blame your own pop if you want – but don't blame me."

"It's not his fault!" Harvey cried. He felt he had to defend Dante. He always did when his mother insulted him. "He had no idea this would happen!"

"He gave you a decoy instead of the real Pearl – and he did it without thinking. Subterfuge and betrayal are unconscious actions to him. Robberies and loot is how he sees the world." Margot pointed at Harvey. "Look at what he did, dragging you along on a dangerous heist. And you still love him?"

"He's my father," Harvey replied. "He's a good man – a hero."

"Hmmm." Margot folded her arms. The cigarette smoldered, casting a veil of smoke over her face. She smiled. "You know, I thought the same thing about my mother. Growing up, she was always there for me with a kind word or a kiss on the cheek." Her smile faded. "Then the Cuban Missile Disaster struck. The mushroom clouds grew. And my mother sold me the Legion Eternal for three cans of beans and a single shotgun shell."

Harvey didn't know what to say in response. "My father is different," he said. "Dante Domino is different."

"I like your loyalty, kid," Margot answered. "And I think I like you."

The door opened again. Colonel Raker stepped inside. He pulled out his combat knife as he crossed the room. His boots tramped on the floor. "Here's the score," Colonel Raker explained. "Domino and Peacock want a trade – they've got the Pearl, the real one, and we've got Harvey. They're up for an exchange. Peacock's willing to take his chances with the Legion Eternal." A small smile crossed Colonel Raker's face. "I guess he likes you, boy. Or at least he doesn't want you to die."

"Well, that's good to hear." Margot's eyes stayed on Colonel Raker's knife. "So why don't you look happy to hear it?"

"Because SPYDER operations don't leave witnesses." Colonel Raker drew closer to Harvey. He grabbed the boy's shoulder. His grip was hard. Harvey tried to pull away, but he couldn't. "We'll kill the boy, then go by the Double Deuce and kill his father and Peacock and anyone else who gets in our way. Then we'll take the Pearl and go home. That's how SPYDER operates. And that's how I operate." He brought the knife down. It hummed through the air, aiming for Harvey's gut. Harvey's breath caught in his throat. He had no time to scream.

Margot reached out and caught his arm. "Not today," she said. She ripped his arm back. Her elbow slammed into the back of his neck. The knife fell from his hands and Margot grabbed it. She hurled it behind her. The blade hummed through the air in a silver blur – and thudded into the arm of the SPYDER agent in the doorway. He gasped as his arm was pinned to the wall. Margot tossed Colonel Raker to the ground and crossed the floor. He grabbed the SPYDER agent's dropped submachine gun and held it at her waist, then turned back to Harvey. "Ready to go?" she asked.

Colonel Raker was pulling himself up, his teeth gritted. "Traitorous woman," he snarled. "Weak-willed, feminine—" He got halfway up before Margot rammed her boot into his back and pinned him to the ground. "Agents of SPYDER!" Colonel Raker roared. "Kill them all! Execute them immediately!" Harvey heard boots outside. The SPYDER troopers were closing in.

He looked up at Margot. "Thank you," he said quietly. It sounded like that was all he could say. "Um, how exactly are we going to leave? There's only one door…"

"I'll make another one." Margot gave the window a burst from her submachine gun. Glass shattered into shining fragments and dust. Then she grabbed Harvey's shoulder and hauled him out of the chair. He tried to resist as he realized what was going to happen, but it was too late. Margot Wren tossed him to the window. Harvey's momentum carried him the rest of the way. He plummeted out the window and dropped.

Winds tore at Harvey as he hurtled down. The neon of the city gleamed up at him like a cruel smile. His hair and jacket ripped. He grabbed his glasses and held them on, even as his eyes slammed shut. Then something gripped his arm. Harvey looked up and saw Margot, falling down next to him. The cuffs of her coat bulged and her short hair flew behind her. Margot held something else in her free hand and Harvey saw that it was her grapple gun. She fired it. The grappling hook shot up, extending straight into the air. The thick chord flew up to the shattered window. It caught on the sill. The rope went taut. Harvey yelped in terror as they both stopped – just a few inches from the ground. Margot dropped Harvey and he fell in a heap.

"You sure you're Dante's son?" she asked, as she let go of the grappling hook and stood on the sidewalk. A few tourists stared at them. "He always lands on his feet…"

"He had years of training on Domino Island," Harvey pointed out. "I suppose he spent all his free time running through obstacle courses and going to target ranges." He picked himself up and tried to straighten his white jacket. He was still sweating and wiped his forehead on his sleeve. "And I spend my free time reading comic books and spy novels…"

"So consider it research," Margot said. "For instance, what's our best course of action right about now?" She pointed up to the sky and Harvey followed her finger. A rumbling roar reached his ear, sounding distant as it came from the air above the towering hotel. It was the SPYDER helicopter, sweeping low from the roof and cutting through the air as it approached them. Its rotors were roaring, and it swung down from the sky. The shining windows of the hotel caught its reflection, making a blurred twin follow the helicopter down.

Harvey stared at the helicopter. "We have to get back to the Double Deuce," he explained. "We have to warn my father and Mr. Peacock! We'll need a vehicle – something fast and light to outrun the SPYDER helicopter…" He looked at the street. Most of the vehicles had stopped, their passengers looking up at the approaching helicopter. A motorcycle was near the sidewalk. Its rider was a blonde young man in a light brown leather jacket, fashionably creased. He was watching the helicopter descend through wide, square sunglasses. "Like that motorcycle," Harvey suggested.

"Great idea." Margot grabbed his hand and pulled him into the street. Her stun baton was already out. "Excuse me, sir," she called to the motorcyclist. "You're gonna need a new bike – because we're gonna need yours." She jabbed him with the stun baton. He let out a little squeak and toppled of his motorcycle and then Margot slipped into the seat, Harvey behind her. She grabbed Harvey's hands and linked them around her chest, then squeezed the handlebar. The motorcycle roared.

"Sorry, sir!" Harvey called to the unconscious motorcyclist. They were already roaring down the street. The motorcycle was gaining speed, weaving around the slower automobiles. But the helicopter followed it, swinging low and moving past the buildings. The wind tore at Harvey as the motorcycle sped along. It was almost as bad as falling. He struggled to hold onto Margot and keep calm as the helicopter dropped down behind them.

A rocket streamed from the side of the helicopter. It zoomed down towards the motorcycle, a trail of white smoke following afterwards. Margot twisted the handlebars. The motorcycle spun to the side, the wheels burning rubber. Harvey nearly tumbled off. The rocket crashed into the street next to them. Chunks of pavement whistled into the air. Harvey felt the heat from the explosion, washing over him in an instant before they zoomed past and continued rolling down the street. Margot turned another corner, and then twisted down on the accelerator. The motorcycle roared. She put more space between them and the helicopter, though Harvey knew they couldn't run forever. He craned his head and looked over her shoulder, trying to see where they were going.

It was the Double Deuce Casino. He saw the glowing neon cards above the door. Before that was the fountain, spitting colored jets of water into the air. Three figures stood in the doorway. Harvey felt relief wash over him. It was Bruno, Ollie Peacock and Dante Domino. His father was there, waiting for him. Of course, they had no idea that Colonel Raker and SPYDER intended to betray them.

Margot slowed her motorcycle. She rode past the fountains, zooming around sprays of colored water. Harvey could see his father through the veil of water, drawing closer. "Daddy!" he called. "It's me! It's Harvey!"

"My son!" Dante ran from Peacock and Bruno. He hurried into the fountains. He reached Harvey quickly, pulled him off the motorcycle and into a quick embrace. When he set Harvey down, he stared at Margot. A second later, he had pulled his silenced automatic from his coat and leveled it at Margot. "You have played us all for fools," he said. "You will do this no longer. What is your game, Miss Wren? What are you doing with my son?"

"She rescued me, dad," Harvey explained quickly. "She captured me at first, but then Colonel Raker – he's the guy running the SPYDER operations in Synthesia, I think, was going to kill me and she saved my life." Harvey remembered what Colonel Raker's current plans were. "And now Colonel Raker is coming here to kill you. He found that the Pearl I have is fake – or, it's a real pearl, I mean – and you have the real one and he's coming here to get it. I guess because he doesn't want any witnesses." Harvey paused for breath. This spy business was confusing.

Dante stared at Margot. "You kidnapped my son and did away with my gorilla friend. I still have not seen the loyal Chester."

"I dumped him into one of these fountains. He'll fine – if a little wet. He probably already crawled away." Margot pointed at Dante. "And you're the one who let your son run away with the Pearl that everyone thought was real. You put him in danger, so you could slip away with the real loot – even though the Pearl is probably worthless to you. And you brought him along on a job in the first place." She folded her arms. "I saved his life, Dante. You're the one who endangered it."

There was no response from Dante. He looked down at Harvey. His eyes seemed as watery as the sheets of water from the fountains around them. He nodded slowly. "My son," Dante said softly. "I am so sorry."

Before Harvey could response, Bruno and Peacock hurried through the forest of fountains to join them. "Christ!" Peacock swore. "I'm ruining my suit going in all this goddamn water!" He stopped in front of Margot, Dante and Harvey. Bruno stopped next to him. Peacock looked at them all and then stared down at Harvey. "Good to know you're all right, kid. You robbed my office and lied to me, but I still didn't want SPYDER to torture you to death. Crazy, ain't it?"

"A little bit," Margot agreed.

"And what side are you on now, toots?" Peacock wondered.

Margot shrugged. "The same side I've been since my mother sold me into the spy game." She held out her hand. "You got the Pearl?"

"I do." Dante drew the Pearl from his coat. He looked at Margot. "And you have some way of using it, to solve our problems?"

She nodded. Dante dropped it into her palm. She let it fall to the ground and then stamped on it. The crunch was barely audible. It was like a dry leaf breaking. Bits of green electronics spilled out of the ruptured Pearl, ground into uselessness. Margot kicked out, spraying them into the grates of the fountain where they disappeared. "No backdoors," she said. She looked at Dante and Peacock. "Colonel Raker's a maniac. He's bloodthirsty and I don't want him to win – not after the way he treated Harvey."

"Why, Miss Wren?" Harvey asked. He could hardly believe someone like Margot had rescued him and risked her own life and was now depriving Colonel Raker and SPYDER of their victory. "Why are you helping us?"

"I'm helping you, kid. Because you're innocent." She glared at Dante. "And you deserve better than a man like Dante Domino."

Behind them, they heard the roar of helicopter rotors. All of them turned around and saw the SPYDER helicopter hovering over the fountain, its forward-mounted machine gun whirring. Below it, a few SPYDER soldiers stood with their guns drawn. Colonel Raker was in the front, his automatic pistol in his hands. A few more SPYDER agents stood to the side, one carrying a heavy steel tube that Harvey recognized as a rocket launcher.

Colonel Raker leveled his pistol at Margot. "Traitor," he said.

"In this game?" Margot asked. "That's a title that could be applied to any of us."

Dante hadn't raised his own pistol. His silenced gun started to come up, but Colonel Raker cocked his pistol. Dante froze. "That's right," Colonel Raker said. "I'm the one who is in control of this operation. I've heard of you, Dante Domino. And honestly? I'm not impressed. You're hamstrung by that brat on your side. And now you're all going to die."

"We destroyed the Pearl!" Harvey called. "There's no point in killing us!"

"No point?" Colonel Raker shrugged. "Little lamb, death is its own reward." He swung his pistol to face Harvey.

But before he could pull the trigger, some dark shape reached out of the darkness behind him. It tackled the SPYDER agent holding the rocket launcher. The SPYDER trooper's head was pulled back. A dark furry arm curled around his neck. Thick fingers yanked the rocket launcher from his hands. Harvey shuddered at the sound of the neck being snapped and then the SPYDER agent's body fell to the ground. Chester was behind him. Chester put the rocket launcher to his massive furry shoulder, took aim and fired.

The rocket streamed up from the tube. Colonel Raker turned to stare at the rocket. He followed it with his eyes. The rocket soared up and crashed into the side of the helicopter. A ball of fire tore through the steel. It made light dances over the dark streets and added an orange glow to the dancing fountain waters. The helicopter spun to the side, rotors spinning madly. It careened down and crashed into the squad of SPYDER agents. Harvey covered his ears at the screech of metal. The explosion boiled out of the helicopter, swatting men aside and knocking fragments of steel into the air. Harvey turned away. He felt sick.

When the explosion faded, Dante stepped towards the burning helicopter. He nodded to Chester and then looked down. Colonel Raker was on the ground. He had dropped his automatic and was holding his side. Blood coursed down from a cut on his cheek. His electric eye glowed. Dante looked at him and raised his silenced pistol without a word.

"Dad!" Harvey spoke without thinking. "Please…"

Slowly, Dante looked back at his son. He walked over to him and took his hand. "You're right, my son," Dante said. "You're absolutely right. Death is not its own reward. Now let's go home." He looked at Margot, Peacock and Bruno. "I know that perhaps I did not earn your loyalty and friendship – that it was Harvey Diamond who you desired to save. But I thank you anyway."

"You're welcome," Margot said. "And Harvey? Maybe your father isn't exactly honest. But I think he might be a good man."

"And you gave back all the money!" Peacock added. "So that was a nice touch. But I still feel a little bad about dragging you into this Pearl business." He reached into his coat. "And now your hovercar is on the roof of some hotel across town that's packed with panicking SPYDER agents trying to abort an operation. So how about I give you a little parting gift?"

"A gift?" Dante asked. "Are you sure?"

Peacock grinned. "You rob bank vaults. I rob hundreds of tourists every second of every day and they line up to for the privilege. I think I'm a little bit richer than you, Domino." He reached into his coat and withdrew a key on a silver ring. "Go on and give this to the girl at the desk inside. And next time you pull a big score – and want to spend some at the tables – you come back to Synthesia and the Double Deuce. How's that sound?"

"Very nice, sir," Harvey agreed. "Goodbye, then!"

Dante put his arm around Harvey's shoulder. Chester hurried over to join them. They walked away from the sputtering fountain.

They flew away from Synthesia in a brand new hovercar, this one a gleaming obsidian vehicle that cut through the air like a knife. Chester again drove. Harvey was in the back seat with his father. He watched the neon lights glow below them and grow fainter as they gained altitude. Dante still seemed upset.

"Dad?" Harvey asked. "Are you okay?"

"It was a mistake to ask you to help on a job," Dante said. "I failed in my duty as a father."

"No…" Harvey hated to hear his dad this way. "That's not true. You didn't know anything crazy would happen, with the Pearl and everything. And you did your best to protect me, telling Chester to get me out of there while you stayed behind."He reached out and grasped his father's hand. "I know that you think you're stuck in your old ways. And maybe you are. But you're changing, dad. Margot changed and so are you. You're changing to a better man."

"Perhaps," Dante replied. He smiled at his son. "And at least we got this excellent automobile, no?"

"It is pretty swell, dad," Harvey agreed. "Though we didn't really make any money."

"You are safe, my son," Dante replied. "That is the greatest reward of all."

They soared away from Synthesia. The neon lights faded below them, lost in a darkening sea.

-The End-

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