Ben stood up, feeling rather bemused. He turned to walk away from the assistant manager when his danger sense began to tingle. Suddenly, his senses flared as three gunmen burst into the bank. Ben ducked down behind the desk he stood beside and surveyed the scene. Three men spread out around the bank floor, all wearing masks and all armed. Two of the men had submachine guns pointed at the customers. The third man carried a handgun and from the way he moved, he was obviously the leader. All the men had large canvas bags slung over their shoulders.
The bank robber with the handgun spoke, “Alright, no one will be hurt if everybody co-operates, okay? Now I want you all to lie down and I want no sudden moves.”
The customers in the bank started to respond, dropping slowly and carefully to their knees, some sobbing, some just determined to be ignored. The three gunmen swept the barrels of their weapons over the crowd, noting with some satisfaction the way that some people cringed when a gun was pointed at them. Ben stayed where he was, he wasn’t sure if they even knew if he was there, but he wasn’t ready to reveal himself just yet. Ben tensed, he wanted nothing more than to explode into action and attack the three men, but he put a lid on his feelings, there were too many people in the way, too many civilians, so he waited, hoping he could find an opening before someone got hurt.
Nigel, the assistant banker, stood up, and Ben sighed wearily, he’s going to get himself killed, Ben thought, or someone else.
The man holding the handgun looked up as Nigel tentatively approached. Without hesitation, he swung the barrel of the gun around and pointed directly at the nervous man walking slowly towards him. “That’s far enough,” he said, “I’d rather not shoot anyone, but I will if I have to.” To emphasise the point, he cocked the gun, the click sounded loud in the suddenly hushed bank.
“I…I…I…I am the assistant manager of this branch,” stammered Nigel. “I…I…refuse to give in to your demands.” Ben groaned, Nigel had been left in charge of the bank and he was determined to halt the robbery, except you can’t always talk your way out of these things.
“What if I just go ahead and shoot you?” The gunman asked.
“I don’t care, at least I can say I tried to stop you.” Nigel was visibly sweating, and Ben wistfully thought that the man was hoping the robbers were bluffing about shooting people. Ben knew he had to act before Nigel was cut down in a hail of bullets.
“No.” Ben’s voice was commanding, and echoed in the suddenly silent bank. All eyes turned to him as he stood slowly, taking care to keep his hands away from his body, lest one of the gunmen had an itchy trigger finger.
Nigel looked at him, “What do you mean, no?” He took a step towards Ben. “This is my building, and I refuse to let these…” he motioned to the robbers, “… get away.”
Ben faced him down calmly. “I don’t care about this building or its money, all I care about is that there are people here, frightened people, and I want to make damn sure that every single one of them will walk out of here.” He offered the robbers a smile, “Besides, it’ll be a good story for the grandkids, and they can moan about how no one is safe on the streets, and the usual stuff.”
The assistant manager stood his ground, “I’ll not be taking orders from you…”
The leader of the three gunmen cleared his throat, “Excuse me, can you boys stop the debating in the corner, in case you haven’t noticed, we have the guns, and there’ll be no negotiation.” Ben’s tensed, expecting a shot to be fired. Instead, the man with the handgun pointed it at a cashier. The blonde girl behind the counter was in her early twenties and obviously terrified. “Since you don’t mind being shot, how about the pretty blonde here, should I shoot her instead, let her blood be on your hands?”
Ben curled his hands into fists and resisted the urge to leap into action but he evaluated the situation in front of him. The gunman was six meters away from Ben, and the cashier was two meters from the barrel of his gun. Ben knew that he could reach the man in a split second, but not before he could pull the trigger. He could stop him, but the cashier could be hurt in the process. The other concern was the two remaining men, even if Ben brought down their leader, they could start shooting and people could die. Ben hoped that Nigel wouldn’t do anything foolish.
Nigel spoke softly, “Okay…” he said. “Take what you want…just don’t hurt anyone, please”
During the next five minutes, Ben watched as the men methodically filled the black canvas bags with wads of dollars. Ben stood by silently, relieved that the gunmen hadn’t been provoked into shooting someone. The tension that gripped his body eased a little, he knew that he could stop these men, but he couldn’t do it here, let them go, then I can track them down…
Two minutes later, the men ran from the bank. Immediately, one of the cashiers phoned the police as Ben made sure everyone was okay. Customers helped each other to their feet, hugging each other, grateful that they were unharmed. Nigel walked over to Ben.
“The police will be here in a few minutes, I’m just letting you know in advance that I hold you responsible for this outcome.” Nigel took Ben by the arm. “If you hadn’t interrupted me, they wouldn’t have taken any money.”
Ben calmly took Nigel’s wrist and twisted it, breaking his grip. “Like I said, I wasn’t interested in money, just saving lives.”
Nigel turned to look around the building. “I’ve waited a long time to be left in charge at this branch, and the first day I’m left alone, this happens.” He turned to face Ben, but the blonde man was no longer there. Nigel visually searched the bank quickly and saw no sign of the young man.
Ben was already outside and climbing the wall of the adjacent building, carefully making sure no one saw him. He reached the roof in seconds and started looking around the blocks from his high vantage point, if they had a car stashed, I’ll have lost them, he thought. He leapt to the next building along, and again paused to scan the streets below. Continuing his search, it was another five minutes before he spotted the three men, well, these guys are dumb, they dumped the masks but they decided to stick together. Ben followed them across the rooftops, careful not to lose sight of his quarry. The three robbers kept to busy areas, hoping that the crowd would provide cover. They hadn’t split up since they were confident that the robbery had been a success.
They left the main streets after ten minutes, and started to move with more purpose, Ben still tailed them, keeping silent and distant from the men. When the three of them turned towards the harbour district, Ben made his move. He dropped down off the roof he had been standing on and landed lightly behind the three men, who were unaware of his presence. Ben whistled as loud as he could, and the three men turned around, startled by the noise. Immediately, they recognised Ben and the leader of the group drew his gun and fired, without a moment’s hesitation. Unfortunately, Ben wasn’t exactly standing still; he had already jumped towards the men in an arc that took him clear of the bullets that scythed through the air. The other two men struggled to draw their weapons as Ben landed in the middle of them. He punched the tall spindly man who had tried to shoot him, and simultaneously lashed out with his right foot, catching one of the other men under the jaw. Both fell with grunts of surprise. The third man had just managed to untangle his submachine gun when Ben grabbed the barrel and then elbowed the man in the face. Ben felt the crunch as the man’s nose broke and he fell to the ground to join his friends.
Ben watched the three men as they lay groaning on the pavement. He walked over to a payphone and called the police. Then he settled down to make sure that the three robbers stayed where they were. Half an hour later, Ben was walking back to his apartment. The police took his statement and released him, despite the assistant manager claiming that Ben had collaborated with the robbers. Still, the years he had spent on the road, and in New York as both Spider-man and the Scarlet Spider, he was used to risking his life with little or no thanks. Nevertheless, he felt good; every little deed he did that somehow helped someone would serve to bury the memory of his time as the Green Goblin. The visage of the goblin still haunted his dreams but Ben knew that in his heart, the dreams would fade.
The police officer that had responded to his call hailed him as a hero, but Ben never saw himself in that light, yes, he did help people, had travelled to distant galaxies and other dimensions. He had faced threats that no sane person should have to confront, but he never saw himself as a hero, just a man, trying to do the right thing. Lost in thought, Ben wandered almost unconsciously back to his apartment.
The rest of the afternoon was spent vegetating in front of the television. Ben had never had much time in his life for entertainment, so he made a vow to start catching up on the things he had missed. After several enjoyable hours watching reruns of Frasier, Ben went in search of a convenience store, to stock up on supplies. Half an hour later, Ben was sitting at his kitchen counter, reading newspapers and eating dinner.
He went straight to the job section, scanning the pages for anything suitable. He paused every so often to mark an article with a red pen, and he jotted down contact details in a little notebook he had found at the store. He found several technical jobs, a hospital lab technician, and an assistant for an industrial chemist, to name a couple. Ben felt a little happier; he shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a job.
The next morning, Ben woke up early after a peaceful sleep, and set about mailing his CV to the various jobs he had identified the night before. He was tempted to give Remy a call and arrange to get his hands on a laptop but he still felt uncomfortable about taking advantage of his new friend. Resigning himself to a low-tech existence, at least for the time being, Ben posted the applications and spent the day wandering around Chicago, taking in the sights. He spent his afternoon in Hyde Park, near the university; it was a beautiful place that reminded him of Central Park, back home in New York. Ben sat on a bench eating lunch and when he had finished disposed of his rubbish and started walking again. He had taken all of two steps when his danger sense blared, so he instinctively hopped to his left side, narrowly avoiding a roller blader who barrelled past him with a shout of “Watch out, doofus!” Ben laughed as the pretty Chinese girl nearly clipped a couple of students who were standing kissing in the middle of the path. Shaking his head, wishing his life was as fun loving as that girl’s, he returned to his apartment.
As he entered the room, he noticed a leather jacket hanging just inside the door. Instantly alert, Ben listened intently, and heard loud music emanating from one of the bedrooms. He cautiously crept towards the door of the bedroom, which was slightly ajar. His caution turned to relief when he saw the red on black eyes of Remy LeBeau.
“Remy, you know, you really should let me know when you’re coming to visit.” Ben greeted his friend with a wide smile.
“You should cut down on de caffeine, mon ami, if you be so jumpy.” Remy returned the smile.
“Everything okay?” Ben asked. “Do you want some coffee?”
“Coffee, good, Gambit good too.” Was Remy’s reply.
Ben made his way to the kitchen area, calling over his shoulder, “You know, talking in the third person can be bad for your health, saw it on the Discovery Channel last night.”
“So is making jokes at de expense of people who can kick your ass.” Remy’s voice sounded closer.
Ben chuckled. “Have to catch me first, should call myself Jackrabbit man, the amount of jumping around I do.”
Remy sat on a stool at the kitchen counter. “Sorry for running out yesterday, I had to check on some people I know in Paris.” His expression turned grim as he remembered the news report the previous day.
“Are they…” Ben began.
“Dere’s fine,” Remy cut him off. His expression brightened a little. “So, decided w’at you gonna do yet? Going de spider spandex route or trying for a peaceful life?”
“C’mon, I am the ultimate guilt trip man, heck, if it rains, I feel responsible.” Ben looked thoughtful for a moment, “I don’t know if I’ll don the webs but I’m going to have to do something, it’s pretty much in my blood.”
“My hero,” Remy said in a fawning, high-pitched voice.
“Very funny,” Ben replied dryly. “I’ve already foiled a bank robbery, but I did it as Ben Reilly, not Spider-man, or even the Scarlet Spider. Maybe I should try something more obvious, join the Chicago PD?”
Remy laughed, “Don’t you start wit’ de policeman kick too, already got one friend who t’ink he something out of Miami Vice, don’ need anot’er.” Remy was referring to his former team-mate, Bishop, currently in Australia.
“Okay, maybe not, but I really don’t know where to go from here.” Ben sighed. “Anyway, I’m job hunting at the moment, so maybe I’ll get my civilian life established first and then work out what to do with my wacky powers.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Remy said.
Ben poured some boiling water into the caffetiere to warm it, then added the ground coffee. He topped off the caffetiere and left it to settle.
“So, what are you up to Remy?” Ben asked.
“Got somet’ing in de pipeline, dere’s a guy I wan’ to take a poke at, so I’m planning my approach.” Was Remy’s reply.
“Need back-up?” Ben asked, eager to help his friend and join in the action.
“Non, dis be personal, I don’ wan’ to involve anyone else, dis between him and me.” A dark look passed over Remy’s face for a second.
Ben was concerned about his friend but he fought the urge to push him anymore, Remy was determined to face this threat alone. Ben was willing to support him, no matter what, but he wouldn’t intervene in Remy’s personal business unless he had to. Ben poured the coffee and handed Remy a cup. The coffee was a black as night and to be honest, you could tar a road with it.
Remy’s face split into a wide grin after he tasted the coffee, “’Bout time I met someone who can make a decent cup of coffee. Dis is good stuff, mon ami.”
“Used to work in a coffee shop.” Ben said, his memories taking him back to his time at the Daily Grind, and the friends he had made there. He felt a pang of regret when he realised that they all thought he was dead and gone. “It was good times.”
Remy took a drag of the hot liquid, “You should t’ink about selling dis stuff, between dis coffee, and my gumbo, we could start a restaurant.”
“Ben & Remy’s.” Ben said wistfully, “Nah, still prefer Ben & Jerry’s.” He paused for a moment; “You don’t want to change your name?”
Their conversation continued long into the night. Remy cooked gumbo for dinner, to his “special secret recipe” which Ben suspected might have something to do with illegal drugs but he had to admit, he enjoyed the meal. Remy left around midnight, and as Ben stood on the balcony of his apartment, he heard the roar of Remy’s motorcycle receding into the night.
It wasn’t until an hour later when Ben was going to bed that he saw the package lying in his room. The box was unmarked and there was a note attached.
Just a little something I forgot to give you. You’re one of the best hackers I’ve seen for a while so here’s your chance to brush up on your skills.
Ben was shocked to discover a brand new laptop in the box, with a broadband modem and all the software he could possibly need. Like a kid with a new toy, he connected the laptop up and spent a few hours tinkering with the machine. He glanced at the LCD clock by his bed and realised it was four in the morning. Yawning, he fell into bed and was asleep in moments.