Here Comes The Taps!
Writer: Ben Kaine
Editor: Paul Hahn
This Story Inspired By The Tales of James Wagner (See Afterword)
“Monsters! Fascist monster #$@*!” the old woman yelled from within the bathroom.
Ben Reilly tried the doorknob, just to confirm that she had locked herself
inside. She had.
“Now that’s not fair and you know it, Miss Epstein!” Ben Reilly called out, and for the umpteenth time that day, he glared at Jimmy-Six. The large man returned Ben’s look with an uprised eyebrow, as if he didn’t know why Ben could possibly be looking at him like that. It earned him another glare, so Jimmy shrugged.
“C’mon, Reilly,” Jimmy-Six muttered, hoping it wasn’t loud enough to where the old woman could hear them. “Who steals $80,000 from the Mob and gives it to some sort of Wicked Witch of the West dressed in a bathrobe?”
“I heard that!” came a screech from beyond the bathroom door.
“Occasionally in this business, you just get a curveball,” Jimmy-Six continued.
“Well, I’m glad we can at least agree this is a ‘curveball’, Jimmy, because if this is normal mercenary work for you I’m going back to New York-!” Ben hissed.
“ ‘Ey! The term is ‘private investigator’!” Jimmy-Six said.
“The term is ‘certifiably insane’.”
“What, you mean for the old hen?”
“Her too,” Ben muttered. “Let’s just get her out. Miss Epstein? Miss Epstein?!”
But there was silence beyond that door, absolute silence. No screech, no shuffling of feet, nothing. Ben looked to Jimmy-Six, only received a quizzical look in return, and they both sighed.
“Look, just break off the knob,” Jimmy-Six said. “You should’ve knocked the door down anyway.”
“Alright. Fine. Excuse me for not wanting to crush a senior citizen,” Ben said. He reached out with his hand, taking the brass of the doorknob between his fingers, and with the least bit of effort, the proportionate strength of a spider broke the doorknob away. Before Ben Reilly could make another movement, however, Jimmy-Six had launched his foot at the door, knocking it wide open in a flurry of action.
Jimmy-Six entered, Ben following, and the bathroom was completely empty.
Jimmy-Six straightened his tie, frowned, and they both looked at the open window.
“I don’t believe this!” Ben said. Together, they looked through the open window, and then down. The old, skinny scarecrow of a woman that they had been chasing for the last two minutes, holding a large canvas bag full of money, was now climbing along the outside of the building, slowly making her way toward a balcony about three floors down.
“Oh, this is going to be a shame,” Jimmy-Six said.
And so began Ben Reilly’s first case as a private investigator in Chicago. The former superhero sighed and, just for a moment, let his mind drift back to a few days ago, when he had first arrived in the city. And he remembered how he had become a posh private investigator in Chicago, with the son of a powerful gangster as a partner.
***ONLY DAYS AGO . . . ***
The city of Chicago had seen a lot of superhuman activity lately, mostly on account of a number of mutants calling themselves ‘X-Force’. Ben Reilly remembered hearing about them, but he really didn’t know anything solid and he didn’t care to. He hadn’t flown all the way to Chicago to improve his mutant trivia.
He’d come to get away. Peter Parker, the man who’s genes he had been perfectly cloned from by a madman called the Jackal, had the right to live a life free of his genetic double, and although they once had agreed to attempt to simultaneously carry on their lives in New York City as friends and in a way, brothers, Ben Reilly had come to realize that it couldn’t happen. Not even a month of that arrangement and he had slept with Peter’s wife!
He couldn’t even truly say it had been an honest mistake or error. What could he say? He could barely remember it. He’d pretended to be Peter Parker to ease the suffering of the woman, but she had- Well, that much was obvious when he’d awakened in her bed the next morning.
Peter Parker and Ben Reilly could not coexist. And so, he’d come to Chicago to get away.
‘Have a good life, Peter,’ he thought, and then a meaty finger tapped him on the shoulder.
“Whenever you’re ready to grace us with your presence,” the large man said.
“Sorry, Jimmy,” Ben said, giving a smirk. “I guess I zoned out.”
Jimmy-Six nodded, looked to Ben’s suitcase. “C’mon. My car’s ‘round the terminal. You enjoy the first-class flight or what, eh?”
“I have to admit I felt a little special when the attendant gave me a soft drink instead of spitting on me,” Ben said, joining the large man in the walk away from the plane. “Thanks for the ticket.”
“You stick with me and I take care of you,” Jimmy-Six said gruffly. “Glad you took me up on the offer, though I’m kinda surprised it was so quick. New York not pan out for you?”
“Got uncomfortable,” Ben answered curtly. Jimmy-Six nodded without pressing further, which Ben realized was probably one of the things he was going to like most about spending time with Jimmy and his boys. They had been members of the criminal underworld, where questions aren’t asked and nosiness is very much frowned upon. He wouldn’t have to explain himself.
It was probably just as much a benefit for the man they called “Jimmy-Six”. The man was the son of New York City’s strongest current crimelord, Fortunato, and his father’s ruthless killing of innocents had been too much for him. A gangster with a heart, if you would. He had left New York City and his father’s empire to make it on his own, and he had the contacts to do it. Contacts he was going to share with Ben Reilly.
“So when do we meet these friends of yours?” Ben asked as they reached Jimmy-Six’s car. And what a beauty of a car it was. Ben was suddenly wondering just how much his new life would pay monthly.
“Real anxious to get to business? We meet them just as soon as we go to the tailor’s,” Jimmy-Six smiled, opening the trunk so that Ben could deposit his suitcase. “You ain’t seeing nobody in those dumb clothes, pal.”
“What do they expect?”
“You’re gonna be seein’, soon enough. You gonna work in my world, Pal, you gonna learn something about Image. A new business suit ain’t gonna hurtcha.”
*** AN HOUR LATER ***
“I look like John Gotti,” Ben Reilly said as he stepped out of the dressing room. The tailor (an Italian gentleman that had not bothered to give his name) and Jimmy-Six exchanged smirks. The observation was an obvious one. Ben had been expensively dressed in a black silk Cerruti suit, white-on-white seal-cotton shirt, a pearl gray tie, and black Ferragamos, giving the overall impression of a modern-day man in line to be the next Godfather. The big Jimmy stepped forward, adjusting Ben’s tie and coat as he said: “Exactly. Now admit it. You like it. You look as sharp as you gotta for this work, Benny.”
“What is this ‘work’, Jimmy? You never gave me details…”
“Hey. We’ll take it,” Jimmy-Six said to the tailor. The tailor gave a smug smile, left them alone.
“But I’m almost broke! I can’t afford-!”
“It’s on me. You can repay me after our first job, and trust me, after that you’ll be able to afford it,” Jimmy-Six said, stepping away to get the full effect of Ben Reilly’s new ‘costume’. “Perfect.”
“If you’ll just sign here,” the tailor said, returning.
“I got an account here,” Jimmy-Six explained, taking the receipt and pen.
“I got my Private Investigations and Security licenses ‘bout two months back, Webs,” Jimmy-Six said, returning the pen to the tailor’s bony hand. “Gives us access t’plenty o’ work. We’ll be doing some Bodyguarding, Surveillance and Investigation, Collection- Lucrative lil’ markets for us types, Benny. The sky’ll be the limit, just as soon as we meet our contacts. Don’t look at me like that. It’s all legal. Alright. We’re ready to go. Come on.”
“What about my other clothes?”
“Let the owner give ‘em to Good Will.”
They exited the shop and, at Jimmy-Six’s direction, moved down the sidewalks of Chicago. Ben had been to the city before, although he hadn’t stayed for a particularly-long while, and he certainly hadn’t been in these neighborhoods. A few people waved as they passed, as if they recognized Jimmy-Six (and perhaps they did. Jimmy smiled at them). They were soon out of what Jimmy-Six referred to as “Skyscraper Country”, though, and moving through the more-homey blocks of the city that, in Ben Reilly’s experience as Spider-Man, was a breeding ground for the Mob.
Finally, a small restaurant was found and entered. They were shown to a back room that was actually larger than the dining area, a dimly-lit place smelling of smoke and the faintest hint of something more illegal. ‘Suits’, as Ben Reilly thought of them, looked out from the darkness at the two new arrivals.
They were introduced by a man in a red suit and tie over a black shirt, who stared out at them through some of the strangest sunglasses Ben had ever seen and had to be the epitome of ‘Conspicious’. He moved a toothpick about his mouth with his tongue as he announced:
“Jimmy! Been a while since you left for the Big Apple,” the seated man said. He was somewhere in his fifties and balding, expensively-dressed. He took a moment to sample the cigar in his hand deeply and smiled. “Heard you’re ready for some business.”
“New York wasn’t working out for me,” Jimmy-Six answered, pulling up a chair. He motioned for Ben Reilly to do the same, and he did. “Too much for my blood, I guess.”
“Vicious country, New York,” the man agreed. “Who’s your friend?”
Jimmy-Six’s grizzled face twisted into a smile. “Allow me to introduce my partner. Back in the West, they called him ‘Benny the Taps’.” Ben wasn’t sure what kind of look his face had at that moment, but he was glad the room was dark so that this ‘boss’ couldn’t see it.
“Ain’t heard of him,” the man said.
“He hasn’t been in America long,” Jimmy-Six said. “How else could he be so good? The Taps here is a first-class Arts Kid. Calling him the ‘Bullseye of the West’ is probably an insult to his abilities. Ten men? He’ll knock him flat in half a second each, and he’ll do it with the grace of dancin’. That’s why they call him ‘Taps’.”
“I’ve heard words like that before,” the man said, taking another breath of smoke. Ben Reilly had already labeled him Cigar, not knowing his name. “You willin’ to put Taps here up to a test?”
“Rude to talk about people like they aren’t around,” Ben said, standing. “And give me any test you want. Don’t worry about it, Jimmy. It won’t take long.”
“That’s the spirit,” Cigar said, smiling. “Alright, Taps. You’ve got moxie. Let’s see what else you have, eh? ‘GRAVE’.”
The balding man in the red tie and suit looked to his employer, nodded with a cruel smile that told Ben Reilly all he’d need to know about this customer. He had given and taken pain in his life, and he had enjoyed both. A switchblade was in the man’s hand in a flash, and Grave expertly approached…!
Grave charged forward, slashing with the blade even as another of the henchmen punched from the opposite direction. It was all slow motion. Ben twisted away as the knife sang through space, Grave barely managing to stop from cutting anything but the henchman’s suit.
“How much you want to bet that was an Armani?” Ben smiled, spinning in the air with deliberate grace. He had to show-off, he knew, and it was important to do so. He landed on one foot, sending the other shoe down upon the henchman’s skull. The mobster fell.
Grave gave no reaction, not a single change in his face. He slashed again in a wide arc, obviously hoping to keep Ben Reilly at a distance until he could corner him. When he raised the blade for a second blow, however, he found that it had been snapped off with a slap of his enemy’s palm.
He then received a kick in the stomach for his trouble. Grave landed hard upon Cigar’s table and did not stand. He lay there, groaning, as Cigar stood from his ruined food. Several other henchmen stepped forward...
‘Two or twenty, Guys, it doesn’t matter to me!’ Ben thought, landing in an improvised stance that he hoped looked something like Ninjitsu. ‘Just have to make this look good, without giving away my abilities. The blade thing is something that martial artists can actually do, though. So far, I’m free, and if I can just keep this up-‘
“That’s quite enough,” Cigar said, clapping. “Your reputation suits you, Taps. Suits you fine. Sit down while my men clear away these two and get me a new dinner.”
Ben Reilly sat and glanced to his partner. Jimmy-Six was smiling.
“There’s a man who’s stolen $80,000 from a corporate friend of mine,” Cigar was saying. “You find him and get him to cough up what you can. There’s ten percent of whatever you can take out of him in it for you. Deal?”
The rest of the meeting was pleasant, but short. Cigar gave them a free meal, courtesy of the restaurant, and Ben had to admit that it was some of the best Italian he’d ever had. Afterwards, they’d been given the name of a good hotel and sent on their way. Night had descended by the time they’d exited the doors.
Jimmy-Six lit a smoke. They walked in silence for a few moments, before Ben Reilly finally spoke. He cleared his throat, said: “Who was that guy anyhow? Never even gave a name.”
“Didn’t need to. If it makes you feel better, though, he’s Frank Darabonte. Tough customer. Basically the man to see around here, as far as the Family goes.”
“The-? You mean the Mob?”
“Jimmy, you said this wasn’t going to be-“
“And it isn’t,” Jimmy-Six cut him off icily, turning to face him. “Frankie’s got a ‘partner’ with a pretty good company. Some perp steals eighty thousand from it. What does Frankie do? He calls in the headhunters-that’s Us-instead of having his men blow the perp’s brains out. It’s legal investigation work in the place of Murder, so get yourself a grip.”
“But we’re still working for the Mob.”
“No. We’re working for a private corporation, on behalf of a citizen who’s got rights and no criminal record. We’re workin’ against a guy who stole eighty thousand from another guy who ain’t done anything wrong. Get over yourself, ‘Taps’. The ‘Mob’ is just a term a bunch of stupid civilians use when they’re describin’ a single guy-or several guys-doin’ something illegal. There’s no Mob. We’re doing good work. This is your change of pace you’ve been asking for. Are you in?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m in,” the Taps said. And the scary part: He WAS in.
This was no act to get on Jimmy-Six’s goodside. They weren’t doing anything illegal, even if their clients were less than reputable, and Ben was tired of his old life, of having to scrounge for pennies and agonize endlessly. Tired of being the double of a man named Peter Parker. It was time for Ben Reilly to become his own, sufficient, man, and one that lived the good life.
‘Look out, Chicago!’ he thought as he straightened his silk tie. ‘You’ve got a new enforcer. Here comes Benny the Taps!’
*** LATER THAT DAY . . . ***
“So how exactly do we go about this?” Ben asked, pushing away the shot of whiskey that Jimmy-Six had ordered for him. About them were the sounds, smells, and visions of the pool hall. It was one of the nicer establishments, a little place that wasn’t considered a crème de la crème, but went out of its way to be respectable. A few men sunk an eight ball as they sipped on drinks, flirted with the present feminine company.
“We find this jerk that stole from our new employer and take his butt down. Then we get him to cough up the dough, and perhaps make him digest some of it,” Jimmy-Six grunted.
“Unnecessary violence isn’t my style, Jimmy.”
“Yeah, I know it. I know it. But you should be awares right now, see, that I’m not entirely jokin’. One man I knew stole a major diamond from an employer o’ mine and wedged it right up his- Well, take a guess. Refused to give it up. I had to-!”
“Unless you’re not planning to eat the food we ordered, Jimmy-?”
“Fine,” Jimmy-Six smirked. “So’s we deals. We find this perp and we get the cash. Only probs we gots are prob’ly Time and Budget. The perp gets on a plane to Turkey, y’see, then we can’t follow him ‘cept at great expense, and finding someone in Turkey is Hell anyhow.”
“You don’t say.”
“So we just need to find this guy as soon as possible. How do we do that?”
“We don’t have to. I’ve got his address. We do it tomorrow and hope he’s still there.”
“Sleep off the immense amount of alcohol I’m gonna slip you. You need to loosen up a bit, Taps. I’m going to see to it.”
*** BACK TO THE PRESENT! ***
Ben Reilly groaned, felt as if a hammer was pounding his head repeatedly. Jimmy-Six hadn’t crossed him yet on anything, and the liquor had been no exception. Ben wondered what Aunt May would think of her nephew (the clone of her nephew, he reminded himself . . . ) with a hangover, chasing a woman her age around the outside of a hotel. It would probably look pretty bad. Ben tried to picture it in his head:
“Let me explain-!” he would say to May. And then he would die.
“Yo, ‘Taps’!” Jimmy-Six growled, bringing Ben Reilly back to reality. “Are you gonna do this or is it me who gots the powers of a spider?”
Ben Reilly looked down at the 70-ish Miss Epstein, who’s bathrobe (the only thing she was wearing, save for modest underwear) was now billowing in the wind, giving the people down below something to really shout about. He sighed. A ‘curveball’, Jimmy-Six had said this was. This had sure better be a ‘curveball’.
Ben Reilly leaped out of the window, falling through the air quickly towards Miss Epstein’s location. The silk tie that Jimmy had bought him slipped out of his suit, slapping him in the face as he went, and it was solely his ‘spider-sense’ that allowed Ben to land perfectly on a balcony railing. Miss Epstein looked up at him with eyes like dinner plates and then gave another shrill scream. He winced in pain, grabbed for her, and she struggled-…
“Miss Epste-!” he tried to cry, but he had already lost balance. They fell, past window after window of the posh building, in complete freefall as she screamed into his ear like a banshee…
He twisted, struggling to regain his senses and calculate how he’d fall. He could certainly take the fall and rebound from it, but in order not to hurt her… There!
They landed, his hand securely grabbing her wrist as they came to an easy start in the middle of an intersection. New sounds-the honking of cars as they slammed on their brakes- entered into Ben Reilly’s ears. Somewhere to his right, a Chevrolet slammed into a fire hydrant.
But he had her. He had her.
She screamed into his ear and kicked him in the balls.
He let go of her.
She was immediately off again, running through the street, flashing everyone in sight with her loose bathrobe and , and Ben Reilly took a moment to reflect. The long, gray hair of the woman was disheveled and sticking virtually straight up, combining with her long, stringy body to make her look like a scarecrow in her ratty robe. If the truth was to be known, she looked like SHE should be chasing THEM. All the old crow needed was an axe and a target.
Jimmy-Six was suddenly at his side, yelling. “What the hell was dat?”
“Below the belt,” Ben mumbled.
“Oh? Dat how you lost to them supervillains, Ben? The Hobgoblin kick you in the-?”
“I really don’t want to talk about this. Let’s just get her, alright? Where did she go?”
“Down the market street. Youse get her. I’ll take care of the angry motorists.”
“The angry-? Oh. Great.”
Ben Reilly took a powerful leap, sailing over the heads of infuriated people who had newly-damaged cars and probably lawyers. Jimmy-Six sighed, reaching into the gray trenchcoat that hung around his large body, and produced a small stack of business cards. This was going to cost them a good bit of their pay. What a great way to kick off a new enterprise.
“ ‘Taps’,” he mumbled, “…You’d better catch ‘er..”
Ben rebounded off a car hood with acrobatic ease, finally seeing Miss Epstein in his sights again. She had managed to attract another pursuer this time, a policeman, who also seemed to be learning what it meant to attempt apprehension of an old German actress. But this time, he wouldn’t fail.
As he jumped, he grabbed a nearby awning, ripping it away from the roof of the small café. He clutched it carefully, taking a deep breath, and when he thought he had an opening- Leaped!
She wasn’t expecting him, having just finished biting the police officer in the arm. In a blur of speed, Ben wrapped the awning around her, closing it tightly, and she fell to the sidewalk.
A canvas bag fell from her hand, and Reilly caught it. Success!
Before the policeman could question him, he was moving again, darting into a nearby alley and then calmly walking back to where he had left Jimmy-Six. The grizzled son of a mobster had just finished calming down the last citizen, and Ben noticed that he had run out of business cards.
‘Not good,’ he thought with a sigh, but he was too exhausted to worry about it. Jimmy-Six turned and gave him a glare of his own, put a cigarette in his mouth and lit up. Stress, probably. Ben would believe that in a second. This was supposed to have been an easy job.
“Tell me you got it,” Jimmy-Six said simply.
“I got it,” Ben said, but he opened the canvas bag just to make sure. Inside was money, far more of it than Ben had ever seen in one place. He sighed with relief, closed it again.
“Grave’s pickin’ us up,” Jimmy said, sitting down on the sidewalk. Ben collapsed next to him and looked himself over. Both of them had probably half-ruined their new, very expensive suits. Jimmy was mumbling something about lost cufflinks. Ben leaned against the storefront and someone threw a dollar bill at them.
“God bless you,” he mumbled at the passing man.
“We really look that bad?” Jimmy-Six muttered.
“Like out-of-workers on Wall Street, yeah. So, just because I’m still a little confused-..”
“Like I know. The embezzler’s name was Patrick Durham. Apparently, he gave the money to that batty old hen for safekeepin’…”
“And did she do her little boy proud,” Ben groaned. “Where’s Durham now?”
“I think Grave’s got him.”
“Lucky him, considering what I feel like doing to-..”
A car stopped, a black Sedan, and Grave stepped out. The suit and tie were bright green this time around, on black, making Ben wonder once more who Grave’s tailor was. The dark eyes regarded the two men for a moment without humor.
“I have Durham,” he finally said, stepping back into the car.
Together, Ben and Jimmy stood and rolled into the backseat of the car. The windows had been tinted, the entire car an odd shade of black- Obviously, Grave’s personal automobile. In the front passenger’s seat, Patrick Durham was cuffed and unconscious. Ben Reilly’s eyes widened slightly-
“I wouldn’t worry,” Grave said, leaning back in his own seat. There was something in his hand, and Ben saw that it was a badge. “I’m a cop, too.”
‘How wonderful,’ Ben thought, relaxing on the leather.
“Don’t get comfortable. Where’s the money?” Grave asked. Jimmy-Six’s meaty hand produced the canvas bag, and for several minutes, Grave rifled through it, counting, examining its contents. Finally, he put the bag down, satisfied, and eyed them through his rearview mirror.
“The Boss’ll have the $8,000 in your account with ‘im by tomorrow,” Grave said. “And just so that we’re clear-..” He gestured at the accidents that the chase had caused on the road. “-he ain’t paying for any of this.”
Jimmy-Six only nodded in surrender. He hadn’t expected the employer to do it. He looked to Ben Reilly and motioned for his partner to get out of the car, which the ex-superhero reluctantly did. Grave said no further word to them. Once they were out, the car was placed into Drive, and it sped away, leaving them on the corner.
“You have fun?” Jimmy-Six asked.
“Where’s Carnage when you need him?” Ben coughed.
There was a loud beep. Jimmy-Six reached into his pocket, produced a pager, read the message. After he was done, he put it away and looked at the sky for a moment, as if taking a moment to reflect, or perhaps simply to make Ben wait.
Finally, he flicked away his cigarette with stunning accuracy, landing it inside a sewer grate, and started walking. Ben followed.
“What was that?” he asked. Jimmy-Six raised an arm and yelled for a taxi.
“Another employer,” Jimmy-Six said. “He wants us in his office in an hour. Seems he wants two bodyguards to see him onto a plane for Dallas. He thinks someone might take a shot at him.”
“What-?! We just finished a case!”
“Yeah, and after we finish payin’ the damages, we’ll be several thou’ in the hole. Smooth out your suit the best you can and wet your hair, ‘Taps’. We got work to do and we need the cash.”
Reilly sighed in defeat. He donned his leather gloves, flexed his fingers, straightened his tie. Followed.
“So,” the new employer would say later, looking them over. “You’re the two. ‘Jimmy-Six’ and… what was it? ‘Benny the Taps’?”
“Yes, Sir,” they’d say.
“You look like Hell,” he’d note.
“We recently visited its mother,” Jimmy-Six muttered.
“Two thousand for each of you. One morning’s work. You get to the airport at seven thirty and make sure Winson Brigham gets on that plane safe. You in?”
“Good. Now who do I say I jus’ hired in my report? You guys got some sorta business name?”
They exchanged looks, and Ben Reilly remembered- just at that moment- a case that he had when he was just starting out as Spider-Man (when Peter had started out as Spider-Man, he thought…). A group of thugs he’d once known, led by a man he’d thought he could trust- What were they called? Oh yeah.
“We’re the Enforcers,” Benny the Taps said.
Time to get to work. Despite that day’s work, he thought he’d like it in Chicago…
*** The End ***
A quick note of thanks to James Wagner, an ex-private investigator who’s autobiography “Jimmy the Wags” I pilfered a bit from for this story. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of the book, as it is simply some of the best light reading I’ve done in a while. I laughed, I cried, etc. etc. etc. Without it, I am sure that I would have had no interest in writing anything remotely like ‘The Enforcers’ under New Marvel’s lil’ umbrella.
That’s it. I’m done. I’ll see you again. When I’m King of the World.