According to “Double V,” the Hangmen were dead people given the chance to live a second time. I didn’t remember the article being clear on why.
I understood how the writer might have missed that detail. The Hangmen didn’t seem particularly talkative. In fact, they didn’t say anything at all as they got off the remains of the table and onto the (now heavily scratched) wooden floor.
Vengeance stood in front of them, knife hanging from his belt, rifle on his back.
“Time to hand him over, kids,” he said. “You did some nice work grabbing him, but this is too big for you.”
Vaughn put down the sandwich he’d been just about to eat, moving his hands behind the counter and out of sight — to Vengeance at least.
Sparks ran across both hands, but not any higher.
“How big is it?” Vaughn asked.
“Hey, it’s Red Lightning, Jr,” Vengeance said. “No hard feelings about the stabbing. I had to make sure. But back to your question, hanging on to that man is like holding dynamite.”
“Not too big for the Rhino and Mindstryke,” Daniel said. “We’re not acting alone.”
Vengeance laughed. “I’ve been on this for weeks now. Trust me, you can’t even imagine how big this is and it’s not going to be solved by beer or mind reading.”
He stepped forward.
Behind him, the Hangmen had spread out. They stood in a line behind Vengeance, each of the three holding a noose. Another couple feet and they would be standing in the kitchen.
“The Rhino’s done a lot more than beer commercials,” I said.
Ignoring me, he said, “Time’s a wasting. Hand him over.”
“What are you going to do with him?” I said.
“He’s going to stab him,” Daniel said. “If it judges the mayor unworthy, the knife will absorb his essence and kill him.”
Next to me, Water said, “He’d deserve it after what he did to us. Don’t look at me like that. He does.”
“He deserves the judicial system,” Daniel said. “Everyone does.”
“So he can hire a lawyer and get off?” Vengeance said. “The law never touches his kind. Best thing you can do is hand them over to a judge that only wants justice.”
Vengeance took another step forward. Behind him, the Hangmen moved a step closer to the entrance of the kitchen.
Now Vengeance stood across the counter from Vaughn, about ten feet in front of where Water, Marcus and I stood next to the refrigerator. Daniel and the still floating mayor were on the other side of the kitchen next to a small table.
It struck me that I couldn’t hear anything happening outside.
He turned toward Daniel. “I’ve heard a lot of crap about the system over the years, but if it worked, we wouldn’t be here. The first League went on and on about helping the system work, but how’d they start? They burned down some mobster’s warehouse and they weren’t nice about it. It was war. They didn’t go soft till they killed one of their own. Fucking fools. If they’d killed him earlier, that would have saved some lives. Me, I’d have opened him up the second I knew.”
Daniel began, “I can’t believe you. If there’s one thing that came out of Red Lightning, it ought to be that we need rules of conduct –”
Vaughn interrupted him. “Vengeance,” Vaughn said. “Hey, dude.”
He pulled his hands out from below the counter. I could barely see hands beneath the electricity arcing between them.
Vengeance began to move, but I couldn’t see where because of the lightning strike. The thunderclap rattled the windows — the ones that hadn’t been shattered anyway.
During the blast, I could only see white, so it took me a moment to realize that Vaughn had missed. The strike had blackened the wall, broken two windows, and stared a fire on the drapes.
As my eyes adjusted to normal light, Vengeance leaped off the floor toward Daniel, landing on him. Daniel fell backwards, hitting the wall and then the floor.
The Hangmen closed the gap with more speed that I would have expected. One jumped over the counter to struggle with Vaughn, both of them falling to the floor while bright arcs of electricity lit that half of the room. Then came a cracking noise and the electricity stopped.
The remaining two Hangmen went for Marcus, Water and I, running toward us, throwing the nooses ahead.
The rope caught Marcus mid-change into a kind of panther. The noose snaked through the air, the rope end growing in length while the noose end caught Marcus, constricting around the neck. He didn’t fight it. He just fell, his limbs unmoving.
The other noose widened, and before I could do anything, it closed around my neck. I couldn’t feel it, of course. It only touched my armor.
In all likelihood, that had to be the reason I could still move.