A Place for Strangers and Beggars
Carter jerked upright on the sofa, sweating. She’d just had a nightmare. An awful nightmare about Blaire. She looked around the hotel room, breathing heavily, and let out a sigh of relief.
Immediately, she felt guilty. She felt as if everything that was happening to her was a joke. No, everything that was happening, she was taking it as if it was…a joke. A trip. Some kind of road trip, even though it was far from it. She was meant to be searching high and low for her niece and even if she was investigating with Rorschach, and got the chance to meet Nite Owl II and Dr Manhattan and even had a lift in the Owlship, she felt as though she was frolicking with them instead and now she was even wasting time lounging in some cheap hotel. She roared in frustration and raked at her head with her fingers.
She wiped at her eyes and looked around again. Rorschach was still not back yet. She ate the crisps and pepsi, and felt bad afterwards. The TV was still on, at an inaudible volume, and a moth was zooming merry-go-round circles around the flickering lightbulb glued to the ceiling. Just a dream, she reassured herself as she tried to calm herself down.
It didn’t stop her from bursting into tears.
At the moment she bent down to pick up her jacket which had fallen off her body and onto the floor, someone knocked on the door. Startled, Carter stared at the door and then slowly slid out from the sofa, switched off the TV using the remote and chucked it on the bed; she walked up to the door, and squeaked out meekly, “Hello?”
“Open up, sweetheart.”
Carter stepped back, gawping at the door in fright. Who the hell – ? She checked the clock. It was 1am in the morning and she did recall ordering for any kind of room service (it didn’t seem as though they offered room service in this rundown place, anyway). Who was it???
“Don’t make me come in there, Mrs Marsh.” The voice laughed, before snarling out, “Now hurry up and get this fucking door open before I kick it down!!!”
What?? Mrs Marsh??? Carter paled immediately. “Y-You got the wrong room!”
“Nah, don’t play dumb, sweetie; it’s not cute. I asked the fat man downstairs. Said your husband’s here, but obviously the poor, helpless wife’s a better prize…”
“Eh…Er…W-Who are you?!” Carter fumbled out weakly as she backed towards the direction of the bed and grabbing the lamp for protection whilst sincerely wishing that Rorschach was back. She whimpered under her breath and hastily opened the window, still grabbing the lamp and looking over her shoulder at the same time.
The door slammed open and Carter screamed when a big, burly man stormed in, cocking a shotgun in his hands, a thick cigar in his mouth. His hair was dark and somewhat frayed, slightly greying. His moustache was combed down and his wrinkles uplifted when he grinned wickedly at her, and winked, his armour shining dully under the light above them, and Carter dropped the lamp out of her hands as she climbed half-way out the open window, her mouth hanging open.
65-year-old Graham Marsh came back from the bar with a box of pizza, fumbled with his keys and unlocked his door. Then he went in, and sat himself down on the sofa, happily eating a slice of pizza while flicking on the TV and laughing at a man getting hit by a car when someone knocked furiously and frantically on his door. Looking from the empty beer can that was in front of the TV set, he grumbled sourly under his breath and lowered the volume using the remote. He had just got back. He wanted to sit. He wanted to ignore the door. But the knocks did not cease. He got off his sofa, put his pizza slice down, and plodded over to the door.
“Alright, alright – calm yer beans.” He said, cleaning his palms free of crust and cheese, as the knocking escalated loudly in volume. He unlocked the door, pulled the chain back and –
It swung open and slammed into his nose.
Marsh went flying, hit his beer can and the pizza box and the impact broke his entire coffee table. He landed on the ground, blood spurting from his nose like a fountain. Wincing, he got up, screaming obscenities as he realised his left arm was dangling in a strange angle.
A shadow towered inside; stood above him in the light.
Marsh stared on, terrified as the shadow peered forwards and grabbed him by the collar, strangling him, and lifted him right off the floor, pepperoni and cheese from the pizza slipping off the back of his shirt. “ARGH!!!! W-Who are you – ? What are you??!! What do you – Oh my god!” He screamed, as soon as he saw the faceless man inches in front of him. “It-It’s you! R-Rorschach…Oh god…No, please!”
“Shut up, scum.”
Marsh was spun round and slammed back down on his broken coffee table, with Rorschach’s foot stepping on his back, his arms brought behind.
“Where is she?!” He demanded furiously.
“I-I don’t know who you’re talking about!” Marsh screamed back.
With that, Rorschach grabbed his hand, flattened his palm, and snapped a finger as if it was like a pretzel stick. Marsh howled in pain and flailed in agony, as Rorschach pressed on, “Wrong answer!”
“Gawd! I don’t know!”
SNAP! There goes another finger…
“I can keep this up all night.” Rorschach growled; he grabbed the man’s head by the crown of the skull and slammed his forehead against the ground.
“I ain’t talking – “
This time, Rorschach brought his entire fist down on the bend of the arm’s man, breaking it.
Hearing him roar in pain almost made him smile.
His mind reeled, his vision blurring, Marsh blubbered out, “O-Okay! Okay, okay! I’ll tell you – b-but don’t say it was me – “
“Who took the girl??!”
Marsh cried, tears streaming his bulbous cheeks, “I-It was some guy…named Gerald Grice…I-I don’t know him…B-But he owns this dressmaking shop or something… It’s called… Modern Modes — I overhead him in the bar…lots of people crowding round…he was saying how he managed to kidnap this girl…daughter of some wealthy chemical plant owner or something…that’s all I know!!”
Rorschach was silent.
…Roche Chemical Company.
Rorschach looked back up. “No…”
Still in his iron hold, Marsh perked up, “Uh…can you let go of me now, I – ARGHHH!” He roared out in pain just as Rorschach broke the last of his intact finger of his right palm.
He finally got off the man, who was whimpering and snivelling on the floor amongst the bits and pieces of broken coffee table, but then – Another man had rushed in, screaming, “Mr Marsh!! Your wife is being kidnapped by The Comedi – “ He stopped short, stared at Rorschach with widened eyes, then looked at Marsh, who was still writhing and squirming on the ground like a maggot. “…R-Rorschach…Mr Marsh…?”
Marsh groaned out haplessly, cradling his broken fingers, “…What wife?? I ain’t got no wife…”
“B-But – “ The meek man fell silent when Rorschach approached him, grabbed him before he could run, and slammed his back against the door. “Argh! Don’t hurt me, Rorschach!!”
“What did you just say?” Rorschach growled at him.
“He-He came in…D-Don’t know how or where, but he came in – looking for Marsh. Found his wife instead. Took her hostage…I-I am innocent, Rorschach!”
Growling in fury, Rorschach threw him out of the doorway and down the stairs, then turned to Marsh once again and grabbed him by the shirt collar. The man hadn’t ceased crying yet, his tears mingling with blood and saliva. “The Comedian is looking for you. Why?”
“I…I don’t – Oh god, fine, I’ll tell you, just don’t break anymore of my fingers…!” Marsh sobbed piteously, pleadingly, “…Look, I just distribute the drugs and get the money for it; I don’t import them, honestly… So-So…am I clean…??”
“No.” And Rorschach let him go, then kicked him in the face.
Carter was screaming.
She was getting abducted by The Comedian, and no-one was doing anything except rush out of their rooms to see what the commotion was about, stare over the banister and point as he made off with her, walking leisurely and undisturbed through the front lobby. There was nothing funny about this. Nothing funny at all. The rude, fat man behind the reception desk stayed quiet and hid behind the TV as she screamed and punched and kicked and threw her fists around but to no avail. Throwing a hissy fit wouldn’t accomplish anything; The Comedian was built like a block of iron. She was useless.
Apparently, her ‘husband’ was a drugs dealer who had sought refuge in Brooklyn and The Comedian had been hot on his tail. And now he had taken ‘Mrs Marsh’ as a hostage.
“What kind of vigilante are you?!” She screamed, “Let me go!! I am innocent! I am not his wife, and I certainly don’t do drugs!”
The Comedian laughed, with Carter hanging over his shoulder. “Yeah… deny it all you want…Girls like you are just my type.”
She remembered that The Comedian had a terrible reputation; he punched women, kicked babies, made men cry in front of their children and drowned puppies. He was also renowned to have had flings with tonnes of woman, even though he hankered for one — namely Sally Jupiter, or Silk Spectre I. He reached over and gave her buttock a pinch; Carter screamed bloody murder again and began wailing.
“Mr Rorschach…Help me…Help!!!”
“That smelly old bastard? You know him? What are you, his girlfriend or something? You havin’ an affair??” The Comedian’s eyebrows furrowed somewhat, “…Isn’t he too old for you? Hell, isn’t Graham Marsh too old for you?”
“Why are you doing this??”
“He owes me. Big time. And I need to fish him out, alright? You’re good bait.”
Carter began to sob, her tears wetting the back of his pants. “…No…I’m not Mrs Marsh…Y-You got the wrong person. I’m…I’m Evelyn Carter…I’m trying to find my niece…She’s been kidnapped. Her name’s Blair Roche – “
“Roche? As in, Roche Chemical Company?”
Immediately, Carter fell silent. Stopped sniffling and snorting. “What…? What did you say?”
“Ahh, never mind. So, you’re not Mrs Marsh. Riiiiiiight.”
“I…I-I’m teaming up with Rorschach to find her. We looked around New York first, and found Dr Manhattan, but he couldn’t help us and…then Rorschach came back tonight saying he managed to get new leads and he got a name – Graham Marsh – and that he was in Brooklyn so we needed a lift and went to Mr Nite Owl sir and now we just got here and – “
The Comedian growled sourly at her, “God, you talk too much. So fucking noisy. I take that back. I hate women who can’t shut their trap.”
Carter sobbed harder, “…Rorschach…Help…I’m scared…”
As if on cue, the front doors to the hotel were kicked open and a lone figure stood at the doorway. The Comedian stopped in his path, used his free hand, took out his cigar from his mouth and puffed out a whiff of smoke, then grinned and threw his head back, laughing. “…Hehehe…Look what the cat dragged in…”
Carter tried to look back; it was hard, but she managed to, even if it hurt her neck. Her face lit up at the sign of him; he was standing in front of The Comedian’s path. “Mr Rorschach!” She exclaimed, then she howled louder and smothered away at her tears.
Rorschach ignored her. “Let her go, Comedian.”
“Who? This thing?” He chuckled, grinning as he pressed his tongue against the wall of his cheek, his mouth open. He settled Carter back on the ground and she tried to crawl away, but he grabbed her foot and dragged her back. She wailed helplessly, her fingernails scraping off the concrete of the parking lot. “This your new whore, Rorschach?”
“Not a whore.” He grunted, his fists clenching tightly in their gloves.
“She’s not a whore.”
The Comedian grinned at him once again. “Oh, really? Got a joke for ya, Rorschacky. Wanna hear?”
“Not interested. Hand her over.”
He tittered, it was almost a wheezy laugh. The Comedian propped his cigar out of his mouth and tucked it behind his ear. “Don’t get in my way; you wouldn’t like it when I’m angry.”
“Wrong person. Not Mrs Marsh.”
Carter screamed helplessly from the sidelines, “I told him! He wouldn’t believe me!”
“Shut up!” The Comedian grabbed her by the chin, and then he raised his arm – before he thoroughly slapped her across the face sharply.
There was a deathly silence…
…Which was sporadically broken when The Comedian started laughing, as Carter sniffled meekly, lying on the dirty tiled ground, trembling slightly. “See that?” He said, pointing to the sobbing heap; then he kneeled down to her and pulled her back up to sit, grabbed her chin between his fingers again and forced her to look at him. She stared back, terrified. He chuckled again, touching the pelt of her reddened cheek, tracing her jawline whilst licking his lips. “Women shouldn’t make a face like that. It’s ugly.”
Rorschach watched on.
He let go of her and she flopped back over the ground, quivering in terror. “Alrigh’, Rorschacky, you obviously want her back. But not without a fight. You up for it?” The Comedian said, nodding his head to Rorschach’s direction, still grinning. He put his gun to the side, where Carter would not reach, and tightened his gloves. “C’mon, let’s see what moves you got.”
Within moments, The Comedian was charging towards Rorschach and Carter couldn’t bear to watch the spectacle; she wanted to hide her face in her hands but something stopped her. She watched with eyes wide, still lying on the ground, too afraid to move. They exchanged lightning fast blows and attacks that even Carter could not keep up. The Comedian swung an arm towards Rorschach’s direction with a mighty roar, which Rorschach countered by ducking – his arm knocked over a pillar in the wall instead – and Rorschach sent a clenched knuckle towards The Comedian’s side. He dodged and kicked him in brutal retaliation, aimed towards his stomach but he bent backwards, the hefty leg narrowly missing his gut.
The Comedian reared back, growling in fury and lashed out again; he brought his fist slamming down and Rorschach dodged; The Comedian’s fist pummelled the ground and he lashed out again caught it this time – and he doubled over – Carter cried out and flinched, squeezing her eyes shut at that precise moment. She didn’t know the Crimebusters fought with each other. She thought they were all allies and worked hard together. What was going on?
Rorschach was hauled up by the leg and The Comedian swung him into the nearest wall – sending him smashing into a portrait and flying down onto the table, breaking it. He recovered quickly and rammed full-frontal onto the bigger built man, sending a punch to his face; The Comedian stumbled back slightly, knocking into a grandfather’s clock, and pulled back, then he grabbed a heavy plant pot and threw it at Rorschach with mighty strength. The man dodged and delivered a kick to the bend of his knee, making the bigger man trip up somewhat. He went crashing into the wall, breaking off bits of wall. Debris coated him and he coughed. The Comedian swiftly gathered himself back up, spitting out a tooth. He wiped at his mouth and at the dribble of blood down his chin, roaring furiously.
Carter continued to watch on, at the same time crawling towards The Comedian’s gun lying on the ground; it just looked like a really bad wrestling pay-per-view show; both men had something to prove, blinded by persistent anger, male pride and vehemence, destroying everything in their wake at the same time. Both were forgetting who they really were and she couldn’t help but flinch once more when The Comedian went out on his entire, brute force, knocking Rorschach completely down to the ground.
“Oh, no you don’t.” The Comedian approached Carter and kicked her in the stomach before her fingers reached the gun; he kicked the gun away from her as she winced and curled up tighter.
Rorschach threw his body at him, knocking The Comedian away from the girl. “Rorschach!!” She screamed.
The Comedian pulled him off and threw him against the wall again. With Rorschach down, The Comedian grinned, chuckling loudly. He circled the man on the floor slowly, then rushed forward and kicked him once in the ribs. He ignored her screaming from the side. Watching him wince and growl under his breath, The Comedian kicked him again.
“Stop it…!! Stop it!” She yelled, crawling as fast as she could towards Rorschach.
She was at his side within moments; The Comedian raised an eyebrow, frowned, then returned to the spot where he had previously left his gun. She lifted him up and shook him, “Rorschach…! Get up!” She pleaded desperately, looking up at the same time to see The Comedian advancing back towards them. Carter bit her lip and shook him again. “Rorschach…!”
“…Errnghh…” He grunted out, wincing in agony. Underneath the mask, he opened his eyes and looked at her; a thin stream of blood leaked out from the corner of her mouth, and her cheek had a blotchy, red handprint. It looked ugly.
All she could do was hold him tightly, and looked up shakily, “Mr Comedian, sir, please don’t…please don’t hurt us. W-We’ll do whatever you want…” She stammered, as he finally approached the two and lifted up his gun, pointing it to Carter’s head.
“C’mon out, Marsh, I got your wife, here…If ya don’t come out, I’ll blow her pretty little head off her shoulders!” He teased, cackling, his booming voice echoing around the hotel lobby.
“I-I’m not Mrs Marsh…” She whimpered out.
“I don’t care who you are anymore, sweetheart.” The Comedian said, grinning.
Rorschach grabbed her arm, grasping so tightly it hurt her, “…Don’t beg …” He rasped out at her furiously, almost spitting at her, but promptly flopped back, his side brimming with pain. “Never…compromise…”
“…N-Never compromise…?” Carter breathed out, as she bent down closer to hear him properly. In return, she clutched onto him firmly, and squeezed her eyes shut as the corner of her eyes began to brim with hot tears. She could feel Rorschach’s iron hold on her arm, gripping her sleeve so tightly he almost ripped it off.
She gawped at him in her arms, then smiled helplessly, almost sadly. “N-Not even in the face of death itself….” She muttered out, her voice barely above a whisper, only for his ears to hear. A-Are we going to die?? But…I never found Blair…She glanced at Rorschach again; and then, she nodded and sucked in a few tears, huddled onto him tighter. She closed her eyes shut, as she heard the gun click, now she was waiting for the final blow to come.
A few moments later, and…
The Comedian had lowered his gun, threw his cigar on the floor and stomped on it, squashing the wrapper and innards under his boot. Carter winced at the sight, as soon as she opened her eyes slowly. The Comedian spat on the ground and wiped at his mouth again. “…You’re pathetic.” He snarled out, throwing an arm into the air and gesturing rudely at them. “You’re both pathetic.”
Then he turned round… and left.
Carter looked up in shock. They both watched The Comedian’s retreating back; he pulled out a flask from his side and unscrewed the lid, letting droplets of liquor into his open mouth and laughed, dwaddling out of the parking lot, humming some incoherent tune under his breath while laughing at the same time. The fat man ran out from the hotel desk, staring around his destroyed lobby with widened eyes, before letting out a frustrated roar and falling to knees.
Carter let out a breath of relief once he was gone, and turned to Rorschach, who was still lying beneath her. She stared down at him for a few seconds, then smiled at him awkwardly. “…We’re… we’re okay…” But then – “Oh, Rorschach…you’re hurt again…because of me…I’m so…so sorry.”
“Not your fault.”
She smiled lopsidedly at him again, sucking in tears, “…I-I can’t do this without you. Hang in there…for me, please…”
“Just bruises.” He murmured out.
“That…That was really…scary. Like facing the devil…” She breathed out, wiping her brow clear of sweat. “…Are…Are you alright?”
There was another period of prolonged silence. Then – “…Fine.” He eventually grunted out, looking away from her and struggling out of the web of her arms to sit back upright. He eyed her red cheek, specifically at the handprint. She didn’t seem to notice.
All he could do was wince in agony. He used a hand to lift his mask up over his mouth, to spit out some blood. Carter stared at the mouth as it took deep, ragged breaths in and out; the look on her face could resemble the man who discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb. Rorschach raised his hand again to pull the mask back over his jaw.
She stopped him.
He blinked at her behind the mask.
Carter stared at the mouth incredulously, as if it was the most curious and fascinating thing she had seen, inspecting his exposed feature carefully, as if trying to remember every inch, every detail, storing it into memory. Then she slowly pressed her own hand over the chin, the chiselled jawline and the small nick under the neck. He froze entirely; feeling her touch. She closed her eyes and let her fingertips rest gently over his chin, felt the stubble, the bulge of his rough lips, and she pulled her trembling hand back.
“…Y-You’re….” She whispered out shakily, and then, she cocked her head to the side, and looked at him apathetically. “…I don’t believe it…How…How could you – “
She looked…angry, and stopped in sentence, as if she had finally figured out something, then leant off him and sat back up. He didn’t comprehend what was going on; the female enigma was as elusive from him as ever, not that he really cared. She sat with her back to him, let out a frustrated groan. Rorschach pulled down his mask and tucked it into his scarf carefully again. A stony silence passed between them. Carter sat, staring at the destroyed surroundings.
“I found out why Blair was kidnapped.” She suddenly said limply.
He said, “Found out who kidnapped girl.”
Carter turned to him, and swallowed down. “Roche Chemical Company.”
And Rorschach said, “Gerald Grice.”