PART SEVEN

Tropic arrived at Crimsonís office just before seven. The sky had almost lost all its light and Crimson sat behind the desk, using it, it seemed, almost as a barrier, his face lit only by the small lamp near itís corner. Tropic stood expectantly waiting for the spy to speak. Slowly he placed the package he was carrying on one of the empty chairs. The silence itself was a near physical presence in the large room.

"Whatís in the package?", Crimson said at last.

Tropic stared at the spy for a moment. "My clever disguise."

Crimson nodded and reached beneath his desk to place a silver steel briefcase in front of him. He snapped the locks back and pulled out a small box. The spy held it for a moment then slid it across the desktop to the hero.

Tropic glanced at the box warily and then at Crimson. The spy simply nodded and Tropic opened it. Inside were two cylinders that looked like cigar tubes. He raised his eyebrows in question.

"The antidote.", Crimson said softly.

Tropic examined the tubes carefully. Each had a screw top and he twisted one of them open. His nostrils were met with a strong, pungent odor. He replaced the cap and asked, "Are you sure?"

Crimson nodded. "Yes, it was derived from the original compound."


"The original compound?", Tropic frowned.

"Yes.", Crimson sighed. "About a year or so ago, this same Crey scientist that the Malta is using shopped it around to various government agencies. We were all very interested. The military applications alone were astounding butÖit was not very effective on men and letís face it, most of your front line troops and board room commanders are men. So we passed."

"But you kept the compound."

"Weíre not stupid."

Tropic snorted. "Um Hum. So how do IÖ"

"Just get the women to take a good whiff. The results should be immediate."

Tropic nodded and, putting the tubes back in their box placed it with his package on the chair. He glanced at the spy again and saw that he was staring into the open case. Then Crimson reached in and pulled out a small velvet sack.

The spy tossed the black bag lightly on the desk. Tropic scooped it up and looked at Crimson. The red-suited man sat back in his chair rubbing his forehead. Tropic looked at the bag in his hand and gently opened it. Even in the low light, the revealed stones glittered, sparkling with their wealth. He gently stuck his finger into the bag and moved some of the gems around staring intently at the diamonds, rubies and sapphires.

Tropic nodded and said softly as he closed the bag, "You came through."

Crimson laughed ruefully. "I was motivated." The spy watched as Tropic gathered his belongings and moved towards the door. "Hey, try to get those diamonds back to me, all right?"

"Well, Iím not going to let the Malta keep them.", he said with his back to the man. Tropic turned to the spy. "Iím bringing the women back here when I get them out. Be ready."

Crimson nodded in agreement. "Iíll have Med-Techs here to check them out, make sure theyíre OK." He watched as the hero continued to move towards the door.

"Tropic!", Crimson called out again when the hero reached the door. Tropic turned and looked at the red-suited man through narrowed eyes. Crimson folded his hands in front of him and stared at them as he spoke, not daring to meet the heroís eyes. "If I hadnít got you what you needed, would you really have killed me?" Finally Crimson looked directly at man across the room.

Tropic stood for a moment, his hand resting on the doorknob. Then, at last, he said coolly, "Oh, yeah.", opened the door and left.

Crimson sighed and shook his head. Then he spun in his chair and stared out into the night sky. "Good luck.", he whispered to the empty room.

Tropic dropped down onto the roof of the six story building across the parking lot from the Ambassador Hotel. He looked over at the resort as he walked behind the large air and heating unit and placed his package on the waist high duct that attached to it. He opened the package, carefully emptied its contents and began to don his disguise, slipping it over his costume.

Checking himself in a mirror that he had brought with him, he nodded in approval. Where once stood a costumed crime fighter now stood a corporate businessman. Tropic wore a charcoal suit with a black silk shirt and a sapphire tie. Gold cufflinks with onyx inserts adorned his sleeves and his feet were shod with black alligator shoes. He looked at the gold Rolex on his left wrist and saw it was about 7:45. Still plenty of time.

Now, however, the most difficult part of his costume. Tropicís skin was a natural red color, much like sunburn, due to the intense heat his body generated. It had been that way since the day of his creation. And his blonde hair normally stood straight up from his scalp, high and pointed. The hero sighed and looked at himself in the mirror once more. Then, placing the mirror next to the wrapping paper of his now empty package, he closed his eyes and gathered his energy into himself. Slowly, with arms outstretched, he released his great power, sending waves of heat from his body. As the tremendous heat dispersed, his skin became paler and paler until, finally, it was a normal Caucasian coloring, albeit, a Caucasian with no tan whatsoever.

As for his hair, Tropic had washed it earlier that day and had applied a relaxant to it causing it to lay long, falling just below his shoulders. It was the blondness of it that might serve to give him away. Again Tropic concentrated and, gripping his hands into fists, he closed his eyes and shook with effort. More heat generated throughout his system and slowly his hair was leeched of its color turning a silver white. Tropic blew the remaining breath from his lungs and looked at himself in his mirror. "Skin: white; hair and goatee: white.", he thought to himself. "Thatís it then."

Tropic patted the pockets of his suit jacket, lightly touching the invitation, the vials of antidote and the bag of gems. Smiling grimly, he leapt from the roof and floated gracefully to the earth. Then, with purpose, crossed to the Ambassador.

The hotel was awash with light. With two five star restaurants, bar and meeting rooms the Ambassador was always in a constant state of controlled chaos. Expensive cars and limousines continuously pulled into the resortís drive and the rich and powerful continuously emerged from them.

A long black limo stopped in front of the hotelís doors and three beautiful women exited. Tropic, in his expensive suit, fell in directly behind them appearing, to anyone who was watching, that he had got out of the limo with them. With an expression of bored arrogance on his face, Tropic appeared as though he had been there all along. He quickly climbed the few steps to the front doors and entered the luxury resort.

Inside, he paused to survey his surroundings. The lobby of the place was huge. Straight ahead, the old oak wood of the front desk sat solidly against the back wall. Hotel staff checked in guests and gave directions to their powerful patrons. To the right, entrances to the restaurants and bar rested behind a baby grand piano being played by a young man in a tuxedo. Circular sofas dotted the center section of the hall and to the left, up two steps, was the hallway leading to the meeting rooms.

And people were everywhere. Men were either dressed in tuxedos or wildly expensive suits. Women were adorned with evening gowns or some of the wildest haute couture this side of Paris. Tropic, in his disguise, fit right in, blending with the rich and not so rich, his look of sophistication melding perfectly with the bustle of the extravagant hotel.

Tropic looked towards the meeting room area. He knew that the Malta would have several of their agents stationed inside the Ambassador. He also knew they would all be wearing clothing to hide their true nature, like him. Finally he saw what he was looking for. Standing to the right at the top of the second step, was a man in a black suit. He didnít look out of the ordinary but he looked like he didnít belong. His hair was cut short and his nose was crooked, bent from fighting. And the hero saw the earplug and wire in the manís left ear.

That was his man.

Tropic crossed the lobby and walked purposefully to the Malta operative. The hero stopped on the step below the man and said in a heavy German accent, "Good Evening. I believe I haf an invitation to deese event."

The man smiled and answered politely. "Of course, sir. May I see your invitation?"

Tropic handed the guard the invitation that Asam had given him. He looked about casually as the solider examined it. He didnít think the accountant had set him up but he was still concerned. And he would hate to ruin the old hotelís lobby.

At last the guard returned the invitation to him. "Thank you, MrÖ?"

"Von Feuer," Tropic answered. "Kurt von Feuer"

"Mr. von Feuer.", The guard smiled politely at him. "If you would please continue down this hallway. To the right you will see a desk with our people behind it and they will complete yourÖregistration."

Tropic nodded his head once and moved past the Malta soldier. At last he expelled the breath he hadnít realized he was holding. Behind him he heard the guard on his mic alerting the next station of his arrival. Tropic straightened himself and murmured, "Here we go."

Tropic walked casually down the wide corridor passing two meeting rooms on either side of him, their heavy oak double doors bearing placards naming them "The Atlas Room" and "The Titan Room". He continued on until, rounding a slight corner, he saw three men ahead of him. Two sat behind a folding table covered with a black tablecloth. One was skinny and balding, gray hair ringing his scalp. He was certainly not a field operative, appearing to the hero like a loan officer at the local bank. The other was dark haired, fat and had glasses so thick his eyes were magnified to saucers. If there were a picture in the dictionary of a bookworm, this would be it. The third stood behind and to the right of them guarding the door, dressed in Malta fatigues and carrying a Sapper weapon. Tropic approached and smiled at all three.

"Ah, Herr von Feuer," bald, skinny man said, "thank you so much for coming. I will need to see your invitation again." Tropic handed the man his invitation and disinterestedly tugged his sleeves. The Malta man examined the invitation closely and then, from below the table, pulled out a purple scan light and ran it over the invitation. Turning the paper over he did the same to the underside of it as well.

Tropic looked at the Sapper, smiled slightly and then at the skinny man again. "You are being finished, yes?", he asked in a bored tone and checked his watch again.

Finally, the man smiled and placed the invitation to the side. "Yes, sir, everything appears to be in order." He glanced at his bookish partner and then at Tropic. "There is one more item we need. If you would be so kindÖ" He held out his hand expectantly.

Tropic raised his eyebrow at the fellow and looked as though the man had just offered him a bug. Tropic sighed. "Of course," and then pulled the small bag of gems from his pocket, passing it to the outstretched hand of the enemy.

The skinny man handed the package immediately to the bookworm. The fat man opened the bag and poured some of the jewels onto the black clothed table. He then picked a diamond up and, inserting a jewelers glass in his eye, began to examine the stone. He repeated the process three more times with different gems. At last the fellow nodded to his thin partner, gathered the spilled stones into their bag and placed them in a black metal briefcase of the type Crimson had used earlier.

The skinny Malta agent smiled broadly at Tropic and said, "Thank you, Herr von Feuer.
PleaseÖenter. The event will take place at nine p.m. sharp. Good luck to you, sir."

Tropic bowed slightly to the men and strode past the Sapper guarding the doors. He noted that the sale was taking place in "The Hero Room" and shook his head. Well, no one said the Malta didnít have a sense of humor. He pushed through the oak door and stopped, stunned, just inside it
CONTINUE >
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