Non-Author's Note: The following bit is not actually my work--but the writing of a friend who was interested in continuing the stories of the previous Skulls. This story concerns Skull #3--Sue Daysdale's grandfather--working in the 70s and dealing with various criminals who are showing up only now to make Sue's life miserable. I plan on making this a standard thing--glimpses at the previous Skulls' pasts, as well as the gallery of rogues and allies they've met.
The miniature car was the only dash of colour in the industrial district. The city was gloomy here, full of dank buildings and deep, ever-present mud. The clowns didn't like it at all.
Rainwater billowed across the parking lot as they came to a slow. A door cracked open and immediately the group poured from the car. They were peppered with poorly applied make-up and crooked neon wigs; their ill-fitting clothes hid guns, blades and heavy pipes.
The clowns meandered outwards, a rainbow pool of oil across the filthy asphalt. They had made it across the lot when they noticed they were one short. A few of them made their way back to the car.
One clown pulled his head back from the rear window.
"This thing was always a little small for twelve," he said, "It's Frank."
The clowns did their best to look sombre.
"We'll give him a decent burial," said one. The only response was a sort of awkward shuffling.
"Well, we'll definitely get rid of the body," he tried again, "next time we clean the car."
The fools murmured in agreement. They were pleased to have made a decision, though some of them already struggled to remember what it was.
Another car pulled alongside the procession with a shriek of rubber. The driver, a short man wrapped in a musty tweed suit and bow tie, stumbled from the vehicle and balanced precariously, the bulging bags he'd hauled out with him clutched to his chest. People called him the Toy-Master, primarily at his behest.
"Where the hell have you idiots been?!" said the Toy-Master, "I've been driving around the block for half an hour!"
"Sorry, boss," came a voice from amongst the painted faces, "we got a little lost."
The Toy-Master sighed. He'd long learned there was little use in scaring this group. You had to run with what they gave you.
"Let's get going, we've got to haul down the street," he said, as he secured a tubular container over his shoulder.
"We're walking in? We brought the car. For effect."
"Ah, yes. Should have mentioned -- you don't need the car tonight. My mistake," replied the Toy-Master. The clowns shuffled.
A smiley face grinned at the guards from the yellow ball as it rolled towards them. They had barely drawn their guns when the Toy-Master stepped from the shadows and mustard-coloured smoke began to billow from the sphere.
"Don't worry," said the Toy-Master, "be happy!"
He'd made a fast-acting blend for tonight especially. The guards laughed for a moment and slumped to the ground unconscious.
Traces of yellow mist swirled behind the Toy-Master as he swung open the heavy doors to the warehouse and gestured dramatically at the room's contents. Rows upon rows of toys -- teddy bears, flamboyantly dressed Barbie dolls and more flamboyantly dressed superhero dolls.
"Everybody grab a sack and make like Santa," called the Toy-Master.
The clowns entered the room and began to sweep the toys from the shelves. Electronic sheep bleeted lamely as they toppled on top of taut Action Guy figures.
There was a time not long ago when the only reason Toy-Master would have had to break into such a warehouse would be to swap the contents for gruesome replacements, or hide canisters of laughing gas inside the stuffed animals. For a while the Toy-Master, the Geppetto of Crime, had occupied all the biggest headlines, alongside all the trendiest names in super-crime. But he had spent the better part of two decades working through the extensive family fortune that had funded his exploits. The gang had less time to seek media coverage now that they had to scrape together the funds for bullets, chemicals, rent and gas for the clown car. These days, Toy-Master and his clowns stole more than they shocked.
The moon flicked shadows across the room and the clowns worked in silence. Many of the shelves were emptied before one of the clowns spoke again.
"So... there a lot of money in toys, boss?"
"Well, you know what they say about the toy market --"
The rest of the Toy-Master's reply was obscured as he coughed into his sleeve. He wiped his mouth and looked at the clowns hopefully. They stared back.
"It's... up?" he ventured.
The clowns peered at each other through domino masks and smeared mascara.
"Look, you deformed oafs," said the Toy-Master, "This joint is one of the only buildings in the county that isn't swarming with queers in tight pants and capes. If you want to go jack an armoured car and introduce yourself to the latest pretty-boy with superpowers, be my guest. I, for one, do not want to break a limb tonight."
"I expect we won't be getting along, then," said the man in the rafters, "As that's kind of my thing."
Toy-Master spluttered into silence for a moment and the clowns shifted their gaze in unison to the ceiling. A black-clad figure danced from one beam to the next.
"Oh, a playmate! What took you so long?" yelled the Toy-Master. He slid open the cylinder on his shoulder and grabbed at the rocket launcher inside.
"I was waiting for you to all sort of cluster together, actually. Apparently the bomb has a rather small radius."
Toy-Master almost managed to get the first syllable of "What bomb?" out of his mouth before there was a blinding flash and a high-pitched hiss. When he reopened his eyes the launcher was gone from his shoulder, and half of his clowns were splayed groggily on the floor. The other half had their heads locked upward, their garish colouration now dimmed blue, frozen noses glittering in the moonlight.
"I spent this evening clearing out an old Professor Freeze Ray hideout," said the man in black, "I came across a few new toys of my own."
The man dropped to the ground beside the frozen fools. His heavy boots sent a fine shower of ice into the air. He wore what might have been military gear, many-pocketed clothes with a high collar and tightly-fastened straps, but for its hue. It was a gleaming jet black, a darkness that managed to shine at the edges and shimmer with his movements. On his head he wore nothing other than an earpiece, and even his exposed skin was painted black, except for the bone white motif drawn across his face. People called him the Skull, but he never had to tell anyone the name.
The first pair of unfrozen clowns leapt at the Skull. He left them crumpled on the ground one after the other, his arm subtly thrust only twice. He'd have to chase the rest. One might almost make it to the door.
Toy-Master was flat on his stomach, arm stretched under a set of shelves. With a grunt, he withdrew the weapon that had skittered out of reach. He didn't put a lot of work into these, he'd freely admit. A 'Happy Rocket' launcher was suspiciously similar to a Soviet RPG-7 with a small red nose stuck on the tip and a grin painted on the head of the rocket. It was, nevertheless, devastatingly effective.
The Skull's knee crunched into the final clown's spine. The crack of a jaw shattered on concrete echoed through the warehouse, and the Skull had already turned to stride towards the Toy-Master.
"I thought I'd already warned you about late-night shopping, Toy-Master," said the Skull.
"I was only browsing, really," said the Toy-Master, "I picked up a little present for you."
The recoil broke Toy-Master's stance as the rocket spun out towards the Skull. It was closing the gap quickly when the Skull raised an arm and a tiny dart flew from his wrist. Immediately the missile was caught in a crystal case, the nose weighted heavily with ice. It fell to earth with a crunch.
"Ah. I'll just be going to jail now," said the Toy-Master.
"Busy night, Skull?"
The words came crackled over the radio. The Skull twisted a knob at his waist and held a hand to his ear.
"I've barely gotten out of bed. Please tell me you have something more interesting than the Toy-Master," said the Skull, perched high over the city.
"I'll give you interesting once you stop brooding on rooftops and meet me on 57th Street. You started being late three seconds ago."
"You're an impatient man, Blink. Don't move."
The Skull leaned forward, clicked the dial back into place and fell into the night sky.