Dimitri Vicegrip was having a very good day. This was mainly because other people were not. The tall, slender man struck as intimidating a figure as you’d expect, given his occupation. He wore a midnight black suit with a dark grey shirt and pitch black tie. His slicked-back hair was also black, standing out from his pale skin along with a thin, pointed goatee. Every morning, Dimitri meticulously prepared his appearance, ensuring not a hair was out of place. He could easily employ somebody, even several somebodies, to perform this menial maintenance for him. But Dimitri was a man of appearances, and he couldn’t accept someone seeing him in that position.
He was currently in his private quarters finishing a light dinner, or at least light for him. Dimitri had tasted the finest culinary delicacies from all over the world. After all that, he couldn’t help but think that ‘delicacy’ was a word meaning ‘overpriced garbage with good presentation’, but he kept this to himself. Instead, he nonchalantly requested the most expensive foods he could find, consuming more courses – or at least a few dainty bites of each – than there were hours in the day. It was a lesser fare today, for urgency’s sake mostly cheese and wine. Dimitri grabbed his silk napkin with his good hand and softly dabbed his lips as he rose from his chair at the table.
Earlier this morning, he had sent a message to the United Nations; an explanation of his most ingenious and ambitious operation to date. Here on this hidden island base he had developed an insidious device for manipulating the weather. Though his scientists had helped, it was obviously his natural genius that led the charge. Today they were poised to send out that device in airborne carriers that would coat the world in a foul black cloud. Humanity teetered on the brink of a new, manmade ice age of Dimitri’s own design. “You have twenty four hours to give into my demands” he had said to the shocked UN representatives upon this explanation. “Gentlemen,” he added just before the transmission ended, “I pray that you do not give me the cold shoulder.”
Dimitri paced up the marble steps of his room towards the giant, bowed window that dominated its far side. It was a very thick window, because Dimitri was no fool, but it still offered a lovely view of the island below, peeking out from behind the mountainside. Most of his base was hidden belowground, so little could be seen apart from dense forest and calm waters beneath the setting sun. It wouldn’t be long now before they sent someone, Dimitri thought as he placed his hands on the windowsill. His right hand clinked as he did so, a reminder of his claim to fame.
When Dimitri had first decided to live a new life, he became a relatively run-of-the-mill mob boss. He wasn’t bad at it, but it never really gave him the satisfaction he was looking for. Of course it made him even wealthier, an impressive feat for the riches he’d been born with. All the same, Dimitri enjoyed giving threats much more than he enjoyed executing them. Though it didn’t morally give him much trouble, he felt he shouldn’t need to actually kill anyone, that there were far more elegant ways to get what he wanted. Dimitri had a lot of...unconventional views for the typical crime lord.
So his response on the day he lost his hand in an attempted raid was also unconventional. The actual moment had the expected reaction, the swearing and screaming angry orders afterwards were par for the course. But after proper medical assistance had been administered, few other crime lords would close themselves up in their room to immediately work on the design for a prosthetic hand. Doing so one-handed certainly hadn’t made it easier on Dimitri, but he was smiling to himself the whole time.
It was more a gauntlet than a hand, or perhaps a claw. A fine gold trim outlined the joints and the borders of the metal glove, which was, of course, jet black. Spiky ridges adorned the knuckles and the tips of the fingers. This actually made it difficult to do delicate work with the hand, as though Dimitri had long, incredibly sharp fingernails. He could have easily filed those down, but chose not to. The hand also had immense griping strength, an intentional feature that gave Dimitri his namesake. Though mostly unnecessary, he had crushed a number of wine glasses and trinkets in front of his men to great effect.
It would not be long now, Dimitri thought as he looked towards the sunset, that an agent would arrive to try and stop him. He expected one agent in particular, and had gone to great lengths to prepare a proper greeting for him. Should he make it past his men (a likely occurrence, in his experience), Dimitri would greet the agent with a host of remote operated machine guns hidden in his potted plants. His intruder faced with these, Dimitri would show him the chess board placed in the center of the room, and present him with a choice. He could be cut to ribbons by gunfire instantly, or he could seat himself in one of the spacious armchairs and play a game. Should the agent win, Dimitri would admit defeat and submit to the authorities...a lie, obviously, because he was keen on the difference between courtesy and idiocy. But he would let his opponent live all the same, as he could afford that much.
Dimitri smiled in anticipation of the moment. There was, of course, next to no chance that his chosen nemesis could best him in a game of chess. He believed himself one of the finest minds of his generation, but even ignoring this, he had a self-proclaimed gift for the game. In a long-buried life he ensured no one remembered or could attribute to him, Dimitri had been captain of his high school chess team. It had been the sole joy of that miserable institution for him, and soon the only times he bothered attending at all. The team hated him, but he couldn’t blame them for being jealous. Dimitri had never dropped a game against anyone, and his team mates weren’t really needed. He briefly wondered if his old enemy had experienced anything similar back in those days. Probably not, as he didn’t seem the type to Dimitri, but he was always open to surprises.
As Dimitri was thinking of what exactly to say to his rival should they meet, there was a beep from the intercom at his door. After a brief pause, a voice rang through it: “Excuse me, sir?”
Dimitri knew the voice as Henry Carson, age 28, employed four summers ago while escaping gang trouble in New Jersey. The man was a crack shot with a sidearm, was allergic to shellfish, and complained about the boys in R&D behind their backs ever since one of them implied he was dumber than the janitorial staff. Dimitri had detailed documents on all of his employees and had made a point of reading every page, though he’d never admit this to any of them. Unperturbed by the interruption, he calmly walked over to the intercom.
“I hope you have a good reason for this intrusion, peon”, he said.
“Yes sir! We, uh, have a problem.”
Dimitri smiled. Right on time. “Let me guess, we may have an intruder among us. Presumably from The Agency?”
“Um...not exactly”, came the reply. “Sir we, uh...we think they’re just bombing us.”
Jack Grislock was not having a very good day. This mainly had to do with the call he’d just received from his superiors, informing him that the island he was on was about to explode. Jack Grislock had encountered quite a few close proximity explosions in his line of work, an excessive number by almost any normal standard. But those didn’t upset him as much as this one, largely because they weren’t caused by his coworkers.
There was a sort of structure to how these things went. Some insane but well-funded asshole threatened world security and he was called in to take them out. He worked alone, snuck into their horribly impractical doom fortresses, and when he made his daring escape they were either dead or fleeing their newly exploding base. This time it seemed the government felt like skipping a few steps and went straight to the detonations, though they didn’t bother deciding this until he was already on the bloody island.
So now Jack was doing an about face and sneaking back through the bowels of the facility. Having already been through these corridors on his way in, he wasn’t too concerned about being spotted. In fact, given the ahead-of-schedule explosives on their way, he realized he should probably stop by the closet where he’d bound and gagged a guard on his way in, to at least prop the door open. Stopping around a corner for the footsteps of evacuating guards, his thoughts turned back to incoming air strike.
It wasn’t even so much the imminent threat of death that bothered him about it. Granted, that was a very pressing concern, but he was reasonably sure he could steal a jet ski and be out of here before the bombs dropped. The issue was more the attack on his professional integrity. What these last-minute payloads meant was that they didn’t trust him to do his job. This wasn’t altogether unreasonable, since worldwide chaos probably fell under ‘better safe than sorry’. All the same, Jack’s professional pride stung.
Beyond mere frustration, that call had left a lead weight in his stomach. It hadn’t been cruel, it hadn’t even been impolite. It had been...impersonal. A communications officer back at The Agency had contacted him and informed him that they had reached a decision. As a matter of urgent international security, they had to be absolutely certain, they were terribly sorry of course, surely he would understand, and so on. There something that hung in the air, in the silence after Jack had hung up, something that scared him more than any armed guard he’d stared down.
As odd as it seemed, Jack had to admit he enjoyed these missions. His everyday life typically consisted of high society parties, constant drinking, gambling, and quite a lot of casual sex. He was as popular you’d expect a young, wealthy, and world famous secret agent to be, and his sculpted face and perfectly tousled blonde hair didn’t hurt either. It seemed impossible that such a life could be boring to anyone, but it’s amazing what the human brain can get used to with time. When his fair weather friends and hedonistic lifestyle faded into the background, it was Jack’s work that he really lived for. Jack loved to play the hero, to be exactly the type of epitomized human being he adored in action movies from his childhood. He’d also crossed paths with this despot-of-the-month before, and had been looking forward to squaring off against him.
Henry Carson had been having an alright day, until the report had come in. He shouldn’t have even been in the communications room at the time, but he’d been bored of endlessly patrolling some nearby hallways, so he’d popped in under the pretense of a status update. He and a couple of the coms employees exchanged water cooler conversations for a bit. It was the sort of nice, bland, this-conversation-is-going-nowhere-but-the-alternative-is-doing-work stuff. Unfortunately it was during this that they’d received word of the drones, leaving Henry the nearest, clearest candidate for informing the boss.
He supposed it could be worse. Dimitri didn’t take shooting the messenger as literally as others of his profession often did. In fact he was easily the least abusive boss Henry had ever worked for, and that included his time in fast food. For a mob boss he was downright supportive. He didn’t get physically violent with the men, kept aloof and composed most of the time, and even when angered usually focused his vitriol on words rather than executions. His minions even got a surprisingly good benefits package. No, Henry wasn’t wary of his boss because he was violent. He was wary of his boss because he was strange.
There were all sorts of stories about him, passed around through the crew. One of the janitors swore he once heard him rehearsing lines to an invisible intruder in his room one night. Once it was said he ordered for a large crate of wine glasses the morning before he flew into a rage at their past failure at dinner, shattering a number of them. His interior decorating tastes were what you’d expect of an elegant mastermind, until he also requested jet black skulls be inlaid in damn near everything, including the coffee machine. Once, Dimitri had been building an elaborate series of trapdoors that led to a shark tank in his room. Looking to help, someone had suggested that he could instead simply lock his door. They’d been put on permanent janitorial duty and severely docked in pay.
When their last operation had gone south, Henry thought he was absolutely screwed. He had been one of the guards patrolling the halls on the way to Dimitri’s room, and had clearly let someone through. Said someone managed to make it into the boss’ room, evade his traps, and leave Dimitri fleeing a soon self-destructing building. When they were finally in a safe house and Henry and the other guards gathered before Dimitri, they had expected at least one of them to die. But the boss had acted less blood-crazed psychopath and more sternly disappointed father. The man was angrier when an employee messed up the decorative fountain in his new quarters. Henry had no idea how the weirdo worked, and that was almost worse than dealing with the predictable cruelty he was used to. Take now for example. In the past, strange though it was, Dimitri seemed to enjoy hearing about people trying to kill him. Henry guessed he liked the challenge or something. But this time, for whatever reason...well, his reaction was worrying, to say the least.
“...targeted missile strikes”, Dimitri said flatly, bringing his minion back to the present.
“Yes, sir, as well as a number of drone flybys”, responded Henry, who’d been feeling out of his depth since his boss had stormed out of his chambers to speak to him face to face. Dimitri had a fire in his eyes and murder in his voice.
“Drones?!” Dimitri’s eyes bulged at the notion, his lips curling in disgust. “I threaten the world with a new global ice age and you’re telling me they’re sending drones?!”
“Er, yes sir.”
“How dare they! The nerve, the sheer audacity! These...these crass, puerile imbeciles think they can insult me by sending mere children’s toys?!”
“Well, uh, they’re quite advanced models, I think, sir. Very effective.”
“That’s not the damn point!” Dimitri stomped his foot on the ground. He scowled, gripped his temple with his good hand, and slowly breathed in. He knew there was no point in discussing this further with his underling.
Sometimes he wished he had someone to vent his frustrations towards, someone to whom appearances weren’t so important. He heard others in his line of work owned cats, but he always hated the animals himself. He’d been a dog person since the family Labrador, his sole companion through his teenage years. Of course, a deadlier breed would be required before he’d even consider getting one now. Even then, he worried he’d get too attached, and nothing seemed less threatening than an insidious mastermind feeding treats and table scraps to his widdle pet doggy.
“So, anyway sir,” Henry tentatively continued as his boss collected himself, “our spies have confirmed plans for these coming. Seems the collective firepower is too much for us to shoot down. Fortunately we caught word in time. Soon as we found out, we started sending out word to the rest of the facility, so the others should evacuate soon. I was sent to inform you and escort you to the escape vehicles.”
Dimitri gave a low grunt, but lifted his head. “Very well,” he said, gesturing dismissively with his clawed hand. “Let’s go then.”
He continued to fume as they headed to his escape chopper in silence. He couldn’t recall being this angry in a long, long time. His staff was familiar with his minor rages, but they were typically for show. Something would go wrong in the facility and he would shout, he would gesture wildly, he would break something with his claw. But he would always stay composed throughout, as such things didn’t really get to him.
It was rarely like his olden days, growing up in increasingly malicious fits of rage. Nothing suited him back then. Not his school, not his age, not his social standing or his daily routines. What suited him least of all was living in a huge, dusty old home with nothing but a dog and the narrow-minded disciplinarian that was his grandfather. The old man had been fairly hands-off in his parenting, but watched him like a hawk. It was all of the punishments, none of the emotional support. Granted, occasionally Dimitri had experienced some...unfortunate results in his experiments.
Perhaps the garden wasn’t the best place to test his freeze ray, and the neighbor’s kid was a bad subject to drive his experimental jetpack. But the old man should’ve been proud! Your average kid couldn’t build a perfectly serviceable moat and drawbridge around the house in an afternoon. No, the old man had never recognized Dimitri’s intelligence. The only thing he paid attention to were any and all infractions on the rules. All of which were disciplined with long, loud lectures at least and weeks of solitary confinement in a threadbare room at worst. As he grew older, his respect (or more accurately, fear) for his grandfather faded. His schemes grew bolder, his attitude worse and his punishments proportionately so.
Eventually there came a day when Dimitri wouldn’t stand it, when he decided instead of trying to change what he suited he would change his world to suit himself. It was this old anger that drove him to ‘appropriate’ family funds and strike out a new future for himself. It was also this anger that drove him to make the world forget his former life as much as he wished he could daily. He buried that anger with the rest of his past, deeper than anyone else could possibly dig.
For all the setbacks, these days were usually better than those. But Dimitri thought of his magnificent base being destroyed from afar. He thought of his clever traps blown to bits, the sprawling structure unseen, and the page of witty one-liners he had in a bedroom drawer unused. When he thought of these things a glimmer of that old anger returned. As Dimitri was lost in this frustration he and Henry jogged out into a small atrium they needed to pass through to reach the escape chopper. The second they did they were surprised to find someone else passing through it. Dimitri drew and raised his emergency pistol at the same time this familiar someone did, and as he saw who the intruder was, he smiled.
“Aaaaah, Jack Grislock,” he said, “we meet again.”
“Vicegrip,” replied Jack, his own sidearm unmoving, “just the scumbag I came here to see.”
“Come to gloat then?” said Dimitri with a sneer. “Did you want to brag about how you let a bunch of unmanned drones do your job for you?”
“Actually, I came to kill you, same as always”, Jack said nonchalantly. “The bombing run replaced me at the last minute. Were it not for that you’d already be lying at my feet.”
“Ha! Bold words for the man who doesn’t own a vast empire of armed guards.”
“Bold words for a man whose ‘vast empire’ I’ve stopped several times before! I’m beginning to think you have more metal in your brain than your hand.”
“And I’m certain if it weren’t for your little air strike you’d have more metal in your chest than my hand! Remember, you were the one who could be replaced with mere machines, agent.”
“Ah, but you were the one that could be stopped with ‘mere machines’!”
Henry was severely out of his element in this situation. He had pointed his gun at the agent while the two were talking, but he wasn’t sure how to proceed. Were the two supposed to be so...enthusiastic?
“Uh, boss,” he said nervously, “we should probably get outta here soon.”
Dimitri ignored him. “Keep in mind, Mr. Grislock,” he said, “you’re outnumbered two to one.”
“Not much difference in staring down more than one gun barrel, Vicegrip.”
“Hmph. Fair enough. It seems we are at an impasse. Alas, your foolish government has given us a rather...urgent meeting to attend. I’ll tell you what, agent. I will be willing to let you go, despite my clear advantage, under these circumstances. But when, not if, our paths cross again, I assure you I’ll prove a terminal point. And next time I’ll ensure the world finds no way to interrupt our meeting.”
Jack almost said ‘That’s probably for the best’, but stopped himself and merely nodded instead.
The two started to slowly circle each other, inching towards separate exits to the atrium. As they reached them, Dimitri spoke up again. “Don’t you worry, Mr. Grislock. When the day comes that your blood is being cleaned off my floor, so too will the rest of the world learn the mistake of underestimating me.”
Jack shook his head slightly, eyes still on his foe. “You’re one villainous bastard, Vicegrip.”
This time Dimitri’s grin was wider than ever.
Then they left. Dimitri followed Henry to his private helicopter, barking orders to men he passed on the way. By the time they were flying away, he was already eagerly planning his next facility, his next invention, his next plot. Meanwhile, Jack ran down to the docks and commandeered a jet boat with minimum difficulty. His thoughts, too, were focused on his next encounter with the man flying above him. As he rode on, he tried to ignore the explosions behind him and what they might signify for his future. And so the two escaped, one by sky and one by sea, taking different routes towards the same direction.