Backstage, at the Pink Flamingo lounge…
Screaming upon seeing Captain America, Asp almost instinctively releases her blasts against him. Taking cover behind his shield, Cap tells her to wait and cool it! He’s not here to hassle her! Asp doesn’t know how he found her, but promises she’s going to make him wish he hadn’t unless he gets out of here this instant! Cap apologizes but he won’t – not till he gets what he came for.
Seeing him block the door, Asp makes to the window. “No, you won’t,” Cap exclaims and, before she reaches the window, throws her off-balance with his shield. Grabbing her arm, he insists he just wants to talk to her. Nothing else. The sooner she stops this ruckus, the sooner he’s out of here. Asp retorts she doesn’t believe him and tries to blast his face. Evading her attack, Cap quips that he thought his rep as a man of his word was known even to shady ladies like her!
“Okay, force it is!” Steve decides and grabs Asp by her wrists, keeping her glued to the wall. He tells her he’s looking for a friend of hers by the name of Diamondback. She wanted him to get in touch with her, but he has no way to reach her. Asp claims that she hasn’t seen her. Cap tells her that, if she does, she has her give his hotline a call; number is in the book. That’s all he came here to say. He turns around and begins to leave.
Suddenly, he pauses at the door and turns around: there is one more thing. Why does Asp degrade herself by dancing in this sort of place? Surely a woman with her talents can do better for herself. Asp angrily professes that what she does is an art form! She likes what she does; it’s fun to see men slobber! And on top of that, it’s great exercise! “Is that okay with you, Mr. High and Mighty?” she scoffs. Cap admits it’s a free country and walks out of her changing room.
Outside, Cap thinks it was worth a shot. It’s a good thing Mike – Michael O’ Brien, the Avengers’ security chief – happened to see Asp’s picture on the marquee and I.D.’d her as a Serpent Society member. He didn’t ask Mike what he was doing here in the city’s sleeze district. He sure wishes he’d had the foresight to take down Diamondback’s number when he last saw her – but with the sinking of Avengers Island and all, he had other things in his mind at the time. Walking around, he wonders where the little troublemaker’s been all these weeks.
At that moment, a mere five blocks downtown, Diamondback – Rachel Leighton – walks inside the Tinkerer’s shop. She asks aloud if he’s there. The Tinkerer instructs her to come down the stairs and bear left. Rachel finds him hard at work with something; he never stops, does he? He nods. She asks him if they are done yet. He said if she came by Tuesday… He tells her not to be so impatient. He’ll be with her as soon as he’s at a good stopping place. “There,” he says and stops assembling.
Turning to face her, he wonders, appalled, who chopped off her hair like that! Smiling, Diamondback reveals she did it. He doesn’t like it, huh? Changing the subject, she asks him how her throwing diamonds are coming along. The Tinkerer tells her to take a look for herself. Diamondback lets an “Ow!” of pleasant surprise, as she sees her throwing diamonds all perfectly shaped and neatly arrayed. The Tinkerer tells her he’s even made her some new straps to secure them on her lovely person. Rachel asks him if she can try one out… pretty please? “Live a little,” the Tinkerer scoffs.
Rachel weighs one in her hand; the balance feels right. She hurls it against a dartboard and hits center. “Yeah!” she celebrates. Kissing Tink’s forehead, she tells him he did a good job and thanks him. The Tinkerer teases her: she’ll have to do better than that if that’s the way she intends to pay him. Diamondback nervously hands him out the money: every penny of her savings. The Tinkerer purrs greedily.
Soon, outside the shop, Rachel feels great to be armed again. She’s ready to take on the world. But first, she decides to check for messages on a pay phone – see if that star-spangled bummer called. Asp has left a message. She warns her that Captain America was by the club looking for her. He claimed she wanted him to get in touch with her. She warns her to watch her backside… the man’s dangerous.
Rachel is pleased: the man hasn’t written her off! Just for that, she’s going to pass along a juicy tip! Leaving a message at Cap’s hotline, she announces she found something that may interest him about a certain skull-faced enemy of his. She asks him to meet her on 5th and 66th in one hour to hear it. Hanging up, she grins, thinking that ought to bring the big blue hunk running.
Forty-five minutes later, Rachel is early at the date. Her stroll here wasn’t leisurely enough, apparently. Who can blame her for being anxious? Awash with anticipation, she walks by a utility truck, which unbeknownst to her, houses something other than utility workers.
Inside the truck, Crossbones, Red Skull’s henchman, discloses the details of his plan to the fellow members of the Skeleton Crew. They’ve got to get in there, scope out where they stashed the boss, and get him and themselves out of there with as little hassle as possible. Voice wonders: and if Magneto apprehends any of the rest of them along the way? Crossbones points out they’re all expendable; the boss isn’t. They get him out, he can worry about springing them! Voice articulates his concerns: “What if the Skull is not being held in the Hellfire Club building?” Crossbones remarks that the Voice is starting to get on his nerves. He asks if anyone wants to check the floor plans one last time.
Finally, they move out of the truck. Crossbones orders Voice to lead. Voice is the first to drop through the manhole into the sewers. Crossbones tells Mother Night to follow. Machinesmith, who currently possesses the robotic body of Sleeper, notes that it does not seem likely his enormous host-body is going to fit through that narrow aperture. “No foolin’, Machinesmith,” Crossbones chides him. He will drop down and then Machinesmith will figure something out, okay?
“What’s to figure?” Machinesmith scoffs and breaks through the manhole, generating a terrible bustle that even Diamondback hears, four blocks north. Crossbones grumps that was really smooth: “Wake up the dead, why don’tcha?” Machinesmith retorts they are four blocks away from the Hellfire Club facility. Even allowing for an elaborate security system, he doubts they have sensors on every manhole in a four block radius. To that, Crossbones counters one can never know about these rich guys. He suggests everyone now shuts up and keep moving. Turning on their flashlights, the foursome advances through the tunnels.
About five hundred feet later, they come across an armor-plated door. Crossbones whispers that this is it: the entrance to the Hellfire building’s basement. It looks like the plans were straight: the mechanism is electronic. He tells Machinesmith he’s on. “As good as opened, fearless leader,” Machinesmith gloats and shortcircuits the electronic lock, thereby unlocking the door.
Half a dozen armed soldiers of the Hellfire Club receive them. Crossbones realizes it looks like they were expecting them. “Freeze!” Voice commands – and his power of voice persuasion works on the soldiers, forcing them to remain still. “Nice goin’,” Mother Night remarks. Crossbones orders his minions to strip the soldiers of their weapons. To think he once considered enlisting in the Hellfire Club’s mercenary corps, he contemplates in disgust. Machinesmith reveals he sees a video camera he can enter. He’ll micro-beam into their central security system and see if they can determine where they’re keeping the Skull. “You do that,” Crossbones urges him.
Meanwhile, back above, Diamonback has unlocked the truck that served as a hideaway for the Skeleton Crew. She is glad to see she hasn’t lost her touch jimmying locks. She is certain something’s got to be up, what with that loud crunch, that odd hole in the street, and this Con Ed truck parked here unattended. And if it has anything to do with what she was meeting Cap about…
Suddenly, she is surprised to find a crossbow in the truck. Identical to the one Crossbones uses – could he be working for the Red Skull? Dummy, she chides herself as she figures the connection: skull and crossbones! She wonders how they hooked up. So now what? she asks herself. Go back and wait for Cap to show – if he’s going to? She realizes she can’t. Her relationship with Crossbones is one she doesn’t want Cap to know about… ever. She’s got an old score to settle with “Cross,” one that a straight arrow like Cap would never understand. Disposing of her hat and trenchcoat and ready to jump in the manhole, she mentally warns Crossbones to look out, she’s coming for him!
Below, Machinesmith has bad news: he’s looked through every video-screen on the premises. The Red Skull isn’t on any of them. Crossbones is surprised: is he sure? Machinesmith stresses that they have 67 different security cameras. If the Skull were being held here, he’s certain they’d have at least one watching him! “Rats!” Crossbones curses and announces they book. “Stinkin’ Serpent Society!” he grouches as they take the reverse route, back to the manhole. They gave him this bum tip! Mother Night insists that just because they’re not holding him in their New York facility, doesn’t mean the Hellfire Club is clean.
Hidden inside a gutter, Diamondback watches them. There he is! she thinks as she spots Crossbones – only he isn’t alone. She realizes that if she attacks him, she’ll have to take them all on – too bad.
Suddenly, the cement underneath them rises, as if imbued with life, and grasps the Skeleton Crew foursome. A panicky Voice screams that the cement is grabbing them! Machinesmith rejoins it won’t hold them for long and smashes his way out of his manacles with the super-strong fist of his host body. Hearing footsteps sloshing through the sludge, Mother Night decides she’d better turn invisible. Crossbones is surprised to see a broad suddenly standing in front of him. Selene, the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, has just charged towards them at a superhuman speed, and shows up as if being an apparition. She asks just what they think they’re doing.
“Don’t move, woman!” Voice aggressively shouts. Surprised, Selene realizes she’s rooted to the spot… just like her men! She suspects that “boombox” on her adversary’s shoulders must be the source of his power. Not for long, she contemplates with glee and animates the “boombox,” which grows a pair of hands and begins to strangle Voice! Panicked, Mother Night decides she’ll make Selene think she’s on fire, then maybe she’ll drop her stranglehold! However, no reaction comes from Selene. Mother Night realizes she must be immune to her power of mesmerism – she’s not even invisible to Selene’s eyes! Who is this woman? she wonders in awe.
Selene informs Voice that she is letting go of his throat for a moment. She commands him to restore her mobility at once, or she’ll choke the life out of him. Struggling to breathe, Voice complies. Selene thanks him with a devilish smile. However, at her command, the hands on the boombox resume their strangling of Voice and he collapses in agony. Double-crossing witch! Crossbones thinks. Machinesmith declares he’ll get her and lunges forward, only to realize she’s gone! However, from her vantage point, Diamondback can tell Selene just up and ran away at blurring speed.
Her visage visibly withered and aged, Selene realizes all her matter manipulations and sudden accelerations are draining her life-force. She must recharge quickly, she decides and resolves to take the life-force of the suffocating Voice. As she drains his life-force, Crossbones is suddenly able to see her and shoots her with his crossbow. Selene feels the crossbow bolt skewering through her heart. Fatal… were I mortal, she thinks and pulls it out of her heart with a malevolent grin. “This yours, skeleton man?” she gloats. Crossbones is shocked to see she ripped it right out of her without flinching! Selene vows she will rip his heart out, so he can see how it…
Suddenly, Machinesmith interjects and pummels her. “Not this time, toots. Got you!” he tells her and grasps her. From a distance, the soldiers of the Club discern their queen is down! One of them makes to shoot; however, another deters him from shooting; he might hit her! A third soldier suggests they move in for a clear shot!
Meanwhile, Captain America stands above the manhole through which the Skeleton Crew and Diamondback entered the sewers. He thinks that first Diamondback fails to show and now this: a huge gap on the floor where the manhole used to be. Without thinking twice, he drops his coat and hops down the sewers. As he advances through the tunnels, he hears commotion from up ahead.
Ahead, Mother Night assaults the Hellfire Club soldiers; at least, her mesmerism works on these clowns! Mesmerized by her power of hallucination, the soldiers believe they’re on fire and scream in terror! Nearby, Selene faces Machinesmith. She has control over inorganic substances, but despite this robot’s composition, she cannot exert control over it. Still grasping her, Machinesmith asks her how she would like him to crush her legs.
Approaching cautiously from behind Crossbones, Captain America views the scene of the fight and wonders what this is. Seeing him, Machinesmith tosses Selene against him. “I’ve got you, miss,” Cap tells her as she grabs her in his arms, unsuspicious of her perilous talents. “Oh, no, dear Captain,” Selene smirks and leans closer to Cap’s face. Before she has the chance to drain him dry, Diamondback releases one of her hurling diamonds against her. Hit, Selene’s head jerks and she passes out. Cap wonders what happened. Rachel makes her presence known and urges Cap to drop Selene; she’s some kind of vampire or witch! Cap is surprised to see her. “No kidding!” Rachel insists, with regard to Selene; she saw her trying to suck life from a guy! “Okay,” Cap complies and drops the unconscious Selene on the ground.
Machinesmith finally tears apart Crossbones’ makeshift manacles, freeing him in effect. Crossbones grouches it took him long enough! Machinesmith informs him they have more trouble now. Crossbones scoffs: if it isn’t Captain A and the ravishing Dime-A-Dozen! Cap demands he spill it; what’s the story here? Crossbones snaps that, from here, it doesn’t look like Cap is in much of a position to demand squat. Diamonback whispers to Steve it’s apparently some kind of gang war. There’s a woman on their side, too; she doesn’t know where she is now.
Crossbones tells Cap that fun’s fun, but a guy can’t dance all night. Cap and Rachel see the whole Skeleton Crew suddenly vanishing! Steve asks Rachel what the woman with them looked like. Rachel gives a full description: skinny, black cape, skull cap, bare legs… Cap realizes it’s Mother Night; she can hypnotically turn people invisible. “Come on,” he tells Diamonback. They must still be…
“Don’t move, hero-man!” one of the Club soldiers bellows at him and targets him with his gun. Or Cap’s going to be in more trouble than he knows what to do with, another soldier adds. Cap retorts he always knows what to do with trouble and hurls his shield against both soldiers, smashing their weapons. As he and Diamonback proceed to fight the soldiers, he grizzles they have no time to waste on henchmen; it’s Crossbone’s crew he wants! Lunging with all his might and the hardness of his shield against some soldiers, he apologizes he can’t give each of them the battle time they doubtlessly deserve, but he’s pressed for time!
Now conscious again, Selene sneaks up on Diamonback and identifies her as the filth who threw something in her head! Rachel only has a split-second to wonder how the Black Queen moved so close near her, before she gets kicked in the stomach. Leaving Rachel squirming on the floor, Selene contemplates she does not like an Avenger this close to the Hellfire Club’s headquarters. Were he to connect her and her men with the Club, it would be most inconvenient. She decides it’s time to bring this pointless altercation to a crashing end; manipulating the tunnel roof above their heads, she causes it to break down!
The roof begins crashing down, crunching several of the terrified soldiers below. Cap grabs Diamondback and covers both of them with his nigh-indestructible shield. He realizes the whole ceiling’s coming down and urges Rachel to stay close! When the dust finally settles, Captain America and Diamondback are ensnared under tons of debris. Cap quips they’ve got to stop meeting like this.