CUTSCENE: The Blacksmith

September 27, 2018:

Frank Castle catches up with the Blacksmith.

Ray Schoonover's House, Putnam County, New York


NPCs: The Blacksmith

Mentions: Barbara Gordon, Luke Cage, Owen Mercer, Curtis Hoyle, Billy Russo

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It's a long drive from the Gotham docks to Colonel Ray Schoonover's house outside New York City, or at least it's a long drive when you have a bullet-hole in your left side that's duct taped closed, have been kicked and punched several times, and had a boat blow up almost under you. It's even worse when the ancient truck you stole is older than some college students.

Frank Castle is nothing if not stubborn though, and apparently his new vehicle is too, gamely chugging along throughout the long, dark night. The man responsible for the deaths of his wife and children is at the end of the road, and Frank has to struggle not to press the gas pedal to the floor. The police probably wouldn't like the M4 carbine in the passenger seat if they stopped him for speeding.

He still couldn't believe that Schoonover was Blacksmith, but he knew Gosnell, knew the guy was too loyal to Colonel to work for anyone else. So if Gosnell was at the ship, defending the drugs, the Schoonover was behind it. Simple as that.

Which meant the Colonel got his family killed. Frank's hands tighten on the wheel until the leather creaks and he forces himself to pull back, taking that rage and squeezing it down, pressing it together until it's as hard and as bright as a diamond.

The Colonel, who had trained him, who he'd fought alongside, whose life he'd saved, whose life Frank had almost given up his own life to save — he took away Maria, Frank Jr, and Lisa. Took them away forever. Frank slammed the heel of his right hand into the wheel hard enough to hurt, then shifts his aim to batter the dashboard with the next four blows, hitting hard enough to bruise his hand. Hard enough to feel it.

Two hours, give or take, and then he'd be gone. Blacksmith. The Colonel. Ray Schoonover. Gone. Permanent. Finished. Six other names on his list — seven with Fisk — but Blacksmith. Blacksmith was the big one. He'd set it up. He'd made it happen. He was the reason. And he'd be gone.

He could have brought Red, or Cage, or Mercer, but even with a bullet-hole in his side, even with his bruises, his healing breaks and his concussions, he didn't need them for a one-armed Colonel. Besides, it would have brought them over to his side. For all her talk, Red wasn't ready for that, wasn't ready to take his side on this. Cage might be. He'd served. But he didn't want to. That was enough for Frank to know not to bring him to this. Mercer. Mercer might do it. Or he might disappear. Couldn't trust him yet. Curtis would be there for him, but he'd try to talk him out of it. Billy, Frank didn't know how to get in touch with Billy, not fast. And this had to happen fast. The need to get this done was burning in his veins. It had to be done tonight. So he had to do it alone. That was fine by Frank.

Killing the lights early, Frank pulls the car over half a mile down the long driveway to Schoonover's house. He'd heard all about the house when they were serving together, how it had been in the family for generations, how Schoonover was adding on to it. If he'd known the Colonel was adding on with drug money, he would have — Frank isn't sure what he would have done, but right here, right now? It doesn't matter. He knows what he's going to do tonight.

Castle gathers up the carbine, checking the ammo left in his one magazine — 11 and one in the pipe. Not a good way to start a firefight, but if everything goes well, there won't be one. His clothes are mostly dry by now thanks to the old truck's rattling heater, but he can still smell the water of the Gotham docks on him along with the smell of expended ammunition and his own blood. The walk through the woods up to the house warms him up, even as it starts to loosen the duct tape around the through-and-through in his side.

The lights of the house start to shine through the trees soon enough, which means someone's home. Next step is to see who is home. First, the cars. Garage door is closed, but there's one car parked outside. Checking for cameras and finding none, Frank ghosts up to the car, touching the hood with the back of one hand — cold, it's been there for a while.

He retreats back into the light forest around the house, the tender new scabs at his side starting to pull and crack as he sprawls slowly out on the fallen leaves and settles in to study the house.

An hour later, Frank's starting to feel the cold, but he's also pretty damned sure that Schoonover's home alone. The Colonel is also headed for bed, and there's no good view into the bathroom or bedroom, so it's time to get personal. That's better anyhow. Putting Schoonover down should be personal.

The front door lock can't stand up to a 5.56mm round — 11 left — and the impact of his boot, and he heads straight for the stairs. If he can get up there before Schnoonover gets to a gun… his boots are loud on the stairs despite his best intentions, but he stops just short of the top, just in time for the bark of a handgun from the hallway above. A hole appears in the wall ahead of him, and a tight smile paints his face.

Leaning forward, Frank angles the carbine in his arms, twisting it to crane around the end of the stairwell more easily. There's a flash of movement, and he fires off two shots, then ducks back. 9 left.

The pistol fires once more from the end of the hallway, then again, slow and deliberate. Must not have a second clip readily available. By the sound and the impact, it's an M9, so fifteen or seventeen rounds. More than he's got, but the Colonel probably thinks he's got a full mag, so he'll save his rounds, draw things out. Fuck that.

Frank leans out again, firing off three quick shots — 6 rounds left — and then charging forward. As he advances, he keeps pulling the trigger. 5, 4, 3, 2. And then he's at the end of the hallway, and there's Schoonover, solid, square-jawed, gray, just how he saw him last, shaking the man's one remaining hand in a hospital bed. Just before Schoonover sent him home to see his wife and his kids.

That's enough stoke Frank's rage into a roaring blaze. The pistol comes up in the Colonel's left hand, and Frank bats it aside with the M4's receiver, closing quickly and slamming his shoulder into the other man's chest. They go down in a tangle of limbs, the pistol skittering away across the carpeted floor.

The two men struggle for the carbine as they roll, Schoonover using his greater weight to slam Frank into the corner of a wall. The impact drives a grunt of pain from Frank's lungs, and he can feel his bullet wounds twist and start to bleed again. The barrel of the M4 wavers in the Colonel's one hand and Frank's two, and then Frank take a chance, removing one hand and slamming it repeatedly into Schoonover's face.

Blood begins to ooze from the man's brow and lips, to trickle from his nose, and Frank presses his advantage, drawing back the M4 to use the butt on Schoonover's treacherous face. But the Colonel gets a finger inside the trigger guard, and pulls, sending two rounds into the ceiling of his bedroom. One round, empty. Frank twists the weapon, and it comes free of both of their grips and of its sling, dropping to the ground.

Schoonover's fist thumps into the side of his head, and Frank is knocked to the carpet, curling in around his ribs and rolling to all fours. Before he can get to his feet, Schoonover has the carbine in an awkward, one-handed grasp, the barrel pointing at Frank's face. An ugly grin of triumph settles into the Colonel's weathered features, and he pulls the trigger. Click.

Before Schoonover recovers from his surprise and disappointment, Frank forces himself into a leap for the discarded pistol, scooping it up in a two-handed grip. But the Colonel recovers quickly, throwing the carbine at Frank and forcing him to duck his head to take the impact on his shoulder. Frank's four quick shots only hit wood, drywall, and hung photographs as Schoonover half-runs, half-tumbles down the stairs.

Frank is after him in a moment, but Schoonover knows the house better than him, and stays just one step ahead of where Frank can draw a bead on him. And then they're out the back door, and Frank fires as he chases the older man through the dark woods.

Schoonover's voice comes back out of the darkness, the words broken by harsh panting as the man runs for his life, "You should be at the bottom of the Hudson, Frank. Losing $100 million in heroin would have been worth it to take you down. But here we are, huh?"

Somehow, the Colonel manages to get a tree in the way, or duck behind brush, or somehow stay ahead of the searching rounds. "You could've been part of it, like Gosnell. You could've been rich. And maybe you could've taken your family to the Bahamas instead of Central Park, huh?"

A shed looms out of the woods, and Schoonover makes for it, giving Frank a clear line of fire. But right now, under the lashing urge of Schoonover's words, Frank really doesn't care about the number of bullets left in the pistol. He puts on a burst of speed, tackling the Colonel just shy of the steps up into the shed, and the taunts die out with a whoosh of expelled air.

Frank slams the pistol's butt into Schoonover's face, but the Colonel gets his one arm up to block another blow, and the two men scrabble in the leaves for a moment before Schoonover starts talking again, "You think this is about a bad drug deal? That's what you see?" Frank thumps a knee into Schoonover's gut, cutting off the words, and the Colonel rolls away, pulling open the shed to reveal a shop inside with tools scattered about on benches and walls.

Schoonover gasps, "You're losing your touch, Frank. Your kids? At the park? Nah, who cares." Frank lashes out with one booted foot, catching Schoonover's hip, trying to shut up the pained, needling words, "That's never what this has been about. It's about what happened with you. With all of us. Kandahar. You think they would ever let that go?"

There's some part of Frank that knows he should care, but all he can see is Lisa, her blood and brains spilling out over his hands in the sunlight of Central Park. As Schoonover crawls his way up the stairs and into the shed. Frank follows quickly, the barrel of the pistol striking down at the Colonel's head and shoulders.

"It's like a candy store in here." This time, Schoonover's words hold more pain than taunting, but he squeezes them out through the agony anyhow, "Go ahead. Go ahead. I had to teach you how to hold a gun. You remember? Eighteen, and you'd never held a piece before." The Colonel rolls onto his back, and Frank looks down into the bloodied features of his mentor, the soldier who forged him into a man. The man who killed Maria, Lisa, and Frank Jr. "Come on. They call you the Punisher. Prove it. Prove you don't need me anymore."

Frank's hand comes up, pointing the pistol right between Schoonover's eyes, and his hand does not waver. A tribute to the man who taught him how to hold a gun. "One shot, one kill. You taught me that."

Schoonover's lip curls in disdain, "You stupid son — " The sound of a single gunshot cuts off the Colonel's words, leaving Frank alone in the shop with a corpse.

"One batch, two batch, penny and dime."

Frank Castle looks around, taking in a long, slow breath, and then spots a tarp up on a shelf. Perfect for moving the body. The pistol is tucked carefully into the pocket of his jacket, and he reaches up for the tarp, pulling it down. When he does, the shelf swings forward, revealing a blank wall behind it. Curious. Frank glances back at Schoonover's corpse. Why had he been running toward the shed? He certainly hadn't been planning on fighting Frank with a wrench.

Stepping forward, Frank starts to pull other tools and gear away from the wall, pushing aside a rolling toolbox until it's just the flat, blank wall in front of him. He reaches into the corners, pulls, pushes, and it swings open before him, lights automatically coming on.

Before him is a real candy store. A cornucopia of firearms, neatly racked on the wall inside a mesh cage. A Striker-12 combat shotgun, an M60 machine gun, a KRISS Vector submachine gun, an MGL32A1 grenade launcher, a Barrett M82A1 .50 cal anti-materiel rifle, a dozen more longarms, a score of pistols, crates of ammo, boxes of grenades… a goddamned man-portable minigun in one corner.

Alongside the door hangs a set of camo fatigues topped with a bulletproof vest. Frank Castle looks at the vest for a long while, fingers reaching out to trace the sharp, hard lines of the trauma plates beneath the kevlar. They almost look like… glancing aside to the cans of white spray-paint across the shop, he comes to a decision. If they want to make him the Punisher, he'll be the Punisher.

Turning back toward the racked weapons, an ever-so-faint smile spreads across the Punisher's battered and bloodied face, and his trigger finger begins to twitch faintly. Seven more names on the list. Oh yeah, this is gonna be good.

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