The Atom: The Ivy Town Project, Chapter 2: Up Against the Wall

by JSAGL

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Nothing. Five visits and nothing. Jean Loring was beginning to think that Ray Palmer was doing this deliberately to drive her insane. Enrichetta Negrini was her last hope. As her car pulled into the visitor’s parking lot at Ivy Town University, Jean couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. She hadn’t been here since Ray left for South America. The old ghosts crept up quickly.

Jean made her way across the campus to the physics building. She looked at the directory on the wall and was surprised to see Ray’s name still listed. She’d start there, since she wasn’t really sure where Ricki was working these days. As the elevator opened onto the fifth floor, Jean exited and headed down the hall to Ray’s old office. To her surprise, the door was open, and there was Ricki Negrini sitting at her desk. Could Ray have come back to work here?

“Ricki?”

Ricki Negrini looked up from her desk and was shocked. “Jean Loring? What are you doing here? It’s been ages!

“I’m looking for Raymond. I must admit I was surprised to see he still had an office here. Has he been by?”

Ricki motioned for Jean to take a seat. “I wish I could say yes, Jean, but no. I was hoping he’d stop in after that little incident yesterday.”

“Well, I’ve struck out, then. No one besides me has seen him, and he hasn’t said two words to me. I don’t know why or where he could be hiding. It’s got me pulling my hair out, Ricki.”

“Jean, did you try Ray’s folks place at the beach? I know whenever Ray wanted to get away from it all, he’d go there.”

Fifteen minutes later, Jean walked up to her front door and entered her house. Finally, she had something to go on, and… Jean suddenly froze in her tracks. There was a woman sitting in her living room, a woman she had never seen before.

“Come in, Ms. Loring. We’ve been waiting for you.”

Jean entered the room cautiously. The woman, a somewhat large African-American with short hair and an impatient look on her face, stood up. As she did, two other figures came out of the kitchen. One she recognized, and she began to get nervous.

“Who are you people?” she demanded.

“Ms. Loring, my name is Amanda Waller and these are my associates Captain Boomerang and Deadshot. We’re looking for Professor Raymond Palmer, and we think you know where he is.”

“I… I don’t… Boomerang is an old foe of the Flash, isn’t he? I won’t help you do anything.”

Waller smiled. “Oh, I think you will. Bring him out, Boomerbutt.”

Boomerang went into the kitchen and dragged someone out who was tied and gagged.

Paul!

Waller stepped closer to Jean. “Now, Ms. Loring, are you going to help us or not?”

Deadshot put a gun to the head of a kneeling Paul Hoben. “Just say the word, Wall, and he’s toast.”

Paul looked up at Jean, his eyes pleading and tears running down his face, “J-J-Jean… please…”

Jean turned to Amanda Waller, her face contorted with rage, anger, and a thousand different emotions. “Get out of my house! I don’t know where Raymond is!”

Captain Boomerang stepped forward and put a Boomerang to Jean’s neck. “C’mon, now, Sheila. Ya don’t expect us ta believe that, do ya? Ever seen a razor-sharp boomerang in action? It’s a pretty nasty sight.”

A fist flew suddenly, backhanding Boomerang and sending him sprawling backward. Waller stood over the Australian felon. “Back off, Boomerbutt. I do the talking here. You just shut up and remember your place.”

Seething, Captain Boomerang began to get up, and he grabbed his boomerang off the floor, preparing to use it, when he found a gun pointed squarely between his eyes. “Give me an excuse, wise guy,” growled Deadshot. “If the Wall says chill out, then do it. I don’t have any qualms about blowing your brains out.” Paul visibly gulped.

Waller turned back to Jean Loring. “All right, let’s say I believe you, Ms. Loring. Why would Professor Palmer keep his presence secret from you?”

“I… I don’t know. I didn’t even realize he’d returned from South America. He showed up at the bank that day out of nowhere. I’ve been trying to find him ever since.”

“Well, if you do find him, I want you to call me. It’s a matter of national security. Here’s my card.”

What? You people just waltz in here, bind my husband, put a gun to his head, threaten me, and I’m supposed to cooperate? I’ll see your ass in court before I do any of that.”

Waller looked over her shoulder at Boomerang and Deadshot, who were now playing nicely. “Let him go, boys.”

As they untied Paul, the Wall sat down on Jean’s couch and motioned for her to do the same. “I apologize for the heavy handedness, Ms. Loring, but in my line of work, I don’t have time for games. A few months ago, we came into possession of your ex-husband’s size-changing belt. Our scientists spent a lot of time and effort in researching it and were developing a method of using it in medical research. The potential uses of it are remarkable. One of the research assistants, Adam Cray, seemed especially enamored of the belt. He was caught one evening using the belt on himself. Cray had been warned not to do so, because as you well know, only Professor Palmer himself has been able to successfully shrink and return without exploding.”

“So what happened to this Cray? I assume he exploded,” Jean said as Paul joined her on the couch, rubbing his wrists.

“No, he didn’t. That was the amazing part. Cray then himself became part of the research, to determine why he didn’t explode when by all rights he should have. A few days later, Cray and the belt vanished. That’s when we started looking for your ex-husband.”

“OK, wait a minute. What does Ray have to do with any of this?”

Reaching for a folder next to the couch, the Wall pulled out a photo and handed it to Jean. “The surveillance cameras picked up this image on the night Cray disappeared.”

Jean looked at the photo. It showed Ray and another man whose image was blurred. Ray was wearing the Atom costume with the top cut off and his hair showing through. He was wearing his size-changing belt. The other man had some things in his hand, but Jean couldn’t make out what they were.

“Why would Ray be involved in any of this? He went off to live happily ever after with his miniature princess, Laethwen.”

“That was what we wondered, too. These satellite photos gave us the answer.”

Jean looked intently at these new photos. They showed a scorched and barren landscape. “I don’t understand.”

“This was where Laethwen’s village was. Some South American business owners were clearing the land. They had no idea about Laethwen’s village or the people living there. The people were all killed. We suspect that the grief drove Professor Palmer over the edge, and that’s why he returned to the U.S. — to retrieve his belt and take vengeance upon those who killed his love.”

Jean stood up and dropped the photos on the table. “No, I refuse to believe that of Ray. He wouldn’t do such a thing. How would he even get back to the U.S. at six inches high?”

“You know the answer to that as well as I do, Ms. Loring. His friends in the JLA. But that’s not the worst of it, Ms. Loring. Palmer and Cray also stole U.S. government records when they left. They are both wanted for treason.”

“No, no, this has got to be some sort of mistake.”

Rising, Waller gathered up the photos and motioned Deadshot and Captain Boomerang to follow her. “If it is, I am sure that Professor Palmer knows where to find a good lawyer. If you see him, I need to know immediately. If you don’t, you could face charges of aiding and abetting. Here’s my card.”

Handing Jean the card, Waller followed Boomerang and Deadshot out the door. She stopped for a moment and looked at Jean over her shoulder. “One thing surprises me, Ms. Loring. Aren’t you even curious as to how the government got the size-changing belt to begin with? We paid someone a pretty penny for it.”

“What?”

Waller just smiled as the door shut.

“Thank God,” Paul said as he went to hug Jean. “I thought I was dead for sure.”

“Hold the phone a minute. Ray gave you the size-changing belt. Are you…? You didn’t…”

Backing up, Paul began to sweat a little. “Uh, now, Jean, you see, I had, you know, I owed a lot of money before we got married, and, well, it was starting to pile up, and then that woman came to me, and…”

“How much, Paul?”

“One-hundred thousand.”

“What? You actually sold Ray’s belt to them? Who did you owe money to — the Mafia? The 100?”

“Um, well, yeah…”

Jean looked down at the floor and held her hand out, pointing to the door. “Get out!

“But, Jean…”

Get out before I throw you out. This is all your fault, you slimy, two-faced…! When were you going to tell me, Paul? Were you ever? This whole situation could have been avoided if it weren’t for you! Get out!

Fine! I knew you were never over him. You never loved me. Well, I hope you and him are very happy together!”

Paul slammed the door on his way out, and Jean collapsed on the couch.

“Could this day get any worse?”

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