Minions – NaNoWriMo Day 9 – Clever Boy

The two doctors led a very wobbly Faux-verlord suit across teh stone floor of the cave when a very startled Red looked up from her tablet.

“Jesus!  Wait… Is that…”

“If you are about to say a damned handsome man, then yes.  Woah!”  The Orange Overlord suit stuck it’s arms out and bent at the hips and knees to stay upright.

Red smiled at Donnie.  “So, you got it to work?”

“After a fashion.  It’s still early, but a few things work.  At this point, we’re just testing the exoskeleton.”

“I thought you said that would kill him.”

Lorenzo stepped in.  “Yes, but we paralyzed him and made his muscles relax.”

Red raised an eyebrow to Donnie, who explained.  “He’s like a ragdoll in there and the exoskeleton is getting input directly from his brain.  It keeps him from struggling and getting whacked around by the suit.”

“And that’s going to keep him safe?”

“I think so.  It’s really hard to tell.  Theoretical limits of human endurance and all that.  As long as we don’t get muscle or tendon tears, he should be good.” Donnie shook his head.  “He’s liable to pull a lot of g’s in there though.  I don’t even want to think about combat.”

Red gave Donnie a reassuring pat.  “As long as he pulls off getting Ted walking out of prison, it’s all good.”

Donnie squinted and Red asked, “What?”

“Well, it’s just that… Why hasn’t Ted gotten himself out?  Why hasn’t he used his power at all?  He doesn’t have to do flashy, all he has to do is slip handcuffs or something.  He knows the gig is up and hsi secret’s out.  Why not bust himself out of jail?”

Red looked at the hesitant but moving overlord suit driven by Rog and guided by Lorenzo.  “I’ve been wondering that very thing, Don.  None of it makes sense.  I talked to the girl he was having dinner with and she said a waiter whispered something to him that upset him and he went to the can.  Next thing she knew, he and The Mad Bomber were at each other’s throats, tearing up the restaurant.”

Donnie nodded.  “You find the waiter?”

“Why don’t you stick to your project?  Hm?”  Behind them they heard an exclamation, a teetering crash, and an expletive.  “It seems like the suit has a few bugs to work out.  Don’t worry, I’m working on this.”  She walked off looking down at her tablet.  “Nothing, no detail, escapes my notice.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Wilson tried to ignore the other boys.  He’d talked to them, tried to reason with them about their situation, show them that they were not in control here in the least.  None of them believed him.  They all, except Fred and one other, had insisted that they were tough and would somehow kick ass out of there.  It was pointless.  So, he ignored them.

Now though, he was done with his homework and had nothing but time to think.  Bagsy was a tough guy for the boys, but at heart he was a manager.  He would have done much better trying to manage a burger joint than his current situation.  He just wasn’t much of a badass.  Yes, he got angry, yes, he wanted things done his way and set up the systems, but shit, that’s what a manager does.  He doesn’t bust down a door, guns blazing.  It wasn’t in him.  He was a boss, not a crime boss.  And this meant that they were fucked.  And Tony didn’t even factor into it, he was an assistant manager.

The guy who took them, Trevor, he was a different story.  Trevor wanted to hurt people.  The fact that they were currently unharmed meant that he had some other thought in mind.  They were being used to play for power.  What was it?

The obvious thing was money.  With all of them locked up in here, Bagsy wasn’t making a dime.  In fact, he had lost everyone’s stash when they were picked up.  All of that capitol wasn’t good to loose, but Bagsy had been a good manager and Wilson was certain that he’d squirreled away his money and hadn’t spent it.  the man was boring, what the hell was he going to spend all that on and not have it be obvious?  He probably bought a modest house in the suburb with it or something.

But Bagsy liked money.  It was his primary motivation, that and not getting caught.  Now there Wilson had something to grab on.  Bagsy wouldn’t move on his own.  He’d call in to the Orange Overlord, however that worked.  And if the Orange Overlord was actually gone, then what?

And what was the relationship between Trevor and Bagsy?  They weren’t rivals.  The rivals to Bagsy’s drug runners were the neighboring drug runners.  And all those guys were kept in check by … Agreements with the Orange Overlord.  Trevor wasn’t a rival because he was in a different business but the only reason he was in that business was because of his agreement with the orange overlord.  Now that the Big O was gone…

“Shit.”

Ok, so what does that do to him and his?  Does that mean that Trevor was going to wipe them out?  Was Trevor going to come and kill Bagsy?

Trevor is a bastard and a sadist.  But, he’s not completely stupid and hadn’t been so far.  Their gang was the dumb muscle.  The few times he’d crossed paths with them had been when they bought his stuff and none of those guys had impressed him as very smart.  They were smash and grab men.  And they were men, not boys like Wilson and his crew.

So, what did this mean?  We are a different type of workforce.  Wilson puzzled.  Rome.  When Rome conquered a territory, it maybe wiped out the chiefs, but it spared most of the nobility, even bringing them back to Rome to become Romanized.  They absorbed them.

Trevor wants to flip us. Or rather, he wants Bagsy to do something stupid so he can kill him, then flip us.  Those of us who resist will be gone in that purge.

Wilson was certain of it.  He could see it clearly.

He could also hear a fucking racket over by the door.

“Hey!  What are you doing?  Hey!” He put down his book and trotted over to the door and a couple of kids moved to block him.

“What are you doing?”  He looked at the kids blocking him.  “Get out of the way, dumbass, I’m right here and I can see him.  What do you think you are hiding?  Besides, I’m taller than you and can just look over your shoulder.”

Fred, who was bigger still, sidled up to Wilson.  “Ya heard him.  What’s going on?”

The kids at the door stopped and came over.  “Shut up, Wilson!  Pete’s trying to jimmy the door!  His brother is a locksmith.”

“That’s fucking stupid.  You are going to get us all killed.”

“What?  You think there’s a bomb on it or something.  We can hear the fools when they come to give out food and shit.  Nobody’s here.”

Wilson nodded.  “You are sure of that?  You absolutely positive?  Because if you aren’t, they aren’t going to be really happy with what you are doing.  And didn’t I tell you that our job now is to be real fucking patient?”

“Yeah, and you are a book fed wimp.”

“Better that than a fool.  Look, you are going to do one of two things to that lock.  First, you are going to break it, which means no one can get in and they may just leave us here or two, you get out.  So, what happens then?  Do you have any idea where we are?  Anyone know how to drive a car for real?  A stolen car?  Actually, we’d have to steal a bus given how many there are here.  And we’ll have to do that while potentially the entire armed and way more serious than us gang is after our asses, and they may not be as kind to us as when the snatched us the first time.”

The boys looked at Wilson with suspicion, but they didn’t go back to the door knob.

“Look.  I’ve been thinking.  I know what we’re up against.  We’re up against Trevor’s gang.  They are making a powerplay for Bagsy’s entire business. ”

“What?” one boy said.

“Damn!” said another, wiping his head and face with his hand.

“Yes.  That’s the only thing that makes sense and we are stuck right in the middle of it.  And the only way we can stay safe is to be united.”

“Bullshit.”

“Not bullshit.  Solidarity.  If you prefer, safety in numbers.”

“How you figure?”

Wilson shook his head.  “Look, at the core of this, it’s a business issue.  Up till now, the business has been controlled by the structure the big O set out, right?  But he’s gone, and Trevor wants Bagsy’s turf.  Only his dudes are dumber than rocks.  They don’t know how to hustle.”  He looked around at the faces.  “We do.  We understand how to do this.  We know the customers, we know where the people are who will call the cops or worse, we know how to conduct ourselves.”

“So, what?  What’s that give us?”

“A bargaining chip.  A seat at the table.  We come to Trevor with a combined workforce that he can use to run his new business without any problems, that is money to him.  That’s a lack of headaches for him.  That’s power.  We’re in here and not in the morgue because Trevor, at some level, understands that.”

“So what?”

“So, we need to send him a message to tell him we understand that too.  But it doesn’t mean shit unless we’re all in agreement.”  He looked around.  “Are we all in agreement?”

“What happens to Bagsy?  Tony?  The counting crew?  the guards and suppliers and the bodega?”

“I do not know.  I don’t know what others have in mind.  And honestly, I can’t help them.  I’m trying to help us get out of here.  It sucks, but the king is dead, and the princes have decided to have a war of ascension.  We gotta do our best to not get in it.”

“Whatever the fuck that means, but Ok.  I’m in at least” Said the boy who was the most active at the door.

“Anyone not in?”

Silence filled the room.

“All right.  Now I guess we send our note.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trevor sat at his bar.  It was late night, and yet another day had gone on to squeeze Bagsy, without so much as a peep from him.  Trevor was wondering if he’d hear anything from him.  Maybe the wimp would just skip town, which would be fine by Trevor.

“Sir.  I got a message for you!”  The voice came from one of the guys he’d sent with fried chicken to the drug runners he was holding as bait for Bagsy and his fools.  He hadn’t expected a message to come from him.

“Good,” he said, as if that was part of the plan.  “Let me see it.”

The big man brought Trevor the folded piece of notebook paper and he smiled.  It read:

To: Trevor

From: The Organized Labor of the Snake Gang.

 

Sir,

We are aware of your current attempts to take over management of the operations of our gang.  We are writing to inform you that however that arrangement comes to be resolved we are here to continue to fulfil our employment contract.  As such we do have some terms and some preferences.  In return, however, you will be the beneficiaries of our knowledge base in working with the public and each other.

It is our fervent hope that you appreciate the need for a smooth continuity of operations even in a time of management turmoil and I implore you to act in good faith on our behalf just as we will act on good faith on yours.

To that end, we would like to remind you that we are children and if we are continually absent from our homes, law enforcement will be involved.  This is in no way a threat, but it is an unpleasant situation for you, should we continue to be so incarcerated.  To alleviate this issue, we will voluntarily suspend our work activities for the amount of time necessary to resolve the current conflict.

It is also our wish to avoid any harm to our employers, either present or future, in the time of transition.  This is, again, something you can do as a sign of good faith. And an action that will seek to reduce the potential for police involvement.

We have elected a spokesman to speak on our behalf, one Wilson Yates.  Please be assured that Mr. Yates speaks for the group in this matter.

We look forward to meeting with you.  The sooner the better as this room is not well equipped for long term habitation by so many of us.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

The Organized Labor of the Snake Gang.

 

Trevor looked at the note and snorted.  “Wilson.  I knew you were a clever boy.”

Minions – NaNoWriMo Day 8 – Birds and Cages

The organizing committee met in the church basement as planned.  Though the crowd had been interested, there was a big difference between interested and “I’m going to spend my evening doing this” which showed in the attendance.

“Ok, so I think we’re agreed.  We target the city council of all four cities, and the executives and we petition to… What did you call them Max?”

Max spoke up from behind Lucius.  “Refundable tax credits.”

“Yes, we petition to have refundable tax credits amended to the next six year’s taxes to repay to the citizens the total amount of the tithe we have incurred over the reign of the Orange Overlord.”

“But what about the damage the Overlord did?”  It was Maria, a woman from Hollins, the northernmost of the quad cities.  “We never had crime as bad as we did once the Overlord came in.  We never used to have addicts and now our kids are hooked and need help.  And the industrial base is hozed.  The furniture factory, the breaks factory, all we really have left is a community college and a place that sells non-lethal crowd control munitions.  Not exactly a stand-up place to work!”

“And what are we supposed to do about that?  The companies ran out on us.  Ok, so what do we do?  Beg them to come back?  The city needs to find the Orange Overlord’s money, is what they need to do.  It’s not like it didn’t go anywhere, we know exactly where it went, it went into his dank orange rind.”

Maria pursed her lips.  “Please, Lucius, I’m on your same side here.  If the idea is to get the money for these tax credits from assets seized from the Orange Overlord, then we need to put that into our platform explicitly.  Otherwise, it’s just looting the city coffers.”

Lucius put his hands up.  “I’m sorry.  I over reacted.  And there is a good deal of wisdom here.  But at this point, we’re no longer pushing a single idea, it’s more like a political platform.”

Maria looked around at the faces and nodded.  “Well, yes.  The idea, it’s a great idea, but in order for it to work, details need to be worked out.  Lucius, you are an excellent voice for this change and I do not want to diminish that, but we need to work as a committee to refine the idea and push for that change.”

Lucius looked at Max who nodded.  “That’s how it was in my time, young blood.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  I was my group’s writer, but we had an orator and figurehead and people behind the scenes doing work and still others that fanned out and knocked on doors.  We do this together.”

Lucius nodded his head.  “I’m sorry again.  I’m new at this.  I just … I want justice, real justice.  That jackass in the jail has been keeping us down for so long, most of my adult life, that we are owed something now that we have him.”

Maria smiled as did others at the meeting.  “We understand.  We want to follow your ideas here.  And we’re here to help.  Now I think Max had a decent idea.  we need to formalize roles.  Now when I was in the PTA we had a Chairman, a vice chair, a treasurer,…”

“Why do we need a treasurer?” Lucius asked.

Another voice chimed in.  “Not everyone who wants to help can do so in person.  Those folks will want to donate.  Plus, we’ll need paper, computers, phones, maybe even signs, ads.  Political pressure isn’t free.  Not completely.”

Max nodded.  “Sister Vivian has a point.  If we intend to change the mind of a politician, we need to change the mind of the electorate.  That takes some scratch.”

Lucius nodded.  “Ok, Treasurer.  Anything else?”

“Maria thought.  That was all we had, but all we were really doing was extra stuff at the school.  Maybe we need someone to concentrate on the PR message? Like a contact person for reporters that isn’t the chairman or vice.”

“Well that sounds like what I’d be doing… or would like to do, if you have me.”

“No way.” Maria scoffed.  “You have the chair in a lock.”  Nods around the room showed that she was right on that point.  “Should we put it to a vote?”

 

After a solid day of nothing interrupted only by the arrival of shitty pizza and a couple of gallons of water, the kids paced the linoleum covered room and got on each other’s nerves.

“Dude, you should speak up.”

Wilson hung his head and tried not to think of his mom.  “And say what Fred?”

“I don’t know.  If I knew that I’d be doing it myself.  But the mood has gone sour here, man.  People are ready to pop.”

“And I’m one of them.”  Wilson snapped his book shut.  “My mom is probably freaking right out right now and I’ve got nothing to do but wait for something to present itself before I can even think of doing shit.” Wilson looked at the other boy.  He didn’t really think he had many friends in the Snakes.  really it was just a job, but Fred was the closest thing to someone he actually knew and now he’d clearly hurt his feelings. “Look.  I’m sorry.  I feel freaking helpless.”

“Not as helpless as I feel, man.  You ain’t the only one with a freaking out moms.”

“Yeah.”

“And dude, I been talking to the other guys.  They want to know what you think.”

“Why me?”

“Because you study history and shit and we all don’t even have a clue.  Some of these guys understand that.”

Wilson tilted his head.  “You think they’d listen?”

Fred smiled.  “What else they got to do?”

 

Rog woke up, having fallen asleep in the chair in the middle of Donnie’s lab.  Once again, he could not move.  “Donnie!  What the fuck?” he yelled.

Doctor Lorenzo strolled in smiling.  Oh good.  “You are awake.  Do you remember when we put you to sleep?”

“No… wait… yes.  Donnie said he wanted to try some kind of helmet thing.”

“Precisely.  Well, I might have gotten a bit over anxious about the dosing for the relaxant and we thought, hey, it’s almost time for a dinner break anyway.”

“Doc, I swear to god I’m going to kick your balls into your throat.”

The doctor looked at Rog with a dimmed smile.  “My, what an unpleasant promise.”

“I’m serious, here.  Why the fuck can’t I move?”

“Ah!  Well once we had you asleep, I had an epiphany.”

“What the fuck is that, Doc, speak English.”

“It is English, Rog.  And epiphany is a sudden flash of inspiration.  You see I’ve expanded my consciousness and studied it to the point where I instinctively take these things very seriously.  Sure, sometimes they are nonsense, but not in this case.  And Donnie agreed with me, so I went straight to work.  And … Ta Da!  Here you are.”

“Here I am and… What did you do?”

“I solved our super strength problem.  That is, if Donnie came through on his half.”

“Wait, what?  I can’t lift a finger and I kinda feel like I’m going to fall over.  I can’t even move my neck.”

“Yes!  you probably don’t feel the electrodes on your head, either.  Don’t worry, they are about as harmful as shaving, which we had to do to get a good contact.”

“You shaved my head?  I’m… Donnie!” he yelled again.  “Donnie, I’m going to wring your fat fucking neck for letting this creepy maniac touch me!”

“What the hell is going on?” Donnie came in, still eating a chocolate bar.  “Lorenzo, are you freaking him out or something?”

“Why no!” Lorenzo protested, checking the IV line that went into rog’s neck.  “He just woke up and immediately started threatening me!”

“Donnie.  What the fuck did you guys do?”

“We solved the super strength problem.  Didn’t Lorenzo tell you?”

“No… Yes… Why the fuck can’t I move?”

“Oh!” Donnie said. “Well, you see, that’s part of the issue. What Lorenzo noticed is that while you were aestheticized, you were a proper rag doll.  You could be manipulated without much effort because you weren’t consciously or even unconsciously trying to do much of anything with your body.”

“Donnie.  Get to the fucking point.”

“You are going to be like that inside of the suit and all of your movements will be propelled by the super strong exoskeleton.  You won’t be able to move, but you won’t have to.  You will be mentally moving the suit.”

“That’s fucked up.”

“Yes, that’s what I said.” Lorenzo chimed in. “I mean, if you are going with a brain interface arrangement, why have the body along at all?  Terribly inefficient.  And I can keep your brain going perfectly fine in a medium of protoplasm that would replicate the cerebral Spinal fluid in it’s entirety.  The interface would be better, more space for weapons without the need for space in the limbs or body cavity.  Much more efficient.”

they both stared at him.  Donnie in horror and Rog in anger.

“You know what, Don?  I hold you responsible.  Him?  I don’t think he can help himself but be an evil crazy fuck, but you?  You know better.  So, if he fucking touches me again, I’m using your face as a speed bag.”

“Um… Ok.  Look.  Just let me boot things up.” Donnie went to the prototype suit and switched some switches, yelling all the while. “The paralysis is temporary.  I swear.  Right Lorenzo?”

“I’m highly insulted and not talking to either of you.”

“Cool.” He checked the wires that led to the helmet on Rog’s head.  When he looked at Rog’s face, the scowl told him that he dared not get too close to his mouth.  “Ok.  In 10 seconds you will experience a little bit of vertigo.  It will pass… I think.”

“You think?  Ugh!”  Rog felt the feeling of his stomach lurch but without the physical presence of a stomach.  It was horrible, but did taper off.  “Woah, that felt like an entire bad night out all at once.”

“Sounds about right.  Now can you try to, very gently, raise your right arm?”

Rog looked down at his right arm and tried to move it.   On his screen, Donnie could see the wireframe of Rog’s body slowly raise his right hand and give Donnie the finger.”

“Um.  Don?” Lorenzo said.

In the far corner of the lab, the Faux-verlord suit stood in its rack and gave everyone the bird.

Donnie smiled.  “Fuck you too, Rog.”

Minions – NaNoWriMo Day 9 – Clever Boy

[Authors Note: This bit has me searching for Wilson’s natural slot.  I have an idea of his arc, but he needs to slide in and I don’t think I have that yet.  I’m also not a hundred percent on the timing of the various threads yet.  But hey!  First draft!  Once December rolls around I can work my perfectly functioning delete key!

Hope you are enjoying the ride.  Likes and follows are appreciated.  I don’t do much outreach, being a cyber hermit, so mentions go a long way while I’m doing this instead of The Strange.  Another thing that’s mostly going to wait until December.  Damn, going to be busy in December!

Stay Weird.

-SC]

Minions – NaNoWriMo Day 7 – Squeeze and Strength

In an old industrial center made of concrete and metal in odd structures, the orange overlord faced off with the latest incarnation of the allies.

“Give it up, O.  You can’t possibly defeat us.”  The man in a quasi-military outfit said, giving a wide grin and a macho pose.

The Orange Overlord said nothing.  He turned and slashed a hand through one of the structures made of concrete, sheering it down to dirt and letting the entire structure canter over near the assembled heroes.

“Scatter!  Beta 2 formation!”

A young woman in a skin suit flew, taking the smirking man with her while the rest moved as fast as they could to avoid the rubble.  The orange overlord didn’t move a muscle.  His force shield protected him from the rocks and he walked away from his scattered foes.

“Ok.  Hold that frame.” Donnie showed this to Red, Lorenzo, Rog, Nasim, Annabel and a few others.  “I wanted you all to see this for two reasons.  One, there was particularly good footage of it from the allies drone copters, the narcissistic bastards, and two, I’m never going to be able to replicate that.  No way, no how.”

They all rolled their eyes.  “What can you replicate?” Red asked.

“I’m working on the big O’s super leap – landing’s a problem – and his remote fist, which is something he relied upon as a primary weapon near the end of his more active phase.  We clearly have some armor, but it’s not nearly as tough as it looks on account of the fact that Rog here has to be able to move.”

“I thought you were going to give him extra strength through an exoskeleton?”

“I was.  But after repeated simulations I realized that I was either going to break his bones or rip his tendons to shreds.  Given that the suit was powerful enough to make a difference, it was going to also move his arm, leg, whatever faster than he can move it himself.  Since he’ll still be keeping it rigid, the counter force will pulp his body. Maybe not right away, but over time, the operator,” and here he shot a look at Rog, ” would be a mess.”

“Well can’t we just let that happen… and then fix him later?”

Lorenzo jumped in.  “If I follow Donnie’s issue – no.  The person would be disassembled enough that the body would be unable to heal.”

“Well then, this isn’t going to work.  Can we do, I don’t know, holograms of him or something?”

“Well, I was looking at holograms.  And remote force projectors.” Donnie said.  ” It just wouldn’t be believable for the Faux-verlord himself.  People would notice, especially in the dark.  And it would limit the kinds of deployments we could set up.  No.  The suit itself has to be there.  And before you ask, yes I looked at robots.  I just can’t get a natural look out of a robot.  Not in a week.  It would move, but it would look mechanical.  Not to mention that it would be seriously limited due to the proscription on remote control or EM radiation going too or from the unit.  I need to have a dude in there and the current suit is perfect for Rog.”

“Why are we sending him, again?” Asked Nasim.

“Because if he gets shot in the face we’d only be out one dumb asshole.” Red said as a statement of objective fact.

“Oh, yeah, that.”

“You know, I’m right here.  And I gotta say, the idea of enhanced strength would really be a good one.”

Red squinted.  “And why is that, Rog?”

His head whipped around and he smiled at Red.  “Well because it’s really flexible as a power.  And it can be close up showy.  Sells the con better.”  He pointed at the screen.  “That stuff?  That stuff you can set up in advance.  Stage your fight so the wall crumbles due to judicious use of C4 or something when the Faux-verlord points at it.”

“Is that really what you are going to call it?” Annabel said as a side conversation to Donnie.

“Well, it ain’t the big O, and I need to keep reminding myself of that.  Rog made me internalize the distinction.  We are in the deception game here.”

“But,” Rog continued. “That isn’t interaction with the public.  That is the sneaky shit we need to do.  We need to convince people that the orange overlord didn’t go anywhere.  That means up close examples of power, not something that is mundane for anyone with a wrecking ball and a plan.”

Donnie grimaced.  “Maybe I can make the hands grip strong or something.”

“That would help.  Being able to lift a car, though, that would be much better.  I’m sure there are plenty of examples of the big O throwing something heavy.”

“Yeah, he took to doing that when he realized that he needed to save his force field for the really hard battles.  Needed to keep some abilities secret.”

“Ok.  And maybe we get some help from your force projectors or something?”

Donnie shook his head.  “Doesn’t work like that.  And not strong at a distance.”

“How much is this all going to cost, Don?” Annabel chipped in.

“So far, I’ve burned through a quarte mill.  I can’t get development to go fast enough to make much of a dent in the budget so far.  But to do what we need it to do is not going to be cheap.”

“A quarter mill isn’t real money?” Rog almost shouted.

“No, it isn’t.  Annabel replied.  But the thing about money is that shifting it around leaves a trail, and we can’t have that.”

Red looked at Annabel.  “This going to be a problem?”

“Short term, no.  But we will need to squeeze the vice enterprises for more cash if we want to keep this all off the books.”

“And we can do that?”

“For now.  These arrangements take a while to unwind.  After all, it’s not like someone is going to find a new distribution network overnight.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Bagsy walked into the warehouse and looked at the two tables.  They had nothing on them.  Two people at each table sat, stone faced while four men with guns stood at the perimeter of the space.

The big man held out his hands.  “Where the hell is everyone?”  Bagsy looked at one of the counters.  “Where’s my fucking money and where is Tony?”

“T – Tony is in the upper office.”

“And my money?”

“I – I don’t know.  I got called in as a replacement.  I don’t know what’s going on please sir!”  The kid stammered.

“All right, all right.  I’m sorry.  Take a break.”  The man stormed over to the stairs that led to a catwalk.  “TONY!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shutting the door behind him, Bagsy looked down at the four counters having coffee and chatting.  “What the fuck Tony?”

“It’s like they disappeared, Bagsy.  They all, or at least most of them – normal turn out for a Sunday – They picked up the day’s product and then they just vanished.”

“How do thirty of my salesmen just vanish?  You think they decided to union up and run?”

Tony shook his head with a grimace.  “No.  Not like this.  If it were just a couple, maybe.  But we treat our people right.  You make sure of that Bagsy.  They come back because we don’t fuck with them.  We might have a couple of quitters, but nobody takes the package and runs like this.  Who would?”

“I don’t know,” Tony looked out of the window toward the empty factory floor below, “But when I find out, someone’s going to fucking die.  This is utterly fucking my system here.  That was a lot of loss,” He shook his head.  “And I really hope our guys are ok.”

He thrust away from the window with an audible grunt.

“Can’t you call up the cops?”

Bagsy stopped his pacing.  “What are you, nuts?”

“What?  To report missing people.  The Orange Overlord has the police looking out for our guys.”

“But if you haven’t noticed, the Orange Overlord is in jail right now.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that the protection he paid for is gone… does it?”

“It does.  Or it might, so I’m not poking the fucking pig like that.”

Bagsy continued to pace.  “You say one of our counters is also down, did I get that right?”

“Yeah,” Tony shrugged.  “Vincent Duce.  Real goomba, but he’s got soft hands.”

“Anyone else see anything?  Any of the others get fucked with on the way here?”

“What you thinking, Bagsy?”

“The Overlord doesn’t do protection directly.  There’s a gang out there like ours that does it.”

“You mean Trevor’s guys?  The Turks?”

“Yeah.  Stupidest fucking name in the world, but yeah.  They run the protection racket that is supposed to keep the streets clear for us.”

“You think they swept us?”

Bagsy looked out the window to the floor again and bumped his fist against the pane.  “I don’t know.  It’s a place to start though.  And get a line in to the Orange Overlord.  Use one of the burners from the park.  They need to know about this shit at central.  If the big O gives the man the slip and reasserts dominance, I don’t want anyone to think that I was the man that threw the first punch in this shit.”

“Got it.  I’ll get it done, boss.”

“Yeah,” Bagsy nodded.  “Yeah.  We’ll get it done.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Wilson sat in a corner of the room on the chipped linoleum floor and scribbled into his notebook.

“What cha doin’ there Wil?” Fred, a boy his age and a fellow runner asked.

“Doing my homework.  We been here for hours.  Might as well get topped off, you know?”

“Nope.  Me and homework don’t hang, Wil.  But you be you.  And anyway, you figured out what’s going on?”

Wilson frowned.  “What do you mean?”

A laugh hissed out of Fred.  “I known ‘bout you for years, boy.  Live on the block.  And that was shit what happened to your dad.  Anyways everyone knows you are a bright bulb.  So, what have you figured out about this shit?”

“What shit?”

“The shit we’re in!  Please don’t tell me you just think this is some kinda study break.” Fred threw up his hands in frustration.  “Me, I got nothing, but you…  What’s the smart play?  What’s going on?”

Wilson frowned, sighed and thought.  “In the middle ages, when two tribes settled a war, they would each take a member of the royal family from the opposite side into their court.”

“What, like a marriage?”

“No, like a hostage.  The idea is that if the other side crossed the line, the hostage would be forfeit.  Usually it was something like a young kid or a cousin.”

“So, they are going to try to ransom us?”

“No.”  Wilson concentrated then went on.  “No.  I think whoever took us wants us unharmed, but not quite in the same way we’re talking about.  It’s close, though and hopefully Bagsy understands this.  Or will.  So long as he doesn’t make any hostile moves, we’re safe.  As soon as he starts to be hostile, though…”

“We’re fucked.”

“Yep.”  Wilson scratched something into his notebook.

“So how can you just sit there and do your shit?”

Wilson was exasperated.  “Because what else am I supposed to do?  We’re pretty thoroughly stuck here.  There aren’t even any guards or nothing to talk to.  If we’re fucked, we’re fucked but if not, I got an assignment due second period tomorrow and I may as well be prepared.”

Fred nodded his head.  “Be prepared.  Now I guess you are on to something.”

“What are you thinking Fred?”

Fred smiled.  “If we’re at war here, I’m thinking we need a king.  What do you think, your highness?”

Wilson’s pencil stopped scratching.

Minions – NaNoWriMo Day 8 – Birds and Cages

[Author’s note: I’m not going to lie, I’m starting to feel the burn here.  I am forcing it, but I can’t say that I’m more or less disappointed with the result.  This CLEARLY needs work.  It’s overwritten and some of the relationships between characters don’t feel right.  Also, I’m developing a disturbing (and utterly unconscious) trend of minorities being antagonists with white people in power.  I don’t really know what to do with that because you can’t just flip someone’s race.  And just about everyone is female.  I don’t know.  And it’s hard because this is a story about bad guys.  Do I really want to make more villains of people? Just about everyone is a villain here.

Oh well, got to get it down and then fix it in post if it’s not realistic.  People may be upset with it, but I’m not filling quotas.

And on that cheery note, I hope you all are enjoying the ride. Likes and follows are helpful and appreciated.

Stay Weird

-SC]

 

 

The Strange – Episode 28 – A lot to Learn

“Central!”

Central jumped as she called out his name. It had been some time since their morning training and he clearly thought she had slipped out. The sudden realization that she never left put metal into his spine and rang him like a tuning fork.

“Yes! Um yes Bee. Central, go ahead.”

The wicked smile on Bee’s face was almost audible in the silent dark of the central monitoring station. “When was the last contact with Mr. Aye’s unit?”

“I…I don’t know, Ma’am.”

“You don’t know?”

The temperature of the room dropped a few degrees and it made Central stutter. “I…I’m just handling our routine security. I thought you were handling the … Uh … intelligence gathering.”

“And your unit does not report in?”

“Well he’s supposed to, but he hasn’t. I… Uh… Please don’t hurt me, but I thought he was reporting to you, like we loaned him to your team and you were controlling him. We don’t play offense here, just defense. I have to stay out of that stuff in order to work in the office.”

“So, you don’t actually know what we do here?”

“Well… No. I route phone calls, I watch monitors for unauthorized people and route security. Those guys get their marching orders from other people. I mean, I know this stuff is shady, and quite frankly, you people scare the shit out of me, but I don’t actually know what you are doing.”

Her voice softened. “Well then I apologize. So, no contact from your man Carl?”

“No. We do log these things and there’s nothing.”

Ms. Bee pulled her lips in, and the lines in her face deepened in the shadow of the room. “If you get any contact, call me. I will be available. Please, keep up your surveillance. Remember our lesson and reinforce it with the others in your group. We will be visited with hostile intent.”

“How do you know?”

Ms. Bee let her smile reflect the glare of the monitors. “I don’t, but I’d rather be wrong than in jail … or dead.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Mr. Aye came back to the world in the solar powered broiler of the Buick’s back seat. His face was one big bruise, his eyes were blood red and when he blew out, purple blood came out in little droplets. The drug store parking lot gave no cover from the heat and glare, even here around in the back, near the dumpsters. Mr. Aye didn’t seem to notice. Now that he was conscious, he thought about his prey.

“Goldberg.” He said the name while crawling out of the back of the car, disturbing a stray dogs inspection of the dumpster. “Dude lives like a pig. Juvenile, decadent pig. Makes me sick.”

He found his footing on asphalt so hot it softened the plastic of his shoe soles and cooked the blood that dropped from his face. A spot of shade on a narrow strip of grass that separated his parking lot from it’s neighbor called to him He wandered over. Again, the stray dog startled and growled protectively in front of his dumpster.

“Fuck you, dog.” Mr. Aye sat heavily, every bruise and ache complaining. “Lucky to be here. That bastard had a punch.” He spat again, noticing the absence of blood. “Heh. Lucky. Take that Mr. Goldberg. You aren’t the only one with luck. Shit, I survived the fucking Gulf War… twice, Contras, and countless wars with no names. And you, you fuck, you wind up with a hot girlfriend and more money than God for doing what? Sitting here, getting high and teaching kids to count?”

Thick hands rubbed over the purple and yellow bruise that was Mr. Aye’s face. He winced at the pain, but it focused his thoughts. Raw hate sparked in his eyes. “I’m going to get you, mother fucker. It’s my mission and I’m going to enjoy ending you.”

A sudden barking erupted from the dog, directed at Mr. Aye. The hired gun stayed perfectly still, eyes staring into the distance. The agitation in the dog’s bark increased. It repeatedly pounced forward and retreated, trying to scare Mr. Aye. Still the man did not budge

The dog quickly looked around, then appeared to change tactics. It slinked closer to Mr. Aye, growling all the while. It stayed beyond an arm’s reach of the man and crouched low. The growl exposed every one of the dog’s teeth all the way to its gums.

Mr. Aye’s eyes flicked over to the dog.

The dog yelped.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Carl strolled across the parking lot carrying a bag of first aid supplies and two sodas. Getting into the driver’s seat he said, “Here’s your fucking cola. Bandage that face before you go scaring children.”

From the passenger’s seat, Mr. Aye grunted. He swept up the soda in one meaty hand while the other grabbed at the medical supplies.

“You’re welcome, jackass”

“We’re going north, around to the other side of the campus. We’ll cut him off up there.”

“So, you called in and got some intel or something?”

“Uh…” He paused. “Yeah. Something like that.”

“Good. I’m glad we finally called in. Mr. Loveless gets particular about that kind of shit. So, north side. That’s pretty far pretty fast. You sure?

“Just do what I tell you. I’ve got a nose for things like this.”

They exited the parking lot as a smear of red came from behind the dumpster and seeped into the small strip of grass.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The hot afternoon sun, the post-lunch food coma, and the eventual crash from that morning’s bong hits made the world seem burnt and all too real to Dan. The canopy of green played with the sunlight and it streamed down from the branches in pollen-filled beams along with the Spanish moss.

As he walked with Molly, the aging pervert considered the freshman’s short, round body. While he’d never been terribly picky and actually liked a little heft on his women, Molly had the look of someone who had given up on fitness for good. Dan didn’t care. Fat, crazy, needy. These weren’t problems. Problems were for people who did relationships. Goldberg had problems, Dan had opportunities. And Molly? She was female and that meant he was waiting for an opening.

“I could use a coffee. You know if we finished off the coffee this morning?” The sound of the young woman’s voice was both strangely familiar and somewhat out of place to Dan’s ears. She hadn’t said much this morning, not much that made sense anyway, and somehow this straight forward, practical question was odd.

His response was cool yet friendly, betraying little of his thoughts. “If not, I can direct you to the Quick mart. I’ve been up since last night, so no coffee for me. More bong hits, maybe, but no coffee.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot. You are nocturnal. Isn’t that a little weird?”

Dan shrugged. “Nah. You find work or the work finds you. I’ve worked hard to get a life where I don’t have to work so much. Weird shifts are a part of it. Pays well.”

They rounded the corner to the street where Dan shared the apartment with Goldberg. It was the only quiet side street that had been paved recently, so there were a bunch of kids doing skateboard tricks on homemade ramps.

“But what about girls?” She searched for his eyes as they walked. “Don’t they, like, have a problem with it?”

He smiled and looked out for errant skateboarders. “I suppose the right girl won’t mind so much.” The clacking skateboards of a half-dozen young daredevils swirled around them as they approached the apartment. Shuffling up the dusty driveway, they slid through the open lower door.

Climbing the stairway, Molly said, “Well, I don’t mind it. Especially on a hot day, it makes all the sense in the world to sleep past this heat.” She got to the door to the apartment and pushed it open without a second thought.

“Well, you know… If you wanted to join me…”

She turned around with a shocked look on her face. Dan tried to keep his careful mask of nonchalance in place, wondering if he’d just made a huge mistake.

“I… I never thought you’d ask,” she said with a blush.

“Well, I didn’t want to rush it,” he replied with a grin and an internal sigh of relief.

Halfway hiding behind the door, she made flirty eyes at Dan. “So, can I make you a bong hit, Dan? Will you be able to stay… up… for me?”

He grinned. “Never a problem.”

Molly walked into the cluttered apartment with Dan now nakedly ogling the way her behind wobbled in her shorts. “Uh, Dan?”

“Yeah.”

“I think the cats got into your stash.”

His anticipation broken, he finally noticed that the coffee table was a total mess, the rolling tray upended and weed spilled out on to the floor.

“Crap! Look at this mess. Billie!” Dan went off looking for his cat.

He came out of the bedrooms with a blurry eyed white cat in his arms. Back at the coffee table, he picked up what could be salvaged. “At least they didn’t knock over the bong. Dang, they ate a lot of this. They are going to be acting weird all day.”

“Why? What do they do?” Molly asked.

“Junior turns into the ‘great gray hunter’ and Billie mostly just sleeps or chases stuff. They are hyper-annoying, though, so they get to play outside today. Besides, I think we want to be alone, don’t you?” He flashed a leering grin then turned and called into the house. “Junior!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Delgado drifted through the confused recesses of his own mind as it coped with the new doors opened and rooms created by the silver. In reality, he was in a toy car in the hot sun, but that world was lost to him now.

Thoughts drifted to dreams and dreams became crazy and jumbled, but surprisingly lucid. Delgado had not been much of a lucid dreamer. This nap though, this was something different and he knew it.

He began high above the desert, flying backwards, watching the sun set in the east. He knew it was east because a huge compass lay just beneath him, attached to his sternum with the north pointing off his left hand.

Bright light entered his eyes and then washed down to the color of sand. As the brightness faded further, the sand separated into a naked blue sky above and sand below. The horizon slowly sharpened and in the sand he could see acres of crops being planted along neat rows. The novel channeling of the far off river turning the silt to mud. Further focus found people in the fields wrapped in simple loin cloths, their bronze skin and dark hair marking their African heritage.

Delgado became momentarily disoriented as his view of the scene shifted suddenly. He realized that he was looking through someone’s eyes and that the viewer had been looking out a large, open window. Now the person whose eyes he was gazing through walked through the room. A high, thatched roof made of palm fronds kept the sun off of the dozen or so people examining papyrus documents and waiting for an audience with the man in the gold chair at the other end of the room.

“Nur!” a man called out, running forwards. Though Delagdo couldn’t understand the words, the meanings were plain as anything he’d ever heard in English or Spanish.

“Minister Makek. To what do I owe the honor? “

“Nur, I was wondering.”

“And what is it that I might help you with?“

“Well, it’s your brother. I was wondering if you might talk to him again.”

The man named Nur sighed. “Defense Minister, you have me in a bind. You know that my family is forever and always at the ready to serve the Pharaoh.  We are loyal people.”

“Yes, we understand. But the Assyrians from the East … Nur, they are a threat to us all!”

“I am aware, which makes my bind all the more painful to me. Pray thee, walk with me to my brother.”

The Minister stiffened. “I… I’m not…”

“Come now, Minister. We’ve talked of this before. My brother is a man and a simple man at that. I myself witnessed his birth. I myself had to shelter the boy, lest he fall to rogues. Retain a calm tongue and you’ve nothing to fear from my brother.”

“But if I’m to convince him to help us defeat the Assyrians once and for all, I must, I’m afraid, give evidence of the righteousness of our cause. These people are animals!”

“Then I’m afraid we reach, once again, my bindings. My brother is both simple in mind and quality and is, by his nature, very gentile. The thought of anyone suffering, even a foe – for he does not distinguish, upsets him greatly. You would have him aid our Pharaoh by bringing him to war, but his is the mind of a child. As such, he is much more attuned to playing with blocks.”

The pair crossed the room and swept aside palm frond doors and sheets of linen that separated the main room from the patio outside. The strangeness of the scene presented to Delgado in his dream made him question its truth. There on a pillow of white sat a young and frail boy with almost pitch black skin. He drank in the hot sun. Around him flatten disks of gold made crude mirrors that reflected even more sun onto him. If anything the blackness of his skin became even blacker for the light as it let no reflection escape.

As for the boy himself, his smile was docile and wistful. The glare around him was intense but the boy did not seem to notice or care. Instead, he looked off into the distance. There, Delgado could see both a quarry and a building site.   The site held the bottom third of a massive stone pyramid. As he watched, a gigantic stone rose up from the quarry and made its way over the land resting on a beam of golden light. It slowly rested on top of the incomplete pyramid and the boy stuck out his tongue, manipulating the stone into place. When he was done, he smiled again.

The boy noticed his audience and smiled even brighter. “Triangle and a square. Sun, Moon. The path of heaven in stone.”

“Yes brother, you have learned well of our spirits. You follow the instructions of our Priests and Architects. The gifts they have given you, you continue to repay.” Looking over at the Minister, he said, “To build is a calling, brother. Be safe with the men and give to the gods.”

The Minister’s eyes fell even as Nur smiled.

The boy turned back to the quarry where the quarry master had just raised a white and a red flag up, waving them. “Ah! Another block.” The boy’s skin seemed to suck the light in from the sunshine and the mirror’s refection. He smiled and stared again into the distance. The huge stone block rose from its place in the quarry and he said, “I like blocks.”

Nur turned to the Minister, who shied away from the boy. “Minister, we would like to help but it appears that all we can do is free up the men and resources while still giving our Pharaoh a just and fitting final home, a gateway from this world. My brother, though miraculous, is no weapon of war.”

The Minister stood straighter. “I can see that now.   Not all power is force. But we must remain vigilant. You say this boy is no god, I disagree. Let us pray that should the Assyrians find one of their number with similar qualities that they should be so peaceful.”

As the Minister turned from Delgado, looking through Nur’s eyes the scene washed out into the glare of the sun coming through the passenger side window of the micro compact car. Delgado shook his head, his real head, and tried to straighten out.

“Good morning sunshine,” Belatran said. “Or really, good evening.”

“What time?” Delgado said, but realized that he already knew. The silver had given him an internal clock. “Three thirty?”

“Yeah.”

The solid marine tried to untwist himself from his sleeping position. “What are we doing?”

“I’m asking questions, talking to people, getting the lay of the land.   You’ve been taking a nap.”

“Oh shit! Sorry.”

“Nope. No need. You are getting your training in.   History.   Let me guess, Nur?”

“Uh… yeah.   Did that…”

“Yep. Nowhere near the earliest, but interesting.”

“What happened to him… the kid”

“Pretty sure he eventually died.”

“Well, yeah, but… nobody bothered to note this, that he built the pyramids?”

“To be fair, he only helped with a few. The rest was blood and sweat. Look, recorded history gets weird around powers. The more power at play, the less reliable things get. People can’t handle the idea of powers so it all becomes folklore, explained away, outright changed and forgotten by the same forces that produce the strangers in the first place.”

“That’s convenient.”

“Yeah, but get used to it. These strange things happen but it’s hardly ever truly random. Too many coincidences. It’s almost like someone is fucking with us just to make it interesting.”

“Ah, now you are just being paranoid.” Delgado once again broke out into a big yawn. “It’s not like someone is watching us or anything.”

“You say that now.” He watched the younger man snuggle back into a nap position despite the heat. “You’ve got a lot more to learn.”

The Strange – Episode 29 – InVision

[Author’s note:  Back again in Houston.  Dad finally got out of the Hospital and though according to all of the doctors he’s not only extremely lucky to be alive but it’s a straight up miracle he doesn’t seem to have any lasting damage, he’s super weak.  And cranky.  Weak and cranky.  Glad to have him though.   So, The Strange hasn’t been a priority.  Sorry.

Thanks to everyone who has voted for the story on top web fiction and helped to spread the word that it’s here.  The likes and the votes and such help other people find the story, so if you could please help me out by keeping those coming I’d really appreciate it.

I hope this episode finds you all well and still enjoying the ride.  I hope to post again soon, but my posting schedule hasn’t been regular for quite some time and I don’t believe that will change soon, maybe not until the next project.  I’m working from a draft and frankly some episodes need more help than others.  Between the recovering Dad, and everything else that seems to be cratering this summer, I’m not sure I can promise that I can do much of any thing with regularity.  However, I am committed to being a weirdo, so you got that.

Stay Weird

SC]

 

 

The Strange – Episode 27 – Take Your Best Shot

The doors of the Pen opened out into the bright sun of early afternoon.  The concrete plaza outside reflected the sun back up and made everyone but Goldberg squint.  Two sides of the plaza, one opposite them and one to their right had walkways one flight up and there was a set of concrete stairs going up just outside the door.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to my office to finish up grading papers,” Joy said facing toward Goldberg.  “Remind me later never to make an assignment due on Friday.”

“Now where have I heard that before?  You are clearly taking council from a wise man.  And I’ll… I’ll stay in touch.  Ok?”

“You’re cute when you are stoned and awkward.”

Dan slapped Goldberg and turned toward the bikes they had rode down on earlier.  “I’m done, dude.  Time for me to turn in and call it a day.  Try not to blow up the house or if you do, try not to wake me up.”

Goldberg turned to Joy as the group broke up. “So, I’ll see you later?”  his eyebrows gave away the neediness in his eyes, obscured behind the rose-colored sunglasses.

“Maybe,” she said, fingers straightening out his new haircut. “Now that you look presentable.”

“Yeah, well… This really hot hairdresser gave me this nice do.  I think she was coming on to me too.  She kept pressing her boobs into my back.”

“Ah, you noticed that, did you?”  Joy put her arm around Goldberg’s neck and pulled him down for a long kiss.”

“You all need to get a room.” Sarah said and turned to go with Teague.  The two climbed the stairs that led to the upper plaza, leaving Joy and Goldberg to their kiss.

Dan wheeled his bike over to Molly.  “So where are you off to?”

“I don’t know, really.”  Her face darkened. “I guess I’ve got to figure out my life again and Joy was going to take me shopping later, but until then, I’ve really got no place to go.”

Dan looked around with eyes blazing red.  “Hey, well, you can hang out at our house.”

She sniffed.  “Really?”

“Yeah, sure.  You know how to get there from here?  You just follow…” He pointed up the stairs where Sarah and Teague were climbing but then looked back at Molly.  She looked clueless and more than a little cute.  “You know what, it’ll be easier if I just showed you.”  He walked his bike to the foot of the stairs and hefted it up to his shoulder with Molly bouncing behind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hidden in the void between the wall of the student union and a planter holding a shrub, Mr. Aye opened his bag.  Inside he found, among other things, two guns.  One was a longer-barreled version of a revolver with a scope.  Kind of a cross between a handgun and a rifle.  This, he knew, was a medium range sniper rifle, at least in his trained hands, and with low-powder, subsonic ammo, as quiet as he could get.  The other was a longer version of the dart gun he’d used earlier.  More gas for more punch, better barrel for longer range, but still not lethal.

At that moment, with both guns in his hands, the door one tall floor down and across a paved courtyard Goldberg and his pack of idiots wandered into the sun.  “So much for catching them in the glare,” he mumbled.  “At least Carl got the head count right.”  The group formed clumps, then pairs.  Goldberg was entangled with one of the girls with funky hair.

Mr. Aye’s eyes squinted.  Veins appeared on his hands as he squeezed the guns tighter than necessary.  Without looking, he dropped the dart gun back into the bag.  He crouched behind a planter and steadied himself against the concrete.  Through the scope, he could see Goldberg’s smug, smiling face.

“Wing him,” Mr. Aye mumbled.  “Well, accidents happen.”

He went into his shot ritual.  Feel and mold your biology.  Breathe out, hold it, wait for the heartbeat to finish.

Ba-bump.  Squeeze.  Explode.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Hot expanding gases created a shock wave in a tiny space.  Lead jerked into motion, propelled by the gas and the wave, down a tube lined with swirling groves.  The tube was tight and the swirls cut the sharp point’s outer flesh, twisting it.  The pressure from the explosion did not relent, and the pointed lead projectile continued to accelerate. Twisting and pushing until it finally reached the end of the tube. It screamed spinning through the open air at fantastic speed toward the unsuspecting flesh of its target.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Goldberg and Joy continued to kiss.  After a while Joy broke it off.  “You know, this whole make-out as we are parting ways thing is really not my style.”

He smiled “Not really mine either, but I’m willing to make an exception.”

“It’s not like I’m evaporating.  I’ll see you again tomorrow.”  She chuckled as his hands were inadvertently tickling her.

“Yeah I know.  I just can’t shake the feeling like you are going to disappear or something.”

“Well you are just going to have to get over that.  Besides, I’m going to take Molly to get some clothes tonight after I finish grading papers.”  She glanced over to where Molly was following Dan.  “At least, that’s the plan.  You boys will just have to deal.”

“Sounds to me like you are ‘doing your hair’ or something.”

“Well! What! Ever!  You have fun getting lost, but here’s something to remember me by.” She jumped into his arms and gave him a big, playful kiss.  Goldberg wasn’t ready to be attacked like this and he stumbled back a good number of feet until he hit the front of the Pen.  By reflex alone, he quickly twisted Joy in his arms only by a few inches.  He noticed the sound of a fire cracker and Joy jumped.  With a naughty smile she said, “Whew!  Goldberg!  You pinch me like that again and I might have to give you a spanking!”

She kissed him again and Goldberg thought, “what pinch?”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Up on the upper plaza, Sarah Grimaced and spun.  “Ouch! Fucker!”  She held her left butt right butt cheek and crumpled to the pavement.

“Sarah!  You ok?  Baby?”  Teague crouched down and put his big hands around his girlfriend as she sat on one cheek and winced.

“Yeah, it’s just… Ow!  What the hell was that?”

“What was what?”

“I just had this really sharp pain in… well… my ass.”

Dan came up the stairs with the bike over his shoulder and Molly in tow. “Man, you could at least have gotten more than a few feet away before you start talking about me.”

“Can the crap, stoner.  I think Sarah might have dislocated her hip or something.”

“Uh… ow… Actually, it felt like …  Like being shot with a rubber band or a pellet gun or something.  It stings like crazy, but I’m ok, I think.”

“Really baby?  Who would do something like that?”

Dan looked around the scene.  He narrowed in on the planters that lined the path where the plaza wrapped around the student union building, becoming a balcony.  “I’m just pitching, but maybe you should ask the guy with the gun over there?”

“Where.”  Teague’s voice dripped with chained rage.

Dan pointed before he thought better of it.  “Dude’s right there.  Between the bushes.  Just walk along the wall behind the planters and he’s right there.”

“What.  Where?”

“Right there!  Oh for shit sake.  Are you blind or something?  He’s hidden in the plant fucking thing right there.”

Teague took off mumbling, “Stay right here baby.”

“Teague!”  Sarah shouted.  “Don’t hurt him!  You’ll get suspended.”

“I’m already suspended.”  Teague said.  He squinted and followed Dan’s directions, running full steam.

Dan looked at Sarah and said, “Really?” His face clouded with loss.   “Ah crap, there goes the season.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Wedged in between the potted bushes and the student union’s wall, Mr. Aye manipulated his bolt action sniper rifle, ejecting the cartridge.  They had moved at the last second, but still, it was a dead-on hit.  Or it should have been.  But a look though the scope showed those two still sucking face.

“Bastard.”

Mr. Aye finally raised his head from his sight to see Teague barreling towards him.  He stood and calmly reached inside his jacket with his left hand while his right stayed in position on the sniper rifle.  His hand came out in a flash brandishing a black semi-automatic that looked small in his meaty hand.  The shot was almost casual, and dead on target.  Teague’s shirt exploded in a scorched rip, exposing his bronze chest between his pectorals.

A second shot ripped the shirt slightly to the left, but Teague kept coming.  He stepped right up to the man and grabbed him by the throat.  Two more shots went into Teague’s chest before Teague grabbed the gun and his hand.

“Dude.  Stop with them fucking bee bees.”

Wind had to force its way through the constriction in Mr. Aye’s throat before being formed into words, and even then, it also had to get through the bandages that now covered most of the assassin’s face.  “What Bee Bees?” He croaked out.

“Oh, you’re funny now.  You shot my girlfriend in the ass and now you owe me a new shirt.”

Mr. Aye’s eyes flicked over to where Goldberg and Joy are just now separating.  “Looks like she’s stepping out on you then.”  He tried to point with his eyes, but the way the big angry football player held him limited his motions.

“What the fuck did you just say?”  Teague’s eyes bulged out at the man dangling in his hand.  “You know I’ve been told today that I have an anger management problem.  They think I’m the same out of control street punk that came in last year, getting in trouble and shit, but you know what I say?  I say I’m being really fucking understanding here.”  He shook Mr. Aye by the throat and said, “Do I look like someone with an anger management problem?  I should kick your ass into paste, but I’m not.  You know what I’m going to do?”

“Urk.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not totally sure either.  But I am resisting the urge to throw you off this fucking balcony.  It’s not even a thing.”  Teague looked at Mr. Aye for a long moment.  “You familiar with the concept of Karma, mother fucker?  It means that if I do what I want to do and beat the ever-living crap from you, that I put a black mark on my own soul or som’thin’ like that.  But you see, Karma also says that you get what’s coming to you in the end.  Maybe not today, but some day, the bad man pays.

“Now here’s the deal.  You… are a Fucker.  A bad man.  You shot my girlfriend with your pea shooter and you ruined a perfectly good shirt.  It’s pretty well established that your karma here is pretty dirty.  You have some shit coming your way some day and some time, hanging over you like… like a fucking thing that hangs over you until it falls and wrecks your day.  But you know what?  I have the will and the means to help you out with that.  Right now.  You can pay right now instead of having it over your head, waiting to take you.  So, what do you say?  I’m feeling like being an agent of Karma.  How’s about we lighten that load you’re carrying around with you?”

“Merp!” the big man squeeked with nothing but his toes lightly tapping the ground.

“Great!  I thought we could work this out.  Now here’s the deal.  I’m going to punch you, but not in anger.  This is Karma for you and for me, an equalizing of the scales.  So I’mma hit you just once, but believe it…  I’m going to make it count.  You fucking deserve that.”  He reached back his enormous arm and said, “Say hello to karma, ya asshole!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

From where Carl waited in the car he could see the punch, hear the wet, meaty slap it made and feel himself cringe at the result.  No stranger to fights, Carl had an expectation of what a punch should look like.  This one seemed all wrong.  When a fist hits someone’s face, there is always an interplay between the two objects, a negotiation of breaking strength and kinetic energy, not that he’d think of it that way.  In other words, even at its most lopsided, the face gave a little back to the fist, either by slowing it or diverting the blow.  None of this happened here.  The fist just plowed forward toward a point three inches past the plane of Mr. Aye’s face and came back out.  Carl could see the mercenaries head snap back, but it wasn’t enough, especially since the big black man’s other hand held Mr. Aye’s throat steady.  It was brutal and quick, like a piece of machinery stamping out a hole in sheet metal.  And when it was over, the black man simply dropped Mr. Aye and walked away.  No rubbing of knuckles or massaging of forearms.

“Holly fucking crap!”  Carl started the tan sedan and hopped up the curb with a loud scrape.  Mr. Aye lay like a pile of meat.  He carefully drove past the wooden benches and concrete planters that lined the balcony and rolled to a stop next to him.  A practiced hand threw the car into park as he popped the door open and stepped out.  The guy that had thrown the sickening punch was walking away and Carl had no desire to get his attention.  He walked around the car and opened the door to the back seat.

Once again, he had to get an unresponsive Mr. Aye into the car.  This time he didn’t even try to be gentile and instead relied on leverage.  He unrumpled the big man’s body and rested his face against the seat cushion.  Putting Mr. Aye’s ass on his shoulder, Carl pushed against a concrete planter with all his might, causing Aye’s body to fold and scoot across the back seat.  His face provided the foothold for this action and it both scraped along the seat and supported his whole weight.  Soon enough, the meaty body was in the back of the car and Carl slammed the door.  “You’re welcome, you comatose piece of shit.  You’d better not be dead.”

The Strange – Episode 28 – A lot to Learn

[Author’s note: Sorry for the wait – again.  Lots of life issues plus a lot of anxiety about this particular episode has not been a great combination.  I’m also now dropping it when people are least likely to be reading, so I’ve farked this along numerous vectors.

How’d you like, arguably, the first time the team went into action together?  Not exactly the X-men, eh?

I know I say this every time, but if you like what you are reading here, please spread the word.  Voting for me on top web fiction is extremely useful, as are likes and follows.

The story is getting a lot more actiony as the gloves come off, so hold on to your hat.  I’ll try not to have such a long pause between episodes again.

Thanks for reading and Stay Weird.

-SC]

The Strange – Episode 26 – The Eyes That Seek

Carl slowly opened the door to The Pen, trying hard not to open it too slowly, or too fast, or to do anything that might give any indication that he was anything but normal and definitely not being a spy.  The sharp scrape of the bottom of the door on the concrete outside turned every head in the bar towards him and people squinted to pick his features out of his silhouette.

“Sorry!”  He said weakly as he pulled the door free with an equally deafening squeal.  Finally inside the dim, close confines of the bar, Carl looked for the most logical thing to do.  He ducked his hands in his pockets and joined the back of the line of people waiting to be served at the counter.

From this vantage point, he scanned the crowd.  Students mingled with Alumni and the odd family with older children occupied the tables.  Over in a booth sat Goldberg.  There was no mistaking him. He was the only person still wearing sunglasses in the dim room, much less red tinted ones.  He didn’t look a thing like the picture they had in the paper, Carl thought.  Maybe money really does change people overnight.  He had an entourage, that seemed new.

Carl turned back to face the line, to see the cashier and the person in line in front of him both staring at him.   The line had moved on while he was casing the place and had left him standing alone.  Now it was his turn.  “Uh, hi.  I just…”

He shuffled up to the bar and tried to act natural.  “What do you have on draft?”

The cashier looked at the two tap handles not a foot from Carl’s nose.  “You mean aside from Bright Beer?  Nothing.  No bottles either.”

“I’ll have a Bright then.”  Carl smiled nervously causing the boy behind the counter to look at him twice.

“I’ll need to see some ID, Sir.”

Carl jumped in his skin.  The way the boy said it gave him a bad flashback to the last time he was arrested.  It wasn’t like he was trying to be stealth or anything.  Do you give out your drivers license when you are being stealth?  And anyway, he was pretty sure it was in the car.

Composing himself, Carl said.  “Never mind then, I’ll have a cola.”

“Sure thing.”  The boy lifted a red plastic cup from a stack and handed it to him.

Carl thought it was some kind of joke.  The two stood staring each other down, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  After a pregnant moment, the cashier lifted his eyebrows and looked of to the side.  Only then did Carl notice that he was practically leaning on a self serve soda fountain.   “Oh.  Yeah.”

“Buck Fifty.”

Carl fished into his pocket and pulled out a five, thankful to be done with this transaction.  He shifted over to the soda fountain and filled up his cola.  Again, he turned to scan the room.  Goldberg was talking in a group with one of the largest people he’d ever seen in person, bigger even than Mr. Aye.  The other kid was at that table, facing away from the door and there was someone small sitting next to him, across from Goldberg.  Using his deduction, he assumed that there was at least one other person who was in the party, but not currently at the table due to the large man being in a chair at the end of the table rather than at the fourth logical spot in the booth.

“Hey BUDDY!”  The bartender yelled.  Drawing everyone’s attention.  “Hey, you, in the skinny tie!  You forgot your change!”

Suddenly all eyes were on Carl again, sitting by himself at a table in the middle of the room.  He slowly stood up.  Turned and walked over to the kid behind the counter, who was holding out three dollar bills and two quarters.

Carl slowly slipped the currency from the kid’s hand and said, “Thank you.”

When he turned around again, most people had gone back to what they were doing.  He couldn’t tell about Goldberg, though.  Those damned glasses made it impossible to tell what he was looking at, and he was no longer talking, just sitting. The longer Carl sat, the more Goldberg’s eyeless gaze bored into his soul.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Goldberg wasn’t thinking of anything.   Still way too stoned to focus, he’d let his mind wander as Molly and Dan told Teague the story of the morning.  He was over the weirdness for now and was simply enjoying how the caffeine sharpened the blurry edges of his considerable buzz.

Teague looked at the three people in the booth with wide eyes. He looked from face to face and then he smiled wide. “You all had me going there for a sec. Pushed it a little too far, though, so I call bullshit.”

“Well, you did ask what was up.”

He leaned in and grabbed some nacho. “Shoulda know better.”

“Believe what you want, man,” Goldberg said, coming back to the moment. “So, they got you on two a days now?”

“Yeah, was… Long story.  New Coach is a hard ass. Said I was tackling too hard in our contact drills this morning. Gotta talk to him later.”

“But the team’s looking good?” Dan asked.

“Yeah, got a really good feeling about this year, even with the … recent injury problem.  Anyhow, we got this new set of plays that should keep people from teeing up on our backfield so much.  We were a little too pass happy last year, but they put in a trap package.  Should make D ends think twice.”

“Trap?”

“Well, yeah.  It’s a blocking thing, but it’s based upon Sun Tsu, you know, The art of war.”

“War?”  Molly burst out. “Football’s just a game.”  The boys all looked at one another, aghast.  “What?”

“So, where are you from again?” Dan asked.

“Connecticut,” she said, getting defensive.

They all grinned and Dan explained.  “Well, yeah.  You see, this is the South East.  Second only to Texas or Ohio maybe in how seriously people take football.  It’s not a game, it’s THE game.”

“Yeah,” Goldberg put in.  “Even I know what’s going on with the hometown team and I’m as nerdy as they get.  So is it top secret or something or can you tell us about this wrinkle.”

“Actually, it’s not secret at all.  We want people to know we’re practicing it.  The philosophy is… well, it’s like this.  It’s conventional to think in black and whites, yin and yang, right?  Can’t help it.  But with a trap, you flip that on its head.  Consider that there are just two sides, one has the ball and the other doesn’t, but aside from that the game is a struggle to push the line, right?  Well the power of the Offense is that they have the one thing everyone wants.”

“The ball,” Goldberg breathed.

“Exactly.  Without the ball, you got jack.  So, people will flow toward the ball, especially at the line of scrimmage.  So, you use that.  Flash the ball.  Play defense with it, defend the ball.  Make them the aggressors and over-pursue.  Make them go where you want them to go, then set up blocking to make sure they stay there.  Use their over pursuit against them.”

“Ok, so fine, what’s the pay out?” Dan asked.

Teague smiled. “Well, first off, if we do it right, it strangles the rush, sweeping them either into the middle or ripping a hole with a pulling guard for the running back.  Since you make the back wait a second, they can bounce out or use the hole to get to the second level.  Hopefully your happy four yards per down.  The second thing is that it looks like a pass play for long enough for the secondary to stay home and for linebackers to think about coverage.  Unless they bite huge, then it’s all up to your back to either be where they won’t be or for the QB to see it and throw against weak coverage down field.”

“You’re being sneaky.”

“No, we’re being smart.  We only have to use it once against someone and burn them good to plant the seed.  It won’t always work.  It’s not your high percentage bread and butter, but it doesn’t have to.  It only has to work once.”  He put up his huge index finger for emphasis.  “And having it in our pocket loosens up everything else that one little bit.”  Teague sat back and looked at the table.

“When does the season start?”  Molly asked.

“Season never ends, girl, but we play our first game last week in August.”

“Yeah, and let me tell you that first game is a sweat bowl,” Dan said, leering at Molly.

“So, what are you boys talking about?” Joy and Sarah walked over, Sarah putting an arm on Teague’s shoulder as Joy slid into the booth.

“Football, death, and explosives.” Dan said.

“It’s a regular Michael Bay movie in this booth.”

Teague tilted his head up to her.  “Nerd boy here is trying to convince me that he was in that building that had the gas leak this morning.”

“Where did you hear it was a Gas thing, Teague?”

“The news. Radio was on when we hit the showers and they covered it.  Had a press conference and everything.  The Mayor said something about upgrading our infrastructure.”

Goldberg looked at Molly.  “Did your kitchen use gas?”

“No, but it looked like it used to.”

“What are you thinking?” Joy asked Goldberg.

“I think I smell a rat.”

Sarah said, “Paranoid much, Nerd boy?”

“You weren’t at Bill’s place.  I don’t need my little bird to tell me that there was more there than meets the eye.  Besides, I would have smelled the gas, I was right there in the kitchen.  I told you guys I would need to investigate this personally.  I was given these abilities for a reason.”

“You mean, you really…” Teague’s eyes went wide again.

Joy nodded.  “Yep. Only good thing to come out of it is that it burnt off a lot of that hippie mop he’d been holding on to.  It’s crazy but true.”

“Well I still think you boys smoke way too much grass, man,” Teague said. “That shit poisons the mind. Plus, I bet you haven’t seen the inside of a gym since you graduated PE in high school.  Put down the bong and pick up some weights and your mind will clear.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that for a smart guy, you are buying your own press.  That’s why I never read any part of a newspaper I am liable to be in.  You are looking at that frontpage piece on your supposed luck and letting it mix with that drug addled brain of yours.  You may have been lucky, but that doesn’t make you superhero man.  Cooperate with the authorities.”

Dan looked at Goldberg.  “Makes sense to me, dude.  Told you that all along.”

“Yeah, but, I never even read that article.  And I did cooperate with the authorities and either they blew me off or… well hell, I don’t know what they are doing.  I gave them a lead, what else do they need?  And Dan, you were there with the dart gun guy.”

Dan’s voice went far away.  “Oh yeah.”

“And, no.  I’m not paranoid.  Look, if they are looking into leads, I’m a damned lead.  Maybe that’s why people are coming out of the fucking bushes at me.”

“So, go to the cops again if you are concerned,” Sarah said.

“Ah, I see you’ve been briefed.  No.  That’s not right either.  They would have just called me back, not send some dart throwing maniac after me.  Dan had his phone on him the whole time.  No.  Maybe there is some other player involved. …Unless they are about to come and pick me up for murder or arson or both…  Fuck!  I can’t go to the cops.  They think I’m a criminal.  I’m sure of it.”

“Well of course you are a criminal.”  Teague said.

They all went stone silent and looked at him.

“Hey man, don’t look at me like that.  Nerd boy’s a doper.  In my old neighborhood that’s a criminal, at least where the cops are concerned.  I know you all are more cosmopolitan and white about it and all, but that is against the law.  The man could come by and pop you whenever he feels like it, they just don’t.”

“I’m sorry, Teague, but that’s hardly helpful,” Joy said.

“It isn’t?  Perspective man.  You are no more a criminal now than you were this morning. It’s just that you have information that someone, the man, the… other man who ever that is… You have what they want.”

“Yeah, but what?” Sarah asked.

“Oh!” Joy reached into her bag and produced the wooden ball puzzle.  “This.”

“Hey!  You got it!”  Goldberg reached over and took the ball from her outstretched hand.

“Yeah.  Here.”

Goldberg started to press the ball in places and quickly had it shedding pieces.  “Did the police wonder why you wanted it?”

“Oh, we managed to take it without them noticing.  Seemed prudent.”

“Good,” Goldberg said as some of the last pieces fell away, leaving just a small square of plastic about the size of his thumbnail.

“What is it?” Molly asked, straining for a look.

Goldberg held up the small data chip and said, “A clue, hopefully.”  He looked at the home buyers guide which glowed faintly to him with possibilities. “And maybe a way out.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“You are a regular James fucking bond you are,” Mr. Aye spat along with a mist of dark blood.

“Well, he’s in there.  I counted four at his table with a spot for at least one more.  Might have been in the john.”

“You were in there ten minutes.”

“Maybe they were pushing out a duce, ok?”  Carl was still pissed and agitated from going into that bar with the target and being out here with the recently re-bandaged Mr. Aye held little respite.  “All I know is people tend to sit in booths if the space is available not fucking drag an extra table over for the hell of it.”

“Oh, so now you are Sherlock Holmes?”

“Hey, why are you fucking with me?  I got your intel.  I did what you asked.  This is not my fucking job to be doing this.  I’m a god damned driver.”

“And you forgot my cola.”

“And I forgot your cola.  Fuck!”

Mr. Aye let the whole thing sit for a moment while looking over the area from the concrete balcony before spitting out, “prick. Thirsty.”

The two squinted into the concrete plaza below, letting the hot wind blow past them.

“I’m going to go find a coke machine just to shut you up!”

“Fuck it.”  Mr. Aye said in a tone that made it an order.  “Wait in the car.  This might be the best vantage point, but I’m going to need to be mobile on the hop, and that means you.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I’m gonna separate him from his group.  Like a wounded buffalo”

“You have a plan?”  Carl nearly bounced out of his shoes with tension as Mr. Aye remained hard as ice.

“We’re beyond plans,” he said, more to himself than to Carl.  The bandage on his nose hid the deepening of his scowl. “I’m going to trust my gut.”

The Strange – Episode 27 – Take Your Best Shot

[Author’s note: Well… Day job. Sorry about the wait.  Please keep spreading the word and I’ll try to be more prompt.  And Stay Weird.

-SC]

The Strange – Episode 25 – Come Together – Part 2

In the back seat of the sedan, Mr. Aye found where the pieces of his body had been jarred loose by the frat boys and hurriedly cobbled them together.

The big man could now feel his legs, his spine had started working again and his face, though swollen, was roughly the same as it should be.  Whereas he could have been described as meaty before, now, he felt more like a pile of meat.

He knew he had at least a couple of broken ribs and he had thought that he had been kicked in the back hard enough to not want to be kicked that hard in the back any more. Even so, he was starting to feel strong enough to try to turn around and at least lie facing upwards.

The effort was fantastic and at one point he had to settle for being half way, on his side.  The uncomfortable feeling of things sloshing around in his torso, as if nothing was anchored down properly, convinced him to hurry up and get on his back.

Again, he could feel things moving around, but decided it was just a combination of his imagination, having his bell rung, and lack of sleep.  The doughnuts he had that morning while taking the reconnaissance pictures outside the Collectors house probably didn’t help, either.  Was that really just this morning?  And now it’s the afternoon.  The sun at a slight angle…  When he looked up, though his swollen eyelids, the sight through the car’s window conflicted with the picture in his mind.

“Carl!”  It came out as a wet slap, making Carl jump.

“Jesus!  Scared the shit out of me.”

“Where do you think you are going?”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to base.  I thought I was going to be dumping your fucking body in the swamp!”

“I told you to turn around and find a place to get a coke.”

“Which would have been odd last words, for sure.”

Mr. Aye ignored all pain and pulled himself to a sitting position.  Outside he found that they were driving out in the campus’s agriculture plots, near the hospital and almost completely off campus.  He reached back and hit Carl hard in the ear with his open right hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The desk stared back at Clive Brace.  His report was done.  He’d gone before the reporters and delivered his findings.  He came back and had been collating what little information he’d gotten out of the investigation.  His mind reeled from the whiplash of it all.  Blank.  Nothing stuck.  Things just didn’t fall together.

“Go home, Slick.”

Brace lifted his head to see Commissioner Painter standing at his desk, baseball hat on and briefcase in hand.  At least he’d changed out of his jogging shorts. The words carried the weight of an order and came from someone who was more than comfortable giving them.

“Yeah.  I will.  I’ve got some things to finish up here.”

“No you don’t.  Clive, you’ve been on since six.  You did fine work today and we’re done.  Put a bow on it and kill it under a pint or two.”

Clive smirked.  “Don’t drink, sir.”

“What?  Why the hell not?  Religion?”

He shrugged and sat back in his chair.  “Never took to it.  And yeah, I know… but I just didn’t.”

“So what do you do to relax?”

“Read mostly.”

Painter gave him a sideways glance and shrugged.  “Do that then.  This place isn’t like Miami, Slick.  We don’t live the job here and we don’t let the cases camp out in the head space, especially when they are done.  I only got three detectives, Brace.  I can’t have you wearing yourself out chasing ghosts or burning my budget on overtime.”

The chair under Detective Brace seemed to sink a little as he looked at his boss.  The thing that bothered him came into horrible focus.  In his mind, a replay of a conversation he’d had in a Miami break room came up, the one that led to the Inspector General’s investigation and his transfer.

He made a conscious effort to keep his blank expression as he probed Painter’s eyes.  “You know, we may just get some leads from that press conference.  Brine gave me a bunch of shit for even mentioning the tip line number.”

“Yeah, well Brine is right.  People are scared, scared people jump at their own shadows and call us to bring them a flashlight and hold their hand.  Still, knowing the Sargent, he was probably a dick about it.”  Clive knew a smirk was expected, so he smirked, his poker face gliding over his suspicions.  “So don’t worry about it.  Penington is detective on duty now.”

“I just want to clean my desk off before I leave.  Put a bow on it, as you say.”

“Good.  I’ll see you on Monday, slick.”

“Yeah.  Have a good day sir.”

The old coffee was stale and shook as Clive brought it to his lips. Bitterness slapped him as he hoped it would and his hand was steady resting the mug back on the desk.

Code fifty three fourteen.  Clive knew it well.  He knew that a detective could not be forced to leave a case within two days or if there were active leads without proper hand off.  An anti-corruption clause from the days of the old south.  Penington would close the case on orders the minute he clocked out.  Clive was certain of it.

He was on the clock.  Time to get going.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Car skidded to a stop, stuttering and smoking.  It drifted off to the right and came to rest rubbing a curb.

Carl got out of the car in a panic, not completely understanding what had just happened.  His hand was up to his ear and when he looked at it, he saw the blood, his blood, coming out.  Two more steps and vertigo forced him to one knee.

Behind him, a door opened.  Mr. Aye swiveled out in a single motion and reared up to his full height and girth.  He looked like he has been hit by several cars, but none of this surface damage was evident in his stance or his gait as he walked over to a now cowering Carl.

Mr. Aye’s shadow fell across the driver.  “I said East, fucker.”  The voice was low, loud and crackled with blood.  “We are on the hunt, man.  You don’t give up on a hot lead because of a little boo boo.  What the fuck is the matter with you.”

“You were dead.  I saw you.  You weren’t breathing.”

“Don’t care.  You follow my orders.  If you do anything else against my orders,”  He bent down to get right into Carl’s face.  “You won’t like it.”

Carl got his nerve back.  “I don’t fucking like it now.  Why can’t you drive yourself, you big asshole?”

The skinny man braced for another blow, but Mr. Aye backed off a bit.  “There are things I will need for you to do for me, like drive, like go into places I can’t go looking like this.  I’ve been spotted by our prey, you have not.  We will require more cunning and stealth at this juncture.”

“Hah!” Carl said “Big man needs me!”

“I didn’t say I needed you, just someone who isn’t me.  Your importance is defined by me now.”  He turned around and opened the door to the back seat.  “Let that sink in.”

Carl got to his feet and swerved back to the car.  “Sink this, mother fucker!” he mumbled. “We get done, we’re going to resume this little trip to the swamp and you get to meet my friends for dinner.”  He opened the driver’s side door with more force than was necessary and flung himself behind the wheel.

“So, we’re going to go get a coke.”

Mr. Aye nodded, looking around the back seat.  “Yes, and hopefully, a smile.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joy followed Sarah up the hallway to the bathroom, but raised an eyebrow as she took a turn and headed through the exit door instead.  Beyond the door, lay a cinder block hallway lined with emergency lights.

“So, what’s on your mind?” Joy said.  “And what’s with all the cloak and dagger?”

Sarah whirled, her black and purple hair umbrella-ing out in recognition of centrifugal force.  “The thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m going crazy, so hang with me.”

“Oooooh, Kaaaaayyyy”  Her eyes grew wide.  “So what.  What’s up?”

“Have you been having thoughts that seem a little off.  Maybe like they aren’t yours or don’t have anything to do with what you are currently doing?”

“Maybe a little.  I kept on thinking about how the apartment needs tidying up, getting a coffee.  But honestly this day…”

“Well, let me tell you about the thoughts I’ve been having.  I’ve been thinking about going and visiting a bombed out building with some freshman girl I’ve never met before.  Picking up a ball shaped thinger… Oh yeah, getting wasted first thing in the morning before that.  Going and reading some absolutely horrendous stories.  I’ve even got a list and a synopsis I wrote down as proof.  Then I wrap it up by coming here.  Sound familiar?”

“So what are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that ever since the bomb blast thing this morning I’ve been… um…”  She closed her mouth and said into Joy’s mind ‘… hearing your insipid internal dialog.’

“Holly Shit!”

“Yeah.  I’ve been trying to get you to shut up too, but apparently you haven’t been getting the hint.”

Together they sighed and said “This is not cool.”

“You know, if you try, you can shut it out a little,” Sarah said.  “I have tried focusing on what I’m doing and that pushed the impression of what you are doing into the background.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want you looking over my shoulder at all. But why is this happening?”

“You tell me.  It’s your boyfriend that goes into burning buildings and the like.”

Joy opened her mouth, breathed in as if to speak, but then shook her head.

“Yeah, it is like something out of a stupid comic book.”

Rounding on Sarah, Joy snapped. “Hey! Stop reading my mind.”

“I wish I could, but you are leaving it too open for me. Keep your damned thoughts to yourself.”

Joy looked at her twin. “Nice hair.  Did you somehow do this?”

“No.  Goes with the territory I guess.”

They both asked each other. “Read anyone else’s mind?”

“Guess not,” They both said, dropping their chins in identical movements.

“So what do we tell and to whom?” Joy asked.

“Well Teague won’t like it.”

“No shit.  Teague doesn’t do weird.”

Sarah scowled.  “I was referring to how attached he is to me and his general love of privacy. This is going to be threatening to him.”

“And don’t forget weird. Ok, fine. But I think we tell Goldberg.”

“Why?”

Joy turned back toward the main part of the bar but stayed in the hall.  “Well, two reasons, First he’s got his own thing going on with that whole ‘Lucky as hell’ act he’s working on.”

“And the other?”

Joy looked over her shoulder and said, “He’ll figure it out anyway and may already know.  Come on.  Time to rejoin the party.  We’ll catch up tonight if not… you know… sooner.”

The Strange – Episode 26 – The Eyes That Seek

[Author’s note: This section was quite short for me so I didn’t feel good about having everyone wait a whole week for it.  I’m also testing the ability of WordPress to schedule releases so I can build up a buffer and get more consistent with the updates.  I figured this would be a good dry run.

Again, votes on Top Web Fiction are hugely useful for helping spread the word about the story.  Likes and comments in wordpress are also very helpful within the population of wordpressers.  I always feel a bit needy asking for word of mouth, but nothing happens without a request, eh?

So I hope you enjoyed our little interlude here.  I’ll be back next wednesday with more, if not sooner.

Stay Weird

-SC]