Wednesday, November 21, 2018

EIGHTEEN: INTERLUDE TWO - SHADOW FOX SEES THE LIGHT




1993

GERALD FARNSWORTH III, ALSO known as the Shadow Fox, knelt in the mouth of the alley, invisible among the shadows, and watched silently as a woman in a bright yellow evening gown strode boldly down Queen Street. He’d spotted her from the top of the old Kent building. He’d not even had to use his binoculars to see her, that dress cut through the night like a flare.

It was clear from the way she walked that she was more than a bit inebriated, which explained why she’d be out in this part of town, at this time of night, and wearing a dress that would draw every predator to her like moths to a flame. So he’d decided to shadow her.

There was a time, not too long ago, when your average citizen could walk anywhere in Garrison—day or night—and feel safe, thanks to Captain Might.

But no more.

Gerald shook his head in disgust. It had been almost two years now, but he still found it hard to believe that Peter had gone through with his asinine plan.

Captain Might had retired.

It just didn’t seem real. It certainly made work more difficult for Gerald and his contemporaries. Once the criminal element had gotten used to the idea that Captain Might was really gone, well... They’d gone had themselves a field day. And it’s yet to end.

The lemon-clad woman didn’t get all that far before she was noticed by the filth that made their home in East Garrison. Three men who found an opportunity—the girl —and seized upon it. He’d seen it all before.

The three were members of a local gang known as the Down Boys. All three of them looked as if they had stepped out of a music video. Gerald, as ancient as his fellow Mighties thought him to be, knew that their style of dress and their long, teased hair was currently in fashion. He also knew that the style had been influenced by that rock-n-roll music with the loud, squealing guitars and the legions of kids banging their heads like a bunch of idiots. Regardless of what was popular, he thought they looked like girls and couldn’t for the life of him understand why they hated their parents so much.

Gerald studied each of the three in turn as they surrounded their victim. He always preferred, when possible, to size up his opponents before leaping into the fray. The more you knew, the better for you.

“Where you going, Rock Queen,” Down Boy Number One called out as the three followed. He had jet black hair that had to have had at least six bottles of hair spray on it to get it to defy gravity the way it did. He wore ripped up jeans and a leather jacket over a neon green t-shirt. The leather was white and Gerald decided on that fact alone that this guy would go down first.

Down Boy Numbers Two and Three were twins and wore more brightly colored spandex than an aerobics class.

The girl, to her credit, didn’t answer. She kept moving on down the sidewalk, bringing her pursuers straight to the alley where Gerald lay in wait.

The White Leather Idiot reached out and took the girl by the arm, halting her progress. “I’m talking to you, Sweetness,” he said.

The Spandex Twins laughed.

Gerald watched as the girl, tears in her eyes, turned to her captors.

“Look at what we have here, Razz?” White Leather said, looking down at the girl.

All of these guys had names like Razzle, Finn, or Kizzy. Gerald wondered once again what their parents could have done to deserve such shame.

“Rock Queen,” one of the Spandex Twins said from behind the girl.

“Whatchoo doing out here, Rock Queen?” the other said.

The three walked in circles around her.

“Yeah, baby. Don’t you know that it ain’t safe out here after dark?” It was one of the Spandex Twins again, Gerald couldn’t tell the two apart.

“Dark?” White Leather said. “It ain’t safe to be out here any time.”

“We’re gonna have to look after you, Rock Queen,” said one of the twins. “Keep you safe.” His smile said something else entirely.

Gerald rolled his eyes and would have sighed if he wasn’t trying to stay hidden. It all just seemed so cliché. A woman alone at night in the wrong part of town, three men with nothing else on their collective minds than getting a few cheap thrills off of the poor, helpless woman... it was just all so Movie of the Week to him. Yet here it was, happening right in front of him.

“You boys keep an eye out,” White Leather said. Then he took hold of the girl by her wrist, and pulled her toward the very alley in which Gerald had hidden himself, concealed within the shadows.

All three of the hooligans laughed.

The girl struggled and screamed, tears streaming down her face.

Gerald moved further back into the shadows and waited.

“Don’t worry, sweetness,” White Leather said as he got her into the alley. “We ain’t gonna hurt you or nothing. You just gotta pay the toll for walking our streets. You got any cash on you or what?”


The girl reached out and raked her fingernails across the punk’s face. He screamed and pushed her away from him.

Gerald smile. The girl wasn’t helpless after all. But still, it was three against one.

The White Leather Idiot touched at his face gingerly, his probing fingers finding blood.

“You’re gonna pay for that, Sweetness,” he said. “This could have gone easy. Now it’s going to hurt.” He reached out and pushed her to the ground.

She fell hard on her bottom, the wind whooshing out of her lungs.

“I’m giving you another choice, Sweetness,” White Leather said, looking down on the girl. “I’m going to hurt you, that’s a foregone conclusion by this point. You do what I say from here on out, then I’m only gonna hurt you a little. Got me?”

The twins snickered from behind him.

Gerald had seen enough. He pulled a set of three steel balls from a pouch on his belt. Each ball was the size of a quarter and weighed about five ounces each. With his other hand, he pulled a small black capsule, like something you’d take for a cold, from another pouch. He threw the three balls at White Leather, aiming for his head. The instant they left his hand, he transferred the capsule from the one hand to the other and threw it to the ground at the mouth of the alley.

The three steel balls struck White Leather on the temple and he dropped like a man who’d just been hit in the head by three solid steel balls.

The black capsule then broke apart on the pavement at the mouth of the alley and great clouds of smoke escaped, rolling forth like a curtain. White Leather began to stir. Gerald leaped upon him and went to work.

The other two could see nothing through the wall of smoke and backed away warily as their companion began to scream. Gerald could have taken this leather clad idiot down in an instant, a simple taser would have done it, but the Shadow Fox had a reputation to maintain, and he wasn’t about to disappoint.

From experience, Gerald knew that he’d have twenty good seconds in this wind before the smoke would begin to dissipate. That was more than enough time to make a point.

He was like a surgeon, breaking bones cleanly, incapacitating the gang member without doing too much lasting damage. Sure, the guy would walk with a limp for the rest of his life, but he’d walk, which was more than could be said of the girl had White Leather and the twins finished with her.

Gerald had timed his take-down so that he was bent over White Leather—his cape spread out around them like the wings of a demon—as the smoke dissolved. Such theatrics would typically freeze the others in their place, so overcome by fear they wouldn’t be able to move. Gerald would then turn from his victim and direct his gaze upon the others. At that point, they would run. Bolos to the legs would stop them, and then gravity would do the rest.

Yet, as the smoke cleared and Gerald began his turn, a loud crack sounded and something punched him in his side, just below the ribs. He was knocked sideways off of White Leather, away from the other two long-haired hoods. Pain lanced through him, and as he tumbled, he noticed something in the hand of one of the twins.

A gun.

Then he was down and they were on top of him, kicking and punching. He tried to lash out, tried to grab hold of something or at least shield himself, but he couldn’t make anything work.

Damn you, Peter, he thought as the blackness took him.

But then, as his vision blurred, and the darkness set in, a light appeared all around him.

He smiled, contentment coming at last as he gave himself over to the light.






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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

SEVENTEEN: INTERLUDE ONE - THE YELLOW DRESS




1993

HARRIET GOOBLER KNEW BETTER than to be out in East Garrison after dark, especially alone. Ever since Captain Might had retired, the streets had become even more dangerous than normal. But tonight she had little choice.

She’d been on her way home following what would surely go down in the history books as the all-time most awesome wedding reception ever. Brandi Habernash, Harriet’s best friend since the second grade, had finally taken the big step and married Chip. Harriet, of course, had been the maid of honor. The reception had still been in high gear when she’d left fifteen minutes ago. Harriet loved to party as much as the next girl, and this reception had been the party of the decade, but it was imperative that she catch a a few hours of sleep before her rounds at the hospital began in the morning. It was why she hadn’t gone home with Brant, despite his eyes.

Brant Franklin had been a secret crush of hers since fifth grade. He had these intense blue eyes that looked like tiny swimming pools of glass cleaner and she’d often take a couple of laps whenever she was lucky enough to talk to him. Little did she know that all he’d really needed to take notice of her were a few stiff drinks. Had she known she would have bought him a case of beer years ago. But still, she got his number, and he got hers. She’d just have to hope he’d actually call. If he didn’t, well, she wasn’t above calling him.

But the high intense flirting she’d woven over the last hour meant she’d needed to boogie or she’d be late for rounds, again. And this would be the last strike. The one that sends you back to the dugout. Strike three… you’re outta there.

The last time Harriet had been late she’d been stuck waiting on a train. Regardless, she’d been told at the time, in no uncertain terms, that one more tardy and she could consider her career with Garrison Memorial over.

Which is why she chose the route through East Garrison. She’d needed to shave some time off her route. Normally she would avoid East Garrison, even in the daytime, but the short cut would give her thirty-five more minutes of sleep. She’d need that thirty-five minutes. It would put her just over the four hour mark she knew her body required in order to pull herself from the bed once that alarm sounded.

And yet, as she’d been motoring through what the big four national news channels daily refer to as the ‘murder capital of the world’, her car had run out of gas. Harriet, being more than a little tipsy — both on alcohol and Brant Franklin eyes — had all but forgotten that she’d meant to top up her tank, a task she’d promised herself she was going to do first thing after leaving the reception.

As she sat in the car, abandoned buildings all around her, she thought about Brandi and Chip. Mostly she thought of Chip’s cell phone. Harriet hadn’t gotten around to buying one for herself, they were too expensive and she’d been told by those in the know that they got lousy reception. She sure could have used one now. She had her beeper, sure, but what good was that going to do?

She didn’t really have a choice. She couldn’t just stay in the car. The idea sounded slightly more foolhardy then then getting out and walking. If she was going to have any chance of getting to work on time, she would have to abandon the car, find the nearest pay phone, and call her parents. They would come get her.

So she got out of the car and walked, her yellow maid of honor dress shining like a beacon on the dark street. She’d barely made it a full block before a shabbily dressed man stood up from the bench he’d been laying on and asked her for some change.

Harriet gave the man what she had and then moved on with all speed. It’s not that she was afraid. She was terrified, sure, but in the end she felt she could take care of herself if she had to. Of course, most people think themselves invincible when alcohol is turning the wheel.

On the next block she found a phone booth. She almost laughed with relief. But as she moved in closer she could see that it was occupied. A man with long, dark, teased hair was inside. He wore jeans and a white leather jacket. The jeans had more holes in them than her grandmother’s favorite colander. Beyond the rock star occupant, two men stood outside the booth, talking and laughing. They too had long, teased hair, blond, but they wore neon green spandex pants, concert t-shirts, long neon pink spandex overcoats, and pink spandex fingerless gloves. In fact, the two were identical in almost every way. They must have been twins.

The presence of the three men wasn’t enough to cause Harriett distress, even in East Garrison after dark. The way they were dressed however, only the Downboys dressed like these three with their leather and spandex. Gang bangers. Not a bad thing, necessarily. From what she’d seen on the news, the Downboys spent more time holding up convenience stores and defending their territory over accosting innocent people. But the occasional mugging had been known to happen from time to time when they were bored.

The three didn’t notice her at first. The Spandex Twins were passing a home-rolled cigarette between them, and the one in the booth had his back to her. She thought about turning back, but that would mean more time walking. More time out here with murderers and junkies. Besides, she could handle herself. The confidence flowed through her veins like a shot of tequila, which, coincidentally, she’d had three of before leaving the reception.

She kept her eyes straight ahead, thinking to pass the booth by and the three gang bangers. Hoping that they’d pay her no mind. But what she didn’t take into account when putting this plan together was her dress.

“What the!?” It had come from one of the Downboys and was followed by a fit of coughing. “You seeing what I’m seeing?” She heard him say between coughs.

She kept moving.

Then came the sound of a phone booth door sliding open with more than a bit of force.

“Where you goin’, Rock Queen?” Called a bold voice from behind.

Still, she kept moving.

Then someone took hold of her by the arm and spun her around.

“I’m talking to you, sweetness,” It was the man who had been on the phone. The other two stood behind him, broad smiles splitting their faces.






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Thursday, November 8, 2018

SIXTEEN: TOO MANY CHANNELS




PETER PEMBLETON GLANCED AT the clock on the wall. It was nearly Two in the morning. He flipped through the few hundred channels he had available to him thanks to the satellite dish on his roof. Four hundred and ninety-seven channels to be exact. Close to five hundred, and he could find only crap.

Would it kill one of these stations to play Gunsmoke once in a while? He thought.

Still, he continued to roll through the stations.

He never slept. Not anymore. An unfortunate side effect of the ring. He’d worn it for so long that it continued to rule him even after all this time. But he had no regrets. Even after what had happened to Cecilia, no regrets. He’d had his normal life, no matter how brief.

The old man sighed and looked through the list of movies on demand. He had seen them all at least four times. Well, those that weren’t full of sex and violence, which was most of them. It was a shame what the world had come to, and frankly, he could only see it getting worse.

He turned to one of the music channels and listened to the songs of his youth: Swing. He closed his eyes and floated among the horns; the trumpets, trombones, clarinets, and saxophones. He thought of Cecilia and the first time they had danced. She had known who he was; he’d told her everything that first night. She had been his one, his only, his life.

Then the earth shook as if struck by a giant hammer. Thinking it was an earthquake, Peter quickly shuffled over to stand under a doorway, but there was nothing more following the one tremor. Still, he waited another minute before going back to his recliner and clicking through the four hundred and ninety-seven channels once again.

It wasn’t long before he found something about the quake on one of the dozens of twenty-four hour news stations. They were calling it an impact tremor, but so far a cause had not been found. There wasn’t much more to the story than that, but it didn’t stop the attractive man and woman at the news desk from talking about it for the next thirty minutes. To fill time they were interviewing anyone on the street they could find. They all had the same story:

“I was walking along and the ground started shaking beneath me. Well, I was scared, I thought it was an earthquake, but then it was over.”

Peter shook his head at the waste of air time the so-called news was nowadays.

He put the remote down and shuffled around a bit in the kitchen. He made a ham sandwich with cheese and mayonnaise, pulled a half gallon of milk from the fridge and poured out a half a glass. Then, juggling the plate and glass, he took his seat once more in the recliner, placing his snack on the small tray table.

The music washed over Peter as he ate and he couldn’t help but smile once he’d finished off the sandwich. It was moments such as this – the quiet times when it seemed as if he was the only one awake in the world – when he would laugh silently to himself over how different his life was now.

Three decades ago his life had been nonstop. He always been on the move. He’d spent more time as Captain Might then he had as Peter Pembleton. He’d saved the world more than once and he’d saved the city so often that he’d lost count. Most of it was a fog anymore. He could remember his time as Captain Might in a broad, sweeping picture, but the specifics escaped him. Like a movie he’d sat through years ago. He could, however, recall with startling clarity the time he’d told Gerald that he was going to retire.

He frowned, thinking back on it. It still pained him to walk through that particular memory. He could recall the betrayal that had shown on Gerald’s face and could imagine how he must have felt. In time, of course, Gerald had grown to understand, and he did eventually forgive Peter, but that had not been one of his better days.

His earlier conversation with Gerald had begun to gnaw at him. He understood Gerald’s anger and he sympathized with the man, but he simply wasn’t interested in the same thing that Gerald was. It was Peter’s ring, so it was Peter’s choice. Gerald had always believed that if Peter wasn’t going to be Captain Might, then someone else should be. While there had always been a part of Peter that agreed with Gerald, he never liked Gerald’s choice for the ring.

Yet, despite the anger and harsh words, regardless of the years the two spent in silence, Peter knew that Gerald would help Oliver. There just wasn’t any way the man would say no. In the end he knew that if anyone else was going to be Captain Might, Gerald would want to be there to make sure it was being done the way the old Brit wanted it done.

Finished with the sandwich and milk, Peter rinsed out the empty glass and placed it and the plate together in the sink. Then he returned to his recliner, the remote, and the four hundred and ninety-seven channels.

After the third time through the channels, Peter landed on Branded, a western serial from the 60’s starring Chuck Connors. It was no Gunsmoke, but it would do. He put the remote down on the tray next to the chair, and settled in for a good old fashioned shoot-em-up.

A sudden and persistent knocking at the front door caused Peter sit up higher in the chair. He must have fallen asleep because the last thing he recalled watching on the television were the opening credits to Branded, and now he was seeing the closing. He pressed the mute button on the remote and glanced up at the clock. Three O’clock in the morning. Who would be knocking on his door at this time?

“Who is it?” he called out.

“Oliver Jordan, Mr. Pembleton.” It was Oliver alright. He recognized the voice, though muffled as it was coming through the door. “I need to talk to you, sir. It’s important.”

“Oliver?” Peter rose from the chair and opened the door to find young Oliver standing on the porch. His clothes were ripped and torn. The boy was covered in dirt and mud and he looked more than a little shaken.

“What’s the matter, my boy?” Peter asked, but he feared he already knew the answer.

Oliver had only one thing to say however, and it wasn’t in response to Peter’s question.

Instead, Oliver had a question of his own.

“What did you do to me!?”






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