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Authors: Paul Tobin

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BOOK: Prepare to Die!
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“It’s… too bad about Paladin,” she said. I nodded. He’d had healing powers. He wouldn’t have had to disinfect any wounds or wrap any bandages. His touch would have been enough. There were people, I knew, who had prayed to him back when he was alive. Quite a few of them were still at it.

I said, “It’s too bad,” meaning it to end the conversation. It did. Gloria, the clerk, asked if she could help with Doria, or with what she called
the bad guys
. She wanted to know if we should tie them up.

“Maybe some duct tape?” she asked. “It’s not like we have handcuffs here. I mean, there’s mine, but…”

“Why do you have handcuffs?”

“Sex things,” she said. She didn’t seem embarrassed. I liked her for that. I told her that we didn’t need to worry about the convicts. Bigger and the Colonel were drained from what I’d done to them. The other man, in the cornfield, would be out for hours. There wasn’t a thimble full of fight left in any of them. There were sirens in the distance, definitely coming closer, this time. The residents of Athens Penitentiary would soon be heading home.

Doria helped Gloria with her bandages, and then vice versa. They fell to giggling about their rhyming names, maybe succumbing a bit to the rum, maybe falling a bit to madness, mostly working out their relief that everything had turned out, more or less, okay.

“Are you two good for a couple minutes?” I asked.

“I think so,” Gloria said. “Why?”

“Because I have to piss. I have to piss so damn bad.”

“You do that?” Doria asked. She was amazed.

“I do that.”

“There’s a key behind the register,” Gloria said. “It’s on a paddle. Can’t miss it. Or, should I get it for you?”

“I’ll find it,” I told her. I did. It had been knocked off its hook and was atop a pile of empty cigarette cartons that had been broken down after their contents went on display. There must have been a hundred boxes. It made me think of Paladin’s anti-smoking campaign. Tobacco sales had dipped nearly twenty-three percent. After his death, sales had steadily risen back up to previous levels. A sad kind of tribute.

The bathroom had one stall, one sink, several smells, one under-utilized wastebasket and a novel’s worth of graffiti on the walls. One notable piece of graffiti was a rough but recognizable drawing of Siren, with arrows pointing out her female attributes, coarsely labeled. A column of comments had been added by successive wits.

“I’d tap that!” was followed by, “Who
wouldn’t
tap that, genius?” After that was, “Somebody insane,” which was followed by, “Nobody is THAT insane.” Following that was, “Pussy. Pussy. Pussy.” Next in line was, “Fine. You get the pussy. I’ll concentrate on her boobs.” Below that was, “This is Siren, speaking. Sorry guys, I’m not sleeping with ANY of you.” It wasn’t at all in her handwriting. Not even close. After that pretender’s line was, “Who said we were all GUYS?”

An assortment of cocks had been drawn over the illustration. A vast and varied selection of cocks. Siren was in her old costume, the one from before Paladin’s death, but it was hard to notice that beneath all the floating male genitalia.

I thought about adding a line of my own to the text, but decided that it would have been crass (I’m not sure what I would have written, but it definitely would have been crass) and besides that I didn’t have a marker.

By then my piss was ended. I washed my hands, my face, and I looked at my fists, my eyes. From outside, I could hear the sounds of police cars and ambulances screeching to a halt. I started to leave the bathroom and then remembered I hadn’t flushed. I turned around and did that, taking one last look at Siren.

When I walked outside, the police were there. They deferred to me, which is always troublesome, because since I have no official standing it makes me go through the routine of softly letting them know that I’d prefer they take charge of the scene, which is always taken as if I’m being humble.

I explained what had happened, what I’d witnessed, what I’d done. Gloria and Doria’s stories were the same as mine, as were those of the three convicts, because that type of a man will lie before a judge, but not ever me. There has been internet chatter that my type of person, the powered, exude some sort of mind control that makes normal people tell the truth, or stand aside in deference, or jump into bed with one of us. For the record, for the nine millionth time on the record, that’s not true. Normal people tell me the truth because they’re scared of me, and they stand aside for much the same reason, because it’s more comfortable to do so. And the bed thing… that’s a fear, too, but a little fear is good in bed, and most people know that.

Officer Lieber was six feet tall. A little gone to gut. Dark hair. A slight line of a dust tan exposed when he took off his hat and asked me, “So. You hit them?”

“The one with the broken leg, yes. Twice. And then the big man. They called him Bigger. I hit him fourteen times.”

“Jesus. Fourteen.”

“Fourteen. Yes.”

Officer Lieber was silent for a time, puzzling it through. There has been legislation, never passed, but bandied about by certain political figures who wanted to score a few more votes right before elections, that would make it illegal for me to hit anyone. That was probably going through his head, but Doria was only a few feet away, telling her story, showing her bruises, her cuts, and the blood, and Officer Lieber wasn’t deaf. He’d already heard Gloria’s story.

“Fourteen,” he said. I don’t think he meant me to hear it.

“Yes. Fourteen years of his life, gone.” It was best to have it out in the open.

“You’ve saved the world, a couple times, I hear.” It was his way of saying that he wasn’t going to make an issue of anything. His hand came out in a friendly way, going to pat me on my shoulder. Just before contact he suddenly realized what he was doing, and nearly stopped. Instead, he slowed way down and touched my upper arm gingerly, like he was afraid I would break, though of course he was more scared of the other way around.

When nothing happened, he smiled and laughed and the convicts were taken away. Just before Bigger was in the squad car, he bucked away two of his escorts like an enraged horse, knocking one man to the ground and slamming another against the side of the car. Both his hands were wrapped in bloodstained bandages, handcuffed behind him. There were white marks on his skin, even over the tattoos, where I had struck him. It looked like he was trying to escape, but he wasn’t; he just wanted one last word.

“Fuck you, Reaver!” he yelled at me. “Fuck the fuck out of you!” The officers had him by the arms and were pinning him down against the car, kicking his legs wide, slamming their elbows into his back. They were wearing plastic gloves, avoiding his blood. He was twisting and screaming.

“Fuck you, Reaver!” he screamed. “Fuck you! You’ll get yours!”

“Yes I will,” I told him. “In two weeks.” He didn’t know what to say to that. To him, it was nonsensical, and he had to stop to think, and that stopped him cold. Nobody else asked me what I meant by my comment. The police thrust Bigger into the back of the patrol car, hooking a collar around his neck and attaching it to circle of metal in the back of the seat. Bigger could barely move. He was still staring at me when the door closed on him.

“Sorry about that,” Officer Lieber told me, as if something had been his fault. He asked if he could buy me anything and I said yes—some bottled water and some caramel crab cakes. He seemed surprised that I would take him up on the offer. Surprised and pleased. There was a piece of rebar, left behind by a construction crew that had put up a storage shed, and Lieber asked me to twist it into his daughter’s name, Beth. Instead, I twisted it into a “B.” It wasn’t long enough to do anything more.

He said, “This is perfect. Perfect. She’s a big fan of… you types. Have time to stop in for a dinner?’

“Love to, but I have to keep going.”

“Where are you headed?” he asked, and I almost told him the whole story, but instead I just checked myself and said, “Greenway, Oregon. For a visit.”

It was true.

I was going home.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

M
y costume was shredded as I was flung through the wall, outside the building, and into the street, compliments of a giant black hand that Macabre had conjured from nothing. The bricks burst around me, the sidewalk cracked, and a taxicab, fleeing the scene, caught my hip as I bounced along the pavement and booted me into the side of a panel truck. I barely got to my feet before Laser Beast leapt from a third-story window, shattering the glass as he smashed through, with one of his damn lasers cutting through a light pole and bisecting a parked motorcycle that was only a couple feet behind me. While he was recovering from his landing I picked up the rear half of the motorcycle and threw it at him, accidentally dousing myself with gas when I reared back for the throw.

The half-motorcycle caught Laser Beast in his forehead and he tumbled over backwards, triggering one of his lasers (this time from his eyes) as he went over, sending a beam far into the skies and then, as he continued his sprawl, cutting a line into the Bedelman’s Auction Warehouse building.

That’s when the lightning hit me.

The skies had been pure blue.

That meant that Tempest was around, and that meant that things were bad for me, because with Macabre, Tempest and Laser Beast, that likely meant that the whole of Eleventh Hour was in on the action. I hadn’t played it smart, and I’d walked into a trap, and if Siren was there, I was in trouble.

Hell, even without Siren, I was in a bad way. Tempest’s lightning smashed me down into the street and kept at me, not flashing away like normal lightning, but still working on me like a drill. The lightning ignited the gas that was on me, but of course the gas was burning at a far lower temperature than the lightning, so it wasn’t anything more than a colorful special effect at that point.

Because I’m largely invulnerable, most people think that I can’t be hurt. That isn’t true. It was agony, the kind of pain that turns off your brain. I was screaming, bleeding from the ears, half naked because my costume isn’t as durable as I am. I hoped it wouldn’t peel away and show my damn crotch. I’ve seen enough of that type of online video. I’ve saved countless people, the nation, the whole damn world, but sometimes it seems all anyone ever wants to record for posterity is me with my dick hanging out.

I crawled along the street, digging my fingers into the asphalt, like climbing a horizontal mountain, albeit one that was melting from the heat of the ongoing lightning. Finally, I reached a manhole cover, meaning to pull it up, duck inside the sewers, maybe catch my breath. There was a crowd across the street, gathering, filming, gawking. I don’t know how many films I’ve seen of bystanders being killed in situations like this. A fight between the powered is like a locomotive on fire, one that’s not restricted to any train tracks, and with a temper, and a bloodthirst. Even so, people still stand around, gaping in awe, literally struck dumb.

“Get the fuck out of here!” I screamed at them. About half of them flinched. Even in the midst of it all, even in the midst of one of This Great Nation’s Heroes (I had a goddamn Presidential certificate) being murdered right in front of their eyes, even with four dead already on the street, there were gasps that I’d cursed in public.

Paladin had never done that.

The manhole cover transformed into a giant hairy eyeball. Macabre at work. The eyeball blinked at me and then scuttled away on nine furry legs. Macabre himself came rising out of the open manhole, levitating through a sea of fog. He dresses like an old vaudeville act. Carries a cane. Wears a monocle. I tried to grab his legs but my hand went straight through him. An illusion, then. Always with the damn illusions. Except when they’re not.

The lightning vanished. I was bleeding, bad, from where it had been worrying at me. The wound soon closed, but I knew it would be at least a few days before it really healed. I staggered to my feet, trying to keep on the move, presenting a difficult target, plowing through a sudden wall of ice, shattering it and sending fragments flying all about. Two car alarms were added to the din. There were police on bullhorns screaming for people to evacuate, and one officer screaming, to me, that Laser Beast was back on his feet. There was a crater in the middle of the street from where Macabre had summoned a demon of some sort, some huge red muscled creature with ram horns that had torn out the side of the jewelry exchange and started dropping display cabinets into a huge leather sack hanging at its side. Diamonds and rubies were littering the street, with small creatures running about, gathering them up, rat-like things with vacuum cleaner mouths, compliments of Macabre, I assumed, or… worse… one of Octagon’s genetic experiments.

Octagon.

If Siren was around, I was in trouble. But if Octagon was around, I was dead.

Nobody knows if Octagon has powers. It never matters. Somehow, the bastard can always pull the right move at the right time, always a step ahead, and since he has the full powers of Eleventh Hour at his command it matters little if he can talk to animals, or lift a car, or shoot flames from his ass. He wears that entirely black suit, face and all, and a matching cowl, and… I don’t know… it must be made of a black hole or something, a void of some sort, because he can reach inside, reach inside anywhere, and pull out of one of his tricks, his traps, his little engines of destruction.

“Reaver!” cried the officer with the bullhorn. “Right behind you! Laser Beast!” I swung around, fists at the ready, to see that Laser Beast was only five feet distant, with his chest glowing. A spear of light shot out and clipped my shoulder. He’s so damn hard to second-guess. The lasers can come from anywhere.

Impact spun me to the street. I ripped up a chunk of pavement and tossed it blind. I admit I was panicked. There’s only so much that I can withstand. Only so many wounds I can heal. If I could have flown, I’d have taken to the air, and I would have kept going, and everyone else be damned. They should have been gone, anyway.

BOOK: Prepare to Die!
9.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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