Sword of Damnocles 2

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I suppose this could be the pettiness shining through again, but I’m really not liking these guys deciding they don’t owe allegiance to me. I know I tried to give up the Riccan throne at one point, but I did a whole weird marriage scam to make this happen. And the Bronze City’s excuse isn’t even anything like “you’re bad at your job” or “the citizens overwhelmingly vote to not let you rule them”. They just don’t like my tits. Ridiculous. I got great tits. Everyone should like them. I’d show them off all over the place if I could. I’m proud of these bad boys, especially the aereola. My boobs should be on display at the Louvre, but then I’d have to steal them on general principle.

So my plan was to just wear my power armor, crater the opposing champion’s ass with a well-placed boot, and lord my victory over them all. But as I stepped out into the square arena they had, they did this ritual with tossing some sort of powder on me. The crowd booed me actually wearing armor instead of the traditional loincloth. From up in the VIP box, or whatever the old school equivalent would be called, the Elders called out, “She spits on our traditions! We should have her forfeit the fight for this!”

I held up all four hands, then opened the armor up and stepped out. I nodded to a pair of my guards, who picked it up and carried it up into the stands out of easy reach. I figured I could still beat whatever champion they had in mind for me. He was a big guy, thick. Most people would picture a bodybuilder, but this guy was more like a weightlifter. Round, thick, and strong. He wasn’t obese, but he had enough flab on him to absorb some punishment and some slices from the sword I didn’t bring with me. He didn’t seem all that distracted by my nudity as he hefted his bronze warhammer and spun it overhead.

“It’s a shame you have to die for a bunch of cowards,” I called out to him.

He bowed his head briefly, “I don’t intend to die.”

I winked at him. “It’s the last thing anyone intends to do.”

He didn’t rush me. He walked purposefully toward me. I crossed my arms and tapped my foot on the sand of the arena, waiting. When he got a few feet from the reach of his hammer, I turned and ran at the wall. I jumped and pushed off it, leaping over the champions’ head. The gasps of the crowd and the wind on my back suggested I almost didn’t make it.

My training is to kill. Kill first, kill second, add a pithy one-liner, then start asking questions. But, I dunno, I felt different. I smiled and jumped back to avoid getting hammered when he whirled around, hammerhead first. “Close, but no cigar.”

He took a side swing at my head. I dipped and came up quickly, but he managed to stop the hammer and reverse it to try and put a bronze spike through my eye hole. I did a split and dropped below it, blowing him a kiss. He showed some skill by redirecting the swing around and up over his head to try and bring it down on mine. I lunged forward so I was laying on my belly and elbows, legs still spread. I felt the wood smack into my ass as the head barely missed.

This was completely wrong for me to do. I knew it then, and I know it now. I just felt different, ya know? I was a proud bearer of boobs for all to see. I am the Empress. I am awesome. I can fuck a goat and make it pay me. I was happy and feeling good, so I played around. It was way different than the usual style of killing first, killing second, pithy one-liner, then start asking questions.

Anyway, he took one hand off his hammer to reach down and grab me by the hair. He hauled me up to my feet, then squealed in pain when my lower hands gave him a purple nurple. A weapons-grade nurple. I put some torque into those bad boys while laughing at him. “Say the safeword!”

He didn’t say the safeword. He banged the hammer’s handle into me as much as he could at that distance with one hand. I put my foot on his belly and pushed. He fell back and I walked toward the middle of the arean a few steps, showing off my trophies for the audience. “Behold, I give you nipples!”

The crowd ate it up, except for the Elders. They seemed disgusted, which is quite a take for the people who made the decision to put me almost nude into a life or death fight in the first place. They made their bed, now they get to lie in it. They get to die in it. I tossed one nipple up to them, smacking one of their pompous faces with it and leaving a small streak of blood on his cheek. That startled him.

The vibrations in the sand brought my attention back around to their champion. I turned and ducked to see the man running for me, hammer’s pointed top lowered at me like a spear. I tossed the other nipple into his face and the man reached up to try and salvage his amputated body part. I grimaced in anticipation as I threw my body toward him, legs first, to baseball slide for his lower body. He closed his legs at least, but I still threw my fist into his groin. A large part of the crowd let out a collective “Ooooh!” in male sympathy.

I threw another punch into his paunch then, doubling him over. With his head now considerably closer to mine, I grabbed his throat, and threw him at the wall. He crashed into the wood, winded, his hammer on the ground in front of me. He pushed away from the wall and let out a roar of anger and pain. A spear flew through the air from behind me and pinned the man to the wall. The crowd started booing, as did I. The Elders yelled in outrage. All of us looked to find out who interrupted this fight.

It was a man in bronze armor and helmet, a sword at his hip, and a bronze shield in hand.

“Who the fuck are you?” I asked.

With his free hand, he pulled off his helmet to reveal a face I didn’t know framed by blonde curls. The crowd seemed to think something about him, though. “I am Prince Eld, son of Garth, king of the Bronze City.”

I looked up at the Elders. “Garth didn’t have a son. He had a daughter. Unless you had some recent revelations and changed your hair color.” Garth had been the king here. He met his end shortly before I provided myself as a replacement by marrying his daughter. It’d be a funny coincidence if I wasn’t directly responsible for killing him. The whole point had been that he didn’t have a son. I treated Elda wrong, too, but I set her on her path as a traveling adventurer in the Americas with high end armor, a sharp sword, and enhanced strength.

“Some sorcery has changed this world,” Eld said, looking around. “I awoke from my battle with a mad enchanter in a world that says my father is dead, though yesterday he was alive. They say the Bronze City belongs to some foreign-born king. Now I find that king is a woman.”

“You going to be an ass about that, too?” I asked, glancing back at where the warhammer lay. The way I see this, we either have some sort of time travel where people just happened to forget to mention the old king had a son at some point, or we’ve got more interdimensional shenanigans going on. First, I need to find out how much of a threat this guy is going to pose to my rule.

“I am going to take back the throne as its rightful owner,” he said, then planted his helmet back on his head.

Well, that was easy.

He drew his sword and pointed it at me. “Yield.”

I pointed a finger at him and spoke in a mocking voice. “Yield.” In the stands, I saw my guards react, but have to defend themselves as armored warriors of the Bronze Guard drew their swords and spears and attempted to stop their interference.

“Stop copying me,” he said, raising his shield and jogging toward me.

I turned, grabbed up the warhammer, and raised it. He swung his blade and a gleam swept through the air. The wood just above the metal head of the hammer broke. Another gleam, and fell back, blood spurting from my magnificent Imperial boobage.

The Elders cheered, as did some of the crowd. Eld grandstanded, or maybe he grandstood, raising his shield and sword to the sky. He turned around in a circle, not noticing craning necks and anticipation. The spear caught him high in the chest as he turned toward me. Now, I’m not the best shot with throwing weapons, but spears are fairly aerodynamic. And I was no longer having a good time. He had enough strength to throw a spear through a man. I have enough strength to throw my fist through a man.

Eld stumbled back, looking down with wide eyes at the spear sticking out of his chest. He wrapped a hand around the handle, then fell onto his back. I grabbed the warhammer head and tossed it back and forth between all four hands as I walked over. The crowd that cheered for him roared for me as I stepped up close to the guy.

“Is this your king?” I asked of the crowd, looking around. I pulled the man’s helmet off to let them see. Then I asked of them, “Or am I your Queen?” That got a chant.

Eld thrust his sword at my calf, the blade stopping shortly after piercing my skin. I brought the hammerhead down on his head. I didn’t have to do so again. I tugged the sword out of my leg as well and gave a little discus-style turn to toss the hammer head up at the box the Elders were sitting in. The Bronze Guard had stopped, with my Riccan Dragon Soldiers keeping a shitload of firearms at the ready in case they decide to take a mulligan on this whole combat trial.

I raised the sword in the air. “By this ass-kicking, I rule. I am Empress Psychopomp Gecko. I am your Queen. If the dead rose up, they would not beat me. If your gods summon all the heroes who could have ever existed, I would defeat all of them. My enemies can’t beat me. They can only survive me. But you are my people. Your enemies are my enemies. Your welfare is my welfare. Allow me to show you this side of myself as well.”

On my way out of the arena, followed by the cheers of my subjects, I called up Dr. Creeper audio-only. “Hey, Doc, I have a corpse I need you to look into. Need to find out somehow if this thing’s from this universe or another one.”

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Sword of Damnocles 1

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There are many challenges to being a leader. One daunting challenge is boredom. It had been awhile since I could just relax, but I expected something more substantial than a giant bunny to interrupt that. Nope. Nothing really needed my attention. There were various problems popping up and being handled by the people I put in place to see to those things. I had time to spend with my daughter, but she has school and playing with her friends. And Medusa wouldn’t want to spend all her time with me, especially not when she’s busting concentration camps in the States and helping people avoid ICE troopers.

It sucks that I have problems sitting and vegetating. I did a lot of stuff, like working on armor designs, and just couldn’t get over the itch to go out and hurt someone. Even the news was relatively boring, even with me in it. According to the New York Time’s foreign correspondent, I murdered an endangered shark and publicly executed a bunny. That shark started it, and it was a giant rabbit. I needed help with the rabbit, which is why I’ve been looking over my armor. I need something to help me fight giant things, so I’m reviewing my options there. They don’t seem workable, so I found something else to do instead.

I am visited my colonies. We have a few spots on the lost and found continent of Mu that we populated with people who wanted to try their hand at frontier living and I should get around to them. First, I decided to go see a group that’s been asking for a visit. I’ve mostly left the Bronze City to its own devices since kinda-sorta marrying into their royal family and claiming it as part of my empire. There’s an ambassador, but not so much a king. Or queen, in this case.

I landed without much fanfare. The Psycho Flyer made a pass over the city before heading to the palace, blasting out the song “Hail To The King” by Avenged Sevenfold. It hovered low to the ground outside the stone palace and I stepped off in my armor, a cape draped around my shoulders and a jagged crown of gold upon my brow. Toyotomi walked out to greet me in an indigo-colored tunic with gold fringe. “Empress! It is a delight to look upon your radiance again.”

No wonder the guy got along with the Bronze City’s elders. He slings grade-A bullshit. “Toyotomi! How are you doing? You ever get that medal I told the Directors to award you?”

Ambassador Toyotomi laughed. “I’m well and I did receive my award, thank you. Whoever designed it felt it should be able to serve as a shield if needed, so it is difficult to wear in public.”

I just shook my head. “I’ve gotten much better people than that, so we won’t make that mistake again. Now, as my expert here, let’s chat. I should try to actually learn about these people.”

Toyotomi swept his arm out before me. “I’ve had them prepare a meal for us. No grand feast or anything, if that’s fine with your majesty.”

I nodded. “I’m a little clueless to be holding big dinners with all the people who expect me to know stuff.” I waved to one of my guards to bring my clothes along so I could switch out of my armor.

They could have done a little better with some of the spices, but it looked like a pretty good meal. Toyotomi had a big wheel of cheese waiting for me, along with fresh bread, a pot of some thin vegetable soup, cabbage, and steaming hot venison. Toyotomi wrapped a slice of the venison in cabbage to pull it onto his plate. “A local custom,” he said.

We didn’t get to enjoy much of the meal before we heard a ruckus outside the dining hall. With a squint, I focused on my guards’ cameras and saw they were holding back a group of tunic-clad older men who were demanding in the Bronze City’s dialect to be let in as Elders of the city. “We’ve got Elders incoming,” I warned Ambassador Toyotomi, then notified my guards to let them in.

Toyotomi stood up to greet them, a smile quickly coming to his face. “Good Elders, welcome!”

“We heard our King had returned, at long last remembering his throne and his duties, and no one sends for us?!” said the one in front who appeared to be in charge. He was old, balding, with white hair and a long, groomed beard that was still black at the bottom. “Who is this?” he said, gesturing to me.

I stood up. “I am Psycho Gecko, your King,” I said. “You may wish to amend the title.”

Toyotomi gestured between us. “The Empress has just arrived and required refreshment and my thoughts on the current state of the Bronze City. We meant no disrespect to your esteemed Council.”

“A woman! This is a mockery!” said the spokesman.

“This is who I am,” I said. “And I am your ruler.”

“The Council will not agree,” said the Elder statesman. He and his fellows stormed right out again, which made me wonder why they even bothered showing up. They could have been just as pissed off in their own damn homes without trying to ruin my dinner.

“Please wait, Empress. I will dispatch an aide to watch them and see if they plan something,” Toyotomi said before hustling after them. He returned five minutes later to resume briefing me over dinner.

He was in the middle of a story about him and some of the Elders getting drunk and tying a city guard to a bear when his runner returned. It looked like one of the native Bronze City people, but Ricca is a melting pot. He ran up to the door, slowed, and walked in. “Ambassador. And Empress,” he took a moment to nod to Toyotomi and bow low to me.

“Rise and tell us what’s going on,” I said. I like ruling, but the bowing is a bit ridiculous. It’s enough to know I have power; I don’t have to go around showing it off all the time unless someone’s being an ass about it.

“Thank you, Empress. As you asked, Ambassador, I followed the Elders. They called a meeting of the Council. They are agitating for a new ruler. They do not believe the Empress may be their King as she is a woman, and incapable of continuing the royal line.”

“I should go nip this in the bud,” I said to Toyotomi.

He sighed. “I was worried this might happen. I have made allies on the Council, but this is considered a big problem for them.”

I slipped into my armor. “You put our guards on alert around the palace and the Flyer. I’ll address the Council, if you can tell me where to find them.”

He turned to the runner. “Show the Empress to the Council.” To me, he added, “Good luck. They think of themselves as civilized, but they’re stubborn about their sexism.”

“I think I have a way to see to that,” I said.

I made it clear what that way was when I stepped into the lovely place they’d set up as a column. It was a round building with columns spaced close all around to form walls, except for two entrances on opposite sides of the circle. The city Elders were still rabble rousing in the place when I stepped out of the shadows of the night. “Greetings, Elders of the Bronze City. Your Empress and King is here.”

“You are no King, but a woman who has corrupted our princess in unnatural love,” said the same spokesman from back at the palace.

“I am your ruler, as you have all affirmed. Should you wish to turn to treason now, I’ll make it easy on you.” I spread my arms. “There is but one of me, and so many of you. Whoever wishes to dissolve the bonds of loyalty between us, come and do so with blood. I promise, it will not be mine.”

“It’s a trick!” yelled an Elder who looked barely old enough to qualify. “She wears outsider armor. She flies and jumps no more than any other man, but uses their science to pretend to be our better.”

It looked to them like my armor opened up and I stepped out, but that was an illusion. I could take any of these guys in a “fair” fight thanks to the enhancements I’ve made to my own body, but that doesn’t mean I had to give them anything like a fair fight.

“We are civilized men,” said the spokesman. He gathered a group around him in a huddle and they spoke briefly. “We shall find a champion to represent our honor…” he looked to the others, who held up various fingers. “The day after the morrow, if you will fight without your armor then.”

“Fine, fine, wimps. Civilization made you weaker than the woman you think is unable to lead you, it seems.” Hologram-Me turnd around to get back into her armor when a nearby Elder pulled a dagger and tried to plunge it into her back. She turned in time to grab his wrist, flip him to the ground, pull the dagger out, and shove it through the middle of his head. It was all the armor putting on a show as I dispatched my would-be assassin. I was able to drop the illusion when the hologram stepped into the holographic armor.

I gave the Elders a mocking bow. “Day after tomorrow, we settle this matter of leadership.” Then I kicked at the corpse on the ground. “Sic semper asswipes. Do try to find someone better than a woman next time.”

They certainly tried. I came down the next morning, a bit itchy from the inferior bedding they have over here, to find a group of my guards were pulling a rope up one side of the wall and tying one end around posts they’d planted in the ground. There were three other posts with ropes around them next to that one. I turned to the nearest one. “What’s this?”

He bowed. “Assassins, Empress. Caught sneaking in, armed, making for your bedchamber.”

I patted him on the head. “Excellent.” I hopped up to the walls around the palace to look out over it. Sure enough, there were four bodies dangling from nooses on the other side. They hadn’t bothered to tie the hands of the two who were already dead, likely from before they’d been hung. The other two brushed against the wall, but it wasn’t enough to take the weight off their necks.

Some Bronze Citizens had gathered to watch the spectacle, so I raised all four of my arms and my voice to address them, “People of the Bronze City, your Empress-King has but one question for all who would try to kill me in my sleep: How’s it hangin’?”

They didn’t get the joke, but it killed with my soldiers.

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Judgment Day: The Vigilante Chronicles

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After getting stood up a couple of times, I decided the time was right to take care of some business that needed doing. It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, which means a lot of people are getting pissed off at the heat and needing someone to take it out on.

Such was the case with Mister Toy. He’s an older guy, a throwback who used to specialize in crimes using toys. He’s a second-generation villain. His father made remote control toys. Mister Toy somehow found a way to mentally control toys, but he never used it for anything giant. He’s got a son in the business, too. Doctor Digital or something like that. He does freaky things with videogames and apps.

Now, Mister Toy is mostly retired. He’s old and he’s living on whatever he squirreled away. He either likes supplementing his income or staying busy. I guess he can’t make and sell toy soldiers with working rifles like his dad. So he went and robbed a credit union, like you do. There was some sort of toys for charity thing, and he slipped a bunch of his in there, along with some stuff he left in a safe deposit box. One night, the toys get up, blow the vault, and make off with cash and the contents of a few boxes.

A vigilante mob formed, but there wasn’t much they could do. Mister Toy didn’t live in that community. He didn’t have anybody helping him on the inside, but they insisted on standing around with guns while people went in. I imagine that alone caused a lot of problems for the bank, and there was something of a stand-off with the police.

That seemed to be the end of it, until Doctor Digital, Mister Toy’s son, was ambushed while arriving home one evening. Doctor Digital isn’t really the hand-to-hand type, so he got his ass beat. The people who did it dropped him off at the police station, handcuffed, with a note tied around his neck saying he’s Doctor Digital. That happened the other day. The police have questioned him, even did a search of his house, but turned up no more evidence than the word of a bunch of anonymous assailants. Realistically, they could have beat up anyone and left them there, so it doesn’t do much to him legally.

When he talked with his dad, Doc Digital revealed that they came after him because of what Mister Toy did. It was a small gang of five or six pissed-off guys who just never let it go even though the robbery happened back in December. “They said they were fed up. They said somebody needed to do something about all the filth in their country. They decided they would if no one else would,” Mister Toy had written in his statement about the incident.

VillaiNet’s reaction might have been better if they’d worn masks and pretended to be heroes while doing it. The news about Doctor Digital’s alleged identity wasn’t out at that point, though, so they decided not to engage my services at that time. Instead, some of the oldtimers who had kids in the business got together to make those guys their pet project. Cars were blown up or vandalized, houses were robbed, and at least one vigilante’s place of work was defaced with life-sized replicas of the vigilante’s flaccid penis.

It was a measured response. The vigilantes didn’t know how good they had it. They escalated it by planting evidence about Doctor Digital and kids. They took his wife, too, and said she could go free if he confesses and pleads guilty.

Less than a day later, I get the call. Less than a day after that, I arrived on the edge of their nowhere community in the wasteland that is Utah. I had the benefit of loads of intel on them. The various golden oldies who had been involved knew where these guys lived and worked if they still had jobs. I had the details on where they hung out and where they fucked their mistresses. They looked into it and confirmed there were five of the guys altogether.

Three of them had a side business selling censored DVDs. Utah is Mormon country. These people fought multiple wars with the United States over their religious beliefs, so it’s no surprise they’d pay people to turn Scarface into a short film about a Cuban immigrant who comes to America, gets hooked on sugar, and dies of diabetes one night after snorting an entire pile. One of them was the cock replica guy, so he’s new to the censorship business.

They received a knock on their door and a package on the porch. Inside, they found a DVD case with no artwork on it. I’d written a short note on it, just saying, “This has too much gore. Remove it.” They took it in to watch.

The first segment showed one of their friends sitting on the floor of a mobile home, bloody and beaten. I was there too, holding a metal baseball bat and a gas can. Neither looked necessary with me in my form-fitting armor, but that’s how it goes. “So, tell me about that framejob you pulled on that guy you claim is Doctor Digital.”

“He is Doctor Digital!” the man yelled.

I knelt down in front of him and rubbed his hair with the bat. “Naughty naughty. He most certainly is not the guy who hired me to clear his name.” I’m proud of that line. I don’t mind lying, but it’s also fun to say things in such a way as to tell the truth while still lying. It’s all in the pronouns. I want someone watching to think I mean Doctor Digital hired me to clear his own name, but that’s not what I said. It’s petty, but so am I.

I gave his ear a gentle smack with the bat. “And that whole kid thing? People pay lots of money to avoid having that tied to their name. Save yourself some trouble.”

The man spat at me. I shrugged and popped him in the mouth with the bat. His front incisors came out with the next lob of spittle and blood. I raised the gas can and poured it out in a circle around him, then all over the mobile home. “You know, the lucky way to go when facing death by burning is to die of poisoning from the carbon monoxide. I recently watched Return Of The Living Dead, though, and I thought more about how that chemical works. The body still feels after death, and it keeps doing so until the brain is completely destroyed. And one guy lights himself on fire to end it all.”

I tossed the gas can aside, then bent down and began to undo one of the man’s shoes. He kicked at me, but I brought the baseball bat down. His leg let out a crack as it shattered. He whimpered and tried kicking, but he really couldn’t dislodge me anyway. The reprisal was for my own pleasure. I tugged his shoe off, and his sock, then pulled out a syringe. “Can you imagine what that was like? Flames consuming you, bit by bit, and you unable to die by poisoning? Can’t even die because your body’s burnt to a crisp?”

I jabbed the syringe in between his big toe and the next one, injecting him. Bloody spit flecked his face and sprayed off as he yelled, “Fuck you! He got what he deserved. Nobody should be allowed to disrespect us!”

I pulled the syringe out and patted the man’s foot. “Don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time to think on what you deserve.” I stood up, dropped the syringe, and pulled out a lighter.

“You’re just as much shit as him and his dad,” said my victim. “You deserve everything coming to you. So does that slut he married who stands by a fucking criminal.”

I shrugged it off. From the way I was playing it up, I didn’t want to indicate the wife meant anything. “And I bet you never went over the speed limit,” I said in the video, flicking the lighter and holding the flame down to the soaking carpet. It lit and the fire spread as I walked out of the mobile home, then shut the door. A camera view from outside showed me nailing it shut, but not doing anything to the window right next to it before walking away.

The man inside managed to get to his feet and hopped to the window. He unlocked it easily, then threw himself out. The fire disappeared, then the whole interior of the mobile home. The outside shot came up again, showing the outside of a large building and the man plummeting. The camera panned down to show him land with a thud, then back up to show me waving at it from inside the building.

“Oh fuck, oh shit, oh fuck,” said one of the three in the business. He ran for the bathroom, not quite making it before he lost his lunch. That made the other two gag, one of them using the sink in the bathroom and the other heading outside. That last one confirmed that there was an outside still.

When the next part started up, the screen was dark. They heard the voice of the other member of their group coming from it. “We made it all up, alright? Are we good? I didn’t think we’d snatch some lady off the street over this. You got her back, now please don’t kill me!”

“The fuck… we left him to guard her,” said the guy who’d been using the sink as he looked back at the screen.

The message played over again. “We made it all up. I didn’t think we’d snatch some lady off the street over this.”

Then I flashed on screen, facing the camera and waving. The man watching it looked around at the others, “Guys, I think we better go.”

The one from the doorway had turned to look inward, but checked outside again. “We’re fine for now. No one’s here.”

“Good,” said the fellow from the toilet. “I need to wash my mouth out. Anyone else want some?” he asked, going over to a small fridge where they had a pitcher of colorful flavored sugar water whose mascot likes to destroy walls.

“Yeah, sure,” said the one who had been watching the video. The two had a cup of Kool-Aid while the one at the door squinted. He seemed ready when they dropped the cups and pitcher and began to keel over. He turned and tried to run for it. Something caught him around the neck and lifted him up. The noose materialized and I moved it over to a better mooring that didn’t require me to hold onto it.

The case against Doctor Digital was dropped a couple of days later, after prosecutors had time to consider the confession from the sole survivor of what had been seen by the news as a weird suicide pact of guilty vigilantes.

I guess it was all a bit dark, but have y’all seen how hot it is outside? I needed the shade.

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Summer Sunnin’

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You’d think a gal could take a vacation without problems cropping up. I don’t just mean various day to day issues of running a dictatorship. Unlike a democracy, I actually have to be responsible to my people. If I screw up, I can’t blame another party that then has to fix my mess.

I mean just trying to relax. Have a good time. Like swimming. My family hung out at the beach a bit. It’s real popular. We have all these little boats that can go out there and set up awnings for shade or grills for cooking. I was out there, swimming with this big fruity drink in my hand that glowed bright green. Pretty sure that wasn’t a healthy radioactive glow, but it failed to set off either my internal Geiger counter or my Giger counter. The former measures radioactivity, the latter measures whether a substance contains an alien parasite that will try to mate with my mouth. I mean, aliens mating with my mouth aren’t a dealbreaker normally, but I’m still trying to make monogamy work.

Where were we? Swimming, right. I was out there with my nemesis-turned-girlfriend, my bribe-turned-daughter, and my ex-turned-bodyguard. At the moment, Medusa and Qiang were playing chicken with some other swimmers. Silver Shark was off doing something. Not sure. I saw her jumping onto a pad at one point to launch people into the air, but that had been before I picked up the bowl of liquor. I took a sip of my ridiculously large drink and felt a bump.

I looked down and saw a fin pass by under the shining water. Ah, that’s where Silver Shark went. She’s one of the ones who had a problem with my lack of monogamy after I blew a bunch of North Korean military officials to gain their loyalty. It bumped me again and I reached down to try and run my hand over the metal of her cybernetics. “Easy there, Shark. We aren’t that close anymore.”

A squeal of delight drew my attention to that big pad thing, where a kid splashed in the water and Silver Shark hopped off the pad.

Oh. Shark attack. I took a drink because I was gonna need it.

I turned to try and find the shark that had been bumping into me. A big fucking shark came right for my chest, eyes black, before it dived. Sharp teeth stabbed into my leg as I was dragged down. My ears caught screams before I was pulled under.

Bastard probably thought I’d just let the leg go. Someone bit into the wrong bitch. I grabbed the plastic cup my drink came in and broke it so that it was jagged. It wasn’t easy to keep track of what was going on with the water rushing around, but we seemed to be heading into deeper water. I went a-jabbin’ into that sleek undersea predator. I felt its jaws let up, but the fact that I was in front of it meant I didn’t get away. This time, it chomped down on the side of my belly. It hurt, but my body’s a tough piece of meat and metal. I stabbed into it for a handhold then bent toward it to bite it.

We must have taken a downward turn at some point, because I smacked into the bottom and threw up a bunch of sand. The shark let go and shook the front part of its body to get loose from me. It tried to swim away, but it found the steely grip of three of my arms holding onto its tail. Now it was my turn to smile and roll my eyes.

I can only imagine how it looked when that shark burst out of the water and flew through the air toward the shore. I know I didn’t look the best when I walked out of the water and toward the crowds. My leg and belly were bleeding. Medusa and Qiang ran up, my former nemesis now asking, “Are you ok?”

Qiang hugged onto me and I gave her a quick hug in return, saying, “Yeah, I’m fine. You should see the other guy. In fact, let’s go see the other guy.”

I walked past the concerned citizens gathered on the shore and grabbed someone’s folding beach chair. I folded it up while pushing past the crowd that gathered around the shark itself. I looked down on the floundering finned fiend and started whacking it over and over again with the side of the chair. When that broke apart, I tossed it down and looked around for something else. Someone held a bottle of sake out for me, so I grabbed that, sipped some, then started beating the shark with the bottle.

It died eventually. I like to think it wasn’t entirely from being on land. Someone offered to make me a special dinner of shark fin soup, but I declined and threw the shark over my shoulder. “Hey, Qiang, wanna go with me to the taxidermist?”

“What’s a taxidermist?” my daughter asked.

“It’s where grown-ups go to make stuffed animals out of things they hit with their car. Only they don’t cuddle them or hug them or play with them. They just stick them on a wall.”

“Mama, are you going to be ok?” she asked.

I patted her on the head. “I’m just fine. You can stay here and play with Medusa and the others if you want.”

Reassured, she ran over and grabbed Medusa’s hand to lead her back to the water. Medusa looked at me concerned, but ultimately decided I knew what I was talking about. So I dragged the shark off with me.

“Yep,” I told Mix N’Max later, in my bathroom. We were in my hot tub, soaking. I pointed up at the shark mounted on the wall overhead. “I caught one that big once.”

“Stop it, you’re making that up,” he told me.

“Ah!” said Holly, one of his assistants, as she stepped into the room and saw the shark on the wall. “Oh my god. You put a shark in your bathroom.”

“Let me see!” called Sam, his other assistant, who ran into the room and seemed disappointed. “Oh, a dead one.”

That wasn’t the only interruption either. I was out on a date with Medusa, which was a raincheck after she missed our last one to go wreck a concentration camp over in the States. She was treating me all gentle and all after the shark attack. Normally, and quite predictably, I don’t tend to like people babying me, but I liked it in this context. The way she held me in her strong, muscular arms.

Then she got a call from one of her hero buddies. I listened in from the other side of the dinner table as she asked for details about something. She gave me a sheepish look when she hung up. “I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

“You do? There aren’t any other heroes in places that speak English?” I asked, wagging a piece of steak at her.

“It’s one of those grey areas that known heroes can’t mess around with. It’s that Deputy Program they implemented. Portland PD’s got an arms deal set up with another group like the one that got into that shoot-out at the mall last week. I want to put the fear of God into cops selling off evidence and armories while claiming they’re deputizing white supremacists.”

I folded my lower pair of arms across my chest while continuing to eat with my upper arms. That’s another great thing about having extra arms. I can show my disapproval while still shoving food into my mouth. “Fine. Arachnoid might want to help out, while you’re at it.” She clapped her hands and stood up. I sighed, but felt a little better when she bent down to give me a quick kiss.

“I’ll be back as soon as possible, don’t worry. Besides, we had half a dinner,” she said, before rushing off to go help people or whatever nonsense she was up to these days. It’d gotten a lot easier for her ever since we got the tele-chambers set up. The scientists used the data I stole from that other dimension to figure out a way to create an intradimensional portal. It was a hell of a strain on the island’s power supply, but we put a hell of a lot of work into that system having its own separate power supply. We’re really growing all the way around over here, and the ability to teleport people anywhere in the world or call them back has helped tremendously. So have the Deep Ones. Without them and other refugees, we’d be terribly understaffed.

So with her off, I was left to finish my meal with the prospect of having both dessert and “dessert” alone. As it was, I took my time with the first and ended up trying to survive overeating by catching up on the island’s news. That was interrupted by an alert on my internal HUD that started just as the ground started shaking. I thought it was an earthquake at first, until a big white mass of fur slammed through the ceiling of the restaurant nearby, knocking my table over and me out of my booth.

I looked up at the thing, which quickly raised up. More of the ceiling fell in under an even bigger and longer white-furred thing the size of a car. I connected to the city’s drones and cameras to see what the hell was attacking the restaurant. I beheld a giant bunny, thirty feet long if you didn’t count the head. I was going to give its height, but it sat up on its haunches and looked around, which made the length the same as the height in my book. It hopped, crushing another building under its weight. People ran, screaming in terror as it leaned down to nibble at the top of a tree.

I answered the alert from the Institute of Science and Dr. Creeper, its head. “Creeper, why is there a giant bunny running amok in my city?”

“I have here the scientist to blame for it, ja,” he said in his faux-German accent. “He has been a naughty boy, experimenting with a food additive meant to increase the size of animals who eat it. It is meant for livestock, but this is too far!”

“Huh. That’s actually kind of impressive. While I’m unhappy with the immediate result, I think he’s on to something. We’ll discuss this more once I’ve killed Thumper here,” I said, calling a Dudebot to carry my armor to me and putting the military on red alert. They always knew, being so close to Japan, they might have to deal with a giant monster. I doubt they expected it to be a rabbit. Someone lost the betting pool, I’m certain.

“You can’t do that!” Creeper yelled.

“What? Why? Is it important for the experiments? The only survivng sample of whatever caused this? Will it explode into a pair of rabbits half as big over and over again?” I asked.

“It’s so cute,” he answered.

I took a moment to think about the reason my Science head was giving for not killing a giant rabbit causing hare-raising terror in my city. As if on cue, it jumped a few more times, tearing a swath of destruction and flipping a bus that landed with an explosion. I told Dr. Creeper, “That’s not a good enough reason,” and clambered my way out of the restaurant.

The Dudebot met me, having jumped from the palace with my armor that I pulled closed around me. The robot doppelganger of mine wouldn’t fool anyone up on how my latest armor looked, but it had two arms and all the usefulness of my prior suit, so it was still worth keeping around. I jumped onto Big Bunny’s head and grabbed its ear. At the same time, the Dudebot made for its front paw and tried to pull it out of the way so we could topple this lagomorph. The bunny shook its head, jerking me around, then turned and kicked the Dudebot halfway to China.

I grabbed onto its fur and gave it a mighty punch that knocked its head down. It responded by rolling over and trying to crush me into a car. I let go and it rolled back over, exposing its belly to me. I flew up with a punch that caused it to jump and kick at the air, barely missing me while I fell. I landed on the front of the car and rolled backward off it, a little winded. The bunny recovered as well, but its fur stuck out when it landed and a portion of the city went dark. It hopped forward again, off whatever power lines it had been on, and started trying to shake that out. I threw a car at it. It bounced off, but the bunny began to flee. It made for one of the island’s skyscrapers and actually began to scramble up the thing, its fluffy paws smashing through glass as it lifted itself up straining steel. If that thing tipped over, it would do a lot of damage. I jumped after it, the sight of Psycho Flyers in the air making me grin.

They’d named the VTOL aircraft after me. The heavily-armed transports opened up on the bunny, firing machine guns and unleashing rockets into the white body of the rabbit, that began to turn black from the attacks.

At the base of the tower, I felt pretty useless until I found a pretty young woman frozen in terror. I grabbed her, and also that guy she was with, and gave them a push in the right direction, which was away. “The first rule of giant monster attacks is not to stand still near the thing and stare at the giant monster!” I yelled after them. Then I noticed it was getting darker. I looked up to see a burnt white mass descending upon me, filling the entire sky from my perspective.

When I did manage to crawl out, it was next to some amateur reporter streaming from his phone. “I think it crushed the evil dictator here to death. It wasn’t the Flyers’ fault. It was bunny that killed the beast.”

“Who are you calling a beast, asshole?” I grunted, prompting him to flee.

Fucking tourists.

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Snatched! 8

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Theodore Hunnicutt the Third hadn’t taken it well after he didn’t hear back from the team of cleaners he sent to eliminate the kidnappers and their hostage. He kept calling his Pinkerton contact. The scene at the Presario was all over the news, with dead bodies and prisoners reported. The devil was in the details, most of which the press weren’t mentioning. Maybe the police were keeping it to themselves. It’s even possible the Presario was using its pull to keep gory information from leaking. In any event, he had no idea if his people succeeded in killing anyone they set out to.

The Pinkertons still hadn’t gotten back to him since the day he received the video. He had to resort to his usual private methods. There were always people with criminal records or a military past who needed money. A little more cash made questions irrelevant. With that having failed, he hoped the Pinkertons would listen to reason and his wallet enough to come in. They could fix this. They had specialists for this sort of thing, and they were supposed to be brought in to take over this job from the police. He could still salvage this, if only they would play ball.

Theodore’s call was interrupted by a text message just as someone knocked on his door. “Police,” his assistant had texted him. He grabbed his burn pile of documents and slid them into his hidden door before standing up. “Come in!”

Uniformed officers entered, people whose superiors owed him favors or owed their positions to him. He thought he’d have this settled in no time. That thought disappeared when Chief Johanssen hobbled through the door using a cane. “Chief, how good to see you!” Theodore feigned happiness at the failure. He held out his hands in greeting, at which point Johanssen nodded to one of the officers. That man stepped forward and slid handcuffs into place. “What is this all about?!” Theodore asked indignantly, face turning red.

Johanssen let out a single laugh, then winced and raised his free hand to press against his side. “Theodore Hunnicutt, you’re under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to kidnap, and any other charges I can damn well remember for the shit you tried to pull. I’m sure your attorney will be along shortly, but not before you see the inside of a cell. Get him out of here.”

Theodore tried to stand his ground, but a second cop grabbed him and helped move his uncooperative mass out of the door. His assistant stood against the wall, looking on sheepishly as if there was anything else she could have done. Theodore called to her as he was dragged out the door, “Ms. Worthing, call my lawyer!”

He turned toward the street to see who was watching this unprecedented humiliation and found himself a deer in the headlight of a newspaper cameraman.

**

“Hunnicutt In Hot Water!” the newspaper declared. The Mad Waxxer grinned as he looked it over. He’d had the paper copy sent to him, having left town after the arrest of Hunnicutt had gone off without a hitch. He liked the physical version, as old-fashioned as that was, but he’d also wanted to pay back the Brazilian by spending money on the newspaper. The man had saved his life, and sometimes old-fashioned ideas like owing someone weren’t so bad. The Waxxer read the story over before setting it on the towel next to his beach chair and rooting around in the bag he’d brought for his phone. “Just read the good news,” he texted the other kidnapper.

“Good 2 hear! Hope your having fun down there. Im taking care of the Gold Coast. Don’t worry.”

The Waxxer shook his head, but just then his phone was snatched out of his hands. “No work, all play makes Jack healthy, wealthy, and wise,” said Theodora, who leaned over and gave the Waxxer a hell of a view and a hell of a kiss.

“Mmm, two out of three ain’t bad,” he said after the kiss, looking into her eyes.

She booped his nose. “One out of three. We’re not going back home until you’re healthy, and you’ve got me to be wise for you. Until then,” she slid into his lap on the beach lounger. “You’ve got all the money you need by marriage.” She played at giving the phone back to him, then tossed it a short distance away into the soft sand of the beach.

“I hoped to save up so you wouldn’t be marrying so far down. If your father finds out, you’ll be as poor as me. For all that I play at being cultured, dear, I’m but a poor plebeian.” he said as he pulled her legs up further. He held her with one arm while the other traced over her bright blue toenails and the strap of a flip-flop.

She laughed and patted him on the head. “Is that what took you so long? Don’t make the same mistake my father did. I’m a big girl. I know how to do more than spend money, just like you know how to do more than tie people up. Besides, my father’s not going to be in any position to cut us off from anything.” Something buzzed. She reached into the right cup of her bikini top and pulled out her phone. “Daddy’s finally out on bail, so it’s only a matter of time before he finds out the bad news.”

“Bad news?” asked the Waxxer, pretending to pout.

Theodora kissed his forehead. “Bad news for him. Hey!” she reached for the phone he plucked out her hands and tossed off into the sand by his.

“We’ll worry about him later, you gorgeous, smart woman. For now, you have bigger problems to deal with,” he grinned wickedly. The hand at her foot tossed her flip-flop away and began tickling the bottom of her foot.

“Ahh!” she yelled, happily, as the couple fell into a tickle fight on the sands of Paradise Beach, in Paradise City, Florida.

**

Back in his office, Theodore Hunnicutt the Third cursed the lack of response from his daughter, then tried the Pinkertons. Again. This time, they picked up. “Mr. Hunnicutt, we didn’t expect to hear from you again.”

“This is partially your doing, you know. If you had called me back… ergh, we’re not on a good phone line. I need to meet with you in person!” He yelled. He stomped over to the liquor cabinet of his office and poured himself a glass of Scotch. “I’ll whatever it costs to fix this for me.”

The woman’s voice took an apologetic, mocking tone. “Surely a man such as yourself has other, cheaper ways to get out of this trouble. I was under the impression you were well-connected and could even replace a Chief of Police if need be.”

Theodore set the glass down on his desk, hard. “Nobody’s speaking to me. Things are in the newspaper, but it’s only connecting me. They’re making a scapegoat of me so none of this comes back on them. I have my own leverage, but it isn’t about that now. He marched me out in handcuffs! It was in the news!”

“Have you checked the news today?” the Pinkerton asked.

“I just got out. I’m too busy.” He walked around to his chair and turned on the lamp. He pulled a notepad over and grabbed a pin. “Name a number.”

“Not everything has a price, Mr. Hunnicutt. The integrity and good name of the Pinkertons is one of those things. You paid us and engaged our services without telling us the full story. Whatever else we are, we are not a criminal organization. It’s important we assure the public of that in these chaotic times. That’s why we’re cooperating fully with the police investigation, to clear the name of our agency. We were falsely accused of providing the manpower for that unfortunate business at the hotel. That left us no choice but to set the record straight. In turn, we are unable to contract for any other business with you at this time. Thank you ever so much for your interest, and feel free to call us again if you turn out to be innocent.”

She hung up. Ted almost threw the phone, but settled for tossing his empty glass against the wall. “Everyone wants proof of the record, do they?” he muttered to himself. He reached down for the hidden drawer on his desk and pressed the release. He pulled it out and looked.

It was gone. All of it, except a card-shaped envelop with the word “Dad,” on it in his daughter’s handwriting. He picked it up, looked around underneath as if the proof he hadn’t yet burned could have been hiding. Finally and quite furious, he tore open the envelop to see what his daughter had to say for herself.

The card was a sentimental “Thinking Of You” card, with a message scrawled underneath easily-forgotten platitudes. “Daddy, I know this must come as a shock to you, but it won’t be the only one. You never knew me as well as you thought. You wanted a son. You had me instead. I had to be a pretty, silly girl to attract your real heir. I was used to that, but then you tried to have the man I love killed. I will keep him safe. And speaking of safe, check yours. Love, Theodora.”

He threw the card to the desk as he launched himself from his chair. He pulled a painting of his grandfather open on its hinge to see the wall safe. He kept a large amount of cash and valuables in there for when he didn’t want a paper trail. He punched in the combination and held his handprint to it. It clicked open. It had been emptied, except for a polaroid and a scrap of newspaper. He checked the polaroid first, which showed his daughter in a simple white dress, standing with a tuxedo-clad man he didn’t recognize at a tacky wedding altar. The altar looked like they were in Vegas, but he had no idea who the man was at all. He set the photo aside to pick up the scrap of newspaper.

It was a story with no date attached. It used sensitive information from his documents to pin the blame for the entire fiasco with Johanssen entirely on him. Theodore’s mind raced. Whatever his daughter was talking about, she must have used the information she stole to convince his friends and the Pinkertons to throw him to the wolves. He had to talk her out of this. But first, he was going to visit a country that wouldn’t extradite, like Ricca.

He turned to leave and found himself staring at a shirtless man with dark skin. “Good God, who the hell are you?”

The Brazilian smiled. “Hell of a story, isn’t it?” He snatched the newspaper clipping out of Theodore’s hand. “Think of me as an insurance policy. I’m here to make sure you stick around.”

**

That concludes our brief intermission. We’ll be back to the usual murder and mayhem soon, folks.

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Snatched! 7

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The Mad Waxxer, laying low and keeping an eye on the Chief of Police, did so from the comfort of the hot tub in the bathroom using cameras and a tablet. Modern technology made it so much easier to enjoy simple pleasures like hot, bubbling water on the body while he helped himself to a sirloin sandwich. He’d have preferred a good burger, though not just any fast food. Unfortunately, the Presario’s burgers left something to be desired.

In short, the Mad Waxxer was, at the moment, the Mad Relaxer. He’d even left his mask on the side of the hot tub, further exposing himself to the world consisting of his bathroom. It was a world with only himself in it, though he accepted calls from those who knew him well enough to have his number. That meant Theodora, whose voice made an already-pleasant day all the more pleasant. He pressed a button that took the call while he kept an eye on the cameras. “Have I died? An angel calls me.”

Her words didn’t lighten his mood. She spoke in a rush of concern. “You need to move. Dad has people coming for you.”

“How do you know?” He tried to set his sandwich down, but knocked the plate onto the floor, shattering it. He stood up, tablet in one hand, sandwich in the other, and tried to hit the switch to turn off the jets with the back of his foot. He nearly slipped when loud knocking at the door of the hotel suite startled him. He didn’t ask who it was.

“Housekeeping!” called a gruff voice. Unless housekeeping had taken to wearing nondescript tan and black clothes while delivering a load of shotguns, his visitors were here to clean him up instead. The Waxxer eased himself out of the hot tub, then scrunched up his face and forced his mouth shut before he could yell at having stepped on broken shards of plate. He hopped on one foot over to the sink and counter.

He let out a “Shit!” when he heard the door shatter under the heavy boots of someone meant to kil him.

Relax off, wax on. He set the tablet down, then lifted it back up. He realized that would be more useful than the sandwich. The tablet let him track the men flooding into the suite with guns. He set the sandwich down and dressed in towel and mask.

The door burst in, shotgun leveled at him. The man wielding it took a sirloin sandwich to the face and fired widely. He missed the Waxxer, but not the Waxxer’s ear drums. They fucking hurt. It felt like the pain was embedded deep in the tissues of his ears and causing the intense ringing he heard. Gritting his teeth, he balled up his fist, reached way back, and asserted himself on the man’s face. The soldier’s head bounced off the doorway and he fell down. That left plenty of time for the Mad Waxxer to yell and rub his hand.

The pain in his ears and hand was joined by a sting from a projectile whizzing right past him. He ducked to the side, suddenly wishing he’d ordered a salad, or fries, or anything else he could toss in the face of this assailant. “This diet’s going to be the death of me,” he said to try and cover up the overwhelming fear as more and more shots were fired into the bathroom while he stuffed himself as far underneath the sink as possible. He thought he wet himself at one point, but it turned out to be the water from the perforated hot tub.

At one point, the man by the doorway stirred and tried to stand, but the others didn’t halt their fire quickly enough. The Mad Waxxer was surprised how hot the man’s blood was, but he was quickly getting used to being surprised. He reached back to get whatever was pressing in on him out of the way, figuring he could at least die in comfort, and pulled out the bathroom trash can. He looked around, wondering if there was anything else he could use to help himself. He he saw shards of plate as well as pieces of the broken mirror.

When the shots died off and the first man entered, he shoved the small trash can over the man’s face. He barely even thought when he shoved the mirrored glass up again and again, cutting into the underside of the man’s face, between the chin and throat. He blinked as the man fell, looking down at his bloody, cut hands and the glass. He dropped it, looking at the blood that had covered him.

He had never taken a life before. Now, some man just like himself was… gone. Not disappeared, but he had ceased to be. It all happened so suddenly.

“It gets easier,” said the next man through the doorway, who saw the Waxxer’s shocked expression and met it with the barrel of his gun.

The Mad Waxxer looked him in the eye and puked. He was surprised when the other man didn’t give him a faceful of buckshot in return for the vomit, but after a moment, he realized he could do more than stare at the thing. As the man wiped at his face, the Waxxer grabbed the shotgun, his hand landing on the pump along with the man’s. He moved his body out of the way and tried to pull the gun away. It didn’t come free of the assassin’s grip, so he pushed it. That didn’t loosen it either, so he pulled it forward again to drive it into the man’s belly. He missed the first time and the man tried to take control of it. After a few seconds of struggle, the man threw his shoulder into the Waxxer and knocked him back. He raised the shotgun, squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened. Cursing, the man looked down at the gun’s pump, then at the floor, where unfired shells rolled around.

The Mad Waxxer saw his opportunity. He tried punching the man in the face, reasoning that it went so well the first time except for his injured hand. He was out of his element, though, and the punch nearly missed. It clipped the man’s nose instead, which had more give than the Waxxer expected. When the man glared at him, he realized his nose no longer lined up correctly.

The man yelled and raised the butt of his shotgun for a downward swing. The Waxxer ducked and tried to crawl under the man’s legs as the assassin struck, but tripped the man up instead. He tumbled into the hot tub, the shotgun skittering out of his grip. The Mad Waxxer grabbed the towel rack and ripped it off to beat the downed man over and over.

He was surprised by another shot from behind. It was easy enough to do with as many unprotected shots as he’d heard by now. He thought there would be pain at least. Or holes. He looked down at himself, and while he saw an amazing amount of blood, only a little came from his winged arm. He turned around to see if the person’s warning shot was about to become the non-warning variety and saw the man looking up. The Waxxer couldn’t see what he was looking at, but he saw another shotgun swing from above and smack the man in the head. He dropped. After a moment, a flower pot fell on him as well.

“Hello?” asked the Waxxer, stepping toward the bathroom. He glanced back to make sure the man in the hot tub was in no hurry to get back up, then ducked and looked out.

The Brazilian clung to the ceiling. “Wassup?” he heard from far away and through all the ringing.

The Waxxer let out a breath mixed with a sigh. “I can’t believe I’m happy to see you!”

The Brazilian looked around, then motioned with his hand to lower something. The Waxxer didn’t quite catch what he said next. He turned his dominant ear toward the other kidnapper. “What?”

The Brazilian’s eyes widened and he dropped down, pressing his lips close to the Waxxer’s ear. “I said, stop yelling or you’ll alert the rest.”

The Waxxer pulled away from his rival and looked around. Spotting the tablet down under the sink, he bent to pick it up and checked the cameras he could see on the device’s cracked screen. “I think that was all of them,” he told the Brazilian, who took the tablet away from him after the announcement to check for himself.

He trapped through as well, then turned the tablet toward the Waxxer. The room they were keeping Chief Johanssen in had been breached. The intruder and the Chief were both down, the Chief possibly even dead. “Grab your gear,” the Brazilian said. The Waxxer didn’t argue.

They both rushed into the holding room, Waxxer in his mask and smoking jacket only, to begin checking over both of the men on the floor. The Chief had one hand free of his handcuffs and some bruises forming already, but he was breathing. The other man wasn’t. The Brazilian jumped back as Johanssen lunged at him suddenly, but was able to grab the man’s arms and hold him.

“They tried to kill you too?” the Waxxer asked.

Johanssen swallowed, then grimaced in pain. “Yeah. I identified myself when he burst in, but he attacked anyway.”

“Theodora said her father sent people. He’s trying to clean all of us up,” the Mad Waxxer said.

The Brazilian nodded. “We need to take him down.” He looked between the two other men, then asked Johanssen, “Are you in favor of the Pinkertons?”

The Chief of Police looked down at the body next to him. “I think that answer should be fairly obvious at this point. No. I didn’t get into this so people could do whatever they want without any justice. Even when I came here, I thought I would just look the other way on some harmless stuff. I didn’t think they’d start killing whoever was inconvenient.”

The Waxxer shrugged, “You didn’t stop their small crimes. Why did you expect them to follow more important laws?”

The Chief wiped some blood off his face that had begun to trail toward his eye as he looked at the Waxxer, but the Brazilian spoke up, “Actually, there’s some controversy over the efficacy of Broken Windows Theory. At it’s worst, it’s a neutral-sounding way to be racist. The rich can always pay their way out of being held accountable. I bet they’ve threatened to fire Chief Johanssen here many times.”

“A few. And they could. They bumped me up to Chief of Police out of nowhere,” Johanssen said, then grunted. “Ow… nobody needs all of their lungs, do they?” That got a smile all the way around. “The things they do to control the police around here are legal, because they made sure the politicians left it legal. Someone who cares about law and order can’t do anything to them without breaking that law themselves. I’m sorry. I’ve really fucked up. I let the money go to my head.”

The Brazilian put his hand on the Chief’s shoulder. “It’s fine. We are all just folks here. We’ve been pushed down, kicked down, and, from time to time, we’ve fallen. You have the opportunity to find out if you’re the kind of man who stays down when you’ve been kicked, or if you’re the kind who stands back up and faces it.”

He offered his other hand. The Chief took it and they both stood up, with the Waxxer helping Johanssen when he started to falter and trip over the body next to them. He could have said something snarky about the short speech the Brazilian gave Johanssen, but something about it reminded him of his insecurities over Theodora, and his desire to never be without her. “First, we put an end to Ted Hunnicutt’s plans,” the Waxxer said. “Then, perhaps, I take a long vacation to make my life about that which I love, instead of that which I hate.”

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Snatched! 6

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When we last left our heroes, they were nowhere to be found. Instead, the villains had just stolen a hostage from a group of dickweeds who stole him to make them look bad. The Brazilian and the Mad Waxxer escaped successfully, but what of their plot to hold the hostage even more hostage and force the important people in the community to reverse their decision to hire the Pinkertons..

The Mad Waxxer wanted to send a DVD with a video on it to put the screws to Theodore Hunnicutt, but the Brazilian kept ragging him about that being old-fashioned. “You don’t understand,” the Waxxer explained. “We can send the video with Theodora.” Here, he nodded toward his girlfriend and Theodore’s daughter before continuing. “It’s an implied threat toward her.”

“It’s still behind the times. What would we do if she had broken it? She’s supposed to be a ditz, remember? No offense,” the Brazilian said to Theodora, who smiled warmly and gave him the finger.

Theodora spoke up next. “I love this discussion, but how about you two do a video, I send it from my email, and you pretend you got access to it somehow. It’s digital and it’s still threatening. It would even throw them off the scent of how I found where they were keeping the Chief by making it seem like one of you is a hacker.”

“That works,” the Waxxer said, glad he had Theodora.

“Fine by me,” the Brazilian said, glad that at least the Waxxer knew Theodora.

Theodora rolled her eyes at the smoldering intensity of the rivals, wondering how much friendlier the pair would be if they fucked. She concluded it wouldn’t change much, and the pair would probably get into an argument over whether or not Brazilian spanking Waxxer’s ass got her boyfriend off. At least it made an attractive image for her to think about while the pair argued again. “When you two are done showing off your professionalism, we have a video to shoot,” she said.

**

Theodore Hunnicutt the Third wasn’t having a good day. He had asked to speak to a supervisor, and now that supervisor was in his office, flanked by a pair of guards. “When I hired the Pinkerton Agency, I thought I ws getting the elite of private threat management companies. You have a sterling reputation for dealing with superhuman threats. I fear your reputation is overblown.”

“Mr. Hunnicutt, I appreciate your time and, more importantly, your money. Rest assured, we are the best. And the reason we are the best is because we know to study each unique situation involving the exceptionally-abled and we have the resources to react accordingly. While you did hire a team to deal with the two individuals causing problems for your family, the team hired to obtain the Chief of Police was not chosen in order to deal with them. They were chosen to obtain and hold a trained and experienced police officer. Their failure was due to circumstances outside their control and knowledge they couldn’t have had. Two people with the power to stick to things found the safehouse you provided. There was no leak on our end.”

Theodore leaned forward in his chair. “I didn’t hire you to talk about why you can’t solve the problem. I hired you to solve the problem! Your men were supposed to guard the Chief of Police in a situation where you were hired to deal with supervillains who kidnap people. You said that your job is to figure out what needs to be done to handle the problem. My role is to pay you and tell you what to do. I’ve paid you, so figure it out and get Johanssen back!”

With such an important meeting going on, it’s understandable that Theodore Hunnicutt didn’t interrupt it over an email from his daughter. He figured it was about some silly thing she was doing now. He also thought it would be a good way to take his mind off the failures of the Pinkertons, so he looked at it after they’d left his office. He nearly broke the screen texting his secretary to stop the Pinkerton representative and direct her back to his office when he realized what had been sent to him.

The representative found the whole situation quite amusing when he started up the video. She held her hand out for it as it started up. “May I?” She accepted the phone to watch.

It began with an image of the Chief of Police, handcuffed, sitting in a chair. The man’s head was still red, but the gash had been treated and bandaged. He’d had a bath and a shave as well. “My name is Captain… Chief Phil Johanssen,” the man could have sounded worse while discussing the promotion that had been prompted by the rescue of high profile hostages from the two warring supervillains before they’d joined forces.

The Chief went on, his eyes moving from side to side as he read. “I am saying this of my own free will and am not being forced to read this by my captors, the magnificent Mad Waxxer, whose skill at kidnapping is matched only by his skill at lovemaking and writing. And the Brazilian, who is also present.”

“Fuck you, numbnuts,” the Brazilian said as he stepped into view. “You couldn’t have done it without me. We’re here to say we did not kidnap the Chief.” He looked down at the handcuffed Chief in question, then looked back up at the camera. “…initially. We didn’t kidnap him initially. Someone else took him in order to allow the rich and powerful the excuse they needed to bring in the Pinkertons. A private police force in service only to the rich and powerful? What could go wrong, right?”

“Not only that,” said a voice from off screen as the camera jittered. “But it was one of the area’s rich, favored sons in whose warehouse we found Chief Johanssen here.”

“It’s true,” the Chief said, “These two had nothing to do with attacking me at HQ. They took me from the people who really grabbed me, ex-military people. They’re treating me well, treated my wound, but they have a demand they would like me to pass on. All you have to do to get me back is cancel the plan to bring in the Pinkertons. It saves you money, too.”

“Read the room, dude,” the Brazilian said, leaning on Johanssen’s shoulder.

The Mad Waxxer spoke again, jostling the camera even more. “If a moral argument worked on them, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Sometimes, you have to be pragmatic and appeal to their greed.” The camera turned to look up at the Mad Waxxer’s mask. The man smiled his pearly whites and went on, “Besides, it would be too coarse to resort to obvious threats. Hmm… how to send this to you, though?”

The video cut out there, but Ted Hunnicutt spoke, “That video was sent to me from my daughter’s email account.”

The Pinkerton representative clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “That is unfortunate.”

“We have to get him back,” Hunnicutt said.

The rep raised her eyebrow. “It’s admirable that you’re willing to stick with us after we failed you so badly.”

“Can you find them?” Hunnicutt asked. “This isn’t over yet. They won’t beat me.”

“There is an astonishing amount of metadata available in video and images. If you can provide my people a copy of the video, we can find the phone that shot it and trace its location. You said this was sent from your daughter’s account? The one he keeps taking?” She asked.

“Yes, that’s the threat he mentions at the end. He wants me to know she isn’t safe,” he said.

The rep looked up at one of her guards, then back to Mr. Hunnicutt. “Have you ever considered that she might be involved with him?”

Theodore snorted. “That’s ridiculous. She wouldn’t date some thug like that.”

“Uh huh…” the Rep said. Her other guard leaned down and showed her something on his phone. “In light of the full situation, while we can find where the video originated, we will have to save that for a more formal renegotiation of terms.”

“Vultures! What are you doing?” he called after them as the Rep got up, left the phone on his desk, and walked out. Wasting a second on incredulity that they’d walk out on him, he tried to follow.

His assistant met him at the door, her phone in hand, asking, “Sir, you need to see this.”

**

When his phone alerted him to the breaking news, the Mad Waxxer very nearly spat out his celebratory wine. Theodora handled it much better, finishing her sip before asking after what happened. She took one look and called out to the other room. “Brazilian! What did you do?”

The Brazilian entered, wearing a shirt and flip-flops now. “You know already?”

The Mad Waxxer very nearly tossed his glass at the man, but set it down. “I have been keeping abreast of developments regarding the wealthy and our little dispute this entire time. Did you think I would miss it?”

The Brazilian smiled, wide but close-mouthed. “Glad to hear you say that. I have friends at that paper. Circulation’s never been better than during this fight we had. Now they get the scoop on us nabbing the head cop and making demands of your dad.” He nodded toward Theodora.

She shook her head. “You work at the paper.”

“You said that, not me,” the Brazilian said, not her.

“This is what you were doing the entire time. It’s not about kidnapping. It’s about keeping your job open,” she said.

“It’s so open, it hung us out to dry. These sorts of negotiations with these sorts of people require privacy. The deal’s going to be off now,” said the Waxxer. The article leaked the contents of their video.

The Brazilian shook his head. “Public opinion will force them to comply.”

The Mad Waxxer started to throw up his arms, remembered his glass, and set it down first. “He’s rich. He doesn’t care about the public.”

“Well see about that. Are we done here, or do you want to yell at me more?” asked the Brazilian.

The Mad Waxxer just shook his head. Theodora shooed him off and said, “We can handle Johanssen for now. We wouldn’t want you releasing him to get an exclusive interview.”

The Brazilian rolled his eyes. “That would raise too many questions. Give me some credit here.”

The Waxxer put his arms around Theodora and rested his chin on her head. After the Brazilian left, he asked quietly, “How do you think this is going to go down now?”

“My father’s an asshole,” she answered. “There’s only so much he cares about looking good. I hope that’s not true of whoever else is working with him from among families here. Otherwise, if it’s just him and everyone realizes it? He’ll have nothing to lose.”

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Snatched! 5

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The Mad Waxxer tried to maintain his calm. He’d faced police and guards before, right? He got a bad feeling about this one. He, and the Brazilian, were going into some warehouse. Theodora said the ones outside had handguns, but what about inside? He didn’t much care for going into it with his rival at his back, either. It was entirely that he didn’t trust the man.

It wasn’t like he gave a sly smile or told him to wear a red shirt. The Brazilian acted as near to normal as he knew of the man. The problem being, his normal behavior meant invading the Waxxer’s territory, kidnapping his victims, and ratting out his holding sites to the cops. It would be to his benefit if the Waxxer was injured or worse.

The pair rode along in the Waxxer’s van, which the Brazilian had dubbed “The Waxmobile.” He’d laughed at it when the Waxxer picked him up, and said it a couple more times while he drove there. The Waxxer didn’t care for the name, and got his revenge by offering the man some fruit from a bowl sitting up front. The Brazilian tossed a grape in his mouth, bit down, then spat it out. “Wax fruit? You really play up a theme.”

“I really don’t,” he responded.

“How do you make that wax work, anyway? I’ve seen waxxing done. You heat it up, drip it where it goes, and rip it off once it cools and solidifies. What you do shouldn’t be possible,” said the man who can stick to anything he touches and crawl on ceilings and walls.

“It’s a formula developed by the CIA. How I came by it is my own business,” the Waxxer answered.

“The feds made wax?” the other villain queried.

“No, they were making chemical weapons in the Cold War and someone discovered a formula for wax with special properties. I found it later,” he said. There was more to the story, involving the CIA, rumors of the chemicl being based on Dr. Resolute’s old formula, and the need to vibrate it at certain frequencies to detach it prematurely. He felt no need to explain everything to the first person to ask, however.

“They did a lot of crazy stuff. I wonder if we’ll ever find out everything they were up to,” the Brazilian mused.

The Waxxer shrugged, “I’d rather focus on the guys we have to deal with. Are you any good at fighting?”

The Brazilian turned to look at him. “I used to get beat up a lot as a kid.”

“Great,” the Waxxer said. The Brazilian’s powers needed him to put his hands on people, but he was a bad fighter. “Did you bring any sort of weapon?” He eyed the Brazilian, who once again wore nothing put a pair of shorts. The other man’s chest and arms glistened; the Waxxer wasn’t sure if that was due to sweat or oil. He hoped it was the former for the sake of his seats.

The Brazilian shook his head. “No. I thought I would improvise when we got there. Perhaps I can find something heavy, hide on a ceiling, and drop it on someone’s head.”

“Improvise? That sounds like a terrible plan,” the Waxxer said.

“I understand why your girlfriend didn’t go inside, I do. But she couldn’t send us a picture?” the Brazilian asked.

“That wouldn’t look suspicious,” the Waxxer responded.

“Fuck, it would be something,” Brazilian said. They drove past the warehouse on purpose, not turning in or slowing down. They waited until they were down the street, in front of the next one, before the Waxxer stopped and the Brazilian spoke again, a smirk adding to the sarcasm of the statement. “It looked normal. Have you thought of a plan already?”

The Waxxer took his hands off the wheel and steepled his fingers. “Yes, I have. It requires cunning, skill, trust, and my van. It probably won’t work.”

When he finished telling the Brazilian, the bronze Adonis smiled. “It’s missing one thing.” He pulled out his phone and pushed a few buttons. “Get what you need. I need to make a stop, but I will be back with everything you need of me.”

**

The Waxxer swung over the fence and landed on the inside perimeter of the warehouse, completely unharmed by the barbed wire topping the obstruction. He’d had to break out some spare wax, but it was easy enough to coat the barbs with it and clamber over. He checked again to make sure there were no obvious cameras or patrols he missed, then jogged to the warehouse. Wary of the sound of his soles, he stopped at the wall to make sure nobody was scrambling, then pulled out his whip. He took aim, hit his mark on the edge of the roof, and set about climbing the structure.

Having done everything as stealthily as he could up to that point, the Waxxer made his way past solar panels to the center of the roof. It seemed the best place to start without knowing where to look. He’d prefer a corner to be inconspicuous, but that was where the Brazilian came in. If the Brazilian came in. The Waxxer stopped laying out wax on the roof and glanced around for the distraction.

Squealing tires alerted him to it. He saw his van doing donuts in front of the gate to the warehouse. If he was’t trying to be stealthy while wearing a smoking jacket on the roof of a warehouse at midday, he’d have yelled at the man. He told him to get a car. Steal one, borrow one, call a taxi. His van wasn’t part of the plan!

However, he was a professional. He finished affixing part of the roof to itself. When he saw a gang of men and women heading out to the front gates of the warehouse compound, he used his tools to noisily remove the roof. Just the part that was inconvenient. The wax prevented it from falling inward. Lifting a paper strip off, he set his makeshift trapdoor on the roof.

The Mad Waxxer noticed two things while climbing his strip whip down. The first was that he, van or no van, he owed his life to the Brazilian’s distraction. He was painfully exposed to sight, but nobody was around to see his budget Spider-Man impression. The second thing he noticed was that the only thing big enough to hold a person who hadn’t mastered yoga was a large shipping container. Once he’d made it to the floor, he rushed over, hoping nobody had left it locked. In this, he was lucky as well.

The reason became apparent when he opened the door. Chief Johannsen was tied to a cot in filthy conditions, a gash on his head that was swollen and red with infection. The Waxxer winced and set about undoing the straps. The groan from the first one alerted him that the man was actually conscious. “Easy there. You’re not well.”

“Who… the Mad Waxxer?” asked Johanssen.

The Mad Waxxer shot him a roguish grin. “The very same. I’m here to kidnap you.”

“Don’t you mean rescue me?” asked the captured Chief of Police.

“Whatever helps you feel better. Now, up you go. Easy.” The Mad Waxxer helped the man up and they began to hobble out. He grabbed his phone and texted the Brazilian that they needed a way out. The plan called for setting the stolen car to ram through the gate, driving the van in, and piling into it to try and escape without getting shot. That would never be an option if only his van was involved. At least the Chief could still walk on his own after he got him outside the container.

“Get to the roof,” was the Brazilian’s advice. The Mad Waxxer looked at Chief Johanssen and marveled at it.

The Waxxer pulled out a long wax strip . “I’ll need you to be calm and not choke me for this next part. We’re going to have to climb.” He looked up to find the Chief, who he suddenly realized wasn’t beside him. The swaying of his strip whip alerted him to the other man trying to limb it. “Oh. Good then. This works, too.”

The Waxxer walked over, grabbed the handle, and pressed the button to reel it in. As the other end of it was firmly stuck to the roof of warehouse, it instead reeled him in. He grabbed the Chief as it got to him, Johanssen being fully cooperative in the escape. Once they got to the roof, the Waxxer realized the air was alight with the booming sound of gangster rap. And it was coming from his van. “My speakers!”

Furious, he pulled out his phone and texted to the Brazilian that they were out, they heard the music, and they needed to get out right that instant! The Mad Waxxer looked up with dawning horror as his van stopped racing up and down the street and turned down a road to drive away. His stream of expletives could have alerted the guards standing around at the perimeter of the fence, and went on long enough that he was surprised when the van came hurtling back toward the gate. It crashed through, and kept on going.

“Look to the sky,” the Brazilian responded via text message. The Waxxer looked up quizzically, and so almost missed when the Brazilian landed on the edge of the roof. “Hey, man. I got your escape right here.”

Rather than the crude gesture he expected to accompany that statement, the Brazilian had a couple of bags with him. He opened them up and performed a quick setup on a pair of hang gliders. “See? You can’t spell ‘improvise’ without ‘improve’,” he said with a grin.

The Waxxer rolled his eyes, but listened intently as the Brazilian gave them the basics so they didn’t crash and die. That the alternative was sticking around and probably dying made the risk easier to cope with, though that didn’t help the Waxxer any as he ran off the roof of the warehouse after the Brazilian.

The three men landed near each other, which in this context means the Waxxer almost smacked into a bus, the Brazilian touched down perfectly on a roof, and the Chief hurt his tailbone after after falling out of the tree he smacked into.

He groaned, but laughed as he stood up with the aid of the Waxxer. “I can brush off a few hurt bones. I owe you boys a lot for what you’ve done today. I won’t soon forget it,” he said. He turned to offer a handshake to the Brazilian, who hopped down from the roof.

The two kidnappers looked at each other, then at the Chief. The Brazilian covered the Chief’s mouth with his hand while the Waxxer pulled out wax strips to bind the man’s hands.

“Don’t worry, we’ll have you back to your family and job in no time. You just have to help us rectify this whole horrid situation, first,” said the Mad Waxxer.

The Brazilian whipped out his phone and tapped the screen a few times. “Our Uber will be here in minutes. Don’t worry, those guys will take extra cash for anything as little as they get paid.”

“When’s my new van getting here?” the Waxxer asked.

“I don’t know,” the Brazilian responded. “Have all my hostages drive it back.”

“This is going to be a great partnership, I can tell,” the Waxxer grumbled.

“Stop being so stuck up,” the Brazilian said before nodding and waving to a woman walking by who oggled him.

“I’ll tell you where you can stick something up,” Waxxer responded.

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Snatched! 4

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When the Mad Waxxer had been left unemployed after funding cuts to the college lab he worked at, he knew he couldn’t take it. He’d moved across the country for that job with nothing but hopes, and saw himself laid off before he could receive his first paycheck. He had been left with nothing, so he took a formula and basic equipment. His first victims secured his finances. He took revenge on the donor he blamed for his failed career, then he secured a new one. Rather than live as the downtrodden, he wanted to build a life of the finer things that his victims enjoyed.

Falling in love wasn’t part of his plans. He wasn’t entirely sure he was in love, but the Waxxer still found his thoughts turn every day to Theodora Hunnicutt. He never thought the young woman he kidnapped would show herself to be a cunning and intelligent mentor into the world of America’s old money. He owed a great deal of his success to her, and the rise of his savings.

Theodora seemed to value him as well. Perhaps she saw in him a way to take revenge, or perhaps he was another person whose station in life made a mockery of his intelligence. It has not been her story up to this point.

The Mad Waxxer found her staying at her townhouse just as she was leaving on an errand. He waited until she returned to sneak inside and lounge on her sofa in the living room. She jumped when she saw him, her hand reaching for her purse. “Oh, you,” she said playfully, her face alight with a smile.

The Mad Waxxer hopped to his feet and started toward her, arms outstretched. “Like a blinded man whose sight was returned in time for the sunrise, my life is enlightened again.”

“If only every girl had a master flatterer to welcome her home. It’s good to see you again, but I didn’t expect to see you in the middle of the day,” she wrapped her arms around the Waxxer and the pair shared a kiss.

Too shortly for their tastes, their greetings ended and he revealed the purpose of his visit. “I wish I was here to see you for your own sake, but it’s the bad news that brings me.”

“Bad news?” Theodora asked.

“You haven’t heard?” Mad Waxxer asked, then explained. “The Chief of Police was hurt and kidnapped. They say a note was left by myself and the Brazilian, the new villain who steps on my territory.”

Theodora took her phone out to check on the news as he told her the story. “They’re blaming you? Have they paid attention to anything you’ve done?” she asked. She pondered a moment. “No, they’re too busy thinking the worst of anyone who gives offense. The Pinkertons? I see what’s going on here. My father has spoken about them. You humiliate them, but you’re only a threat to their overstuffed bank accounts. Have you ever seen the Brazilian?”

The Waxxer nodded. “I was there when he took the model in the first place. He’s a real person with real powers.”

Theodora’s eyes glazed over as she thought it over. “So he’s real, but they’re taking advantage.”

“To what end?” asked a voice that startled them both. Theodora turned to see a barely-dressed man walk out of a hallway, hairless skin shining in the light.

The Waxxer’s whip was out like a flash and would have caught the Brazilian in the face if he hadn’t rolled beneath the blow and come up with his hands raised. “I mean no harm!” he said, while the Waxxer released the whip from sticking to the hall wall. “I came here to talk about our scapegoating.”

“Did you take the Chief of Police?” Theodora asked.

The Brazilian shook his head. “I was as caught off guard as well.” He looked between them both. “I thought you two would meet, so I waited in hope of a meeting. Mad Waxxer, both our names are being dragged through the mud.”

The Waxxer cocked his head. “We’re criminals who kidnap people. It’s bad if we clear our names solving crimes, too. It’s a win-win for them. We can’t solve the crime for them.”

“That attitude didn’t stop either of you before,” Theodora said. “You turned each other’s hostages over.”

“We did that anonymously,” Brazilian said, Waxxer nodding along. “We didn’t help our reputations, but we hurt each others’.”

The Waxxer thought it over. “They will still have a reason to bring in the Pinkertons anyway, unless we admit we didn’t take him.” He glanced at Theodora, whose smile grew wide across her face. He loved that smile. “Someone has an idea.”

“We still need to find who has him, but once we know that, you two can kidnap him. You expose what the other people did and show you’re better,” she said.

The Mad Waxxer snapped his fingers. “And the ransom is the removal of the Pinkertons, with the knowledge that we can get at anybody if they try to bring them back.”

The Brazilian smiled at Theodora, and the Waxxer noted his brilliant white smile. “As smart as you are beautiful. No wonder the Waxxer basks in your company.”

“Easy there,” the Waxxer said, moving to put himself between the two.

Theodora giggled. “Relax, both of you. I’m perfectly happy already.” She patted Theodora on the shoulder. “Let him waste breath on flattery if he wants to. You two have to learn to get along while I find out what I can from my family connections. You two, behave.”

The Brazilian smiled at her before looking the Waxxer in the eye. “We should check as well. You know more of the underworld than I do in this state. I have my own sources I can speak to.”

“You have sources?” the Waxxer asked.

“I have sources,” the Brazilian reiterated. “They don’t overlap with the people you both know, but I have them. If there was a struggle, there’s evidence that won’t match what they have on file for us.”

“I suppose it beats going to Paradise City in the middle of the Summer,” The Mad Waxxer conceded.

**

Theodora knew her father had talked about the Pinkertons before. He’d talked about it around her, cautiously at first, then more boldly. She didn’t like the assumption that she was a ditzy party girl. Her family didn’t want her pursuing studies or a career more fitting to her desires and abilities. They underestimated her, and spoke too much around her as a result. She thought it too likely he had some hand in this, or knew who did. She also knew he preferred to keep notes in paper. He claimed to be old-fashioned, but she’d known him to have inconvenient documents burned without a digital copy left to embarrass him.

She thought about what she knew of her father’s schedule. He would be at his office this time of day. It would be wrong to assume he did no work, but it was work in a luxurious office, drink and snack nearby, with hours of his choosing. The family’s fortunes grew and all it required of him was the push of papers and a few words.

She traipsed in like she owned the place. The secretary managed to alert her father before she walked into his office and dramatically dropped her purse on a chair. “Hello daddy!”

“Sweetie!” he stood up and held his arms out. She moved around the desk to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you. Daddy, I want to go on vacation. Everybody’s getting kidnapped here,” she pouted.

He chuckled. “That’s a splendid idea, dear. It would set me at ease. Where did you want to go?”

It was easy enough to giggle and play the spoiled heiress until her father’s bladder got the best of him. She had only a short amount of time, but she knew where he kept papers he didn’t want casual visitors seeing. She just hoped nothing she needed to see had already been sent to the fire.

The tax evasion and embezzlement were common enough. Withdrawal slips didn’t give anything away, which was the point of paying people in cash. Helping to pay the Pinkertons was hardly comparable to those crimes and he wouldn’t keep it secret, but perhaps the payments had connection to the Chief’s disappearance. Then she stumbled across paperwork about a bonded warehouse. She remembered her father laughing at a young lawyer who suggested the investment upon the election of the nationalist a few years back. The younger man had reasoned that the president-elect would turn to tariffs to try and punish other countries, and that the value of a bonded warehouse would go up as importers would rather wait out the tariffs than pay higher rates. Her father hadn’t taken it seriously at the time.

She snapped a photo of the address and continued looking, finding little else of use, until her father returned. She smiled at him, and adopted a flighty tone to excuse herself.

**

She adopted a more business-like look when it came time to check on the address. It was an inauspicious warehouse, but then she couldn’t expect a moat and a chained up dog with three heads guarding the gates. When she pulled up to the guardhouse at the gate, she rolled the window down and eyed the guard through sunglasses.

The man looked at her, clipboard in hand. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

“My client asked me to check on something.” She presented a card taken from the large law firm her father employed. She’d caught the eye of an attorney there in college. The romance had come and gone, but she’d kept a number of stolen business cards in case she ever needed them to get out, or into, trouble. They did business in every major city in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. A few cards wouldn’t be missed, and no one would know all of their staff by heart.

She didn’t know if gaining admittance should reassure her, or lead her to suspect the law firm as well. Her explorations didn’t get far, though. She went to exit her car and enter the warehouse, but men stepped out of the entrance, eyeing her. They were dressed as if unload the house, but she noticed the way they looked at her, and caught the sight of bulges under their clothes. She had experience dating a soldier, too, and he’d taught her how to recognize a soldier in civvies with guns hidden on them. He didn’t know she’d learned that at the time.

“Can we help you, ma’am?” asked one of the men.

She smiled at him. “My client wanted me to check and make sure you boys were on your guard is all.” She got back into her car, firing off a text message to a number that looked like any other friend in her contact’s list. She didn’t get a good look inside, but now her boyfriend and his rival would learn where they needed to check, and that there was an armed guard.

“Luck be a lady,” was the Mad Waxxer’s response in text. “A lady like no other.”

She smiled as she drove off, imagining taking a vacation with him anyway. Perhaps to Paradise City, where they can see if his luck waxes or wanes with his Lady Luck on his arm.

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Snatched! 3

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“Who’s Next?” was crossed out as the headline and replaced by “Who’s Left?” The story underneath told the tale of the escalating territorial conflict of the past few days. More and more of Gordon Hart’s extended family and business associates disappeared. The Mad Waxxer himself skimmed the story again before turning to the man he’d caught. Some lawyer, next in line with power of attorney. He crumpled the newspaper up and stuffed it in the man’s mouth as he squirmed in the spiderweb of wax strips he’d run into while fleeing.

“I must apologize, my good man. It is difficult to maintain decorum as quickly as I must work,” he reassured his latest victim. The man was the second in the same day. He had already taken his next logical victim, but this man was the Brazilian’s next target. This had become a farce, one that the Waxxer intended to stop. It had damaged his mystique and that of his operation. He’d had to arrange more hiding places for his own guests. It was becoming a strain to care for all of them. He had to change diapers, deliver food and water, provide entertainment. He never cared for indeterminate detention, nor pets.

So he’d kidnapped the Brazilian’s next prey. He reached into the inner jacket of his smoking jacket and withdrew a pill. He’d paid to have a small GPS tracker encapsulated. He turned to the man he’d ensnared. “I will require you to swallow this. I assure, it will not harm you. If you do so, I will release you. Another man will come along, my rival, to kidnap you. This pill is your salvation from his grasp.”

The Waxxer withdrew the improvised gag and presented the pill to the man. “You’re a criminal!” shouted the lawyer.

“And were I to steal a man every month for the rest of my life, my crimes might someday equal those you committed and abetted,” the Waxxer answered. “A person’s worth or trust is not decided by the number of speed limits they violate. I have bargained fairly in every transaction. Trust me now and it will end this silly game between myself and the man who would kidnap you. You will be the one to defeat him with this.”

The lawyer looked at his captor, defiant, before saying one word. “Water.” The Mad Waxxer grinned and produced a bottle of spring water to help the tracker go down. Then he set about removing the man from the strips as delicately as possible, leaving as little mark and taking as little hair as he could.

**

The Mad Waxxer would not be without his own setbacks. He was in his home chemistry lab, creating more of his special wax, when his phone began to beep with alerts. As always, he hated the interruption. It took time to get to a safe stopping point. The law had some give to it; the deadliness of the chemicals he worked with didn’t.

Perimeters were breached. The mobile storage pods he’d rented were scattered around the city so that the discovery of one would not compromise the entire lot. Despite precautions, they were being found. Discreet cameras left to monitor the sites provided a view of SWAT teams breaking into all of them. They dragged out every captive, all the way back to Gordon Hart.

The Waxxer clenched his phone, tempted to throw it, but reluctantly set it down. He tossed his mask instead, and decided to settle in with a bottle of his least favorite wine. Some days, sobriety is a curse. And while he could no longer work in his lab while indulging, he was sure he was in no state to further mix hazardous chemicals. The Waxxer reassured himself, as he looked over a bottle of fermented grape juice, that wonderful things can still come from being crushed underfoot. He somehow managed to keep himself from being soused enough to miss the report that soon came out online about the recovery of his hostages.

The victims were telling everyone the Waxxer kidnapped them. He didn’t like to think how little reputation he’d be left with before the day was over. He wished he knew how they’d discovered him. Perhaps so many abductions in such a short amount of time left a trail of suspicious rentals for detectives to figure out. In that case, he counted himself lucky he’d always thought to maintain fake accounts for those purposes. The criminal accountant he relied on didn’t come cheap, especially in days when the man could be snapped up for a White House cabinet position.

His inebriated sorrow-drowning turned to amusement as the news cut in with reports of another shot fired in the war between the pair of them. He had begun to wonder if his bait had been taken. The release of his own captives increased the value of the Brazilian’s, and meant the other villain didn’t need to take the man he’d fed a GPS pill to earlier. Perhaps it was meant as one last insult to him, but the Waxxer was the one who laughed. The lawyer had been nabbed. The GPS showed him in a location he wouldn’t normally go to, an air-conditioned storage unit in an area none within the orbit of the wealthy would visit.

He had enough sense to wait until he’d sobered up more before sending a friendly anonymous email with the signal’s location to Chief Johanssen. He congratulated the man on his success against the Mad Waxxer, and offered him a chance at further glory. At first, his only regret was not having popcorn. When he sobered up, he reflected on the fact that he could have taken the hostages for himself. But he’d been buzzed and humiliated. He wanted to return that humiliation on the Brazilian. And he had. The news that the Brazilian had also been beaten would help alleviate his own woes, and the more recent disgrace would hopefully chase his own from the news.

And besides, he realized, the Brazilian hadn’t stolen his hostages either. That left the board cleared in this game. It also left the Mad Waxxer no closer to a worthwhile payday to maintain his lifestyle or to save up and treat his dear Theodora. With a jolt, he realized how badly this entire rivalry had destroyed his livelihood. People will actually have confidence in the police to rescue the hostages. What is to be done about that?

**

Chief Johanssen could breath a sigh of relief, if he thought everything was over with. His office had been bombarded ever since the rash of kidnappings began. The game of one-upsmanship the supervillains had been playing with each other had caused him no end of headaches and lost sleep. He never thought transferring to the wealthy part of Connecticut would entail passing out at his desk. It had happened again this night. A glance at the clock showed it was two in the morning.

The calls for attention from the aristocracy soon turned to calls for commendation when they were rescued, but Johanssen knew better than to think they were out of the woods. He suspected the anonymous tips he’d received were part of the war between the two villains. That war wouldn’t end until one or both of them were behind bars or run out of town.

If only he had the first clue to go on that would allow him to do something proactive. He was in no hurry to hire the Pinkertons or to bring in the Feds. The former abandoned duty for a paycheck. They rubbed him the wrong way the times he’d seen them in action. They had their own secrets.

The latter, the Feds, would step on a lot of toes without regard to secrets his local bosses wanted kept. The local gentry saw his duty as protecting their closets from anyone prying for skeletons. They’d have much rather had the Pinkertons. In fact, a few of them had come forward over the past few days offering to pay to bring them on. He’d made it clear that private detectives wouldn’t be tolerated by him and his men.

Even if he had a superhero he could call, how could he direct them? They had fingerprints from both the Mad Waxxer and the Brazilian, but they didn’t match any in the database. He’d chewed the lab techs out and made threats he didn’t like to issue until they expedited DNA analysis of hairs found by the CSI crew. Just like the fingerprints, there were no hits in the system. Neither of the villains had been arrested before, or otherwise entered into a database that shared fingerprints and DNA with law enforcement.

A knock came to his door. “Who would be here at this hour?” he wondered, then shook his head and chuckled. “Other than me.” Louder, he called out, “A moment!” He checked himself over for anything embarrassing sticking to himself, made sure his clothes weren’t too wrinkled, then said, “Come in!”

**

The Mad Waxxer arrived at police headquarters bright and early to scope it out, having left his costume at home. He found the press there as well, including the local paper. National news was one thing, but they didn’t have the same familiarity or level of access that the locals had with themselves. The families here paid good money to keep their names off the lips of anyone on twenty-four hours news networks. Sometimes, they did so because, like the Vanderbilts, their relative is the reporter for such a network. The Waxxer doubted Anderson Cooper reports too negatively about Gloria Vanderbilt, his own mother. The kidnapper sipped on his cappuccino and cut away from his thoughts on the lifestyles of the rich and famous to wander over to a man standing by himself among the gathering press.

“Good morning,” he greeted the bean pole of a young man in plastic glasses. “Do you know, by chance, what all of this is?”

The man smiled and adjusted his glasses. “Hi. Yeah, there’s been a development in the Brazilian-Mad Waxxer War. The Chief of Police is going to brief the public.”

The Waxxer cocked an eyebrow curiously. “Well, that sounds interesting indeed. I should love to stay and listen.”

“By all means,” the man said. “I’m here with the Gazette.”

“Ah, the local fishwrapper. This has all been good for your business, I suppose,” the Waxxer commented good-naturedly.

The reporter looked down and nodded, then eyed the Waxxer. “When I joined the paper a few months back, the editor made it sound like we wouldn’t have a year. It’s been incredible to see the jump in sales and views from this supervillain fight. I don’t know how it can keep going, but it saved my job.”

“Greetings,” said a man the Mad Waxxer didn’t recognize, from the podium. Perhaps he was meant to introduce the Chief? “I am Acting Chief of Police Martz. I’m here to announce that early this morning, we discovered that Chief Johanssen has been kidnapped. The office was in a state indicating a struggle. The presence of blood leads us to believe the kidnappers may have seriously wounded Chief Johanssen. He appears to have become a victim of the supervillains who have menaced our community for too long now. The ransom note was signed jointly by both the Mad Waxxer and the Brazilian. In cooperation with prominent members of the community, we have decided to cooperate with the Pinkerton Detectives, who will be arriving shortly, in an all-out manhunt for the kidnappers. We will leave no stone unturned in the hopes of recovering Chief Johanssen alive or dead. Thank you for coming out. I will not be taking any questions at this time.”

The Mad Waxxer shook his head. He’d certainly had nothing to do with this. Perhaps the Brazilian had framed him. He himself had come to scope the place out to kidnap the Chief and assert his dominance and seriousness. Instead, the newbie had messed up and injured the chief. He’d tipped the scales enough to bring down the Pinkertons, who didn’t care about due process or prisoners’ rights. He hated the thought, but perhaps it was time the Waxxer took a vacation. He would be abandoning his territory to the Brazilian, but perhaps the Pinkertons would nab him and simplify the Waxxer’s life.

First thing’s first, however. The Waxxer wasn’t going anywhere without paying a visit to Theodora first, and charm her while waxing poetic.

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