I was just outside walking around this new year. The air was crisp. The sun was high. My balls were freezing off even in my armor. This planet needs some serious climate control. My old planet did that well enough, but nooooo, this place has to completely ignore mastery of the environment in favor of treating it like a bunch of barbarians. Not that I’m green or a vegan or anything. After all, if you’re going to avoid munching on animals because they have faces and feelings, how are you going to feel finding out that plants communicate through scent and sound and do advanced mathematics each day to survive the night? That’s what I thought, vegans. When you munch on a salad, I hear the lettuce’s screams of terror. When you cut a tomato, does it not look vaguely like it bleeds? Fur may be murder, but leaf is grief.
Of course, the walking turned to running when I realized what all the pretty flashing lights around were. Then I remembered the severed head in my hands. Ooooh, right…why did I grab this thing? There was a reason. I tossed it up, caught it, spun it around, even dribbled it a couple of times.
Who cared about the police trying to find me in this snowy mess? I had to get to the bottom of this. It’s like it was on the tip of my tongue. The mystery, not the head. I know, charming guy like me doesn’t get his mouth on some head all that often. It’s criminal, that’s what it is.
Ah well, I couldn’t remember what I had the head for at the time, but I figured I’d keep it. My thinking was that it might be important, if only I could remember why. I swear, I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t attached to my body. And no, it turned out it wasn’t my own head either, so that wasn’t it.
I’d just been seeing to a few things. See, I’d accepted a contract fairly anonymously, or at least as anonymously as you can when someone thinks you’re pranking them because you’re dead. Which is a self-defeating concept. How could they possibly think I was both dead and someone else? Maybe they assumed I was John F. Kennedy.
I wish. If Christians were actually correct that doing something in your mind equates to doing it in real life, then JFK still gets more ass than I could ever hope for courtesy of perverted women and the power of internet videos.
It’s like he got powers from being bitten by a radioactive pussy magnet. Awesome band name, by the way. “Up next, we have the top-charting single from Radioactive Pussy Magnet. It’s called ‘More Ass Than a Donkey Orgy’.”
Anyway, the contract. Simple, actually. Some rich asshole teenager stole beer, took some valium, piled his friends into a truck, and ran into a bunch of people: a mother and daughter who were stopped on the side of the road due to car trouble, and two people who were trying to give them a hand. For those of you who it matters to, one of the victims was a pastor. A whole bunch of other people were hurt, with one of his friends even having been paralyzed.
Most people are too willing to play by the rules to get someone like me involved even if they hold a grudge against the moron who pulled this, but it gets better.
You know how I said he was rich. Doubtless, by now people think I tend to have it out for wealthy people. Well, said drunk, drugged-up driver’s parents shelled out a lot of cash and got a psychologist to explain to the judge that the driver was unable to determine right or wrong because he’d been raised to be too privileged to know what he was doing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’d still be a pretty good reason to want to go after the kid. The audacity. The cajones. The dirty huevos. The sheer motherfuckin’ balls.
So this kid that was easily looking at twenty years in jail got ten years probation at a rehab clinic that includes classes about nutrition and horseback-riding therapy.
Some people claim that evil wins when good men do nothing. I prefer to think of it that evil wins when good men are forced to turn to evil men to do what the good men should have done from the very start.
Plus, evil is more fun, and we have donuts. Some of them even have sprinkles.
So that’s the target. Even Carl, nice guy as he is, jumped up and wanted to put holes in everything when I briefed him. He’s still a little upset about Matatoa having to leave us. Of course, after he destroyed a perfectly good television set, he had to lie back down and rest up. Of the three of us, he was hurt most in his fight with Father Time, but he’s healing up just fine.
“I thought you knew all that already, boss?” he asked once his hacking had subsided.
“True, but the purpose of the meeting today was to go over some changes that have occurred since I accepted.” I reached over and grabbed a metal vase we had and dumped the head on its lid. “Don’t forget to put some water in this thing. We want it to last.”
“Hey, that’s Moai’s vase. He made it out of scrap from the fighting.”
I looked it over, then looked to Moai, who had a notepad in the seat next to where he stood. “Oh? Not a bad job. Mind if I keep my head on your vase?”
Moai shook his head no.
“Thanks. Always got to be careful where you stick your head, you know? Don’t want to upset someone or catch something.”
“So, what’d they do at the meeting? They drop your pay?”
“No, if anything they’ve increased it. Problem is, the whole arrangement is changed.”
Now we get to the meat of things. The important stuff.
There had been a guy talking to the other assassins over a TV screen that was protected by a couple of guys in black suits. I got a bit of a Pinkerton vibe from them. The Pinkerton Detective Agency, prestigious as it is, is still around. They don’t do a lot of private eye stuff. Instead, they focus on cyber security and on providing VIP security with superpowered detectives. They generally don’t like me.
Whether by death or humiliation, they don’t keep many operatives who have a run in with me.
The crowd being addressed by their protected talking TV head was a diverse crowd of lowlifes.
I saw heavily-armed remnants of the Reds in riot gear with pieces of Space Marine armor attached. A group of Space Marines had traveled to the past some time last year to protect their future. They were afraid that people using the trope of the space marine would somehow dilute and ruin the concept for people in the future who had founded their force. Rather than summon a black-hearted fiend from the pit of a hell dimension and pay his attorney’s fees, they opted to invade the past and somehow protect themselves. They were kinda dumb.
I played a part in destroying a large chunk of their forces, but it crashed their main ship into the city. An enterprising gang like the socialist Reds was able to stock up on a lot of it. Of course, the Reds are also a lot fewer in number these days thanks to a conflict with me last year as well.
There were some costumed people around the table. Some were hitters, some weren’t. I recognized Hydroplane in a metallic blue on blue outfit, a speedster with some water control abilities, as one of the ones who didn’t kill. There was an Asian woman present as well, in a Chinese business suit with a yellow stripe circling the collar. That meant she was somebody from the Claw’s organization. Probably not as high up as his champion, who was always named Reach, but I guess everyone was taking advantage of the opportunity.
A glimpse at the ordinary-looking men from Chicago showed that. Organized crime. I prefer disorganized crime, but the more orderly varieties still exist. They were sitting well away from the various costumed people, like Hanged Man, in his green, grey, and brown costume that looked like some shitty Renaissance Faire scraps done up to look like a masked executioner with a noose around his neck. I’d say something about that being dumb, but I’ve worn a tie before. Same difference.
Next to him at the tables was a well-known operator, Curtain Call. He was certainly not the original, who gained notoriety for assassinating President Lincoln in the mid-1800s. That had baffled most people here, though some of us with extradimensional information know perfectly well who the original really was. His costume was a simple blank white mask over white robes with a few medals and decorations to distinguish him from the Klansmen seated on his other side. They were part of his retinue, a tradition going back to that original assassin.
Yay, Mat came through for me. I found racists in the New year! Not just found, I fucked them up.
See, I was an odd duck even around them. I hadn’t identified myself, like some of the less important people that hung around the back of the room, but I had taken a seat at the table like a big shot.
“What makes you think you get to sit there?” asked one of the Mafia goons.
“I belong here.”
“Looks like we got a clown here. Look around. You see anyone else like you at this table?”
I did look around. I even looked directly behind me thanks to my stealthed helmet. In fact, I was in my armor and holographically projecting an unarmored, uncostumed self with a properly inflated crotch bulge.
“I have more right than any of y’all to be here.”
“Tell me why we should let you stand out above people with costumes?” asked the leader of the Red delegation. He and his buddies were already on edge thanks to the Klansmen.
“Entertainment, maybe. How about a magic trick?” I produced a pack of cards and set them down on the table. “I can make these cards disappear.”
Curtain Call elbowed one of his Klansmen who stood up and walked over to yank me out of my seat. I stood, caught him by the elbow and back of the head, and slammed his face into the table. Then I grabbed the deck of cards, wiped them off on his robe, turned them sideways, and shoved them up his ass. Thanks to his robe and underwear in the way, I didn’t even get my gloves dirty this time.
I sat back in my seat as the Klansman slumped to the ground, whimpering high-pitched whimpers, his robes taut from where they were stuck with the cards somewhere in his bowels. I opened my arms wide to take in the table. “Ta da!”
I got a clap from the guys I pegged as Mafiosos. Red Leader nodded his approval. “I like him. He can stay.”
“Less of a clown and more of a joker? We’ll let you stay, but try not to blow things out of proportion, alright? Just ‘cause it’s a long drive to Chicago doesn’t mean I want to get blown there by a grenade, eh?” said the Mafia hitter. Chicago’s known for that stuff. It meant he was probably one of Johnny Butterfly’s guys. Don’t let the name fool you into thinking he’s a wimp.
“So…what are we all gathered here for? I was under the impression this was to be a more private meeting.”
The TV answered me, “If you’re here, then you’re aware of the target. Ladies and gentlemen, we are taking advantage of an opportunity here. The target is not going to rehab where the news says he is. In order to protect his privacy, they have sent him to Empyreal City anonymously.”
“Bourgeoisie bastard got sent right to our doorstep,” said one of the Reds. There was a general murmur of agreement throughout the crowd, save for Curtain Call, who was helping his other Klansman with their downed colleague play 52 pull-out. It’s like 52 Pickup, but with cards up your ass.
“I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity this presented. Why send just a few hired guns after him when I could put a ten million dollar bounty on his head? I mean that. Whoever can bring me his head gets the money. Just reply to the email I contacted you all with and set up a meeting, but don’t waste my time.”
I reached over and scratched the head on the vase while I yawned.
“Zat it?” asked Carl.
“This? No, I don’t know who this is.”
“Why do you have it, then?”
“I dunno. Seemed like something to keep around until I figured out- That’s right!” I slapped my head with my hand and the other head with my other hand. “This is the other Klansman. Yeah, when the meeting broke up, this guy hung around out back of the place listening to his iPod. He was singing ‘You’re So Vain’ but he went ‘Jew probably think this song is about Jew’. Huh, no wonder I couldn’t place the face. Just drape a pillow cover over him and I’d have got it. Oh well.”
I tossed it back behind me where it landed with a crash on some leftover junk from the post-fight cleanup.
“Whew, hurting the KKK made me hungry. Anyone want some pigs in a blanket?”