On Friday, I took Carl and Moai out to eat at a restaurant. I planned to reconnect with them both while getting away from the Rejects, whose presence I increasingly resented. Especially their cheeriness. The latent misery reverberating off our waitress tasted better than the sirloin I shoved down my gullet.
“So you want to Venus to come after you, boss?” Carl asked while chowing down on his own chunk of cooked cow.
“Correctdiddly-doo, Carl. This is something I think I have to do. Something that, at the very least, will take my mind off a disturbing trend lately.” I cut off another slice of beef and held it in my mouth, mulling over the taste. Too much pepper, and marinade that hadn’t sank in. Overpriced, and yet another chef mistook spiciness for flavor. Some people just haven’t learned that sometimes subtlety can be more appetizing.
Then again, I’d probably eat teriyaki sauce on everything from cookies to boobs if I could get away with it.
“What kind of trend do you mean?”
“Oh, just that things have been more serious than they need to be lately. I think we could all use a nice period to let off some steam and blow things up.” I tried the garlic potatoes. Delicious. “Mmmm, these potatoes are fucking my face with flavor!”
A couple at a nearby table glanced over. I looked right back at them. “What? It’s all very tasteful. Don’t be so prudish about what you swallow. Especially you,” I said, pointing to the woman. She looked like she just licked a skunk’s backside. Her husband gave me a smile and a thumbs-up that disappeared as soon as his huffy wife turned around.
“Whatcha got in mind, boss?” Carl lowered his voice as he leaned closer to the table. His eyes swiveled around the room, keeping track of anyone coming too close. Moai leaned over the table as well, ignoring his glass of mineral water.
“Alright, so we all know, I’m here, and Venus is here.” I moved the salt and pepper shakers to opposite sides of the table. “I’m the salt, because people who know me realize I’m made up of poisonous and explosive elements.”
Moai and Carl nodded along.
“Ok, so as salt, I need to spread myself around so much that people need some of her to offset the taste of me in their mouth.” I flicked the salt over the table. “Now, of course you can have plenty of salt and see no need for pepper. After all, the Feds are going to get off their asses eventually. So I need to make it clear who I’m a-salting. To do that, I erase any pepper and anything similar to pepper that I find around here.”
“Boss, is this still a metaphor, or are you going to do stuff with real salt and pepper?” Carl asked, trying to shield his plate from my excessive saltiness.
“Don’t be silly, Carl. I have no beef with spices, save for fresh garlic. Let’s drop the metaphor. It’s not enough for me to do my thing around here. There’s always someone who will try to stop me. I need to do it in such a way that targets Venus even though she isn’t here. Nor does have any belongings or real estate here, so it’s not like I can bust her stuff.”
“Maybe you could spy on her. Maybe she has friends here?” Carl suggested.
“Not a bad idea. I’ll see what I can do about invading her privacy, too. But for now, we focus on the classic call-out.” I winked at him.
“What’s that, boss?”
“The classic call-out is a way that villains have often gotten the attention of heroes. While you can pull one off by attacking monuments or museums that have significance to a hero, a common form of it is to attack some place which shares the name of the hero. Some of the crimes appear innocuous or random until someone starts checking for similarities. Venus being a deity’s name, there’s all sorts of places that use it. There’s even a restaurant that goes by that name.”
Carl looked at me, then I saw his eyes light up in understanding. “Aww, boss, I’m not done eating yet.”
“Better get it to go, Carl.” I reached down under the table and whipped out my saxophone, yelling in Spanish, “Saxofón!” I raised it to my mouth and skipped over the rocket key on the instrument. Instead, I hit the button with a plume of flame on it.
My newest toy, a flamethrower built into the saxophone, did its job. By that, I mean it threw fire in a stream that set ablaze a the leftovers on one table and flash fried the ice cream set in front of the occupants for their desert.
I shuffled forward, ignoring the screams around me, and sung to the ceiling. “I’m never gonna dance again; these guilty feet have got no rhythm. Though it’s easy to pretend, I know you’re not a fool.” I cut to the sax part of the song then so I could incinerate fleeing patrons and waiters.
Sure, to everyone else, it sounded like roaring flames, the jingle-jangle of overturned dishes, and cried of anguish. But I heard a mournful sax from a song about a guy cheating and feeling bad about it.
The music was soon accompanied by the sounds of gunshots, then something cracking, and body tumbling to the floor. I turned to find Carl grabbing a gun off the floor next to a dazed host and a broken plate.
I danced over and motioned for Carl to move aside. One he stepped back, I leaned low and gave my would-be assailant’s head a full solo. Then I tossed the sax to Carl at my side. “Here, hold this for me, will ya? I need to use the restroom.”
At least that host couldn’t say I didn’t at least try to put him out. Actually, he really couldn’t say it. Pretty sure his tongue was cooked by that point. Still, it’s the thought that counts. Then again, I fried the brain too.
With the New Venus Restaurant burning down around us, we couldn’t really stick around. Unfortunately, none of us managed to snag a box for our food on the way out, so instead we drove into a delivery boy’s car and stole a half-dozen pizzas to bring back for everyone.
When we walked into the Big Top, there was Larry, watching a big screen TV on the wall from on top of a couch. The formerly-dusty place was spotless.
“Alright, just drop the pizzas wherever…heya Larry, anything exciting happen while we were gone?”
Larry munched on some chips as he watched Moai and Carl set down the stolen pizzas. “Gravity shut off in Russia for some reason. Nobody knows why, but due to a parliamentary loophole involving pigs, they were forced to legalize gay marriage there. Hey, how’d the flamethrower work?” He nodded to my sax.
“Very well, actually. Just had to rework the engines of the rocket part. It was a lot better than trying that Heatflasher again, too.” I checked around. Even the cobwebs were gone.
“Yeah, I been cleaning that some. What’s stuck in there? It’s like something was burnt to it.”
“That’s my arm. Or it was. Luckily the new one is a lot less burnt. It got a bit messy there, and that’s why the arm-mounted Heatflasher is not as practical as I’d like it to be. Speaking of cleaning, did y’all have someone come in? I didn’t think I left that number out for y’all.”
He waved a hand at me dismissively. “We got bored and cleaned the place up.”
“Where are the others, then? The basement? They’d be better, because I saw some rats down there, and we all know rats are ambush predators.”
“No, they went shopping for food and decorations to brighten the place up.”
I called a huddle with Moai and Carl. “See? They’re way too nice for most of this stuff. You’d think all the torture would have hardened them some. It’s almost- wait, let me check.” I turned away to address Larry again, “As far as decorations went, they didn’t happen to go shopping for stripper poles, did they?”
Larry shook his head.
I turned back to my minions. “It’s almost like they’re too nice. They didn’t even go out and start robbing anyone when they were bored.”
“Boss, I never robbed anyone because I was bored. I did it because I was poor,” Carl helpfully suggested.
“You’re right. They just need some tough love. Wait, shit, that’s why I said I’d take them in. We need to corrupt them.”
“Is this going to involve tequila, boss?” Carl wondered.
“Nope. But we should force them to help us. And I think I know how…”
Just then, the rest of the Rejects burst in carrying an assortment of chairs and food.
“Gecko! Carl! Moai! You got a package,” Roberta called out with gusto.
“Well, yeah, had it for awhile.” I raised my right leg and slapped the thigh. “Easy big fella. Oh, did you mean a delivery?”
“Yup! It’s from that Basford guy, too.”
Ethan Basford, the wealthy scion of a family that made a deal with magical beings long ago. They got a lot of magical artifacts and a questionable amount of power. My dealings with Ethan were complicated. Evil twin and dead family members kind of complicated. But he did pay me, so I had no particular reason to kill him.
Roberta shifted the various bags around in her arms, then held out a box, little smaller than a shoebox, wrapped in brown paper.
I took it from her. A note on top read “E. Basford”.
I hoped it wasn’t from Ethan’s dead brother Emilio. I opened the note. It read. “Don’t worry, this is Ethan Basford.” Whew. “Inside this package is a bonus for you: Three drops of pure truth. Get them into a person and they will be compelled to answer a statement as faithfully as possible. They will hold nothing back, not even from themselves. Do not imagine I give you this only out of thanks. It is like you; a doubled-edged sword.”
I tore the paper open and cut through the tape with my laser potato peeler. The inside was padded with plenty of bubble wrap. Ah, bubble wrap. That by itself would have been a bonus. This “liquid truth” of his turned out to be contained within yet another box. Why not? Rather than a third box, there was a small crystal decanter, also taped up.
The three drops of truth took up little volume. And I never realized truth was amber in color.
Still, a magical truth serum right that showed up when I planned to get my hands on someone and make them hate me?
Basford must have taken a liking to me after all.