“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” These were the words of Johnny Butterfly, who deigned to speak with me personally. A most unusual way of doing business. “These are desperate times for many people. That desperation breeds opportunity. Let’s change the phrase around then: opportunistic times call for opportunistic people.”
“These must be unusual times to be giving us this speech like this,” said one of the others in the room. An older man, with grey hair and plenty of lines. “We’re here for work.”
“He wants to pay us to sit around and listen, that’s fine with me,” said a pot-bellied fellow in the grips of middle-age. He almost had a mullet the way his curly black hair hung down the back of his head. He smelled like he’d been drinking, though this was ten in the morning. A bit early for me to be up, let alone drunk.
Butterfly took it in stride. He sat, a thin man in a pinstripe suit, clean shaven, with hair just a little gelled up. Late twenties. His tie was deep purple purple, almost black. For all his boldness, that was the extent of his unusual visual affectations. It was more than enough, especially meeting us like this. Basement or not, secret passage to the neighboring buildings or not, it’s not normal for a crimeboss to meet with some random collection of independent contracting thieves in person.
I’m all for someone doing things in unusual ways, and that’s also why I’m paying attention. I think we all are, except for the drunk. It’s me, old guy, drunk guy, a Hispanic teen trying in vain to grow a mustache, and a husky black woman with her hair dyed bright red and pulled back in a ponytail. A regular bunch of reservoir dogs are we. And utterly expendable.
“This is an unusual meeting because this is an unusual job. I am not tasking my usual men for this because the situation is so unorthodox, but at the same time I am not paying in the usual way. I wanted you to believe this is serious, because it will sound like a joke.”
“What’s the punchline?” asked our dark-skinned double-minority. She counts for double for our affirmative criminal action. Actually, she almost balances out, the way crime works. Her being black, she’d normally draw far more heat than the rest of us. But she’s a woman. Part of that whole storyline about women being fragile things that can’t work and must stay in the kitchen while the men do manly things also says women are weaker than men and therefore cannot compete. Not as fast, strong, nor can they dare to best the mighty menfolk. It tends to mean that women don’t get picked up as often, and they get shorter sentences. When men say they want women in that damn kitchen, they damn well mean they want them there instead of prison.
That means the only person we can rely on dumping all the blame on is the Hispanic guy. And I hear this latest president-elect guy’s trying to get rid of them. It just isn’t right. If they get rid of all the Hispanic criminals, white people might start getting arrested instead!
“The punchline is that this city has the biggest hidden reserve of medical nanotechnology in black storage,” he said.
“Excuse me?” the black lady butted in.
Butterfly held up his hand. “It is a secret repository for sensitive materials being used as part of black projects for the military or the intelligence agencies. This one is a private facility. Privatization is the future, so they hired a private military company to maintain and guard a site for them. These honest capitalists love to make money on the side and someone lost the paperwork for a large shipment of medical nanotech purchased by the government and so secret that this was the only set of paperwork in existence. The person who knew all this and informed me of it has passed away, meaning the company does not even know what it has in storage.”
I raised a hand. Butterfly pointed over at me. “Yes?”
“Ok, so I’m getting something of an understanding here. You want us to break into a private black site hidden somewhere in this city, guarded by mercenaries, and somehow escape with the entire thing. Because I was told my part in this would be non-violent.” Oh how I regretted not being allowed to hurt people outside of name-calling. Sticks and stones break their bones, but words aren’t a very good response to a squad full of mercs going Rambo ape-titties on me. I can do amazing things with all sorts of everyday stuff and a human body, but it’s harder to talk someone to death. Not impossible, but I’m not a little kid.
“You’re right, that plan would never work,” he said. I wouldn’t say never, but I’d have to be myself again to make it work. “Instead, we need to find a way to alter the shipping information so that the container is transported. We quietly divert that shipment and everyone goes home a winner.” Butterfly finished and flashed a smile I could almost hear ding.
“Not everyone,” said the Hispanic youth, looking around at us. “Not the people expecting that shipment.”
The older fellow guffawed. “Cocky little guy, aren’t you?”
Butterfly showed us to one of his other properties through one of the basement tunnels. We came out in the back room of a bar. It looked like the sort of worn old room they’d use for private functions, with more than an ample table for our little party. “Everything you want will be provided for here. Maps, computers, equipment. Inform Lindon the manager and he will get it for you on my tab. After this, you have no more contact with me in any way, but you also do not discuss this with any of my men. Lindon is here to provide you space and equipment. I will have everything my people know complied and sent over in the morning. Until then, enjoy your new book club or anonymous group. Whatever you call yourselves to the public.”
He shot us another sharp smile that belonged in a dentist’s commercial and pulled the wall closed behind us, leaving us milling around there. “That’s not a bad idea about the anonymous. We could pretend we’re an AA group,” said the black woman.
“Yeah right,” said the drunk. “I am not quitting for this.”
“You think you would for the sake of… this,” responded the older guy, trying to beat around the bush.
The youngest man of our bunch still preferred being open about what he did to the bush. “This isn’t right. He’s going to set us up or something.”
“Watch too many movies, kid?” asked the lush.
“Kid,” the elderly crook raised a hand. “I’m not saying anyone’s setting anyone up, but even if someone was, I wouldn’t talk about it in the man’s own bar, in a room he has a secret door to, where we’re probably being listened to.”
“Retarded.” Our token woman shook her head, looking at the youth.
I just rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Our little Foot Fetish Support Group can call itself whatever we want, even meet where we want. But there’s nothing to worry about unless we’re successful. Let’s focus on that first. And figure out why what we can all do so we can make this happen.”
Right off the bat, though, I figured myself, the young guy, and the old one definitely knew our odds of an easy walk-away on this one. Two of us just weren’t dumb enough to talk about it in a room so full of ears, the walls might as well be made of corn. This situation stank, and not just because the last group in this room loved their lutefisk.
The folks back at Master Academy didn’t even ask where I’d been this time. They were busy, and had a way to track me. Besides, they’ve gotten used to my wandering about without causing too much trouble or exposing myself. I don’t think it’s stupidity so much as the problem with constant vigilance. People always lapse.
Instead, I was just heading to the cafeteria when Venus stepped out of a side room, dressed for working out. “Hey!” she said. “You’re just in time!”
“For what? Taco Tuesday?” Like Fried-Chicken Friday, Spaghetti Saturday, and Sundae Monday, it’s one of the special meal days staggered so that they aren’t every week.
She grabbed my arm and started walking me back down the hallway toward the gym. “Nope. I need a partner for a demonstration. You’re volunteering.
I turned and walked with her. “Ah, I was wondering if y’all taught Sex Ed.”
“Keep wondering. This is for Phys Ed.”
“Right. Instead of doggy style, we’ll go downward-facing dog style, right?”
“This is going to be fun.”
What turned out to be so fun was us walking into a gym with several students of all ages sitting around on the bench. Mats were laid out on the floor, and Psychsaur stood holding some gloves. I kicked off my shoes, then pulled off my Behemoth jacket and t-shirt, the latter of which had “Harder!” written on its back.
Venus smiled up at them. “I found someone who agreed to my demonstration. Maybe you’ve seen our guest here, Puss in Boots.”
“Remember to keep the pants on,” Psychsaur said, holding out some gloves.
I took them and slipped them on. “Remember to let me fight back.”
She rolled her eyes and stepped aside, a smirk across her scaley face.
Venus called out to me as she circled around to the opposite side of the mat. “You’re fit, right? I don’t have to handle you with baby gloves?”
I pointed to the scar on my chest. Just a scar. I’m not entirely familiar with the amount of time it takes to heal from everything they’d done to me, but a trip through the arcade machine did me some good in that regard. I doubt I’m quite as fit as when all the muscle would be repaired and maintained by nanites, but there’s no need to let Venus in on that one. “When it comes to me, we aren’t talking baby anything. But if you’re ever looking for baby gloves, I might know a guy who can get them nice and authentic. None of that faux-baby pleather.”
I pounded away at my chest, making sure I didn’t have anything loose on the inside. Body by arcade machine doesn’t normally mean good health, so it’s best to check that sort of thing before strenuous activity with my nemesis. I smiled at Venus as I did it, who returned one that had less good humor in it. “And there’s the dead baby joke. It’s going to feel good shutting you up again, even just like this.”
Based on the calls coming from the stands, some of the students clearly enjoyed out back and forth. I saw money pulled out for bets. I also saw Venus stretching. She noticed me watching. “Are you going to stare and get your butt kicked, or are you going to limber up too?”
“I think a part of me’s already lumber… I mean limber… but okily dokily.” I began a kata, which I knew she’d know was unusual for me. I even through in a couple of ridiculous spin kicks just to play around. When I saw she’d finished and stepped onto the mat, I stopped, got my feet under me, and attempted a backflip. I landed on my face and stumbled up and onto the mat, apparently still unbalanced.
I heard Venus approaching by her laughter and running. I whipped around and caught a leg that she tried to put through my back. I dropped her to the ground and got a couple of good punches in before she slid loose and rolled back. I kept throwing punches, hitting the mat as she evaded each time. Still not quite balanced, I brought both hands down where I hoped to catch the back of her head, but she got onto her knees. So I leaned toward her and put my weight on my forearms. I brought my bare feet up to kick at her face with the bottoms. That time I made contact, though the constant attacking left me in an awkward position. Probably something you’d see in yoga, actually.
We both had to take a moment, though. After the impact, I swung my feet forward and twisted around into a crouch. A few feet out of reach, I saw Venus rubbing her cheek. “That’s why you never underestimate an opponent, even one who doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing.”
I stood up and smiled at her. “If I don’t know what I’m doing, how are you going to figure it out?”
“Maybe I’ll brute force it,” she said. She moved closer and threw a couple punches toward my head to scout my reaction. Not too fast. She wanted me to dodge them. When she tried it a third time and I dodged, she brought her leg up and caught me in the side with her shin. I grabbed the leg with both hands, though. Not a good position for her to be in. So she just jumped up and caught me under the chin with her other foot while doing a backflip.
It’d been awhile since I tasted blood. Can’t say I prefer my own flavor. I like my bodily fluids either where they belong or where I put them. “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood,” I said as I got to my feet. I saw she hadn’t completed her little flip either. Rather than wait for either of us to get up, I threw my weight forward and straightened up by thrusting my knee upward about where her face was. She moved her head to the side just enough, grabbed my thigh, and lifted. I went down with her on top of me and an audience of eager schoolchildren. I still wished this as Sex Ed, but she grabbed my arm and shifted to try and put my in an armbar.
She tried to extend my arm, but I grabbed hold of it and got my feet under me. When I pulled up, she let go and stayed on the ground. I, meanwhile, shot right up and off balance. Then someone, presumably Venus, decided I needed to be back on the ground. She grabbed my ankles out from under me, sending me back to the ground but with a bit less air. Instead of my arm, she went for my leg, wrapping hers around my right leg and twisting it at the knee and ankle.
I just growled and kicked at her, trying to find a face or boob or anywhere painful to hit. “Tap out!” she called to me, followed quickly by, “Ugh!” since I found her face from the sound. She didn’t let go, though. I sat up to throw a fist into her face, but found she beat me to the punch.
Things got a bit fuzzy there for a few minutes until the nice doctor lady gave me something that made me feel real nice and started putting me through all kinds of tests. Not an MRI, but there was an x-ray machine and several needles involved. It’s like they had it all ready. When I got out of the school infirmary an hour later, Venus was even there to help give me a hand, and my clothes. “How was it?” she asked.
“I’m surprised at the rapidididity of the response,” I answered. “And why did she give me a colonoscopy?” I saw her offered arm and grudgingly took her up on the offer. The drugs were wearing off, and I’d acquired a limp. Not the sort of limp a little blue pill could fix, either.
“After all the fuss you gave the other doctors, we thought it would work better to do a work-up while you were otherwise preoccupied.” She sounded all nice and cheerful.
I’d have stopped, but at that point I wanted to get back to the library and find a nice pile of paperbacks to lay down on. “Did you just beat me up to make me go to the doctor?”
“Congratulations, your colon is clean,” she said.
“Oh? Got your foot out of there already, you unethical bastige?” So going to kill her. Gonna kill her dead.
“You can always ask for a rematch.”
I tried to take one right there, but my hand stopped in midair. She pushed it away and said, “Ask for one, with a please and a thank you.”
Screw it. Set-up or not, I’m gonna crime so hard, everything’s gonna be stolen. I’m gonna be walking around with three watches on my arm, and another two in my pocket, all stolen. Next time I see a baby with candy? Better give it over. And they better not ask me to be in some sort of school baseball team. Never mind the danger, it’s time to rip some people off like they’re Band-Aids.
The first step was finding a nice place in the library for all these lovely medical supplies I seem to have tripped over and found. I can sell the pain pills at least, but I’m not yet sure what I can use this X-ray for. Maybe reheating leftovers.