“You got that number you can reach me with, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sandra rolled her eyes as she responded.
“And remember, no more Sexahol,” I ordered the bartender.
“Sure thing, hon. You’ve said that every day now since you got that call with your statue,” she responded. Then she asked, “Saving it up for a hot Valentine’s night?”
She winked at me. She must have gotten into the Sexahol too.
“Nope, that stuff’s dangerous. It’s got roofie shit in it. As bad as Rohypnol is, its shit is even worse. You know, with peanuts and shit in it.”
“Ewwww, not a yummy image, bossman. I’ll remember though. No Sexahol.”
Satisfied that the lie had nailed that lesson into her head and the temporary number to call me on my armor’s helmet, I turned toward the boys. Moai and Carl were coming with me and we were all suited up. I had on my armor, Carl was bundled up with a balaclava over his face and his weapons on him, and Moai was wearing a sombrero with a whip tied around his waist. It was a good look on him. Not everyone can pull that off.
“Boys, we ready?” I asked them before we left.
Moai nodded. “Yup,” answered Carl.
My ears picked up a familiar tune to the music. “Sure, right when I’m leaving and facing some evil mastermind, that’s when I finally hear something I know.”
“You didn’t know any of the songs they’ve been playing?” Carl asked.
“Much of the music I prefer isn’t danced to. I won’t say it can’t be danced to, since that just means all those people aren’t trying hard enough, but it’s just not the stuff they play in clubs.”
“Ah, you’re a fan of rock.”
“Among other musical genres. Ah well. As this song says, ‘We’re out all night to get lucky.’”
“I don’t think they meant anything like this, boss.”
“Would you rather we go out all night and get unlucky?”
“Good point. Wish I could get lucky in my armor.”
Carl still didn’t get a chance to have his first real time out in his keg walker, since that scrape with the drunk transvestite lizard man didn’t count. We had left the makeshift power armor in the back of the club.
He was eager to try it out, too. He didn’t get to use it while we were out getting information because of the need for more subtlety than firepower. In this case, it involved bribing liquor store employees for their shipment schedule. Didn’t hurt that they were somewhat friendlier lately. Sampling the wares, it seemed.
The driver was a different story altogether. For some reason, he didn’t want me to know where all this Sexahol crap was stored at. Maybe it was the armor. People don’t often like cooperating with villains. He wasn’t a regular truck driver either. The overalls said “working stiff” but the tattoos said “I like to wear women’s hose and be a bad boy.”
I handled the situation with my usual tact. I had him bound, gagged, and tied to a chair in the office of the liquor store. Moai kept watch and made sure we weren’t interrupted unless necessary. Carl fetched me a puppy from a pet store. I sat across a table from the driver, examining a bottle of tequila and a lighter I’d taken from the front of the store.
“While I wait for you to talk, I could use a snack,” I said. The puppy Carl brought yipped excitedly as I took it in one hand. Carl exited to watch over the place with Moai. “Hey there, little guy. You’re the snack!”
The driver was agitated, but when he spouted off, I got the sense it was more due to his being restrained than any actual fear for the dog. “The hell are you doin’ man? The hell are you doin’? You’re not gonna eat a puppy.”
“I’ve never flambéed a puppy with tequila before. I wonder how it works. You think it’s like veal, or will I have to tenderize it first? You know what, I was planning on tenderizing it anyway. Just light this tequila on fire, smack the puppy with the bottle, and voila!”
I tossed away the top to the tequila and flicked the lighter to life.
“You want me to talk or you’ll do it, that’s it?”
“Not at all, my dear fellow. I’m going to do this anyway, because you’re probably thinking you can give me some BS that sends me on a wild goose chase while you get out and warn your buddies.”
“What are you going to do then?”
“That’s a good question. I could have my guys bring in a couple of glasses. We could sit here and have ourselves a few drinks of this tequila while they check it out. Can’t trust just anyone to bash a cute widdle puppy skull in, now can you?” I scratched behind the pup’s ears while I talked in the baby voice to him. “I already have a couple jokes ready, too. Like ‘I wouldn’t say it was a Great Dane. It would have been better with some steak sauce.’ What do you think? Maybe ‘Lady and the Tramp make better meatballs than the ones they were pushing around,’?”
He flinched at the jokes, but then he gave that proposition a minute’s thought.
“Alright. I can live with that,” he said.
I got up and knocked on the door. Moai opened it. “Hey, you guys bring a couple shot glasses and come in here.”
I took a seat while they did so, then had Carl free the prisoner’s arms so he and I could share a drink.
“It’s over by the waterfront. A warehouse.” He downed his drink and grimaced. After shaking his head clear, he gave them the actual address. “There isn’t any security, either.”
“You heard the man. Go find the place and make sure it is what it is. You still have that key?”
Carl patted his pockets looking for it, but then it fell out from under the whip Moai wore as a belt. Carl picked it up and checked to make sure nothing was out of place. It was a key fixed to a grenade, after all. It wouldn’t just suck if that thing went off. It’d blow.
After they were gone, my prisoner and I just sat there in the back of a liquor store, drinking tequila and snuggling a puppy. See how civilized I can be? It was practically a scene out of a kid’s movie. Specifically, The Lorax, where the guy sings the song “How ba-a-a-ad can I be? Just look at me pettin’ this puppy.”
The problem came when almost an hour had passed with no word from Carl and Moai. Ok, scratch that, no word from Carl.
Then I got a call. “Bossman? You got a call here, and I think it’s important. It’s on your big TV right in front of that chair of yours.”
“It’s called a throne and a giant screen.”
“Right, your throne in front of your giant screen.”
“Reverse that. And who is calling?”
“It’s some guy with these teardrops on his costume.”
Breakdown. When Mix N’Max was targeted by a team of superheroes after me, they put him in Marscow Prison. I broke him and a lot of other prisoners out. Breakdown was one of them and he tried to take advantage of a perceived weakness at the time. He liked hurting people psychologically as opposed to physically, and he was supposed to be great at quick escapes. I think he had some magician training.
Now, he’d gotten his costume back and was calling me in the middle of some important business.
“Thanks, Sandra. I’ll patch on through directly to the big giant screen.”
An image of Breakdown popped up in one of my eyes thanks to the connection through my helmet and my brain CPU. He was a thin man, though he supposedly possessed a wiry strength. Too bad for him I got wire cutters. His costume was light grey and dark blue. It wasn’t a good color combination, but there’s a limit to how intimidating you can be when your costume looks like a gentle spring shower.
He looked a little confused. “Oh, is that Psycho Gecko? Why are you a giant eyeball now?”
“I recently discovered I’m a Sauron-American and I wanted to embrace my heritage. What’s this call about? Kidnapped Westboro Baptist Church and threatening to kill them unless someone pays the ransom? You must have known you’d work your way down to the very last name on the list…”
“Ha ha. No. That’s not what this is about. It took forever to get rid of those kids in a safe way. Do you know I’m now wanted for both kidnapping and reverse kidnapping of a child? I didn’t even know that second one was a crime.”
I chuckled. “Heh, that’s right, I remember when I did that the first time. I pulled this little trick with the kids of the Israeli and Saudi Arabian ambassadors. That’s not important now. Why did you call then?”
“Oh, I just figured I would make a little deal. See, I have your friends from when they were trying to get into my warehouse.” He held up Carl’s mini-pistol. “I think it’s time for an exchange.”
“Hold up one moment,” I told him.
I turned toward the driver, who had been sitting quietly, trying to understand why I was talking to myself. I grabbed my shot glass and shoved it into his mouth. It broke, causing blood to squirt out, but it was forced down into his throat nonetheless. He clawed at his throat, trying to throw it back up but unable to as it dug in with sharp, broken angles. He collapsed on the table in a gurgling heap.
“Ok, I’m back. And if you were trying to get your guy back, he’s dead now. No exchanging him after all. Looks like you’re going to need to come up with some other deal instead.”
“How did you do it?”
“I shot him.”
“That doesn’t sound like you. Nevertheless, my deal was never about exchanging him for your people. My deal was about having you come and give yourself up. Yes, after your daring rescue of Mix N’Max, I should have realized the best way to get to you would be to get your friends and hold them over your head. A fitting punishment, that you’ll lose the few people you care about on Valentine’s Day all because you tried to stop the spread of love.”
“Breakdown, there’s not a single thing about this plan of yours that doesn’t reek of stupidity and a chance to do untold amounts of damage to a location you are making use of. Should I knock before I enter, or just come in?”
“Knock, please, and leave that gaudy armor of yours behind. We wouldn’t want the men on the jackhammers to get shocked and accidentally carve your Moai into, oh I don’t know…a goatse?”
“I would find you holey responsible for that if it occurred, Breakdown.”
He slapped his forehead with his palm. “Ugh, I always get a headache talking to you for precisely that reason. Be here before midnight, before Valentine’s Day, or else.”
He ended the transmission.
Just because he was being such an ass to me, I called him back. “Or else what?”
“Or else what?”
He blinked for a moment, then cut the transmission again.
I called back again. “Ahem, hi there. I’m calling with an important message about your credit report.”
“I know it’s you, Gecko.”
“Your credit is…fine! Now, you should really sign up for our credit card at http://www.orelsewhat.com/fuckaturtleintheear.com.”
He wound up having to disable his screen number by the time it was said and done with.
He didn’t want me in armor, and he didn’t get me in armor. Not my armor, at least. I got to the warehouse in question well before his stupid little Valentine’s Day deadline and got the keg armor up to speed. It wasn’t a match for what I wore, but the upgrades gave it enough strength for this. So did the stop sign I grabbed out of the ground, and the flamethrower that I borrowed from Sandra. Oh, and a lump hammer I brought for backup in the cockpit of the walker.
I crashed through a wall into the place and found another jumpsuited worker standing around, lighting a cigarette with his gun between his legs. I swung the stop sign and the edge of the octagonal sign caught him in the head, leaving behind a nasty gash as it knocked him to the ground.
Another approached, but this one had armor covering the entirety of his arms that was linked by wires to a few plates on his legs. I swung for him and he blocked it. Strength enhancements, that’s what they were. I stepped back to avoid his punches, ungainly in this walker. It was more mechanical than digital.
I brought the stop sign down in an overhead swing that he blocked with both forearms in an X-shape and then grabbed.
“Stop!” I yelled. “Hammer time!” I threw the lump hammer in his face. It was a throw that would have made Thor proud, and it cracked his nose open for blood to flow freely. He stumbled back at that and I let go of the stop sign with that arm and punched him hard. He left a trail of blood behind as he skidded along the concrete floor.
Given Breakdown’s style, I expected some slow death trap to end my guys, so I had a little time, but not enough to keep wasting on these idiots.
I had the walker kick down a series of shelves, which knocked over the next in line, and the one after that, and the one after that, and so on. It cleared me a path to the center of the warehouse, which was mostly empty, save for Carl and Moai chained up together and suspended from the ceiling. Above them, attached to the ceiling, was a device with cylinders of pink fluid.
Yep, a setup. I was glad I killed the driver when I found that out.
A voice called out to me as I clambered unsteadily over the shelving in that armor. A couple jumpsuited minions hopped out from behind a stack of crates and opened up with pistols, but I swept the left arm of the walker toward them and activated the flamethrower I’d hastily rigged to it. The were too busy watching their eyelids burn off to worry about shooting me. I left them there, rolling around on the ground next to the crates that had gone up.
The crate burst open and I smelled a little bit of cherry or strawberry. Sexahol. I got to destroy some of it at least. The rest of the crates in that stack blew as well, the fire igniting the sealed Sexahol and causing it to destroy the bottles it was in as it was consumed.
“Hey boss! I wanted to be the first to try that out,” Carl called as I got close.
“Breakdown said he’d let you go if I showed without my armor on. I just needed to technically hold to his exact words.”
“You have, and for that you will get your friends back!” said Breakdown. I looked and found him standing at the door to an office raised to a higher story and accessible by ramp. He pulled out a remote and pressed a button. With a click, the chain holding Moai and Carl was released and they fell to the floor.
I moved to help them get out of the mess. “What was the point of this? You’re actually here. You’re letting them go without any trouble. You know you’re not going to keep me locked up here. I thought you were smarter than this, Breakdown.”
“Love makes you do funny things, my friend,” he said as he tossed away the remote. “Haven’t you ever been in love?”
“If your Sexahol is any indication, I love to kill people.”
“Oh no, we’ll fix that. All you need, all anyone needs, is someone else to love. That will fix you. It will fix your friends. We’ll just have to drug everyone and get you set up with someone. Can you see it? We can solve the world’s problems.”
I helped up my comrades and turned fully to face Breakdown. “That’s how it always goes. The world would be a better place with a little bit of brainwashing. That’ll make it nice and neat and orderly. I don’t care about an orderly world caused by faked feelings that you forced on someone. I wouldn’t like a world without problems anyway, let alone one built on a foundation of raping someone’s mind and body. Now get down here, because I’m about to kick your ass so hard, you’ll feel like a shaved Filipino boy who just got passed around a NAMBLA meeting.”
Breakdown looked at his watch, “That won’t do, Psycho Gecko. It’s midnight, and we have a very special present this Valentine’s Day. I didn’t think it would be you to investigate and grab one of my assistants, but nonetheless, this was all a distraction for any heroes who stumbled onto the plan.”
I heard a hissing sound from above.
“Boss, it’s gas!”
Sure enough, I saw pink gas drifting down from the device on the ceiling. I took the precaution of jabbing myself with a syringe of nanites. They’d counteract whatever it was.
When I looked back over toward the office, Breakdown was gone.
“Come on, boys. Let’s skedaddle. I need my armor and you need a hazmat suit, Carl.”
Together, we ran for a nearby door. I let Moai and Carl take the door while I jumped through the wall. We barely made it. That stuff spread rapidly. Outside, we saw we weren’t the only ones dealing with it. Pink mist settled over the entire city, drifting down from the sky. There wasn’t anyway to escape it, not really.
Even as it inevitably fell over us, I couldn’t help but think the sounds were one thing that set this apart. People screamed as it approached. Then, silence. Then, a happy mess of babbling and laughter. I felt it settle over us.
The mist made my eyes go all fuzzy, and I felt like I was drunk on Sexahol again, but it was being cleared by the nanites. The feeling never got very intense and I could mostly keep my head about me.
It got Carl though. He had a goofy grin on his face and gave me a big hug.
Breakdown’s voice came from the thicker fog inside the warehouse. “It’s not too late to join me. The age of hate is over with. Now, we can all find ourselves someone to care about who feels the same way. We can fix the world, gentlemen.” He moved forward so I could see a silhouette of him in the thick pink mist.
Carl stepped forward at the same time I raised the flamethrower. “No, boss. You’re great, but I’m going with him.” He backed into the fog toward Breakdown. I didn’t have a shot unless I burnt him too.
“Carl, come back with us. We’ll get you sorted out and clear that crap out of your system. None of what you’re feeling is real.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m happy, boss. I feel like it’s my wedding all over again.”
“Fuck this shit,” I said and charged past Carl, shoving him out of the way to throw a punch at the silhouette. There was nothing there, however. It vanished suddenly and there was nothing there but thick Sexahol fog that was starting to overcome my nanites. I gave myself another shot of the little regenerative bots and turned the walker around. I didn’t see Carl around anywhere as I stepped out of the hole I’d broken earlier. Moai was looking around, searching.
“Carl, you around here?”
Moai shook his head.
“Moai, you see where either of them went? Or if they went together?”
The second shake seemed more forlorn than the first.
“Carl! Caaaaaaaarl! Where are you, man?!”
There was no answer.
“This guy’s better than I’ve been giving him credit for, Moai. You still with me?”
Moai nodded rapidly.
“Good. Let’s go get my armor. Then we can get Carl back to his right mind and give Breakdown a biiiiig hug. Love is a four letter word.”