Sunday, February 8, 2015

1/12/13 - Seven Days of the Con Job - Pt. 1.5

Mr. USA, The President, Henri
(Art by Dean Stahl)
* * *

It's strange, here in the grey zone, amongst the dead.

The physical world seems hazy and insubstantial. Buildings are seen as though through gauze. Letters and signs are somehow impossible to read, as though they were written in slowly swirling gibberish. The noises are inconsistent, conversations are muddled unless you're standing right next to the person, the smells are all bad.

And the Sun is always setting, off in the west -- its blood-red light casting everything that's actually here with an unhealthy, crimson pallor.

What is actually here? Not much, anymore. An occasional kingly chariot connected to long-dead horses, wrapped in bandages that flap in the constant, uncomfortably-warm breeze. Long wooden ships that crashed to the ground, their funerary majesty stripped by unknown hands over the centuries.

That and piles of bandages, all flapping along like tumbleweeds in the dusty breeze -- their occupants long since gone to their waiting reward.

Or something far, far worse...

The only other things that seem real, here, are souls. On this side of the barrier they shine like diamonds -- their colors ever-changing with their emotional states. Stand close and you can hear their heart's desires, repeating with every beat of that organ.

And if you say their name, then wherever you are, here, you will find them -- wherever they are -- with only a few steps.

Knowing that, it's only a few strides to take a pair of living ghosts from Neo York City to Rockford, Illinois, to the mansion where Ben Franklin hangs his rather florid collection of hats.

Right now the genius polymath turned seemingly-immortal sex god is upstairs, one of his more impressive bedrooms, doing his "morning exercises." Watching him go at it from this side of things might be an interesting diversion -- if only to see what everyone in, on, and around that bed is really thinking and feeling. But that's not why they're here.

They're really here to talk to the hired help: specifically Jess Friend, who's something of a bouncer / scheduler / wrangler / voice of sanity to America's last living founding father.

That voice of sanity is downstairs, now, arranging some semblance of a daily schedule, and fielding what's become a veritable avalanche of email. Thanks to the Terre Unifee's having made him an official government adviser, the secret of his longevity is well out of the bag, and any number of people want a piece of him.

Especially the historians, who are now tripping over themselves to get in an interview, or ten.

He's just about to tell that Walter Isaacson fellow -- for the tenth. !@#$. time. -- that Mr. Franklin is booked solid for at least the next month when he hears someone whisper into his ear.

Two someones, in fact.

He looks around, nods, and smiles: "We are alone, here, yes. And off camera. I fixed those spy things they installed when they thought we weren't looking."

There's a question asked, which is answered with: "No, he doesn't have any idea I'm talking to you."

Another question: "We're good to go on that end. He just needs the word and a timeframe."

A command, and he nods: "Alright then. I'll do that now."

A salutation: "And good luck to you two, too. Let's do this thing."

With that, they depart, and he rustles around in his desk for a special, small communicator he's had for some time. He's gone between wanting to press it every day and not wanting to be awkward, but now it has an entirely different significance.


That done, he presses the DESTRUCT switch on the small thing's back, and tosses it into a nearby trashcan. There's a sound like something going zap in a microwave, and, as the device very quickly turns into mulched plastic and melted solder, he wonders if this is treason or revolution.

But then, knowing what his employer would say to that, he decides he doesn't care.

Jess then regards the thankfully-brief, funky smell from the can, and goes back to thinking of the most delicate and professional way to say "Go !@#$ yourself" to someone who, for all his professional and academic achievements, has apparently not learned to take a !@#$ hint.

He wouldn't be the only one, really.

* * *

"I'm sorry," the grieving widow says, dabbing at her eyes with tissue: "I'm sorry I can't be more help. I just don't know anything more than what I've said, a thousand times before..."

"It's alright, ma'am," the blonde, young woman across from her says, leaning forward and smiling as kindly as she can, her black vinyl jumpsuit squeaking as she does: "I know this is difficult."

"But anything you can think of would be very helpful," the similarly-attired, equally-blonde young man to her left says -- so identical they could almost be brother and sister. 

And Karl and Jana are -- after a rather grotesque, Super-Nazi fashion

"I'm not sure there is anything. He was just so..."

"So what?" Jana pushes: "Happy? Sad? Elated? Scared?"

"Look, the lady's really tired," the widow's clearly-flustered assistant sighs, gesturing her portly hand towards her office door, beyond which a barely-restrained press corps barks and bays like dogs waiting to be fed: "Maybe we could do this another day?"

"Maybe not," the young man insists, leaning forward a bit: "Time is of the essence."

"They haven't even buried the man, for god's sake," the assistant says.

"Look," Karl continues, pointing to his notes: "For months, Australia and New Zealand resisted joining the Terre Unifee, They made promises. They made threats. They sent dignitaries and celebrities. But your two nations refused to budge..."

"... And then, suddenly, they both change their minds, fly to Paris, and sign on?" Jana finishes: "Which is strange enough, but then, not a day after getting back from there, your husband commits suicide in a rather... unique fashion..."

"Which the Prime Minister of New Zealand also does..." Karl continues, as if they were sharing the conversation.

".. around the same time..." Jana elaborates.

"... in almost exactly the same way?" Karl ends, at which point the two blondes look intently at the woman, who's gone white as a sheet.

"I thought... I didn't know," she stammers.

"No one does," Jana says: "There's been a complete press blackout on the details."

"I don't even think your government or the police know," Karl says: "Fortunately?"

"We do," they say in unison. 

"But you're not with the police?" the widow asks, pinching the bridge of her nose.

"No, ma'am," Jana explains: "We're better than that."

"We're Outlaw Journalists, ma'am," Karl announces, tapping his notes.

"Oh, well that's just the end of this, then," the assistant scowls, heading for the door to show them out: "When you showed me those TU passes, I thought-"

"Sit. Down." Karl commands, pulling a small but mean-looking handgun from his notepad and gesturing between the assistant and a chair by the door: "We are not leaving."

"I... I beg your pardon?"

"We don't have time for it," he insists, gesturing once more with such implied force that the assistant can't help but obey: "In just one day, we forget half of what happened to us. A day later, we remember even less than that. If there's anything to be remembered that might be helpful, it's now."

"So, again?" Jana asks, gently as possible: "Anything you can remember that you have not said?"

The woman goes from white to red, and then to pink as she regains her composure. And then, looking askance, she nods: "There was something he said... maybe a day before he left for Paris."

"What was it?" Karl asks, keeping his eyes -- like the gun -- aimed right at the assistant, who is clearly going nowhere.

"I went into his office, and he was talking with someone. I don't know who. It might have been the Kiwi Minister. Anyway, he saw I was in the room and then the conversation... well, it changed."

"How did it change?" Jana asks, raising an eyebrow.

"It was like he didn't want me hearing. And yet I didn't think it was a bad thing. Not like he was hiding something bad from me. More like... well, like I'd come in and caught him arranging a surprise party."

"What happened then?"

"Well, he made his apologies and hung up, and when I asked what all that was about, he just smiled and said 'The egrets, my dear. We need to see about the egrets.' But I thought it was a joke..."

Karl and Jana look at each other. Some decision is made between them. A split second later, she's leaned in to console her, and he's gotten up, strode across the room to the waiting assistant, and leaned in to whisper: "You and I are going to go to his office. You are going to give me complete access to his files, bank accounts, emails... everything. And then you're going to see us out and tell no one we were here."

"You can't threaten me," the assistant says, some measure of steel coming back into her eyes.

"No, but I can promise," he says, going back to a whisper: "And I promise you that, if you do all that, I won't tell her that you and her late husband have been having it off twice a week, in her bed, while she's off having her !@#$hole bleached."

The assistant looks up at him. He looks down at her. Seconds later, they're both up and heading for the Prime Minister's office. 

The unseen wink the twins give each other is both sweet and predatory. At long last, they have the story they've been hunting for, all this time. 

And they are not going to stop until they've ripped it open for the world to see -- guts and all.

* * *

"Oh, Mon Dieu," Lt. Vipond curses, wiping some of the red, stringy matter that used to be a d-grade supervillain off of his otherwise-spotless boots: "Did you have to kill them all?"

"We didn't kill them all," Yanabah sighs, helping Red Wrecker to toss another body onto the pile: "Maybe about half."

"More than half, Flower," Gosheven corrects her, stretching his head and neck all the way over from where he's actually standing to do so: "Six out of ten."

"I !@#$ing said 'about half,' deer-boy," she snorts, walking away: "Jesus !@#$ing Christ."

"The exact numbers are not important," the Lt. hisses. not impressed by their weird argument: "The police could have just shot them up. Why did you not use your powers?"

"If I'd used my powers, the capitol would be in pieces," Blastman shrugs: "Not that I wouldn't !@#$ing mind seeing that-"

"I used my powers," Myron smiles ruefully, hefting a hand weapon that looks like it came from H.G. Wells' gun rack: "I put a hole right in the !@#$ floor for America, Lt."

"And I sure as !@#$ used mine," Yanabah lies, tapping her guns: "One shot, one kill. Bang bang bang bang."

"So who gives the speech?" Shining Guardsman says, looking down at the four, motley-clad and badly-beaten villains they've collected -- all of whom are secured with his high-tech hand and foot clamps: "If Gold Standard was here, she'd be all over that."

"Got it from her old man," Blastman says, adjusting his pyramidal helmet and wondering when he can just go crack a beer: "He used to give this long !@#$ schpiel about justice and stuff when we captured folks."

"Wow," Red Wrecker says, carefully getting the blood and yuck off her uniform: "That's pretty stirring."

"Always sent a shiver up my back," Myron agrees, smiling at her. 

"Okay, folks, we got incoming," Night Phantom says as he reappears, stepping from the shadow of a police barricade: "Bunch of press, right down Michigan Avenue. We ready?"

"I think we are," Gosheven says, holding up a hand before Vipond can say anything: "Everyone line up in front of these !@#$ing idiots, so they're between us and the cameras. Let me do the talking."

"I think we should have the Mayor say a few words?" the LT says, gesturing to the dopey-looking fellow who's lurking nearby, still messed-up from his short reign as King of Michigan: "How grateful he is that you have saved the day-"

"Oh !@#$, no," Blastman howls: "I wouldn't want that publicity-mugging jack!@#$ eulogizing a dead dog in the road."

"Me neither," Gosheven says, snapping his fingers at the mayor and indicating he should be elsewhere, now: "Giscard? You and the pilot get the dead on the transport and lift the !@#$ off before they get here. No bodies for the press to see."

"I beg your pardon-" the Lt says, but steps off as soon as Yanabah gets in his face.

"We do the fighting, we do the talking," she says, pointing him where he needs to go: "No bodies for the press to see, got it?"

He stammers, and nods, and goes to do what he's told. But something about the look in his eyes was clear: they would be paying for this. 

And soon.

"And you four?" Shining Guardsman says, looking down at his captives: "You shut your !@#$ mouths and be grateful we didn't let loose on you."

"We're not going to say anything, sir," one of them stammers, about an inch from peeing what's left of his costume: "We're going to cooperate fully. No trouble. Honest."

"Anarchists these days," Myron sighs, resisting the urge to kick the !@#$er in the !@#$.

"And, um, we all know what happens after all this, right?" Gosheven whispers.

"Totally," Red Wrecker says, smiling a little. And everyone nods and smiles right along with her -- determined and true.

"Okay, then, folks," Gosheven says as the cameras get within range of their big !@#$ smiles: "It's showtime..."

* * *

"... top story of the hour," the vacuous blonde on the television says as the the Team Alpha logo appears on the screen behind her, replacing the Le Monde 24 logo: "Team Alpha was involved in a fracas in the Michigan Statehouse, today. Apparently, a group of superpowered anarchists had moved in, and used mind control to get the politicians assembled there to battle for supremacy, no doubt to make some kind of deluded point. Within a half an hour, they had been curtailed and captured, and order was once again restored.

"However, the leader of Team Alpha, the Native American hero known as Gosheven, had this to say..."

The screen cuts to Gosheven's big, stretched-out grin as he mugs for the camera: "I got one thing to say to all you no-good folks out there. Criminals, anarchists, supercreeps... I don't care who you are, or what you can do. You make trouble of any kind on our watch, and it's Game (BLEEP)ing On, mother(BLEEP)ers!"

The other heroes laugh at that, and in the distance one can see some short, over-decorated fellow come rushing towards the camera to try and stop them from shooting any more. But before he can get there, it's shifted back to the blonde, who smiles just a little:

"Here now to talk about superheroes and public responsibility is noted social critic Elodie-Martine Gravois, whose most recent book, "Why We Should Do What We Are Told," has become an international bestseller-"

That's about all that Martha Samuels can handle of that, though, and quickly turns the television off, suddenly and strangely wistful for the late FOX News.

(Though, thankfully, not for long. Not even French state television news is that bad.)

She heads to the door of her apartment, picking up a pair of bags she's had waiting for some time. She puts them onto a table, makes sure she has everything, and then calls up her niece, who's out with John, right now.

"Hey Kaitlyn," she says: "How's it going out there?"

"Oh, fine," she says: "We're currently grocery shopping. Sale on oranges this week. You want any?"

"I think we're good," she smiles, knowing what she actually means: "I'm heading out, now."

"Oh!" she says: "So are you going to see Thomas?"

"I just might," she says: "Is John busy?"

"Well..." she starts to say, and then there's the sound of something breaking over someone's head: "Not now. Hold on..."

John -- aka Green Fury -- comes on the line, panting a little: "Hey Martha."

"How's the shopping?"

"Great. I think we're about done," he says, trailing off as more crunching noises are heard, along with some drug dealer gurgling back a scream as Kaitlyn takes him down: "Okay, we are done. Need us to pick you anything up?"

"No. I just wanted you to know I'm on my way to Neo York."

"Ah," he says: "Going to see Mark?"

"Well, technically it's business," she replies: "But hey, it's the Big Apple. Anything could happen."

"I'm sure," he says: "God bless, Martha. We'll hold down the fort."

"I know you will," she says, and lets it go at that.

She grabs her bags off the table. She looks in a mirror by the door and makes sure she looks like she needs to: just another suburban mother getting into her car to drive out of town, across state lines, and into Neo York City to see a lover, and a son.

Just that, and nothing more.

"Jesus, please let me do the right thing, here," she prays, thinking of why she's really going: "I want to trust him. And I do love him. But this is heavy stuff. Heavier than I've ever done before."

She stops at that, wondering if she's being cowardly, or just careful. Or maybe -- as her dad would have said -- the time for both have long since passed, and only action remains.

"So please," she begs: "Let me be your instrument, here. And tell me if I'm straying, okay? You know I'll obey you. I always do, even if I don't... you know what I mean, right?"

There's no real answer, as usual. But somehow she feels as though something's lifting her up as she walks out, locks the door for what might be the last time, and gets into the car. An unseen wind that lifts her spirits, bringing her from the cliffs of doubt into the path of certainty. 

She says Thank You to it as she drives away, not knowing quite why she's crying.

* * *

Some time before dinner, SPYGOD and Straffer both blink -- almost in unison -- and begin to move again. 

"Well, that was some awful !@#$," SPYGOD laughs, throwing a box of tissues at the television: "Next time I get to !@#$ing pick the shows, okay?"

"I thought you did?" Straffer playfully teases him.

"No, I distinctly said no !@#$ing cornball game shows."

"Are there any that aren't?"


"You love it."

"I love yours."

"I love you."

And they snuggle and kiss, pretending for a moment they're just another couple, watching television on a weekday. No guards outside the door. No protestors outside the window. No looming threat of death, or worse.

(No cat from Hades striding around the room, bombed out of its gourd on satanic catnip and wondering where its favorite AK-47 has gone.)

The mysterious box is moved back where it was found, as surreptitiously as it was picked up, and they go into the next room to work on dinner. Maybe there's some touching involved as it takes shape. Some sly innuendos about cutlery and measuring, portions and ingredients.

Thai-Italian? Sure, it works. Just make sure the sweetness of the tomatoes doesn't overpower the coconut milk. Be certain the spices of two different continents mesh and blend instead of fight each other for dominance. Learn to love how the small, green eggplant takes the place of the large, purple one one normally uses for parmigiana, or how eagerly the noodles take the tomato curry.

How luscious the pineapple, how fragrant the aniseed. The blending of separate strengths, brought together to make an amazing whole.

Somehow dinner gets made in spite of the desire growing between them -- the slow savor that forms a countdown to the time after the meal when other appetites will be sated. Every passing minute makes it all the more sweet. Each motion and sideways look makes them all the hungrier for it. 

Eventually, it's there. The table is set, and the meal presented. Wine poured, bread sliced. The howling and cries from outside the sound of a wistful violin in a European cafe, mixed with foreign talk from just up the block.

They dine staring into each others' eyes, all the while. Each look a thousand words. Each bite a thousand suggestions. Sometimes they feed each other, sometimes only themselves.

And when they are done, and each and every crumb disposed of, they give each other one final look. 

"I love you," they say, one after the other. Then they all but hurl the plates from the table -- not caring where they land, or in how many pieces -- so they can make love on and around it with such force and fury that it shames the air around them.

Gunshots made of sex, their overlapping sensual echoes making the walls shake and boom. 

* * *

It's late night in Paris, now, and there are explosions coming from the President's office. 

Sometimes they're single. Sometimes controlled bursts. Sometimes there's some time between them, and sometimes they happen in long, unevenly-spaced eruptions.

At times like this, Henri knows not to ask or interrupt. He just puts on his headphones, listens to some more of that quirky, American jazz-rock he's recently discovered, and lets his leader's stress relief go unspoken. 

At some point he gets up from his desk and strides through the President's cluster of offices. It's well after everyone else has gone home, and the strange, heavy atmosphere here seems to loom over all. 

"Close your eyes and you'll be there..." he sings along as he heads for the front door: "It's everything they say... the end of a perfect day..."

"You know, I had that album," someone says -- a voice loud enough to cut through his headphones.

"Sir!" Henri says, stepping back from the doorway, clearly not having expected the President of the United States of America to have appeared there -- domino mask and all.

"Hello, Henri," Mr. USA says, extending his hand for a firm shake: "I'm sorry to drop in on you like this. I need to speak with the President."

"I see," Henri replies, taking his headphones off and then looking around, somewhat nervously: "He is in his office-"

"I know. I saw when I flew past."

"Oh," the secretary says: "Well, then, you probably saw-"


"I did," Mr. USA says, seemingly not phased by the noise: "And... I do need to speak with him. If he asks, tell him its about our mutual problem."

"I will," Henri replies, and, nodding, heads off, wondering if he'll be shot for his pains. 

At some point he re-appears, indicating that Mr. USA should come down and join him. He does, and, as soon as he's in the President's long office, he sees that he hadn't been imagining that the man had, indeed, turned his office into something of a rifle range. Pictures of SPYGOD are all over the wall with the door in it -- shot to pieces, with flattened slugs lying on the ground below them.

"Evening, (REDACTED)," the President says, putting more shells into the massive rifle he's cradling like a baby.

"Good evening, Mr. President," Mr. USA says, noticing that the screen on his desk is full of holes: "Everything alright?"

"Well, it occurred to me that this room is supposed to be everything-proof," the President explains, putting the gun down: "If they get the shutters up in time, I might even be able to ride out a small nuclear explosion. Can you believe that?"

"I can, yes," the President of the United States of America says, walking up to the desk: "We just got the same security system installed in the White House."

"You think you'll need it?"

"Maybe not," he says, shrugging: "But I think anyone there with me might appreciate the protection."

"Good point," the President says, looking away, and then up: "So, this is my executive firing range. I figure if Nixon could have a bowling alley put into the White House, well, why the !@#$ not?"

"Rank has its privileges, Mr. President."

"Agreed. Speaking of which, I see you've got your mask on?"

"Yes," Mr. USA says, tapping it: "It's got my GPS. Last time I tried flying over here I wound up in Portugal, instead."

"Must have been embarrassing."

"You have no idea," the hero chuckles, nodding to Henri, who's walked around the other end of the desk and is looking somewhat worried: "Mr. President, I have something I need to tell you. And I need to tell you, right from the start, it's not good news."

"You could have called."

"I don't know who I can trust, right now," Mr. USA sighs, looking around: "We've been so badly compromised... man, I feel like a !@#$ idiot."

"Well, let's talk about it, then," the President says, gesturing to a chair: "Henri? Bring us some beer."

The human worm scoots away quickly, and the men go back to their conversation: "What's happened, (REDACTED)?"

"It's SPYGOD," the hero says, sighing: "I have reason to believe he's planning a prison break."

"You do," the President replies, not sounding at all surprised.

"Yes," Mr. USA replies, clearly surprised at the lack of surprise: "It's a genuine plot. I'm not sure of all the pieces, yet, but I do know that Eclat being shot was the first part. Maybe a signal of some kind, maybe not."

"Alright," the President says, nodding: "That I hadn't considered. I figured he was killed for other reasons."

"Well, maybe, but that's not the worst thing," the hero says, leaning in: "He's got help."


"More help than just a sniper, Mr. President. The heroes are on his side."

"Which ones?"

"All of Team Alpha," Mr. USA says, leaning back and shaking his head: "Most of them, anyway. I think they didn't try to bring The Owl on board because she's been angry with him since the trial. And Gold Standard... well, she's busy. Let's put it that way."

"But everyone who was on that transport, this morning, is involved?"

"That and Brainman."

"I see," the President says, still not sounding too surprised.

"You knew?"

"I did, yes," the President admits, grabbing the beer that Henri's brought him right off the tray: "And I was going to bring you in on this before I did anything."

"How did you know?"

"I have an unimpeachable source," the man says, patting his gun: "Let's just leave it at that."

"Alright then," Mr. USA says, nodding as he takes a sip of what he's been brought: "So what do you think we should do about it, Mr. President?"

"I say we stop them," the President says, extending a hand for him to shake: "I'll send the muscle. You cut them off. We move tomorrow morning. Capture if possible, kill if we have to."

"Agreed," the hero says as he takes the hand, not happy to hear these words said out loud: "It's sad, but..."

"But it's treason, and they know it," the President says, his handshake suddenly much more firm than it needs to be: "And we have to be as one on this, (REDACTED). We can't commit and then back down or off. They give up or they get put down. No second chances. Agreed?"

"Agreed," Mr. USA says, standing to go: "I'll go and give the orders. What about SPYGOD?"

"You leave him to me," the President says, grinning like a skull: "Welcome to Operation Zarathustra, (REDACTED)."

"Zarathustra?" the hero asks as the President picks up his rifle and points it at the far wall.

"That's right," the man explains, taking aim at one of the less shot-up targets: "Because this God is about to be !@#$ing dead-


* * *

After that, there's just the warmth -- the long and sweet time spent in each other's arms, sweat cooling in the air.

No words, now. None are needed. Just the simple language of one body against another. Two heartbeats, one purpose.

One life, enjoined at the hips.

They lie at that just long enough to wonder if they're being indolent, and then get up, get dressed -- for the third or fourth time today -- and head to the window, just to see what their chorus of haters are up to now.

"Three have been here all day," Straffer notes.

"I think one of them went !@#$ing home, earlier."


"I heard him go," SPYGOD winks, and they laugh.

At some point, they both notice an older fellow, down there. Long coat, warm hat, thick gloves, carrying a nice cane. He's holding up a sign that says Scheissegott! much to the amusement of his fellows.

As he holds it up, he throws them a pointed look. One that says a lot, if you know what it might mean.

SPYGOD smiles and nods, ever so subtly, and makes the Vitarka Mudra with his right hand by his right eye: Be seeing you.

"Soon?" Straffer says, knowing what it means, especially as the old man departs the crowd.

"Soon," SPYGOD answers.

And they kiss once more as the night erupts in hate. 

* * * 

(SPYGOD is listening to Discoteca (Pet Shop Boys - Remix) and having a Founders Dark Penance)

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