Saturday, February 18, 2017

THE TROUBLE BOYS, an excerpt.

I am, of course, at work on the sequel to WORKING CLASS HERO. Here, then, is an excerpt from my next novel. Enjoy.

It was another day in my role as a working class superman. I had to show up five days a week at my fake job in order to be nearby when I would have to suit up to do the real job. And as I was in charge of the hyper-humans who were assigned to the fine metropolis of Charlotte, North Carolina, it was my task to be front and center and on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. That’s why they paid me the big bucks. And, yeah, they really do pay me the big money, when you consider that I was making about ten bucks an hour on a loading dock in the days before I came down with Adult Onset Hyper-Development Disorder (AOHD) and became the Mid-Atlantic’s answer to…well…to Superman, I suppose. While I can’t fly and I don’t have heat vision, I’m a lot like the old comic book Clark Kent and his alter-ego in many respects.

I’ll go over the basics again. I stand in at about six-foot seven inches when I’m in my crimson monkey suit. And I can run about one hundred miles an hour for long stretches if I’m so inclined. My leg muscles can take me more than twenty feet vertical and about a city block horizontal. There aren’t but a few hyper-humans as strong as I am, and while I can’t take a tank shell and laugh it off (at least I don’t think so) I have been hit with a 30.06 bullet from a sniper rifle and felt only a mild sting. My senses of hearing and sight and smell are akin to the best wildlife you read about. Bats and hawks and bloodhounds have got nothing on me in that respect. When it comes to control, I can spin and tumble and land on a pinpoint.

Combine all of that with this Kevlar suit and high tech shoes and communication unit installed in my helmet and I’m quite the badass for which I have been so aptly named. That’s me, Billy B.

I was on patrol, as we like to say, and as The Agency who control me likesto put it. That particular day I had talked my supervisor--one Amazonian beauty named Jacqueline Welch--that I wanted to hit the streets on foot. The suit is bad enough, but driving around in one of those damned government-issued sedans makes it even worse. It’s a pain that I have to deal with hyper-powered villains from time to time, but I also have to put up with annoying creatures like Jack Boy and Ronnie who helm the area’s favorite drive-time radio show. And of course high on their list of targets are the hyper folk who run around the town protecting it from criminals and annoying super-villains. And with the whole Amber Ember pregnancy thing going on, they were not about to let that gift fade from the public’s short attention span.
It was roughly ten in the morning. The sun was out. The air was cold and a wind was blowing. That wind was especially rough where I was standing on the roof of the Drake Building in midtown, thirty stories above the street. I had managed to scramble to the top without entering the building at all, having made my way from a seventh-floor parking deck to a section of wall that was uniquely suited for a man with super-strength to make his way up, floor by floor, leaping like a giant red ape along the rough concrete exterior.

I’m sure some people must have seen me, but if they had I was such a boring sight these days that no one had appeared on the roof to bother me or to ask for an autograph or to take my photo.

And so, of course, idling away the minutes and just standing up there watching the flow of traffic below, I was actually surprised enough to flinch when my best hyper-friend Shylock Holmes spoke up behind me.

Have I mentioned that he has perhaps the most gratingly annoying voice known to humankind? Well, he does. It’s like a staccato assault of gravel fired from a machine gun directly into the ear canal. Keep in mind that I hear about fifty times better than the most gifted of people.
“Figured I’d find you on a mountaintop,” he said, voice like a teenaged girl’s fingernails across dry slate.

“Goddamn it, Shylock,” I said, turning to face him. I stuck a gloved finger roughly where my ear would be if I had been wearing that helmet with its space-age amazing perforated fabric allowing egress to all sounds, especially his monstrous voice.

Whenever he did that I always expected him to apologize, but he never did. I think he likes doing it; scaring arguably the toughest hyper between Atlanta and the Big Apple. He didn’t decide to gift me or surprise me with the apology then, either.

He was baiting me, so I waited before asking him why he’d appeared once more in such a way as to get the maximum rise out of my hyped-up sneakers. A few seconds passed. The wind blew. I wondered if I’d grab a sandwich later. I blinked.

“Okay. You must have some nugget of wisdom to impart, or else you wouldn’t have come up here to startle me.”

He drew in an audible gasp of pure sarcasm. “Oh! Did I startle you? Heavens! It was not my intention.”

For a guy with borderline Asperger’s Syndrome, he had a pretty good grasp of cynicism and humor. I waved him off.

I knew he was smiling beneath that ridiculous mask of his. “I just figured you’d like to know that they’re bringing in some new talent,” he said.

We had all wondered about that. We figured that they would. Gila had been killed. Amber Ember was in Denver gestating a baby courtesy of me and an episode of bad judgment by way of a god’s asshole assistant. Flitter had pretty much filled the absent peg left by Amber, but the folk who paid us would also want us to have someone to serve in place of poor, departed Gila.
“So…what are you hearing?” I asked him. The thing about having Shylock for a pal was that there wasn’t much that got past him. Because of the nature of his hyper abilities, he was a pure conduit for the answers to mysteries that hadn’t crossed our minds yet. And if someone was hiding something, they’d better hide it pretty damned good or he would show up with the solution in his pocket.

“What I’m hearing is Fido and Timmy,” he said.

“Fuck me,” I replied.

“Well, when you figure…we had a guy like Gila…they’re going to give us something similar.” He began to sing that old Sesame Street tune. “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t…”

“Enough!” I held my left hand palm out. He thankfully shut the fuck up.

“Look at this way, Billy. Gila was a nine-foot tall beaded reptile in roughly human form who had to be kept inside most of the time because he was just too damned scary-looking for the hoi-polloi. The Agency has a number of hyper-folk around who are similar to our old pal, and they need a place to store them.

“We had one that we were taking care of for them. And now we don’t have one. So…” He left it hanging.

“We get two for the price of one.”  I sighed in resignation. Because I was the one who would have to deal with them whenever there was some action. Also, I had always been the man to talk with Gila, to do my best to make him feel better about his situation. Because they need a man with Level Seven strength, speed, and durability to serve as a sounding board for a half-ton lizard with armored skin who can lift an Abrams tank and toss it across a parking lot. I was their lion tamer.

“Fido and Timmy are…different,” Holmes said.

I looked down at him. He was now sitting on the edge of the cover to an air vent. It was pretty much the right height to be a chair for him. “I met them once. About two and a half years back. Right before you came to head the team here,” he reminded me. “They work so closely together that it’s hard to figure out where one of them stops and the other starts.”

“I don’t dig you,” I admitted. I shifted and little rocks crunched under my feet. A 737 roared overhead on its way out of Douglas International toward some point west.

“Well, there’s a mental connection going on with them. I mean…one of them is like a bull mastiff that stands ten feet at the shoulder, and the other one is a little kid who looks like a real-life version of Dennis the Menace.” He paused. “He even has a slingshot in his back pocket. Did you know that?”

I shook my head from side to side.

“I saw him use it once. Knocked that chick…” he snapped his fingers a few times, reaching for a name. “Bella Bella, that was her. He cocked back with that crazy slingshot and bounced a rock off her skull at fifty meters. Knocked her out. Cold. Game over.” He was grinning under that plastic mask.

“Okay. What was your original train of thought?”

“The kid. Timmy. Overalls. Sneakers. Slingshot. Blonde hair. Freckles. Ten years old, maybe.”
I motioned with my hands, drawing for more information and a little faster, please.

“Those two are bound, Billy. I mean, they are so tight that I can’t really read either of them. I probe at their minds and they’re almost merged completely. Not exactly. One of them is thinking and making plans and formulating tactics. And the other one is mainly just some basic emotions and wants and desires without much in the way of complications.” He seemed to be finished.

“Okay. One’s a giant dog and one’s a kid. So?”

“So I can’t read either of them the way that I should because they’re telepathically communicating with one another so well that I can’t really get inside. I’m stuck talking to the kid the way I would if I were anyone else.” Meaning, of course, if he couldn’t read minds and influence enemies.

“I’ve never met them,” I said. “But I’ve watched video. Fido is just fucking scary. Looks like he could bite through concrete.”

“He can.”

I nodded, believing. “And the kid…Timmy. It’s like you said. He looks like Hank Ketcham drew him or something.”

“He never ages, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. He’s been around now…what? Twelve years? He was a ten-year-old kid when they found him, and he’s still ten years old.” I shivered.

“They’re not sure Fido ages, either,” Shylock said. “He carries a few scars, but pretty much seems the same elephant-sized canine who walked up being led by a rope leash in Timmy’s hand over a decade back. “He gets testy when they get too close to him with probes and needles,” Shylock added. “So they’ve been willing to let him ride.”

There had been other animals that had been victim to AOHD. Of course with animals they called it Adult Onset Mammalian Hyper-Development Disorder. They settled on AOMD for the sake of simplicity, having chosen not to want to add too many letters to the anagram. But there had been only a few examples of it and most of those creatures had either been captured and penned, or had died quickly because they burned themselves out, or had been killed by The Agency or the military.

“The AOMD…do you think it effects anything besides mammals?” I was curious what my all-seeing friend thought. “You ever see anything that made you wonder?”

“Billy…since the first of us appeared some time back, the whole world wonders. I know you think I’m an extra smart guy, but I’m here to let you know that I’m not as sharp as all that in matters animal, vegetable, and mineral. Yeah, I know some basic chemistry and can crunch numbers better than some, and you know I love history. But genetics….who the hell knows? We have seen some strange shit.”

“Yeah…look at poor old Gila. He was about one quarter human and three fourths reptile.”
“And Gorilla Jack,” Shylock reminded me. “You went toe to toe with that guy. Looks more ape than human. And yet…human he is.” He slapped his hands on his knees and stood, his deerstalker cape rolling with the motion. “You never know. It gave us some false human/animal hybrids, and a mutated dog. Maybe there are hyper-birds up there.” He pointed into the clear, cold, February sky. I looked up. “And the ocean is a mighty deep place, too. It may be that there’s stuff swimming around in it that has been affected. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“So. Tell me,” I said. “When are our two new playmates supposed to arrive?”

Down on the streets far below, something was going on. I could hear horns blaring and even from almost thirty stories the voices were coming to us loud and clear as men yelled and women screamed.

“Right about now, I’d say,” Shylock told me. By then my back was to him and I was standing on the edge of the roof looking down.

The street was now home to a monstrous dog roughly the size of an Indian elephant who was strolling down the right hand sidewalk and clearing a path through sheer mass and intimidation. In front of the beast, holding a length of what I knew was a flimsy hemp rope was a kid, maybe ten years old, maybe seventy pounds, leading that monster canine. Some people were cowering aside, cars were honking their horns, other people were running from the scene, and, I knew, a lot of Charlotte folk were soiling themselves.

“Time for me to do my thing and maintain order,” I told Shylock as I turned to address him.
But of course the asshole was gone.

WORKING CLASS HERO, from Severed Press. The first in a series.

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