Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Fourteen

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RONNIE KNEW THE RISKS. He’d heard the stories. But desperate times called for Ronnie to try something stupid.

Besides, the planning had been meticulous. He’d thought of everything, every conceivable issue that might arise, and he had an answer for them all. It was one of Ronnie’s greatest strengths: identifying problems and coming up with solutions. He’d never failed. Unless gambling was involved. He’d never been able to crack that code.

For example, he was so deep into debt with the casinos he concluded that the only viable option available to him was to rob the First National Bank of Garrison. If he could pull it off, not only would he keep himself in relative good health—he’d heard more than one nightmare inducing tale regarding what happened to people who owed the casinos money—he’d be the hero of every thief in the country.

The First National Bank of Garrison had the distinct honor of holding the world record for being robbed more times than any single bank in history. With such a renowned statistic, one would think the bank would find difficulty staying in business, what with the high cost of insurance that would come with such a staggering statistic.

Yet, the bank thrives.

The First National Bank of Garrison had the distinct honor of holding another world record. That of being the only bank to have been robbed more than any other, and having never lost a single dollar.

The reason for this startling fact is simple.

Lady V.

But Ronnie had prepared for her as well. No pumped up costumed tramp would keep him from his goal. The guys that worked for the casinos were known to pull the innards out of fellas who wouldn’t pay up, and Ronnie wanted what was inside him to stay right where it was, thank you very much.

The plan had been simple, because more often than not, simple was the best option. Ronnie and four others walked into the bank, staggered thirty seconds apart, starting two minutes after the bank had opened that morning. Everything had been going just fine, Gabe and Dick took out the two guards, Lyle went to the vault, and Ronnie emptied the teller’s drawers while Gabe and Dick worked crowd control.

Three minutes later they were out on the sidewalk, each with his own duffel full of banded and bricked one hundred dollar bills. They made for the van they had left parked and running just across the street. There was not another car or pedestrian within view. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

But then, when all looked like sunshine and patty cakes, the van imploded as if a massive weight had been dropped on top of it.

Ronnie had just reached out to take hold of the driver’s side door handle when it happened and he fell onto his back, glass raining down on him. He threw an arm up over his face to protect it from the glass, and when he took it away, there she was, standing among the twisted metal that was once a van he’d stolen just that morning.

Lady V.

She was a hard looking woman with the body of a wrestler and eyes that where so dark they were almost black. They were emotionless, those eyes, just blackness and void. She wore what looked like a one piece swim suit which left only her arms and legs bare. The suit was blue with a red and white striped V on the chest, the stripes continuing down to cover her trunks.

Ronnie had seen news footage of the Mighty, and he had to admit that real life didn’t improve the view much. He thought she might be considered a handsome woman, but the word ‘beautiful’ was not one that crawled into his mind upon seeing her, what with her blunt features and the tight black bun on the top her head.

“I told you, man,” Gabe said, backing away slowly. “I told you this wouldn’t work. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. Well I’m out.” That last he said more to Lady V than Ronnie. “I’m out, you hear me? Out!”

Ronnie stood and smiled, shaking his head as Gabe dropped his bag and ran. Dick and Lyle followed suit.

Lady V watched the three men go before turning back to Ronnie.

“I am not above compassion, criminal,” she said, her face like a stone wall. “So I will give you this one chance to do as your companions. Leave behind the spoils of your foolish venture and run, criminal. Run while you still have the ability.”

Ronnie didn’t respond. He dropped the duffel like the other three, but instead of running, he pulled a small, blue orb, about the size of a marble, from his pocket. His smile grew to Cheshire proportions.

“I have another idea,” he said. “How about I keep all four of these bags here, and you drop dead.”

With that, he threw the orb. She made no move to block or catch it, or even to step out of its path. Instead, she followed the orb with her dead, black eyes. The orb struck her in the stomach and shattered. She didn’t so much as flinch.

Then, almost instantly, the moisture in the air for up to twelve feet around the orb froze as the chemicals within came into contact with the open air, encasing the do-gooder and the ruined van in a tomb of ice.

Ronnie laughed and retrieved his duffel. He realized that he wouldn’t be able to carry all four after all, but he was okay with that. He’d leave with two, and two shares were better than one.

He whistled a jaunty tune as he walked away, a bag in each hand. He made it just three steps before he heard a great cracking sound from behind as if someone was pulling apart a walnut shell the size of a Buick. Ronnie turned in time to see the ice around Lady V explode outward, throwing deadly shards all around. Ronnie had to drop to his stomach on the pavement to avoid becoming a pin cushion.

“You had your warning,” the woman said, stepping down from what was left of the van.

Ronnie scurried away as best he could while still on his belly. It wasn’t easy, but he was going for something new from his pocket. He had been sure that the ice would stop her, it should’ve stopped anything with a heartbeat, maybe even Captain Might—were he still around—but she didn’t seem any worse for wear.

He found what he was looking for in his pocket, but he couldn’t pull it free, trapped as it was between himself and the asphalt of the road. She was almost on top of him.

“For as long as I’ve been stopping your kind from hurting others, I’ve never been able to understand your temerity,” she said.

Ronnie could think of nothing to say.

“Stand, criminal. You will meet your fate on your feet; I can give you that much dignity at least.”

Ronnie’s heart raced, this was his chance. He stood, his hand in his pocket, noticing for the first time the crowd that had now gathered across the street. A mob of looky loos wanting to see one of their great Mighties beat up on just another criminal.

Well, Ronnie didn’t consider himself just another criminal, not with his brain and what he’d cooked up in his garage. He flashed the crowd a defiant look, and then turned to Lady V.

“What confidence you have,” she said. “You are so bold that I could almost admire it. You still think you are going to win, don’t you? Why?”

“Because it’s what I do,” he said. She didn’t have to know about his gambling issues.

“What is that? Fail?”

“Nope.” He pulled his hand from his pocket, his prize clutched tightly in his fist. “If there’s one thing I do better than most people, it’s walking away unscathed.”

He threw the object he’d been holding, a gun metal gray cube, the size of a die from a board game. He threw it into the air as high as he could. The cube reached the apex of its arc a few feet into the air and froze, humming and vibrating and it floated above them.

“Okay then,” Ronnie said, bending to pick up two of the bags of cash. “I’ll leave you with that.”

The cube began to spin.

“If you survive this,” Ronnie said. “Try to think fondly of me when you remember today.”

“What is this?” she asked, watching the cube rotate. She seemed more curious than afraid. Of course, it was almost impossible for him to tell what she was feeling, if she was feeling anything at all. Her face was like that of a robot, emotionless and cold.

“This,” Ronnie said, nodding to the cube, “is what we call a distraction.”

The crushed van behind her suddenly leaped into the air and slammed into the cube, melding with it. After that came a blue mailbox. More metal from all around them sailed through the air to join with the cube, adding to its mass, the shape changing with each addition. Cars, street signs, manhole covers; all joined together with the cube, forming something that pulsed and writhed.

Screams erupted from the crowd of onlookers and they scattered like cockroaches in the light. They’d wanted to see a bit of fun, but not at the expense of their own safety.

The process took less than a minute, and by the time it was done, what was once just a small, gun metal gray cube, was now a humanoid shape, a metal monstrosity that towered above them.

The automaton turned and directed what would have been a face—the headlights and grill of a Nineteen Seventy Oldsmobile Delta 88 became its eyes and mouth—and directed its gaze at Ronnie.

“Kill her,” Ronnie said, and pointed at Lady V.

The thing turned, but before it could complete its circuit, the woman had leaped into the air and slammed a fist into the side of its head. The robot’s head caved in on itself and it fell, crashing to the ground in a heap.

Lady V jumped over Ronnie’s robot and scowled at the bank robber, showing emotion for the first time: Anger.

“An interesting diversion,” she said, “but futile nonetheless.”

“Not really,” Ronnie smiled and backed away as the robot pulled itself to its feet. “See, my robot is like one of them watches. You know, it takes a licking but keeps on getting back up to kick your butt.”

She turned from him to face the scrap metal giant, and Ronnie ran. He knew that eventually she’d take his creation down, after all the power supply would only last an hour, but by then he’d be long gone.

So, as the sounds of battle waged behind him, Ronnie sprinted his way toward becoming the only person alive to successfully rob the First National Bank of Garrison. As he ran, he thought about the two little surprises he’d built in his garage.

He’d knocked over a couple of liquor stores to come up with the necessary funds to create both the orb and the cube. Both just a means to an end, a way of distracting or stopping Lady V so that he could escape with the ultimate prize; enough money to pay off the casinos and start his life over again.

Maybe he’d invest in a hidden workspace and materials to create more of his little toys. Maybe then he’d be able to sell them to other enterprising criminals looking to step up in the world. A new life was opening up for Ronnie B. Riddle. He’d just have to keep himself out of the casinos if he wanted to enjoy it.



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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Walrus of Death - Chapter Six: Magical Mystery Tour

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EVENTUALLY THE BOYS IN blue—well, khaki—showed up, loaded the Walrus into an armored paddy wagon and hauled the big fella away. The Walrus had stayed down the entire time. Pat really nailed him a good one. She always did pack a punch.

I waved to Pat and her boys as they drove away, feeling a real sense of accomplishment for it still being morning. Once the police vehicles disappeared over the hill in the distance, I went back into the house and slid into my trench coat. It was time to pay Abner Lemonzeo a visit. That and maybe get myself a cup of coffee.

I grabbed up a set of keys I had hanging on a peg by the door to the garage. The keys went to the Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle parked on the other side of the door. Like me, it was old. The WLA dates back to WWII, I go back a bit further. There ain’t much on it anymore that’s original, I’d rebuilt the bike more than once, but it still gets me where I need to go.

My place is out in the country, five minutes north of Eudora out past the Kansas River. This time of the year the ride from my home to the office is bordered by empty fields ready for winter. When the crops are up, you’d ride with a wall of corn to either side. Now, it’s just dirt all the way to the hills in the distance. I’ve long since learned to tune it all out.

Eudora is not what one would call a big town.

But it ain’t small neither.

I like to think of it as the little town that could.

Located between Kansas City and Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10, Eudora has always had the potential to be more than it was, and slowly but surely, the town has struggled to crawl its way out of the small town moniker. Eudora continues to grow, even despite the bypass that has kept the Lawrence to Kansas City to Lawrence traffic away from town since the Eighties.

It ain’t nowhere near where I’m sure the city leaders want it to be, but it’s doing just fine in the grand scheme of things.

Eudora, for all intents and purposes, is comprised of three main thoroughfares: Main and Church streets—which run north and south—and 10th street, which runs east and west. Everything else is mostly residential . . . Though there is the occasional exception. For example, we have a night club out south of town. It’s a vampire hangout, but I’m only one man, so it stays in business.

Main Street, between 10th and 7th, is Eudora’s downtown business district. Which, to be honest, ain’t much.

My office is there, of course. Plus we got a bank, a comic book store that used to be a bank, a coffee shop, a hardware store, two eateries—Mexican and Chinese—and then there’s the Pub.

The Pub is just that. It’s a dirty little hole in the wall located on the west side of the eight hundred block of Main, right in the middle, and is owned by one Abner Lemonzeo. Most of his illegal dealings had been conducted in the dark and smoke-filled confines of the tiny bar. Back when Lemonzeo was still a free man, more money had passed through the Pub in a single day than had gone through both of Eudora’s banks in a week. This dank pit was once the cornerstone of all illegal activity in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. Big fish from Kansas City spent much of their time sitting in a booth in the back of the Pub—Abner’s booth—conducting business.

It was there that I expected to find him.

My office is across the street, and though it’s about three storefronts to the north, I can see the Pub’s front door from the window.

I parked the bike there at the curb in front of my office and crossed over to the other side on foot. The traffic was light and so I took my time.

I found Lemonzeo where I thought I would, in his booth in the back. With him sat two men in suits across the table, their backs to me. Abner hadn’t changed a bit. If anything, he looked harder. Prison will do that to a person, it pounds on you until you break, or you become the hammer.

He was dressed all in black: Suit jacket, tie, and shirt.

I wanted to punch him in his face for that fact alone. But I kept my cool.

He still shaved his head, and he still sported that greasy little black mustache. I’d often imagine him twisting that mustache as he thought up his evil little schemes—like tying a woman to a set of railroad tracks.

Lemonzeo looked up as I approached the booth and surprise flashed across his face. It didn’t last long however, he covered himself quick enough. I wouldn’t have even noticed it had I not been looking for it. He smiled as if he’d been expecting me.

“Norman Oklahoma,” he said. “What brings you into my establishment?”

“Abner,” I said, giving him a small nod. I turned to the two men sitting across from him. “You’re in my seat.”

“Excuse me?” the first man said, his face was stone, a blank slate.

“You heard me, pal. Take a hike.”

Stone Face looked over to his partner who nodded. With permission requested and then granted, Stone Face slid languidly from the booth, stood, and looked down at me.

The guy was big, easily a full head taller than I was. Guys like him think they can intimidate others into getting their way, and with most people they might succeed.

I ain’t most people.

“Breath mint,” I said. “Look into it.”

The guy didn’t smile, didn’t grimace, didn’t even blink.

“Vampires, Abner?” I said, my eyes never moving from the fella in front of me. “You ain’t back a full week and you’re already leaping into bed with these monsters?”

Abner chose not to respond.

The moment Stone Face had stood I’d known what he was. Vampires have a way of moving that’s unlike us normal folk. It’s subtle, and most people don’t notice it, but it’s obvious or those of us who know what to look for. But it ain’t just the way he moved that clued me in; it was the smell that rolled off of him. The smell of blood. This vampire recently fed. Again, it’s subtle, but unmistakable.

Almost casually, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, Stone Face reached into his jacket. I had a Peacemaker in hand and pointed at his head before he could pull whatever it was he had been going for.

I thumbed back the hammer.

“Come now, Norman,” Lemonzeo said. “This isn’t necessary.”

“I think it is,” I said, and squeezed the trigger.

The gun crashed and Stone Face flew backwards, landing with a dull thud a few feet away. His body lay there on the floor in an unnatural way. But though he was down, he wasn’t out, despite the point blank .45 caliber slug to the head. He was up in an instant, crouched on all fours and hissing.

It wasn’t a pleasant sight. Part of his head was gone; in fact it painted most of the back wall and floor. But I could already see that the skull was mending itself, rounding off to cover the hole the bullet had made. The brain matter and other gooey things found inside a vampire’s head were mending as well. Soon he’d be fully healed.

“Okay, Biter,” I said, pulling the other Peacemaker, “let’s do this.”

He leaped, and I fired, hammering him back to the ground. I continued to fire, keeping the creature nailed to the floor. I could see his partner moving out of the corner of my eye and without even so much as a look in his direction, my arm slid his way and I shot him down too.

Contrary to what the movies and books tell us, vampires aren’t affected by sunlight and aren’t all that easy to kill, relatively speaking. A stake to the heart won’t do it. Drive a pointy wooden stick into their chest and the only thing you’re gonna accomplish is to piss the thing off. Hold up a clove of garlic in front of their face and they’ll probably eat it. And a crucifix, yeah . . . you might as well come at them with one of those orange sections of toy race car track from all the good it will do you.

The only way to put a vampire down for good is to fill it full of silver.

Being who I am, I have a well-stocked munitions cabinet full of silver bullets. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring any with me. This meant I’d have to rely on what I had on hand. Regular bullets would break the skin, make them bleed, and hurt like hell, but in the end I was just buying time.

“Enough!” Lemonzeo yelled, still seated in the booth.

The two vamps froze. Blood oozed from the various holes I’d put in them, but only for a moment or two before they closed up. Too bad they couldn’t say the same for the holes I’d put in their suits. That thought alone made me smile.

“I have business to conduct, Norman. Did you want anything in particular or did you just stop by to shoot at my customers?”

“I had a nice talk with your pet walrus, Abner,” I said, reloading, leaving the spent shells to roll about on the Pub floor. “So I thought I’d just swing by and welcome you back. Shooting up your guest’s expensive suits was just one of those happy accidents you hear about all the time.” I gave the vamps a wink.

“Well, that was neighborly of you, Norman. Tell me, did you leave the Walrus alive?”

“Oh, he’s alive. He ain’t happy, but he’s breathing.”

“Are we done here?” Lemonzeo asked.

I looked from him to the two vampires, they weren’t happy neither. I was just pissing everyone off this morning. I’d pay for that later, but it was worth it. My only regret was that I hadn’t been packing silver.

“As long as you’re free and doing business with the likes of these two, we ain’t done, Abner,” I said and turned to leave. But as I reached the door I turned back. “Oh, I almost forgot. Send someone to kill me again; you better hope they do the job right. Otherwise I’m going to return the favor, and I don’t miss.”

With that, I left.



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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Walrus of Death - Chapter Five: Happiness is a Warm Gun

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I HAVE ONLY EVER had to fire a gun in my house twice.

The first time was back in 1967. There was a Bigfoot involved. It was this whole thing. I’m not prepared to get into it just now.

The second was in 1982 when I shot and killed a werewolf in my bathroom. I don’t recommend it. They bleed a lot. I went through a lot of towels that day. In the end I wound up redoing the entire bathroom; floors, paint, the whole nine yards.

I didn’t really feel like shooting anyone today. I don’t like killing things. I won’t hesitate to do it if it needs to be done, and with some of these monsters it’s your only real option. But I take no joy in it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Taking out a vampire can often make me smile. The thought of putting a bullet into Abner Lemonzeo warmed my heart as well.

But the Walrus, well, he was just doing what he’d been paid to do. I’d rather see him in chains. Besides, I couldn’t afford to redo the kitchen like I’d done with the bathroom.

“You keep working that tape and I’ll have to put you down, son,” I said, my pistols zeroing in on his face.

He ignored me.

I took a quick glance behind me at the front door where Pat had fled just moments before. It wasn’t like her to run from a fight, and that had me concerned. Turning back to the Walrus I struggled to try and explain to myself just what Pat had done. Surely she hadn’t run. She must have gone for back up. That was the only logical explanation.

Meanwhile, the thick layer of tape that surrounded the Walrus’s wrists looked to be reaching their breaking point.

“I’m warning you,” I said, then reversed the pistol in my right hand so that I held it by the barrel. I leaned in close to the smelly beast and rapped him a smart one across the top of his head with the butt of the revolver.

If I’d hurt him, he was good at hiding the pain. Instead of groaning or shouting he just swiped at me with his hands. Lashed together as they were, they made one big fist, which took me fully in the shoulder. My arm went numb. I didn’t notice this right away, my attention had instead been drawn to the fact that I was flying through the air.

I landed on my back in the middle of the upturned table that lay in my living room, but I still held on to my guns, and that’s what really matters. It took me a moment to get up, and as I stood, a sharp pain lancing into my spine, the front door flew open and Pat walked in.

In one hand she held a pump-action shot gun. In the other was a small battering ram with a shoulder sling, what they call a One or Two Person Forcible Entry Ram. I’m sure you’ve seen them on TV. They’re employed by police forces the world over to knock in doors.

“Catch,” she said, and tossed the shot gun my way.

I holstered my pistols and caught the shot gun in its downward trajectory. Pat, in the meantime, had taken the ram by the two flexible handles that looped out of its side.

The ram was about forty inches long and weighed fifty pounds. It was made to be used by one to two people, hence the name. Pat swung it like a pro. As the tape around the Walrus’s wrists began to tear, the ram connected with the side of his head with a thick, meaty sound. Like hitting a side of beef with a sledgehammer, if you can imagine.

The Walrus dropped. His eyes rolled into the back of his head, he let out a little sigh of pain, and just fell back like a sack of bricks.

“I thought you’d run out on me,” I said.

She just laughed.

“Cover him with that scatter gun while I call this in,” she said, pulling a phone from her pocket. “He should be out for a while, but I’d like to get a couple deputies out here as soon as possible.”

I pumped a round into the chamber and stood watch over the Walrus while Pat called in to the station. I noticed that blood trickled from a small cut on his temple where the ram had him it. The blood was a dark gray, almost black. The fridge impacting with the top of his head had only left a lump. I wanted to find that curious, but frankly I just couldn’t make myself care that much. I just wanted him out of my house so I could get dressed and have my morning coffee.

“Everyone but Tim and Lyle are on their way,” Pat said as she pocketed her phone.

“So two guys then?” I said.

“No, three.”

“You hired a new officer?”

“I did,” Pat said. “She just started today.”

“She’s going to have quite the initiation then,” I said and smiled.

“Here,” she held out her hand. “I’ll take the shot gun so you can go put some pants on.”

“I could try and say something witty about you and my pants, but I am more than a mite tired of standing around here in my skivvies.” I handed over the shot gun. “Thanks, I won’t be long.”

In the bedroom I pulled on a dark gray suit and tie, adjusting the tie carefully in the mirror. I figured I’d need to pay a visit to Lemonzeo. I can’t have people just sending folks out to kill me without some form of retribution. He needs to know that doing something like that just ain’t in his best interest. But that could wait until I’ve had my coffee.

I looked myself over in the mirror. I buttoned up my vest and adjusted the tie a few more times. Since I was going out to mix with the public, I’d tossed aside my gun belt in favor of the shoulder holsters. I strapped that on over the vest and sat on the bed. I checked each of the Peacemakers, rotating the cylinder as I slid each shell out, and then back in. Some may consider it obsessive, but I always like to check, double check, triple check, and then check once more before I check the last time. You really can never be too careful when preparing for a gun battle.

Was I going into a gun battle?

Not likely, but I didn’t think I’d wake up to find a killer walrus in my kitchen either, so I felt it prudent to be somewhat prepared.

I stood, slid into the suit jacket and snatched the trench coat and hat, a fedora, from a hook on the wall near the door. I threw the coat over one arm and placed the hat on my head as I left the room.

I’ve been told, all too often, that I look like one of them FBI fellas from the 1930’s. And I suppose I do. Once I find something I like, I tend not to let it go.

I found Pat still standing over the Walrus and I tipped my hat to her.

She smiled in return.

We remained in silence for a few minutes, both of us watching the unconscious form of the killer mutant. The blood that had oozed from the wound on the thing’s head had stopped flowing and had congealed on the skin. The wound itself looked less shallow and not as long. It appeared to be closing, meaning that the Walrus, like me, healed with a quickness.

“You going to tell me why this thing was after you?” Pat asked, breaking the silence and interrupting my thoughts.

“Abner sent him,” I said.

“Lemonzeo?” she said. “I knew he’d gotten out, but what’s he got against you?”

“He’s still a little sore that I got him arrested in the first place, I guess.”

“Talk about holding a grudge.”

“I know, right?”

“You planning on doing something about it?” she asked.

“I haven’t decided,” I lied.

“Come on, Norman. We don’t lie to each other.”

“I might go have a talk with the man,” I said.

“Talking’s fine, Norman,” she said. “It’s the shooting that’s going to get me involved.”

“I ain’t never shot no one that didn’t deserve shooting,” I said.

“Regardless, we still have laws, Norman. You go downtown and do something stupid like shoot Abner Lemonzeo, well, I’m going to have to deal with that.”

“I have no plans to shoot the man, Pat,” I said.

“Good, keep to those plans.”

But, as I looked down at the Walrus and thought about what Lemonzeo had done, as I wrapped my mind around the fact that were it not to the lyrics to a Beatles song I might be dead, another Beatles song began to slide through my thoughts.

Happiness is a Warm Gun.

I couldn’t help but smile.



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Platitudes #20 - Good Things Come to Those Who Wait




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