As the sun drew close to the horizon, James yawned and emerged from his covers. From a wrinkled pile in the corner, he picked out a shirt and pair of pants to wear. As he left his bedroom, his nostrils curled at something foul--his new roommate's afternoon funk, no doubt. Would he be smelling this every day, from now on?
Out on the landing, he followed the stink to Walter’s bedroom and flipped the light switch. James could only smile as he heard Walter groan, then jump up in a panic like he was late for something. I wonder what? James wondered as he descended the staircase. As he reached the foyer, he paused, then opened the front doors. He caught Damian standing there with his fist poised and ready to knock. “Hey, Uncle James!” called a tiny voice from below.
James looked down and smiled at the curly-haired half-pint version of his father. “Hey, little dude!” he greeted, welcoming them inside.
“Sorry,” said Damian as he entered, “He’s been yelling at me all day, ‘Let’s go to James’ house! Let’s see James!’”
“No worries, man.” James shrugged as he closed the door. “You want a soda?”
Grabbing one for himself as well, he joined Damian on the couch, controller in hand as Riley had already got the game started.
“Thanks. Have you seen Walter today?”
“No,” said James as he opened his can with a click-pop. “He’s upstairs though. Why?”
“I left him in pretty bad shape from training today, so I was just wondering how he was.”
James shrugged, “Seems fine to me. I think he was taking a nap and—here he comes now.”
On cue, they heard footsteps come pounding down the stairs. Just as they heard the front door swing open, Damian called his name. “Where’s the fire?” A second later, Walter swung around the corner, with disquiet on his face and flair in his attire: a silky purple dress shirt and svelte black slacks.
“Yowza!” Damian teased, “Where are you going dressed like that?”
“Looks like he’s got a hot date,” James answered for him. “You’ve only been here, what, a day? What a player.”
Walt gave the both of them a wry smile. “I’ll see you guys later,” he dismissed, leaving the house without another word.
“Good luck!” Damian called and laughed. Looking back at his son, he realized that Riley had lost all interest in his game. He hadn’t even paused it. Instead, his eyes fixated on the spot where Walter had stood, unblinking. “…Riley?”
“Was that him, dad?” He looked up at his father with big eyes and asked again, “Is he the sun guy?”
Damian chuckled to himself. “Yeah, that was him. Didn’t you see his mark?”
A wide smile spread across his son’s face as he got to his feet and faced him. “You gotta introduce me!”
Once he’d reached the apartments, Walter swung one leg off the bike and slowed to a walk as he looked for unit T9. The neighborhood was pretty ritzy, reminding him of the gated communities he’d seen back in the city. He wondered if this was how the island accommodated all their star-bearing guests. Once he found the right place, he parked his bike and approached the door. Running his fingers through his hair, he took a deep breath and knocked three times. The door opened within the minute, and standing there to meet him was another woman; a slender, raven-haired gal in her pajamas.
“Hello—oh…” She froze in place, timid as a mouse.
“Uh…” Walter cleared his throat, “Is Faith in?”
The person he’d come to see appeared that instant, shoving her frightened roommate aside as she came through. She wore white high heels and blouse over a navy blue dress that went down to her knees. As far as Walter could tell, she wore no makeup; not like she needed any.
“Wow,” he began to say, “You look…!
Faith interrupted him by placing a hand on his cheek, rubbing his scruff.
“Uh, sorry. I meant to shave, but I didn’t have any razors.”
She grinned, mouthing the words, “I don’t mind.”
“Uh, cool. So...wanna go to the mall.”
Faith folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. “And do what?” she whispered.
He shrugged, “You know, whatever…walk around, see the sights, buy shaving cream.”
Faith snickered quietly, “Sounds amazing. Is that your ride?” She asked, pointing at the bicycle behind him.
They made it to the mall in a matter of minutes. Walter suggested they could just walk, though Faith insisted on piggy-backing. Walter had never balanced the weight of two people on his bike before, but he promised to crash in something soft. Their destination for the evening was to the southeast, just at the base of Pointer's Peak. It was a massive, post-modern complex designated as The Metacarpal Mall, or as it was better known by the locals, Meta Mall.
“I guess the first thing we should do is get dinner,” Walter suggested. “You like sea food?” Faith smirked, smacking him in the arm. Next, she led him by the hand to several boutiques, where she’d bought quite a few new swimsuits and pairs of shoes. When Walter offered to pay for at least some of it, she refused him, leaving him to wonder how she could afford it all. Once satisfied, it was Walter’s turn to look around for things he’d want. After much perusing, the only thing he bought was a new razor and shaving kit.
After so much excitement with all the new things to see and do, Walter felt confident that the night was a success. Feeling a bit tired, they carried their purchases towards the central court to sit on a bench and relax for a while. There, they gazed upon an enormous statue and fountain; a bronze depiction of a three-armed woman pouring fresh water by the gallons into the centerpiece of the mall.
“Man,” Walter commented as he took his seat and placed their things on the bench. “They really have a thing for three-armed people around here, huh? I think that’s the third statue I’ve seen like that since I got here…. Faith?” She hadn’t sat down yet, standing still as she faced the fountain. Walter leaned forward, not sure if she could hear him. “Hey, are you okay?” When he reached out to touch her arm, she dropped her bags. Before Walter could react, she was taking off her shoes. Then, she slipped out of her dress in one fluid motion. “Faith!” Walter cried, but it was too late.
Shameless, she stepped over the lip of the fountain and laid herself down in the shallow pool. Thankfully, she’d retained her modesty as she revealed the swimsuit under her dress. It wasn’t until she began to feel the stares of the people all around them that she came to her senses. Embarrassed and fearful, she sat up and hugged her knees.
Then, her date did a funny thing. He’d also stripped down to his swim trunks, and joined her in the water. He sat across from her like it was no big deal, and even splashed at her. “If you needed to take a dip,” he said, “you could have told me.”
Helpless to smile, she splashed him back and started a water fight. The onlookers all around them It wasn’t long before security arrived on the scene.
“Ow! What was that for?” On the journey back to Faith’s apartment, they decided to take the scenic route along the shore. Walter balanced the shopping bags on the handlebars of his bike as he pushed it along, while Faith had her arm around his. That is, until she poked him in a sensitive spot in his side.
“How did you get all these bruises?” she asked softly.
“Oh, you noticed...Well…” Walter recalled to her what he had gone through that morning with Jack and Damian.
“That’s so cruel!” Sympathetic, she tucked her hand back under Walt’s arm.
“Maybe,” he replied, “but they’re just trying to help, you know?”
Faith snorted with disapproval. “Pushover.”
“Exactly. They’re teaching me how to overcome stuff like that.”
She pondered that for a second, then squinted at him. “Are you always this positive?”
Walter chuckled. “Yeah, I guess…So, what happened back there, when you got in the fountain? It was like you were in a trance.”
Faith looked down at the sand. “It’s stupid,” she whispered. “If I stay out of water for too long I dry up and…I guess it’s instinct. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to think I was weird.”
“Too late for that,” Walter teased, a little more spiteful than he’d meant it to be, realizing she wasn’t laughing. “Uhm, but that’s okay. I like weird.”
Faith looked up at him. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I like you.”
Faith smiled at the sand. “Well, thanks for being weird with me.”
“My pleasure.” Walter took a few more steps until he could feel her come to a sudden stop, tugging at his arm. Once he turned around, Faith stood up on the tips of her toes. He let go of his bike, allowing their new belongings to topple over into the sand. But anyone watching knew that they didn’t care.
This was it. Tonight was the night. It was kind of sad, in a way. It had taken months to plan it out, but execution would only be a matter of minutes. On the other hand, anything could happen. Improvising was more fun, after all.
The storm that had been brewing for the last several days had finally hit, though all the forecasts had predicted its arrival two nights ago. Regardless, it was bringing enough rainfall to make up for the tardiness. It was coming down in droves, providing more than ample cover. Just as she’d suspected, no guards were posted by the gates. If there had, they were surely hiding in the rain among the ruins of the abandoned site. With visibility so low, he would be nothing more than a shadow.
His approach was almost casual, were it not for the flash of lightning to shake his confidence. Standing still, he waited for a moment for anyone to stir. Afraid that he’d been seen, he picked up the pace, entering the compound by hopping over the main gate. Flicking rainfall off his boots with every step, he crossed the site and soon arrived at the entrance. It was the one building that had been finished before the project was abandoned. Squatters had since moved in, repurposing the structure as their headquarters and safe house. It wasn’t the best kept secret—the whole area was an eyesore to the neighborhood, too passive to report the daily incidents of vandalism and peddling. Even if they did, the city guard could do little more than scout the perimeter, and by then everyone had cleaned up shop and evacuated. Worse still, they would often find out who had made the call, and it would result in a busted mailbox or a smashed window as warning.
It was painful how poor the security was around here, as the door was secured by a simple lock. With enough time, he could pick the lock, or smash open the door. As pressed for time as he was, the intruder chose to use the key he’d lifted from an informant. As he turned the key, he chuckled. “Informant,” wasn’t the right word; more like, “loudmouth.” Or, just before acquiring the key, “glass jaw.”
He opened the heavy door just wide enough to slide inside, then leaned against the bar to let it latch quietly. Meeting no one in the corridor, he could hear laughter coming from the next room. Naturally, he went the other direction. His objective was simple—find the lab, and destroy it. This task would end production for a few weeks at most, but the…customers in the meantime would be seriously pissed. Power would shift and doors would open for criminals and authorities alike.
That was the key to this work—to keep things moving. As his influence spread, his name would be whispered throughout the ranks, planting seeds of doubt and fear. With enough of these operations, the drug trafficking in this city would finally come to an end. Or so he hoped. His successes up to this point had made a difference, though not enough. A good number of the perpetrators he’d confronted either refused to learn or were replaced by someone cockier.
His loudmouth had, “divulged” the secrets of this building, giving him an estimate location of the supply: third floor, north side. First up was to find the elevator shaft, as there was no way to take the stairs without being noticed. Skirting the edges of the floor and peering around every corner, he found it, standing opposite from where he’d started. Unfortunately, every foreseeable path would put him the line of sight. Then again, he noticed hazy clouds drifting along the ceiling. These posers weren’t on guard duty.
He shook his head and grinned; this may be easier than he’d thought. Deciding to risk it, he pulled his hood down and put his hands in his pockets, then strutted his way across the floor in plain sight. There had been no reaction until after he was out of view.
“Hey, what was that?” one asked aloud. “Did you see that?”
“Go look,” said another.
The trespasser sprinted ahead, never looking back. One of the smokers rushed around the corner, finding the hallway empty. He laughed, “I know I saw someone, dude.” Stepping around, he approached the shaft to investigate. Leaning into the void, he looked high and low, finding only darkness. “I must be baked,” he giggles, turning back to his friends.
Once he was gone, the intruder peered up over the edge, a ghost in the shadows. Clear to continue, he pulled himself up, waving his hands along the walls until they found the smooth rungs of a maintenance ladder. Careful not to clang the metal, he climbed, one slow step at a time. The shaft was cold and quiet, the only light coming from the openings at each floor. Since the ladder was off to the side, there was no risk to being seen as he passed the second story. It was thick with laughter and smoke, more so than the ground floor.
Shaking away the temptation to start a panic under the cover of smokescreen, the intruder continued. As the third floor came near, he pushed his head and shoulders away from the ladder to get a better look. Things were much more decrepit, with rain water leaking through the ceiling in steady drips, forming puddles on the unfinished floors. As far as he could tell, no one was watching these halls.
To make the jump, he climbed a little higher to make it more of a drop. Landing on his feet, he absorbed the shock with a somersault, making only a few soft thumps.
He’d come to a stop at the feet of an unknown factor. Before he could utter another word, the intruder sprang upright from his coiled position, clocking him in the jaw with a rising uppercut. On the way down, he skipped forward, pumping his arm into the guard’s chest, bouncing his head off the concrete. Swearing through gritted teeth, the intruder then dragged the man around the corner by his feet to leave him on the stairwell. It wouldn’t be long until someone found him; he had to move fast.
Following the smell, it didn’t take long to find the lab. It wasn’t their supply like he’d meant to find, but this was much better. He knocked on the heavy door three times and waited. When someone answered, he slammed the door in his face and welcomed himself inside.
“Yo!” squealed the other chemist in an apron as he scrambled for his gun. Swiping it out of his hands, the attacker grabbed him by the collar and threw him into the distillery, warping the aluminum casing with his head. As the two of them groaned on the floor, their assaulter stepped over them, scooped up the gun, and opened fire. The chemists cowered and whimpered as the clip was emptied into their equipment, saving at least one round for every part. A busted line began to leak gas, and the saboteur pulled out his lighter.
Before igniting, he looked at the cooks and cocked his head. This was their cue to bail. They scrambled to their feet and took off while he sparked the lighter and tossed it onto the counter before following them, saluting the other delinquents storming the floor on his way out. Then he turned and made a break for the windows at the end of the hall.
“GET DOWN,” he heard one of them yell as his feet left the floor. Arms across his face, he burst through the glass—and then the explosion hit. Riding the blast wave, he soared halfway across the lot, crash-landing into a stack of wooden pallets.
When his lungs re-inflated, he cackled like a madman as he watched the upper stories of the building go up in flames, while the criminals that infested the place scrambled like cockroaches. Mission accomplished.
With a groan, he sat up. Judging by the pain, his left arm and leg were both fractured; no surprise there, as they were the ones he’d chosen to land on. He was pretty sure he’d cracked a few ribs as well. Using his good hand, he set his leg. In a moment or two, he’d be fit to walk again. He set his arm while he waited, and soon enough he could feel the bones snapping back into place. The way the pain vanished all at once was never something he’d get used to.
Alright, the arsonist said to himself, let’s go home. No one paid any attention to him as he got to his feet, dusted himself off, and walked toward the main gate where he’d entered. Still, he took care not to let anyone look too closely, as his mask might give himself away.
Working his arm in circles as it fully recovered, he reached the gate, finding that someone had left it open for the others. Just in time, too, as sirens began to wail in the distance—
He stopped, turning to see who had called him that.
“It’s you!” he cried, pointing something at the saboteur. “You’re the one that did this!”
He smiled under his mask and put up his hands. “You got me,” he rasped, his voice deep and strange. “So what?”
“I’m gonna drop you!” He yelled, “But first you’re gonna tell me why! What do you care, man! It’s just business!”
“Just business?” he echoed, dropping his hands and clenching them into fists. He took a step towards the challenger. “This…business you’ve got here is ruining this city! And the countless lives of its citizens!”
“Don’t come any closer!” He whined, “I’ll shoot!”
The vigilante ignored him. “It’s just one fire, dude. What’s that compared to hundreds of futures destroyed by addiction?”
“Never! I’ll never stop until scum like you are eradicated from my city! My home! I’ll--!”
Psh-thunk! The challenger kept his word, firing the gun he was holding. The arsonist stopped, feeling a stinging pressure in his chest. He chuckled, “You’re gonna regret that.” He took another step towards the shooter; he lost confidence and slipped, landing on his seat in a muddy puddle.
“W-What are you?!”
He stepped ever closer, his figure silhouetted against the smoky sky as a stroke of lightning crashed from behind. “The Boogeyman.”
Cursing aloud, the coward turned tail and ran, sloshing through the mud and around the disheveled constructs until he was out of sight.
The Boogeyman drew in breathe to sigh in disappointment, though as he did the pain in his chest sharpened—something was wrong. It quickly got worse, throbbing harder with every drum of his beating heart. Cursing, he could hear the sirens getting closer. As his strength began to drain, one name came to mind; he wasn’t far from here.