It's like Bridget Jones' Diary, but with a super-powered vigilante.

November 30, 2004

Situation: Uncool

You may recall that during my meeting with the QuantumWorks steering committee on the ninth floor I planted a bug in the conference room. The needle size KOMA probe was buried into the fabric cover of the seat I was sitting in, recording and transmitting to the audio suite on my utility belt. I got a weird vibe during the meeting, particularly from the enigmatic John Quentin, who smells like a super-villain to me, so I planted the bug in hopes of gleaning some info about whatever nefarious plans they undoubtedly were plotting.

The KOMA probe works great - the sound is crystal clear. I listen to the wav. file it made the day of the meeting, starting with when I left.

There's some generally positive and inoffensive chatter between ringleader John Quentin, CFO Ted Bradbury, the scholarly Aaron Clarke, and the beautiful Margo, who has been recruited as a program coordinator for QuantumWorks. I fast forward. Margo leaves and it's just the three guys. The three evil masterminds.

BRADBURY: --seemed harmless enough. I don't know why we're even bringing him into the picture, John.

This sounds interesting.

JOHN QUENTIN: I think Mr. Mackenzie will work out fine.

CLARKE: He seemed suspicious of the whole set-up.

JOHN QUENTIN: I think he exhibited a healthy skepticism.

BRADBURY: It just seems like an unnecessary risk. I don't know why you play at this level, Q, you should focus on the big picture.

JOHN QUENTIN: The big picture is a mosaic, Ted, made up of little pieces like this.

BRADBURY: Uh-huh.

JOHN QUENTIN: Guys, guys. Have a little faith. In a short while we'll all be very, very rich.

CLARKE: We're already very rich, John.

JOHN QUENTIN: Wealth is relative.

BRADBURY: It's like talking to a sphinx.

CLARKE: Well, I'll go with John's instincts on this. He is, after all, the resident expert on costumed sociopaths.

JOHN QUENTIN: It would be a mistake to underestimate our Mr. Mackenzie...


There's a scuffing noise, like somebody sat down on the chair or... or found the bug and picked it up. It's quiet, then I hear Clarke chuckling in the background.

BRADBURY: Son of a bitch...

They found the bug. How did they find the bug?

Who are these guys? They seem to know that I'm the Velvet Marauder and I get the impression that I wasn't brought onboard the project for my marketing savvy. What the fuck is going on around here?



November 29, 2004

Dr. Bobby

After meeting with the supervillains who run my company, I go to see Dr. Bobby the chiropractor, who I hope to sweet God can help my tweaked back.

As you may recall, I fucked up my shoulder during a fight with a Jet Pack Mafia goon the previous night. Now the pain was intense, unignorable*, like a white hot sun under my shoulder blade. I made it through my meeting without crying with the help of a handful of Aleve pills, but that wore off and now I’m in crippling agony. Kids, I don’t care if you’ve seen Daredevil do it, it is not a good idea to try to stop a fall from a great height with the aid of a flagpole. That’s a little safety tip for you.

Dr. Bobby looks like a beatnik Rick Moranis – he purses his lips and squints his eyes, appraising me as I sit shirtless in his office.

“Hmm…” he says. “When did you do this?”

“Last night. Basketball. I was going up for a dunk and…” I pantomime a dunk, then wince as lightning bolts of pain shoot through my back.

“And you haven’t been to a hospital?” He walks around behind me, gently probing my back.

“Nah, I thought I’d see you first. What, is it bad?”

“Let’s try some things, some adjustments,” Dr. Bobby says.

He tries some things. Dr. Bobby pops my neck, then hugs me from behind and cracks my spine. “This doesn’t hurt?” Dr. Bobby twists my torso and yanks on my arm. “Tell me if this is uncomfortable.” He yanks harder. “Anything?”

Nothing seems to work. He stands back, panting. “Gosh, that shoulder of yours is pretty dislocated. Are you sure you’re not in pain?”

“Well, yeah I’m in pain,” I say. Duh. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I think you might have to go to a trauma center,” he says, wiping his brow.

“Aww, come on Dr. Bobby,” I say. “ I don’t want to do that, I hate hospitals. Can you give it another shot? You won’t hurt me, I promise.”

Dr. Bobby brings in Summer, a bored Asian riot grrl type who works the front desk.

“Summer, I’m going to have you push here, while I pull on his arm,” Dr. Bobby says, positioning her. She checks me out, and who can blame her? I’m a fit shirtless superhero. Her eyes linger on my shoulder.

“Dude, your shoulder is fucked up.”

“So I gathered,” I say.

“Summer, please,” Dr. Bobby says.

Summer gets in place and pushes against my torso while bracing my right arm while Dr. Bobby pulls. Hard. He looks at me questioningly. Clearly he can’t believe that I’m not drooling with pain and that he can’t relocate the shoulder.

“Harder,” I say.

With a big groan Dr. Bobby hauls back mightily on my arm like a Thai elephant pulling a log. I feel my genetically altered muscles shift and my shoulder – pop! – slides back into place. The feeling is at once exquisite and incredibly painful.

“Wow,” I say, moving my arm around, flexing my fingers. “That’s so much better!”

Dr. Bobby and Summer just stare at me as I laugh and move my arm around. I feel great.

“Woo! Kick ass! Thanks Dr. Bobby!”

*Yes, I know "unignorable" is not a real word.

Catch phrases

I'm thinking of developing a catch phrase, you know, a tag line. Something to help reinforce the brand. It seems like a natural extensions of my catalogue of poses, and who knows, it might catch on and become a marketing phenomenon like back in 1992, when Mandrill's line: "It's Mandrill Time!" was on T-shirts and Frisbees and shit. Then Mandrill got killed by Night Train on national TV and suddenly the saying was in bad taste.

So it seems like you have to tread the line between catchy/clever and tough and try not to come up with something that will seem corny and dated in ten years.

I wrote some down, and here's what I got so far:

"It's Marauder Time!"
"You just bought yourself an ass kicking."
"I'm gonna rock you like a hurricane!"
"Time to make the donuts!"
"Crime - beware!"
"I like corn!"
"Meet Mr. Fist!"
"Shaka Zulu!"
"I'd like to buy a vowel!"
"Excuse my fist!"
"Ain't no thing but a chicken wing."
"Get ready to RIDE THE LIGHTNING!"
"Don't playa hate, congratulate."
"Shazbot!"
"Welcome to Bitch-Slap City, USA."
"Your face!"
"Pain train's comin'! Woo woo!"
"Boo-Yah!"
"I'm Number One! You're Number Ten!"
"Crime is a disease - I'm the antibiotic ointment!"
"Who ordered the knuckle sandwich here?"

Okay, those suck. Any suggestions?

November 28, 2004

The Ninth Floor

I neglected to post about the Ultra-Secret Meeting I attended at work on Friday.

As you may recall, the object of my infatuation, Margo, recruited me for some secret project that she’s working on. (see post Superficial banter and an intriguing offer, 11/23/04) I did some marketing voodoo for her team a few months back when she was the project manager for Delphi, this fancy-ass database management software. I like to think that I helped sell Delphi to Interbionics (I still think those fuckers are supervillains) a few months ago and that my work was appreciated and that’s why they’re offering me this new gig. I have no idea what this new project is; I imagine it’s the QuantumWorks thing that everybody’s been talking about.

Anyway, I have to drag my injured ass into work on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Originally I wanted to go shopping with the rest of America (I’m sick like that) but now I just want to load up on painkillers and sleep.

I pop a few more Aleve and chase it with some Gatorade, then head up to the ninth floor. I don’t know if I dislocated my shoulder in the fight with the Jet Pack Mafia goon or pulled something or what, but it feels like evil little angels are poking my back with red hot crochet needles. That’s the visual I have in my mind.

On a whim, I decide to take my utility belt with me in the car. I activate one of the KOMA probes, the needle-size listening devices that My Guy sent me. (see post The KOMA Probe, 10/1/04) I stick it in my pocket. You never know.

Anyway, the meeting:

I show up at the special wing on the ninth floor and present my pass to the bored looking security guard at the door. They’re expecting me; the guard just nods and buzzes me in.

I enter the security area where they’ve been working on this mystery project for the past few months. This office-within-an-office has a subdued palette of grays and pastels and trippy framed fractal art on the walls and weird potted plants that I don’t recognize. What is that, aloe? Cactus?

Margo pokes her head out of a set of double doors at the end of the hall and waves me in. She’s wearing a pink collared V-neck sweater and black clam diggers.

“Mackenzie!” she says. “Come on in. Everybody’s here.”

“I’m not late, am I?”

“No, no. Things are a little different up here. We actually start meetings on time.”

That is different. I can count on my hand the number of meetings I’ve attended in The Company that actually started when they were supposed to.

I follow Margo’s perfect butt into a big deluxe conference room. Three men rise from the polished black marble table in the center of the room. The floor-to-ceiling windows afford a beautiful view of the Bay and downtown.

“Everybody, this is Connor Mackenzie, our marketing guru,” Margo says.

The three guys step forward, hands extended. They’re all dressed in expensive but casual clothes and they positively reek of money and power. I recognize one of them.

“Connor, hi. Ted Bradbury.” I shake Ted’s hand. He’s The Company’s CFO, a big Aryan looking cat with a firm handshake and Botox good looks. I’ll bet he was captain of the varsity football team back in the day.

“Hey, Connor. Aaron Clarke, I’m on the Board of Directors.” I recognize the name; Clarke is a heavy set older man with retro lamb chop sideburns and bifocals. He looks like an English professor or a John LeCarre spymaster.

The last guy sets off my alarms. He looks familiar; where have I seen him before?

“Welcome, Mr. Mackenzie. I’ve been following your work with great interest. My name is John Quentin.”

Quentin’s handshake is cool and dry. He’s a distinguished gentleman type, wearing a black wool blazer over a crewneck tee. The grey hair at his temples makes him look distinguished. His deep set eyes are the color of ice. He sort of looks like the actor Gabriel Byrne. I bet the chicks dig him.

“Thanks, it’s a pleasure,” I say. I still don’t know what the fuck this is all about.

“Have a seat, please,” Quentin says. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee?”

I sit down a little stiffly. Margo sits down next to me. “I’m good, thanks.”

Quentin arches an eyebrow. “Are you injured?”

“Pulled a muscle in my back last night. Racquetball.”

“None of us are getting any younger, are we?” Bradbury says.

“I guess not.”

“Mr. Mackenzie is probably wondering what this is all about, aren’t you?” Clarke says.

“I’m curious, yes.”

“Margo hasn’t even hinted at what this is about?” Clarke says, glancing over at her.

She holds up her hands. “Not even a hint,” she says, smiling.

Yeah, yeah. Enough chit-chat, let’s just cut to the fucking chase here.

“I’m totally in the dark,” I say. Truer words were never spoken.

John Quentin has been looking at me the whole time, sizing me up. I pretend not to notice. Where do I know this guy from? Have I seen him around the office?

“Mr. Quentin…” I begin, but he holds up a hand, smiling.

“Please,” he says. “Call me John.”

“Forgive me if this is too direct, John, but what exactly do you do in The Company?”

“That’s a valid question. The short answer is I own a controlling interest of the The Company’s stock.”

Bullshit. He’d be on the board of directors, his name would be public. I would have heard of him. I let it slide, but I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this. I smell a supervillain. I know, I know. I think everybody’s a supervillain. But this Quentin guy, he has white hair around his temples and he’s got a slick Machiavellian vibe to him. I’d bet money he’s a supervillain.

“I see,” I say, letting a note of skepticism creep into my voice. Clarke and Bradbury exchange a look. Are they villains, too? And if they’re bad guys, then that makes Margo…

“Well, let’s get down to it,” Quentin says. “We won’t take up much of your time today, Mr. Mackenzie. I’ll just briefly outline what the project is about.”

He strolls to the full-length window, looking out over Emerald City with his hands in his pockets. “The working title for the project is QuantumWorks. We’re still in the design stage but in essence, it’s a very unique Internet search engine that uses patented technology.”

Quentin turns and smiles. That’s it? That’s the big fucking secret? Am I supposed to say something?

“Uhh, what’s so unique about it?” I ask.

“Our search engine allows the user to search for anything that’s ever been on the Internet, ever,” Quentin says. “Any site or page or message board post or blog entry – any Internet content is searchable, even content that no longer ‘exists.’ QuantumWorks is a comprehensive, exhaustive, historic search engine with total recall.”

Clarke leans over conspiratorially. “We’ve developed a function that searches email. Any email, ever.”

Bradbury holds up a moderating hand. “Of course, that aspect of QuantumWorks would not be made available to the general public. Ethical concerns.”

I look over at Margo. She’s smiling, excited.

“Is this for real?” I ask.

Quentin sits back down. “As real as anything else. The business model is simple: this is a subscription service, and it won’t be cheap. This is where you come in, Mr. Mackenzie.”

“What, with marketing? I don’t know if you need me. You could call this thing Hitler’s Pony and it would still sell.”

They all laugh. The Hitler joke: the hallmark of the true marketing professional!

“We would like your help crafting a brand identity for QuantumWorks,” Quentin says.

“I don’t want to tell you folks how to run your business, but usually a project of this significance would get farmed out to one of the big firms…”

Bradbury shakes his head. “That’s a no-go. We have to keep this under wraps until we’re ready to launch. We can’t afford for this to get out in the open.”

“You seem reluctant to take the assignment on, Mr. Mackenzie,” Clarke says, peering over his bifocals at me.

I feel like I’m on the spot here, like I have to make a decision. Normally anybody in my shoes would be psyched to get offered a gig like this; it’s very flattering. But I’m the Velvet Marauder. Danger is my business. And unless I’m totally high, I’ve stepped in a big stinky pile of supervillain.

“No, no. It’s just… I mean, how does it work? I didn’t know something like that was possible.”

Quentin smiles. “I’m going to have to ask you to have faith that it is indeed possible and that we have the means and resources to make this idea a reality. I know you’ll understand that I can’t tell you anymore unless we know you’re committed to the project. This is not mandatory; if you’re not interested we’ll understand and you can return to your normal duties.”

They’re all looking at me. What can I do? I have to learn more.

Then I remember the bug in my pocket; the needle-sized KOMA probe. I have what is either a cunning or incredibly stupid idea. I grab the bug with my right hand.

“Sounds great, Mr. Quentin,” I say. Hopefully I’m oozing enthusiasm. “Count me in.”

“Super,” he says, which seems sort of out of character. All the others rise, smiling.

As I get up from the chair to shake hands with everybody I pull the KOMA probe out and with one swift and hopefully unnoticed motion, I plant it in the fabric-covered arm of the chair I’m sitting in. There. I have just bugged this office and am now transmitting to my utility belt’s com suite, which will burn everything to an MP3 file.

There’s a round of “welcome aboards” and “we’re happy to have you” and more handshaking, which sends tremors of pain through my shoulder, and then Quentin is guiding me to the door by the elbow, grinning.

“Good choice, Mr. Mackenzie,” he says.

“Please. Connor.” We’re buds now.

“Okay, Connor. Mike at the desk will give you a badge. Why don’t you show up here on Monday morning and we’ll work out the salary details, et cetera. I’ll have my assistant Nancy show you your office.”

“My office?”

“Yes, with a view of the Bay,” he says. “We’ll need you to be close at hand for the next few months.”

“Sounds great.” It does sound great. Too great.

“Fantastic,” he says and claps me on the shoulder. It feels like getting struck with an axe. I nearly faint with pain.

“You should get that shoulder looked at, Connor," he says. "I know these things. I’m a doctor.”

As I walk down the hallways of subdued grays, rigid with pain, I wonder where I have seen John Quentin before. I find my eyes drawn to the odd plants in the corridor – alien desert succulents and colorful cacti. There’s something strange about the plants, and I feel vaguely like if I knew what it was, I could figure out what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.

November 26, 2004

Why jet packs should be illegal

How did I fuck my back up, you may wonder? Sit back, reader, and I shall regale you with the tale.

I was all pissed and feeling sorry for myself after my solo Thanksgiving dinner of General Tso's Chicken, so I went on patrol. I figured it would be a dead night and I'd just get a little exercise.

As usual, I park the Saab in one of my carefully selected spots (this one was on the south end), change into the Velvet Marauder body armor, don the cowl and goggles, stretch out a little, pick tonight's music selection, take a safety piss, then start out on patrol.

I don’t get far when the police scanner squawks - a very excited Sheriff's Department helicopter pilot is yelling about a flying man over downtown. I can hear the chopper overhead in the night sky.

Scanning the city skyline with the binocular setting on the goggles, I spot the police helicopter, a green Jet Ranger. It’s hovering over midtown, sweeping the sky with its searchlight. A flying figure flashes in the spotlight. Kestrel?

The figure darts behind a high rise condo. I catch fleeting glimpses of it flying through the concrete and steel canyons of Midtown. Then, he shows himself –

It’s a Jet Pack Mafioso.

Shit! And I’m like, two miles away. It’ll take me minutes to get there.

Game on. I leap up on to the Old Town Viaduct and take off at a decent clip towards the city center. Traffic is light; I weave between a few cars running at about forty mph. I’m sure it scares the hell out of the drivers, but hey, it’ll give them something to talk about.

I take the Waterfront Park exit. My suit’s sound system is busy with the chatter of the police trying to track the flying mobster. Sirens echo through the city.

Where are they? I catch a glimpse of the police helicopter up above.

I run up 6th, where my way is blocked by a bunch of cars waiting at a red light. I could jump them, or between them, or…

A fucking garbage truck backs out of an alley on to 6th, right in my way.

“Shit!”

I dodge out of the way and on to a sidewalk, bouncing off a granite wall. It’s tough to stop when you’re running that fast.

Of course, there’s an old lady hobbling down the sidewalk, right in my way.

If I hit her, she’s dead. I twist and pull myself sideways, breezing within inches of her at 40 mph. The gust from my passage knocks her over.

“Shit!” I look over my shoulder as the old woman teeters and falls.

“Sorry!” I yell lamely, then smash into a mailbox.

I shear the mailbox clean off the bolts that anchor it to the sidewalk with a horrible metallic shriek. The mailbox crumbles under the impact and letters explode from its innards. We both tumble and skid into the intersection of 6th and Thurston.

My slide is halted by a parked Jetta. I cave in the driver’s side door with my head and trigger the car alarm.

Okay, this is embarrassing. I pull myself to my feet, my ears ringing with that fucking car alarm. Mail flutters like leaves across the intersection I just skidded across. The mailbox lies nearby, flattened and disemboweled. The helicopter churns overhead. Headlights from all the stopped cars at the intersection stare blankly at me.

I wave. It’s the only thing I can think of doing.

Then, with one great leap, I’m airborne, leaving the dead mailbox and the screaming Jetta and all the bewildered people in their cars below me. I rebound off the fa├žade of an office building, bounce off a lamppost, then land on top of a mid-rise condo.

I scan the scene. The police helicopter is raking Midtown with its searchlight. Police lights flicker and strobe in the canyons below. I turn off all the confused chatter on the police scanner. Where is he…?

Then I spot him, hovering over a rooftop a few blocks away. The Mafioso.

The Jet Pack Mafia are a gang of high-tech thieves who use jet packs, revolutionary polymer body armor, and advanced weaponry.

That description doesn’t really describe how goofy and weird they are. They look like weird plastic Mafia androids. Really. Do you remember years ago those creepy Duracell commercials, with The Puttermans, the white bread plastic robot family? They look sort of like that.

I zoom in on the goon with my binocular goggles. He’s a typical Jet Pack Mafioso; dressed in a cartoony wide-shouldered pinstripe double-breasted suit that’s made of some kind of shiny plastic. No Fedora on this one; you can see his helmet of black hair over his rubbery, scowling features. He’s smoking a big, oversized stogie and grips an exaggerated Tommy gun in white-gloved hands. His jet pack is a sleek aluminum rocket mounted on his upper back that effortlessly holds him up in the air. Sure, he looks goofy, but that plastic suit and rubbery skin is actually a customized polymer exo-skeleton, his jet pack can propel him at incredible speeds, and that Tommy gun fires incendiary and armor-piercing rounds.

I scan the area. It’s weird, because I’ve never seen one of these guys alone. Could be a trap.

“YOU THERE! FREEZE!!!”

Uh oh. The choppers spots the Mafioso and pins him with the searchlight. The loudspeaker blares.

“LAND IMMEDIATELY! THIS IS THE POLICE!”

Time to move. If I can get close enough without him seeing me…

I jump over a forty foot gap to the next rooftop, then run towards the goon, trying to stay low.

“I REPEAT—“

I’m close now. I can hear the Mafioso: “Dirty coppers! You bit off more than ya can chew now, ya bums!” They really talk like that.

He raises his Tommy gun at the chopper.

I’m not close enough, he’s going to shoot them down.

I launch off an air vent high up into the air. Up, up, up towards the Mafioso…

At the apogee of my jump, I fire a Marauderang. It misses – they usually do – but I catch his attention and he swings his gun around.

Have you ever tried dodging in mid-air? It’s a rhetorical question, you don’t need to answer. Let me tell you, dodging in mid-air is impossible. I have to ride my jump out and hope he’s not a good shot. A rooftop rushes up towards me --

He fires.

Budda budda budda

Tracer bullets rip over my head, sizzling like lasers off into the night. I land – oof! - and roll behind some HVAC units on the roof of this mid-rise. The goon’s armor piercing bullets track after me, ripping through the metal ducting on the rooftop with a terrible racket. Sparks and shredded metal cascade down on me.

“Where ya hiding, ya stinking mutt?” The Mafioso floats overhead, awash in heat waves from his jet pack.

I peer up from the wreckage of the HVAC unit. I ready a Marauderang in my wrist launcher.

Rolling out from under some twisted metal, I take aim at, let’s see… at his crotch.

I fire. The spinning projectile launches from my gauntlet and flies in a blur the short distance from my outstretched arm to his groin.

Direct hit.

He does not crumple over, or groan, or collapse. He just turns, backlight by the chopper’s searchlight. His evil cartoony face, set in a permanent scowl, looks down at me.

“Below the belt, eh? Why you…”

The Jet Pack Mafioso opens up with his Tommy gun. I leap out of the way, chased by red hot armor piercing bullets. I roll and roll and roll…

…right off the roof.

“Yaaah!” I scream. I’m falling.

Shit! How high up am I? I turn my head, trying to see where I’m heading. If it’s ten stories or less, I’m cool, it won’t kill me.

Bad news. I’m twenty-five stories up and counting.

I’m too far away to kick off the wall that’s rushing by me, too far away to grab an outcropping or a ledge or anything to slow my fall.

Vaguely I’m aware of the Mafioso above me, yelling in his weird James Cagney vernacular. Retro asshole.

Then I see it below me. A flagpole. It looks really small and weak, but it’s the only thing between me and The Big Bounce.

I reach out with my right hand. I can’t tell if I’m going to –

PRANG!

I hit the flagpole with the crook of my elbow and I bounce off it. Something snaps deep in my right shoulder and a lightning bolt of pain rips through me. The impact miraculously rebounds me into the wall of the building I feel off, and I kick hard, bouncing off the wall and across the alley. I pinball off another wall and land face-first in a wet, dirty alleyway.

I can’t move. Is my nose broken? I think I pulled something in my shoulder. I just lay there, gasping for air.

Dimly I’m aware of the turbine whine of the Jet Pack Mafioso’s jetpack overhead. It sounds like he’s coming down to check on me. Or finish me off. I can’t tell how close he is.

Sirens. I hear sirens. Am I hurt?

Where is he? I can’t tell how badly hurt I am. I’m afraid that if I try to get up, I won’t be able to, and this asshole will just shoot me. On the other hand, if I just lay here he’s definitely going to shoot me. I move my head slightly to one side.

There. In the reflection of a puddle, I see the Mafioso slowly descending. He’s what, about twenty feet above me, five feet over…

“What a dope,” the Mafioso says, laughing. “Ya frickin’ iced yourself, saved me the trouble. Haw!”

About two feet away from me, next to a dumpster, partially hidden by wet newspaper and junk food wrappers, I see a car battery. It’s all rusted and crusty; who knows how long it’s been here. It’s just what I need.

I can feel the heat of the jetpack exhaust on my cheek as the goon descends closer and closer.

“Ta think of all the trouble youse given us, and here you go out like a rube, a babbo.” What the hell is he talking about? Is that English?

It’s go time.

I spring up into a crouching position, ignoring the pain. I palm the old car battery in my right hand – ouch! My shoulder! – and then I spin…

The Jet Pack Mafioso is floating on a cushion of heat waves, about fifteen feet off the ground. His big Mickey Mouse eyes go comically wide when he sees me move and the jumbo cigar drops from his mouth. He swings his Tommy gun around, aiming at me.

I throw the car battery at his head.

The battery strikes him right in his weird plastic robot gangster face, knocking him back into the wall, splashing his rubbery skin and plastic hair with acid and nasty-ass calcified chemicals.

“Gaaah!” he screams.

He fires blindly, and his bullets tear up the wall behind me. The sound of the gun is deafening, echoing down the wet alley.

Ignore the pain. Ignore the pain.

I leap up like a jack-in-the-box and whomp him in the head with a roundhouse kick. He reels, firing into the air.

“Motherfucker!” he screams, wiping at his eyes.

I grab him by the double-breasted lapels and shake him. “That doesn’t sound like mobster slang.” I backhand him. “Can you imagine Al Capone saying ‘motherfucker?’” I smack him again. “Come on, stay in character, dude!”

With a snarl, he brings the Tommy gun up and catches me under the chin. Have I mentioned that the polymer exo-skeletons the Jet Pack Mafia wear increase their strength tenfold? Well, consider it mentioned. The blow knocks me back into a dumpster, which crumples.

“Eat this, you dirty—“ The goon pulls the trigger, but his gun doesn’t fire. He must have busted it on my chin. Hah! Dick.

I extricate myself from the crumpled dumpster. My right shoulder feels like it has red hot pokers sticking into it.

The Mafioso considers his options, then does the smart thing. He lifts off.

“This ain’t over, punk!” he yells in his dumb accent as he flies up and out of the alley. “Not by a longshot. When we get through with you, you’ll be pushing up daisies! Fish food! You’ll be wearing cement galoshes, you stinkin’ mutt!” He goes on like this for a while until his voice is lost in the sound of the police helicopter thrumming overhead.

My shoulder is fucking killing me. Time to call it a night.

I think I may have serious damage here

It feels like there is a river of molten lava running under my right shoulder blade. Whenever I turn my head to the left, it feels like the lava is going to just fucking erupt right out of my back.

I swallow enough Aleve to give a horse liver damage, and the pain subsides a little. I'm going to downgrade the pain from "excruciating" to just plain "agonizing."

I realize that I can't go to a chiropractor, I've got a meeting today at noon at work with Margo and the steering committee of the Mystery Project. I call this guy Lisa goes to, Dr. Bobby, and make an appointment for 3 PM. I'm happy he's open.

The shower is agony. I try to wash my hair but the red hot stitch of pain in my shoulder nearly brings me to tears. The hydro-massage showerhead pounds away at my injured back uselessly. My skin is mostly bulletproof; pulsating showers don't really cut it.

I'm not sure what the dress code is, so I gingerly pull myself into a sports jacket and slacks and limp towards my car.

Note to self: never try to stop a twenty-story fall with one arm.

oh my fucking backk

my baCK IS F fucked up, ui'm serious. I'm typing thids with my lft hanf becaues I can't movr my fucking right arm. And my6 neck, i can't move my neck,

motherfuckuing jett pack nafia...

I gotyta call a chiropractor asap

Owww

November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving blows

My Thanksgiving celebration consisted of General Tso's Chicken and Moo Shoo Pork, chased down with a few Tsingtao beers while watching the Turbos destroy the Angels, 41-9. Ouch.

Everybody's doing something for Thanksgiving that doesn't involve me. JC and his woman are at her folk's house, Mitch and Lisa are in Vermont, my brother's all the way over in New Avalon, and my mom is dead whereas I am not. So it's yet another solo Thanksgiving for me, which is fine because I'm a lone wolf, I'm a one-man army, I am a rock, I am an island.

I suck.

Fuck it, I'm going on patrol. Hopefully I get to beat the crap out of somebody tonight.


November 24, 2004

I'm going to die alone

So I get a call from my brother – Serenity’s pregnant! This is good news because as you’ll recall they thought her womb was a rocky place where his seed could find no purchase. I offer hearty congratulations, and then my sister-in-law comes on the line. It’s like we’re best buds now. She’s very excited – giddy, really – and I don’t know, it’s kind of sweet.

“So you’ll have to thank Heidi for me, for the nettle tea recipe,” Serenity says. She means Hydrangea, mistress of Tibetan magic and total fox. Colin and Serenity met her during the Hungry Ghost caper on Halloween. They think she’s my girlfriend. I wish.

Serenity says. “I drank the tea and went into the fertility clinic the next week and the doctor just freaked out. They thought I was infertile, you know. Anyway, the doctor really wanted a copy of the recipe. But it’s the weirdest thing, after I made the tea I lost the recipe. I had it in my folder, and then it was just gone. So if you think of it, ask Heidi to email me the recipe.”

“Yeah, I’ll ask her when I see her,” I say.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Serenity says. “Did it not work out?”

“What? Why would you say that?”

“I can just tell by the tone of your voice,” she says. “Were you not ready for a commitment, or was she just in a different space…?”

“What does that mean, Serenity? A different space.” I’m getting irritated here.

“Oh, you know, she just seemed so… different from you. I’m not being critical; everybody has their own life path they need to walk.”

“Okay, thanks for the dating advice Obi-Wan,” I say.

“So did you break up?”

“Yes. Yes, we broke up. But it’s cool, I’m just skipping down my own life path over here.”

“I’m sorry, Connor. I liked her.”

“Yeah, me too.” I did, too. I liked her.

She lowers her voice, all secretive and shit. “So what happened? Did she dump you, or was it the other way around?”

“Serenity, you know that new thing we do, the bonding thing?”

“Uh huh.”

“Yeah, let’s not do that anymore.”

I’m just kidding of course (sort of) and we end the call with best wishes and jokes about baby names. Colin will go with anything Serenity wants, as long as the kid’s middle name is Tiberius.

I get off the phone and sit alone in my house, which suddenly feels big and cold. I feel like a human Steely Dan song.

Yeah, I don’t really know what that means, either.

November 23, 2004

The Incredibles

Mad props to The Incredibles, which is just an excellent all-around movie. Velvet Marauder says check it out.

The big end fight scene, where The Incredibles and Frozone fight the Omnidroid? That was the shit! I think it knocks the Spider-Man 2 subway fight out of the number one spot for Best Movie Superhero Fight. Plus, Frozone was just so cool. He reminds me of that ice guy in Ann Arbor, MI - Glaciator. Excellent movie.


Bad Captain

Evergreen City's newly elected mayor Chip McChesney held his first press conference today. He's very excited about leading our city into the 21st century and is honored that blah blah blah. As promised during his campaign, he wants to work with the Port Authority to expand and modernize our port, wants to extend "growth incentives" to key industries like biotech, give tax breaks to real estate developers, and crack down on crime.

What kind of name is Chip McChesney? That's a singing chipmunk name.

Why am I posting about this? Because at the end of the conference, which I watch on TV, he says:

"I want to make our city safer and saner, and that means curtailing the activities of parahuman vigilantes like the Velvet Marauder. Evergreen City neither asks for nor needs that individual's dubious and illegal brand of justice. This is the 21st century, and our citizens -- all our citizens -- must live under the rule of law.

"To reach that goal, I would like to introduce my candidate for Evergreen City's new police chief, a man with a distinguished career in dealing with parahuman crime. He served with distinction as the captain of the Detroit PD's Major Crimes Unit, and has devoted his life to serving his community. I'd like to introduce Captain Taylor Ryczek, Evergreen City's police chief for a new era of peace and stability."

There's some applause and then Ryczek steps forward. He breaks six feet easy, a big brawny guy that's pushing 50, with a military haircut and clear blue eyes. He kind of looks like that cat who played Big Ed on Twin Peaks, Everett McGill. Here's what he looks like.

This can't be good. Ryczek, that's a bad guy name. In my world, if you have a name like Captain Ryzek, you're trouble.

I'm rarely wrong about this kind of shit.

Superficial banter and an intriguing offer

So I’m sitting at work, shopping for shoes online instead of working. I found a nice pair of Pradas on sale. Shopping always cheers me up. What can I say, I’m a product of my culture.

As I’m online Margo pops into my office/cube/cell with a cheery, “Morning, Mackenzie!” I almost have a heart attack and quickly switch to the spreadsheet that I should be working on.

“That doesn’t look like work…” she says, sipping her Odwalla.

“No, it does not, but I assure you it is,” I say. “You almost made me pee my pants.”

She smiles and I forget about Hydrangea for a minute and just bask in Margo’s beautiful Margo-ness. She's wearing a black V-neck sweater over a white Oxford shirt and a snug skirt.

“That sounds like a personal problem.” We talk like this, it’s our interpersonal paradigm, this superficial banter.

“I’m sure you didn’t come down here to discuss my bladder.”

“No, I did not. So listen,” she says in a slightly lower voice. “That project I mentioned the other week? Are you up for it?”

“I don’t know what ‘it’ is.”

“I can’t really say…” she says.

“How coy. Is it the QuantumWorks thing…?”

That’s the secret project that the people up on 9 are working on. They’re sequestered from the rest of the company behind security doors and always have catered lunches brought to them. It’s some kind of “blue sky” software development think tank or something. There’s a lot of rumors and speculation about it around the office, but I’m not really interested as there are no super-villains involved.

“I can’t really say,” she says again.

“Let me get this straight: you want me to sign up for a project, but you won’t tell me what it is.”

She grins. “Right.”

“I’d have to clear it with Dragon Lady first, and that’s not likely…” Dragon Lady’s my boss. You don’t get a nickname like Dragon Lady for being huggable.

“We already cleared it with her.”

“Well, I’ve got projects…”

“Make somebody else do it.”

“I don’t know, Margo…”

“There’s a substantial bonus,” she says.

“I’m in.”

“Great!” She hops to her feet, happy. “We’ve got a meeting on Friday at noon, I’ll introduce you to the steering committee.”

“Friday? That’s the day after Thanksgiving, I was going to go shopping.”

She rolls her eyes. “You’re such a girl, Mackenzie. Shop after the meeting. I’ll send you a meeting request in Outlook. Hey, and don’t tell anybody.” She points a finger at me, momentarily serious.

I cross my heart. “No ma’am.”

Margo grins and waves as she leaves with a flip of her hair. “Thanks Mackenzie! You’re the best!”

I have to admit, I am curious.

November 22, 2004

Yet another goddamn armored car heist

This is getting fucking annoying. This time somebody with a camcorder got footage of three Jet Pack Mafia goons blasting off with bags of loot, laughing. Each of these robberies happens in the suburbs or outside of town, and as we all know I'm strictly an urban jungle guy.

I wish I could fly.

I know, everybody wishes they could fly, but with me it's actually a possibility. It happens. You find an alien hover-belt, or a flight ring or something. I mean, that guy in San Dimas, Chrysalis -- he started off as a street level guy, then he grew those big freaky dragonfly wings. Okay, maybe he's not a good example. Who wants giant crystal wings? How does he go into restaurants?

I should ask My Guy what the options are for upgrading the armor with some sort of flight or gliding capabilities. I've got to stay competitive. This is like an arms race. The Jet Pack Mafia are making me look like a putz, and pretty soon Kestrel or somebody is going to come along and cut in on my scene.

Patrol Report

I mistakenly thought that going on patrol would cheer me up, but I am so wrong. I hop around Midtown listening to Paul Oakenfield and all I accomplish is bringing my pulse rate up a little. I end up just sitting on a rooftop, moping.

Okay, here it is: I kind of miss Hydrangea a little. I mean, I could get used to hanging out with somebody like that. You know, a pretty girl.

Don't get me wrong, I have friends and stuff, but I can't really tell them about the secret identity or else it wouldn't be a secret identity, would it? I can't tell my brother, either. It makes me feel like a dick. Then on the other hand, I have my superhuman peer group; people like Wombat and Kestrel and her. It's great to have other super freaks to talk shop and team up with and stuff, but it's sort of a business relationship - you always have to have your game face on.

Maybe I should get a cat.


November 20, 2004

Another armored car robbery

There was another armored car hold-up today. This one was right at the edge of Chinatown in front of Pacific Rim Bank. The armored car was blown up too, just like the robbery at Emerald Greens.

According to the news, witnesses said that the bandits (at least three of them) were wearing pinstripe suits and were carrying Tommy guns. After the robbery they blasted off in a cloud of smoke and flew away, laughing.

Jet Pack Mafia.

Guess I’m going on patrol. Shit, and I was planning on drinking beer and playing Halo 2 over at Mitch and Lisa’s tonight.

November 19, 2004

Underwear Recommendations for Urban Avengers

Score! Butt Huggers! I had Amazon ship me some underwear at work - Paul Frank Butt Huggers. It's a 3 pack of Butt Hugging briefs in stylish colors.

Briefs are by far the best underwear for crimefighting. I've tried a number of different styles of underwear beneath my body armor, and briefs come out on top. Not literally on top, like Superman; it's a metaphor. Or an aphorism, something.

Anyway, the underwear. Under layers of ballistic nylon and Nomex and Kevlar, you want lightweight underwear that doesn't bunch up or heat up.

-Boxers: Boxers bunch up right when you're pulling the armor on, and just stay bunched up the whole time. Uncomfortable. Not recommended.

-Boxer briefs: These are okay, but they heat up under all that high-tech material, leading to some nasty crotch sweat. Marginally recommended.

-Biker shorts: These tight fitting polyester shorts are like a deep fryer for your groin. Not recommended.

-Briefs: The best choice. Lightweight fabric, low surface area, snug; briefs are the optimum undergarment for crimefighting, provided you wear them under your armor.

-Thongs/jockstrap: Not recommended.

-Going commando: I tried this for a night. There was chafing. Bad chafing. The kind of chafing Job would get. Not recommended.

In summary: I recommend briefs.

November 18, 2004

Patrol Report

Patrol was dead last night.

The city is covered with wet leaves and the salt air from the ocean seems a little colder. Winter is coming.

I listened to Neko Case, my favorite alt.country chick. Her music is great for ambience, but not so good for crimefighting. Next patrol I'm going with Prodigy. You know what Neko Case's music needs? More cowbell.

November 16, 2004

"Death Rock from Space"

Wow, so people are really freaked about the giant sentient asteroid that almost destroyed all life on earth yesterday. What pussies.

At work nobody even noticed my new black cable knit sweater, which sort of makes me look like the sailor in the 70’s Old Spice commercials. Nobody even said anything; everybody was too traumatized by the asteroid, which the Storm Riders destroyed.

The Pentagon describes the asteroid threat as “an extinction level event.” Here’s a tip for the Pentagon: never refer to anything as an “extinction level event” even if it’s over and done. It tends to scare the shit out of people. The media isn’t helping the situation, either. The Inquisitor headline reads: “Death Rock from Space!” Isn’t that an Alien Sex Fiend album? All the news stations are broadcasting round the clock footage of the crisis and they’re running out of footage and experts to interview.

I guess there was an insane meteor shower last night as chunks of the fractured asteroid skipped off the Earth’s atmosphere. I slept through the whole thing.

Nobody’s working today at my office, which is half empty. Everybody’s surfing the Internet or watching the news in one of the break rooms or emailing each other about the narrowly averted demise of the species. Wookie starts weeping and collapses, the victim of a full-on anxiety attack. Corine looks frail and shaky, and keeps repeating, “It’s just so scary.” Fred Schneider has to go smoke a joint in his car just to keep calm. The girl with the white hair in AP is handing out klonopin to everyone.

The weird thing is that I’m not fazed by the near-miss apocalypse. I can’t blame anybody who finds the whole deal terrifying, because it is. The fucked up thing is that my primary reaction to this episode is not fear…

It’s envy.

I’m sort of jealous, really, of the Storm Riders. I don’t think I’ll ever play at that level. They saved the entire fucking planet. I find myself wondering what role the Midnight Rambler played during the whole crisis. Was he in a Storm Shuttle directing Valkris, Storm Lord, and Dr Quark in their battle, or did he just sit the whole thing out at the Weather Center? I mean, it’s not like he’s an Asgardian goddess or storm elemental or Surgeon of Reality or anything, he’s a vigilante like me. He doesn’t even have any powers. I really wonder what the Rambler did, and what I would do if I was in the Storm Riders instead of him.

But I’m not in the Storm Riders, or even the Minute Men, or any of those guys. I’m never going to save the world. Never.

Jesus, what kind of narcissistic asshole gets bummed out when the Earth gets saved from destruction by a pantheon of demi-gods? Me.

Doesn't anybody like my sweater?

November 15, 2004

Earth = 1 Giant Sentient Asteroid = 0

So I guess everybody on earth almost died last night and we didn't even know it.

I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but CNN says that a big living asteroid from another dimension suddenly appeared in our solar system about 48 hours ago on a collision course with Earth. The Storm Riders intercepted the asteroid last night near The Moon in one of their custom space shuttles. I guess Storm Lord and Valkris destroyed the Rhode Island size asteroid with bolts of lightning and Dr Quark flushed the shattered chunks down a dimensional vortex. There was no mention of the Midnight Rambler, who was probably piloting the shuttle.

I slept throught the whole thing. Typical.


November 14, 2004

Golfing in the rain

JC and I golfed in the rain at Shetfield, my favorite course. There are always seagulls on the fairways at Shetfield. I don't know why, but I dig that.

JC's getting progressively more nervous about his upcoming nuptials the first week of December. Whenever he talks about it his ability to golf radically decreases. I keep waiting until he's about to swing or putt, then ask stuff like:

"Man, how much is the food at the reception going to set you back?"
"I really think it's cool that you are just going to forgo sex with anybody else and just have sex with one woman for the rest of your life."
"Have you thought of a name for your first kid yet?"
"You guys are going to be like, together for the rest of your life. That's so cool."
"How many kids are you going to have, anyway?"
"You know, you should sell the Plymouth and get like, a mini-van. Something practical."

He has a really shitty game. I win again!

VillainSupply.com

These people should be arrested under the SuperPatriot Act.

November 13, 2004

Patrol Report

Today an armored car got hijacked then blown up outside town near Emerald Greens. One of the guards is dead and the other one is comatose, in critical condition. No witnesses. No idea who did it.

Naturally, I go out on patrol. I bounce around Midtown listening to Block Rockin' Beats, feeling ineffectual. This is my response to everything: go on patrol. I'm starting to think that from a crimefighting perspective that I might suck.

Seriously. I suck. If my goal is to fight crime in Evergreen City, to make a difference, I think I'm falling way short of that goal. All I do is bounce around the city at night listening to music, occasionally randomly running across a crime by some stroke of luck, not design. I've got superpowers; the bouncing around stuff is like jogging to me. I should call it "Jogging Report" instead of "Patrol Report." An armored car gets hijacked and blown up (exploded, you might say), and all I can do is go jogging.

November 12, 2004

Greatest Hits

I have (not) had a lot of requests for some kind of easy-to-reference index to the Velvet Marauder adventures, as Blogger doesn't exactly make browsing through archived posts easy.

Well, I can't be bothered to publish a complete index or screw around with my format, so I'll do the next best thing: here are some links to my greatest battles on the blog.

Vs Exploder - My first blog battle against the human powderkeg known as Exploder here.

Vs Judo Boys - Action in Chinatown! Guest-starring the very British and very annoying Kestrel
here.

Vs Todd - Some guy in my office goes postal
here.

Vs Wombat - Sparring with my buddy Wombat
here and here.

Vs Ninja - Humiliating encounter with a ninja
here.

Vs Yiff - Epic property-destroying battle versus perverted humping freak in bear costume
here, then here, then here.

Vs Bladder - Humiliating encounter with my bladder
here.



November 11, 2004

"...hear the lamentations of the printer."

I walk over to the fucking printer, pick it up about a foot off it's table (it's only about 70 lbs) and drop it with a big crash! I hear something break inside it. Then I go and sit down and call in another trouble ticket.

What? I'm a superhero. I solve problems with violence.

Seventh Circle of Hell - Broken Printer

The fucking printer is still down.

A guy came down and poked around in its guts, scratched his head, and left. I refuse to print out my shit on another printer, I want to use this fucking printer. If this was an isolated thing, I wouldn't care. But shit like this happens all the time, like this building has a poltergeist or something.

This is the kind of shit I get worked up over? A broken printer? I feel like Dilbert.

I'll give them an hour to fix it. Then I crush it. I can do it, too. Mid-range super strength, remember? I'll fuck that shit up. I will.

Printer Down! Printer Down!

Work is pissing me off today.

I try to print out a draft of this report I’m doing about our marketing demographic study, and the fucking printer in our area has crapped out. Surfer Dave thinks I should just print out my shit on a different printer on this floor, and I will, but I don’t think I should have to, you know?

I call in a “trouble ticket” to our tech guys to see if we can get this fucking printer fixed. I’m sure my call generates an immediate emergency response and they scramble an elite nerd SWAT team to handle the problem in a timely and efficient manner. Yes sir, that printer will be fixed in no time.

Plus, I’m out of my own coffee so I can’t make a French press and I have to drink the bitter muddy swill that passes for coffee in my office.

I catch a glimpse of Margo, who is wearing a flattering white mandarin collar short-sleeve dress today.

November 09, 2004

Margo Report

Margo is wearing a striped black and grey mohair sweater and snug blue jeans today. She's carrying her usual Odwalla as she comes out of a meeting room with a bunch of suits, guys I've never seen before. Nobody wears suits in my company, unless they're meeting with other grown-ups from the real world. I wonder who they are?

Anyway, Margo grins at me and says, "Mackenzie! It's been forever. I gotta talk to you."

To express your undying love? Probably not.

"You need to borrow some money?" I say. Hilarious. That joke never gets old. That's what passes for wit with me these days. Oscar Wilde would bitch-slap me.

"No, dummy. I've got a project for you. Top secret. I'll swing by sometime this week and we can chat."

"Okay," I say. "Is this the QuantumWorks thing?"

"It's top secret." She playfully swats my bicep. "Hey, you been working out?"

You have no idea.


Index to Halloween Storyline

Since no one demanded it, I thought I'd put up an index of sorts to my recent Halloween adventure featuring the lovely Hydrangea and a horde of ravenous ghouls and my brother and his wife and a reincarnated evil lama. I thought it might be helpful to have them organized in sequential order, so here goes.

The Halloween Storyline

Part One - Hydrangea
Part Two - Zoo No Go
Part Three - "Can I see your phurba?"
Part Four - Irritating Serenity
Part Five - A non-exploding envelope
Part Six - A bunch of unresolved emotional shit
Part Seven - Double date with density
Part Eight - Wrathful and victorious teacher of evil, part one
Part Nine - Wrathful and blah blah blah, part two
Part Ten - Best. Halloween. Ever.
Part Eleven - "Just like in The Matrix"
Part Twelve - Bonding with Serenity
Part Thirteen - She leaves
Part Fourteen - Casablanca



November 08, 2004

Media Coverage

I totally forgot to post the media response to the Halloween Hungry Ghost Massacre.

As you might imagine, the discovery of dozens of corpses in various states of headlessness and liquidity inside the Asian Art Museum is a big deal and the usually sober and professional local media responds by… what’s the phrase I’m looking for? Ah, yes… by going apeshit.

“HALLOWEEN HOLOCAUST” screams the Evergreen Inquisitor headline. “Dozens dead and dismembered” These guys must have master’s degrees from the Stan Lee School of Alliteration.

The Times headline gets points for their direct approach: “BLOOD BATH! Velvet Marauder key person of interest in Asian Art Museum massacre.”

I Tivo’d the local TV news. KLUB 11’s coverage featured a breathless Leslie Milton standing in front of a backdrop of police lights and body bags and windbreaker clad Todd Gregory circling over the museum in the KLUB helicopter. “Evergreen City police are not saying whether the vigilante and an unnamed woman spotted at the scene are suspects in the deaths, only that they are persons of interest,” shouts Leslie Milton over the sound of helicopters. Persons of interest: that doesn’t sound good.

KORN and KARP’s footage is just like KLUB 11’s – somebody in a windbreaker urgently reporting from a scene alive in strobing lights and rotor wash. “Responding officers found a scene straight out of the Rue Morgue,” says the KARP chick, who gets mad props for the Poe reference. “…a bloody orgy of gore and severed heads,” says the KORN guy, who looks sexually aroused by the whole scene.

Back to Leslie Milton, who shouts, “We’ve just learned that police are reviewing museum security camera footage and are calling in their occult experts. This is not official, but we believe that the police suspect zombie activity. As to what role the mysterious Velvet Marauder played in this grisly scene? Who can say?”

I can say! I saved Evergreen City from a Hungry Ghost Apocalypse!

On the plus side, Leslie Milton called me “mysterious” again. Maybe that can be my hyperbolic descriptor: mysterious. All of the classic Marvel heroes had what I call “hyperbolic descriptors,” adjectives or clauses that became part of their name, like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Uncanny X-Men, or Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Maybe I could be The Mysterious Velvet Marauder.

It’s better than “midnight maniac.”




November 07, 2004

Finally -- a mugging!

Went on patrol last night.

I bounce around the rooftops of Chinatown and Old Town for a while, stop by the Interbionics Building to check for ninja (no luck) then head over to Queen's Row.

I'm starting to feel like myself again, pulling myself out of the unmanly depression that I sunk into when Hydrangea left. I'm young, I'm handsome, and I’m super-powered - what's there to complain about? I'm the fucking Velvet Marauder. Life's good. Right?

Anyway, I hit Queen's Row at about midnight, hoping for some action. I spring from rooftop to rooftop, listening to the Crystal Method album "Legion of Boom" on the com-suite. Good patrol music. Velvet Marauder says check it out.

I skid to a stop on the same rooftop where I had my, um, accident last month. (see post Drinking + patrol = disaster, 10/9) I survey Queen's Row, which is full of the usual weekend revelers, hipsters on X, and frat boys spilling into and out of the dozens of clubs and bars on the Row. I love Evergreen City because even when the weather turns shitty, people still go out and go dancing and get shit-faced.

What's this? Something going on in an alleyway next to that jazz club. I switch the goggles to infrared and zoom in.

A mugging! Some old guy getting pushed around by a couple punks. I almost cheer. It's been months - months! - since I've stopped a proper mugging. I was starting to get worried; when I went into the urban vigilante business I thought I'd be stopping a mugging every night. Sadly, I'm in the wrong town for that. I need to move to Turbine City or Chicago for that kind of pervasive street crime. I've come to grips with the depressing lack of muggings in my city, but it's still something I long for.

I turn off the Crystal Method. Game on. I leap off the roof clear across Queen's Row and into the alley, rebound off a fire escape and land on top of big dumpster with a loud clang right next to the muggers, scaring the shit out of them. I pop into Pose #1 Vigilant Dragon, my default bad-ass pose.

They're street kids; two grubby white boys in hoodies with the hollowed cheekbones and sunken eyes of junkies. They've got an old man up against the wet brick of the alley and are rifling through his pockets. The old guy has an Abe Lincoln beard and he's swaying - he's either hurt or drunk. If he's hurt I'm gonna kick the shit out of these guys.

The punks jump back, startled by my sudden entrance and no doubt awed by the Vigilant Dragon pose.

"Hey. Assholes."

We all stare at each other for a second. The old man slumps to the ground with a groan.

I stab a gloved finger at one of the punks, who's holding the old guy's wallet. "Lose the wallet or lose your teeth," I growl. Pretty butch, huh? I've practiced that line in front of a mirror.

They run for it. Stupidly, the guy with the wallet doesn't drop it. Fine with me.

I give them a two-second head start before I go after them. I launch off the dumpster and over their heads, landing in front of them.

I clothesline one of the punks with an extended arm - he runs full speed into the crook of my elbow and ends up flat on his back, gasping for air.

The guy with the wallet runs past me, scared shitless, screaming like a girl. I spin and launch a Marauderang from my gauntlet. It catches him in the ankle and he falls face first, bouncing off the wet brick. Ouch.

Casual-like, I walk up to the prostate punk and roll him over with my boot. He's crying. Blood and snot bubble out of his broken nose. Can't be more than seventeen. I kneel down and pick up the old man's wallet.

"Stay put," I say in my best menacing tone.

I check out the old man with the Abe Lincoln beard, who seems okay. It looks like they just pushed him around. He's drunk and, yes, he's pissed himself. I can relate.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he mumbles. "My wallet..."

I give him his wallet back then walk back to the punks. Lifting them up by the nape of their necks, I shake them a little to get their attention.

"You're lucky he's not hurt. I see you fuckers down here trying to jack people again, I'm going to hurt you. Bad. Now go clean yourselves up. Read a book or something."

With one last shake for good measure I let them go. They stumble down the alley. Punks.

"Can you -- can you help me up?" the old man says.

I gently pull him to his feet, make sure his wallet is in his pocket. Jesus, what's this guy been drinking? He smells like my Uncle Joe at Christmas.

"You okay, sir?"

"Just need to catch my breath... Goddamn kids. Goddamn punk kids."

"Tell me about it," I say. "Look, I'm going to call an ambulance, get you checked out."

"No, no, I'm fine. I'm not hurt, I'm okay, not hurt."

Man, he smells. What's the protocol here? I can't just leave him in this alley.

"What's your name, sir?"

"Gus," he says.

"Hi, Gus. I'm the Velvet Marauder. You live around here?"

He nods. "On Sixth and Pryor." That's like ten blocks away. He can't walk home. I pull my Nokia out of the utility belt and call a cab.

I gently help Gus to the end of the alley and wait for the cab. In a boozy soliloquy I learn that he was out drinking with his woman and he got in a fight with her and started drinking gin and he should never drink gin and he's got a Chihuahua at home named Scooby and it was his woman's but now it loves him so much that it's pretty much his dog now and oh how he loves Scooby and then the cab comes thank God.

After stuffing Gus in the backseat I hand the driver, a jaded East African guy, a twenty and give him the address. Yeah, I carry cash in my utility belt.

"Wait, mister. Hold it," the driver says. He doesn't even comment on my crime fighting garb. "I cannot take this man. Look at him, he is very drunk."

Gus is flopped over in the back seat, muttering about Scooby, smelling like pee.

"He's not that bad. Just drop him off."

"No way," the guy says. "What am I going to do, kick him out on the curb? Carry him?" He pushes the twenty back at me.

I sigh. "All right. Christ."

Pushing Gus over, I hop in the back seat. In a few minutes I'm hauling him out the cab in front of the Pryor Estates, an old brick apartment building that you would say had "character" if you were being charitable. I know this place; I fought one of the Jet Pack Mafia on the roof during the Villain's Revolt.

"I really appreciate this," Gus says, then burps.

"Don't mention it. What floor are we on?"

"Nine. Oh, the elevators are out for maintenance."

"Great."

To save time I just throw his pee-soaked drunken septuagenarian ass over my shoulder and run up the stairs. Mercifully he does not vomit. I guarantee you this kind of shit only happens to me. You will never in a million years see Silver Striker helping drunks home.

His apartment is sweltering hot and smells of socks. I help him into the living room, which is dimly lit by a table lamp, and ease him into a tattered recliner chair. I turn the heat down.

I look around. The place is shabby, stained. There's a dusty cuckoo clock on the wall next to old family pictures of children and sunshine. On the TV there's a photo of him on a sailboat, grinning, happy. An ancient looking Chihuahua lies curled up on the couch - it can't be bothered to move or bark at me. Dishes are piled in the sink. Soft snoring comes from the bedroom in back. Gus's woman.

"Will you get me something to drink?" Gus calls from his chair.

I pick up a dirty tumbler of scotch and melted ice from a side table and rinse it off in the sink. Setting the water at his side, I ask him, "You sure you're feeling all right, Gus?"

"Yeah. I'm fine." He's already drifting into sleep.

"Okay, I turned the heat down a little. You take care now, Gus."

"Thanks," Gus murmurs. "Thanks, Midnight Rambler."

I cannot catch a fucking break.

November 05, 2004

You've got mail

Kick ass! The new KOMA probes showed up in the mail, courtesy of My Guy. Once again my gadgets-armor-and-weapons guy comes through.

I get twelve KOMA bugs, which are tiny pin size seismic/vibro surveillance devices, and a receiver that hooks into my utility belt’s com suite. There’s also a little brochure that tells me how to use them. All I have to do is plant the KOMA probe and I can listen to it on my MP3 player. I can hear a rat fart from two miles away, or so the brochure assures me.

This is great, I’m going to try this out at work!

Mayor McCheese

We’ve got a new mayor in Evergreen City, this real estate developer guy named Chip McChesney.

I have to admit, I don’t really follow city politics very closely. I mean, I can tell you who’s on the city council and I have an opinion about stuff, but municipal politics doesn’t really grip my shit.

Having said that, I think the new mayor may be a dick. He’s a pro-business and “law and order” politician, and wants to hire a new chief of police to crack down on vagrancy and “unauthorized and unsanctioned super-powered vigilantes.” Two guesses who he’s talking about.

Part of me thinks that he’s just full of the usual election year bullshit, but another part of me smells trouble. I mean, do you remember when the Turbine City police created that task force dedicated to hunting down the Midnight Rambler? Those guys were serious, and they hounded Rambler for the better part of a year until it came out that the police chief was a salt vampire.

Maybe I’m being paranoid. I mean, I live in happy progressive Evergreen City, not cesspool of crime and corruption Turbine City. It couldn’t happen here, right?

November 04, 2004

Casablanca

Depressed. I'm not in the mood for patrol tonight. Work is too boring and inane to even blog about. I saw Margo today, and I don't even remember what she was wearing - that's how bad I am.

I come home, work out for an hour, take a bath, then make a mix disc full of sad songs while I eat cold pizza. And no, I don't put REM's "Everybody Hurts" on my disc. I may be juvenille, but even in my malaise I still have my standards. I end up with Neko Case, Johnny Cash, some Morrissey, some Sarah McLachlan, and others that I'm too embarassed to write down. So what if I like "Send In The Clowns"? Sue me, all right? Anyway, to butch up my disc I throw in "Love Hurts" by Nazareth, who rawk.

I cap off the rest of the evening by downing successive bottles of ale and watching Casablanca, which makes me cry. Am I growing breasts? Because I feel like I'm turning into a woman. At least I don't gorge myself on chocolates.

I crawl into bed late. The sheets still smell like her. I should probably wash them.

November 03, 2004

She leaves

After work, I meet Hydrangea at the Metropolitan Hotel for a drink. She’s flying to Bhutan today and I don’t know when I’ll see her again, or – let’s face it – if I’ll ever see her again. I just don't play in her league.

Before she leaves she presses an amulet into my hands. It’s a small silver box hanging on a leather thong, inlaid with some kind of pretty stone.

“This is a gau, a prayer amulet,” she says. “Inside is a prayer that I’ve written for you. To keep you safe.” She touches my cheek and smiles a little sadly.

“Thanks,” I say. I’m completely at a loss for anything glib to say. “Listen, are you sure you can’t…?”

She shakes her head gently. “I have to go. We’ll meet again.”

Hydrangea gives me a kiss then quickly turns and ducks into her town car. Then she’s gone.

Then she’s gone.

November 01, 2004

Bonding with Serenity

I’m in no mood for work today, so I call in and speak with Corine, tell her I’m going to work from home. I’m going to stay home and make breakfast for Colin and Serenity and then give them a ride to the airport.

Serenity wakes up first. Colin’s still asleep. I make her an omelet (antibiotic free eggs, organic red onion and olives) and some tea.

“I really like Heidi,” she says between bites. “Why didn’t you tell us about her?”

“Ah, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a long-term thing.”

“That’s too bad. I think she’s a good influence on you.”

I let that one pass.

We sit eating in silence for a while, but it’s not an uncomfortable silence.

“Hey, I think it’s great that you guys are trying to get pregnant. You’d make good parents. The world needs more people like you guys to be parents. So, you know, good luck.” That’s as close to an apology that I’m able to muster for years of her putting up with my crap.

“Thank you, Doug. That’s nice. Thank you.”

We smile across the table at each other. We’ve bonded.

Later in the day when I see them off at ECX I get a big hug from both of them. I find myself actually happy that they came to visit. Maybe I can fly out to New Avalon sometime soon.

God, what is happening to me? I used to be such a dick. I’m losing my touch.

"Just like in The Matrix."

I wake up late and find Hydrangea making breakfast for Colin and Serenity in the kitchen, dressed in my boxers, socks, and an Oxford shirt. They seem very pleased to see her here and greet me warmly. Colin’s smiling like an idiot.

They leave for their wedding and we have the house to ourselves. I show her the Secret Chamber and my gym, and then we spend the rest of the day on the couch and in bed.

I have a bunch of questions about the Yungtun-Trogyal case which she patiently answers. I learn the following:

- The phurba I used to kill Albert Meers was just a cheap trinket from Bali, and it’s efficacy was a result not of any inherent magical properties, but rather of my true desire that the phurba work. I in effect made the phurba a magic weapon by willing it to be one. When I saw Hydrangea lying there, and I thought she was dead, there was nothing else in the world I wanted more than to destroy her killer. “I don’t think I’ve ever inspired transcendent homicidal rage in anybody before,” she says. “It’s kind of sweet.”

- Hydrangea engaged in a psychic battle with Yungtun-Trogyal and was overcome. The fiery Tibetan demon was an avatar, a construct created on both the astral and material realms. Once Albert Meers died, the demon no longer existed.

- The spinning vortex thing behind Yungtun-Trogyal was the portal to the Hungry Ghost realm. Again, no evil lama, no spinning vortex thing.

“So how does it work, the magic thing?” I ask.

“Simply put, once one realizes that the world all around us and time itself are constructs, are illusion, then one can manipulate the physical world.”

“Just like in The Matrix.”

I expect her to roll her eyes or say that she’s never seen it, but instead she brightens. “Yes! That’s basically it, minus the evil machine overlords. That’s my favorite movie, you know.” *

“No shit?”

“Really. That and Casablanca.”

I happen to own The Matrix so we curl up on the couch and watch it. Later, as the sun goes down the trick-or-treaters come out and we hand out candy at the door. Heidi takes great pleasure in all the kids in costumes.

We order some Thai food and make sweet sweet love some more.

Sometime during the night she slips away and I wake to an empty bed that still smells like her, like beautiful flowers.

* We both agree that the Matrix sequels suck ass, however. "They should have stopped while they were ahead," she says. Word.