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

May 31, 2005


I’m not working today.

I slap a Post-It note on my door that says “On Conference Call,” lock that bastard, then bust out the laptop for a marathon session of Freedom Force vs The Third Reich. Because really, fuck work. How hard would you work if you thought your bosses were a bunch of supervillains? Well, maybe if they were the Darth Vader type who strangles their underlings you would work pretty hard, but mine aren’t. So its video games for me!

I surface occasionally to make coffee runs down to the Starbucks in our building’s lobby and to give Chad “action items” to work on. Somebody has to look busy around here, and it might as well be him. I know, I’m a dick.

Margo flags me down in the main hallway on the Ninth Floor, the one with the alien plants. She’s wearing a flared ivory skirt and a pink blouse with cute pumps today – again, I’m not gay.

“Have you, uh, heard anything from your friend?” she says, looking around furtively.

Ted Bradbury – one of the VPs who run the QuantumWorks project – passes us in the hallway. He nods to us. Ted hates me, and I think he knows I’m the Velvet Marauder. Whatever.

I watch Ted pass and then I pull Margo into my office. “Yeah, he left me a voice mail,” I say quietly. “He hasn’t made contact with you yet?”

“Umm, no. How would he do that, exactly?”

“I don’t know, I’m new at all this stuff,” I say. “He’ll be in touch.”

“Okay. Okay, thanks.” She seems a little nervous.

During my dinner with Margo last week I volunteered the services of The Velvet Marauder to help crack the mystery surrounding the executive supervillains in our company, but now I’m wondering if that was a good call. I told her that VM saved my life once from Exploder and that he gave me a way of contacting him in case of emergencies. But what am I going to do? As the Marauder, I mean? Now that I’m committed, I actually have to do something about this whole QuantumWorks mess. I just thought it would be kind of fun introducing Margo to my alter-ego, but now that means I have to take on a conspiracy of white-collar-super-bad-guys. I’m more of a night stalker type hero, you know? Rescuing people from muggers? I don’t think I’m cut out for this intrigue shit.

I go back to my game and don’t think about it.

May 30, 2005

Emmanator II: Judgment Day

JC and Wendy have a barbecue on Memorial Day, and Wendy’s cousin Emma Casperson, the hot cop from the ECPD’s Paracrime Unit is there. She looks great, she’s wearing clamdiggers and a tight pink cap-sleeve shirt. By the time she shows up I’ve already had a few beers and JC and I are hanging out on lawn chairs debating what the best war movie is. JC thinks it’s Saving Private Ryan, which is just blasphemy.

“Hey, Emma,” I say, waving her over.

She grabs a beer and saunters over with those hips of hers. “Why it’s Mr. Mackenzie,” she says, smiling mischievously. “Long time no see.”

“What’s the best war movie, Emma?” I ask, as if we never slept together.

“Scoot over,” she says and rests her tight butt down on the end of my lawn chair. “Best war movie, huh?”

I jerk a thumb at JC, who looks interested in how this conversation will play out. This is the first time I’ve seen her since the night we had sex. We haven’t called each other. Wendy informed me that I was a “sport fuck.” My term, not hers. “Maynard here thinks it’s Saving Private Ryan.”

“Please,” Emma says scornfully, taking a chug of her beer. Her neck looks beautiful as she swallows. “What’s your pick?” she asks me.

Patton! Patton rules all.”

“Oooh, that’s a good one. I don’t know, I’m old fashioned so I’m going to have to go with The Longest Day or maybe Zulu.”

JC and I both nod. Acceptable choices.

“Okay, next question,” I say. “We ever going to go out again?”

She laughs. “You and me?”


“I wouldn’t get your hopes up,” she says, smiling.

“Cold!” JC says.

I say, “Yeah, what the hell?”

She pats my knee patronizingly. “Don’t misunderstand. I had a good time, and you’re a fun guy, but I’m too involved with my work right now.”

“Busting super-criminals,” I say.


“I heard you guys caught – what was his name? Javelin?”

“Atlatl,” she says.

“That must have been a relief,” I say. I’m feeling bruised, I need to get a shot in to salvage my ego.

“How so?” she says.

“Well, Paracrime hasn’t had much luck catching The Velvet Marauder, have they? I mean, how many chances have you had, but he keeps getting away. That would be frustrating, I imagine, for such a goal-oriented person as yourself.”

JC is smiling, watching this. I bet he wonders if Emma is going to hit me.

Emma stands up, looking a little pissed. Her cheeks redden slightly. “Stick to marketing, Connor. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Will do,” I say, grinning.

She stalks off.

JC snickers. “You have a unique way of pissing people off, Connor.”

“It’s my super power.”

May 27, 2005

Patrol report

Uneventful patrol.

I jumped around Chinatown for a while listening to Ted Nugent on my audio system. Come on, who doesn’t love The Nooge, the Motor City Madman, The Ten Fingers of Doom, the Commando-in-Chief? A guy with that many nicknames can’t be bad.

Things seem to be going okay. I haven’t seen any Paracrime troopers since I got back from Costa Rica, The Malefactors haven’t tried to kill me yet, and I’m meeting Margo as the Velvet Marauder. I should do that tomorrow night. Anyway, I feel good, glad that I’m back, glad that I’m so handsome, glad that I have superpowers that let me jump around like a crazy-ass monkey while I listen to “Great White Buffalo.” Life is good.

May 26, 2005

Fun with the voice changer

I get a package in the mail from My Guy: two voice changer thingies. They look like asthma inhalers, with an albuterol label and everything, but they supposedly can lower and change one’s voice. I need them to conceal my identity when I meet Margo as the Velvet Marauder – otherwise I’d open my mouth and she’d recognize my voice in a second. I wish I was good with voices and accents and stuff; then I could just have my own Velvet Marauder voice. But I suck, the only voice I can do is Christopher Walken –seriously, my Walken rules - and I can’t fight crime talkin’ like Walken.

After working out in my gym outbuilding I try the inhaler. I stand in front of the mirror and say, in my normal voice, “Hello, Margo. I am The Velvet Marauder.”

I squeeze a dose of the voice changer inhaler into my mouth, breathing in deeply. I hold my breath to the count of ten, and then exhale, a bitter chemical taste in my mouth.

“Hello, Margo. I am The Velvet Marauder.” Woah! That sounds totally different!

I try it again. “Hello, Margo. I am The Velvet Marauder.” My voice is rich, deep, well-aged – I sound totally different.

“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” I laugh. That shit really works!

I should really test this out and call somebody who knows my voice. I call Mitch and Lisa’s house on my cell phone. Mitch answers.


“Can I speak to Mitch, please?” I say in my cool new voice.


“This is Officer Dover with the Washington State Patrol. I’d like to talk to you about an incident that occurred on Monday involving your car.”

“My car? What sort of incident?” Mitch is rattled. He really can’t tell it’s me.

“You don’t know what I’m referring to?”


“It appears, sir, that somebody else was driving your car on Monday.”


“Your mama.” I laugh. The “your mama” gag – the pinnacle of modern western humor.

He sounds annoyed. “Who is this?”

I’m laughing in my deep voice now. “I’m Officer Dover, Mitch! Officer Ben Dover!” I start cracking up; it’s very strange hearing an alien voice coming out of your mouth. Strange and funny. “Wait, here’s my buddy Phil McCavity!” I laugh and laugh. God, I am such a schmuck.

“Fuck off,” Mitch says, and hangs up.

The voice changer fucking rules!

May 24, 2005

These stupid-ass ball things

What is up with these fucking ball chairs?

I come back from Costa Rica and all of a sudden everybody at work is sitting on these goofy balls. Have you seen these? They’re these big sturdy plastic balls that will easily support your average not-fat person. My bitch Chad sits on one of them all fucking day, slowly bouncing up and down at his desk. I think he looks like an idiot, but that’s just me.

Those things can’t be good for you. I give Chad another week before he goes back to a chair with hip dysphasia or something.

Plus, this is an office for God’s sake, not a day care. Play with your balls at home. Please.

May 23, 2005

Placing an order with My Guy

I'm really stressed about meeting Margo and having her recognize me instantly as Connor Mackenzie by my voice. Looking for help of the high-tech variety, I contact My Guy - my anonymous weapons and gadget maker - in a secure chatroom online. Here's the jist of our chat:

ME: Do you have anything that can change my voice?

X9: Non-surgical?

ME: Preferably. Like a gadget or something.

X9: You have two options. The first is a throat crab; a tiny robotic voice modulator that you swallow like a pill. It digs itself into your voice box and allows you to change your voice at will. Throat crabs are remarkably effective.

ME: That sounds like a David Cronenberg movie. What’s the 2nd option?

X9: The second option is a special inhaler that delivers an aerosol drug which lowers your voice for up to two hours. It looks like an asthma inhaler.

ME: I’ll take that one, that sounds good. How many doses per inhaler?

X9: About 24.

ME: Can you overnight me a few inhalers? I’ve got a thing I need them for.

X9: Done. Anything else? We have a special on exploding darts.

ME: I’m good, thanks.

May 22, 2005

Patrol Report

For patrol tonight I hop around Midtown and Queen's Row listening to a mix on the suit's audio system.

It's a beautiful, warm night in the E.C. and it seems like everybody's out on the town. Nothing too out of the ordinary; I stop three drunk guys from picking on a skater kid by slapping them around a little, I push a stalled truck out of a busy intersection to the appreciative honks and cheers of all involved, and I chase off some kids tagging The Gap. You know, if they were doing one of those cool grafiti murals I wouldn't give a shit, but I can't stand these punks that just tag stuff. It's like a dog marking his territory by peeing, only dumber.

Other than that, I just kind of play around, enjoying my nocturnal acrobatics. I end my patrol on top of the Bank One building in Pose #1, Vigilant Dragon, gazing out over greater Evergreen City's twinkling starfield of lights. A big white cruise ship glows in The Bay. Usually there are three of these monsters in The Bay on the weekends, loading people for Alaska cruises, but not this year. People are too freaked out that they're Love Boat is going to get attacked by The Kraken, and who can blame them?

I've been thinking about my upcoming meeting with Margo. As the Velvet Marauder, I mean. I promised her (as Connor) that I'd get in touch with VM this week, so I have a few days to mull it over. How should I do this, should I call her as the Velvet Marauder? Show up on the deck of her condo in the middle of the night like Batman and pray she isn't armed? Leave a note with rendezvous instructions for her at work?

Hey... what about my voice? Shit, I hadn't thought of that! I don't have a Velvet Marauder voice, I just sound like Connor Mackenzie. She's going to know it's me the second I open my mouth!


May 21, 2005

My Dinner With Margo

Every time I eat at Moghul Palace I see this grumpy old Indian dude. Scowling, he squats on a stool near the restaurant’s cashier area, watching the waiting area like an old buzzard. I get the impression that the Palace is a family-run joint and that he’s the patriarch, but a figurehead type ruler. You know what I mean? He has all the status, but one of his kids probably runs the restaurant. I’ve never seen the guy do a bit of work aside from the occasional finger pointing and haranguing of the young employees. I get the impression that his job is to just silently, balefully watch the Moghul Palace like a tired old vulture, passing judgment on everyone and everything. I think he’s fascinating.

Sure enough, the grumpy old Indian guy is there on his stool when I meet Margo for dinner. He glares at us from under thick, bushy eyebrows as we exchange awkward greetings in the waiting area.

“Hey Mackenzie,” she says, kind of half-punching/half-patting my shoulder.

“Hi Margo,” I say. “You look nice. I like that skirt.” She’s wearing a light floral print skirt and a ¾ length cashmere sweater over a somewhat low-cut blouse. Amber earrings make her brown eyes sparkle. Margo is beautiful – Have I mentioned that? She’s got sort of a young Mary Tyler Moore look, and her nose crinkles when she laughs. Just to reiterate - she’s beautiful.

“Oh, this thing? Thanks.”

Awkward silence. We look at each other for a second. I’m suddenly keenly aware of my breath, and of the grumpy patriarch staring at us from his perch.

Shit! My pulse rate jumps up. Say something, jack-ass!

“Kind of weird, isn’t it?” Margo says. “Seeing each other outside of work?”

“Yeah,” I say, stupidly.

“Hungry?” she says, smiling.

“I’m Hank Marvin,” I say, stupidly.


“Oh, it’s uh, cockney rhyming slang. You know, Hank Marvin rhymes with starvin’ so when you’re hungry, you say you’re Hank Marvin.”

Margo laughs. “You’re a nerd, Mackenzie.”

I laugh too and suddenly don’t feel so self-conscious. I don’t know what I’m so stressed about, it’s not like we’re on an actual date or anything, we’re here to talk about the supervillains that are controlling the company we both work for.

We get a booth in back and Margo lets me order. After making some small talk and eating appetizers we get down to business.

“So,” Margo says quietly. “About this supervillain thing…”

“Yeah. Have you ever wondered about the plants on the Ninth Floor, in the hallway?”

Her eyes widen. Of course she has. “Yes! You picked up on that, too? What are those things? I took pictures of them with my cell phone, I’m going to see if a botanist friend of mine from college can identify them.”

“That would be great. I’ll bet they’re alien.”

“You think?” Margo says.


Her face becomes serious for a second. “Connor, you’re not screwing with me, are you? Because sometimes I can’t tell when you’re being serious or not and this whole thing really freaks me out and I’m going to be really upset if this is like a joke or something to you or you think I’m crazy…” Her eyes glisten and her lower lip quivers slightly – shit, I’ve upset her!

“Hey, no no,” I say. I reach out to touch her hand on the table in what I hope is a reassuring and not creepy move. “I’m sorry, I believe you. I’m sorry. I don’t think you’re crazy. Listen, we’re on the same page on this thing. Those guys – I don’t know if they’re supervillains or not, but I think they’re up to something illegal or dangerous. I’m with you on this, I promise.”

She smiles. “Okay.”

Our food comes; three different types of nan, some tandoori dishes, a succulent fish tikka the size of a John Jakes paperback, and some pilau rice. As we eat, we discuss in greater detail our mutual suspicions about The Company. And as we talk, a plan starts to gel in my mind; a plan that may be the best or the worst idea I’ve ever had since becoming a superhero…

Basically, both Margo and I think that the three executives who run the QuantumWorks project – Ted Bradbury, Aaaron Clarke, and John Quentin – are up to no good. We’ve both been hired to do marketing and project coordination for QuantumWorks, a product we’ve been told very little about. It’s an “omni-search engine” that can find anything that’s ever been on the Internet ever, even if it’s no longer live and available. I have no idea how it works and they won’t tell us. Now I’m not an expert, but I don’t really think something like that is possible unless maybe you’re using alien technology or something, and you know how tightly the feds regulate shit like that. The occasional presence of guys in silver protective suits on the Ninth Floor and a strange bacon aroma do little to reassure me that things are on the level.

Plus – and I can’t tell Margo this part – but I planted a bug in the board room on the Ninth Floor and recorded a conversation between the three executives which led me to believe that they know that I’m the Velvet Marauder. And Ted Bradbury, the big hulking ex-jock redneck dick? Judging by his crushing grip, I’d say he has super-strength.

Margo is talking: “—and then when I asked to be transferred back to Product Development, Clarke just asked me to be patient and gave me a huge raise.”

“Me too!” I say. “I’m making an obscene amount of money, and I don’t do shit.”

“Yes! See, that’s what started me down this whole road; I can’t stand not having a project or something to do, and it just seemed so weird that The Company would waste that much money on a project like this. So I made finding out what was going on my little project.” She tosses up her hands. “And here I am.”

“Here we are,” I say.

“Well, what are we going to do? You have any brilliant ideas, Mackenzie. I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with supervillains and industrial espionage.”

This is it. Should I do this?

“Actually, I do know somebody who has some experience with shit like this,” I say. With each word I’m setting an irreversible course. “Somebody who might be able to help us.”

“Really? Who?”

“We’re not tight or anything, but I know how to get a hold of him.”

“Who, Mackenzie?”

I smile. No turning back now.

“The Velvet Marauder.”

May 19, 2005

Media Report

I was on 60 Minutes! Okay, okay: 60 Minutes Wednesday, which I hear CBS is cancelling to make room for CSI: Tulsa or something.

Anyway, 60 Mintues II did a piece on security robots, which is a hot topic these days. I guess a hiker got killed by a security robot outside a bio-lab in Utah last year; I vaguely remember reading about that. Well, people were so pissed that Utah's State Legislature passed a law banning armed robots from the state, and a couple of other states are following suit. A Congressional sub-comittee has been formed to look into the issue.

Where do I come in? They had footage of my battle with the Insekt III robot, the one that went ape-shit in the rail yard in March. (see post Robot fu, 3/29/05) As CBS reporter Bob Simon narrates, you see me getting knocked around big time by the Insekt. Fortunately they did show me dismantling the fucking thing, so I think I came out looking okay.

Then they had an interview with an official from Roboteknen, the Pomeranian company that makes most of the security robots used today, who assures Simon that they've implemented new safeguards that would make it impossible for a robot to go ape-shit (my term, not his) again.

And what do you know, they have a brief interview with Interbionics VP Jason Delacroix, that sinister motherfucker, who defends his company's use of the Insekt robots in their facility outside of Spokane. "We've made changes in the way we do things," Delacroix says, absently stroking his Mephistopholean* beard. "We recognize the public concern about defense robotics, and we've worked with Roboteknen to make sure that the Insekt models are operating as they should." Translation: we added mortar launchers and laser death rays.

Anyway, national TV exposure is never bad for VM.

On an unrelated note, while I was gone it looks like the ECPD Paracrime Unit had their first big supervillain bust. They caught a guy named "Atlatl" skulking around the rooftops with his energy javelin things. I've never heard of the guy, but I guess he had several warrants out for his arrest.

Makes me wonder what he was doing in the E.C.

*Is "Mephistopholean" even a word? I don't know.

May 17, 2005

Patrol Report

I am off my game.

On patrol tonight I feel awkward and out of shape. Sure, I can still jump 50 yards with no problem, but I don't stick my landings like I usually do. I start off my patrol in the South End, listening to Ministry on my suit's audio system, but after I trip over some rooftop wires twice, I turn off the music and just focus on where I'm putting my feet and plotting out my next jump before I actually commit to the jump. Man, I take a few weeks off and my roof-running skills go to shit.

No crime tonight, or at least nothing going down right in front of me. I decide to call it a night after I overshoot my landing on a rooftop in Chinatown and crash into Happy Wok's neon sign, demolishing it in a spray of sparks and glass.

My bad.

May 16, 2005

Mo' Margo

I spend the rest of my day going through my emails and returning phone messages. Jeez, I get a lot of junk email. In addition to the usual rah-rah- corporate pixie dust emails that everyone in The Company gets, I also get a ton of stupid jokes, links to amusing or noteworthy news articles, and wacky pictures. Delete. Delete. Delete. By the end of the day I’m all caught up and once again I have nothing to do and I find myself looking out the window at The Bay, bored.

I’m a marketing guy without a project to market.

Margo and I were recruited into the mysterious world of the Ninth Floor, where a small corps of employees work on The QuantumWorks Project. Put simply, QuantumWorks is a universal search engine that allows you to search for any data that has ever flickered, however fleetingly, across the internet. You can look up anything – anything that has ever been on the internet. I have no idea how it works; they won’t tell me. I just know that it uses “revolutionary technology” and that I’m to prepare a broad marketing plan for the day QW hits the market. I have no idea when that is going to happen, either.

The whole scenario is so weird, that I started to suspect that the mysterious triad of executives who run the project – Ted Bradbury, Aaron Clarke, and John Quentin – are actually supervillains up to no damn good.

There’s a whole bunch of shit that doesn’t add up around here: When I complained about having nothing to do they gave me an obscene raise and told me to be patient; occasionally one glimpses guys in silver protective suits on the Ninth Floor; a strange bacon smell occasionally drifts through the office; Bradbury, Clarke, and Quentin seem to know that I’m the Velvet Marauder (or do they?); and there are a number of strange aloe-type plants in the main hallway that creep me out. Call me crazy, but in my world, that much unexplained stuff can only mean supervillains.

Yet all I’m left with is this nagging suspicion. I feel like all the pieces are here in front of me, but I’m just not smart enough to make them fit together. It pisses me off.

With all these little fishies of paranoia swimming around in my head, I grab my stuff and head down to the Starbucks in the lobby for my mini-date with Margo.

She's waiting for me at a little table, nursing a latte and entering stuff in her PDA. I order a passion tea lemonade (again: not gay) and sit down. Margo seems a little nervous. We make small talk, office gossip stuff. Apparently my bitch Chad is having a fling with Debbie, one of the HR gals who we all thought was a lesbian.

"But we're not here to talk about Chad," I say.

"No," Margo says. She glances around the coffee shop furtively.

"What?" I say, curious.

"I think -" she begins, then lowers her voice. I lean a little closer to hear her. "I think that something's going on with the QuantumWorks project. Something illegal."

"What do you mean?"

"I can't say for sure, I just have suspicions. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't add up..."

I nod. She's so smart.

"And it's nothing that I would, you know, go to the police with or anything," she says. "But I can't help but thinking - and this is going to sound stupid..."

She pauses, looking at me like she's trying to figure out whether she should go on.

"I think maybe that Quentin and those guys, I think they may be..." She leans even closer and whispers: "Supervillains."

We look at each other for a second.

"Really?" I say. I can't think of what else to say.

"You think I'm crazy," she says.

"No, no."

"Yeah, you do. Brett thought I was crazy, too."

"Listen, I don't -- wait a minute, Brett?" She can't be talking about Evil Val Kilmer.

"You know, Brett. You met him at the party --"

Okay, that totally threw me. Is she going out with that asshole again? "I thought you broke up with him."

She sighs. "It's complicated."

Fuck! "You told him about the supervillain thing?" Suddenly I am irrationally jealous that she told Evil Val Kilmer first. I can't believe she's hanging out with that guy again.

"Shh. Keep your voice down."


"Yeah, I told him. I had to talk to somebody about it."

"But -- but --" I want to say: But he's an asshole.

"So you don't think I'm crazy?" she says, smiling a little.

"No, of course not. Listen, don't tell anybody about this. Especially him."

"What do you got against Brett?" she asks, arching an eyebrow. I must reek of envy.

"Nothing, I just don't think you should talk about this to other people, that's all."

"Okay," she says. "So what do we do? You noticed this, too? The weirdness."

I nod. "Yeah, there's definitely weirdness going on..."

"So what do you think we should do?"

I suddenly have the most brilliant idea EVER. "I think we should meet off-site someplace, compare notes. Let's hook up for dinner later in the week. You don't have anything written down on disc, right? You haven't emailed anybody about this?"


"Good. Let's meet on... how's Friday work for you?"

She checks her PDA. "Hmm, I have a thing with Brett, but I can cancel. It's no problem."

That's right, cancel that date with Brett, sweetheart, because you're going out with Connor. "Okay, good. I really think we should discuss this away from this building. I know a good Indian restaurant. You like Indian food?"

"Love it," she says, smiling. She looks relieved that I'm taking this seriously.

"Great. Then it's a date."

A date. I have a date with Margo.

Evil Val Kilmer, you are going down.

Back at work

Last night I said goodbye to my Canadian friend and flew back into Evergreen City.

I head back to work at The Company today - it feels like I've been gone forever.

Being a nice guy, I stop by the Starbucks in the lobby of our building and pick up some drinks for my bitch Chad and Margo - a grande soy latte with hazelnut for Margo and a grande who cares for Chad. I drop off Chad's drink and chat a little with him before I head into the security area on the Ninth Floor.

Anyway, I fire up my computer and whatnot. I have like, seven hundred emails, and none of them are important. I guess I won the office pool for predicting the new Pope while I was gone, so that's cool. Two hundred bucks, baby!

I don't even want to begin wading through all my emails and voice mails, so I deliver Margo her drink. I knock on the half-open door of her office and find her staring out her window at The Bay and the rail yards.

"Mackenzie!" she cries, and she runs - I'm not kidding, she actually runs - to me and throws her arms around me. She smells as beautiful as she looks. Today Margo is wearing a 50's style aquamarine full skirt and a soft pink tie-front sweater. "I missed you! Don't ever leave me alone with these assholes again, the past few weeks have been boring. Look at you, with the tan! How was Costa Rica? Is that drink for me? Sit down, sit down!"

Wow, she's actually excited to see me. My face feels warm and my heart is beating a little faster. How could I have ever thought of not coming back to the E.C.?

We gossip for the better part of an hour. Margo fills me in on various office goings-on and any new developments in the mysterious QuantumWorks project. She seems really frustrated with her job.

"Listen," she says. "You want to meet me downstairs after work, get a cup of coffee or something?"

"Uh, sure. Sure, okay." I'm not sure I heard her right. Is she asking me on a mini-date?

"I've got some stuff I want to talk to you about but I don't want to do it here." She winks. "Walls have ears and all that."

"Sure." Now I'm intrigued.

As I leave her office she calls my name. I pause in the doorway.

Margo smiles at me.

"Nice to see you again, Mackenzie."

God, I love her.

May 15, 2005

A Tense Conversation, part two

(continued from part one)

“You killed Vincent Rapaport – Parka,” Silver Striker says. “And I want to know why.”

“Hey, take it easy. I didn’t murder the guy or anything, it was an accident.”

“What happened?”

I give him the Reader’s Digest version of that night in the E.C. fighting Parka, how he was going to kill those two cops, how he zapped me with his cold/blizzard whammy, and most importantly, how in the heat of battle I threw a car at Parka, crushing him.

“My goggles wer fogged up; I couldn't see real well,” I said. "And I didn't think it would kill the guy. I mean, Parka’s an A-List villain, I figured he could take having a car thrown at him. It wasn’t even a big car. It was a Scion.”

Thor is listening to this whole exchange as he cleans behind the bar, unfazed.

Steve – I mean Silver Striker – takes a pull off his beer. “Yeah, he had been having problems with his powers lately; they were becoming more and more unstable. It was affecting his mind, his decision making. Used to be Parka would freeze himself, make his skin diamond hard. I’m guessing he underestimated you, didn’t think he’d need to armor up. Vincent always was overconfident to a fault.”

He sounds sort of wistful, like he’s talking about a dead college buddy or something.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry he’s dead,” I say. How broken up am I supposed to be about this? “But I gotta say, if I hadn’t thrown that car, those two cops he froze would be dead now. I can’t think of what I would have done differently…”

“I understand,” Silver Striker says. He seems a little sad. “It’s just that I had hoped we could cure his condition.”

What is this guy so worked up about a fucking supervillain for? I had heard that Silver Striker and his rogue's gallery, The Malefactors, had a mutual respect for each other, but jeez. I hear Moonbug sends Silver Striker a Christmas card every year. Seriously.

"Yeah, well... shit happens, I guess," I say, lamely.

Silver Striker sighs and takes another drink. Maybe he's bummed out because some bush-leaguer took Parka out - something he could never manage, except on a temporary basis.

"Okay, thanks for filling me in, Marauder," he says. "I just wanted to hear what happened from you. What are you going to do now?"

"Me? I don't know, I thought I'd rent a car and head down the coast for a few days..."

"No, I mean when are you going back to Evergreen City?" Silver Striker says.

"Gosh, I hadn't really thought that far ahead," I say, signaling Thor for a fresh Corona.

"You can't hide down here forever, son," he says. I'm starting to hate it when he calls me "son." I mean, I know the guy's as old as my grandpa, but he looks my age. It's patronizing.

"I'm not hiding. Who's hiding? I get five weeks of vacation a year. What, I can't take a break? Superheroes don't get down time?"

"You're worried about The Malefactors," Silver Striker says.

"The thought had crossed my mind, but that's not why I'm here. I'm not hiding, all right?"

"Uh-huh," he says disbelievingly.


"Listen, I'd be looking over my shoulder, too," he says. "But at some point you've got to push that fear aside and get on with your job. People are relying on you to protect them, Marauder."

"There is no fear, okay?" I'm raising my voice. "No fear. And Evergreen City was doing fine before I came along. I check the news; it hasn't burned down in my absence."

"No, but what if you weren't there to stop Baron von Blitzkrieg? Or Yiff? Or the ghouls you fought with Hydrangea last Halloween?"

"You heard about that, the zombie thing?" I ask.

"We keep tabs on things at Striker Mountain. Listen, we need you up there in the Northwest."

"Who's we?"

"America, son."

"Oh for God's sake," I yell. "So that's it, that's the idea? Give me a little pep talk and then hang me out to dry, send me back so I can get killed by your villains? I like fighting crime and shit, and jumping around, but I don't have a fucking death wish!"

"Listen, I understand your fears --" he begins.

"They're not fears!" I'm still yelling. I sound shrill. "They're valid concerns based on objective facts!"

Silver Striker laughs. Silver Striker fucking laughs at me.

"It's not fucking funny!"

"I'm sorry," he says, laughing. "It kind of is."

"Great. That's great. Silver Striker's mocking me."

Chuckling, he takes a cell phone out of a pocket in his cargo shorts. "Okay, take it easy. Nobody's going to hang you out to dry. Take this."

It's a Nokia switchblade phone. "What's it do?"

"It's called a transat. It's a trans-satellite comlink with GPS, wireless internet, radiation detector, the works. You have any problems with The Malefactors or anything else you think we should take a look at, just contact us."

I flip open the phone. It beeps. "How do I do that?"

Silver Striker smiles. "Just dial 911."

"Cute," I say. I'm feeling calmer now. "So what's the story, do you have emergency operators at Striker Mountain or something?"

"Yes, we have a call center. Normally we only give the transat to Strike Force affiliates, but under the circumstances, I think it's best. If this works out we may consider giving you affiliate status in the future."

Strike Force affiliates are local superheroes spread throughout the world who have a loose relationship with Silver Striker, Inc. It's kind of like being a member of the superhero AAA or something. In addition to emergency services, I hear affiliates get a monthly stipend and access to Striker Mountain's research and surveillance resources. Of course, you have to drop everything and come running if Silver Striker needs to assemble a superhero army to face whatever cosmic crisis threatens earth, so that can be a problem. Still, it'd be nice to be an affiliate...

"What do you say? Striker Mountain will back you up if things get out of control."

"I don't know..." I say, staring at the Nokia.

"Your city needs you, Marauder."

Man, what do you say when somebody lays that on you? "Okay," I say. I don't think this is going to end very well for me, but what the hell. I came this far. "Okay, you're right. Thanks, Silver Striker."

"Thank you, son." He hoists his beer and gives me a grin. He looks like a Tucson real estate agent who just closed a big deal.

I sit next to Silver Striker in that little bar in Costa Rica, drinking a beer and watching dark clouds scudding over the ocean in the distance. We just sit there for a few minutes, two guys drinking beer.

That's it, then. I'm going back to Evergreen City.

I'm doomed, aren't I?

May 14, 2005

A Tense Conversation, part one

Still on vacation/exile in Costa Rica.

My daily ritual lately has been to wake up around 11 AM, think about shaving, eat brunch with my female Canadian friend, take a swim, shower, think about shaving, walk into town to buy an American paper or go online at the internet cafĂ©, then hit my favorite bar and begin drinking. I usually hook up with my female Canadian friend later in the day for dinner or more drinks or dancing or sex – sometimes all of these things. That’s pretty much been my life for the past two weeks. No rampaging robots, no muggings to stop, no police dragnets, no vengeful super-villains who want to kill me dead. None of that shit. Just… leisure.

So I’m sitting in my favorite bar, doing a crossword puzzle and working on beer #3. The bar has these big shuttered windows that are always open, looking out on a black sand beach and the Pacific. A gentle salty breeze drifts into the bar.

A gringo eases up to the bar and sits down next to me. He orders a beer from Thor (yes, that’s his name), the Norwegian expatriate bartender. There are plenty of other places to sit in the place, so that catches my attention. I look up from my puzzle, a little irritated that this guy is sitting right next to me. I’m so switched off that it doesn’t even dawn on me that this guy may be dangerous.

“How’s it going?” the gringo asks me.

I look at him. He’s got that healthy, square-jawed, corn-fed blandly handsome American thing going on – looks like an off duty fighter pilot or fireman. Mid-thirties, short, well-groomed black hair, wearing a Bermuda shirt and cargo shorts. He’s got big forearms with some kind of faded military tattoo.

“All right,” I say non-committaly. I don’t want to strike up a conversation with this guy.

“You American?” he asks.

There’s something about this guy. Then it hits me: he’s clean-shaven and his clothes are immaculate and unwrinkled. He’s not a tourist, he hasn’t been hanging out here…


I tense a little and stare at him.

The guy smiles. “Hello? You American?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Where you from? I’m from New Avalon. Name’s Steve.”

Wait a second. Maybe I’m overreacting. Steve could be gay, and he’s just chatting me up. That would explain the well-groomed thing, and the sitting too close thing.

“What can I do for you, Steve?” I ask coldly.

“Easy, friend,” Steve says. “Just making conversation. Can I buy you a beer?”

“No. Listen, Steve, I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but do me a favor and fuck off, okay? I’m working on my crossword here.”

I go back to working on my puzzle. There. If he’s hitting on me, that should get rid of him. If it doesn’t, I’ll know he’s a supervillain and I’ll bust this Corona bottle across his face.

“No reason to be an asshole about it,” Steve says.

I look up. “You still here, Steve?”

Steve takes a swig of his beer and kind of sighs. “Okay, I’ll just cut to the chase then. I’d like to ask you a few questions about Vincent Rapaport.”

Parka. He’s talking about Parka, the supervillain I killed (accidentally) in Evergreen City last month.

I switch on. My entire body tenses up, like I’m plugged into a wall socket. The buzz I was working on completely evaporates. I knew it! This guy’s a hitman, or one of The Malefactors or something!

I decide not to hit Steve with my beer bottle. If we get in a fight in here we’ll completely destroy Thor’s bar, and I kind of like the place.

Trying to stay cool, I slowly set my beer down and step away from the bar. “Okay, Steve, or whatever your name is,” I say in a low voice. “Why don’t we do this out on the beach or something?”

Steve holds up his hands in a peace gesture, smiling. “Easy, easy Connor. It’s not like that. I just want to talk.”

“Who are you? How’d you find me?” I say, my voice a little shrill with anxiety.

“Let’s not cause a scene,” Steve says and gestures to my empty stool. “Have a seat and we’ll talk about it. This isn’t anything bad; I just want to talk.”

“No, fuck that. I want some answers. Who are you and how did you find me?”

Steve smiles and nods. His demeanor is vaguely patronizing, like he’s talking to a child. “Okay. Okay, I can see how you’d be leery of talking to anybody. I should have showed up in uniform, but I didn’t want to blow your cover.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m Silver Striker.”

We look at each other for a long minute. I’m sizing him up, trying to imagine him all silvery…

“Bullshit,” I say finally. “You’re some fucking supervillain.”

“Listen, if I was, I wouldn’t walk in here and sit down next to you, I would have shot you in the back of the head from across the street. I mean, you’re sitting with your back to the door and right in front of all these big open windows. Anybody could walk in here and you wouldn’t know it. Pretty sloppy tradecraft.”

“I’m not interested in tradecraft, Steve, I’m interested in Corona,” I say. I’m reconsidering my decision not to bludgeon him with my beer bottle.

He kind of laughs. “Dr. Quark said you had an attitude…”

“Steve, I’m about two seconds away from kicking the shit out of you; I don’t know what’s so goddamn funny.”

“Settle down, son,” he says, with an edge in his voice. “You’re not kicking the shit out of anybody. I’m here to ask you some questions, and you’re going to answer them.”

Something happens to his hand. I flinch, expecting an attack. Steve’s hand sort of shimmers and glows, then turns silver. It’s like his whole hand is covered in liquid metal. His hand sparkles, then in a flash returns to regular flesh. Well, it’s either the real Silver Striker or an illusionist-type supervillain.

“Happy?” Steve says.

Warily, I ease back on to my bar stool. I’m not 100% convinced.

“If you’re really Silver Striker, you should be able to answer some questions,” I say.

“Like what?” Steve asks.

This is where my childhood as a superhero geek comes into play. When I was growing up, Silver Striker was my favorite hero. The guy’s a living legend. I had all the officially licensed comic books, the Silver Striker bed sheet set, and a kick-ass hardback Guide to Silver Striker with all kinds of trivia. I was a nerd, what can I say?
“Okay, what kind of jet did you fly when you first started as a pilot in the Air Force?”

F-104 Starfighter,” he says. “Beautiful plane.”

“What was your call sign?”

“Quaker,” he says.

“First alien you ever fought?”

“Magedda,” he says.

“Wrong! It was The Krill!” Ha! Got him!

“Actually, Magedda was the first. We didn’t know she was an alien at the time, of course, so most people think it was The Krill. Common mistake.”

“Have you ever had sex with SuperNova?”

He flushes a little. “That’s none of your damn business.”

I’m sold. It’s Silver Striker all right.

“Shit, sorry man,” I say sheepishly. “You gotta understand, I’ve been a little jumpy lately, and you just came up and sat down…”

“No apologies necessary, Marauder,” Silver Striker says. “I should have known you’d be on edge.”

“Right, right. So how’d you find me?”

“Dr. Quark can find anyone,” Silver Striker says.

“Of course.” I’m surprised Dr. Quark would even know who I am, much less be able to find me. Then again, he is the Surgeon of Reality, he probably knows everything there is to know about me.

“So, um, what can I do for you?” I’m suddenly nervous, but for a whole different reason than a minute ago. How do I talk to him? Should I call him ‘sir’?

His face darkens a little.

“You killed Vincent Rapaport – Parka,” he says. “And I want to know why.”