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by Craig Rettig
It's hard to take a stand, but
It's harder to take a fall
Open the lid of your own casket
Entombed, Rotten Soil
"Nice jacket, Alex. Where'd you get it?"
Alex started for a second then said, "Um, got it at that leather shop in Kenwood Mall. Got a really good deal on it, too."
Samantha smiled. "Wow! I'll have to go check it out! It's almost like the jacket one of those guys that jumped me last night was wearing. What a coincidence! That was really weird, I..."
"Yeah," Alex smiled, "you told me twice today already. That was pretty wierd how they attacked you and then left you in your car. Wonder what happened."
The rest of his shift, Alex wondered if Samantha would make the connection or not, but it seemed like her attitude and mentality were preventing it. After work, he went home, sloshing through the puddles from last night's rain. He walked into his apartment, turned on some Bach and went to sleep.
Alex was roused several hours later by some shouting.
"Come on out, Loner! We wanna talk to you!"
Alex looked out the window and saw the punks from the night before walking the street shouting, apparently looking for him. "Great, now I got a @#$%in' codename. Next thing, I'll be teaming up with Tempest and terrorizing the universe." Alex looked around, quickly throwing on a pair of jeans and an S.O.D. shirt. He paused by the mirror.
"Hmm, if I go out like this, and they decide to pop into Angelino's for pizza sometime, my life is over." Alex quickly searched through the drawers on his cabinet, pulling out some black Halloween makeup. Drawing two large triangles over his eyes, he looked back in the mirror. "Better than nothing," he shrugged, and walked out into the cooling dusk, making sure no one was around to see him leave.
Dashing around some corners to seperate himself from the general area where he lived, he ducked in an alleyway and waited for them to pass. As they walked by the opening, Alex reached out with his power, grabbing them and pulling them inside, smiling at their disorientation.
"What the @#$%!"
Alex smiled as they struggled to get free, but he had them tight in some energy bands, so they were dependent on his mercy. "You called?" he asked.
One of the punks quickly regained his composure and began to talk. "Look, man, we don't want no trouble with you. We just been sent down here to tell you our boss wants ta talk to you. Says he'll give you five hundred bucks just ta come and listen."
Five hundred bucks sounded good right about now, but Alex wasn't born yesterday, either. "How do I know this ain't a trap?" he asked.
"Hey, we're just s'posed ta deliver the message and take you there, that's it, man. If you ain't int'rested, we'll leave."
"Okay," Alex said, setting them down not-so-gently. "You guys go on ahead, and I'll follow at my own pace."
The punks picked themselves up and headed for the opening. The leader spoke up. "Uh, we gotta drive there."
"Don't drive too fast, and I'll keep up," Alex said, wondering for sure if he'd really be able to or not.
The gang walked out the entrance, and Alex looked up at the two- story buildings on either side of him. Scratching his head for a second, Alex then pointed his hands down and slowly extended his power downwards, lifting him up to the roof. "Well, that worked," he said to himself. Alex looked down and saw the four guys getting into a beat-up Chevy Nova, pulling out and heading down Vine Street at about twenty- five miles an hour.
Using his power, Alex vaulted across the rooftops, only having trouble when the buildings drastically changed size or when he had to cross streets. "This is tough," he said to himself. Looking down, he spotted a delivery truck headed in the same direction. "Hoo-boy, here goes nothing!"
Alex reached out, grabbing the truck with some beams, pulling himself in, feeling a little stressed over pulling himself in and keeping the beam solid enough to keep him from falling. He alit on the truck, and watched the Nova eventually turn down a sidestreet.
Grabbing the nearest building, Alex pulled himself to the roof and watched as the car pulled over in front of a small house. The house was fairly run-down, and Alex wondered if the five hundred bucks was only a ruse to lure him into a trap. The punks got out of the car and looked around. The leader, sure that Alex was watching, made a sweeping motion with his arm and yelled, "In here!"
Dropping towards the ground, Alex quickly looked around for an ambush. He didn't see signs of any, but then again, it wouln't be an ambush if he could see it coming. Raising a shield around himself and praying it was strong enough to deflect bullets, he walked inside.
Alex was a bit taken back as he walked in. The house, despite its modest exterior, was well furnished and highly remodeled and modern- looking on the inside. Alex saw the four punks standing inside the entranceway. He also saw the dude whose jaw he broke the night before, his face in a scowl.
"Heh, sorry about the jaw, guy. Hope you like soup," Alex said, a snotty grin crossing his face.
The punk's face winced in anger and humiliation. He was obviously ticked, but realized he couldn't act on that anger.
"So where's this guy you want me to meet?" Alex asked. "I ain't got all night."
"In here," said the leader, opening a mohagany door and motioning inside. "Mr. Dvorak, the Loner is here to see you."
Again with the damn codename, Alex thought to himself as he walked in, still keeping the shield intact. Just give me five minutes with the next person who tells me I read too many comic books.
Alex was greeted by a large, plush office. A huge desk sat opposite the doorway, behind it, in a black leather chair, sat a well- built man in his mid-thirties.
"Greetings. I'm Mr. Dvorak," said the man, offering his hand. Seeing Alex's confused look, he added, "Please, show me some courtesy. If I'd meant to attack you, I would have already."
Alex agreed with this logic and slowly lowered his shield, taking the man's firm handshake.
"Have a seat," Dvorak said. "Can I get you something to drink?"
Alex had been longing for a stiff one all day. "How 'bout something to put some hair on my tongue."
Dvorak grinned, "Ah, a young man with some spirit for spirits. I like that. Is whiskey to your liking?"
"I suppose that'll do," Alex replied, watching Dvorak pour two shots out of an expensive-looking bottle.
"I think you'll like this, I picked it up in Ireland a few years ago, and you know how they like their whiskey there--the same way they like their women."
"Twelve years old?" Alex smirked.
"Actually I meant strong and bitter, but whatever you prefer." Dvorak was not amused. He held one of the glasses towards Alex, "What do you usually drink to?"
"The point of passing out."
"I see. Well then, how about towards a potential profitable agreement, then?" Dvorak added, still not amused.
"We'll see," replied Alex, taking the shot, wincing slightly at the harsh taste.
Dvorak took his shot, his face unchanged. "A good blend, I think you'll agree. Another?"
"No thanks," replied Alex. "I believe you had a proposition for me."
"Very well," Dvorak said, sitting down. "Please have a seat."
Alex sat down in a chair similar to Dvorak's. Dvorak smiled slightly, seeing he had an audience.
"Now then, I'm sure my young associates told you that I wished to make you an offer and would pay you five hundred dollars just to come and hear me out. I'm not disappointed."
"Let's just say I know a good deal when I hear one," Alex said, impatiently.
"Yes," Dvorak continued, "not to be insulting, but I can tell by the way you're dressed, that you're not exactly making a lot of money in your current occupation."
"I get by."
"I'm sure you do, but maybe you'd like to do better. As you probably figured out, I run a lot of the gangs here in this area with activities ranging from petty theft to murder for profit. While not directly involved myself, I fare quite nicely from my organizing these affairs."
Alex was a bit surprised at Dvorak's directness and honesty about his activities. This guy isn't kidding around at all, he thought. Maybe I'd better watch my step.
Dvorak continued, "Now, if what my youths tell me is true and from what I've already seen when you walked in, you have a gift--a gift that could be very useful for the both of us. Useful for me in that you use those abilities to benefit my organization. Useful for you in that you make a large sum of money. How does a hundred thousand a year sound to you?"
Alex was unable to handle his astonishment. He couldn't imagine spending that much in five years, much less one.
Dvorak smiled again, realizing he had piqued Alex's interest.
"So what exactly is it you want me to do, act as your bodyguard or something?"
Dvorak's stern look came back. "No, no, I'm well-defended as it is. I want you to act as my head enforcer. You will perform certain tasks and collect money from my debtors. If they do not pay, you will hurt them. If they don't pay the second time, you kill them."
Alex's face went white. "Uh...I don't know about the extortion stuff. I was thinking at most you wanted me to look the other way when your gangs were doing stuff. I really don't think I could hurt anyone, at least, no one that didn't do anything to me first."
Dvorak's face got harder. "Look, I'm paying you a lot of money as it is. If it's not enough, maybe we can cut a deal."
"Look," Alex said, standing up, "it's not the money that's the problem. While I have a tough exterior, I'm basically a gentleman on the inside. Now, I listened to your pitch. I don't want any of it. Give me my five hundred and I'll go."
Dvorak stood up. "I see. Fine then." He opened up his desk and took out a well-stuffed envelope. He held out the envelope to Alex.
Alex reached out for the envelope, when suddenly, Dvorak's fist shot at his face. Alex quickly threw up a shield in front of him, the fist hitting it--hard.
The next thing Alex felt was the wall behind him splitering from the impact of his body flying against it. Yeah, the shield held, but Alex didn't. Dvorak was advancing on him. Alex hardened the energy around his fist and swung.
His swing felt sluggish, even to Alex. Dvorak grabbed his fist easily and threw Alex against the opposite wall. Alex didn't get any kind of shield up this time, feeling the full impact.
Dvorak began walking towards him, and odd energy crackling about his form. "Pitiful. A purely physical assault against one who controls kinetic energy. A shame really."
Alex saw one of the chairs come flying at him at an incredible speed.
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