Thursday, October 28, 2010

Exceptional: Book 2 - Part 4

“So you really don’t know anything more about your powers than you did before you went to see him,” Dave said, disappointed.

He and James walked home from school in the cold air. Air cold enough that it forced everyone else to find rides and left the sidewalks vacant and ideal for discussing sensitive information.

“I think the answers are just coming slow because he couldn’t get my blood,” James said. “He seemed upset about that.”

“Why couldn’t he get your blood?”

“He tried. Needle wouldn’t go though my skin. It still hurt though and left a bruise.” James rolled up the sleeve of his jacket to reveal a deep purple circle the size of a dime on his right forearm.

“Nice,” Dave whispered, taking James’ arm in his hands to get a better look at it. “Like Luke Cage.”

“Exactly what I said,” James remarked as he removed his arm from Dave’s grip and rolled down his sleeve.

“There has to be some sort of quest you need to go on,” Dave suggested and instinctively rubbed the whiskers that weren’t there on his chin. “I’m sure he’s giving you clues. You need to start thinking harder about what he’s said.”

“I think he’s just as clueless about how we got our powers as my dad and I are. He’s just smart enough to try and figure it out.”

“No,” Dave shook his head. “There’s a quest in there somewhere. Some sort of enlightening, life-exploring journey you need to embark on in order to unlock the secrets in your past.”

“Then why doesn’t he just tell me what to do?”

“It works better if you figure it out yourself. It’s more powerful that way. You have to look within yourself and discover what the true meaning of life is or something and then face a bunch of dangerous challenges and junk and at the end, you’ll understand everything and he’ll be standing there, nodding his consent and looking all proud of you and shit. It’s like in the kung fu movies where the master always holds something back that the pupil needs to figure out for himself.”

James stared sideways at Dave. Dave paid no mind as he looked off into the distance, deep in further thought.

“You’re insane,” James pronounced, “and you’re a total geek. You really need to stop with the comic books and movies.”

“Trust me,” Dave said confidently, “he has some sort of agenda you have yet to discover. Otherwise, his interest in your life would be totally selfish and it wouldn’t fit at all with the mentor role we’ve decided he’s supposed to take.”

Suddenly, Dave looked around, concerned. They had been walking for some time and he had not paid much attention to where they had gone.

“What the hell, James! Where are we?”

The streets were vacant in this area of town as well, but this time it wasn’t because of the temperature. It was because James had unwittingly led Dave into a neighborhood where people generally stayed off the street unless they were looking for trouble.

“Just wanted to take the scenic route today,” James explained with a smug smile on his face.

“This is not cool. You could have at least warned me,” Dave growled.

“Relax. I just want to see if I can sniff anything out.”

(May 1945)

Cornelius Caine sat on the rigid wooden chair in his single room apartment with his head in his hands. On the meticulously clean desk beneath the apartment’s lone window, a window which looked out toward an alleyway, sat two sheets of paper. The first, a recently delivered telegram, the second a white sheet of paper with hastily scribbled pencil marks covering it.

Over the last several months, he had increased his pace. He had barely slept. With the completion of each new assignment, he hoped he would bring his country back from the brink of failure. Inside, he prayed that he might be the glorious hero his homeland would forever speak of in legends.

He had arrived in America, already successful in tracking and eliminating his targets throughout Europe and Asia. While he was surprised that so few would elect to join the Nazi ranks when faced with death, he had come to take a certain satisfaction in killing them. He had once heard there were those who held another’s life in their hands and experienced a euphoric high from extinguishing it. But to hold the life of such a superior individual, one of such strength and ability and to crush the life from them still, that was a feeling of true power.

As much as Cornelius had hoped to further his country’s aim, to ensure his place in the hall of heroes, he also hoped that his legacy of carnage, of dominance over those thought to be the ultimate representation of human kind, could remain intact for just a while longer. After all, could he not be a ruthless hunter to his enemy and a mighty savior to his people? Cornelius thought it could be so.

Alas, the decoded message on the desk told him this was not to be.

Upon its arrival, Cornelius had dropped what he was doing. Frantically, he ran to his desk and began deciphering it, hoping that its message would contradict the reports in the American media that his nation’s brave leader was no more. But there, in pencil lead, read the facts that Cornelius had feared.

“Third Reich no more.

Assignment terminated immediately.

No record existence Germany remains.

Current resources your disposal.

Suggest blend American society.

Service forever remembered.”

With his original purpose of traveling to America deleted from the memory of anyone but himself, Cornelius sat in his chair, lost and alone. He wondered then for the first time in ten years what had happened to his father. Surely, if the fuehrer had killed himself, his father was dead, imprisoned or in hiding.

There was nothing of his Germany left. The regime he had gone forth to serve and elevate to its rightful place atop the globe had fallen. All that he had given his life to gone.

Cornelius arose suddenly and tipped the desk over onto the floor. He screamed as he hurled the lamp across the room, shattering it against the opposite wall.

And just as suddenly as his outburst began, it ended. He righted the desk and aligned it precisely where it had been below the window. He carefully collected each pencil from the floor and returned it to its previous location. He fetched the broom from the closet and swept up the remains of the lamp, depositing it in the waste bin.

Finally, Cornelius gathered the two documents that had been on the desk. He straightened his shirt, brushed the hair from his forehead aside and made his way out of his apartment and down the stairs.

He still had two bodies to dispose of: his latest target and the target’s son. Cornelius had killed the latter just to be on the safe side. He would incinerate both of them with the same flames he would use to destroy the papers that had been on his desk, the last such papers in existence linking him to Nazi Germany.

As he locked the cellar door behind, he thought that doing so might provide him some solace.

James and Dave peered around the corner of the brick building. In the adjacent parking lot, partially obscured by the supports from the elevated train, three men stood near a red sports car. One looked around nervously while the other two tried to open the door using a long metal rod.

“Can we just get the hell out of here?” Dave implored.

“This’ll be real quick,” James said, not taking his eyes away from the would-be thieves. “It’s been a long time. I just want to feel like I’ve helped somebody.”

“You can help me get out of this neighborhood. How did you find these guys anyway?”

“Adrenaline,” James explained. “You know how you get that intense rush of nervousness when you’re doing something you know is wrong? I’m probably smelling it off the look-out.”

“Well, if you can pull yourself away from the smell of that guy’s sweaty armpits, I’d like to go home.”

“You want to go home, then let me take care of this real quick,” James said and stepped out into the parking lot.

“Aww, come on,” Dave said and crouched down next to the wall as he watched james approach the three men.

The nervous look-out looked right at James and his eyes bulged. “Uh, guys?” he called to his companions. “Guys? There’s a kid. Some kid’s walking through the lot.”

The other two looked up from the car. While one went back to his work immediately, the other stepped away toward the look-out and James. “Hey, kid. Get outta here,” he called.

“You guys lock your keys in your car?” asked James.

The two looked at each other. “Yeah, that’s it,” the less nervous of the two responded with a chuckle. “Now get outta here.”

“Or is that not your car at all?” asked James, knowing the answer.

The man doing the talking sighed. “Look, kid, it isn’t your car either, is it? Now get lost or you and I are gonna have a problem. You hear me?”

“I hear you,” James said. He hadn’t stopped or even slowed his advance on the men. He walked steadily toward them as they conversed. “But I think you guys should leave that car alone and go now.”

“Who the hell is this kid?” one man asked the other. Then he turned back to James, reached into his coat pocket and declared, “You are really starting to piss me off. You don’t turn your ass around right now and start walkin’ back where you came from and I…”

James had gotten close enough that he was able to lunge forward and strike him in the throat with one hand while using his other hand to swipe the man’s hand from his pocket. As he staggered backward and gagged, a knife fell to the pavement and skidded below another car.

“Jesus Chri…” the look-out exclaimed until James’ foot met his chest. He left his feet and landed on the pavement, skidding just like the knife until his upper body was also beneath a nearby car.

As the choking man regained his balance, he rushed at James in an attempt to tackle him. James welcomed his open arms, grasping one of them while using his hip and the man’s own momentum to toss him into the air. When he landed, James heard a definite crack.

Ribs, he guessed in his head, though he was open to the possibility that it might have been a hip or any of the various leg bones.

As the look-out scrambled to his feet and ran off, James turned to the vehicle. He ran a few steps toward it and was surprised to find the man trying to gain entry was gone.

“Chicken shit,” James said to himself out loud and turned to see if the other man had gotten to his feet yet. He was still rolling around on the ground, holding his sides and moaning.

Yep, ribs, thought James.

“I don’t know who you are kid,” came a voice from the direction of James and Dave’s original hiding spot.

When James turned to see who it was, the third man emerged from behind the building with his arm around Dave’s neck and a small caliber revolver to his temple.

“But whoever you are, I hope you’re not to fond of this guy.”

James’ heart sunk. Dave looked absolutely terrified. The smell of adrenaline he had picked up earlier on the lookout and of fear that had come from the girl in the trunk hit him in the face like a strong breeze. He also smelled something else he recognized and when he looked down, he noticed Dave’s pants were soaked with urine.

“Ok, take it easy,” James said, his hands in the air. He didn’t move. “He didn’t do anything. He wanted me to leave and not mess with you guys.”

“You’re damn right I did,” Dave agreed.

“Shut Up!” the man with the gun screamed at Dave.

“He did. He really did,” James shouted. “Now, you can do whatever you want to me. Just let him go.”

“Fine,” the man said and fired at James, striking him in the chest.

James spun backward and landed in a heap on the ground.

“Oh my God, James!” Dave cried as James lay there motionless.

“Not so tough now,” the man with the gun said as he pushed Dave away and stared at James.

For a moment, Dave stood there, horrified, tears in his eyes. This was all happening too fast for him to process. Before he knew what to do, the man leveled the gun at him.

“Your buddy shoulda listened to you,” he said.

Dave closed his eye. As he prepared to find out what a bullet felt like, he wondered if he should have run when he had the chance. Yet, a small part inside of him knew that he couldn’t leave his friend lying on the ground, shot, with some scumbag car thief as his last human contact. While this whole situation sucked, he felt his last decision had at least been a respectable one.

Eyes still closed, Dave heard the gunshot and fell to the ground.

That didn’t really hurt at all, he thought and waited for the pain to start. It never did and eventually, Dave opened his eyes to a clear blue winter sky. Soon, the sky was obscured by James’ face leaning over him.

“Oh shit, oh shit,” James mumbled and moved his hands all around Dave’s body, looking for something.

“What the hell!” Dave shouted and sat up. He then saw the two remaining men on the ground beside each other. He looked back to James to see the gun in the waistband of his pants. There was also a small hole in the chest of James’ jacket where Dave could see the white polyester stuffing sticking out.

“Are you hit?” James asked, excitedly.

Dave jumped to his feet and searched himself. He wasn’t hit.

“No,” Dave said, relieved. Then he shouted at James, “No thanks to you!”

Dave stalked off, toward the building they’d been hiding behind and grabbed his book bag. Then he kept walking.

“Where are you going?” asked James behind him.

“Home,” Dave said, “where I should have already been going before your stupid ass got me into this mess.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You better be sorry,” Dave shouted. “You almost got me killed. If I get shot, James, I die. That’s what happens to me. I don’t know about you, because you…” Dave’s voice lowered suddenly as he leaned in and squinted at James’ chest. “Holy crap, you did get shot.” Dave stuck his finger through the hole in James’ jacket and shirt. “No blood or anything. That’s is…”

“I don’t care!” Dave interrupted himself angrily as he turned away from James and started walking again.

“Dave, I’m sorry,” James said and ran up alongside him. “I hadn’t done anything in so long and I thought you might like to see it and…”

“I’m not Jerry Hart,” Dave looked James in the eyes and said. “I’m not some idiot who worships you and wants to teabag you and follow you around so that I can be there to wipe the sweat off your balls. I’m your friend, James. I was your friend when you were regular and didn’t think you finding out that you were different changed that. I thought we were still friends and friends don’t almost get each other killed.”

Dave looked down at himself. “I pissed my pants, James. I pissed my damn pants. Happy?”

“No, I’m not happy,” James said. “Why would you pissing your pants make me happy?”

“And the worst part is that I was more afraid you were dead. Just don’t talk to me,” Dave said. “I don’t even want to look at you. Just get away from me.”

“Okay. I’m sorry,” James said again as Dave walked away.

“Yeah, just stay close so that if anyone else decides to try and kill me on the way home, you can kick their ass too. But don’t talk to me and I don’t want to see you. So walk behind me, but, like, twenty feet back so you’re still close but not too close. And don’t talk. Got it?”

“Fine. I'm…”

“Ah! No talking. Let’s go.”

James followed silently behind Dave the entire way home, suspecting he’d broken another rib.

James’ father’s phone rang just as he opened his car door.


“Samuel,” Doctor Caine’s voice spoke, “thank God I reached you. Are you alone?”

“Yes, Doctor, I’m just leaving work. Is everything okay?”

There was a pause. “I just finished some tests, Samuel and I need to speak to you right away. Can we meet?”

“Absolutely. What is it? Has something happened?”

“I’m afraid I’ve discovered something that causes me great concern. It’s something that requires immediate attention, otherwise I wouldn’t bother you like this.”

“It’s no bother at all. Should I meet you at the regular place? Should I bring James?”

“The same place, my boy, but come alone. And, Samuel?”

“Yes, Doctor Caine?”

“Once again, if it weren’t absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t dare ask so much of you, but…” the doctor paused again. “I believe I may need a few days out of you this time. I do hope that’s possible. It really is of the utmost importance.”

“Um, I think I can do that. Let me call my wife an explain…”

“You musn’t worry her, Samuel. And you shouldn’t let anyone know that you are meeting with me. It’s a very delicate matter. I’ll be able to explain everything to you when I see you in person.”

James’ father’s heart dropped. Perhaps the doctor had discovered something terrible. Maybe it was something that was placing his life, or worse, James’ life, in jeopardy. Perhaps whatever it was would explain his uncle’s disappearance so many years ago.

“I’ll tell my wife I need to be away on business. That ought to buy me two days. Let me just stop home and pack a bag or she’ll wonder.”

“Absolutely, my boy. Very good. Two days should be more than enough to accomplish what I need. I’ll be seeing you soon, then. Do hurry.”

“Alright doctor. Thank you.”

“Oh, no, Samuel,” Dcotor Caine said and coughed loudly into the phone. “Thank you.”

James’ father hung up the phone and raced home. He was eager to know what the doctor had discovered.

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