Thursday, January 27, 2011

Exceptional: Book 2 - Part 8 (Conclusion)

It is finally time for the final chapter of Book 2. Thank you all for your patience in sticking with me on this story. It took longer than I had expected to complete. Should you need to catch up prior to reading, check last Thursday's post.

Cornelius Caine sat at an oak table with thick, ornately detailed legs reaching down to the floor made of brick and mortar, like an old street. His hands rested on the table top, poking out from the gold lined cuff of his grey green sleeves.

Across the table sat his father and his fuehrer. Cornelius sat upright in his chair, just as his mother and father had fiercely instructed, his posture proud and perfect. He stuck out his chest and, though he had no memory of them being placed there and he dared not look down to inspect them, he was keenly aware of the litany of medals pinned upon the breast of his military dress jacket. His two heroes sat across the table form him, silently, with beaming smiles.

The bar maid with the low cut blouse bent over the table and poured brown liquid into clear glass tumblers for all three of them. She looked at Cornelius shyly and smiled in a way that made him know he could have anything he wanted from her. He was a hero.

As if this weren’t already apparent, it could not be denied when the fuehrer himself was the first to raise his glass and propose a toast. He snatched the glass as though someone was trying to take it from him and abruptly jumped to his feet, his coifed hair becoming disrupted for a moment before falling perfectly back to the place it had been.

“For the master race, for the mother land and for Cornelius, her favorite son,” he trumpeted as he held his glass aloft. He then turned around to look at the reaction of the throngs of adoring German citizens who Cornelius had not noticed gathered in the small neighborhood tavern, filling every space at and between each table and spilling out of the door and into the street.

Waiting for their cue to cheer and having now received it, they all erupted into raucous applause and shouts. Cornelius turned in his seat and it was then that he noticed even the second and third story windows of every building along the street were filled with people who waved flags and handkerchiefs and any other manner of fabric they could get their hands on.

When his eyes returned to the table, he saw that his father now stood as well, holding his glass high. Both men, both of his heroes, his only heroes, looked to him and waited. With smiles on their faces, they waited for him to stand.

As he did, the crowd cheered even louder. As he picked his glass up, the roar of the crowd stole his hearing from him and sent the world into slow motion. His senses all blurred into one muffled awareness of what was going on about him.

His father mouthed words that Cornelius could not hear. So did the fuehrer and they both clinked their glasses against his and drank the brown liquid. Cornelius tipped his glass to his lips as well, but he did not taste the drink within. He did, however, feel a burning in his chest and then a stinging in his stomach.

The two men across the table advanced toward him and each put a hand on one of his shoulders. They turned him to face the crowd.

Cornelius Caine watched the people of his country writhe and scream and twist their faces into grotesque shapes in an attempt to shout even louder than they already were. But he heard none of it. He didn’t even hear the buzzing hum in his head that comes when the noise passes the threshold of one’s hearing.

Cornelius heard nothing. Just silence.

He turned to see the still smiling faces of his father and his fuehrer on either side, presenting him to the crowd. They mouthed more words, both to him and to one another and Cornelius wished so badly that he could hear what they had to say. He wanted to hear their words of praise and the crowd’s adoration.

He strained to hear. He searched for a physical barrier between his brain and the noise that he might be able to knock down and bask in his long-deserved glory. He strained so hard he closed his eyes and focused in the blackness.

He began to hear something. So quietly at first that he wasn’t sure it was actually even there. He thought he might just be imagining it. But it was there and it slowly became louder. Even then it was barely a whisper, but he could begin to make out that it was real sound.

Cornelius tried to open his eyes then to see what it was he was hearing. Perhaps looking at it before him might make it clearer.

But his eyes would not open. He could not see the crowd. He could not see the smiling faces of his heroes. And he became aware that he could no longer feel their hands upon his shoulders, nor was he even sure that he ever could. There was, however, the burning and the stinging. That, he felt. It remained in his chest and his stomach. It even seemed to spread to other parts of his body. His shoulder, his knee, his head. And the sound started to become clearer.

It was conversation. Mumbled conversation. He could not yet make out the words, but he could tell there were people talking and he knew neither voice was his father or his fuehrer.

“…out of here,” he finally heard. “He needs help and he needs it right away.”

“No, we wait,” the other voice said. “He’ll know what to do and I know his body will have a chance to heal itself if we give him time. So for now, we wait.”

“This is too much,” the other voice returned. It was a young voice. It was the voice of a child. Not a small child, but not yet a man. The rich tenor of age had not yet established itself permanently in this voice and Cornelius strained to open his eyes and see who stood before him and what they were discussing.

“You don’t have to stay,” the other voice said. This voice, too, was one full of youth, but there was more confidence to it. There was also something that Cornelius swore he recognized. Could he just open his eyes and see a face. “You’ve already done enough. You can go home, you don’t have to see any of this. I’ll let you know when I’m home.”

“James,” said the first voice and Cornelius Caine’s pain intensified as he remembered where he was. Still, he could not open his eyes.

“…you almost got me killed, yet here I am, saving your ass, just in the nick of time, so don’t treat me like I’m an outsider here. I might be the only one in here without super powers, but at one point, I was the only one standing.”

“Okay, then stay,” James responded as they stood right in front of Cornelius, he was sure of it.

There was silence then for a while and the sound of feet shuffling around the room. Teenage feet too lazy to be picked completely up off of the floor of his hidden lab. The anger welled inside of Cornelius and he tried to open his eyes again, this time swearing that the slightest sliver of light had made its way to his pupil. He groaned. It was so muted that nobody else in the room heard it and they continued talking.

“How did you find me, anyway?” James asked the other voice. “How did you know I’d be here? How did you know Doctor Caine was evil and how the hell did you find this place?”

“Well, obviously, I was pissed at you. I didn’t want to talk to you and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be friends with you anymore. But that didn’t mean I wanted you dead. I was sitting in my room and I couldn’t think, so I pulled out a couple comics.”

Doctor Caine finally managed to open his eyes completely, after several unsuccessful tries. Even the dim light glared and hurt and he was unable to make out any detail for a few minutes, just blobs of color that ran together. And the pain was unbearable.

“The one issue of Captain America I was reading, don’t ask me which one, had a flashback to his time in the super soldier program, when Steve Rogers was being prepped to receive the serum. He was remembering Dr. Erskine and something struck me. I didn’t even realize it at first, so I just kept reading.”

“So what does that…”

“Let me finish, please! I wanted to read something else and I wanted to read issue number seven of Kick Ass because I wanted to compare just how different the movie was from the comic and so I…”

Doctor Caine moaned and both James and Dave jumped.

“Jesus Christ!” Dave exclaimed.

“He’s awake,” James said and walked toward Doctor Caine, now hanging from the wall of the small room where James had been suspended just an hour before.

“You think?”

“Let me down,” Doctor Caine groaned, his voiced filled with pain and anger, but James noticed, nothing resembling fear. “Let me down right now.”

“You’re staying right where you are you old psycho,” James growled. “When my dad wakes up, we’ll figure out what to do with you.”

Caine looked across the room and now noticed that James’ father was lying across his lab table, the tubes removed from his arms. He knew that what the boy had said earlier was true. If given enough time, he would fully recover under his own power. Since that would be bad for Cornelius, he quickly reasoned he would need to use the only advantage he had over the boy to try and escape: his intellect.

“He’s lost a lot of blood, son,” the doctor cautioned James. “If you untie me, I could perhaps help revive him.”

“I told you before not to call me son. I am not your son and you are staying there until he wakes up.”

“Please boy,” Doctor Caine laughed, “what harm could I possibly be to you now? I’m certain that I have a few broken bones. At my advanced age, and with your superior condition,” he nearly choked on those words, “you would have no problem keeping me in line, especially since I no longer have the element of surprise on my side.”

“You’re staying where you are,” James repeated and glared at the doctor.

“Well then, when your father wakes up, we shall see what he thinks. That is, if he wakes up.”

James continued to stare at him, unmoving.

Caine looked over James’ shoulder and saw Dave standing there. He instantly hated the boy, realizing this must have been the pest who fell on top of him just as he was about to have his ultimate triumph. He repressed his hatred and asked Dave, “Won’t you talk some sense into your friend, young man? His father has lost a great deal of blood and I am no longer a threat to either of them. Not in my current condition.”

“You don’t speak to him!” James said, loudly. Then he turned to Dave and said, “Don’t listen to him.”

“But James,” Dave said quietly, “your dad is…”

“I know him,” James interrupted. “He’ll be fine. He just needs time.”

Caine resolved to let the matter go for a while. He would let the boys talk. He didn’t know how much time there was before James’ father awoke, but the seed of doubt had been planted in his friend’s mind. Caine decided he would let it grow there on its own for some time before saying anything more. Hopefully he could offer more advice before James’ father awoke to offer his own.

“Finish telling me how you knew what was going on. Maybe Doctor Asshole here would like to hear the story too.”

“Oh, um, okay,” Dave stammered, which led Doctor Caine to be all the more confident that he could turn the boy into an ally in his attempt to get free. “So I’m reading Kick-Ass #7 and I’m reading it so that I can see how Big Daddy is different from in the movie, but when I see Red Mist and it gets to the part where Kick Ass realizes he’s really Chris Genovesse and…wait…”

Dave stopped and looked at Doctor Caine curiously.

“This is like a major spoiler,” Dave said. “I don’t if he’s read it or seen the movie. I don’t want to ruin it for him.” Then he asked Doctor Caine, “Where you planning on reading it?”

Before the doctor could even think of how to respond, Dave began laughing. Then he patted James on the shoulder and, with the other hand, held his middle finger up to Doctor Caine. “You’ll have plenty of time to read it in hell,” Dave said through his laughter.

Doctor Caine suddenly became much less confident in his ability to turn the boy into an ally and he pulled against his restraints and shouted as loud as he could, which was not particularly loud or convincing, “Get me down from here or you shall have hell to pay!”

Upon finishing, he coughed and tasted blood in his mouth. Without the use of his hands, it trickled over his lip and dripped to the floor below. The two young men looked at him then looked away as though Caine’s presence barely mattered anymore.

“So, I realized,” Dave continued speaking now as if nothing had happened, “that the difference between Dr. Erskine, a mentor that can be trusted and Red Mist, someone posing as a mentor who was not to be trusted, was when they come into the hero’s life. Erskine knew Cap before he was Cap. He made him Cap. Red Mist, on the other hand, got close to Kick-Ass, acting all friendly and shit, without ever having known anything about him.”

Dave then pointed across the room at Caine. “It reminded me of jackass over here. He shows up out of nowhere, trying to find out all this stuff about your family. It was apparent that he didn’t create you guys, so I kept wondering, what was his angle?”

James raised an eyebrow. “And you just knew he was evil from reading comic books? Seriously?”

“Now see, that’s the thing that didn’t sit right with me. I remember you told me that he even said that comic books held some truth. At first, that made me like him, but then I got to thinking. You know how the villain always gives you a clue that he’s a rat before you know it for sure? Then you look back and you remember he said something and you’re all like, ‘Damn, I should have known he was no good form the start.’ That’s what I think he was doing. He was telling you that there was evidence that would prove he was a bad guy. It like he gets his jollies over giving you hints.

“So I went to find you and tell you and your mom told me you left and that your dad was out of town. Then you weren’t answering your phone and I just knew something was up. I came to the only place you could have been describing where you went to meet the doctor at and when I couldn’t find anyone, I was ready to give up. Then I heard this psycho laughing through a vent and the rest just fell into place…no pun intended.” Dave looked down at the floor and smiled to himself. Then he looked up and smiled at James. “Okay, the pun was intended. You get it? Fell into place?”

Dave laughed again and James smiled. Meanwhile, Doctor Caine stared at them from across the room and thought of what great pleasure he would take in killing the both of them. Alas, murder was no longer a luxury he could afford. That ship had sailed and he would simply have to try and get down from this wall and worry about his own wellbeing. Exacting vengeance would have to wait until later.

“While I am pleased that you are able to share a laugh at my expense,” Doctor Caine said to them, “I implore you to look at me and then at your father.”

The boys both did as he instructed, looking at James’ father, still just as they had left him on the lab table. Then they turned back to the doctor. This pleased Cornelius in a strange way and gave him hope.

“I am closer to one hundred years old than either of you boys will likely ever see. I am dying of a cancer that I cannot cure and have suffered broken bones and contusions. Yet, here I am, awake and speaking to you, fluidly and there your father remains, unconscious despite having been given incredible strength and regenerative abilities.”

He paused then, hoping the boys might look at one another. They did not. They both stared straight at him. While not as telling as an exchanged glance, the doctor knew this, too, might be a sign of doubt in their selected course of action.

“The time to argue and vilify me has passed,” Caine continued. “If you want to make sure your father is well, untie me and allow me to examine him. I know more about his medical history than you or even he does. I pose no threat to you.”

He stopped talking and waited patiently. He waited and watched. Neither boy moved for a few moments. Dave was the first. He glanced back and forth between the three of them with worry on his face. But not once did he say a word, as Caine had hoped he would, to convince James to release him and allow him access to his father.

James just stared directly at Caine. He stared into his eyes so long that the doctor actually began to feel uncomfortable, though he never showed it. Just as he was about to give up hope that he would be freed, as he began to remember German curse words he could use to call out to them while keeping his dignity intact, James walked toward him.

“What are you doing?” Dave asked.

“I don’t know if he’s telling the truth or not,” James said, “but if he is and my dad doesn’t wake up, I’m going to feel like shit. If he’s just trying to get free and pulls something, I’ll smash his face in.”

Doctor Caine barely heard James’ threat as he had already begun looking around the room for a means by which to regain the upper hand. James was not an option. With his heightened strength and his unbreakable skin, any attempt to harm him would be futile.

His friend seemed a bit more open to consideration. Caine sensed a cowardice, an unwillingness to act, in him that he might be able to exploit. Still, the boy had come to find his friend and successfully freed him. Also, the cowardice he displayed seemed to have a sense to it that would cause the boy to keep a safe distance.

Samuel was his best bet, he decided. With any number of sharp instruments within his reach, in locations that James would not even have thought to look, Caine could hold one to his throat and regain control. After all, it was the threat of harm to his father that had prompted action from James. It was fear in his father’s death that was about to free him from his captivity against the cold concrete wall.

James’ hands came to rest on the handle that would release Doctor Caine. He was about to lower him to the ground despite Dave’s words of protest from across the room.

“I think you’re right,” Dave said. “Maybe we should just give him more time.” And Dave added, “You said you thought he even could heal you.” Dave continued, “I’m sure he’ll heal, you just gotta give him time.” Dave pled, “Let’s just talk about it. Just for two minutes.”

Doctor Caine only heard these words as background noise. He heard his own heart beating in his head. He watched as James gripped the handle of the crank. James would turn it and he would be free. Free to hold a surgical knife to his father’s throat and free to escape and find somewhere else to hide, perhaps to live long enough to formulate a new plan.

Doctor Caine would have been free to do all of these things, had another voice not spoken up.

“Listen to Dave,” James’ father said in a raspy, but clear, voice. “Leave him where he hangs. This is going to be the last room he ever sees.”

“Are you sure this is alright?”

“James, it’s fine. I know you don’t have your license yet, but this is cause for an exception.”

James’ father leaned his head back forcefully, taking immediate pleasure in allowing his neck to rest. He shut his eyes and hoped James would drive back to their home safely. He began to wonder how he was going to explain all this to his wife. She would be furious.

“It’s just, if we get pulled over, I’m gonna freak out and…”

“First of all,” James’ father interrupted him, “you aren’t going to get pulled over. But, let’s say you do. I’ll let the officer know that you are driving for me because you need to get me to a hospital.”

“We’re taking you to a hospital? I thought you said we shouldn’t…”

“No, no, you’re taking me home, but we’d tell the officer that. Just look at me. He’ll buy it. Then, if need be you drive me to the hospital first, then home.” He sighed. “Just stop worrying. After all that’s happened, getting pulled over is nothing.”

James stared straight ahead through the windshield. He was afraid something would dart out in front of him at any moment. Soon, he began to notice that cars were overtaking him on the left that had once been behind him. He didn’t care.

“You know,” James’ father said without opening his eyes or lifting his head from the headrest, “I ought to yell at you for telling your friend about your abilities. That’s something we talked about keeping secret.”

James pulled the car suddenly into the parking lot of a gas station and slammed the gearshift into park.

“You have got to be kidding me! You’re going to scold me right now for who I chose to trust? The doctor you took me to was harvesting your blood, dad! He was about to murder me! So let’s not talk about who trusted the wrong person.”

“That’s exactly my point,” his father said, still avoiding lifting his head. “When it comes down to it, we can’t tell anybody about how we’re different. It’s best not to take that chance. The fewer people we let in, the safer we are.”

“I get that you’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have, I really do, but you need to see that you’re way of doing things isn’t law as soon as you say it. Everything is obviously not going to go as planned, so maybe we should talk about who should and should not be trusted and maybe you could respect my decisions sometimes like I might know what I’m doing.”

“Oh, like you talked to me about going off that night when I came after you? It’s a good thing I did, too, or you wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Okay, so you saved me. Great, dad, that was over three years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then. And it was me who came to save your ass this time, wasn’t it? So I guess that makes us even.”

The two of them turned away from each other. James stared at the sky, in fury, and his father rolled his head to the side and watched an old man squint at the display screen of the gas pump as he tried to take deep breaths and calm down.

“Um, just to be clear, guys,” came Dave’s voice from the back seat, “you were both pretty much screwed and it was me who showed up and did all the ass saving.”

Neither James nor his father reacted at all. They continued to stare out their windows and ignore one another. Dave wondered momentarily if they even remembered he was sitting back there.

“I’m just saying,” he spoke up again, uncomfortable from the silence, “you know, a guy without super powers captured you both and then a guy without super powers saved you both, too. It’s kind of ironic when you really think about it. Kind of funny in a way.”

James threw his head back onto his own headrest and sighed as he stared at the interior roof of the car. “He’s got a point, you know,” he said to his father in a way that made it seem he hated to admit it.

James’ father rolled his head toward James and stared at him for a second. Then, with a great deal more effort than it should take anyone, he straightened himself in his seat and turned sideways so that he could face Dave. He sighed and blinked heavily before extending a hand back toward him.

“David,” he said, “thank you for saving our lives today. I’m glad that you know who we really are.”

Dave shook James’ father’s hand, sheepishly at first like he expected this to be some sort of practical joke, then more firmly and with a confidence he’d never quite felt before.

“My pleasure,” Dave said, and looked at James, who was now also turned and watching him, smiling. “But sometimes I wonder if I’m glad that I know any of this.”

James’ father chuckled and then fell back into his position in his seat and closed his eyes. “Sometimes I feel the same way,” he said.

James shifted back into drive and pulled out onto the main street from the gas station. The three rode in silence for a while. The tension that had previously been hanging was gone and a contented smile sat on each face instead.

James caught sight of Dave in the rearview mirror. Dave smiled, then shifted uncomfortably and grimaced a bit.

“Hey guys? I was just wondering something,” Dave said.

“If he’ll ever get out of there?” James guessed.

“He won’t,” James’ father answered. “He’ll die on that wall and with the documents he had strewn around, detailing all the people he’s killed over the years, that’s exactly what he deserves.” There was a nervous silence in the car for a moment and James’ father spoke up again. “He was dying already. I don’t imagine he would have lasted long even having received medical care.” While he wondered if the boys were feeling any sort of guilt, James’ father did not regret their actions at all. They hadn’t done anything to Doctor Caine, they just refused to release him. Furthermore, he knew releasing him and turning him over to the authorities would only compromise their secrets. They had done the right thing in leaving him in that room and he patted his son on the leg and said, “Don’t worry. He’s too dangerous. We did the right thing.”

“Um, no, that’s not it at all,” Dave said. “I was wondering if you guys think we could stop at Taco Bell. I’m starving.”

End of Book 2

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