Frances Sonata raced down the San Frishman highway. It was 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. His car engine was roaring. Cream’s I Feel Free was booming at full volume over the radio. The speedometer needle quivered over the one-eighty mark and a nine-hundred dollar bottle of whiskey sat snuggly in the passenger’s seat. The streets were clear and the sun was in that strange state between waking and sleeping. A beautiful dawn. Frances didn’t care. He hadn’t slept. He hadn’t eaten. His heart was drumming. He’d run out of steam long ago and his brain was running on adrenaline. If everything went well, today would be his day. If everything went well, he’d be a legend. If everything went well…
His cell phone rang. Frances turned down the radio. He reached into his pocket and took out his cell phone. The I.D. on the screen read Ms. October. There was a question mark where her picture should’ve been. He tapped the green answer button and raised the phone to his ear.
“Hey October,” he said. “What’s on your mind beautiful?”
“Glad to hear you’re in a pleasant mood Mr. Sonata,” October said. Her voice was had its usual chipper tone. He could tell she was smiling over the phone.
“Yup,” he said. “Saying I feel on top of the world would be quite the understatement.”
“Great,” October said. “Think you can handle a consultation?”
His eye twitched.
“That depends,” he said. “Who’s calling?”
“It’s relating to the Kloner Account,” she said.
“Alright…put her through,” he said.
The line clicked.
“Frances Sonata. Oculux Limited,” he said in as snarky a tone as he could muster.
“Hey Karen,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“It wasn’t enough to steal the Crown assignment from under my nose, you had Becker saddle me with the Kloner account?!”
“Oh come on Kare,” Frank said. “It’s a big account. I thought you’d be happy.”
“The man’s a complete loser!” Karen said.
“He’s an Oculux client,” Frank said.
“No Frank,” Karen said. “Most of our big clients are hyper-intelligent nerds with too much money. This genius can’t tell a death ray from a doom ray. I just got out of a meeting with the man. Does the guy ever bathe?”
“…Yes?” Frank said. “Anyway, why did you have a meeting so early?”
“His scumbag lawyer said he had a flight to catch,” she said. “Total moron. Kloner understands super-villainy about as well as you understand how to be a decent human being!”
“It couldn’t have been that bad,” Frank said.
“He doesn’t listen to you,” Karen said. “I’m not even totally convinced he speaks English. I introduced myself and went over his contract. Then I went over his latest order. He just stared at my chest the whole time.”
“He does that,” Frank said.
A short silence.
“Well can he?” Karen asked.
“Can he what?” Frank asked.
“Speak English,” she said.
“It’s definitely possible,” he said.
“You don’t know?”
“Listen Kare, I’d love to answer that, but I’ve got a business deal to seal.”
“Where are you? Still on San Frishman?” She asked.
Frank’s eyes narrowed.
“Yeah…,” he said.
“Better hurry big guy,” Karen said. “Rupert Crown leaves town in two hours and you’re still three hours away.”
“Don’t worry. I got it covered,” he said. “Or can you not hear the roar of this sexy high-performance machine through the phone?”
“Got the Lambo out for this one huh?” Karen asked.
“You know it,” Frank said. “Don’t want to give the impression that I’m a company car Carl.”
“Company car Carl? Is that even a thing?”
“It is now.”
“Well don’t get too confident,” Karen said. “Remember what happened the last two times you tried to get a meeting with Rupert? I assume that’s your third best suit you’re wearing?”
For one brief moment, his thoughts shifted to the revolver holstered under his suit jacket.
“Third time’s the charm right?” Frank said. “All joking aside Kare. Be nice to Dr. Kloner. The man’s a gold mine.”
“All joking aside Frank,” she said. “I hope Rupert kills you this time.”
There was an audible beep.
“Haha. Very funny,” Frank said. “That was a joke right? Kare? Hello? Karen?”
“She seems to have hung up Mr. Sonata,” October said.
“Right…thanks October,” he said.
“Anything else I can help you with Mr. Sonata?” She asked.
“No more than your usual miracles,” he said. “Talk to you later October.”
“I’ll be here if you need me Mr. Sonata,” October said. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Frank said.
Another beep followed and Frank suddenly felt alone. There seemed to be nothing else in the world. Just a car, a road, and the lonely San Frishman desert. He recalled his conversation with Karen and smiled. He’d gotten a kick out of her reaction. He’d been looking forward to it for almost a day. Now it was gone and all he had left was the reality. The Kloner account really was a lucrative one. A heavy price to pay for one last chance at victory. A heavy price to pay for one last chance at the stubborn white whale.
Lost in thought, Frank almost didn’t see the girl lying in the middle of the road. He snapped his head up. Eyes widened. He gasped. Turned the wheel. He slammed the breaks. Tires screeched. Their friction against the asphalt sent a cloud of smoke shooting into the air. The car finally came to a stop a few seconds later. Frank’s heart was pounding.
Frank looked over his shoulder. He couldn’t see the girl through the haze of white smoke behind him. He faced forward again and placed his hand on the gear shift. Took a deep breath. Clicked the vehicle into drive, then hesitated.
“Come on,” he said. “Just go. Just leave.”
One moment passed. Then two.
“You’re an idiot Frank,” he said. Then shrugged. “Yeah, I know.”
Frank slid the shift into reverse. One three-point turn later, he was rolling back through the thinning smoke. The girl hadn’t moved. She was just lying there in the road. Frank stopped the car and clicked the shift into park. He opened the door. Stepped out and walked toward the unconscious girl. She looked young. Petite. Slender. Maybe thirteen or fourteen. Dark red hair. Dressed in a hospital gown.
Frank looked around. Nothing. Only cracked yellow earth as far as he could see.
“Where did you come from?” He whispered.
Frank looked at his watch. Sighed. He glanced up at the sky and grumbled.
“Today huh?” He said. “This has to happen…today?!”
Frank looked back down at the girl. He knelt down and placed one arm under her back and another beneath her legs.
“Alright. Come on,” Frank grunted, lifting her up. He cowboy walked to the passenger side and opened the door with his foot. The door rose and that’s when he remembered. “Dammit…”
The nine-hundred dollar bottle of whiskey still sat in the passenger’s seat. He picked up a leg and carefully nudged the bottle to the floor.
“Sorry,” he said, blowing a kiss to the bottle. Frank sat the girl down and closed the door. He jumped back into the driver’s seat and stomped on the gas pedal. The engine roared to life. The tires screeched and he was off.
The girl was still unconscious. Frank felt uneasy. He found his eyes darting to her every few minutes. By all accounts, she seemed like a normal teenage girl, but something was off. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d seen her before, though that was impossible. Wasn’t it?
A few miles later, Frank’s Lamborghini came to a stop in front of an old roadside gas station. A small place. Just two pumps and a five car parking lot. Windows were littered with stacks of old flyers. A rust stained freezer sat beside the front door. The word “ice” was written on the side in faded sky blue block letters. A real mom and pop setup. Frank pulled in near pump one and got out. He crunched across the dry gravel towards the store. He still had half a tank, but he really didn’t stop for the gas. Three of the five spaces were taken. A red car, a grey, and a highway patrol motorcycle. The sign on the front read: “Food, gas, and porn mags.”
He pushed open the door. A bell jingled. There were a few fully stocked wooden shelves. Freezers lined the back wall, skipping a space for the single unisex bathroom. Frank heard three other customers rummaging through the snacks. Another was checking out the cooler. Frank approached the desk. An older man was sitting in a chair behind the counter watching a small T.V. set. Tall. Lean. Glasses. Snow white hair. Plaid shirt and jean overalls. Mid-sixties. The promised pornography was sitting on a shelf behind him. The clerk leaned over and switched off the television.
“How can I help you today, young man?” He said, approaching the counter. He had one of those well-practiced smiles veteran salesmen often get.
Frank flashed his own smile.
“I was wondering if a patrolman came through here,” he said.
“Sure did,” the clerk said. “Went off to the bathroom, but I reckon he should be out soon.”
“Thanks,” Frank said. “Oh, and can I get twenty on pump one?”
He slid a twenty dollar bill across the counter to the clerk.
“Sure thing,” the clerk said.
The clerk took the bill. Frank heard a pair of footsteps behind him and stepped to the side. The customer stepped up to the counter, but he didn’t look like the usual patron of a no-name gas station in the middle of nowhere. Bald. Goggles over his eyes. A pencil lead grey lab coat. Black gloves, matching boots, and utility belt.
Frank gave the man a once over. The other three customers came to the counter. The tallest was carrying a bag of sour cream chips. Another looked more like a bodybuilder than a scientist. He had a handful of beef jerky sticks. Spicy. The fourth was a woman with blond hair tied into a ponytail. She was carrying two six packs of beer. All of them dressed the same. They set their things on the counter. Frank folded his arms.
“We’ll be outside,” the tall one said.
“Got it,” the bald guy said.
The bell jingled as the other three walked out. The clerk tallied up the items.
“That’ll be Thirty-two fifty-seven,” the clerk said.
The bald man flipped open his wallet and pulled out two twenties. He set them down on the counter.
“Nice outfit,” Frank said.
The bald guy shot him a hostile look.
“No,” Frank said, flashing his thousand dollar smile. “I mean it. Who’re you with? Dr. Terror? Professor Tornado?”
No response. Frank dug into his suit pocket and pulled out a business card.
“Frances Sonata, Oculux Limited,” Frank said.
The bald guy took the card, looked at it, and tossed it aside. He turned his attention back to the clerk. Frank paused a moment and forced a chuckle.
“Eh. Don’t worry about it. I got plenty,” he said. “Anyway. How does better pay sound to you? Or better weapons? Or…dental?”
The bald guy turned his head back toward Frank.
“That’s right,” Frank said. “I could probably even get you a pretty good health insurance plan too. Just mention us to your boss. You’ll all be in good hands with Oculux Limited and-”
The clerk was in the middle of counting out the change when the bald guy’s coat collar started beeping. Four seconds later they heard the roar of three cars. Frank recognized the sound of his vehicle.
“No…,” Frank whispered.
He and the bald guy were out the door in half a second. Frank made it out in time to see his shiny black Lamborghini take off down the highway.
“No, no, no, no, no!” Frank shouted, trying in vain to chase down his baby on foot.
The bald guy sprinted to the grey car and took off, closely followed by the red car. Frank watched as the three cars quickly vanished into the distance.
Frank took out his phone. Hit re-dial.
“Good to hear from you again Mr. Sonata. How can I help?” October asked.
“Stand by. I’ll need you in a minute,” Frank said.
The bell jingled as Frank stormed back into the gas station.
“Everything alright son?” The clerk asked.
Frank didn’t respond. He heard the bathroom door squeak open. The patrolman stepped out with a satisfied sigh. Mid-twenties. Short brown hair. Tan uniform. Gold badge pinned to his chest. Aviator glasses and a Glock 19 holstered snuggly in his belt.
“Son?” The clerk said again.
Frank pulled the revolver from his coat pocket and took aim at the clerk. The barrel was less than an inch from the man’s face. The patrolman un-holstered his gun.
“Freeze! Police!” He shouted. “Drop the gun, now!”
“Listen up officer, because this is how things are going to go,” Frank said. “You’re going to set the gun on the floor. Then you’re going to slide it to me. Then you’re going to do the same with your keys and walkie-talkie. If you refuse, the man gets one through the face.”
The patrolman didn’t move. His aim didn’t falter.
“Sir, I’m advising you to drop the weapon immediately or I will open fire,” the patrolman said.
“And I’m advising you, officer. Do what I say and everyone gets to walk away,” Frank said.
Six seconds of silence passed. Frank clicked back the hammer of the pistol.
“Alright,” the patrolman said. He raised his hands, set the gun down and slid it across the floor. It stopped at Frank’s feet.
“Keys and walkie-talkie,” Frank said.
The patrolman took out his keys and unhooked the walkie-talkie from his belt. He set them on the ground and kicked them across the floor. They both stopped against Frank’s black Italian oxfords. Three stomps smashed the walkie-talkie to pieces, then he picked up the keys.
“You.” Frank turned to the clerk. “I’m taking four bags of ice. Take it out of the twenty I gave you.”
The old man was shaking. Eyes wide. Jaw quivering.
“Charge me for four bags of ice!” Frank shouted.
The clerk nodded and slammed the change on the counter. Frank looked at it and tapped the counter.
“D-did I forget something?” The clerk asked.
“Where’s my receipt?”
“Oh, uh, right.” The clerk pushed a few buttons on his cash register and the machine printed out the receipt. Frank snatched it and scooped up the change into his hand. He threw open the door. Took a few steps outside. Stopped. Turned back. Opened the gas station door again and poked his head through. The clerk and patrolman both looked at him, confused.
“Hey, toss me one of those magazines,” Frank said.
The clerk looked from Frank to the patrolman, then back to Frank.
“W-what?” He asked.
“Porn mag, now!”
Frank was racing down the road a moment later. The patrolman’s motorcycle was growling at full power. Two large bags of ice hung off each side. The wind whipped against his face and blew through his hair. He took out his phone and dialed.
“Hello Mr. Sonata,” October said.
“Hey October,” he said. “I’ve run into a bit of a problem.”
“How can I help?”
“I need you to locate my car with the Oculux satellite.”
“Did you get lost?” She asked.
“No…,” he sighed. “My car was stolen.”
“I can’t really get into it right now,” Frank said. “I need you to locate my car and prepare to stop all functions on my mark.”
“You don’t want me to stop them now?” She asked.
“No,” he said. “Can’t risk those mooks catching up to the thief before I get there.”
“I…ran into some henchmen,” Frank said. “I’ll explain later, okay?”
“Yes sir,” she said.
Soon enough, the red and grey cars appeared in the distance. Frank pocketed his phone and pulled out his revolver. He took aim at the grey car and squeezed the trigger. The gun fired. The bullet shattered the rear windshield. No significant damage, but they knew he was there. Both cars slowed down. Frank put away his gun and stepped on the gas. The henchmen were expecting a fight, but Frank wasn’t ready to play. Not yet. He glimpsed the shocked expression on the bald guy’s face as he zoomed between the two cars. After he was far enough away, Frank let the ice bags drop. Almost a hundred pounds of ice skittered on the road behind him. The henchmen instinctively came to a stop. The Lamborghini was still a speck in the distance. He took out his phone.
“Alright October,” he said. “Hit’em.”
“Yes sir,” October said.
The speck started getting bigger until his car came into full view. Frank’s bike screeched to a halt beside the vehicle. He swung a leg over and walked over to the driver side door. He couldn’t see through the tinted windows, but he knew the girl was still in there.
Frank took out his keys and clicked the unlock button. He heard the locks snap free.
“Okay, you sneaky little thief, time to get out,” Frank said. He placed his hand on the handle, but he heard the car lock again before he could pull. “Did you just-?”
Frank yanked the handle. Nothing. He unlocked the car again. Then the car locked again.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
He unlocked the car again and the girl locked it again. Frank pounded on the window.
“Get out of there you little brat!”
Just then, something familiar reached his ears. The roar of car engines. Frank looked down the road. The henchmen were getting close.
Frank pounded the window again.
“Let me in,” he said. “Come on, let me in!”
Nothing. The grey car came to a stop. The red car stopped beside it. The doors swung open. All four henchmen stepped out. Frank looked at his watch and sighed. He ran a hand through his hair.
“Here we go…,” he said, turning to face them.
“Hand her over,” the bald guy said.
“Hand who over?” Frank asked.
“You know who,” the bald guy said.
“Does it look like I have control here?” Frank said. He put his hands up and took a few casual steps forward toward the henchmen. “I can’t even get into my own car. Now if we can all just calm down, I’m sure we can come up with some sort of agreement. Eh, preferably one that doesn’t damage my car in any way.”
Frank continued his slow trek forward.
“Look, you either give us the girl or we can take her,” the woman said. “And I’d advise you to stay where you are.”
“You got it. See? I’m cooperating, okay?” Frank said. “You can have the girl. All I want is my car back in one piece. Here.”
Frank tossed the keys to the bald guy.
“Take her,” Frank said. “The brat’s all yours.”
The four said nothing and made their way towards the Lamborghini.
“Oh and what I said before…,” Frank said. “Those really are snazzy uniforms.”
Franks’ eyes moved to the woman’s utility belt.
“Not to mention some mighty fine equipment,” he said, giving the woman a wink.
She shot him a nasty look.
“The belt. I meant in the utility belt,” he said, with a smile. “In fact…”
The four shoved their way past Frank.
“…Isn’t this an Odin Cannon 7000 series taser?”
The bald guy had half a second to notice Frank had stolen the taser from his belt before he felt over thirty million volts blast through his body. He wriggled and dropped like a brick.
“Yup,” Frank said. “That’s definitely what it is.”
The remaining three minions quickly took positions around Frank.
“Stay back you two,” the muscular one said, pointing a thumb at himself. “This dude’s all mine.”
The woman and the tall guy nodded and took a few steps back.
“Interesting,” Frank said. “Well alright, big guy. Gimme your best shot.”
The muscle guy flexed and took a few poses.
“You want my best shot baby?” The muscle guy asked, sprinting with fists clenched tight. His stride was perfect. “How ’bout my worst, sucka?!”
The strongman threw a punch aimed for Frank’s face. Perfect form. Smooth delivery. Like a well-oiled machine. Then his fist collided straight on with Frank’s already clicking taser.
The muscle guy snapped his arm back.
“Hello.” Frank said. “I have a taser. Did you forget I had a taser? Because I have a taser.”
Frank stepped forward and sent another thirty million volts right into the man’s face. Muscle head stood there a moment. A blank stare on his face. A small flame was dancing around on the end of a hair on his head. He fell back, smashing against the road, leaving a few cracks in the asphalt. Frank chuckled.
“Someone call the little cartoon birdies,” he said.
Now the tall guy and the woman started moving in. Frank’s eyes shifted between the two. He sniffed.
“Alright buddy boy and buddy girl. Let’s go,” he said, getting into a boxing stance.
The henchmen circled him, gradually moving closer with every step. The tall man stepped forward. Frank braced for battle. Then a loud bang came from the Lamborghini. All three turned toward the car. Something had shot up from the back and straight into the sky. Frank squinted to see what is was. He didn’t get a good look until it dropped down and smashed him in the nose.
“What the fu-? Ow!” Frank dropped the taser and cupped his nose with both hands.
The object was a small white canister. It clacked on the ground. Smoke hissed from the can. Soon they were all completely enveloped in a thick white fog. Frank grabbed the keys from the hand of the unconscious bald guy and made a mad dash to his car. The driver door was unlocked. He pulled open the door and poked his head inside. The girl had crawled over to the passenger seat.
“Hello,” she said with a nervous smile.
“Yeah,” Frank scoffed. “Hello is right. Now buckle up.”
The girl nodded. She grabbed the seat belt from behind her seat, pulled it over her, and snapped the head in place. Frank sat down in the driver seat and closed the door.
“Alright October,” Frank said. “I’m in.”
The car’s dashboard blinked to life. Frank stepped on the gas pedal and they sped off. The girl didn’t say a word. She wasn’t afraid. Frank knew what fear looked like. Hero, villain, civilian. It was always the same. The look on her face in that moment was a rare one, but he’d seen it countless times before. Evil scientists, mad geniuses, Karen. Mostly, he’d seen it in the mirror. She wasn’t afraid at all. No, she was busy thinking. Calculating. Balancing potential actions and their consequences. Letting the situation play out. Trying to see if the man in the black custom tailored suit, sitting behind the wheel of an expensive sports car was worth her trust. Frank knew the correct answer to that question, but would she come to the same conclusion?
“So what’s your name?” Frank asked.
“What?” She asked. “I uh…”
“Her name is Kay,” October said.
“How do you know?” Frank asked.
“Duh,” Kay said. “How do you think I saved your life back there?”
“I gave her enough control to launch a smoke canister, Mr. Sonata,” October said.
“I had things under control,” Frank said.
“I was aware, Mr. Sonata, but I thought the course of action prudent considering your time constraints,” she said.
“You’re right. As usual,” he said. “You did the right thing October. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome Mr. Sonata,” October said.
“Alright Kay…like it or not, we’re in this together. See that bottle on the floor?”
“What is it?” She asked.
“It’s…whiskey. Just grab it and open it.”
Kay leaned over. Grabbed the bottle off the floor. It took a little effort to peel off the plastic wrapped over the top. She twisted off the cap and grimaced.
“Wow…this is really strong,” Kay said.
“Nine hundred dollars down the drain…,” Frank whispered.
“What?” Kay asked.
Frank reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the magazine. The cover had a glossy finish. It was an issue of Lovely Legs magazine. The picture showed a woman in a black dress and pantyhose, sitting slightly off panel. Only visible from the waist down, letting her legs take center stage.
“Take this,” Frank said, handing Kay the magazine. “Roll it up. Put it in the bottle.”
Kay took the magazine and unrolled it.
“What…what is this? Porn? I don’t want this you weirdo!”
“Well the clerk only had a few to pick from and the latest issue of Awesome Ass was too beautiful to use.”
“Just take it!” Frank said. “That porn is about to save our asses.”
“Yeah. Our awesome asses…,” Kay grumbled.
“Just do what I say,” Frank said. “Those mooks will be on us any minute.”
“How do you know?” She asked.
“I sort of work with these people for a living,” he said. “Henchmen are pretty predictable.”
Kay stared at him.
“I’ll explain later,” Frank said. “We’re on the same side right now. I swear. Okay?”
“Fine…” Kay said, rolling the magazine back up.
“Satellites picking up a vehicle gaining on your position,” October said.
Frank shifted his eyes to the rearview mirror. A grey car was quickly closing the gap. The tall man was driving. Their passenger window was rolled down. The woman was sitting on the door and taking aim with a rather large bazooka style cannon. Green energy was already gathering inside the barrel.
“Yeah, they’re kinda hard to miss,” Frank said.
Kay had turned to look through the rear windshield.
“What is that?” She asked.
“That would be a T-72 Apocalypse Cannon,” Frank said.
“Is it dangerous?” Kay asked.
“Let’s just say…yeah it’s pretty dangerous,” Frank said. “How’s it going with that magazine?”
“Oh yeah! Forgot.” Kay re-rolled the magazine.
“Come on!” Frank said. “Trust me, you don’t want that thing going off!”
“I’m going as fast as I can alright?!” Kay said. “Jerk…”
She rolled the magazine as tight as she could and stuck it inside the whiskey bottle.
“Okay, now what?” Kay asked.
“There’s a lighter in my glove compartment. Get it,” Frank said.
Frank peaked at the rearview mirror again. The green energy was getting brighter. Kay opened the glove compartment. The panel dropped and the lighter bounced onto the floor.
“I dropped it!” She said.
“Find it!” Frank shouted.
The green energy was brighter now. They had seconds before a full charge.
“Found it,” Kay said.
Frank took out his revolver and handed it to Kay.
“Trade,” he said.
“You had a gun this whole time?!”
“Why didn’t you just shoot them?!”
“I can’t do that.”
“They’re potential customers!”
“They’re trying to kill you!”
“They’re villains. Attempted murder is kind of like…saying hello. Listen! We don’t have the time! Just do the trade!”
Kay took the revolver. Frank took the whiskey and the lighter.
“Fire at them!” Frank said.
“Oh, now you want to shoot?!” Kay said.
“Fire at the passenger side windshield,” Frank said. “I need you to move them to my side.”
Kay rolled down the window and fired at the grey car. The bullet bounced off the hood of the grey car. The driver turned the wheel in an attempt to get out of sight long enough to fire. Frank smiled when he saw them move right into his sights. Frank flicked the lighter on. Set the magazine on fire. He took a deep breath. Rolled down the window. Stuck his head out. Reeled his arm back and tossed the bottle at the grey car. The woman squeezed the trigger. The apocalypse gun fired.
Smoke rose into the air. A fire danced on the grey car’s hood. Two vehicles sat in the road, lifeless. The world was still. Frank opened his eyes. Lifted his head off the steering wheel. Kay sat back and shook her head.
“October?” Frank said.
“I’m here Mr. Sonata,” October said. “Are you alright?”
“Well, I’m alive. For now anyway,” he said. “You still here Kay?”
Kay blinked. Looked herself over.
“Mostly,” she said.
Frank shut his eyes.
“Alright. Tough question now,” he said. “How’s the car?”
“Minor damage to systems, but technically workable. The blast from the Apocalypse Gun wavered from its original trajectory,” October said.
“Really? Why?” Frank asked.
“Your improvised weapon hit the enemy vehicle a few seconds before the Apocalypse Gun was fired. The driver attempted to correct the situation. This correction resulted in the projectile trailing off from its intended trajectory, curving into the sky resulting in-”
“Us being alive. Got it,” Frank said.
“So it missed us?” Kay asked.
“Looks like it,” Frank said.
“Wait,” Kay said. “If it missed us, why were we unconscious?”
“The blast may have missed us,” Frank said, looking at the rearview mirror. “But it must have passed close enough to affect us. That’s probably why our friends back there are out too.”
“So just being close to it can affect you? Even if you’re firing it?”
“Well yeah,” Frank said. “You don’t see the military using the thing do you?”
“Right…,” Kay said, looking down. “They only use sophisticated weapons…”
“Let’s get out of here before they wake up. Sound good?” Frank asked.
“Sounds good to me,” she said.
Frank turned the key. The engine tried to start. Didn’t take. Frank’s heart skipped.
“October, I thought you said there was only minor damage,” Frank said.
“That’s correct,” October said. “But although the blast missed you, it flew close enough to zap the remaining gas in your tank. Sorry, Mr. Sonata. I’ve already taken the liberty of calling you a tow.”
Frank dropped his head on the steering wheel.
“Thanks October,” he said. “I’ll just wait here and…try not to cry.”
“Hang in there Mr. Sonata,” October said. “Help will arrive soon.”
The car was quiet for a few minutes.
“So…now what?” Kay asked.
“I don’t know…maybe rethink my career?” Frank said.
“About your career,” Kay said. “Do you really work with bad guys for a living? Guys like that?”
“Yeah…,” Frank said. “Oculux Limited. Give us your beaten, your misunderstood… your money…and we’ll turn you into gods. Who says you can’t buy happiness?”
Kay looked at Frank.
“You really think you can?” She asked
“Can what?” Frank asked.
“Buy happiness,” Kay said.
“I like to think so,” he said. “But probably not. Part of my job is making people believe the answer to that question is: ‘absolutely’.”
“Part?” Kay asked. “What’s the rest of your job?”
“I’m a negotiator,” Frank said. “My primary function is to get new clients and hammer out contracts that’ll suit our needs. I was the best until today. Well…I’m still the best, but it doesn’t really matter.”
“Why not?” Kay asked.
“Because I gave away my best client for one more chance to secure a lucrative supply contract,” Frank said.
“Supply contract?” Kay asked.
“Oculux can’t make everything,” Frank said. “We make our tailored packages by pulling on resources from various other companies and services. The contract with Crown Industries would have dominated the competition. Heck, their massive weapons division alone would have launched Oculux into the stratosphere and…you don’t really care do you?”
Kay shook her head.
“No. Sorry,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t a freelance agent trying to take me back or a rival trying to uncover some sort of secret about me. Plus you seem like a career guy. I knew it would make you feel a little better. You’re still a jerk, but you’re a jerk who saved my life.”
“You’re pretty smart,” he said.
“For a girl right?”
“No, I mean in general,” he said. “Not every kid can hotwire a car, outrun a group of trained henchmen, keep such a cool head under fire and accurately psychoanalyze someone they just met. All after waking up from a coma or whatever it is you were in. You do know you’re only like fourteen right?”
“I know I look fourteen,” she said.
“You’re one of those huh?” Frank said.
“One of what?” Kay asked.
“One of those older than you look types,” Frank said. “So what’s your deal huh? Alien? Different dimension? Time jumper?”
“What? Other direction smartass.” Kay said. “I’m actually younger than I look. I’m a…clone.”
Frank opened his eyes and looked at Kay.
“A clone? A clone of who?” He asked.
“I don’t know,” Kay said. “We weren’t allowed to know. And no one else really wanted to know. Like it didn’t matter.”
“Really?” Frank said. “I’d be dying to find out.”
“My thoughts exactly,” she said. “I don’t know why…but from the moment I learned I was a clone I just wanted find the woman I came from. I owe everything to her. Sure, they taught us things in the lab, but everything I’ve done today…it’s all been her. All her skills are locked somewhere inside my brain. Whoever she is.” Kay sighed. “I know it all probably sounds pretty stupid. Sounds pretty stupid to me sometimes. One girl. Alone. In such a big world. I’d probably never find her.”
“What keeps you going?” Frank asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Curiosity? Hope maybe?”
“Yeah?” Frank asked. “What kind of hope?”
“Hope that she’s somebody good. Like a superhero. Wouldn’t that be cool? A real live superhero.” She laughed. “I probably sounded pretty naive just then. Didn’t I?”
Frank swallowed. Forced a smile.
“You’re a kid,” he said. “You can be as naive as you want.”
The tow truck arrived a few minutes later. The driver walked up to the window. He was a large man in a green jumpsuit and a white undershirt. Three day old scruff. Hard eyes. Black hair. Carmel skin and a tear tattoo under his left eye. Frank buzzed the window down.
“No one told me there would be two cars,” the driver said.
Frank leaned out. Grinned.
“Don’t worry about it,” Frank said. “The call was for us. They have their own ride.”
“But it’s on fire,” he said.
“I know,” Frank said.
The driver shrugged and hooked up the car and they were on their way to the nearest gas station. Frank noticed one small reprieve. They finally turned off the San Frishman highway. Rupert Crown was close. Suddenly, victory felt possible again. Suddenly things didn’t feel so hopeless.
Kay was looking out into the desert. Frank recognized that look. Not curiosity. She was looking on with suspicion. As if expecting her enemies to rise up from the ground. Frank caught himself instinctively reaching over with a comforting hand. He stopped. Lowered his arm and sat back. The truck pulled into another gas station. This one was nicer than the last. Larger parking lot. Several pump stations. Clean. Professional. A large sign read Tony’s Roadside with gas prices listed beneath in digital red numbers. There were two motorcycles in front of the store. Not patrol bikes. The scary kind. The gangster kind. The tow truck driver unhooked the car and took off down the road, probably to help someone else.
Frank turned to Kay.
“I’m going in to pay for the gas and tow,” he said. “Need anything?”
Kay stayed silent.
“Kay?” Frank asked. “You still with me?”
She looked at him.
“Yeah,” she said. “Just thinking.”
“I’m going in for a bit,” Frank said. “Want me to bring you anything?”
“No thanks,” she said.
Frank turned around. Eyed the motorcycles.
“Stay in here alright?” Frank said.
“Where do you think I’m going to go?”
“Well there might be some rough people here,” he said. “A pretty girl in nothing but a hospital gown might cause some trouble.”
Her cheeks reddened.
“Alright,” she said.
Frank got out and double locked the car. He walked to the counter and paid the clerk. The two bikers were in there. One was a big guy. About two-hundred eighty pounds. Round beer gut. Short grey hair. Black bandana. Leather gloves and pants. Sunglasses. A denim vest covered in patches and a torso blanketed in tattoos. The other was thinner. Much better shape. Black shirt with a denim vest. Long brown hair. A pair of heavy boots. There was a knife holstered on his belt. They were both checking out the snacks. They didn’t seem to notice him.
Frank grabbed the receipt. Smiled at the clerk and walked to the bathroom. He pushed the door open. Stopped at the closest of the two bathroom sinks and twisted the handle. Water streamed from the faucet. He splashed water in his face. Grabbed a few paper towels from the wall mounted dispenser and dried himself off. He looked into the mirror, winked at his reflection.
“You got this Frank,” he said. Then it hit him. The time. He’d forgotten all about it. Frank pulled out his phone to check the clock. His heart sank. Thirty minutes past the mark. Rupert Crown was long gone.
Frank pocketed his phone. Hung his head. A hollow chill dropped to his stomach. He looked back up at the mirror. He saw the rage in his eyes. Frank threw back his arm, ready to smash the mirror. Then stopped. He took his wallet from his back pocket and opened it. There was half of an old picture inside. The other half had been torn away long ago. Wrinkled and faded. On the picture was a smiling little girl with short black hair. She was in a Dalmatian costume. It’d been Halloween. She had Frank’s chestnut brown eyes. He sighed, folded his wallet and put it away.
“The world doesn’t have to be so big,” he said. “Not today.”
Frank was about to leave when he heard shouting. He rushed out the door and saw the desk clerk with his back to the wall, hands in the air. The thinner biker was watching him. The larger biker had Kay in his grasp.
“Alright honey, where’s the owner of that nice car outside?” The larger biker asked. “Help us out and maybe we won’t take you too. Maybe.”
Kay stayed silent. No fear in her eyes. Like she’d done this sort of thing every day.
“The car’s mine,” Frank said.
The large biker released Kay. He turned around and smiled.
“Alright then. Hand over the keys Mr. Moneybags,” he said. “That is, if you want her to keep that pretty face of hers.”
Frank smiled and held out his keys.
“Toss’em, genius,” the biker said.
“What? Can’t a tough guy like you handle a wimpy office gopher?” Frank asked.
The biker laughed.
“You got pretty big balls for an office gopher.”
“Nice of you to notice,” Frank said.
The biker thudded over. Each step was slow. Loud. Like a small horse was walking across the floor. He towered over Frank. The large man held out his hand.
“Keys, gopher,” he said.
“Sure, but first…your shoes are untied,” Frank said.
The biker chuckled.
“Didn’t think that’d really work, did you?” He said. “Besides, I’m wearing boot-”
Frank’s fist crunched into the biker’s nose. The big man stumbled back. Frank stepped forward. Three strikes. Throat, ribs, knee. The big man dropped, groaning on the ground. The thinner biker watched his partner hit the ground hard. His eyes were wide. He looked from his partner right to Frank. The biker’s eyes narrowed. He gritted his teeth. Anger boiling in his eyes. He whipped his hair back and reached for his knife.
Frank drew his revolver and fired. The thin biker screamed as the bullet blasted through his hand. The knife clacked on the floor. The thin biker fell, rolling on the ground, cradling his wounded hand.
“Alright Kay, come on,” Frank said.
“Hold on,” Kay said. She ran up to the counter. A tablet, a box of pens, and a packet of fruit gummies were already there. “Need to pay for these.”
“Seriously?” Frank asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“But I asked if you wanted anything and you said no,” Frank said.
“Well, I didn’t want anything when you asked,” Kay said.
Frank pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Fine,” he said. He approached the counter and paid. The clerk timidly took his money and made change. “Receipt please.”
The two exited the store a moment later. Kay was carrying the plastic bag filled with the tablet, pens, and candy.
“What was that back there?” Frank asked. “I thought you were going to stay in the car.”
“I was,” she said. “But I could see the bikers through the store window. Going by their body language and the lip reading I did, they were going to make a move for your car.”
“So, instead of just staying put and giving those thugs easy access to their vehicles and weapons, I thought it would make things easier if I confronted them inside. Also, I actually did think of a few things I wanted. So I figured: ‘why not?’ Might as well get them while I was in there.”
“You know, I should be angry, but I’m actually kind of impressed.” Frank said.
“I know,” Kay said with a smile. “But you don’t have to thank me or anything. It wasn’t really me.”
Frank opened his mouth to speak. He wanted to tell Kay that he’d failed. He wanted to tell her that they could go and find the woman whose DNA gave birth to her. With all the resources of Oculux, finding her would be easy. He was about to tell her all those things when the phone rang. Frank looked at the caller ID. Ms. October. Frank hesitated to answer. He knew what she would say. Rupert was gone. Becker wanted his head. Karen was gloating. What else would she say?
“Hello?” Frank said.
“Hello again Mr. Sonata,” October said. “I thought you should know that Rupert Crown has-”
” He’s already left. You don’t have to tell me.” Frank said.
“Not at all, Mr. Sonata.” October said. “I thought you should know, Mr. Crown has run into delays.”
Frank gulped. His heart pumped faster.
“Wh-what? What kind of delays?” He asked.
“Unknown,” she said.
“How long is he scheduled to stay?”
Frank got into the driver’s seat. Kay sat on the passenger’s side, opening her bag of fruit gummies. Frank turned the key and the engine roared to life. With a full tank of gas, he threw the car into drive and rolled to where the parking lot met the street. Turning left would lead him back to Oculux and the resources to find the woman. Turning right would take him to Rupert Crown.
“What’s wrong?” Kay asked.
“Nothing,” Frank said. He turned the steering wheel. The car turned right. After all, why couldn’t they both have their happy endings?
Frank drove until they reached Ultralon City. Dozens of skyscrapers stretched into the sky. Beautiful buildings lined with glass. They seemed to ripple as the sunlight hit them, almost like towers made of water. A large building that looked like the Roman Coliseum. A sign hanging from it read: “Ultralon Stadium.”
Kay looked out the window. Her eyes lit up.
“Wow. Is this a city?!” She asked.
“Yup,” Frank said. “Didn’t they teach you about this stuff in the lab?”
“Well yeah, but I’ve never actually seen one,” Kay said. “They’re so…big. Is this where you’re going to make your business deal?”
“Sure is,” Frank said. “But first we’re going to get you some real clothes.”
“About time,” she said.
Frank pulled into the nearest All-Mart. He picked out some clothes for Kay. Then he remembered he’d lost a nine hundred dollar bottle of whiskey. He grabbed a dozen roses as a replacement gift. Frank caught a few strange looks when he checked out with a teenager sized pink t-shirt, white shoes, jeans, panties, and a dozen roses. Overall, however, things went well. Kay changed inside the girl’s bathroom of the All-Mart and they both got back into the car. Frank stayed silent for a moment.
“You know…you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to,” Frank said. “This is a city. You’d be safe here. Well…safe-er.”
“You want me to go?”
“I don’t mind if you stay,” he said. “But you don’t have to.”
“Frank, why did you save me?”
“I mean, I was just a girl in the middle of nowhere,” Kay said. “You could have left me and saved yourself all this trouble? It would’ve been easy.”
“Yeah…it would’ve been.”
“So why didn’t you?” She asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I know,” Kay said.
“You’re a good person, Frank,” she said. “Even if you help the bad guys, which is still totally lame by the way, you’re a good guy at heart. Plus you’re pretty decent in a fight and what safer place can I be right now than with someone like you?”
“A good guy huh?” He said. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh yeah?” Kay said. “Then what are you?”
Frank looked at the rearview mirror, looked himself in the eyes. Took a deep breath. Forced a smile.
“I’m a jerk. Remember?”
“Very true,” she said.
Frank put the car into drive. They reached the Crown Industries parking garage after another twenty minute drive. Frank reloaded his revolver and grabbed the roses.
“Are you really going to need that?” Kay asked, looking at the revolver.
“I might,” Frank said.
“I thought this was just a business meeting,” Kay said.
“There’s no such thing as ‘just a business meeting’ in this line of work,” Frank said. “Mind handing me the case under your seat?”
Kay looked under her seat and found a lunchbox-sized black case. She pulled it out and handed it to Frank.
“What’s that for?” She asked.
“It’s my way in,” Frank said.
“Oh, so it’s a sample of what you’re selling?” Kay asked.
“Yes and no,” he said. “Wait here alright? I’ll be back. Probably.”
“Alright…,” she said.
Frank got out, double locked the car and headed to the nearby elevator. He tapped the up button. The grey metal doors slid open. He stepped inside. The doors slid closed. Frank tucked the flowers under his arm. Opened the black case. Inside were three syringes filled with green liquid and a silver cased grenade with a blue band wrapped around it. He placed the syringes into his coat pocket, tucked the grenade into his pants pocket, and tossed the case aside. The elevator dinged and the door slid open to an immaculate white hallway. At the end was a polished metal door. Next to the door was a white desk with a black computer. Behind the desk was an attractive secretary with long blond hair, green eyes, wearing a red blouse and black miniskirt. Frank walked up to the desk.
“Hello,” the woman said with a wide smile. “How can I help you today?”
“I’m here to see Rupert Crown,” Frank said.
“Alright. Do you have an appointment?” The woman asked.
“Sure do,” Frank said.
“Okay. Your name sir?”
She turned to the computer.
“Hmmm,” she said. “I can’t seem to find your name.”
“Mind looking again?”
“Sure, just-” The woman felt something sharp poke her neck. She closed her eyes and slumped back in her chair. Frank tossed the empty syringe aside.
“Oh, you found it?” Frank asked. “Great. I’m so glad we got that little mishap cleared up. What’s that? A date? Sorry ma’am I’m married to my job.”
Frank reached over and pressed the red button on her desk. The metal door opened revealing another hallway on the other side. Frank stepped through. At the other end of the hall was a door made of glossy redwood. A small rectangle sign read Rupert Crown C.E.O, in white letters. His last chance waited behind that door. But he wasn’t going there just yet. One last thing. Frank stopped in front of another door that read: “Security Office.” He knocked. The door opened. A bald security guard in a maroon uniform and black pants opened the door.
“Hello,” Frank said.
The guard raised a brow, obviously confused.
“Hel-,” was all the guard managed to say before he received a full syringe to the neck. His eyelids slowly lowered and he began to sway back and forth. Frank flicked the guard’s forehead and back he fell, landing with a dense thud on the slick tile floor.
Inside was a small room with white flooring and beige walls. A cushy grey office chair was tucked under a black computer desk which supported over two dozen monitors. A tower of servers blinking with little green and blue lights was pushed against the right wall.
Frank took out the grenade, gave it a twist, and tossed it in. A few seconds later the grenade unleashed a blue pulse. Every monitor in the security room went dark. Frank smoothed back his hair and headed to Rupert’s door.
“Help!” Frank shouted. “We’re under attack!”
The door opened. Frank waited until he saw a muscled arm emerge. He slammed the door on it, trapping the limb between the door and the wall. He stabbed the last needle into the arm.
The bodyguard managed a “What the fu-,” then went quiet. Frank finished pushing the syringe plunger all the way down. With an arm full of knockout serum, the guard crashed to the ground.
Frank squeezed through the opening, stepping over a muscular man wearing a black skintight costume and a matching domino mask. Rupert Crown was looking out the office-side windows that lined the back wall. He turned to face Frank. Short blond hair, lean, tall, farm-boy good looks. A real boy next door. He was wearing a white suit, a grey tie, and a white button up.
“You again, Frank?” Rupert said.
“Nice to see you too,” Frank said, flashing his million-dollar smile. He looked down at the unconscious man in the domino mask. “Let me guess…The Rammer?”
“The Rhino,” Rupert said.
“Nice,” Frank said. “Diamondpiece have the day off?”
“What do you want, Frank?” Rupert asked.
“What do I always want?”
“You already know my answer,” Rupert said. “How many more suits are you willing to ruin?”
“Apparently, one more.”
Rupert smiled and walked to his desk.
“Look Frank, no offense, but your business carries a sort of stigma that Crown can’t associate itself with.”
“Do I really have to say it?” Rupert asked. “Most companies create useful products. Like robots, and cars, and toothpaste. Yours creates supervillains.”
“Not officially,” Frank said. “We provide supply packages for interested parties.”
“Save me the P.R. crap, Frank. You create supervillains. Guns, goons, and gimmicks. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it. I’m not holding it against you. You have to make a living. What better line of work for a man of your family history? Right? The fact is, Frank, Crown Industries can’t afford to be associated with a company like Oculux. It just isn’t conducive to a healthy reputation.”
“I don’t understand you, Rupert,” Frank said. “Regardless of how disreputable you think Oculux is, you know it would be a profitable partnership for both sides. We’re prepared to offer exclusivity. Crown Industries will be our go-to company for a majority of orders. Who cares about reputation when you’re guaranteed a substantial increase in profits?”
Rupert’s cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He took it out and gave it a glance.
“Time’s up, Mr. Sonata,” he said, snapping his fingers.
Three security guards walked into the room, pistols drawn.
“Throwing me out again?” Frank said. “Fine. Then I’m not giving you these roses.”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again,” Rupert said. “And I prefer lilies.”
Rupert took out his phone and typed out a text. A guard placed a hand on Frank’s shoulder.
“Come on buddy,” the guard said.
“You know…this is why I like you Rupert,” Frank said.
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“You keep underestimating me.”
Rupert raised a brow.
“Last time I came to you relying on nothing but my charm and your good will. This time…I have something you want.”
Rupert’s eyes narrowed
“You’re bluffing,” he said.
“Nope,” Frank said. “Or does an escaped clone not ring a bell?”
The guards started pushing Frank out of the room.
“Come on. Get this loser out of here.” the guard said.
Rupert raised a hand.
“Wait,” he said. “What’re you talking about Frank?”
Frank straightened his jacket and brushed back his hair.
“I admit. I didn’t know who she was at first,” he said. “Heck, I was going to pawn her off on a highway patrolman. I kinda figured she was something special after she stole my car to get away from a crew of henchmen. Though, I didn’t think she might be a Crown Project. At least, not until I was informed you’d delayed your travel plans. I’m guessing your cloning facility is under the San Frishman desert. That’s how the girl and the minions seemed to come out of nowhere. After all…who looks for life in a desert? Teaming up with a mad scientist to run a secret cloning facility is exactly something you’d do. I don’t know exactly why your company is funding a secret cloning facility and I don’t care, but considering how much firepower those goons were packing I’d think she’s pretty important to you.”
Rupert walked up to Frank.
“So what now Frank?” He asked. “Trade her for a contract?”
“That pretty much sums it up. Yeah,” Frank said.
“Very good Frank,” he said. “I’m impressed. And under normal circumstances your deal might have worked, but as it happens…I knew you had her.”
Frank’s smile faded.
“Now who’s the one bluffing?”
“Don’t you think it was a little too easy getting here?” Rupert asked.
Frank thought a moment. He looked down. Then back to Rupert.
“You knew I was coming…,” Frank said.
“Of course,” Rupert said. “I initially scheduled my travel plans to ensure I’d be gone before you arrived. I didn’t know why you picked her up. You couldn’t have known the truth when you did, but it doesn’t matter. I suspected you’d figure it out. I also suspected you’d eventually bring her here. Hence my sudden delay.”
“You’re lying,” Frank said.
Rupert pulled out his phone and showed Frank the screen. His latest text conversation was still showing. There were only two exchanges.
Diamondpiece: We found her.
Me: Bring her in.
The office door flew open. Three more guards and four men wearing grey lab coats stormed into the room. Each guard carried an assault rifle. Scoped. Ready to fire. The minions were armed with long silver staves. Each was topped with a humming purple crystal, capable of unleashing a beam of deadly energy. A strange man pushed his way through. Scar over his left eye, wild dark hair, long eyebrows, and a high collared version of the grey lab coat. He walked across the room and stopped next to Rupert.
Frank’s eye twitched.
“What? Feeling betrayed, Frank?” He asked.
“No. Just disappointed,” Frank said. “He’s already an Oculux client.”
“Always the businessman. Aren’t you Frank?” Rupert said.
“Always,” Frank said. “Oh and nice touch changing Kloner’s dress code.”
“We paid Dr. Kloner a lot of money to keep our project secret,” Rupert said. “Even from his supervillain associates. His Oculux contract was a cover story to keep public eyes off us. Didn’t you ever question where all his money was coming from?”
Diamondpiece trudged into the room. Long black coat, ocean blue skin, long white hair, cream colored button up, brown loafers, and black slacks. The invincible man. He was pulling Kay along by the wrist.
“Frank?” Kay said in surprise, seeing several guns fixed on him. “What’s happening?”
“Sit tight kid,” Frank said. “We’ll get out of this.”
Diamondpiece grinned smugly.
“Hey Frank,” he said as he passed. “Nice work back there.”
“Thanks,” Frank said. “Hey, Diamondpiece.”
Diamondpiece looked over his shoulder.
Frank pulled his revolver out of the bundle of roses and put two slugs in Diamondpiece’s head at point-blank range. The metahuman’s eyes rolled back and he dropped like a lead weight. Kay ran into Frank’s arms. Frank turned her around and pressed the muzzle of the gun against her head.
“Wh-what are you doing?” Kay asked. “And…did you just kill that guy?”
“Don’t worry,” Frank said. “Unbreakable skeleton. Diamondpiece is just unconscious. He’s invincible after all.”
“Think about what you’re doing, Frank,” Rupert said.
“I thought about it,” Frank said. “Unless you want your precious clone spattered all over the floor, you’re going to let us go.”
“I’m not letting you leave here Frank,” Rupert said. “Not with her.”
The guards and minions moved closer.
“Well you’re not getting her back,” Frank said.
“He won’t shoot her,” Kloner said in an unidentifiable European accent.
Frank raised a brow.
“So you can speak English.”
“I’ve dealt with his type before,” Kloner said. “Many times. The human ego is an interesting thing. This man thinks he can survive this by playing hero.”
“This man isn’t bluffing Dr. Kloner,” Rupert said. “This man is the worst of mankind. He was ready to throw the girl into the fire, just to get a contract with me. The world is a slave to his massive ego.”
Kay looked back at Frank. Frank averted his eyes. Then looked back to Rupert.
“What will it be?” Frank asked. “I shoot the girl in three…two…one.”
Kay closed her eyes.
“Wait!” Rupert shouted. “Alright, Frank.”
“I might have a solution.”
“What might that be?”
“We’re both businessmen Frank,” Rupert said. “So let’s make a deal.”
“What kind of deal?” Frank said.
“I need that girl,” Rupert said.
“So what are you proposing?”
“Oculux has a very strict confidentiality agreement. Doesn’t it?” Rupert asked.
Frank looked down at Kay. She shook her head. Her eyes were pleading.
“A contract, Frank,” Rupert said. “That’s what you want right? Just give us the girl.”
There was a long silence. Frank clenched his fist.
“Deal…,” Frank said.
Kay shook her head.
“No. Please Frank,” she said. “Not like this. Please!”
“Sorry Kay,” he said. “Now move.”
“I was right about you,” she spat. “You are a jerk.”
“I know,” Frank said.
Kay began to move toward Rupert and Mindle. Frank kept his gun aimed at her. The memory of the little girl with black hair and blue eyes shot through his mind. He could almost hear her laugh. See her smile. Watch her play pretend. Hear her cry. Help me, daddy. I want to go home. I just want to go home.
“Stop,” Frank said.
“I beg your pardon?” Rupert said.
Frank clicked the hammer back on his revolver. The guards stepped in closer. He could smell the gun oil and metal.
“What do you think you’re doing, Frank?” Rupert asked.
“Why?” He asked.
“Why do you need her? Why is one clone, one scared little girl, so crucial to your project?”
Rupert looked to Mindle who nodded in response.
“Her free spirit,” Mindle said.
“A free spirit?” Frank asked. “That’s all?”
“You’ve no doubt noticed her unusual skills, have you not?” Mindle asked.
“Her free spirit is an anomaly,” Mindle said. “One which breeds disobedience. For our purposes, this is unacceptable. We cannot have these dangerous abilities being set loose upon the world with no way to effectively control them. The result would be chaos. We must…study her…to discover what caused this anomaly.”
“In other words…you’re going to tear her apart.”
“That’s correct Mr. Sonata,” Mindle said. “Her entire genetic build must be examined and re-examined to find this imperfection.”
“A fate worse than death,” Frank said.
“If we don’t correct our mistake, it will cause several considerable setbacks,” Mindle said. “Setbacks we can’t afford.”
“I’m crying my eyes out…really,” Frank said.
“Come on, Frank,” Rupert said. “Think for a moment. You finally have everything. Your contract. Stardom. Advancement. It’s all right here. You’ve won Frank and all it’s going to cost is one little clone. She’s not even human. She’s a nothing. A thing grown in a lab. Modified to perform a certain list of tasks. I’ll give you everything you’ve fought for. In exchange, you pay absolutely nothing. You can’t get a better deal than that.”
“So either I let you take her and get everything I want…,” Frank said. “Or I die?”
“It’s your choice,” Rupert said.
“It’s not much of one.”
“Not much at all.”
Frank looked right at Kay. Her eyes were glossy. Red. She seemed so helpless just then, but she refused to break. She refused to whimper.
I just want to go home.
“I’m sorry Kay,” he said. “I really am. Now…go to Dr. Kloner.”
The moment her eyes met Frank’s, her expression changed. Eyes hardened. She nodded and walked across the floor until she stood in front of Dr. Kloner.
“Goodbye Kay,” he said.
“Goodbye Frank,” she said.
Frank pulled the trigger. The revolver fired. The bullet blasted through Kay’s heart and straight into Kloner’s chest. Kay dropped. She’d died instantly. Kloner was left on his back, blood gushing from the wound. Eyes wide. His whole face frozen in an expression of disbelief. Frank dropped his revolver. Raised his hands into the air.
“Kill him!” Kloner shouted. “Kill that man!”
“Hold your fire!” Rupert shouted. “Nobody fire!”
The guards and minions were eager to kill, but they obeyed.
“You were right, Mr. Sonata,” Rupert said. “I’ve severely underestimated you.”
“Doesn’t matter now. Does it?” Frank said.
“I suppose not,” Rupert said.
Frank looked at Kay. Her motionless body. Her empty eyes. She was lying lifelessly beside Dr. Kloner. Blood bubbled in Mindle’s mouth. Hands clutching his gushing wound. Kay seemed to be smiling at him.
“What happens now? Going to go ahead and kill me?”
Rupert scratched his head.
“No,” he said. “You can leave.”
Every guard in the room looked at each other in confusion. Frank blinked.
“Excuse me. What?” He asked.
“I’m letting you go, Frank,” Rupert said.
Frank slowly lowered his arms.
“That’s my business,” Rupert said.
Frank paused. He bent down to retrieve his revolver.
“Leave it,” Rupert said.
Frank stood back up. The two eyed each other.
“Your project…,” Frank said. “It’s about making ‘human’ weapons isn’t it?”
“What, like clone soldiers?” Rupert said. “Is what you think we’re doing?”
“No,” Frank said. “All that training. Weapon handling. Drills. Tactics. Too expensive. The profit margin for the product would be too small. Besides, Kloner is a scientist not a soldier. You couldn’t hire a legitimate trainer without drawing attention to your project. Hiring another supervillain would cause the same problem.”
“Then what?” Rupert asked.
“You needed to create a product that would be ready without additional work beyond what Kloner could provide. You needed an effective weapon. A thinking weapon. One that could adapt to any situation. One that could carry out a destructive mission without extensive physical training. All for a job even a child could do.”
“I think you better leave, Frank,” Rupert said.
“You’re creating suicide bombers. Aren’t you?” Frank said. “You plan to sell them to terror groups so their people don’t have to die.”
“But it wasn’t the whole clone thing that tipped me off,” Frank said. “Clones can be used for a lot of things. It’s the skill. Crown Industries makes many things, but you’re bread and butter has always been weapons. And using genetic samples from battle-hardened individuals allowed them to develop with above average skills already built in. These superior untrained operatives could be created and sold quickly. Higher quality. Lower price. Perfect for all those desperate groups who send people to blow themselves up for a cause. What other reason would you need clones that young with those kinds of abilities?”
“Plenty of reasons,” Rupert said.
“Yeah…plenty of reasons,” Frank mocked.
He turned. Headed to the door. The guards barred his path.
“Let him through,” Rupert said.
The guards stared at him.
“Do it!” Rupert shouted.
The guards nodded and stepped aside.
“I’m right aren’t I?” Frank asked.
Rupert didn’t respond.
“Fair enough,” Frank said. “Just one thing?”
“Will you tell me who you cloned her from?”
Frank looked down.
“Then can you tell me something else?”
“The person you cloned her from. Is she a good person?”
Rupert smiled. His eyes softened.
“The best,” he said.
He headed down the hall.
“Even if you were right,” Rupert said. “Which you most certainly are not. Crown is a patriotic company. We’d never sell to terrorists.”
The elevator doors opened. Frank stepped out into the parking garage, walked back to his car. The passenger-side window was smashed to pieces. Glass was scattered over the ground and passenger seat. Diamondpiece must have bashed it and dragged Kay through the window. Frank opened the driver-side door, sat down, closed the door. He sat there for a long time. Then the phone rang. Frank put his phone to his ear.
“Yeah?” He said.
“I’m glad you’re still with us Mr. Sonata,” October said.
“Me too,” Frank said.
“Did you get your contract?”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said.
“I don’t mind so much,” Frank sighed. “It was the right thing to do.”
“I’m glad you’re taking it so well sir. I know how important the deal was to you.”
“I’ll recover,” Frank said.
“Is Kay there with you?” October asked.
Frank closed his eyes.
“No,” Frank said. “She…left.”
“I see,” October said. “Are you alright?”
Frank forced a smile.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Ms. Kay requested that in the event that you permanently parted ways that I tell you she left something behind,” October said.
“The driver’s seat sun visor.”
Frank looked up. Pulled down the sun visor. An empty gummy fruit packet and a few folded notebook pages slid into his hands. Frank opened them.
If Ms. October told you where to find this then we’re probably not together anymore. I don’t know where we’ll be or why it will happen. I hope it’s nice and I hope it’s as friends, but if it isn’t, I want to say a few things. I forgive you. I’m not just saying that. I lived my whole life beneath the ground, growing inside a lab, knowing that one day life would end with me hurting a lot of people. When I escaped, I knew they would hunt me. I knew I would get caught. But I promised myself I would die before that happened. I just wanted to die doing something good or at least, something not evil. Then I met you. The first person I’ve ever met that was just as determined to fulfill a crazy dream as I was. The first person to show me kindness. The first person to show me what hope really is. Because of you, I realized chasing a dream isn’t such a dumb thing to do. I learned that maybe, if you try hard enough, dreams might come true. You’re a good person Frank. I wanted you to know that. I was nobody to you, yet you still protected me. You took me in and bought yourself a whole mess of trouble for it, but you let me stay. Even after everything, you let me stay. So whether I’m dead or whether you kicked me out, I wanted you to know that I forgive you. You gave the foolish dream of a worthless clone a few more hours than it ever deserved.
Oh, and one more thing. I never mentioned this before, but when you’re not talking, there’s something sad about you. Like there’s a big painful hole in your heart and you filled it up with your career. I know. It sounds cliché and I know it’s none of my business. My point is that maybe it’d be better to fill it with love. I like you Frank. And even if I never end up finding her, the real me is still out there somewhere. Try finding her. Whoever she is, I’m sure you’ll really like each other. And maybe, if the world is just, I’ll see you there.
P.S. sorry about the empty gummy packet. Didn’t know where else to put it.
Frank folded the letter. Put it in his jacket and laughed. He laughed until a tear ran down his cheek.
“Is something wrong, Mr. Sonata?” October asked.
“No. Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I’m heading back to Oculux.”
“Glad to hear it, sir,” she said. “Oh, it seems you have another call.”
Frank looked at the phone. The screen read:”Incoming Call.” The picture was of Karen. An unflattering photo from last year’s Christmas Party. She was dressed in a dark green Christmas elf costume. A cute drunk Christmas elf with dark red hair.