Episode 10

Eastside housing development, Gargle City

Dirt Man and Ecology Youth walked down the street in gloomy silence. After leaving Ethel’s Used Books Emporium and their dead-end confrontation with the former Black Panthers, they had decided to walk through the Eastside housing development to the bus depot bordering the industrial section of town to give them time to debrief. Evening was falling, and although it was still light enough to see, the roadside lights were beginning to come on.

“I still can’t believe that we confronted the Black Panthers for nothing,” said Ecology Youth. He’d been saying things along this theme for the past fifteen minutes, and Dirt Man was beginning to get sick of it. He was also beginning to doubt that they had really understood the distance involved with crossing Eastside housing.

“Yeah,” said Dirt Man. “I wish I knew why Detective Walker was so wrong.”

“That’s been bugging me, too,” said Ecology Youth. “From what you said, he sounded like he should be pretty well in the know. You don’t suppose he lied to us?”

“Of course not,” said Dirt Man. “The Commissioner himself told him to tell us what he knew.”

They walked on past several houses in despondent silence. Dirt Man looked up, wondering when they would finally reach the bus station and he could get to his trailer.

Across the street he noticed a man in a trench coat turn off the sidewalk and walk around the back of a house.

“Bizarre,” said Dirt Man. “I could have sworn I just saw Detective Walker across the street, and he walked around back of that house.”

Ecology Youth looked at the house Dirt Man was pointing to, and just at that moment a shadow flickered past the darkened front window.

“Dirt Man,” said Ecology Youth. “I really think we should see what’s going on at that house.”

Dirt Man thought about this. On the one hand, it looked like something odd was going on. On the other hand, he’d already been vastly wrong once today, and relaxing in his trailer was sounding better every passing minute. As he deliberated, several large men came down the street at a fast walk from the other direction, and turned into the house. The front door opened without obvious prompting as they advanced up the drive, and they all entered. The door shut behind them.

“You’re right,” said Dirt Man. “There’s definitely something odd going on. Follow me.”

Dirt Man and Ecology Youth crossed the street in the twilight, and moved with moderate stealth to the front door. “Follow my lead,” said Dirt Man quietly, and he gently took hold of the door knob to ease the door open and scope out the situation inside. Unfortunately, the door was locked.

If he had known any horribly profane words, Dirt Man would have used them. Unfortunately, he hadn’t hung out with the right circle of friends in high school and had missed out on that particular educational experience. In point of fact, he had had more of a triangle of acquaintances than a circle of friends, which certainly hadn’t helped him out much.

Ecology Youth had a few choice phrases in mind, but was too polite to upstage Dirt Man’s mutely angry moment and too careful to give away their presence so easily. He motioned suggestively to the side of the house instead. Dirt Man nodded, and moved away around the house.

Their luck was in. Barely ten feet along the side of the house was a slightly cracked window. With some effort, they were able to force the window further open, and with a boost from Ecology Youth, Dirt Man found himself standing in a darkened room that appeared to be an office. Behind him Ecology Youth hoisted himself over the sill, and slipped into the room. The light from a street lamp glanced through the window and glinted briefly off his yellow lenses.

Moving carefully, Dirt Man circled the room to the door, miraculously missing tripping over any furniture, and leaned out into the entryway. Although the front room was dark and apparently empty, down the hall light filtered around a cracked doorway and rough voices carried to Dirt Man’s ears.

Dirt Man crept into the hallway, and sidled along the wall towards the lit doorway. Behind him, Ecology Youth slipped across the hall and into the front room. There was the sound of a muted scuffle and a brief thunk, but Dirt Man didn’t notice. He was too busy sidling.

According to Lesson 11 of the Happy Hero(ine) Correspondence Course–The Subtle Art of Stealth, Or How To Be A Freaking Ninja In Seven Easy Steps–walls were put on this earth to be sidled along. Only the rashest of amateurs would ever even consider walking brazenly down a corridor into the teeth of the enemy. The mark of the true pro lies in his or her ability to sidle well and without a second thought.

Unfortunately for Dirt Man, it took him significantly more than just a second thought. Sidling often took him a third or fourth thought at the minimum. This was possibly thanks to the fact that he was the polar opposite of a “freaking ninja.” Besides lacking that certain je ne sais quoi he took to stealth like a fish to flight, hated sharp things (katanas and shuriken included), looked terrible in black, and thought that a garrote was likely a stylish type of French food when he thought about it at all. Thus sidling presented him with quite enough to keep him distracted, but as his second grade teacher always used to say in despair, “Well, you’re nothing if not persistent.”

As Dirt Man sidled with all his might, bits of conversation drifted by his ears.

“But he’s a goddamn detective!” said one voice, low.

“All the better,” said another. “One less of the bastards to worry about.”

Someone cursed, and there was the sound of blows being exchanged, ending with the solid thump of a body hitting something solid.

“Shinterman is not going to be happy about this, I tell you,” said the first voice, somewhat more out of breath. “You can get away with stealing shit, but they’ll get you for murder.”

The back door opened, then shut. “What’s the matter?” said a third voice.

“Shinterman,” said the first voice. “I thought you were on the next block.”

“I was,” said the third voice. “Until I heard there was something going down here and hopped a few fences.”

“We’ve got a damned detective,” said the second voice. “We’re going to kill him.”

There was a brief silence. “Do it,” said Shinterman. “And then get him and yourselves the hell out.”

“Who the hell is that?” said someone else. Dirt Man looked up. He had sidled straight into the kitchen.

Ranged in front of him were four men, all dressed in the worn clothing of workers from the industrial district. Held splayed against a table by two of them was Detective Walker, his trench coat in disarray and his mouth covered with duct tape.

For a second or so, no one moved.

“Well, what do you know,” said Shinterman, looking at Dirt Man from across the kitchen. “Gargle City’s damned super hero, here to save the day.”

Dirt Man straightened up, and gave each of the robbers what probably, coming from someone slightly more intimidating, would have been a withering stare. “Release Detective Walker and no one needs to be hurt,” said Dirt Man.

Shinterman shrugged, and looked to the man standing in the middle of the kitchen and holding Walker’s gun. “Kill them both,” said Shinterman. The man raised the gun.

Dirt Man jumped into action. Unfortunately, so did everyone else.

The man with the gun had obviously been expecting Dirt Man to come for him, because he whipped the gun around at Dirt Man’s head. Luckily for Dirt Man, a man who he hadn’t noticed but who had been standing quite near the door kicked his legs out from under him just before the gun barrel connected with his skull. One of the men holding Walker piled onto Dirt Man as he hit the floor, while Walker twisted around and tried to kick the other man holding him down.

Shinterman stepped forward and slammed his fist into Walker’s face, throwing him back into the table where his head connected with a sharp crack. Walker slid to the floor, where blood dripped from his nose onto the kitchen tiles.

Meanwhile, Dirt Man flailed at the man who had fallen onto him, which briefly forced him back onto his knees. Rolling out from under him, Dirt Man ran directly into the path of the man by the door’s foot once more, which connected with his stomach and lifted him slightly into the air and back. He lay on the ground, out of breath and momentarily stunned.

The man by the door lined himself up for another kick, while the one on the floor aimed a punch at Dirt Man’s head. The one with the gun took aim at Walker. And then the side door to the kitchen opened and Ecology Youth stepped in.

The kitchen lights reflected off his lenses as he quickly glanced around the kitchen. He wasn’t smiling, and no one noticed the mildly goofy look of his earth-covered shirt or pseudo-spandex pants.

The man with the gun was turning to see what had come into the room when Ecology Youth’s foot connected with his hand, throwing the gun across the kitchen and sending him to his knees clutching his hand to his chest in pain. Ecology Youth’s elbow took the man by the door in the face, and he quickly followed it up with a kick to the head of the man on his knees by Dirt Man.

Walker’s second captor threw a punch at Ecology Youth, but he dodged it and came back with a solid hit to the stomach, which barely fazed the man. The two circled away from Dirt Man and toward the center of the kitchen, each seeking to subdue the other.

Dirt Man got painfully up, glanced to the corner of the room, ran over where Shinterman was leaning down to pick up Walker’s gun, and kicked him in the shins. Shinterman in turn punched him in the stomach, and then noticed that Ecology Youth had somehow managed to subdue his last remaining gang member and was heading his way.

Shinterman cursed and ran for the door, slamming it behind him in the face of Ecology Youth. Ecology Youth abruptly changed direction and ran over to Dirt Man.

“Are you hurt?” said Ecology Youth. Dirt Man stood straighter somewhat painfully.

“Always with the stomach,” he said. “We’ve got to help Detective Walker.”

Between the two of them they were able to rouse him, and help him out of the house. “My car’s around the corner,” said Detective Walker. “We need to get out of here before more of them show up.”

* * *

Shinterman ran through yards, jumping fences and avoiding the light from windows. Jumping a final fence, he shoved his way into a darkened house where a group of men were taking the final electronics out to a van parked in a nearby alley. “Come with me,” he said.

They arrived at the house to find their fellow gang members helping each other out of the house and into the back yard.

“Where are they,” growled Shinterman.

“They ran off,” said one of them. “That bastard broke Vic’s hand.”

“We’re going, now,” said Shinterman. “Damn cops will be here too soon.” Shinterman looked out at the road, his gaze hard. “We’ll find that damned hero later. And he won’t like it one bit.”

* * *

Karen Young looked up from a plate containing the remnants of a blueberry crisp into the light eyes of Sill and smiled. “That was delicious,” she said.

“This is one of my favorites,” said Sill. A waiter silently drifted over, a soul of efficiency. Sill shook his head slightly, and the waiter drifted off. They wouldn’t be bothered anymore, even for a check. When you own the restaurant, they don’t bring a check.

Karen sipped the last of a glass of wine like none she had ever dreamed of being able to taste. “That really was a wonderful meal,” she said.

“I’m very glad you enjoyed it,” said Sill. “There’s a park just down the street. Would you like to walk with me?”

Karen watched the light refract through her wine, glistening within the crystal of the glass. After a moment, she drank the last dregs of wine, and set the glass down on the table.

“Sure,” said Karen. “I think I would enjoy that quite a bit.”

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