Preludes 1

There was going to be trouble on MLK street tonight. I didn't know what, and I wasn't exactly sure where, but I had it narrowed down. Flying Hawk was supposed to join me, but the guy was going through an unreliable phase right now. I wouldn't have shown up at the 'Do-gooder' hotspot alone, but....honestly I needed the work. I'd given the cops the call, let them know things heating up and where, my contact at the station, Detective Jan Belkin, noted it, but said the force was stretched thin, what with the Black Panther rally and all. Hawk said if he couldn't make it he'd send an up and coming beast to meet me and gave me a description of "Jook", who looked fully human from the photograph Hawk showed me. Photograph, it was on his cell phone, must be nice to have such money to burn; I still made do with payphones and the line in at my office slash apartment. 

Jan, at least, said she would put a bug in the patrol officer's ears to let them know I was working the area, in case I needed backup. That might come in handy or maybe it'd keep me from being shot. It was hard to tell; I wasn't a police officer. I'd been trying to hack it as a private detective for two years now, but so far it was more like hunting and gathering than a steady paycheck. With my talents I'd hoped to make it as a high priced divorce detective -- getting the the scoop on faithless soon to be ex-spouses, but that had never materialized. Instead I'd found a few lost items, busted a embezzling secretary and stopped one murder for inheritance. That last one could have been lucrative, but the old man had died four days after I provided proof that his daughter was going to have him killed. She was arrested for the crime of hiring a hit man, but in an ironic twist of faith, inherited her old man's money after he died of a good old fashioned, entirely natural, heart attack. The daughter also inherited my bill for services provided. Go figure this one, but I haven't gotten the check yet. I'm sure it's on her to do list, somewhere after paying her lawyers to get the charges dropped for trying to murder her father. Patience isn't in the DNA of young people these days.

I stood around at the corner where Hawk or his proxy might meet me, which was about two blocks away from ground zero, where the bad stuff was going to go down. My shine is useful and varied. I'm a little tougher than most normal people and have two what are called 'mental' talents as well, one of which I was using to find out where bad things were going to happen. This made me a great asset for a team of other Shiners or even just a partner...but it wasn't something the police or politicians seemed to have any desire to pay me for...yet.

 

A tricked out lowrider pulled up to the curb, not too far from the phone booth I was loitering near.  It was a gold Chevy Impala, from the early sixties, probably a '62. I am not notoriously good with getting the exact year right, but I'm working on it. That sort of information has paid off on a few occasions, so I try to keep the ball in the park for it.

"You gotta be kidding." I muttered as the driver hopped out of the car and looked around. He spotted me a moment later, grinned and walked quickly my way. The kid was a bean pole, and not a tall bean pole, maybe just topping off at 1.7 meters and 70 kilograms. Worse, when his black leather duster flopped open I caught sight of a revolver tucked into his belt.

"Hi, hello, how are you?" He asked with almost a lyrical tone of voice. He was still grinning as he reached for my hand.

I nodded and shook his hand, even if I was reeling inside it pays to be polite. Hawk said he was a beast, so you can't be too careful who you offend. "Jook?"

He nodded. 'Doesn't talk much.' I remembered Hawk telling me, 'And when he does it's like he has problems talking, as if he can't find the right words. Don't mistake that for being an idiot, he's good in a fight.' I shrugged and pointed at his ride, "Do you want to leave that here? The problem is a couple blocks away, I thought we would just walk."

Again he nodded. We took a few steps away from the phone booth before I turned on him, "Look, I don't know you and you don't know me, that makes working together the first time a little...interesting. I gotta say this though, if you're carrying a stolen piece or don't have a permit for it you could get in trouble. You could get me in trouble. I'm not so good at being a 'good guy' yet and the cops are unsure about me as it is. You understand?"

He nodded, head cocked to one side. "Don't worry, be happy."

I nodded and continued to walk, he caught up to me. Probably nineteen. What's Hawk sending me a baby for? "Hawk says you're a beast? You don't look like a beast, you look like a norm."

There were three categories of human; norms, beasts and shiners. Norms were just that, normal folks like you and...like you. Beasts almost always had the shine too, like 99% of the time, but their forms were usually different, like they had wings, like Flying Hawk or looked like a sphinx like this one joker, Andro, I was acquainted with. Finally there were shiners, people who had talent. Call it magic, superpower, genetics, whatever, it all boils down to power. Some had a hard shine -- they had a major power, or a good set of lessor powers that worked well together, some had almost no shine, they could hard boil an egg or hold their breath for an hour. I thought of myself as the most common kind, some nice abilities, not a tier one by any means, but smart enough to know when I was outclassed and beat a hasty retreat. 

Jook only nodded to my question, I said in response, "It is anything that would freak me out? I don't want to be caught off guard if the shit hits the fan."

"No alarms and no surprises." he said.

"Okay, fine." I shrugged, queer bird. "So what exactly can you do? Hawk said you're good in a fight.."

Jook grabbed my arm and pointed to the corner ahead of us. I stopped and my mouth went dry. "Shit, I mumbled. I heard he was in prison." Jook nodded but said nothing. Ahead of us was a group of skin heads, led by a large man that visibly looked closer to an ancient golem than a human. His muscled torso was unclothed, but heavily tattooed with swastikas and 'white power' slogans and symbols. He stood a head taller than his companions, a handful of angry looking young men who cast a furtive glance our way and, as one, scowled.

My guess is they didn’t like Jook’s brown skin any more than they would have liked Hawk’s ebony hide. The golem’s name was Joseph Reed, his street name was Sked, which was shortened from Skin Head, if the rumors were true. I had not had a run in with him before, but I knew about him. He was very strong, very tough and could either control dogs or they just really, really liked him. Shining is a nice example of the potpourri of powers; you just never know what you’re going to get. Luckily Sked seemed to have left his k-9s at home.

Sked noticed us a split second after some of his boys did. His eyes locked with mine and a grin flashed over his face, it looked sort of like that from a drunk hobo combined with a politician who was just told of his opponent’s major faux paus.

Me and Jook were across the street from the small crowd and it was a six lane street with the turn lanes involved. I muttered to Jook, “Turn left and the corner, maybe they won’t bother us.”  I had hope because the crowd around Sked was still pretty small.

Unfortunately when we turned the corner we were looking at another dozen skin heads marching toward us. They had honest to God picket signs made up, sporting slogans I wouldn’t show on the evening news. It looked like we could only head back the way we came. I stopped and Jook pulled up short beside me. Casting a glace across the street where Sked and his little group were now crossing the street.

One thing I have learned is that if you run, a dog will chase you that much faster. Showing fear to animals was a good way to get yourself demoted down the food chain to ‘prey’ was another truism I’d picked up.

Beside me Jook muttered, “I’ve seen the future, brother, it’s murder.”

“Never let them see you sweat, Jook. I’d rather deal with the knuckle heads I front of us than the ones behind.” I started walking in what I hoped was a confident manner and put a bored expression on my face, as if walking through a pack of skin heads with an Hispanic by my side didn’t concern me in the slightest.

I made it up to the group ahead of us when a deep voice from behind rang out “Hold up a minute there friend!”

I turned to see Sked and his handful approaching us, a big smile on his face, “What are you doing with this spic?”

“What are you doing without your shirt on?” Never answer their questions, it doesn’t help.

His eyes knitted together and he scowled, “Displaying the fine physic of the master race for my brothers to aspire to.”

Never answer their questions, I guess that’s a rule Sked didn’t know. “Well, I’m not really into that whole gay scene, but you go right ahead, maybe take if off the street though, we have families driving by.”

“You didn’t just accuse me of being a faggot. I know you didn’t. Tell me you didn’t.”

“Well, what do you call a guy who likes to take off his clothing in front of other men so they can look at him? Sounds a little queer to me…”

Beside me I heard Jook say, “I wanna be an airborne ranger…”

I noticed then that the placards the group was carrying were wooden baseball bats with poster board nail to them. Did I say ‘noticed’? More like ‘felt’ as one came swatting at my head from behind. Only Jook, god love him, intervened and got a hand up to block me from the full blow. It still knocked me down to my knees and I heard Jook mumble something about ‘Kunf-fu fighting and the next few moments were a haze to me. When I finally struggled to my knees I was dealt a series of kicks by someone with combat boots on. It took a minute to register what was happening and then I regained enough of my senses to grab the boot and twist it as I rolled over, employing a dirty fighting technique designed to sprain or break ankles; a snap and a scream indicated that I’d done the former.

As the skinhead went down I grabbed his belt and pulled myself up. Jook was good in a fight. He had stepped well away from me and most of the pack had gone with him. Sked hadn’t waded in yet, he was calling encouragement to his crew while flexing his muscles. The gang attacking Jook was having a hard time, the man had grown bigger, knotty muscles had bulked up his formerly loose clothing and every movement of his hand or foot dealt one of his opponents a solid blow. Things came to a head as one ganger finally slammed a bat down on him from the side and Jook blocked it with almost a bored look on his face, breaking the bat into splinters.

I spat blood out of my mouth. Sked cracked his knuckles, the sound echoed like a series of low caliber gunshots… “Leave the wetback to me, boys, I think the old faggot needs your attention.” He hooked a thumb at me.

Half the remaining guys on their feet headed my way, the other half backed away from Jook and watched. I held up my hand and pointed at the fight, “C’mon guys, don’t you want to see this?”

They looked back and I charged in, slamming two of them together so hard they probably had concussions. I’ve learned the hard way that when you’re in a fight, if you stop moving, you’re losing. I launched myself sideways at another opponent and elbowed him in the face, he went down hard too, and then the rest of them were on me. I was grabbed by behind by one of them and let him get a good solid hold while the other three took turns beating me. As I said before, I’m tough, I can take a hit and keep on moving and these guys were using fists, not baseball bats.

“Is that all you got? My momma swatted me harder when she caught me leafing through my daddy’s playboys.” I yelled. The fists continued. It’s always good to look beaten to a pulp when you’re explaining to the cops who the real victim was. Painful, but useful.

After I’d had enough I stood up straight, lifting the kid holding me from behind off of his feet as he tried to clamp down tighter. My foot lashed out and struck one punk’s knee, which crumpled and sent him to the ground screaming and clutching it. Another blow landed on my head, but the third guy, maybe the fastest thinking among them, realized something was wrong and had backed off. I spun and pulled my arms out of the hold the man in the back had on them with no more effort than I would open a door. I managed to catch his wrist as I turned and then literally smashed him down onto his companion, where they both remained in a pile of moaning flesh. The last man standing backed away slowly, hands held at the ready.

This gave me a breather to see how Jook was doing with Sked. The bulk of Sked’s remaining crew had formed a ring around the two of them, swiping at Jook with their ‘signs’ when he got too close the circle’s edge. Sked moved in fast and lashed out with his fists, Jook blocked, but he paid for it; the blows raining down on him were super powered and bruised his arms and one got through to knock him in the face, sending him reeling back against the front of the building off the sidewalk. I had my own problems again as the four remain skin heads closed in on me.

“You really want to do this?” I asked, indicating their fallen and injured companions. They hesitated, I attacked. It tends to work over and over again, if even people have seen you do it before. I took out their lead man before the others even knew I was moving. I pushed him into two of the others and launched myself at the third. He poked at me with his bat, which I ripped out of his hands. I slapped him with the handle, a glancing blow, then grabbed the other end and brought it down over my knee, breaking it in two. It hurt to do that, but it had the effect I intended; the man turned and ran. I tossed the broken bat after him to keep him moving. Whirling I faced the other two, who had lowered their friend down to the ground.

One of them slipped his hand in his pockets and my scrotum tightened; I’d never been shot before. Guns were an unknown to me and I had no desire to find out if I could survive a bullet wound. Luckily he just came up with a set of knuckle dusters. The other man stuck to his bat and both of them nodded in sync and stepped toward me together. It was almost like they were trained or something.

When confronting a man with a bat and a man with a set of brass knuckles, I tend to go for whoever can hurt me first. The batter was not taking wild swings at me, not overextending himself like I had hoped, this allowed his buddy to circle half around me. When I feinted at the bat man and lashed out with my foot at the guy with the brass knuckles the batter brought his stick down on my leg…hard. It hurt and I made sure he paid for it, giving him a right, left jab combination to the throat and face, he went down bleeding. Meanwhile the brass man closed and started delivering punches to my ribs. I pulled back, but when I put my weight on my leg, it collapsed underneath me, sending me to the ground.

The skinhead was on top of me in a flash and started landing blows on my head. This would not do at all, brass knuckles could crush my skull. I twisted around and tried to dislodge him like a bucking bronco, but he rode me like…best just let that analogy lie. The only good that came from my movements was that he wasn’t hitting me in the head. Finally I caught his augmented fist in mine and squeezed down on the back of his hand, he screamed as his bones broke and again as I ripped the knuckle dusters off. I gave him one left handed punch which sent him backward by my feet and then proceeded to kick him a few times until he stopped moving. Rolling off of him I got to my hands and knees and raised my head to see if Jook were still alive.

Silly thought. If he were dead the rest of them would be on me like stink on shit. He was still man-dancing with Sked, but he had a long gash on his forehead and it looked like one of his ears had been split open; blood drenched that side of his head and the shoulder beneath it. Somehow during the fight three more of Sked’s crew had fallen over too. Jook had been busy. I slipped the knuckle dusters on and approached Sked from behind. The remaining gang members slithered out of my way, the bunched up together like a group of school kids waiting to get on a bus.

Sked was very much combat aware and rotated to put his back to his crew so he could face Jook and I together.

“Two on one, huh? I can’t expect faggots to fight fair, can I? That’s okay, I like those odds. You’re boy hasn’t hardly touched me. Maybe together you can give me a real fight?”

He gestured toward us with a ‘come on’ motion and we hesitated. In that fraction of a second he kicked out at Jook with a round house kick that connected with the man’s chest. I swear dust fell from the bricks as Jook hit the wall hard. Just goes to show you I’m not immune to the old tactics either.

We circled each other while Jook lay feebly trying to pull himself together. I knew enough about my capabilities to know if I took a blow like Jook just did that I’d be laid up for a week while my ribs mended back together. Some Shiners were made for fighting, I’m just good against normal people.

“You ain’t got noting smart to say to me now, do ya?” Sked taunted as we circled.

“Nope.” And I didn’t. My goal now was to fend him off long enough for the cops to show up or Jook to get back into the fight.

Sked feinted forward and planted his foot for another roundhouse, which missed, when his foot planted I slammed into him bodily trying to knock him over. It was like hitting a concrete wall with tomatoes. My body being the fruit in this instance. I did manage to leap backward before he could recover, but my blow gave him what he needed to know; I couldn’t hurt him. He smiled, dropped his arms to his sides and walked toward me.

“Hit me!”

I backpedaled.

“Hit me, faggot!” He yelled.

With my off hand I slammed him in the face with an open palm technique Flying Hawk had taught me. It did bloody his nose, but my palm felt like I’d impaled it on a nail.

“Again!”

I hesitated, I hadn’t used the brass knuckles yet and I don’t think he saw them on my hand due to the fact that I’d been keeping that arm closer to my body. “You sure?” I asked him.

“Do it! Make me feel some pain, race traitor!”

I twisted back and loosed a full strength punch at him which he didn’t block again, this time I hit him in the throat with my borrowed brass knuckles. Sometimes in my life I get lucky and have epiphanies, I blame the catholic upbringing my mom tried to instill in me from a young age. Today I had two in rapid succession. The first was that maybe if I hadn’t of come down here, this little dust up would not have happened at all. Maybe I didn’t find trouble so much as create it. The second thought came after I’d hit Sked in the throat, I felt the soft tissue of my hands as they were cut by the jagged pieces of brass, which shattered under the force of my blow. It was just how truly badly I’d underestimated I was outclassed to physically confront him. Had I been carrying a gun I would have went for it, if I’d had the chance.

After shrugging off the very best possible blow I would ever land on him Sked turned sideways and backhanded me. I rolled with it, as much as you can roll with a cinderblock to the face, and after I stopped rolling, about halfway into the first lane of the street, I struggled to get to my hands and knees. My face had been cut open from the force of his blow; a new scar for my lovers to trace with their fingers after we were intimate. Blood was pouring from the cut onto the pavement and I reached up to make sure I still had both of my ears.

“You see? Do you see?” Sked asked as he stomped toward me, “That was a hit I give the pledges when they join up, a nice little tap to let them know who’s the leader. Now you’re going to feel the pain, asshole.”

“No more.” I said and I said it with conviction, raising one hand above my head as I sat back on my haunches.

“You’ve got a life lesson to learn, son and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t teach it to you. Lucky you, I won’t kill ya, on account of your skin, but I’m gonna make you hurt.” He stepped forward and tapped me again, three blows in rapid succession. I actually managed to deflect one of them, but the other two knocked me over onto my back on the street.

“I don’t know who you are, I know you’re Shiny, just not bright enough to mess with me. Maybe you’ll learn now? A few weeks in traction gives a man time to think.” He brought a booted foot down on my leg and I heard the sharp retort of my femur breaking a split second before the pain came.

I started screaming then, no holds barred, I’m dying, please help me screaming. In retrospect Sked must a have been very careful with how much force he applied to break my leg; too much and he would have taken it off and I probably would have bled out, too little and I’d just come away with a bruise. You have to admire such precision, but only in retrospect…

My ability to take a punch usually means my endorphins kick in pretty quickly too and despite the trauma after half a minute I could think again and hear what he was saying. He was crouched down beside my head, hands between his legs and a concerned look upon his face.

“Can you hear me?”

I nodded.

He took my chin in one muscular hand, “Are you done mixing with the other races?”

I nodded. If he’d ask me if I’d rape nine year olds, I’d have nodded.

“Good.” His hand clenched slowly on my jaw, “But you have such a smart mouth. Maybe I should make sure you don’t mouth off anymore? How’d you like that? Having your jaw torn off? I’ve done it too.”

I tried to shake my head, but couldn’t do so very well because of how he was holding me.

“Maybe just pull out your tongue then? Open up.”

I couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth.

“No?”

Behind him I heard Jook say, “I want a shot at redemption.”

Just like that the pressure was gone…and my jaw remained in place too. Jook, apparently, was a threat.

“You up again, homeboy? Look at you! Like a little greaser trying to be a grown up spic.”

Jook nodded and gestured with his hands, “I got one first of iron, the other of steel.”

“I can respect your strength, even if it’s less than mine. Unlike your lover here, I won’t leave your jaw on.”

“If the right one doesn’t get you, then the left one will.” Jook said moving in.

Sked fired off a punch as Jook closed, narrowly missing the man’s head and clipping his shoulder. This caused Jook’s right had to fly over Sked’s head, missing entirely. Jook’s left hand, however, slammed into his face with all of his force behind it. Sked’s rocked back under the blow, teetered for a second, with his head tilted back toward me and then crashed to the ground where he twitched one and lay still.

“Jesus, Jook, did you kill him?”

Jook shrugged and knelt down by Sked, checking for a pulse, he shook his head, indicating Sked was still alive. He looked at me and asked, “Are you okay? I wanna know, are you okay?”

“Bastard broke my leg. I’ll be fine.” Off in the distance I heard a siren, after a couple of seconds it was clearly getting louder. “Are you sticking around to deal with the cops?”

He nodded.

“Even with your speech…problem?”

“I’m gonna write a letter.”

I shook my head. “Don’t know that one. But I think I’ve got you figured out.”

“Think I’m just happy.” He smiled at me.

I thought for a moment before answering, “Nirvana. Yeah, I got it. So you have a good collection of albums then? Oh, sorry, maybe mp3s?”

He nodded.

“That’s a tough twist on your shine, that’s for sure.” I lay back and looked up at the sky, Jook came and stood over me as the police arrived. He blundered through for a couple minutes before I finally interceded and croaked out, “Any of you officers know Detective Belkin?”

“Shit, did he just speak? I thought that guy wasa dead!” The face of a worried looking young officer hovered above mine, “You’re going to be okay. Just stay still.”

“Look, I’m fine. My name is…call Detective Belkin and tell her it’s Compass, she’ll explain it to you. You got cuffs on Sked yet?”

“Wait, I know you! Yeah, yeah, no. I mean we don’t, hey sarg should we get cuffs on these guys?”

“Just Sked, he caused it. Me and Jook were here to keep the peace.”

“Yeah, yeah, just relax Mister Compass.”

Mister Compass? The kid was young, but still only a year or two younger than me. “What’s your name, officer?” I asked, I couldn’t see it clearly given the angles involved.

“Pete Dobson.”

“Officer Dobson, the only reason I’m laying down is my leg is broken, my thigh. I’ll be find; I’m hard to kill. Trust me when I say you need to get high strength cuffs on Sked here; if he wakes up he’s gonna be very anger.”

“We’re on it.”

Jook came back over to crouch next to me with a frustrated look on his face.

“Don’t worry about it. There’s not a lot of songs describing how you got into a fight with some neo Nazis and you’re the good guys. You ever think about writing lyrics yourself?”

He nodded.

“But it didn’t work?”

Jook shook his head.

“Bummer. Are you okay?” he was bruised and battered.

“Yes, I think I’m okay.”

“Nice, I don’t know the reference, sorry. Good job there, taking him out. I couldn’t have done it alone.”

“I did my best, it wasn’t much.”

“Hallelujah, brother.” Jook looked up as the ambulance arrived. The cops directed them to me first, which was a nice touch over carting away one of the gangers. A paramedic moved quickly over and knelt by my side.

“Sir, do you know where you are?”

“Laying on a street, with a broken femur.”

“Good, we got called out here for various injuries and it was reported that some of those injured were mutants.”

“Hey, watch it bub, you could get sued for using a derogatory term like that!”

“Sorry, ‘shiners’, which really is just a genetic mutation…”

I raised a hand to cut him off, “Yeah, I’ve heard it all before, to answer the question you haven’t asked, I am one of them.”

“Okay, is there anything I should be aware of? Are you allergic to stainless steel or salt?”

“Uh…no.”

He looked over my injuries without touching me, “I take it you don’t have a healing power to contend with?”

“No, but I do heal faster than normal. I never had a broken femur before, but I bet I’m up and walking in a couple of weeks.”

“We’ll see. Any touch powers I need to be concerned with?”

“No, I’ve got nothing like that. Medicine affects me like everyone else, except I don’t get sick much. I have a file with Saint Mary’s downtown…” The local charity hospital, poor facilities, overworked doctors, but the price is right.

His frown said he knew exactly what kind of facility Saint Mary’s was, “Do you have a doctor there?”

“Nope, just whoever is working the ER when I come in. But they keep a record and I do actually pay, so you won’t get stiffed on your services.”

This seemed to placate him and he proceeded to get me onto a back board, with the help of Jook, a police officer and his colleague and then strap me down and get me onto a mobile gurney.

Sked was being put into the back of a maximum containment truck, most places had them in case they needed to lock up a Shiner or two. He was still groggy, but conscious enough to give me and Jook a hard, cold stare as they put him away. His friends were going in regular police cars or ambulances for a few of them with obvious broken bones.

“Seek ya, Jook, it was good working with ya!” I called out as they slid me into the back of the wagon. He nodded and patted my good leg with a smile.

I wouldn’t see Jook again for many, many years.