Chapter 45

The camera pans slowly against the ground, intently focused on a small patch of asphalt. At the distance the lens is at, focus is very shallow, and details more than a few inches forward or backward are lost. At the edge of the view a breeze ruffles a length of purple cotton. The camera pans along the length of the cloth and into an upturned hand. The hand is male, the cloth brushes against the palm.

The hand twitches, reacting to the tickling cloth. In an instant the fingers snap shut around the cloth. The fist holds closed for two heartbeats, then lifts off frame. We hear the sound of someone shifting against the grit of the road. Uneven footsteps slowly fade away as the scene darkens.

Chris stared at the collected group sitting in the loft, not quite sure what to make of them.
"Can… Can I help you?"

There were three people, none of which seemed to have any idea how to dress themselves. They had been in some sort of discussion before Chris arrived, but had stopped after Chris had opened the door. One was a large man, with a closely cropped buzzcut and a possibly over-squared jaw. He looked like the mutant love child of Lou Ferrigno and Dick Tracy. A pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt struggled to fit his far larger frame. What really made the fashion statement complete was his choice of a red cape.

Seated across from him was a younger man with curly brown hair. He looked the most nervous and uncomfortable of the group, even though he wore bright green pants and a t-shirt featuring a Chris and JB against a group of towering crystal spires. Chris recognized the shirt. It was one of the ones that USHA had released late last year. He hated it.

The blonde woman seated next to the younger man looked the most upset. She wore a shirt that…

She was wearing JB's shirt.

"Mr. Reid," The large man said as he stood up and extended a hand. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Captain Industry. I'm afraid I have news about your brother."

"Mommy? Why is there a naked man hiding in the trashcan?"

"Billy, stop imagining naked men everywhere. Dr. Simpson said it's not healthy."

Billy's mom yanked him away. The Detective stayed still and peered out of the dumpster carefully listening for any further unexpected surprises. He slowly lifted the lid and peered out at the once again empty alleyway. He carefully extricated himself, keeping the empty container of Chinese food where it would do the most good.

He scrutinized the abandoned alley looking for something better, and longed for the days before Laundromats.

"It's not broken, but, I don't think he'll be able to play the piano again." Roger said as he examined Chris' hand.

Chris sat and fumed, refusing to play into the joke.

Roger's weak smile evaporated. "Sorry, it's just that well, he always used, uhm.." Roger simply applied the cold compress to Chris' raw knuckles and quietly moved away.

"Do you feel better now?" Captain Industry asked, his chin showing significantly less wear than Chris' hand.

"No." Chris grumbled flatly. "Actually, Yes. I feel just terrific, thanks! Why having just found out my brother was evaporated in a blast of ions is just the jolly best way to start the New Year! Ooh, but wait! I find out that this is due to my personal and professional arch nemesis and when I try to go beat religion in and out of the son of a bitch you tell me to stop. And to top it off, I nearly bust my freaking hand on your rock hard head. Golly, Mr. Wizard, I can't imagine a more sun-shine happy day!"

The sarcasm was not lost on anyone, particularly Becky Sue. She fixed Chris in her ice cold stare, walked over and backhanded him off his chair before anyone else could react. Chris rolled once and was back on his feet just in time for the Captain to restrain both of them.

Chris and Becky Sue clawed the air between them hurling enough epithets to visibly curdle the air.

"ENOUGH!" the Captain ordered. "This is not helping the bottom line!" He thrust Chris back into his chair and held Becky Sue against the futon. "We are all at a loss. We lost both Myron and JB in that event, but turning on each other is not the answer. Do I make myself very clear?"

He took the general silence as agreement.

"Good, now let's work on straightening the books, shall we? As I said before, I remember there being a smallish alien called Krullux and Bob apparently arguing as to who had rights to rule the world. The alien had backed his claim with a number of heavy hitters. I was about to suggest to JB that I take control to gain leverage of the situation, but JB managed to defuse the situation by suggesting the occupants of the units start some sort of entertainment endeavor in Branford"

"Branson" Roger corrected.

"Wherever." The Captain continued, "More importantly the warriors seemed to agree and depart. Bob appeared to be smiling at the situation, an emotion the alien did not share. And then we blacked out."

"We didn't black out." Becky corrected, still fuming, "We got zapped a'gin."

"It was the alien," Roger added. "He zapped us."

"And why the hell should I believe that Bob wasn't an accomplice to this?" Chris snarled.

The Captain and Becky Sue were silent but turned to Roger.

Roger said very quietly, "Because he was trying to save us."

"Drop it, girl" Bob commanded.

The chewed remains of the Resumatrix dropped from Margie's jaws. She snuffed at the pile of alien scrap with her nose.

Bob picked up the remains and carried it into the garage. He set the bulk of the robot on his workbench, gathered some tools and began to examine the device. He stopped, bothered by the memory of the confrontation.

He had expected a fight, and had prepared more than enough to handle it. Having Puppyboy show up, he credited to a combination of Murphy and Schrodinger. Having him actually defeat the Doomian Warbots without even lifting a finger, well that was pure art.

What caught Bob off guard wasn't Krullux's reaction, it was his own.

For reasons he didn't understand he tried to rescue Puppyboy.

Bob thought about it harder. Sure, Puppyboy was an asset in the battle against Krullux, and realistically, Puppyboy would be helpful in finding the Grylix alien that Krullux was after, but..

No, that had to be it. Bob was merely acting on his instinct that JB would be more useful living than dead.

Whatever weapon Krullux used was also unexpected. Fortunately, Margie managed to disable the Resumatrix before Krullux could recharge. Catching up to her afterwards was inconvenient.

Bob poked at one of the slices Margie had made into the robot's armor. Little of the circuitry made any sense. Bob needed to think.

He walked over to the old truck, popped the door and slid behind the wheel. He leaned his head back and let his mind wander the way it usually did.

It didn't have very far to go.

Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to the Men's Storage Facility. May I be of assistance?

Yes, I'm interested in acquiring something more professional.

I see, yes, well we certainly have a large selection to choose from. Are you interested in something Italian or English?

I'm mostly looking for something that wears well, has good movement across the shoulders, and is easy to keep clean.

Ah, very good sir, we have a number of suits that I believe will work for you. Are you interested in any particular brand?

No, I apologize. I've not been able to keep up with trends for a while.

I understand sir. Returning to the working force as it is?

Yes, I suppose one might say that.

Very good sir, congratulations! Well, we have a fine selection of Halston, and some Hilfingers that you might find to your liking. If I may inquire sir, what is your price range? Sir?

This material is fascinating.

Err, yes. It's called sharkskin. We keep a few around for laugh…

And I like the way that the purple glints out. This is much better than my previous outfit.

I see. Yes, that suit is quite a bargin too, I might add. It's wrinkle resistant, and water repellant too. Quite handy for all those times you need to wear a suit in a shower.

That's wonderful! Is it available in my size?

Your being serious, aren't you.

Quite, this is perfect for my needs.

I will have our tailors check, (provided they stop laughing long enough).

Wonderful! Oh, and I have an additional request.

Yes, sir?

Can you make a mask for me out of the extra material?

A mask.

Yes, one that ties in the back will work, but any will do. Oh, and if they could add a cotton liner, that would be great.

You wish to have a matching mask. I'll check but I believe I can accommodate you. I may even request one. I might need one myself.

Ok, settle people, settle! I'd like to thank brother Bellz for that stirring opening chant. Nicely done Bellzy. Alright, so I'd just like to remind everyone that next Friday is an unholy day, which means that there will be an extra mass in the crypt at 6:30.

I've also been asked to remind you that you are to use unscented black candles for services at home. Now I know that Illuminations had a really good clearance sale, and a number of you got some fabulous deals, but please people, the smell of freshly slaughtered goat and liquorish really don't belong together. Feel free to burn the candles in your personal shrines, but not for the main rites, understand? Good.

I mean Bad.

Now I know that we all just came through a very rough time of the year. I know we all felt more than a little out of place wearing black robes in the malls, and I can say that I nearly sprained my hexing arm from cursing all those children who keep asking if I was the ghost of Christmas Future, but still, we have to keep the faith. I think Sister Lum has done a wonderful job with her efforts to get the holiday marketing started up around October.

August this time? Well, hear,hear! Wonderful job. Way to get those folks burnt out on the holiday months before it comes. Good job!

Dammit, Bad Job. I mean Bad job.

Ok, well, before we get on to coffee and devil dogs, I'd like to make a final special announcement. As some of you may know, our competition's big day is coming up in just a few more months, and it looks like we're going to have a special treat in store for them. I'm not going to go into heavy details, because there's still a lot that needs to be done.

Now I also know that you're probably thinking, "Hey! Why do they need us to rain on their parade? They're doing a fine job on their own!" but you have to remember they haven't been 100% fair with us either. Anyone remember the Spanish Inquisition?

Aside from you, Dorien.

Well, let's just say that was a hundred years of some seriously no fun for our side. I say lets not only kick them when they're down, let's also tweak their nipples 'til they cry. Plus this little attention grabber might even pave the way for us to get some long deserved open recognition. Think about it, people! No longer will we have to meet in dingy old basements, musty crypts and RNC halls, we can step out into the real shadows above ground. Plus we might even get vouchers for the school, wouldn't that be nice come tax time? You bet!

Ok, so that's the latest. Now I want to make sure that everyone stays hushhush about this, okay? No gabbing outside to the unbelievers or else you're going to meet your dark lord and master earlier than you want to, plus you'll miss out on free donuts when we stand beside the hoary underworld.

Ok, that's about it, I think. Now if you'll please lie for the closing prayer...

Bob woke with a start. He hadn't intended on falling asleep, and rarely did whenever he was in the truck, but apparently the events of the past day must have taken more out of him than he thought. He rubbed his eyes and opened the door.

The antique's hinges and springs groaned loudly in chorus as he dropped down to the garage floor. It was dark out, but that wasn't horribly unusual. He looked toward the clock above his workbench. Oh man, it was 12:30 already! Avey was going to kill him.

Bob stretched and yawned as he quietly crept into the house, before he closed the door to the garage, he flicked off the light. Examining the Resumatrix would have to wait 'til the weekend, provided Avey gave him a few hours to poke around with it.

Well, that's what he thought at least.

In the dim reflection of the moonlight filtering in through the dusty window lay the components of the Resumatrix, carefully separated, labeled and tagged.

Despite the fact that it doesn't recline all the way, Chris noted that the seats in the Maxima were surprisingly comfortable. It almost made up for the fact that there was no where else for him to sleep that night. Becky Sue got JB's spot on the futon, Roger got Chris' mattress, Captain Industry got the floor (since he didn't really fit on anything else) which left Chris either trying to sack out in the bathroom again or catching some shut eye on the only other padded item he knew of.

The motorized seat back whirred to a stop as Chris stared at the roof.

He was gone. JB was gone. Chris had once again let himself get distracted and this time it cost him his brother. He was still angry, there was little doubt about that, but the Captain was right. Racing out and seeking petty revenge wasn't going to bring JB back.

There was another reason Chris was biding his time. He knew that Bob would be expecting a quick retalitory strike. Better to catch him off guard and on Chris' terms. Then Chris can have fun making that bastard pay, painfully, repeatedly.

Chris spent the next few hours sleeplessly alternating between massive depression, fury, cold scheming hatred and numbness. He had no idea what to tell his folks.

Upstairs in the loft, things weren't much better.

Becky Sue lay near catatonic running her hand over the pillow. She kept murmuring to her self, "So close, so close".

Roger lay awake struggling with what had happened, and what it meant to be alive again.

Karl also lay awake on the floor, but that was mostly due to the fact that while sleeping on the floor may be good for your back, it's horrible if you prefer to sleep on your stomach. Still, Captain Industry thought about the one bright spot of Myron not being there with them.

There were no worries of sudden gas leaks waking them up at two in the morning.

If the Furlong is out and
about, where's JB?

Can anyone use some
liquorish scented candles?

Will the Detective's new
tailor ever stop crying?

Tune in next time for:

Satan on a Swingset
Idol Hands

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