Lance Cervantes, a liaison to the Cleveland Indians' marketing committee, couldn't help himself from his casual outburst of astonishment. What he watched on the digital monitor was beyond description or any attempt at rationalization.
A moment ago the monitor showed a Native American Indian. Framed by a thick, black square-cut mane that touched wide, heavy shoulders, the Indian's Stygian brown eyes had seemingly glared out at Cervantes. He had worn a denim vest over his well-muscled torso, frayed denim shorts, and a pair of hiking boots hugging just below his thick calves. His presence had seemed to stalk the screen even though he hadn't moved.
Then the image became faded as if out of focus. The Indian's limbs
contorted, bent like
malleable clay, and reshaped. Bones snapped, shifted, stitched back into a humanoid shape. Now the liaison saw a vision like some horror out of myth. The Indian was aflame from head
to waist. His arms were stone columns, thick and crudely hewn. His lower body was an
ebbing obscurity of wind-swept mist.
Behind the brilliant plumes of fire, an unnerving smile burned across the Native American's face.
Cervantes shook his head in amazement. "Pause it," he said, and the picture on the monitor froze. "Just look at Totem. I've never seen anyone so... disturbing."
"Disturbing? How so?" Old Glory nursed his third cup of coffee, his mask hinted at the look of detach interest on his face. He barely looked at the group of walking suits, the big-league lawyers and pencil-pushers, the so-called movers and shakers.
The liaison pointed at the monitor. "That smile. Never have I seen anything like it."
"You haven't seen a man smile before?"
Impatience crept into Cervantes' voice. "You know very well what I mean, Mr. Glory."
The super-soldier smiled. "No, please, you can call me Old."
Cervantes let the sarcasm pass. "This country has seen all kinds of freedom fighters and terrorists alike. But never one that could annihilate cars, buildings, and city blocks of infrastructure with a mere thought. Totem's a threat to this nation!"
"And a victim of this nation too," added Old Glory. "It might help maintain clarity on the issues at hand if we keep that in mind. Totem is a victim of a hundred years of racist segregation and mistreatment."
Cervantes ignored the super-soldier, and continued. "He has left a wake of national and international havoc. He doesn't fight for a cause, Old Glory. He destroys property and is pleased about it. That grin shows that he's thrilled by what he does. The sonnuvabitch revels it!"
Old Glory looked over Cervantes in the same manner as a child that studies a scab on his elbow, deciding whether to pick at it. "I'm just entertained by your ability to shirk facts, Lance." Old Glory smiled. "Can I call you Lance?"
The liaison paused, impatiently blowing air through his lips. He slowly moved forward and looked the super-soldier in the eye, although it required canting his head upwards. His brow creased. "I'm not in the mood," he said.
Old Glory sighed. He knew it was more prudent to leave Cervantes intact and unharmed, but he nonetheless thought a display of nonverbal intimidation was at hand. He got up out of his chair, his six-foot-five frame towering over the liaison. For a man who should be collecting retirement pension, Old Glory was in incredible physical condition. Tall, thick and broad-shouldered, with perfect posture, the only true signs of his age were the wrinkles about his eyes, his craggy jawline, and the whiteness of his hair.
Old Glory returned a scowl, revealing much more dire signs of his venerability. "Oh, please."
The super-soldier walked to the coffee pot on an adjacent table, refilled his cup, and turned to the group of suits. "Here's my take on that smile you're so focused on: Perhaps Totem feels some measure of enjoyment or satisfaction in paying the American establishment back."
"That wasn't payback!" interjected a lawyer, very much alarmed at Old Glory's display of sympathy. "He blatantly attacked a string of stadiums -- millions of dollars in damages! And for what? Because he disagrees with the teams' names and logos?"
The group of suits all nodded agreeingly, sardonically.
"Teams that the American Indian Movement as well as the National Congress of American Indians have for countless years criticized for their very names and logos," Old Glory added. "A fact that you seem to overlook."
"That's not the point," Cervantes said.
"It's not your point," Old Glory replied, sipping his coffee. "But it looks like it's Totem's. My guess is he's smiling because, after so many years of segregation by the general population -- of being treated like a second-class citizen -- he felt some sort of amusement at returning the favor. He sent a message to everyone about what he thought of the racism displayed by the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Braves. And he nearly made an example out of the Cleveland Indians too. He, like so many other Native Indians, is tired of being harassed by--"
"Harass?" a lawyer shouted. "Roll the footage."
The monitor showed Totem storming through an infantry of armored policemen, tossing about patrol cars and S.W.A.T. vans, all meeting the same quick, painful demise. Then scenes of Old Glory confronting Totem flickered to life, close-ups of the super-soldier goading the indigenous freedom fighter, taunting him, even slandering him. His comments riled Totem, forcing his ire to materialize in the forms of fireballs, tremors, twisters, and violent jets of water. Another scene showed Old Glory mocking Totem, who now appeared like a stone colossus. The Indian's eyes were as lifeless as the ground he pinned Old Glory down on. There was a strange play of sinews shifting along Totem's rocky hide as he pummeled the super-soldier senseless.
"I'm glad you used the word 'harass,' Old Glory," the lawyer continued. "That's exactly what you're guilty of doing in this montage. You harassed Totem!--"
"Throwing us back in the Stone Ages with your 'a good Indian is a dead Indian' gibe," another suit interjected.
The lawyer frowned. "I mean, what were you thinking? Totem's not some shrinking violet. He's more than just some frustrated man from a reservation. He's a walking natural disaster, a raging bull. And you played the damn matador, waving your red cape, leading him on his rampaging course. You provoked him, helped demonstrate that he's a danger to every red, white, and blue-blooded American!"
Old Glory spat out his sip of coffee, laughing aloud. "Jesus Christ! Save your poetic spiel for the press releases and court hearings. Don't waste that crap on me. I've heard it all, you marketing twit."
The super-soldier returned to the briefing table and slightly leaned on the back of the chair he was sitting in. He looked at each suit that sat before him, smiling wryly. "Look, fellas... Don't take this the wrong way, but you know diddly squat about what you're talking about. And it makes me sad that you dolts represent the shareholders of the NFL and Major Leagues." Old Glory continued, even though Cervantes tried to interrupt him. "Sure, I said some borderline racist comments. It's called trash-talking. I was trying to get in Totem's head, you friggin' idiots! I wanted to get a rise out of him, just so I could draw him away from the goddamn stadium!" Old Glory leaned down closer to the table, bringing his face closer to Cervantes'. "...And it worked."
The liaison shook his head, looking annoyed. "Why do I get the impression that you're making light of this subject way too much?"
"Just because I make light of a subject doesn't mean I take a subject lightly." Old Glory sighed. "And you friggin' tenderfoots are narrow-minded enough that you probably think I approve of Totem's attacks, huh?"
He looked at each suit again. Their gazes locked with his for a while, but they looked down first, covering themselves by ruffling papers and jotting down notes.
Old Glory grunted, giving up. He didn't have to prove himself to these pencil-pushing go-getters, with their cock-and-bull stories. "Where's Mayor White?" he asked impatiently, not really expecting to get an answer.
As if on cue, the doors to the room flung open and the mayor entered, along with his personal secretary and an entourage of aides. The mayor looked like he was finishing his lunch, fixing his tie, and talking on his cell all at once. It was sights like this that made Old Glory glad his job only required him to fight super-powered bad guys.
"Look, Cynthia -- I don't wanna hear what you think. The Transit Union has us by the short-and-curlies and they know it! We have enough problems without commuters being gridlocked to and from work. And don't forget the tourists! Let those Budgetary yahoos bitch! I'm not gonna let another day pass without our buses back on the streets. Look -- I'm a little tied down right now. I'll call you later." Rolling his eyes, Mayor White closed his phone and handed it to one of his aides. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"That's perfectly understandable, Mr. Mayor," groveled Cervantes.
Friggin' kiss-ass, Old Glory said inwardly.
"Alright," the mayor said. "I know you've all been waiting for quite some time, so I'm gonna make this short." Mayor White didn't even blink as he continued. "This administration has always been sensitive to characterizations of any racial or ethnic stereotypes. With that said, I'm going to announce that the Chief Wahoo logo will be removed from all city-owned property."
There was an uncomfortable silence as the suits exchanged glances. "What?" they asked in unison.
"Cleveland doesn't condone bigotry of any form. Chief Wahoo satirizes Native Indians, and this city won't be linked to such unnecessary marketing. I wished what happened at Jacob's Field three weeks ago didn't occur, but Cleveland has had such a statement coming for quite a long time now. It's only right that we reply accordingly."
Old Glory stared at the ground briefly, then he began to smile. When he looked up, he saw General Gardner at the open doorway, waving him over. Old Glory quietly excused himself and headed out into the corridor with his director.
General Gardner walked half a step ahead of Old Glory, leading the way. He moved with a purpose, shuffling along the hardwood floor with a steady, militant rhythm. They walked away from the briefing room, away from the muffled ramblings of Mayor White and the irate suits.
"So, what did you think of the mayor's news?" asked the general.
Old Glory shrugged. "I guess it's a start, but it's only a temporary band-aid. In fact, it sounds like the tactics of a politician to me. Being an election year and all, I figured this might be a way to steal votes from sympathetic minorities. Do you think Totem will care?"
"Totem seems like a tough nut to crack, so I really don't know what he'll think. Surely he has to appreciate the mayor's gesture though."
Old Glory shrugged again.
"Well, it doesn't really matter, because you just might find out what Totem thinks first-hand."
The super-soldier stopped dead in his tracks. "Pardon?"
General Gardner stopped walking, turned to face Old Glory, and smiled. "You're going to the Yukon. It seems we have some business up there to attend to."
It was late September and already past foliage season. Cold, powerful winds swept across the mountains to the west and howled eastward, heading into the city of Whitehorse. A few streetlights lined its almost deserted Main Street, not particularly doing anything to cancel out the early evening's pitch blackness. Dead leaves and gnarled branches choked the sewer grates, permitting the fast-running water to saturate the gutters and streets.
Even though the locals were quite familiar with metas, being as Nike's new posterboy, Permafrost, was an icon to every child here, they nevertheless eyed Old Glory suspiciously. He didn't heed their glances, and strode down the sidewalk, dark, wet leaves, looking like drowned moths, sticking to his government-issued boots.
Old Glory made his way into the confines of a small, blocky tavern. A Ford Ranger, with the letters "RCMP" emblazoned on the door, was parked in its front lot.
The waitress, a lady named Michelle Qitsualik who owned Lone Wolf's Bar and lived in the modest house next door, looked up. Her eyes widened when she saw her new customer, just as the others eyed him prior.
"Uh, h-hello...," she said with a nod, and watched Old Glory march to the booth at the back of the tavern and sit down heavily.
Only one other customer was in Lone Wolf's. Walter Mantlo, an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, sat at the end of the bar by a television playing the evening news. His eyes darted back and forth between the television and Old Glory.
Michelle called out, "What're having?"
Slouching back in his seat, Old Glory glanced over at the policeman, then said calmly, "A pitcher of beer -- whatever's on tap."
Michelle nodded before drawing the pitcher of Upper Canada Honey Brown. She grabbed a clean glass and headed over to the booth. The super-soldier looked like a ghost to her -- a dream made real. Never in her life had she imagined having a living legend such as Old Glory just meander into her town -- and order a pitcher of beer at her bar!
Michelle returned to the bar. "Wow," she whispered so lightly
that no one heard. She began
wiping the water-stained surface of the bar with a cloth, and smiled.
The policeman clenched his teeth, his eyes passing over in the direction of the booth. Old Glory sat silently, his Adam's apple sliding up and down in his thick, corded throat as he emptied his glass of beer.
"That's Old Glory." Michelle licked her lips. "You know that -- don'tcha, Wally?"
"Yes," he said, his voice a harsh whisper. He saw Old Glory look at him as he poured himself another glass of frothy lager.
"Well, what's he here for?"
"That's a good question." Wally was a bad liar, and the waitress could clearly see that.
"Wally." Michelle snagged Wally by his jacket sleeve, giving the police officer a tug. "Does this have something to do with that killer?"
The policeman looked at Old Glory, but returned his attention to Michelle. He swallowed hard. "Everything's gonna be fine."
"There's some trouble out this way and I'm here to help fix it." Old Glory piped up so suddenly that both the policeman and the waitress jumped.
Michelle got out from behind the bar and started towards Old Glory's booth again. Wally rolled his eyes and sighed, then followed suit.
Old Glory poured himself another glass of beer, then looked up. It was the first time he actually gave the two real notice since he walked in. Michelle was an attractive, olive-skinned lady. He could see she was part Inuit. The police officer seemed tall, broad, but his gut had long since turned to Plasticine. He wore the standard uniform of the Mountie, which Old Glory thought made him look like a cross between a state trooper and Santa Claus. Old Glory forced a smile and gestured for the two to sit.
"It's an honor to meet you, Old Glory," the Mountie said. "I'm Sergeant Mantlo."
Old Glory gave him a firm handshake. "Sergeant Mantlo."
"And I'm Michelle Qitsualik," the waitress said as she held out her right hand for him to shake it. She winced silently as Old Glory took her hand and gently shook it. He didn't hurt her, but she could feel the incredible might in his grasp. She knew he could pulverize her hand with one squeeze, and it was this thought that made her wince. But the super-soldier was careful and then let her hand go.
"Miss Qitsualik." Old Glory's voice was hoarse.
"So, what brings you to Lone Wolf's?" the waitress asked.
"Supposed to meet someone," Old Glory simply replied.
With that, he emptied his glass of beer in several gulps. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and placed the glass on the table. He filled the glass again from his pitcher, sat back, and emptied it once more.
"Nothing like draft beer, huh?" Michelle smiled.
"Canadian beer always hits the spot. I guess it's because it's got more alcohol than American beer." Old Glory shrugged. "But I really should've eaten something. Alcohol and an empty stomach makes for a rough combination."
"So, who exactly are you meeting?" Michelle asked after a brief pause.
"Old Glory is here on special business." This time it was Wally who spoke. "Don't ask him all these questions."
"Yeah," Old Glory agreed with a dark scowl. "Besides, it's not polite to pry, especially if you're not going to join me in a glass." He smiled as he raised his pitcher.
Michelle returned a smile. "Uh, okay." She then left the booth and headed to the bar. She then returned to the table with a couple of glasses and another pitcher of Honey Brown.
After Old Glory filled the two extra glasses, he slid them over to Michelle and Sergeant Mantlo. The waitress took a sip from her glass, all the while watching Wally over the rim. He didn't touch his beer.
"I'm sorry, I'm in uniform," he said. "I'm not supposed to be drinking while on duty."
"Me neither," Old Glory replied matter-of-factly. "But it keeps me sharp -- on the edge." Then he took a long sip of his own beer.
"Were you drinking when you fought Totem a month ago?" Michelle asked, laughing slightly.
"Actually, I wasn't," Old Glory said, sipping his lager. "But I sure as hell was punch-drunk after that foray. That bastard gave me a mild concussion."
The waitress nodded, then she said, "I heard you were somehow involved with Cleveland's decision to eliminate the Chief Wahoo mascot. Are you and Totem like friends now?"
"No," Old Glory bluntly replied. There was finality in his voice that told her not to pursue such a query any further. He looked past her, staring at the clock above the serried line of liquor bottles behind the bar.
"Okay." Michelle settled back in her seat. "So, are you gonna tell me why you're in Whitehorse?"
Old Glory sipped his beer. "I told you, I'm waiting for someone. We've got business to take care of in these parts."
Michelle squinted. "It's got to do with that killer -- doesn't it?"
"Michelle," Sergeant Mantlo said firmly.
Old Glory waved off the Mountie's concerns. "It's a complicated matter."
The waitress noticed a distant look in his eyes. She looked around the tavern, pointing out the all-too-obvious fact that her establishment was barren. "It's such a slow night -- I've got all the time in the world."
Old Glory scowled. The beer went straight to his brain, and he shook his head to clear it, then looked at the waitress. "Well," he said, "I guess I can tell you about it. It all started about fifteen years ago. Pennsylvania had a problem with a serial killer, a cracked psychology professor named Ulysses Kirkpatrick. I mean, this guy put the Torso Killer and the Son of Sam to shame. I don't even know how many people he killed before the cops ran him down."
"So he was in jail?"
Old Glory shook his head. "Well, the heart-bleeding Democrats called it a jail," he said. "But it was a country club. A place in Philadelphia called Sunny Day Asylum. I mean, the police literally caught this maniac red-handed and he gets off with the VIP treatment."
Michelle put her glass of beer down and settled back in her seat. Here she was, chit-chatting with America's symbolic hero about a serial killer. And although Old Glory seemed to hold his alcohol just fine, he must have been half in the bag, for this didn't seem like a normal conversation piece for a living legend. Yet she was nevertheless fascinated. She had to hear more.
Old Glory refilled his glass, took a sip, and continued. "The guy was the son of a butcher, and while he was a university professor, he still took pride in what his daddy taught him. He liked to carve his victims up, sometimes with a knife, other times with a cleaver. Sometimes he even skinned them. We should've fried that sick bastard."
"I don't get it," the waitress said. "Did this Ulysses fella escape the asylum?"
"Sort of. He was a persuasive prick. He got into the minds of the other patients, and soon enough they started getting more and more rebellious towards the doctors. Then their rebellion turned into violent outbreaks. Somehow Kirkpatrick turned them all into raging psychotics, turned them into his instruments for killing. It should've been foreseen, but one day -- just like that -- the patients took over the whole hospital. Doctors, aids, nurses, ward clerks -- the whole medical staff was attacked by an army of loons. They killed everyone, and Kirkpatrick was pulling their friggin' strings."
Michelle looked blanched. "Oh my..."
"Yeah, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets the Manson Family. But the local authorities came in, and when the dust settled, each and every patient of Sunny Day was relocated and the damn place was condemned."
The waitress felt a chill run threw her and shifted in her seat. She looked over at Wally, a little reassured by the silent policeman's presence. "And this Ulysses was relocated too?" she asked.
"Yeah," Old Glory said with a laugh. "He was relocated all right. It seems his psychological profile piqued the interest of some government-funded shadow company. Oh, and you'll love this: they turned him into a biological weapon."
"Sounds like a B-movie," Michelle said, her eyes like pale saucers.
Old Glory shook his head. "Maybe so, but it's true. They mutated the heartless prick, turned him into a mockery of humanity. Gave him four arms with long fingers that end in claws. Made him ugly too, with a face like a half-chewed caramel. I never would've guessed that being a psycho killer made for a good employment history -- but that just goes to show you what I know."
Michelle tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry, and so she reached for her lager and took a few tiny sips. "I don't understand. They made Ulysses into what exactly?"
"I think Old Glory means that a secret organization experimented on him and turned him into some sort of killing machine," Wally piped in. He paused for a moment, then finally decided to reach for his beer. It tasted a bit flat, but he thought he was going to need it.
"Yeah," Old Glory said with a nod. He then took a healthy gulp of his own beer, finishing it off. "They tried to turn a certified serial killer into a weapon of their bidding. But the only thing worse than a serial killer is a metahuman serial killer -- and that's what they ultimately turned Kirkpatrick into."
"What -- ?" Michelle asked. The sound of the cold wind hitting the tavern's shutters made her jump a bit.
Old Glory shifted in his seat. He rolled back his eyes for a moment, trying to keep focus. Look at you, he said to himself. You're as drunk as an ass, you dumb fool!
"It seems a few months after Kirkpatrick was altered into this weapon, killings started to surface again," the super-soldier said. "They were like Kirkpatrick's original murders, but much more brutal."
"Kirkpatrick started butchering people again?" asked the waitress.
"There you go!" Old Glory said. "You're a regular Philip Marlowe."
Old Glory sighed. "He's an American Sherlock Holmes."
He refilled his glass with Honey Brown once more, then continued. "Only now Kirkpatrick called himself Abattoir. I guess Kirkpatrick's days with his butcher daddy made more of an impression on him than we originally thought." Old Glory paused. "Anyways, the killings started again -- this time throughout Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. The local authorities couldn't handle it, so the Board got involved."
"With the Draughtsmen?"
"Yeah. Their Criminal Investigation Division pieced stuff together, like that the victims killed were all related to the very organization that created Abattoir, and that the killings only occurred during the night. These killings were really bad."
"Well, Abattoir didn't need a knife or a cleaver -- he just used his bare hands. He tore organs out from his victims. Hearts, kidneys, lungs -- even brains."
"Jesus," Michelle said, shuddering.
"Yeah," Old Glory said. "But they finally caught him. Sent him to Purgatory Prime." He laughed. "It only took about a hundred more killings for Kirkpatrick to finally go to jail."
Michelle thought during the brief pause. "Wait a second," she said, her voice winding up higher. "Wasn't Purgatory Prime broken into last month?"
Old Glory smiled. "And that's why I'm here."
Michelle looked at Wally, who had just downed his glass of beer and was refilling it. She then looked back at Old Glory. "You mean Abattoir's here in the Yukon?"
Old Glory nodded.
Old Glory shrugged. "Search me! My guess is that this area poses as his ultimate hunting ground. Being that he now seems to be nocturnal, and that its dark nearly the entire friggin' day during the autumn and winter months, he can kill like a friggin' banshee here."
For a moment or two, everyone at the table was silent. Finally, Michelle got up from the table. "Well then," she said. "It's getting late. I... Gotta get back to work."
Her instinct was to run for the hills, but she stood still briefly, making sure her legs wouldn't buckle when she started walking back to the bar.
Old Glory turned his attention to the Mountie, who was downing another glass of beer.
Before the super-soldier could say more, the tavern door suddenly flew open so hard it slammed against the wall. Michelle screeched, and Wally dropped his glass and shattered it, spitting Honey Brown everywhere. Old Glory looked up, kind of, but his stare was unfocused and shifting. They were all surprised to see a tall, well-built man blocking the threshold of the bar.
He was toqueless, but wearing a heavy wool barn coat and gloves. His dark hair was wild from the cold wind outside. The dim light of the tavern danced off his forehead and the angular contours of his cheekbones. He was a Native American.
"Totem," the Mountie said.
Old Glory smiled wryly. "Ah, you finally made it."
"This better be good," the Native American said with a deepening scowl.
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