By Chris Beckett
FRONT PAGE: Warren Ellis has called him the heir to Kirby. As one of the founders of the Act-i-Vate webcomics site, Dean Haspiel has been working to expand the boundaries of what is possible with the comics medium. His latest Billy Dogma adventure, “Immortal,” does just that. A fun action-adventure romance that incorporates so much more, this is a comic you should be reading. Check it out.
Billy Dogma: “Immortal”
Story & Art by Dean Haspiel
Available as one half of the split-book
Brawl from Image comics
3 issues, $2.99, b/w & red
Also available online @
What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):
Enraged, Billy Dogma sends a man to the hospital for the capital offense of flirting with his girl, Jane Legit, an action that lands Billy in lock-up for the night. Though he could easily force his way out, Billy “indulges this ruse” and settles in for a long night alone. Being apart incites the love within his and Jane’s breasts for one another to a fever pitch.
But Jane, unwilling to accept this estrangement for a single night, breaks Billy out of the jail, crumbling the outer wall of his cell into a pile of cinderblocks and dust. Reunited, they embrace, and then something strange happens. The floor beneath their feet shudders as a crack spreads out away from them releasing a giant alien that has been hibernating beneath the city.
Though formidable singly, and even moreso as a pair, Billy and Jane have no luck against this new creature. The quick battle results in heart-shaped shards of brick and concrete scattering over the two lovers as they lay battered and beaten. Exiting the confines of the jail cell, the giant rises high above the city, staring down at Billy and Jane and a host of others wandering into the street. Jane recovers and yells for Billy to dispatch this beast as he did the fellow at the bar, but instead the alien drops Billy down its gullet, engulfing our hero in complete darkness.
Luckily, Billy has certain skills and uses his optical rays to ignite his shirt, which is wrapped about a stalactite, and more easily make his way around the insides of the beast. There he discovers, carved upon the creature’s intestinal lining, hieroglyphics that give Billy the entire story. This immortal arrived on earth and discovered a world built upon hatred and mistrust. Compelled by its nature, it sacrificed its heart in order to try and spread love, irradiating the sky with a deep red hue. But this sacrifice caused an unforeseen circumstance, mutating the giant into an empty husk. Confused and lacking a heart, it instead spread destruction across the land, killing thousands of people. Overcome with grief, it chose to bury itself under the city in the hopes of regaining that which it had lost.
A second result of this alien’s sacrifice was that the fallout from the irradiated sky sparked the fire of Billy and Jane’s love, igniting the hot embers that burn within each of them for the other. A violent and unrelenting love affair, their “war of woo” – in a cyclical irony – is what results in the waking of this monster. And now that it is awake, how will these two heroes save the city? More than brawn will be needed in order to see this to a happy end.
Dean Haspiel has been chronicling the romantic adventures of Billy Dogma and Jane Legit for twelve years now, and his characters have survived the intervening years quite well. This latest tale of lust and violence – along with the partially completed second chapter, “Fear, My Dear,” of a proposed trilogy – is as entertaining a comic as one can find. Haspiel propels readers along a roller coaster ride, refusing to pull back on the throttle, hurtling his characters toward a dynamic conclusion that is inspired.
Originally serialized on the Act-i-Vate site, “Immortal” is broken into crisp, bite-size chunks that keep readers on the edge of their seats while meshing together seamlessly to tell a grand cosmic tale firmly rooted in Billy and Jane’s world. Despite the surface sheen of action and violence, Haspiel imbues this story with far more than the typical “
Upon reading “Immortal” online, Warren Ellis was prompted to name Dean Haspiel the heir to Jack Kirby, and I can definitely see what he means. Like the best of Kirby’s work, Haspiel’s “Immortal” is a very personal story brimming over with wild ideas that many creators might milk for issues on end, but which Haspiel utilizes briefly within the greater context of his story before moving on. Eschewing the self-imposed boundaries of the medium, Haspiel – like Kirby before him – is working to expand the possibilities of comics with the tools afforded him, and one can only wonder what Kirby could have accomplished within this newly burgeoning medium of webcomics. And if any doubted that Haspiel were a worthy heir to “the King,” one should look no further than his artwork on “Immortal,” which bursts off the page – and computer screen – with an energy and vitality that can be matched by very few artists.
Dean Haspiel’s “Immortal” is a brilliant example of the type of story comics can tell when editorial edicts are dropped for creative freedom. A breathtaking adventure that stands up under repeated readings, anyone that has already experienced this story knows what I am talking about. And if you haven’t read it yet, click on over to Act-i-Vate or Dean Haspiel.com and find out what you’re missing. Or, better yet, go to your local comic shop and pick up a copy of Brawl from Image comics, which includes both Haspiel’s “Immortal” and Michel Fiffe’s “Panorama” in a split-book format similar to the old Marvel titles Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
An Interview with Dean Haspiel:
Chris Beckett: Why comics? What is it about the medium that drew you into this career of yours?
Dean Haspiel: My childhood love affair with comic books was so profound I must have subconsciously surrendered my soul to the medium and let it rule my career path as I never embraced any other work more passionately than I do comic books. If memory serves me right, C.C. Beck's Shazam was my first introduction to comic books. Soon after, I read a ton of Marvel & DC superhero comics during the 1970s/80s while discovering alternative comix the likes of Chester Brown's Yummy Fur, Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, and The Hernandez Bros.' Love & Rockets. In 1985, my senior year in high school, I was afforded the opportunity to assist Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, and Walter Simonson, which had an eye-opening impact on my picture making process. Other cartoonists who have heavily influenced me are: Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Frank Miller, Baru, Max, Katushiro Otomo, Michael Golden, and a slew of others.
Beckett: At its heart, Billy Dogma is a love story, but it is also about big ideas, giant ideas. Was this latter aspect always at the heart of what you wanted to do in comics or a happy byproduct of the stories you were telling?
Haspiel: No matter how many genre curve balls I throw into the mix, Billy Dogma will always be a bruiser romance comic. "Immortal" is the most cosmic Billy Dogma story I've told to date and its sequel, "Fear, My Dear" is a psychedelic origin of sorts that gets to the mind of Billy's heart. The improvisational nature of telling these tales online without a fully realized plot keeps my characters personal and fresh.
Beckett: In comparing “Immortal” and “Fear My Dear” to Daydream Lullabies from 1999, it is obvious your storytelling has evolved. In Lullabies, Billy and Jane Legit are quite verbose and very direct in stating what is on their mind. But with your newer work, the pictures convey the story and its emotions more than the words. Is this a conscious change on your part or a matter of story dictating style?
Haspiel: At their base, comix are a series of informed pictures and the more I "show" the less I have to tell. Thankfully, I've been granted the time and space to evolve my storytelling chops and learn my creations without getting fired by the Comix Gods. I needed to go through my punk phase before getting into disco.
Beckett: With this latest Billy Dogma foray, you have chosen to publish it on the internet. Why did you choose to go the online route first, and what would you say are the benefits and the drawbacks of producing comics, and specifically Billy Dogma, for the web?
Haspiel: Five years ago I started working on a 48-page Billy Dogma story called "The Devils Muumuu" that was supposed to be published by Top Shelf. I got as far as page 21 when I scored Muties #3, my first Marvel Comics effort, and I've been working fulltime freelance on other people's stories ever since. The time that has passed forced me to abandon that ill-fated Billy Dogma story but I'd been itching to write again and to return to my own creations. When I reread "The Devils Muumuu," I discovered that the story no longer resonated for me and my avatar had traveled a different road. Meanwhile, during my freelance career, I'd been keeping a blog and when I decided to launch Act-I-Vate in February of 2006, I realized that this was the right forum in which to revamp the Billy Dogma mythos. The digital age has served my sensibilities quite well as regular feedback from fans, friends, and peers helped me make a better comic.
Beckett: For people that do not normally read an “independent” comic, what do you feel they are missing and what would you tell them to encourage them to try something outside the superhero genre?
Haspiel: The lines between mainstream and independent comics have blurred considerably since the days when 64-color superhero comics were sold at newspaper stands and black and white underground comix were sold in head shops. With the exponential expansion of the modern graphic novel into local bookstores and the rise of webcomix, I don't see that much of a difference between Marvel Comics' World War Hulk, DC Comics' All-Star Superman, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, and Josh Neufeld's A.D. –
Beckett: Do you have any other projects on the horizon you might want to tell readers about?
Haspiel: I'm currently illustrating The Alcoholic, an original graphic novel written by Jonathan Ames for Vertigo Comics due for release the Fall of 2008, and I hope to soon announce a kids book I drew in collaboration with legendary underground cartoonist/writer, Jay Lynch, for Francoise Mouly at Raw Jr. Other than that, I recently drew a Hulk for fun and had fellow DEEP6 studio mate, Mike Cavallaro, color it. I'm slowly chipping away at my free webcomic, Fear My Dear, and the first issue of Brawl, my new split-book mini-series with Michel Fiffe from Image Comics hits comix shops Oct. 10th.
Screeching vocals radiated off the walls, swirling around Keenan Archer in his booth near the club’s entrance. He could feel the bass rippling up his spine, punching through his gut. Archer had been hitting up clubs across the city for weeks hunting for the Kaczmerak girl. He’d found little to help so far.
Keenan swirled the ice cubes in his glass, took another drink. The barkeep claimed it was bourbon, but Keenan found that claim dubious. At least it wasn’t as watered as other places.
It took a moment for the detective to recognize the buzzing in his pocket wasn’t coming from the stage. Reaching up, Archer tapped the earpiece once and spoke: “Take a message.”
Lifting his glass again, Keenan knocked back the last of his drink. Sliding the empty glass to the edge of his table, Archer made eye contact with the woman singing on stage. She held his gaze for a few seconds and then smiled before dancing away to the opposite side.
Archer smiled too. He wouldn’t be spending the night alone.
The waitress came over to retrieve his glass. “The same?” She thrust her hips forward as she spoke. Whether working for a tip or something more Keenan couldn’t say. He considered breaking the news that her efforts were a waste of time – skin taut over wasted bones, sunken eyes falling into shadow, devoid of the forced smile in her voice. It all said junkie, and in a better light, Keenan imagined her track marks would be visible. He didn’t look at her as he replied, “sure” and returned his gaze to the stage.
As the girl pranced off, Keenan’s pocket began to vibrate again. He reached to his ear, but this time as he tapped an angry voice shot through.
“Archer! What the fuck are you doing?”
Keenan fell back in his seat as if punched in the chest, eyes wide and unfocused. “Who are you? And how did you override my phone?”
“I’m your employer, you fuck! Now answer my question!”
The detective paused. “Mr. Kaczmerak?”
“Well. You do have some detecting skills after all.”
“I didn’t recognize your voice, sir.”
“I don’t care! Excuses aren’t worth my time, Mr. Archer,” the old man continued.
“Yes, sir,” said Archer, sitting up.
“Where is my daughter?” asked Elijah.
“I don’t know,” Archer yelled, barely audible in the club. “I have some leads I’m following right now. But it’s going to take some time.”
“A month. Which is more than you deserve. Have something by then Mr. Archer,” spat Kaczmerak.
“Yes, sir,” but as Keenan uttered “sir,” the line went dead.
Sylindra walked through the foyer to the library, stopping just at the doorway. Across the room, sitting in a chair with his back to the doctor, Elijah Kaczmerak stared out the window. Beyond the deep green of the pines and firs bordering the grounds, a blank slate rose above everything daring Kaczmerak to come outside and mar its serene countenance. Winter was coming fast, and the skies were dressed accordingly.
Dr. Ziantara cleared her throat, but the old man gave no indication he’d heard anything. Sylindra knew better, but said nothing, preferring to wait him out.
A minute passed.
Dr. Z shifted her feet, relieving the pressure settling in her heels.
Another minute passed, the steady ticking of the mantel clock – a family heirloom – calling out the seconds that Sylindra now counted silently.
Four hundred forty-two seconds. Over seven minutes. That’s when Elijah finally spoke.
“Yes, doctor.” The wheezing was gone, replaced by a soft baritone Elijah and his physician had not heard for some time.
“I just came to check on you. How are you feeling?” asked the doctor, still standing just beyond the threshold of the library.
“Unsatisfied,” he said. “I do not care much for your prognosis.”
“Well, I’m not sure what I can do about that, Elijah. Would you rather I lie about the time you have before we need to take more serious action?”
“What I would rather, doctor,” said Elijah as he lifted from the chair turning to face her, “is that you would do your job. I expect results Ms. Ziantara. Failure is not a concept with which I am overly familiar.” The lines were gone from his face, the stoop with which he’d walked (when he was able) a memory, and the fire in his eyes burned brighter than it had in years. The stem cell therapy had worked, stimulated by the steroids added to this new cocktail. But it was only temporary.
“If you hadn’t been so reckless with your body, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. You understood going in that this probably wouldn’t be a permanent solution, but at least it could be a stop-gap while we searched for something else.” Dr. Ziantara had her hands out, palms up, sick inside about the deficiencies of her science.
“It’s like a virus,” she continued. “Becoming stronger, mutating and evolving to counteract the old remedies so that we have to come up with new ones. Your body has become accustomed to the therapies we used before. It recognizes them and burns them out faster now.
“You did this to yourself, Elijah!” Dr. Z’s voice was even as she thrust her finger at her employer, her patient.
“Your job is to cure me, doctor, not render judgment upon my lifestyle. That will come later from someone far more qualified than yourself.”
Elijah stepped around the chair and moved toward the foyer, stopping at the doctor’s shoulder as he reached the doorway.
“You have managed to forestall your dismissal for a while longer. But do not fail to understand that your time with us is limited. So long as you are useful you have a place here. But otherwise . . .”
The old man walked off as Sylindra watched him go.
Elijah Kaczmerak’s throat rattled, his coughs insistent as he spit blood into his handkerchief. Gregory stood close by, fearful the old man might collapse.
“Where’s that *cough* goddamn doctor?” In the weeks Dr. Ziantara had been at the house, she had yet to find a new mixture to help the old man.
“I’m not sure, sir.” Gregory winced as he spoke.
“Fuckin’ cunt.” Tears slipped from Kaczmerak’s weathered eyes as he gasped for air, pounding the console on his chair in frustration.
“Fuck!!” The word echoed off the high ceiling as the leather-bound books inhabiting the shelves absorbed the rest of his cry.
Sylindra Ziantara walked into the library, soft shoes masking the doctor’s approach. “Elijah, I’ve told you to stop acting like a child. You can’t expect to get better if you insist on being foolish.”
The old man glared at the doctor as she approached him. “What the fuck *cough* have you got for me?”
“I decided to try something different. I took one of the vials left and mixed Methandrostenolone with your DNA sample. Theoretically, it should bolster this sample enough to cultivate a new batch of stem cells.” Her voice trailed off, the final word hanging between them.
As wasted as he was, Kaczmerak still caught the hesitance in her voice. “What the hell are you not telling me? *cough* And don’t bullshit me doctor *cough* I don’t need that from you.”
“If it works – and there’s no guarantee it will – I don’t expect these cells to hold up very long. You need a donor if you want to see your next birthday, Elijah.”
“Don’t fucking cry over me *cough* I’ll most likely outlive you.
*cough* “When the fuck *cough* will it be *cough* ready?” Kaczmerak doubled over as another fit took hold of his body. Blood spattered the back of his hands as mucous trickled from his nostrils. Sylindra knelt beside the old man “it’s okay” and rubbed his back as she took one of his hands “it’ll be all right” in hers, trying to will the man’s pain away “I will find something.”
Gregory watched for a minute and then exited silently from the room.
It was nearly four minutes before Elijah was able to catch his breath, the air rattling in his throat as it passed over his scarred esophagus. “How much time?” he whispered.
“Three months. Maybe six –”
“No, you dumb bitch. How long until the batch is ready?” Elijah dropped his head, closed his eyes, wouldn’t look at her.
“Oh,” she said. “It should be ready by the end of the day.”
“Good,” said Kaczmerak. “Get me a glass of water. Then you can leave.”
“Hey. Wake up.”
Karen Kaczmerak opened her eyes, squinting at the harsh light that streamed through the window.
“The rain stopped. We’re headin’ down to the square, check things out. You should come.” Jamal had a big grin on his face like some little kid that just got his first ice cream of the summer.
“No. I don’t think so,” said Karen as she brushed the hair from her face.
“What is that? You been here weeks now, that airsplint’s kept your ankle in place, an’ it should be healed already.
“So why can’t you come down to the square?” Jamal’s smile had vanished.
“I just don’t feel like it.” Karen pulled away, wrapping herself in her arms as if warding off the chill of a winter morning.
“Hey.” Jamal’s features softened as he crouched beside the mattress Karen was using for a bed. “I didn’t mean to snap. I’m just worried about you bein’ cooped up here all the time.
“It ain’t healthy. And it ain’t no way to find your brother.”
“Don’t talk about him!” Karen snapped and pulled her chin into her chest.
“Whatever.” Jamal stood up, throwing his hands in the air as he shook his head. “You wanna keep feelin’ sorry for yourself, go ahead, but I’m not about to help you with your pity party. You decide you wanna see the world again, come on down and let me know. Maybe we talk then.”
Jamal was pulling the door closed as Karen spoke up. “Hey,” she said from beneath a mop of blond hair, her voice pulling the tall man back around the doorframe. “Are you leaving right now, or do I have time to freshen up?”
Jamal smiled thinly, curiosity filtering through his eyes. “I can prob’ly wait a couple minutes. But don’t take too long. Had a girl once was like that. Never could get anywhere on time, and she was a bitch anyway, so I had to drop her.
“Don’t make me drop you,” Jamal said with a wink.
Karen smiled as she got up from the mattress. “Don’t worry about that.
“I’m not a bitch.”
To be continued . . .
Karen landed on the branch below, air lurching from her chest as her head cracked against its surface, stars cascading before her eyes. Her palmcard dropped onto her chest, held tight with one hand as the other searched for purchase, anything that might halt her descent.
Hitting another branch, she slipped around its circumference as bark grated skin, ripping away the outer layers. Shivers ran up her arm as her fingers clenched onto the rough bark. Nerve endings screamed as the nails of her left hand bent back, torn from the skin. Pain seared through her fingers, and for a moment the knot growing at the base of her skull was forgotten. The skid slowed as Karen’s body fell open to the world, dangling from her tree house.
Karen’s ankle felt like it was being held in a vise. A gnarled grunt fell through the leaves and her anxiety escalated.
She kicked and shook, trying to dislodge her attacker, unmindful of the consequences. The grunt turned to a laugh, and the grip on her leg was released. Karen toppled over the edge of the branch, pinwheeling around its fulcrum. Her eyes opened wide as she fell through the lower branches, the ground rising to meet her.
Lungs collapsed once more as pressure wrapped around Karen’s skull shooting fireworks across her vision.
She struggled to push off the ground, arms pulsing with pain as they gave out dropping her back into the earth, soil and grass caking her teeth. Lifting her head, Karen spit hard and scanned the ground. She eyed the small computer, which had fallen to one side, and dragged herself forward, her knees digging ruts in the soft earth.
Karen’s attacker dropped from the tree onto her leg, snapping the bone just above the ankle. She writhed, screaming in pain. Curled into a ball, she reached for her ankle, trying to hold it together as bolts of agony rippled across her body. Nausea washed over Karen as she struggled not to pass out, dropping her head back to the ground.
“Din’t no one tell you, ya gotta pay a tax to sleep here?” The voice was deep and harsh.
“So where’s payment?” Tears came to Karen’s eyes, slid down her cheek. She looked to her palmcard. It had a taser app in its skin, but the short distance seemed like miles. Karen couldn’t speak, had no money even if she could bargain. Her body went limp, and she gave up.
“Hey, fucker!” Another voice, almost as deep, just above her.
The first voice countered as words jumbled together, an aural crossword that made no sense to Karen. She tried to decipher words, but her body pulled away, hearing muddied as if she were being submerged in water.
And then Karen remembered nothing.
“hey. wake up.” Karen’s mind rose from consciousness. For a minute she was unsure where she was, but the pain throbbing across her leg brought everything back into sharp focus. She moaned reflexively and tried to talk but nothing came out.
“Hold still. I got friends comin’. You can crash with us. It ain’t much, but you’ll be able to rest.” Karen recognized the second voice from earlier, but it was softer now. Its baritone reverberated through her fingers, soothing her just a bit.
“Why,” Karen whispered.
His voice became animated. “Someone got ta take care of our city. Ain’t no one else steppin’ up.
“Now be quiet, rest.” He sounded almost ministerial and Karen smiled despite the pain. She opened her eyes to look at him, but they were beneath the oak’s wide canopy and his face was painted with shadow.
“What about – ah!” Karen sat up quickly and pain railed across the left side of her body. Her head swam as she clutched her ankle, panting with the exertion.
“It’s here. I din’t unlock it.” His voice was stern, frustration creeping around the edges. “Now lie down or we can’t help you.”
Karen did as she was told. She fell back into his hands and gave in to the pain, allowing her eyes roll up into her head.
“There ya go. Just rest easy.” Karen felt he must have given her something for the pain. Images swam before her eyes – some familiar, others lacking context.
And she latched on to one, forcing a final gasp. “Do you know Cedric Kaczmerak? Can you help me find him?”
But her voice trailed off and she slept before a response was forthcoming.
To be continued . . .
“Don’t you fuckin’ toss off an email when you’ve got information, Archer!” Elijah Kaczmerak spit the words out, his breath catching in his throat with the effort. “You get on the damn phone –” (breathe) “– and you talk to me like a man.” (breathe) “Do you understand me?”
Kaczmerak’s chest rose and fell with each labored gasp. The old man closed his eyes, listening to the private detective on the other end. He worked to remain calm, regulating his breathing as withered muscles uncoiled.
“I don’t’ care what you think–” (breathe) “– You consult with me, and do the job for which I am paying you –” (breathe) “– Find my daughter–” (b-r-e-a-t-h-e) “– Bring her back.”
“Now, have you anything worthwhile to share?” His voice little more than a whisper, Kaczmerak slumped back, his body collapsing in on itself.
The old man was unsure how long the phone had been silent. He opened his eyes and rasped into the still room, the chair’s receiver funneling his voice back to Keenan Archer. “So you don’t really know a fucking thing, do you? –” (breathe) “– Please remind me why I am paying you such an exorbitant sum.”
The old man held a rag up to his mouth coughing into it, the searing pain given voice by the grating sound in his throat.
“WHERE ARE MY RESULTS!”
A long silence enveloped the room as Kaczmerak listened to the detective’s excuses.
“I deal in certainties, Mr. Archer–” (breathe) “– Not fucking hypotheses.” Kaczmerak could barely free this final word, his body rebelling against the strain.
Wheezing loudly, the old man’s eyebrows arched as a response came from the detective. “Do not fucking patronize me, Mr. Archer.”
Kaczmerak paused, dropped back into his chair once more, listening with more interest. A smile curled at the edges of his mouth as his fingers began to tap on the arm of the chair – slowly at first, the pace quickening as the detective’s monologue continued. Finally, the old man slapped his hand down on the chair arm, the sharp impact skittering across the room.
“She’s gone to New York?”
“Would it not be prudent to ascertain the veracity of your hunch?”
“I expect a report tomorrow evening–” (b-r-e-a-t-h-e) “– And do not make me call you this time.” Kaczmerak tapped the console on the chair’s left arm cutting off any more discussion from the detective. The old man closed his eyes and heaved a long sigh.
“Are you awake, sir?” Gregory was standing above Elijah as the room came into focus. Kaczmerak couldn’t remember falling asleep and had no idea how much time he’d lost. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand he looked up at his butler.
“What is it?”
“The doctor is here, sir. She’s been waiting in the vestibule.”
“Set her up in the –”
“Already done, sir. The doctor unpacked and organized her belongings before having me call on you. I told her that might be best.”
“Well send her in for Christ’s sake.” Kaczmerak ran fingers through his thinning hair as he worked to sit up in his chair.
A minute later, Dr. Sylindra Ziantara strode into the library, concern crossing her features. Kaczmerak didn’t like that. “What the hell is wrong, doctor?”
Dr. Z, as she was commonly addressed, always found Elijah Kaczmerak’s hostile demeanor off-putting. “The tests came back negative.”
“What the fuck do you mean negative?” Kaczmerak turned away and rolled over to the window. Outside slate clouds crowded out the sun’s warmth, dropping a monochrome haze over everything.
The doctor reached Kaczmerak’s side, setting her hand on the back of his chair. “We can’t produce any more stem cells. Your body’s too full of cancer. They metastasize rather than grow healthy cells.
“We tried difference cocktails, but the results are always the same.”
“Why don’t you go back and try again, doctor!” The final word dripped off Kaczmerak’s tongue like a virus as he turned and stared up into her eyes. He held her gaze for a moment but had to turn away when he was overcome with a hacking cough once more, the heavy phlegm burning deep within his throat, refusing to move.
“Elijah.” The name landed solidly between patient and physician. “You know you don’t get to push me around. Try it again, and I’m out that door.”
Elijah Kaczmerak looked out at the heavy clouds sitting on the horizon, his final sputtering coughs subsiding. It was nearly two minutes before he replied, the doctor waiting him out as she wandered the room admiring his book collection.
Finally, his voice barely audible – “So what do I do now?”
Dr. Z walked over and knelt beside him. Taking his hand, she lifted Kaczmerak’s head so that she could look him in the eye. “We keep fighting. Maybe another cocktail will work, but I’m not holding out hope.”
“Best case scenario,” she continued, “is that you find a donor that shares your DNA.
“Otherwise, there’s not much else except bio-modification.”
“Fuck that,” he spat as he pulled his hand away.
To Be Continued . . .
Weeks to get a proper tracking code for the outdated chip Kaczmerak gave me. Nothing like starting down a trail already colder than your dead mother’s tit. You’d think someone like Kaczmerak would be able to keep up with this stuff. Old fuck thinks he has it all figured out.
With the way things fractured after the Arab-American war, life’s an even bigger pain in the ass than it ever was. Government’s in the shitter, different factions pop up every hour on the net; it’s a minor miracle we haven’t been wiped clean by some raghead army yet. ‘Course, the more difficult the job, the more I can charge. And at least the old fart pays on time.
Crossing a narrow bridge, I enter the small town as the sun drops behind a row of bare hills off on my right. A tinge of salt carries on the moist air as bells ring methodically somewhere in the harbor. Footfalls slop through the mud behind me; men in overalls, stained and torn, discuss their day on the ocean. They pause a moment to give me a challenging glance, passing without a greeting. I raise my hand and nod sarcastically as I continue to scan the feeble surroundings.
If she wanted to get away from Daddy, she might have gone a bit farther.
I wait an hour in the dark for Suffolk to return. He tries his key but doesn’t seem bothered that the door slips open without it. Walking through the main room, he doesn’t switch on a light. Idiot.
Booted feet clomp down the hall for the bedroom and soon a dim light trails back up toward me. Suffolk gasps. It brings a smile to my face as I hear him curse under his breath. Apparently, he’s never had his room tossed. Good.
Running back down the hallway, he makes straight for his landline computer across from where I stand in the shadows. Springing the overhead light on, Suffolk is momentarily blinded, giving me the seconds I need to knock him on his ass.
I punch him in the nose once for good measure and then lift him onto the ratty couch nearby. He’s still gingerly cupping his nose when the tears subside. The fear in his eyes is gratifying. This should be easy.
“Mind if I sit down?”
“No. Go ahead.” His speech is halting. He’s confused.
“I’m trying to find a girl – Karen Kaczmerak. You know her.”
“I don’t recognize the name.”
“That wasn’t a question.” I slap him hard on the side of his face and continue, “I tracked her here, but the place was empty. I think you’d remember, she’s the type’d stand out in this shithole.”
I slip out my palmcard and pull up a holo of her. He responds. “Okay. She said her name was Kay.”
He makes to get up from the couch. “Uhn-uh.” I set my gun on the table between us.
Suffolk raises his hands above his head, sweat spotting his brow. “Whoah. I just want to get something for you.”
I glare at him a few seconds before nodding. “Slowly.”
Suffolk steps into the kitchen and pulls down a cookie jar from on top of the refrigerator. Returning to his seat, he hands me a small microchip. “She told me to give this to you when you arrived. She knew you’d be coming, but didn’t say much else.
“You know that father of hers touched her, did things to her?” He’s pleading, begging me to give a damn.
“Not my business. Taking her home is.
“How long ago was she here?” I look up from the tiny chip, catching his eyes before they drop to his lap.
“I don’t know,” he mutters.
“Don’t get brave now.” I pick up my pistol and set it in my lap. His eyes follow the movement.
“Four days,” he says. “She didn’t tell me where she was going, but I expect it was as far from here as possible.”
“Why’s that? She finally get tired of you?”
His fists clench, but he’s not that dumb. He keeps his mouth shut and just stares through the frayed carpet on the floor.
“Do you really expect me to believe that you have no idea how to find her? If she knew I was coming, she wanted you to contact her, let her know how much of a head start she has. Come on.”
“No, no. She didn’t give me anything. Just left without saying a word. I came home last week and she was gone. I swear.” Waving his hands frantically is supposed to add some credence to his statement. Whatever.
I stand up. “Listen. I don’t want to kill you. Despite some prevailing sentiments, that would be bad for business.”
I walk into the kitchen, searching for the biggest knife I can find. “That doesn’t mean I can’t leave you in a shitload of pain though.”
I come back into the front room with a huge fucking blade, probably used to gut fish. It’s good to have the right tools for a job.
“Now, are we going to do this hard or easy? Your choice, but don’t take too long deciding because I’m an impatient man.” The smile on my face doesn’t seem to reassure Suffolk.
I pull out my palmcard and shoot off an email to Kaczmerak. Relatively speaking, Suffolk chose an easier path than most – he only lost one finger in the process. Seems little Karen wanted to see the big city. I should be able to hop a transport once I make it back to civilization, and then we’ll see what we see.
To be continued . . .
“Soup again?” Tim slouched in his chair as he tossed his stained cap onto the sideboard. He’d just come in off the fishing boat and the smell of the sea was strong on him.
“Not anymore!” Karen Kaczmerak stood up from the table, knocking her chair to the floor, and seized both her bowl and Tim’s. Walking to the back door, she kicked it open – squeaking on its old hinges – and dumped their supper into the refuse bin.
“Jesus, don’t be like that. I was hungry.”
“Could’ve surprised me. You cook tomorrow.” Karen dropped the bowls into the sink as she passed through the kitchen marching for the bedroom at the far end of the trailer. Wiping his sleeve across his face, Tim got up from the table and went after Karen, his long strides closing the gap down the narrow hall.
“Will you come back here? What the hell’s wrong?” Tim caught his girlfriend just as she stepped into the bedroom.
Karen didn’t even look back. “Fuck off.”
“No!” Tim grabbed Karen by her right shoulder.
“Ow!” Karen pulled her arm away.
Tim’s eyes widened. “What happened to your arm?”
“It hurts, dipshit.”
Tim, stuck between anger and confusion, kicked the wall. “Fucking aye! What the Hell’d I do?”
“If you don’t know, I can’t help,” said Karen as she backed into their bedroom sliding the door out from its recess in the wall.
“What can I do so you aren’t so fuckin’ mad?”
“You could start by listening, but I’m not sure that’s even possible.” Karen slammed the door shut and turned the lock. Tim paced in a tiny circle for half a minute before pounding his fist against the bedroom door. Waiting for a response, he stomped back up the hallway when none was forthcoming.
Tim Suffolk first laid eyes on Karen in the local diner. She arrived in South Harbor in the early evening, slim and young; the way her blond hair fell around her shoulders sent a shudder through Tim’s midsection. The fact that she had reciprocated his furtive looks that night was a surprise. Though by no means an ugly man, Tim knew his receding hairline and weary face were not generally appealing to the fairer sex. They’d ended up getting dessert together, and when Tim discovered Karen was alone with nowhere to stay, he was more than willing to put her up for the night.
That night stretched into weeks, and for the most part, Tim had been nothing but happy. But recently Karen had changed. She didn’t smile like she had at first, and she seemed restless. Tim had tried to infiltrate her stern façade, but no explanations had been shared. So, Tim just went about his normal business hoping it would work itself out.
The digital clock read 1:43 am. Outside, the chime of the buoy helped bring Tim out of his slumber. He rubbed at his neck, stiff from falling asleep in the recliner. Slivers of moonlight slit the blinds, giving form to the shadows. There were soft footsteps in the kitchen. Turning, he watched Karen go to the fridge and pull out the pitcher of water. Lifting it to her lips, she took a long swallow and then returned it to its shelf. Closing the door, she walked back down the hall without giving him a look.
Tim strained to hear the lock click in the door as Karen shut it, but the only sound that came was that of the mattress springs yielding as she lay back down. With little deliberation, Tim got up from the chair and walked down the hallway himself, trying not to make a sound as he entered the bedroom.
His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he could see Karen lying on her side turned away from where he stood in the doorway. She gave no indication she knew he was there. He pulled the covers back and slid in next to her.
Adjusting the sheets so that they fell over his back, Tim lay there waiting for Karen to say something.
But she remained silent.
Tim watched as two minutes passed on the clock, and then deemed it safe to move closer. Nudging up against Karen, he draped one arm over her shoulder and she jumped, biting back the pain before taking Tim’s hand and moving his arm down to her waist.
“Shit. Sorry,” whispered Tim, afraid of breaking the silence encompassing them.
“It’s okay,” said Karen. “I’m sorry for earlier.
“I’ve just been uneasy.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Tim as he propped himself up on his other arm.
“Thinking about home . . . Dad . . . what he did . . . to me . . . to Cedric.” Karen started to cry into her pillow. Tim tried to roll her over, but Karen refused, pushing his hand away.
For a long minute Tim stared down at Karen wondering what she’d gone through and what he could do to get her to stop crying. Finally, he laid his head on Karen’s pillow and whispered into her ear, “Tell me about it.
To be continued . . .
Keenan Archer stared out the windows as they flew over the thick green expanse below. It was a stark contrast to the scorched earth that had greeted them as they’d come in off the Atlantic five minutes prior. Flying as low as they were made it seem as if this new verdant area went on forever. He shifted in his seat and leaned forward to the pilot.
“How much longer ‘til we’re there?” he asked.
The pilot didn’t turn, but grunted his reply, “You’ll know.”
Keenan leaned back in his seat. His hard features tightened as dark blue eyes turned to slits; he didn’t like being in the dark. Running his fingers through the short bristles atop his head, Keenan returned his gaze to the treetops skimming by below him.
It was only a few minutes before a large cut in the trees became visible. A huge mansion rose from the middle of the clearing, which appeared to have no exit routes spoking off from the residence.
The sleek chopper set down easily, and Keenan pulled open the door and stepped out. A tiny lump clenched in his gut. He tried to ignore it as the chopper rose into the air, leaving him in the middle of a wide lawn.
Keenan surveyed his surroundings. There was a lot of money here. The ornate lintel above the front doorway, the delicate woodwork framing the many windows, and the meticulously trimmed hedges illustrated that. But the guards standing behind the tall shrubs at either corner, as well as the four stationed on the roof, told Keenan all he needed to know.
Satisfied, he proceeded up the small incline toward the marble steps.
“You do understand. You will do this.” The old man wheezed as he steadied himself against the banister. The stilted movements of Elijah Kaczmerak were subtle, most people wouldn’t have noticed. The old man was wearing a sophisticated exo-skeleton under his finely pressed suit.
Keenan had been going back and forth with Kaczmerak for twenty minutes now, and they seemed no closer to a resolution than when he’d first entered. The only commodity worth trafficking in was information, but the old man refused to give an inch.
Kaczmerak wanted his daughter found, but had no idea where she would have gone. Keenan had prodded him for anything that could help – hobbies, friends, online avatars, strange behavior, family history – and Kaczmerak clipped off any discussion as if he were hiding some thorny secret. And that knot in the pit of Keenan’s stomach continued to throb lightly as he worked to remain focused on the withered face before him.
“Listen. Mr. Kaczmerak. If you’re unwilling to give me some shred of information, I’m not sure how I can be of service to you. It’s really as simple as that.” Keenan could hear the frustration rising in his voice and silently criticized himself for starting to lose control.
“Young man. I cannot see how trivial incidents in my daughter’s past might assist in discovering her current whereabouts. She has grown past any indiscretions of her tender years and you would do well not to probe any further.
“I do not think you realize with whom you are dealing.” Despite his obvious ill health, Elijah Kaczmerak spit out these final words with such venom that Keenan was momentarily taken aback.
“Now,” continued the old man, “I do have something of which you might be interested, if you can get past your affinity for tangential matters.” The old man’s eyes narrowed as he stared down the investigator.
“When my daughter was eleven she took ill – the details are unimportant – and she was rushed to the nearest hospital. It was necessary for her to undergo surgery, and I arranged for the doctor to implant her with a microchip, the better to keep track of her. I wasn’t sure I would ever need it, but felt it prudent to take such a precaution. I will share the frequency with you.
“But in doing so, you must understand that you will be agreeing to a contract that can only end one of two ways. I would suggest option A, which would be to return my daughter here. To me.” The menace in Kaczmerak’s voice was laced with a derision that Keenan had rarely encountered.
“And just to make sure you do not feel I am treating you wrongly . . .” Elijah Kaczmerak snapped his fingers and Gregory stepped into the atrium. The old man turned to his butler, who nodded subtly and told his employer, “It has been taken care of, sir.”
“Good,” rasped the old man. Turning back to Keenan, as Gregory softly removed himself, Elijah told the investigator to “check your account.”
Keenan reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his PalmCard. Tapping the screen, he accessed his professional account and saw the balance to be a million creds heavier than he remembered.
“Consider that a retainer,” said Kaczmerak. “I will also pay double your daily fee, plus all expenses.
“Just make sure you bring my girl home.”
Keenan’s head raced with questions – why hadn’t the old man offered the microchip information earlier being foremost – but instead he allowed himself a broad smile and told Kaczmerak, “It looks like we have a deal.”To be continued . . .