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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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The Dreaming Fire

by Jeromy Henry

Joe Bandura's Typical Day

by

Jeromy Henry



Joe Bandura hung by one hand from the top of a cliff.  His left arm dangled uselessly at his side, and blood trailed down and dripped to the canyon floor below.  He thought of the three huddled heaps on the cliff above, and tried to calm his racing pulse.  The last of the three goons had slashed Joe with a knife, just as Joe shoved a gun in the expensive suit's sternum and painted the desert red.

He eyed the cliff and tried to spot handholds in the chalky sandstone.  The molten desert dust sandpapered the insides of his nose.  He felt like a hot air balloon as his lungs heaved in superheated air.  His fingers slipped a millimeter, and his body swayed dangerously back and forth like a meaty piñata.

The sound of chopper blades vibrated in the air.  The roar grew louder and louder, and Joe saw a sleek black machine hover only a few dozen yards away.  He could feel the hot wind blast in waves from the hovering killer.  A second later, bullets slammed into the cliff and raised a cloud of dust.

Joe had no options left.  He unclenched his hand, and plummeted towards the canyon floor.

His last thought was, "Do I need to get milk after work?  I forget."

*

Joe woke up to the smell of antiseptic.  He hurt all over.  He blinked mucus out of his eyes, and they darted around the room.  He saw grey walls, a white hospital bed next to his, a counter with a sink, and a man in a white coat with his back to Joe.  Joe could see that white bandages covered most of his body.  He flexed his arms and felt the layers of gauze give a little.  They'd swaddled him like a baby.

"Ah, you're awake," said the doctor.  Close-cropped grey hair and a brief mustache adorned an egg-shaped head.  Sagging and wrinkled jowls reminded Joe of a bulldog.  The doctor wore a stethoscope around his neck, a white shirt, and grey slacks.  He shuffled over, his steps slow and loud, as if he hadn't mastered the art of lifting up his feet.

"You should be dead," said the doctor.  "Luckily, you fell on a pile of inflatable yellow duckies.  Most of them broke, I'm afraid, and the owner wanted to sue for damages."

"What?" asked Joe.  He tensed his muscles, wondering if he could spring off the bed.  Was this guy crazy?

The doctor sighed.  "It's a good thing that tourist bus from Iceland got completely lost.  They found the beach, but no water.  I took a few twenties out of your wallet and paid them off.  I found your insurance card, too.  Hope you don't mind, son."

Joe just nodded.  "Okay, why am I covered in bandages?  I don't feel that bad, just a bit sore all over."

The doctor smiled.  "Our interns just got a bit carried away.  Except for that scratch on the left arm, you're fine.  Just sign these forms and you can walk out whenever you're ready.  Here's a $100 aspirin, and some safety scissors to cut off those bandages."  He pointed to a wheeled blue cart next to the bed.  Joe saw a white plastic cup and a paper pill packet on the cart.  Next to it, Joe saw the glint of blunt-tipped scissors of the kind he'd last used in first grade.  The doctor opened the door and shuffled out of the room, while humming the theme song to "Felix the Cat".

Joe inched his bandage-covered right arm towards the scissors.  His muscles trembled and the gauze stretched, but the scissors remained out of reach.  He gritted his teeth and strained again.  He rolled slightly, and his hand finally closed on the cold metal.  He slumped back on the bed and sawed at the gauze.  The dozens of layers began to part, strand by strand, under the squeaky assault of the scissor blades.  As his hand cramped, he wondered how many hours it would take to get free, and whether the interns had taken the top secret envelope from his inside pocket.

*

Joe threw down the papers.  The stack of crumpled forms landed with a smack on the long, grey desk in the foyer.  His eyes swept the room for danger, but all he saw was the grey carpet, light wood furniture, the framed painting of a kumquat, and the giant letters 'San Alpaca Clinic' in gold italics on the wall behind the counter.  The sun had started its roller-coaster ride from the top of the sky, and huge, misshapen quadrilaterals decorated the otherwise white walls, giving the room a weird and Early Modern ambience.  Behind the desk, a silver head of curls bobbed, and a wrinkled hand expertly riffled through the forms.  Joe heard a few key taps on a computer.  He massaged his right hand.

The silver-haired lady smiled at him, a too-wide expanse of very red lipstick on a cracked white desert.  "And how did you enjoy your stay, dear?  All better?" she asked in a quavering alto.

"I'm OK.  Don Carlo tried to kill me again."  Joe shrugged.  "It's not a big deal, it's only, what, the twelfth time?"

"Don Carlo!"  He heard computer keys clatter like machine gun bullets.  "Here you are sir, your receipt!  Please leave now, we have a lot of patients waiting!"  The receptionist's voice rose and broke on the last word.

Jack looked at the empty waiting room and rolled his eyes.  He took the white slip of paper from trembling hands.  Whenever he mentioned his run-ins with the mafia king, people fell all over themselves with dumb excuses to get rid of him.  Now, he wasn't the brightest guy in the world, but even he could spot obvious lies.  In fact, a memory of his boss talking to him surfaced.

"Son, you have a head like a box of rocks, reflexes of a superman, and the most incredible dumb luck," said the grey haired old guy, with his neat Van Dyke beard, and suit elegantly pressed and exactly fitted to his tiny frame.  "If you didn't deliver the goods so much, I'd toss you out of here so fast you'd get scorch marks on your rear!  Now don't make me call you to my office again..."

Joe shrugged.  He just didn't see worrying about things he couldn't control, even mad mafia dons with vendettas against him.  Gunshots and explosions didn't stress him out, they just came with the job.  And why did his boss have to get bent out of shape over a little property damage, and call Joe in his office to rant at him all the time?  Joe shouldered open the front door, and a jingle bell cut off his thoughts.

A wall of hot air slammed into him as soon as he hit the street, along with the smell of dust.  He blinked, then paused and wondered if he'd started to hallucinate.

He expected things like the giant shoe above "Bob's Shoes", the big display window across the street with a still-life of diamonds and pearls on headless, bodiless necks, and the crowds of laughing people in flip-flops and shorts and Hawaiian shirts.  All of those things belonged in the shopping district of a small Texas town.  What he didn't expect was the orange and green striped tents off to his left, the guy in white makeup and a red rubber nose walking on polka-dot covered stilts, or the elephant in a pink tutu with a pink ball on her nose.  He could smell the elephant droppings from here.  A little girl in a blue dress brushed past him, carrying a cone of blue cotton candy as big as herself, growling like a mad dog in her quest for sugar.

The querulous notes of a trumpet and the bass beat of a drum pounded from one tent.  Three fat guys in shades and white face-paint emerged from beneath the awning.  One wore an orange and green plaid suit, and the other two wore purple and red suits with checks louder than a cannon blast.  Bright, fire-engine red hair fountained and curled on their heads.  One blew the trumpet.  The other swung a padded mallet at a huge drum strapped to his belly.

"That's him, boys!" yelled the lead clown.  His nose fell off as he whipped a pistol from behind his pants.  Joe could see the cuff of a black suit beneath the plaid disguise.

Joe dodged to the left, and his hand jerked towards the holster underneath his coat.  The lead clown's pistol cracked, just as the trumpet-bearing clown lifted the instrument to his shoulder.  As Joe's fingers curled over the butt of his .45, he noted that the trumpet looked abnormally big.

The clown pressed a button on the trumpet, and a trail of white smoke rushed towards Joe.  His eyes widened and he jumped into a flat dive.

A wave of heat and a roar erupted behind him.  A giant hand slammed him face-down into the sidewalk.  Though his head rang like a bell and his vision swam like an excited guppy, he lifted his gun and pointed it.  In a fraction of a second, his finger squeezed, and he saw a vaguely round, orange and green plaid blob fly back in silence. Behind him, a column of black smoke rose into the sky.

The trumpet rose again, but Joe beat the clown to the punch.  He felt his pistol jerk twice, but couldn't hear a thing.  His ears were stuffed with cotton.

His vision started to clear, and he pushed himself into a crouch.  He tried to move his cramped gun arm, but something long and silvery flashed in the sun, and his hand slammed into the blackened brick of a nearby wall.  His pistol clattered as it fell, and his fingers blazed with fire.  He could see the fat guy in front of him, red lipstick in a wide grin.  The clown held... a sword?

"I hear you fence," said the clown in a raspy whisper.  A ripped drum lay on the ground behind the clown.  He bent his knees slightly and reached in the husk with a white gloved had, all the while smirking.  He slowly withdrew a length of Toledo steel.  The clown kept the tip of his own rapier pressed to Joe's throat.  Joe eyed his gun, but didn't move any muscles other than his pupils and his diaphragm.

The clown tossed the blade to Joe, hilt first, and pulled back the tip of his own sword.  Joe had only a moment to admire the intricate basket hilt of polished steel, the black leather grip, and a small sapphire that winked at the base.  Joe whipped the slim rapier blade in an arc and rose unsteadily to his feet.  Joe felt his head clearing, and the cotton balls slowly floated off to cotton ball heaven.

"Why don't you wipe that smile off your face," Joe coughed.

The clown shrugged.  "Lost my handkerchief.  In any case, I've waited for this moment for a long time."

With that, the clown whipped his blade towards Joe's heart, but Joe batted it aside.  With ringing metal and flying sparks, the two blades clashed again and again, trading thrusts and ripostes.

The clown backed up and cut at Joe's head.  He ducked and thrust, only to have Don Carlo's henchman easily bat aside the blade.

The crowd murmured.  Joe blinked dust from his gritty eyes, and sweat started to trickle down and soak into the leather grip.  He kept his eyes on his opponent's pale grey eyes, ignoring everything else.

"Is that all you have?" the clown laughed.  Then he lunged forward with a double lunge, and began to slash with lightning quick, precise strokes.  Joe retreated, until his heel hit brick.  Joe felt his suit tear as the clown's blade drew a line across his ribs.

Joe's arm felt like lead.  His hand throbbed every time the meaty clown's blade crashed into his own.  He couldn't match the other's strength, so he went on the offensive, using curved cuts and butterfly-light taps, aiming at the clown's throat.  He slowly drove the clown back.

Finally a thrust tore into the suit, just above the clown's heart, but Joe's blade rang on steel.  A rent in the plaid showed the gleam of a breastplate!  The clown laughed, the raspy hiss of a cartoon villain.  His own blade arrowed in on Joe’s heart.  Joe twisted, but he heard his shirt rip, and cold steel press against his arm for a split second.  The clown drew back his blade, and beat aside Joe's hasty slash.

Nothing mattered now but the grey eyes, the blades white-hot with sun, the red sparks.  Sweat trickled from the clown's red wig and left tear-tracks in his white face paint.  His smile began to bleed down his chin like a vampire's bite.  The big clown breathed in harsh gasps, and so did Joe.  The crowd became a blur of faces, a ring of mannequins standing in a tableau, while the swordsmen were the only beings moving and alive.  Joe felt like a furnace, his lungs bellows.  Sweat dripped and stained the dusty, cracked concrete of the sidewalk.

"I'll bring Don Carlo your head!" panted the clown.

Joe shrugged.  "I heard he stuffs the heads of his enemies and keeps them in his study.  It's nice to be wanted, eh?  I'm a collector's item!"  He thrust at the clown again, forcing him back.

It happened in a split second.  The clown's floppy red shoe stepped in the abandoned drum with a loud crunch, tearing the plastic skin even more, and the grey eyes widened.  Joe thrust without thought, and the clown slid off his blade like a punctured balloon.  After a raspy gurgle, red leaked from the clown's throat, and the rapier fell from a limp hand.  The basket hilt rang like a bell on the sidewalk.

Joe looked around.  One tent lay in the street in a green and orange puddle.  Abandoned stilts lay crossed in the street.  He saw no sign of the elephant.  Three clown blobs lay spread-eagled in the dust.  He dropped the sword and stalked over to his gun.  He bent and slipped the cold black nose into his shoulder holster.

A young man with a brown beard, tan shorts and a tie-die shirt flinched and shuffled his sandals and backed up.  Joe rolled his eyes and reached back in his coat.  A lady screamed, and the crowd gasped.  He pulled out a black leather wallet and flipped it open.

"Federal Agent," he bellowed.  "All witnesses, don't leave the crime scene.  Thank you.  A team will come along shortly to secure the area!"

Joe thrust the ID back in his pocket.  His fingers felt the long, crinkly shape of an envelope, so he knew he still had the information he'd risked his life to steal.  He strode forward, and the crowd parted like the Red Sea.

He sighed as he thought of his black Ford.  He'd left it at Carlo's base in the desert.  Sure, the beast was covered in bullet holes, dents, and scratches, but he'd owned the car a whole year, longer than he'd kept any other vehicle since he started with this Black Ops unit.  Don Carlo usually blew up any new car Joe bought within six months.  He'd have to take a cab.

Joe punched a button and held his phone to his ear, and listened to the faint buzz.  Headquarters was just going to love him.  He scanned the street.

"Hey, get someone over to that podunk little town, San Alpaca.  It's only half an hour north of the city.  Some of Don Carlo's goons made a mess in downtown."  Joe snapped the phone shut, ignoring the faint cries at the other end of the line.  He grinned as he saw a cab.  Joe walked right in the middle of the street, thumb up.

Tires squealed as a yellow and black checked, old-style Beetle skewed to a stop, an inch away from Joe's knees.  One smashed headlight made the little car look as if it winked.  A horn blared, and the black-bearded driver yelled in Spanish.  Joe waved a couple of hundreds at the windshield, and the yelling stopped.  He popped the door open and climbed inside.  Grime covered every split in the ribbed, faux-leather tan seats.  The inside smelled like boiled cabbage.  A giant crack ran from one side of the windshield to the other.

"My friend!" said the cabbie.  The little, dark man grinned widely as bills crinkled.  "Where to, mon amigo?"

"Twenty-seven West Street, in Sasquatch City.  Get there in half an hour, and I'll give you another hundred," said Joe.

The engine coughed and roared, and Joe's head bumped off the back of the seat.  The little car U-turned with the sound of a herd of charging pigs, and they sped through a cloud of black smoke.

*

A man in a ragged grey suit staggered between two rows of grey cubicles.  Rips and tears in the man's shirt revealed yellowing bruises.  A big blotch of white marred one shoulder of his shredded jacket.   One trouser leg ended at the knee.

Except for the number of guns in the room, the place looked like a typical office.  A rack of black sniper rifles decorated the wall of one cubicle.  A revolver in pieces on a cloth, along with rags and cotton swabs, lay on a desk.  An AK-47 leaned in a corner.  A stack of papers half covered an olive-green rocket launcher, loaded with a red-tipped missile.

Conversation stopped, eyes turned.  A young woman in a grey pinstripe suit dropped a manila folder, and a muffled waterfall of paper whispered and thumped in a little white pool at her feet.  A giant copier hummed and spat, but otherwise, only the drag of the man's soles against the carpet broke the silence.  The woman stepped through the papers, bending and crinkling them, and caught the man by his shoulders.

"Joe, what happened?" she asked.  Golden curls fell forward and swung past her shoulders, and slanted green eyes, like a pixie's, bored into his.  Her petite figure filled out her suit nicely.

Joe waved one hand.  "Hey, Cindy.  A pigeon dive-bombed my shoulder, a dog tore my pants leg, and Don Carlo's goons trashed the rest.  He's got my car, too.  I need to send him another bill."

Cindy hastily moved her hands from his shoulders, snagged a tissue from a nearby box, and wiped her hand.

"Did you go out without your bulletproof vest again?" she asked, eying a rip in his shirt.

"Real men don't wear bulletproof vests, they're naturally bulletproof!" said Joe, grinning.

Cindy laughed, a sound like tinkling water.  "So how many did you bag this time?" she asked.

"Eight.  Three at Carlo's place out in the desert, three dressed as clowns at a street festival in San Alpaca, and two snipers that ambushed me when the cab rolled into the city.  The cabbie says he's suing us.  I bet you'll get some claims from the San Alpaca City Council, too."

Cindy whistled.  "Eight's a record, even for you!  Good luck with the boss.  And don't worry about the property damage claims."  Cindy winked, and clapped him on the back.  "You keep me in a job."

Joe smiled half-heartedly and lurched forward. His bruises screamed at him to stop and sit down, but he ignored them and pushed open a gleaming wooden door.

The boss steepled his hands and stared at Joe, his little beard quivering.  A tiny fist slammed on the cherry-wood desk.  A coffee cup jumped and clinked in protest.  Papers and books on shelves filled the walls of the cramped, dim little space.

"We were at lunch, planning a raid on Don Carlo's.  I ask you to pass me a napkin, and you go running off!  Where were you, Agent Bandura?" yelled the boss.  Joe noted absently that the reddish hue of the boss's skin set off the silver hair rather nicely.

Joe reached into a pocket and pulled out an envelope.  The paper tore, and he gave the boss a crumpled napkin, covered in spidery black writing.

"Here you go, Andy.  There we were talking about raiding Don Carlo's, and you asked for a napkin.  Well, I figured you wanted one of his!  Right?  So I raided his place and grabbed one right off the table!  That was just brilliant, boss, how did you know Don Carlo always scribbles secret plans on his napkins?"  Joe grinned, proud at himself for fulfilling his mission.  He waited for the director to clap him on the shoulder and say "Good job, son!"

The boss began to sputter incoherently and bellow.  Then he started shouting things at the top of his lungs.  Joe blinked and tried to make out what Andy said.  His grin faltered.  It sounded like one of his parents was a monkey, and he had the brains of a squirrel, and the boss didn't like him blowing stuff up very much.  That was really too bad, because Joe thought blowing stuff up was rather fun.  Andy's face turned an alarming shade of purple, and the tirade turned into the sound of a misfiring car engine.

"Uh, sir, that shade of purple doesn't look so good on you..." said Joe, reaching out a hand.

Before he could do anything, a slim hand reached past Joe's shoulder and picked up the napkin.  Green eyes widened.

"Sir, this is Don Carlo's handwriting!  I recognize it from his case file.  He wrote the location and time of the next shipment.  It's tonight," said Cindy.

"Who invited you in here, Agent Morales?" growled the director, massaging his temples.

Cindy smiled.  "If we set up a raid now, we can catch Don Carlo with his pants around his ankles!"

The director read over the napkin and frowned, turning it over.

Joe shrugged and collapsed into a nearby chair.  It groaned as he leaned back and put his shoes on the desk.  He reached into a pocket of his suit and brought out a metal flask.  The top squeaked as he twisted it open and poured a long shot down his gullet.  The smell of gin filled the air, and Cindy wrinkled her nose.

"Ahhh..." said Joe.

The director shook a finger.  "Agent Bandura, I ought to fire you for drinking on duty, disobeying orders, and causing property damage.  You are the most irresponsible, boneheaded, destructive... "

Joe held up his cell phone.  "I clocked out already, sir.  You approved the app last year, remember?"  He grinned.  "Well, Andy, I got you your napkin.  I'm going home.  Say 'hi' to Don Carlo if you catch him."

With that, Joe got to his feet and shuffled out of the room.  The little director started to rant again, but Joe tuned it out.  Geez, you'd think the guy would be more grateful.  Joe shook his head and thought of his comfy recliner, and the restful white noise of the TV.  He'd sit back with a beer, maybe take a nap.

Cindy smiled at him and blew him a kiss.  She pointed at the ranting director, rolled her eyes, and made a circular motion with her finger by her ear.  Joe grinned back and waved, and his other hand found his phone.  His fingers punched the buttons for the rental car place.  He called them often enough that the digits had burned themselves onto his brain.

He listened to the strains of a violin and trumpet as he waited for someone to pick up the phone.  He high-fived his friend Jimmy, and nodded to a couple of other agents.  He idly wondered if Don Carlo had found Joe's new favorite convenience store.  It would be a shame to blow the place up if he had to fight more goons.

Humming a little tune, Agent Joe Bandura went home to rest after a typical day on the job.

 

This story appeared in the now-defunct zine Wanderings back in March 2010.  It also appears in my book, The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales.


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2014-07-09 09:50:22
So well written! Great first line! It's all so over the top that it's perfect as a comic tale. Good job!




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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Piñatas From Space!: Crazy Games With Cards And Dice

by Jeromy Henry
Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice

by Jeromy Henry
The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales

by Jeromy Henry
The Wizard's House

by Jeromy Henry
The Dreaming Fire

by Jeromy Henry


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