The Dixie cup in my hand slowly fills with water from the dispenser inside of Slaphand’s office. This is my third cup since the man escaped in an armored car. Filling it is a menial task compared to what I was hoping to do tonight.
I down the water again, finally quenched, and press the tab to fill it one last time. Then I turn to face Agent Ike.
Immediately following the events of the battle, I tied him to a rotating chair with my climbing rope. It wasn’t easy lugging his unconscious body through the building while making sure he didn’t stir, but apparently, I didn’t have to worry. He didn’t move once.
I look at the cup dramatically and splash its contents onto the man’s face. He gasps awake, sputtering and spitting. “What happened?”
“I’ll tell you what happened, Mr. Agent Ike,” I say. “I lost Slaphand because of you, and therefore, I lost my cat, too. If you weren’t so busy avoiding being a grown man and working with a seventeen-year-old girl, maybe he wouldn’t have escaped.”
“Wait, wait, wait. You’re blaming me for him escaping? I’m not the one who fired the gun off and alerted everyone in a fifteen-mile radius to our position!”
He tries to squirm but ends up spinning himself in a circle.
“I made this pretty tight,” I say, spinning him some more. “I knew I was no match for you when you came to, and I desperately need whatever information you have, so I think we’ll cut to the chase. If you don’t tell me where Slaphand’s going next, I’m going to kill you.”
For the first time since our meeting, fear flashes across his face. “Let’s think this over a little, Luna. I understand you’re upset about losing your cat. It’s a hard thing to lose someone you love, and from the sounds of it, you’ve had to do that a lot.”
“That’d be correct.”
“I have people I love, too, and people that love me. I have a daughter and son, a wife, and there’s a girl out there your age hunting Nazis that I plan to adopt soon. I respect your drive and enthusiasm, Luna, and I understand you want revenge, but I don’t think you want to do the same thing they’ve done to you.”
He’s right, isn’t he? I really wish he wasn’t. But he’s one of the good guys, and they’ve been few and far between lately.
“Okay, fine. But you can’t run away or knock me out as soon as I untie you.”
“Sounds fair to me. Tell you what, I’m willing to admit we both sort of fudged this, and I want to offer you a deal. If you’re still on board with it, I’ll work with you and together we can go for Slaphand.”
“You’ve gotta promise me you’ll try to listen if I have something to say, though.”
“Don’t push your luck, Agent Ike. You’ve already got your deal. Don’t act like you’re the boss here.”
“Understood. And please, just Ike. If you’re gonna add the agent, at least make it ‘Secret Agent Ike.’ I worked hard for that title.”
“Who even are you?” I ask, cutting the rope.
“Secret Agent Ike, at your service. I work directly for Jimmy Carter.”
“And who is Jimmy Carter?”
“Oh, he’s the president of the United States. Yeah, I’m American, if you couldn’t tell.”
“I could tell.”
“Why are you here chasing after Bijabers? Aren’t there issues in America and an entire global war going on?”
“I am still very much involved in the war. I’m helping direct a group of kids scouting off in the Pacific Ocean who are enthusiastic about wanting to kill Hitler, and I’m at the top of the feeding order for a lot of the intelligence operations against both the Russian and Nazi armies. As for Bijabers and the crew, they originated in America, and I’m following where the wind blows.”
“How do you have time for all of this?”
“Ah, if I told you that, what would be the point of me being a ‘secret’ agent?”
He gives me another one of his congenial smiles. The man has a strangely laid-back personality, considering our situation. It makes me irrationally annoyed. “Alright, here’s the deal, kiddo. I want to—”
“Actually, first off, don’t call me ‘kiddo’ or ‘kid’ or whatever. I get that I am legally a child, but I’m tired of it. It’s a derogatory term for somebody who’s fended for herself for years.”
“Loud and clear. I’ll assume ‘girly’ is off the table, too.”
“Okay. Here’s the deal, Luna. I want to get us moving right away, because there’s no telling how far he’s gotten or how long it is before he tries to flee the country. Now that he knows I’m in town, he’ll scurry underground lickety-split.”
“So what do we do?”
“We should begin with seeing what we can figure out while we’re still here. Search the rooms, and if you spot any addresses, we’ll do a cross-examination with a potential list I have of my own.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Having a partner who’s willing to help is… strange. No offense to Mary or Freckles, but Ike has a sense of control and strategizing that I don’t think either of them could’ve had. Freckles is good, no doubt, but nowhere near as tactile.
But at least I liked Mary and Freckles. Well, I still like both of them. Even if I am directly responsible for the death of one of them and the kidnapping of the other.
I start the search by returning to the storage room where we’d originally met. The man I’d shot is gone, meaning he was either carried by someone else when nobody was looking or walked away in the same manner. I might never know if I actually killed him.
A shiver runs down my spine. Would I have been able to live with myself if I’d killed someone? Not only that, but if it were a purely heat-of-the-moment shot out of fear?
And maybe he did deserve it, and maybe I was justified in doing it, but that doesn’t change the fact that a man could’ve died by my hands tonight.
I shake the thought from my head. I have to focus on finding where Slaphand is going.
Using the same strategy I’d used previously, I swipe one of my knives off the floor and cut into some boxes in the storage room. Unsurprisingly, it’s more of the same-old stuff that the other building had in stock. None of the metal parts make very much sense in a store like this, but the store’s a front for their true business, anyway.
Next, I sweep the bathrooms, but there’s nothing of note inside. It’s funny that the bathroom is the sole sense of normalcy.
Out in the main area, Ike aggressively kicks against one of the unmarked doors, attempting to break the deadbolt keeping it shut. I stand and watch, counting the blows it takes to send it swinging open.
The door bursts open, revealing a room much more akin to a massage parlor than a furniture and appliance store. “This is certainly new,” he says, noting the dark red wallpaper.
“What do you think the room is for?” I ask, stepping inside. There’s a dark mahogany desk with office supplies sitting on top, a few bookshelves, and a globe with thumbtacks in it.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was a study.”
“What if you did know better?”
“Then I’d say it was where he kept all of his information.” Ike moves to a book on the bookshelf, pulls it out, and opens it. He flips to the end, where a sticky note marks a page. “They’re heading to the Carmsborough National Museum.”
“The museum? Why do they want to go there? And also, how did you pick the book that says exactly that?”
“Sounds like they’ve been doing a lot of underhanded trading there. Buying and auctioning off stolen artwork and items. Says here lots of art, a bounty of gold coins found on board an old airship when it crashed, and lots of antiquities.”
“Never heard of that last word, but I’ve definitely seen some of the art and gold coins. So they’re in Carmsborough because they’re laundering money?”
He closes the book dramatically with one hand. “I guess. At least, Slaphand is. He’s always been more of a fine-dining kind of guy.”
“So why were they building the Plasmarizer?”
“The what now?”
“The Plasmarizer. It was a weapon on board one of their cloudships that had the power to destroy the Überall, whatever that is. They were mining resources for it on Blood Moon Island.”
“Sounds fake to me. Nothing we’ve encountered has been able to penetrate the Überall’s shields, save maybe a nuclear blast. That’s one big frickin’ ship, pardon my French.”
“Hmm. Anyway, I’m gonna go update my boss. I’ll be sure to keep your name out of it, just in case.”
“Woah, hold on there, Luna. We don’t have time for formalities like that. We should’ve been moving an hour ago. With situations like this, you have to improvise and be on the move and worry about the paperwork later.”
“Okay? So what do we do?”
“I’ll pull the ride up real quick. Have you ever been on a motorcycle?”
∙ ◦ ○( )○ ◦ ∙
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t totally enamored by the motorcycle. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s unbelievably loud and a bit dangerous, but the rush of the wind whipping against my body as we cruise through the city makes me forget all the stress weighing me down. I feel free.
Luckily for me, he had a spare helmet in a little storage bag, but in order to stay on, I have to loop my arms around his chest. This man, who has done nothing but frustrate and contradict me, is currently the only thing preventing me from hitting the pavement and cracking my head open. What a cruel irony.
The night air is heavy as we weave across the city, unhindered by what little traffic there is. I’m not sure what time it is, but midnight’s gotta be fairly close.
“What are your plans for when Slaphand’s defeated?” I ask Ike. Between the breeze and the humming of the motorcycle’s engine, I’m half-yelling.
“After he’s out of the equation, I’m bringing the heat on Bijabers if I can. Hopefully the war doesn’t get too messy, but I’m not holding my breath.”
“I think I might become some sort of vigilante who helps those in need,” I say. “There’s a lot of people that don’t get help, and Orion and the Clockwork certainly aren’t doing it.”
“Sounds a little harsh to me. He’s been busy keeping the Nazis away from mainland Carmsborough. Their ship takedown count rivals that of entire countries during the original Steam War.”
“Nazis aren’t the only problem here, Ike.”
“That’s fair. I don’t have enough experience with Carmsborough to weigh in on this situation. We have plenty of our own problems in America.”
“I doubt you have Carmsborough problems, though.”
“Well, racism, for starters.”
Ike bursts out laughing, and doesn’t stop until we park a block away from the museum.
“I get you’re not from America, but that’s like the first thing anyone learns. There are plenty of racist old men that don’t go away.”
“What about homelessness? Is that a big issue?”
“Oh, for sure. You name a European problem, and I guarantee it’s amplified in America.”
We remove our helmets in silence. I don’t want to learn any more.
The two of us walk to the museum and stop behind a corner.
“Cameras,” we both notice.
“I’ve learned that lesson a few too many times,” I say, recalling my previous adventures.
“It’s a rookie mistake, but sounds like you’re adapting pretty quickly. I think we should take the lower exit into the maintenance tunnels. They’ll lead into the basement, which will give us the advantage we need to get inside. They won’t have had any warning by the time we’re beating them up.”
“Won’t they have cameras on the inside, too?”
“Yeah, but this is a makeshift plan for both parties. They’ll be watching the cameras, but nobody’s settled enough to be truly ready for a second attack tonight. His suit count is so low, we could honestly ignore a good chunk of them.”
“Lots of good news. Any bad?”
“Neither of us has the layout or where Slaphand is, so it might be a hot minute before we get to him.”
“Works for me.”
“Cool. I’ll pave a path to the maintenance tunnels. Follow me.”
Ike waits for us to be hidden from the nearest camera before sprinting across the cobblestone clearing on his tiptoes, muting the echoes against the building walls. I chase after him, doing the same, although a lot slower.
Two guards step out of the maintenance tunnel entrance, holding heavy-duty rifles of some sort. Ike notices the look on my face and holds out his hands, trying to reassure me. He points to himself and one of the guards, then me and the other. His idea is clear.
We sneak over to our respective targets, stand behind them, and, at the same time, wrap our arms around their necks. It feels weird to be on the giving end of this treatment. Almost dirty.
I kind of like it.
Neither of them have much of a chance to do anything but struggle, and within a minute, both are against the wall, unconscious.
We enter the tunnel system, lit scarcely by incandescent bulbs. The air is moist and cold, which is to say uncomfortable.
“All we have to do is find a way to the main floor from here, and we’re golden,” Ike whispers. The two of us search the dim area, discovering doors with heavy locks on the outside. A few of them still have the keys in them.
“How about you check this room, and I’ll check the one down the hall,” I suggest, pointing at a room with a key still in the lock.
“Don’t get into trouble without me,” he says, stepping inside.
“No promises,” I respond.
As soon as he steps fully inside, I close the door shut behind him and lock it. His fists pound against the dark wood, rattling the door, but it doesn’t budge.
“Let me out, Luna!” he yells.
“Sorry, Ike. I’ll do it once I’ve rescued Freckles.”
I walk away from the door, tossing the key off to the side. It’s time to get rid of Slaphand. For real this time.
- United States
- Michael Heckman
Michael has always had a love for writing that stems from writing a short story about turtles on his family computer in second grade. From there, he never stopped writing, and wrote his first ten-thousand-word book in the third grade, igniting his passion for storytelling.
Now, the only thing stopping Michael from writing more is his schedule. Ideas like LUNA ON THE RUN and THE GHOST OF THE HINDENBURG keep him up at night, plotting his creative path forward.