NEW FICTION: NYSS: post nine-eleven (Chapter 3)
August 9, 2002
Continuing the speculative tale of real-life super-heroes in post 9-11 America...
Reflections and a Bottle of Merlot
On June 11, 2002, a local special was televised addressing the effect of 9-11 nine months after the attacks. Dozens of individuals were interviewed including office workers, street vendors, police and fire department personnel, housewives, children, and politicians. While the majority acknowledged that the city continued to live and breathe, many reported feelings of uncertainty regarding their personal safety; a majority felt subsequent terrorist attacks against America were almost certain to occur. Others expressed little concern, believing it was all simply part of some greater, albeit unknown, plan.
Shortly after the attacks, NYSS personnel were ordered to undergo a minimum of six weekly counseling sessions. Many NYSS personnel, myself included, felt a deep sense of helplessness, perhaps to a more greater extent than most, because we knew—we knew we had the ability to prevent the tragedy from occurring. The raw power we possess was—is—more than adequate to deal with such a situation had we been able to respond in time. However, the majority of key NYSS personnel were nowhere near New York on the morning of September 11, 2001, having flown to Los Angeles on the 10th for a meeting with the Establishment and other members of various Syndicates throughout the country.
When the Executive Order to ground all flights was announced, we’d found ourselves unable to return to our city, unable to help. Only 12-Step had the ability to teleport from one location to another, and he was already in New York. Venene suggested that 12-Step teleport to Los Angeles and transport us in pairs back to New York. A sound plan except that we were unable to reach him; he’d seemingly vanished on the morning of the attacks and hasn’t been seen since. I fear he may be lost, that he may have, perhaps, teleported onto the second jet and become a casualty of the attacks.
Those NYSS personnel who were in New York on 9-11 had tried their best to help. The irony for us, and perhaps the nation, was that we’d become so accustomed to the clear, obvious threats from great sources of power and from costumed villains with colorful names that we’d lost sight of the everyday tragedies and hostilities around us such as Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco—dozens more.
The First Encounter
I was still feeling the effects of the merlot the next morning. Over coffee I thought about Yevick and her rationale behind assigning this S&D mission to Barry and me. Although I wouldn’t admit it at the time, I was glad to have been chosen. The truth was we needed this assignment if for no other reason than to feel as if we were making a positive difference for the nation. Our needs were met the following day.
We knew little about Exploso, whom the media had dubbed “the self-destructive man.” It was a name he’d lived up to time and again. His existence defied logic. It defied science and nature. Yet he existed nonetheless. Several years ago he’d been part of a research project gone awry and had, in effect, become a living bomb. His blood contained a high concentration of helium and nitrogen that, through a simple mental command, could produce a chemical explosion from within. He was able to repeat the process ad nauseam. His last known whereabouts had been Detroit. Finding him would have been difficult if not impossible, but we found him quite easily, thanks to Barry.
Agnes Smythe, the man beneath Exploso’s TNT-red-and-black mask had twice been incarcerated—once in 1996 for armed robbery and again in 1998 for various felonies committed as Exploso. During the time of his second incarceration, Smythe unknowingly participated in a criminal-location identification project. Created by a Microsoft software engineer, the location tracer was a specially designed microchip surgically implanted in its subject’s foot. The top-secret project was short lived, however, when its development was leaked to the press by an employee who’d been fired. Various civil rights organizations were quick to condemn the location trackers as unconstitutional.
Although discontinued, the trackers had been implanted into nearly 100 convicts, one of whom was Agnes Smythe. This fact had been forgotten by nearly everyone, including the FBI and those who’d been assigned to work on the project. Barry, who had an interest in such matters, remembered and we were able to locate Smythe shortly thereafter, bringing us to Detroit.
It took little time to locate Smythe. He’d apparently been walking the straight and narrow and was employed at a super-market under the rather unimaginative alias of Agnes Smith. We followed him from his place of employment to a less-than desirable apartment building north of the city. Barry and I didn’t know exactly what we were going to do. That is to say, although we were there with a clear purpose—to kill a man—we’d not formulated a plan to determine which of us would do the deed or how the deed would be conducted. We thought about this for a while before entering the building. A feeling of surrealism crept through me as we climbed the staircase to the fourth floor, stood in the dimly lit hallway, and knocked on the door to Smythe’s apartment. The phrase “little pigs, little pigs, let me in” played repeatedly in my mind like a warped 45.
A low, gravely voice invited us inside. We entered, cautiously mindful of Exploso’s power. The room was littered with trash--cardboard pizza boxes, empty junk food wrappers, and dozens of egg shells. The stench of the room was overwhelming. Anyone who’s been to or lived near a landfill will have an understanding of the odor that filled every square foot of the tiny, dimly lit room.
Smythe was seated in an old Ikea chair. He looked dirtier than he did when we followed him from the market. He had the appearance of a man who’d been rolling in filth.
In his right hand he held a VCR remote control unit. He was pointing it in the direction of a VCR which rested atop a 17” television set that was between him and us. Positioned as it was, we saw only the back of the TV, not the screen.
“I made a loop,” he said. We made no reply, but stepped further inside.
“I made a loop,” he said again, quietly.
“Agnes, do you know who we are?”
His response to Barry’s query was not immediate. He depressed a button on the remote control unit and the VCR responded accordingly.
“You’re Syndicate,” he said, finally, uninterested as I closed the apartment door and we moved nearer toward him. “You come here to kill me?”
“Why would we want to kill you?” Barry asked with child-like innocence.
He looked away from the TV for a moment toward a small coffee table behind the Ikea chair. There were various papers on the table, papers printed in blue ink.
“I used to think I was, you know, that I had powers.” There was a look of anguish in his bloodshot eyes. “I’m nothing.”
“What’s on the TV, Anges?” I asked.
“Power,” Smythe replied. “Power.”
As we drew closer it became apparent that most of the odors we smelled were emanating directly from Smythe. He smiled at the TV screen through yellowed, crusted teeth. As we reached the chair in which he was seated we turned our eyes toward the TV screen, curious to know what was causing such an extreme outpouring of emotions. My heart shot to my throat. I felt the insides of my stomach turn to gelatin and my knees started to buckle as if I’d been drop kicked by King Kong. On the screen the 747 slammed into the WTC with explosive, catastrophic force. Seconds later the image repeated, and repeated, and repeated. Smythe had videotaped the WTC attack and had duplicated the footage, creating a streaming video montage of repetitive destruction in which the WTC died a thousand times per hour.
“You see…,” he said, smiling. “…power. But I can do better. My mom always told me. She’d say, ‘If you give it your best effort you can do better than anyone.’ That’s what she’d say.”
We looked again at the documents on the coffee table and realized they were blueprints to various skyscrapers including the Sears Tower and the Chrysler Building. From that moment our task took three seconds to perform three separate actions:
00.1: Barry smashed the VCR through the TV screen while I entered Smythe’s twisted mind.
00.2: I “moved” past Smythe’s cerebrum to his cerebellum and severed it, disabling the coordination center of his voluntary movements, posture, and equilibrium. Barry stepped toward Smythe, placing his hands around Smythe’s ears.
00.3: I exited Smythe’s brain as Barry twisted his head 185 degrees; there was a momentary snapping sound. Smythe’s body convulsed but a fraction of a second before turning to putty.
We then searched his apartment and found two “costumes” made of leather and latex. A cabinet above his kitchen sink contained various press clippings of his actions as Exploso. We took these items, and the videocassette, and burned them in a trashcan in an alley several blocks away. Afterward we reported our actions to Yevick who assured us the police investigation into Smythe’s murder would go unsolved and would soon be forgotten.
Any apprehension about our assignment faded following our encounter with Smythe. While we didn’t delude ourselves into thinking ours was a mission of nobility, we began to fathom the global destruction a maddened individual like Smythe could cause if left unchecked. Perhaps there could have been nonlethal means of stopping the Top 5, but neither Barry nor I could devise one. Our orders were kill kill kill and, with regard to Smythe at least, I’d have wanted it no other way.
A colleague of mine—the Expressionist (of the Mid-Ohio Super-Hero Squad)—recently addressed a group of freshmen at his alma mater, Ohio State University. He spoke about good versus evil and the dangers of careless use of “super powers” and equating super-villainy to pimples, stating, “Just when you least expect it, one pops up.”
The Manhattan summer was relatively quiet. The anthrax scare that had immediately followed 9-11 and frightened much of the nation was all but forgotten. The murder rate was beginning to rise again, as was criminal conduct in general. What happened next seemed almost natural.
At 12:21 p.m. June 14 the windows of the Neumann Gallery exploded from within, sending several thousand shards of glass into the always busy Soho streets. From within the gallery, a being more canvas than flesh, more pastel than blood, more metal than bone, ripped asunder those unfortunate few who were in the gallery; it did this as if they were made of rice paper. The gallery’s proprieties, well-known socialites Lexus Rappaport and her husband Stanley were, as the abstraction that dismembered them said through a voice of sand and clay, “reworked.” It stood, if one can call its hunch-like gesture a stance, upon uneven metal legs that had once been the base of Judith Wheeler’s art deco “Winter” sculpture. Its torso consisted of a gouache canvas (later identified as neo-expressionist Richard Burkhardt’s “Charming”) from which hung two arms that were a cacophony of varied objects of found art that had formerly been elements of abstract works by Fischer, Post, and Maxwell. Most of the right arm consisted of ceramic doll heads from a traveling exhibit by Lui Sung Pho. The left arm was plastic tubing, clay, marbles, and a section of traffic light from Kleme’s “I am City.” Its hands consisted of wires that dangled from these foreign appendages. The creature’s head was a broken wooden picture frame, perhaps 12” x 14”. Fragments of a black and white R.H. May photograph could been seen still affixed to its corners.
The police responded within minutes of the explosion, but their timeliness was their undoing. Perhaps because they were used to confronting people—living, breathing human beings—they were so caught unprepared. It spoke to them briefly before taking their lives: “It is all wrong. It is not art. It is all for shit. Creation no longer stems from suffering; your art no longer originates from pain. I will show you art. The city is my canvas—you are my oils.”
NYSS responded within 20 minutes of being dispatched. By then the Abstractionist (as it would later be referred to in NYSS crime archives) was well on its way to painting its canvas.
While these events transpired, Barry and I were en route to Chicago to investigate a recent bank robbery that had caused widespread panic. This of itself may not have been unusual excepting the panic attacks had been experienced by dozens of individuals on different floors of the bank building and in adjacent edifices, by people who did not know the bank was being robbed. These individuals experienced crippling, frightening attacks that lasted from 10 to 30 minutes. Conversely, the individuals who were present during the robbery of the High Street branch of the First National Bank of Chicago—several staff and a half-dozen customers—reported feeling no terror whatsoever. The bank’s surveillance tapes corroborated their statements. Those within the bank seemed relaxed, even joyful, during the hold up.
The assailant was a diminutive schlep of a man whose appearance quite resembled Woody Allen circa Husbands and Wives but who also wore a milkshake-thick moustache. Most curious was that he did not wield a weapon of any sort. The burglar himself could be seen activating the bank alarm moments before casually fleeing the crime scene with the stolen monies. In interviews with authorities, bank personnel and eyewitnesses seemed indifferent, almost forgetful, the incident had occurred. Based on his physical appearance and the bizarre circumstances surrounding the crime, the FBI concluded that the robbery had been the work of Emotion-Al and notified Yevick, who subsequently contacted Barry and I. We were soon the primary investigators.
We’d known little about Emotion-Al, but Yevick’s dossier was replete with background data. Having never been apprehended, his true identity was unknown to us, and although his most recent criminal act had resulted in zero fatalities, such was not typically the case.
It was believed that Emotion-Al was once an editor for the New York-based Superior Comics Group, publisher of various 4-color comic books and magazines. He was employed by Superior during the 1970s through most of the 1990s, but was fired in mid-1998 after several of his self-conceived publications failed to become profitable for the company. Several weeks after his termination, on August 23, 1998, all 257 employees of Superior simultaneously leapt from the windows of their 25th story headquarters to the street below. The sole survivor, an 18-year-old intern whose brief survival (she died within the hour) was nothing short of miraculous, stated the entire staff had suddenly become extremely phobic of enclosed spaces. Thirteen pedestrians were killed by falling debris—mostly glass and flailing bodies. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a man whose description matched Emotion-Al’s standing at a bus stop directly across from the Perlin Building, in which the Superior headquarters was located, during the time of the mass suicide. Investigators who sought to review Superior’s personnel files were shocked to find the files (both paper and electronic) had been destroyed or erased. Thus, the identity of Emotion-Al, though suspected, was never entirely confirmed.
Several months later, on December 19, 1998, an unparalleled mass homicide occurred on the ground floor of the Hildebrant Department store in midtown Manhattan. More than 325 persons fought hand in hand, many using ordinary department store items (such as shoes, clothing, Christmas ornaments, and electronic devices) as lethal weapons. Police who arrived on the scene soon succumbed to mob mentality, opening fire on various citizens and on each other. Hundreds of altercations ensued around the surrounding block, but clearly the most damage and loss of life had occurred inside the mega-store.
From within the maelstrom of violence stepped the small, well-dressed man. The fighting ceased as all around him gazed in his direction. He held in his hands a small box, exquisitely gift wrapped, and he spoke into the microphone of a reporter who was at the scene: “I didn’t mean for this to happen. Not really. But I needed this gift for my nephew. I saw it the same time as that clod in the Bills jersey.” His eyes opened wide; he looked near to crying.
“He…he cursed at me. I had to react as I did. What else could I do? I made a promise to my nephew—he wanted the toy, you see.”
A voice from the crowd asked politely, “Excuse me, but, who are you?”
“Al. I’m Al,” he replied, and walked away.
Those around him felt no rage, no anger, as they’d felt moments before. If anything, most felt sorrow. They applauded his actions, aglow with holiday cheer, as he casually faded into the distance.
The FBI made the initial connection linking the Superior mass suicide and the Hildebrant department store massacre—an extreme, unaccountable loss of emotional control was the commonality in both instances. The information was leaked to a reporter at the New York Daily News which coined the phrase “Emotion-Al” in their December 20 early edition. The Daily postulated that he’d used an “emotion controlling wave” on the crowd. Though the FBI would publicly deny the allegation, Emotion-Al was nonetheless classified atop the most-wanted list; his potential for massive loss of life had been twice proven, and government officials were determined that he be stopped immediately. But “Al” had vanished following the holiday massacre and efforts to locate him had been unsuccessful. It was clear, however, that the individual in the surveillance video was the same as the person responsible for the massacres in New York. All Barry and I needed to do was find him.
We spent the afternoon speaking with bank personnel and customers who’d been present during the robbery. Afterward we stopped at the headquarters of the Super-Hero Syndicate of Chicago before checking into a room at the Marriott. To my surprise, the NYSS, which generally did not grant interviews that weren’t prerecorded1 were being interviewed on CNN regarding their encounter with the Abstractionist. Fortunately, the Abstractionist’s path of destruction had been cut short by NYSS, though not before it had destroyed 27 lives. Venene explained the encounter and NYSS’ method of stopping the strange entity: “While the Abstractionist believed art should be a product of genuine suffering, he/it was also, at heart, an artist, and his/its ego was fragile much like most creative types. Thus, rather than a physical attack, we assaulted him on an emotional level, harshly critiquing his ‘works,’ finding fault with each of his finished ‘pieces,’ and undermining his overall confidence. It was more than the Abstractionist could handle. The outpouring of negativity caused by its work spun the Abstractionist's ‘thoughts’ into a downward spiral of self-destruction, whereby its own suicide became its final artistic statement.”
Meanwhile, Barry and I reviewed Emotion-Al’s case file once again. We realized the impossibility of locating a single individual in a major metropolitan city. In truth, our best chance of locating Al was dependent upon whether he’d surface again. There was one other option, but I needed to sleep on it.
When Barry and I began this assignment, Yevick assured us the Demolition would be eliminated by FBI personnel. Hundreds of miles east, at 4:24 a.m., June 15, on the fifth level of Craterford State Prison’s maximum security wing, three men entered the 6’ x 8’ cell of Lyle Ellison. A light sleeper, Ellison was already awake before the men stepped through the metal bars, the paint upon which was flaked and faded. He sat up slowly as three shadows fell upon him.
The following morning we returned to the crime scene. While Barry asked the bank manager several follow-up questions, I stepped into the cracks and crevices of the minds Al had touched. I was reluctant to do this the day before but realized the ends might justify the means, however invasive they may be. I skimmed the surfaces of the left hemispheres with marksman accuracy, careful to remain only superficial in my investigation. To my surprise I found a trace brain wave of Al, at which point I began the arduous task of isolating the wave to its source. We returned to the hotel and drew a bath of cold water. I sat in the bathtub and entered a deep meditative state for the next eleven hours while Barry waited in the living room of the suite. I dressed and walked into the room.
“137 West Lexington,” I said.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
We reached the location at 3:17 a.m., June 16, and quietly entered the weathered duplex through the back door. From the outside the house appeared abandoned; countless two-by-fours had been meticulously nailed across each window of the first floor from the inside. The house had the appearance that it was definitely occupied. A basket of ripe fruit was on the kitchen counter as was the day’s newspaper. The kitchen walls were painted black. We moved cautiously through the darkness aided only by flashlight. The smell of ammonia hung in the air like an unseen virus as we moved through an archway into the next room, the walls of which were covered from ceiling to floor with shelving.
At the far end of the room we saw what appeared to be a piece of gym equipment—a treadmill or, perhaps, a stair climber. Its base was a square approximately 3’ x 4’. On each of the front corners of its base was a pole that extended to waist height. The wall-to-wall shelves were completely filled top to bottom with small, rounded objects. Hundreds of wires ran from the shelves to the square platform.
I should have known. I, of all people, should have known.
We moved toward one of the shelves realizing, too late, what we were seeing. He moved from the shadows and stepped onto the platform.
“From out of the darkness do they come, to cause him harm most terrible. To catch him unawares was something he simply could not allow.”
His rhetoric was pure comic book cliché, replete with grandiose phrases and emphasis placed on words that clearly required no emphasis. He spoke of himself in the third person.
“You really have no idea what you’ve gotten yourselves into, do you?” he asked.
- The reasons for this are many, but relate primarily to security and safety concerns for civilians and NYSS personnel. In 1997, following the NYSS’ successful campaign against the Fifth Avenue Five, a loosely associated team of “super criminals” that included the international crime lord El Hombre de los Zapatos (the notorious “shoe man”), several members of NYSS held an impromptu press conference in the lobby of their 47th Street headquarters to address various questions about the recent altercation. During the meeting a member of the press corps shouted “Death to the NYSS! Death to the destroyers of the earth!” and charged through the stunned reporters and camera personnel toward the NYSS podium. He disrobed, in somewhat predictable “super-villain” fashion, to reveal a latex costume of green and silver worn beneath his street clothes. The enraged man was a former nemesis of NYSS, Marvin Sinclair (a.k.a., the Recyclist), an ex-Green Peace extremist who believed the only way to save the environment was to destroy all mankind. Years earlier Sinclair had attempted the detonation of the “green bomb” (a self-designed weapon of mass destruction capable of obliterating mankind without causing harm to the environment) but was thwarted by NYSS. His 1997 attack at the press conference also ended in defeat, but several NYSS personnel as well as three members of the press corps were injured. Various lawsuits followed, and NYSS was ordered to pay cumulative damages of $2.5 million. It was the last public press conference held by NYSS prior to September 11, 2001.
NEXT: NYSS post nine eleven continues.
And be sure to check out the all-new ALTERCATIONS preview!