New Fiction: The Green Scorpion (Part II)
September 28, 2001
Continuing the tale of the Green Scorpion and the Metropolitan Man.
Espionage, the act of spying, of covertly and with utmost discretion learning information about an individual, or group of individuals, organizations, or countries, is high art. It is not bubble-gum art ala Roy Lichtenstein, who owes his bewildering popularity to the otherwise unsung great comic book illustrators of the 1950s and 1960s. Espionage is high art, ala Pollock, Klimt, Van Gogh, Dali. It is not easily nor quickly learned and it most certainly is not mastered by watching 007 films or The Man From U.N.C.L.E., reading James Gardner, or listening to former secretaries of defense discussing world affairs on NPR. Ray Jenesew did not listen to NPR, did not read James Gardner (or other authors writing in the spy genre), and he was not particularly fond of 007 movies produced after the 1960s. He had, however, passionately watched every episode of Get Smart (twice) and had once written a term paper entitled “Dr. Strangelove and the Politics of Government Intelligence and C.I.A.-Mandated Surveillance.” Although he’d received a C- on the paper, his professor’s notes had included the following: …your paper entirely lacks focus and substance; however, it appears you have an uncanny insight regarding the machinery of espionage in post-modern Cold war society…” Ray had read the comments with a mix of joy and sorrow—joy because it was obvious his professor understood the complexity of being Ray; sorrow, because the C- had dropped his overall QPA from A to B, jeopardizing funding from several academic grants. But it was during that time that Ray knew he’d had what it took to make it in the espionage industry. Somewhere, of course, between college and age 30, those dreams had vanished—swept under the carpet or flushed down the toilet—and he’d settled into the 9 to 5 mediocrity in which most of us succumb in order to churn out a living and survive. But Ray had an outlet—The Metropolitan Man—by which he could right wrongs and dispense justice like an arcade gumball machine dispenses cavities to children for a mere 25 cents apiece. Fighting crime on a part-time basis, combined with his previously mentioned love of the adventures of Agents 86 and 99, afforded Ray a quality denied his fellow contemporaries—he could follow (or “tail” if you prefer the juicy lingo befitting a spy) an individual with determination and precision befitting the finest watchmaker in Switzerland.
The woman of his pursuit, who he presumed to be (knew to be) the Green Scorpion, walked in a most unscorpion-like manner from 22nd Street to 19th Street and turned onto Kelley Alley. The area was surrounded by all manner of infrastructure, from the century-old Markleplace Hotel to the newly erected Fallsworth Industrial Complex. The Bailey Art College was only two blocks south, and the dozens of pedestrians provided ample camouflage (as did the various vehicles, buildings, and shops in the district). Furthermore, Ray considered himself to be the living personification of “blending in”; his 6’ 1” frame; close-cut salt-and-pepper, parted-in-the-middle hairstyle; cleft chin; baby-smooth skin; and slightly chipped front tooth not withstanding. He was, in fact, so good at what he did, that even if he were dressed in a neon pink leotard, the best sharpshooter in the veldt would be ill pressed to take him down. Thus, his navy suit blending against the gray of the buildings like a Ken Burns Civil War advertisement, Ray watched from a safe distance as the Green Scorpion entered the average-looking apartment complex. His mind raced. He looked quickly in all directions; then, glancing down, Ray saw at his feet an apparently discarded tube of bright-red lipstick. It was an excuse. That’s really all he needed.
Ray darted into the apartment complex seconds before the security door closed. The perspiration that had, in the summer sun, expanded to geyser-like proportions upon his back had been all but forgotten. He watched the elevator doors close and stared as the numbers above the doors lit one by one. He heard he machinery of the old Otis elevator grind to a halt and saw that the number 3 was solidly lit. Ray quickly ran to the nearby stairs, climbing the flights two steps at a time. As he pushed open the fire door to the third floor landing, Ray looked ahead just in time to see an apartment door at the end of the long hallway squeak to a close.
She opened the door without pause and without hesitation, not at all as he’d been expecting. She stood there, one hand on the door frame the other on the door itself. Her hands were slender and feminine, her fingernails perfectly manicured and polished in fire engine red except for one finger that had a somewhat green tint to it. Her face was long and her complexion clean. It was the kind of face one might associate with an advertisement for health and beauty aids. Smiling, she asked, “May I help you?”
Her style and beauty nearly overcame him. Ray’s heretofore presence of suave, of style and stature, vanished like milk into a magician’s hat. He tripped and fumbled for a response and, finally, uttered, “You—you, uh, dropped this…I, uh, think.”
“No, I don’t think it’s mine,” she replied, looking at the tube of lipstick.
“Oh, I think it is—that is, I thought I saw it fall out of your handbag.”
“It doesn’t look familiar,” she replied, taking the lipstick from his hand to examine it further. “Nope. Not even my color.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. It was a nice gesture.” She looked at him top to bottom slowly as she spoke. “Did you run up the stairs? You’re perspiring like a St. Bernard in the Gobi Desert.”
“Yeah,” he confessed. “I guess I’m a bit warm.”
“Not that I’ve ever seen a St. Bernard perspire in the Gobi Desert, mind you. I’m not even sure dogs can perspire.”
“I, uh, really couldn’t tell you,” Ray said, awkwardly.
It was a mistake. He realized that now. Clearly these were not the thoughts and mannerisms of a super-criminal such as the Green Scorpion. Best to leave quickly and quietly. If he hurried, he might be able to find a taxi and still make the F.I.S.H. interview. How stupid he’d been, wasting his time—his chance, probably his only chance—to interview and possibly join F.I.S.H.
“I really should be going.”
“Yeah. Well, at least let me get you a glass of water.”
Ray’s lips were dry, his throat, raw. He was extremely hot and, while he thought of simply chewing a stick of gum, the Doublemint really wouldn’t do much to rehydrate his body.
“That’d be nice,” he said, politely. One quick glass of water then off to F.I.S.H. “My names Ray.”
“Janine. Nice to meet you.”
He stepped into the modest apartment. It was furnished in a most unremarkable fashion, with unmatched furniture and color schemes that weren’t at all schematic. The phone rang.
“I’d better get that. The kitchen is straight ahead. Help yourself to water or a soda in the fridge.”
“Thanks,” Ray said as Janine lifted the receiver.
Ray found a glass in the cupboard and turned on the tap. He was quite thirsty and consumed two full glasses of water in as many seconds. From the other room he overheard snippets of Janine’s conversation. “No. No, she isn’t here now. Will do.” Ray thought about chance and coincidence and how they had both intervened with his life on this hot July morning. The Green Scorpion was a notorious criminal who specialized in art and jewel theft. Ray quickly peeked into several cupboards and drawers. Nothing out of the ordinary. Again he felt embarrassed and a bit like an intruder. He placed the glass on the countertop and returned to the living room just as Janine racked the receiver.
“Telemarketer. I hate when they call. I always just say ‘She’s not in now’ and that seems to get them off the phone right quickly. Did you find the sink?”
Ray heard but wasn’t listening. He was staring ahead, past Janine, toward the hallway that lead to the bathroom. The otherwise uninteresting hallway had one note of distinction—a painting rendered in pastel. A painting by Degas, Après le bain, from 1905. He’d recognized it instantly. It had been stolen three years ago from the Atlanta Museum of Fine Art by the Green Scorpion--by Janine. And there it was. Hanging on the wall of what had suddenly become the most extraordinary apartment he had ever seen. And there she was. Two feet in front of him—The Green Scorpion. The quirkiness had been a ruse. But she's not known--how could she have known--he'd been aware of her many crimes and criminal possessions.
“Ray?” she asked.
“Oh, uh, sorry. Just thinking of an appointment I have to get to. Well, thanks again for the water.”
“Sure thing. Listen, I’m usually not this forward, but you seem like a pretty nice guy. Here’s my number. Why don’t you give me a call later and we can get together for coffee...if you'd like.”
“Yeah, I’d like that,” he half-lied.
“Okay. Well, I’ll talk with you soon,” she said, as Ray stepped out of the Scorpion’s apartment and closed the door.
“Let me explain a few things to you Mr., uh, Jenesew. We are a professional organization. We value professionalism. We value strength and honor. We value moral character. What we do not value, Mr. Jenesew, is tardiness by our applicants. F.I.S.H. is the leading super-hero organization in America—we’re not some sort of glee club that you can just drop by and visit when the mood strikes.”
Ray recognized the man belittling him from across the table. He was, after all, the big "F.I.S.H.," known in the super-hero community as The Swallow. Ray sat quietly. He didn’t much mind the verbal beating, seeing how he was 45 minutes late for the interview. In truth, he was grateful the team had agreed even to meet with him.
“I can explain,” Ray said.
“I’m not interested in your excuses. Let’s look at your dossier. Metropolitan Man. Is that preceded by Mr.?”
“No, it’s just Metropolitan Man; though I prefer prefacing it with 'the',” he replied, feeling small and insecure at having said it.
“It’s a good name. You’ve done a lot of freelance crime fighting. Tell me, Mr. Jenesew, do you have a death wish?”
“A death wish. A wish to die. A conscious or unconscious desire to meet thy maker.”
“No. No. Why do you ask?”
“We’ve found that a high percentage of persons like yourself have suicidal tendencies. They put on their “costumes” and jump around and enter into altercations because they find it increases their likelihood of being killed. Some researchers believe super-heroes are not so much heroes as they are cowards, insofar as many are killed in the field--the field being their own personal suicide playground. Tell me, have you ever attempted suicide?”
“Ever ingested illegal narcotics or abused prescription or OTC drugs?”
“Ever been depressed or sought counseling for depression?”
“No. I mean, I was depressed when my dog died, but that’s normal, you know.”
“Why did you come here today dressed like that?” The Swallow pointed at Ray’s attire.
“Um—this is my, uh--”
“Your costume. Yes, so I gathered. But why did you wear it here today? This is an interview. You don’t wear a costume to an interview. Didn’t you read the letter you were sent? It was quite specific. Am I dressed in a costume today? Are my colleagues? Of course not.”
“I’m sorry, I only thought you’d want to see me in my costume.” Ray thought about the pains he’d undergone in finding a public restroom in which to lose his business suit, to place it somewhere (hopefully) secure, and to then walk the two blocks to F.I.S.H. headquarters in plain view of both vehicular passersby and pedestrian, all of whom commented on his curious attire with a variety of obscenities and insults. Why hadn’t he paid closer attention to the letter? He felt like a foolish child and the chair in which he sat suddenly seemed three sizes too big.
“You thought wrong.” Others in the room—The StrongArm, Rapid-Blue, The Calliographer—looked on in distaste. “We will further examine your credentials; quite frankly, it doesn't look good.”
“You don’t understand,” Ray pleaded. “I have certain information--”
“You may go now, Mr. Jenesew.”
“—about the Green Scorpion.”
It got their attention. It was as if the a five-star general had just given a surprise inspection to a cadet of new recruits. They sat up, suddenly interested in what Ray might say next. The Swallow, however, was skeptical.
“What did you say?”
“I found the Green Scorpion’s hideout. That’s why I was late today. I saw her on the bus and I followed her. She’s living in an apartment on Kelley. We talked. I saw her tattoo. It’s definitely her.”
“Are you deranged, sir? Do you honestly think the Green Scorpion, an international super-criminal who has eluded Interpol, Scotland Yard, the FBI and CIA, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—do you honestly expect us to believe you just “saw her” on a bus and followed her to her secret hideout—which happens to be an apartment here in this very city?”
“It’s all true. She gave me her phone number.”
“You are mistaken, sir.” The other F.I.S.H. in the pond began to chuckle among themselves. “You are as mistaken as the television executives who thought Get Smart was entertainment.”
Ray winced. The line had been drawn and stepped over.
“But I will indulge you, Mr. Jenesew. Since you are so certain you’ve found this elusive woman, this Green Scorpion. I challenge you to capture her. Bring her to us. Your membership with F.I.S.H. will be assured should you do so.” The Swallow’s shark smile was wide, and replete with sarcasm.
Ray got up from the table and walked toward the huge, metal conference room doors. “Indeed I shall; now if you’ll excuse me, it stinks of rotting fish in here.”
He tried to say it in his best Don Adams, but couldn’t quite pull it off.
NEXT: Green Scorpion continues!
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