New Fiction: The Green Scorpion (Part I)
September 21, 2001
Unlike most of the stories I write, Green Scorpion was actually plotted before being written. However, much like the stream-of-consciousness writing upon which I tend to focus, this story brought many surprises to me insofar as where the story began, where it went, and where it ended. And although it was plotted over a period of several days, it is being written spontaneously. The story will contain several parts—I’m not sure how many, I guess that all depends on how wordy I get. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy it. I hope you do, too.
The red, white, and blue motorized monstrosity that was the Route 9 transit bus sat at the onramp of the Expressway. It had been sitting at the onramp for 22 minutes...and 34 seconds. And yes, he was counting. It was an important day. It was, perhaps, the most important day of his life, but that would be determined later--after the interview. As he watched the second hand of his Mickey Mouse wrist watch climb past 9 and race toward 12 with the determination of an olympic speed skater, he realized his mistake: He’d left his fate in the hands of mass transit. It wasn’t the first time he’d made this mistake, but he swore to himself it would be the last. The second hand began its descent past 1, 2, and 3. To his immediate left a woman in her early 20s with split ends shook her head back and forth. The inaudible but nonetheless annoying sounds of music spilled from her headphones and accompanied the bus’ overhead air-conditioning unit (though it was more an air-conditioning unit in name than in practice--the air it blew out no cooler than the humidity-filled air that hung soup heavy on this July morning). He was beginning to perspire. His perspiration was the a result of four factors:
2. the warmth of the bus,
3. the fact that he’d only recently finished a 20-ounce latte, and
4. the warmth caused by wearing his costume underneath his “street” clothes.
Ray Jenesew removed a Kleenex from the interior coat pocket of his navy blue double-breasted suit, wiped his forehead, and whispered quietly to himself, “Why the Hell did I take mass transit?”
The back-up was due to what has come to be regarded as a “gaper delay.” From a scientific standpoint, the gaper delay consists of several crucial steps:
Step One: Commuters on their way to and from work drive by the scene of an accident (or disabled vehicle) that is not on the highway or interstate. Typically, these vehicles rest off of the main thoroughfare.
Step Two: Curious, passersby will turn their gaze toward the vehicles that have been involved in the accident (or are disabled).
Step Three: In harmony with Step Two, passersby will simultaneously open their mouths 45%-50% and will keep them hung open, seemingly frozen in that position. This is known as a “gape.”
Step Four: The amount of gape is directly related to the amount of reduction in speed each passerby’s vehicle will experience. This direct correlation cannot be overstated since Step Four is the critical element that completes the gaper delay.
Three miles back, on the onramp of the Expressway, Ray and the other passengers aboard the Route 9 passenger bus were oblivious to the ever-increasing gaper delay. Ray considered getting off the bus, but there was nowhere to go. Certainly he would not be able to locate a cab on the onramp of the Expressway, or on the road immediately behind this not-so-super superhighway. Furthermore, even if he could locate a taxi, it would also be subject to the delay to which Ray and his fellow commuters were now being subjected. There was no way to escape the fact that he was a fly, and the highway his own personal No-Pest Strip.
He tried to relax--to calm himself. “Focus on the interview,” he repeated to himself in a whisper. “This is big...this is very, very, very big.” And it was. Securing the interview with the Federal Independent Super-Heroes (F.I.S.H.) had been no small task. It had taken long months, countless all-night patrols, and plenty of action. Ray’s left knee still hurt, months after the Living Notebook had trounced him on the rooftop of Liberty Center. He’d caught the notorious, paper-extracting criminal, but a toll was exacted upon Ray’s body. Six months of therapy and the pain continued unfettered. Likewise, the scar from the gunshot wound he’d suffered when battling Mr. Magnum four months ago atop a moving ambulance during rush hour was still quite visible, a nasty red/brown bubble on an otherwise undistinguishable shoulder blade. There were others—many others. Confrontations with super-powered adversaries that more often than not resulted in battle scars—some serious, others not as serious, a few that were life threatening. But it was going to pay off. Ray Jenesew, a.k.a. the Metropolitan Man, was finally on his way to the big leagues…if the bus would move…if he could make it to F.I.S.H. headquarters on time…if he could find a private area in which to lose his outer garments, leaving only his (dare he think it) costume (the very costume that was beginning to absorb the sweat that was now trickling from his pours like a light Spring rain. And still the second hand on Mickey continued to spin right-round-baby-right-round, looking more and more like an obscene finger gesture from the cartoon mouse each time it climbed up the dial to 12.
He decided he would chew a stick of gum—Doublemint, to be specific. A big, delicious stick of sugary, minty Doublemint chewing gum. He carried it with him wherever he went, but nearly never resorted to actually chewing it. Ray coveted gum not unlike a child covets a rabbit’s foot. It was symbolic. Numerous events in Ray’s life had, one or more ways, been shaped by simple chewing gum—not the chewing of gum per se, which is, after all, an entirely separate concept. No. Ray’s life had been altered many times over simply because of gum’s existence in the world. Simply put, Ray owed is life to gum.
Six years ago Ray was driving the I-95 Interstate up the East Coast. He’d been traveling from South Carolina and was en route to Vermont. In Maryland he’d stopped at a rest stop to refuel—both his vehicle and his body. He’d left Sbarro’s with a large Diet Pepsi and a pepperoni slice. He then drove fifty yards to the self-serve station and proceeded to fill the tank with the lowest possible octane available (it was, after all, a rental car). Having paid the attendant Ray had climbed into the 1994 Nissan Maxima. He’d pulled the silver car into a nearby parking spot, still on the grounds of the rest stop. Ray then paused momentarily, and realized that he’d be wanting a stick of gum to chew after finishing the pie. He’d stepped out of the car and had walked back to the service station where he’d seen a vending machine. A moment later he’d heard the shriek of rubber tires on asphalt, heard the sound of metal collapsing into metal, and felt the fire of the explosion at his back. The runaway truck had hit his rental car with the fury of a viper, and both vehicles had been reduced to a twisted mockery of burning metal, fiberglass, rubber, and leather. Had he been sitting in his car ingesting caffeine and carbohydrates, he’d have surely been killed as was the driver of the truck.
There were other times when chewing gum had been pivotal in his life—these ranged from his days as a child to mere weeks ago when a he’d stopped to purchase a pack of gum from a child trying to raise funds for her school. Had he not stopped, he would not have witnessed the purse snatching some sixty yards distant, would not have run down the thief, would not have returned the purse to its grateful owner (who he would later learn was his long-lost aunt). Gum was there, as it had been so very often. And today, as his nervousness continued to grow, Ray decided to break down and actually chew a piece of the rubbery-doublyminty stuff.
Had the package not slipped from his hand, had it not fallen to the quite dirty floor of the bus, and had he not extended his arm and body out into the aisle of the bus to retrieve the gum, he never would have seen it. But all of these events had happened--in a matter of seconds in fact—and he was now, arm still extended to the floor--staring ahead right at it. He’d seen it before, but never imagined he’d see it again, least of all in this city and on a public transit bus nonetheless. But it was directly, two seats ahead, in front of him. Its faded image as recognizable today as it had been two years ago when he’d first and last seen it. The Green Scorpion. He stared at it, oblivious of the recently dropped gum packet. Stared at its design. Stared at its colors. Stared at the ankle of the woman upon who it was tattooed. His eyes slowly rose from ankle to knee to thigh and continued to climb to her upper body before finally resting and staring at her shoulder-length black hair. It was her. It had to be. But it had been a long time since he’d seen her. He needed to be sure. His eyes again locked on the ankle tattoo and he then saw it, quite clearly—the Number 13. He couldn’t see her face, for she was seated in front of him. But he knew, he knew. Ray Jenesew, the up-and-hopefully-coming crime fighter known as Metropolitan Man, was less than ten feet away from one of the top super-criminals in the United States: The Green Scorpion.
Ray’s mind flashed back momentarily to the first and only time he’d met her: New York, atop the Henderson Jewelry shop. He’d been patrolling the area on a rainy winter morning when he’d heard the alarm sound. Moments later he’d seen her exiting through the skylight, the bulging tote bag overflowing with stolen merchandise. His amateur attempts at stopping her proved less than effective. She’d disposed of him within seconds. His only words to her, “Stop where you are!” were met with silent, yet effective, retaliation. She’d cut his stride short with a lightning-swift kick to his face, and he’d fallen hard onto the rooftop. But as she turned to flee, he’d reached out and somehow had grabbed hold of her right ankle. As she kicked at his hands, he’d pulled her toward him. In the skirmish he’d torn the material of her pants just at the ankle—which was when he’d first seen the tattoo with it’s various symbols in Japanese and its stylized number 13. Seconds later, her boot met his face, and he’d journeyed into the sleepy-time funland of unconsciousness.
He’d tried to find her again in the days and weeks that followed, but the Green Scorpion had a reputation—she never stayed in the same city too long. But now, he was presented with a golden opportunity; the chance of a lifetime. The capture of the Green Scorpion would almost certainly ensure him a place with the F.I.S.H., and Ray was anxious to swim. But what to do? He couldn’t simply apprehend her on the bus. He could not, at this time and place, prove that she was the Green Scorpion. And if he did confront her on the bus, what then? What if she recognized him? A confrontation would spell the demise of his secret identity, and as silly as that sounded to him, he knew it to be a real concern—one that could ultimately affect the lives of his family and friends. No. This would require time. Careful planning.
The bus, which had been at a dead stop for longer than Ray could count on both hands, began to ascend the onramp. Traffic was moving once again, albeit at funeral procession speed. With any luck, he would still make the interview with the F.I.S.H., but now he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He weighed the consequences of his various alternatives: Following his original plans and interviewing at F.I.S.H. headquarters would mean leaving the Scorpion behind. He would probably never see her again. And his chances of being granted F.I.S.H. membership would certainly increase were he to provide F.I.S.H. with information about the Scorpion. However, not showing up for the interview could most definitely anger the members of F.I.S.H. who, no doubt, were taking time from their hectic schedules to meet with Ray. He might not be granted a second interview; might never be permitted to step inside F.I.S.H. headquarters again. There were risks on either side of the pool, and Ray needed to quickly decide whether he wanted to step gently into the shallow, or dive head first into the deep. Ray pontificated these scenarios repeatedly in his mind, unsure what choice to make. As the bus finally made its way past the gaper delay (a single Volkswagen had become disabled along the side of the Expressway, thanks for stopping to stare) and made its way off the highway, the woman who Ray was certain was the Green Scorpion gently tugged onto the wire that ran horizontal along the windows of the bus at which point a light at the front of the bus reading “Stop Requested” was lit and an audible doorbell “ding” was heard. The tattooed woman stood up, collected her purse, a notebook, and a shoulder bag, and walked toward the front door of the bus.
“What the Hell,” Ray said to himself lightly, and followed her off the bus.
NEXT: Green Scorpion continues!
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