Friday, August 2, 2013

Work in Progress: Bedlam's Bible

Today's entry in the Works in Progress series is an excerpt from a longish story whose working title is Bedlam's Bible.

The story features Shalimar Bang and her consulting organization of risk managers. Shalimar has already appeared in an eBook, "The Dream Stalker," which is available from both Amazon and Smashwords. A brief description of Shalimar's beginnings is provided in "The Dream Stalker," but Bedlam's Bible includes more details about her background and her remarkable abilities.

Bedlam's Bible also offers a broader view of her organization than the previous eBook did. Shalimar may run the business, but she isn't the only extraordinary individual on its roster.

In fact, this excerpt focuses on one of those other characters, and Shalimar doesn't even appear.

Bomber Jacquet is new to readers, but he's been galloping around inside my skull for quite a while. I originally wrote him into a script for a comic book pitch, but then moved him into this prose narrative. On first appearance, he doesn't fit the classic heroic mold -- he's quirky, ungainly and apparently uncoordinated, and he definitely can't be categorized with the strong, silent, square-jawed type of fellow who usually may be found on paperback covers. I find him funny, endearing, and a joy to write.

I hope you enjoy reading about him as much as I like writing his adventures.

On to the excerpt:

Bedlam's Bible: Chapter One


Bo Curlew flinched and ducked his head as another 9mm bullet struck and dented the stainless steel and spewed flame.

The stainless steel sheathed a hot dog cart. His hot dog cart. And right now it gave him cover from two crazy men shooting automatic pistols at him.

A career in the Navy, years of taking part in covert ops as a SEAL, and now he was hunkered on a sidewalk, smeared with mustard and pickle relish, pinned down by enemy fire, and not a single weapon at hand.

How did he get in this mess?

+ + +

45 minutes ago . . .

Metropolis, Illinois, lay on the Ohio River and moved about as slowly as those waters, unless they were swollen by flood. And in the summer months, this town of a little more than six thousand souls stirred itself into a tourist hot spot for those needing a sign that truth, justice, and the American way still had a place in the hearts and minds of their countrymen.

During the course of a summer, hundreds of shutters would be tripped and thousands of photos would be shot of people standing by and in front of a larger-than-life-size statue of the world’s most famous red-caped superhero, which stood in an eponymous square at the center of town.

And every day of the summer months except Sundays, Bo Curlew wheeled his hot dog cart to the northeast corner of the square and Market Street by 10:30 a.m. to set up in time for the lunch-hungry tourists to catch the enticing aroma of hot wieners.

So there was nothing unusual in Bo’s parking his cart at the corner that Tuesday morning. There was a haze in the sky the Bo knew would build into darker clouds during the day as the humidity rose in thickening waves from the river. There would be rain tonight, but his business day should be fine, and he expected the rain to be gone by the time he set up shop the following morning. He had just set the lock on the wheels and taken a look at the new sign he had installed across the front of the cart last night: Superdogs. The white of the sign’s background was as crisp as Bo’s bleached apron and the starched diner hat on his head. His short-sleeved shirt and trousers were the same blue as the famous statue’s suit, and a ribbon along the seam of his trousers matched the red of the statue’s cape. Retired from the military, Bo continued to present a sharp figure.

He had inserted the post of the cart’s large umbrella into its stand, but its canvas wings were still folded, and Bo was just beginning to unlatch the hatch covers that allowed access to the hot belly of the cart.

Then a shadow dropped across the top of the cart.

Bo looked up. The owner of the shadow said, “I’ll have a hot dog.”

Bo nodded. “Hang on a minute, I’ll have it right up.” Bo didn’t move immediately to his order, because he was still looking at his customer.

He was a big one.

He was tall—Bo pegged him at six-seven or six-eight, at least a foot over his head—and an interesting-looking character. Interesting—in a town where balding and bearded middle-aged men wearing comic book clothes drove up in RVs and Smart Cars to take pictures and buy glow-in-the-dark posters of Linda Carter in a pose from a 1970s TV show.

The man’s height was emphasized by his long face, his long arms, and his long legs, and the apparently narrow shoulders that didn’t seem to fit a body so big. His head was sort of rectangular, and his hair was thin and buzzed closed to his scalp. He wore thick-lensed glasses in horn rim frames, so the distortion caused by the lenses made his eyes seem big, too. But if he turned his head, the pupils disappeared. Bo felt a chill the first time he spotted that.

Bo started building his customer’s hot dog, but continued to look over the fellow. “You want just one?” Bo asked.

“Is that a Big joke?” the man replied. “Just one. I like a little conversation before I jump feet-first into the deep end of a relationship.”

Bo handed over his creation in exchange for a bill. “Keep the change.” Bo nodded and lined up the catsup and mustard—both yellow and brown—at the edge of the cart.

He watched the man eat.

The lower half of the rectangular head was rounded by a double chin, and the chin itself was a knob that poked out from the soft roll of fat. The fingers and hands holding the hot dog were long and muscular, and Bo’s military training helped him estimate the rest of this man was probably well-muscled, too, although he seemed to have a good start on a beer gut that belled out the bottom of a black tee shirt with SKA printed in yellow across the chest. Over the shirt he wore a leather, padded aviator’s jacket. He also wore pleated trousers with a delicate black check woven into the material, and the cuffs puddled a bit over black-and-tan spectators.

Some old combat training stirred up a buzz behind Bo’s ears. His instincts told him this guy was trouble.

He asked, “How is it?”

Pretty good. Mmm. If you’re – GULP – suggesting CHOMP my size (MMMF) warrants MORE than (munch) one frank, I’d GULP agree. But CHOMP I need (mmmffmm) to stay light (smack) on my feet for awhile. GULP.”

The customer looked at his wrist watch. Its face was positioned on the inside of his left wrist.

By the way, you need to vacate this space in the next seventy-two and a half minutes.”

“What?” The cart vendor shook his tongs at this big galoot—sure, he looked goofy and was a good tipper, but Bo was sure some sort of trouble was riding his narrow, cow-hide padded shoulders—and sputtered with an uncharacteristic anger that seemed to zoom up his backbone: “I’ve bought a permit for this site! A clutch of hungry fanboy tourists and a gaggle of lawyers will come streaming out onto this square like a buffalo stampede and wolf down a cart full of dogs, all while chattering on cell phones, and not drop a single crumb on their Armani or Kenneth Coles! That’s my living, buster!

The tall man licked his fingertips and tilted his head in what Bo supposed was a sympathetic angle—Bo couldn’t see the man’s eyes, so he guessed at the sympathy.

But engaged in the hot dog harangue, neither man gave any attention to a 1953 Studebaker roaring along Market toward the square until the car came to a slewing, screeching halt by the curb behind the hot dog cart.

Bo paused, tongs in mid-shake as he turned to look behind him.

A Japanese man -- Bo judged him about 60 years old -- slammed open the passenger door and jumped out of the Studebaker. Bo’s training cataloged the man’s details immediately: he was wearing a tan jacket (with narrow lapels that reminded Bo of suits from the early 1960s) over a collared shirt and a thin black necktie, dark pants and wingtips. He was nearly bald, hair cut close to the head. He wore black-frame glasses.

And Bo’s less-exciting life as a street vendor hadn’t dimmed his peripheral vision: He saw that his customer clearly recognized the man and was surprised to see him.

The man called out. Bo heard the Oriental accent as the man yelled, “Bomber!”

The big galoot replied: “Rampo?”

Bo gripped the tongs, automatically picking a target on the big man in the aviator’s jacket. “He called you a bomber.”

The galoot didn’t take his eyes off the man from the Studebaker. “Not a bomber. Bomber.”

The driver also got out of the Studebaker. He was dressed all in black, also wore black-framed glasses, and Bo registered the details that made him think the driver was the other man’s son.

“Are you some kind of terrorist?” Bo began shifting his stance, moving his grip on the tongs so he could drive them into a vulnerable spot.

“Bomber’s my name.” Except for his statements to Bo, the big man appeared to ignore the vendor—all his attention was centered on the two men from the car.

Bo heard a slight buzz. The man who claimed to be named Bomber spoke, as if in reply to someone Bo couldn’t see: “No, Roxie, nothing’s going on. A little delay, this guy doesn’t want to move his cart.”

“Talking to your terrorist pals?” Bo had decided the jab the business end of the tongs into the guy’s throat, right behind the corner of his jaw below the ear.

The driver called out from the other side of the car, “You’re out of time, Bomber!”

“Look, Rampo, we’ve had our fun, but I’m kinda busy here.”

The passenger spoke now: “He said you’re out of time, Bomber.”

They’re both named Rampo? Bo wondered.

He was moving one foot forward, ready to strike with the tongs, when he saw the older man reach into his jacket and pull out a gun. Recognition flashed through Bo’s mind: Glock. 9mm.

Then Bomber moved.

As Bo saw the driver also draw a pistol—an identical Glock—the big man beside him seemed to disappear. But he wasn’t really gone—Bo caught a glance of the giant in the air, somersaulting over the cart, then he was suddenly standing on the opposite side of the Superdogs cart.

What the hell is going on here?

Bomber grabbed a handful of Bo’s shirt and yanked him over the cart with one arm. “Get down,” he said, and the men by the car started firing.

Bullets slammed into the cart—There goes the fresh paint—and each impact point was marked by a flare of bright fire.


“Napalm-tipped loads,” Bomber said. “Nasty.” He was hunkered down by Bo. “Got a weapon?”

Bo held up the tongs.

“That might work.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“Bomber Jacquet.”

The sidewalk surface shattered and cement shrapnel pelted the two men.

“That’s a name?”

“It’s mine. Nickname, anyway.”

Bo didn’t hear a buzz this time, but he heard someone yelling in a teeny-tiny voice in Bomber’s ear:

>>Bomber, what is going on?!<<

“Traffic problem, Roxie, don’t worry.” He snap-fast chanced a look around the corner of the cart for a peek at their attackers before a fresh blast of flame bloomed at the very point he had been exposed. “Sell footlongs?”

“No,” Bo answered.

“Too bad.”


“You’d need a bigger cart. Give you more cover for times like these.”

“I wasn’t really expecting times like these.”


>>Bomber, I need to know Right Now what is your status?<<

“We’re all good here, Roxie. No worries.” Bomber turned to Bo. “The way they’re going at it, they should both have to snap in a fresh clip at the same time in about eight seconds. Here, let’s see those tongs.”

But before his fingers touched the metal—


The sidewalk cracked as the ground vibrated.

A manhole cover jumped into the sky from the street. The two gunmen stopped shooting to watch the disk arc through the air, then they threw their hands over their heads and raced down the street.

The iron plate crashed into the hood of the Studebaker. Glass flew in a glittering rain.

Bomber snorted. “That’s not seventy minutes. Roxie, it’s early. It’s all happening.”

>>I’m not joking, Bomber.<<

“No jokes, baby, it’s coming down now.”

>>Don’t call me baby.<<

Bomber raised his head to peer over the cart to the street. Bo joined him.

“Ah! Ah! Ah!” was all the hot dog vendor could manage to say.

>>Bomber? Bomber!<<

“I’m here, Roxie.” Bomber peered over the battered cart. “I sure wish you sold footlongs, buddy.”

Bo had stopped saying “Ah!” and simply stared.

“Our early arrival is coming up from an erupted manhole in the middle of the street, close to the curb near the statue.” Bomber twisted his neck a moment to see if the gunmen from the Studebaker were still in the area. No sign. “It ain’t pretty.”

>>I’ve got no visual. Can you describe it?<<

“You know those hydras the teacher made you look at in the microscope in high school biology? That’s its head. Sickly yellow, like it’s been living in its momma’s basement. Sizewise, its head is about as tall as the diameter of a car tire. A big car. Like an SUV. After that—”

>>After what?<<

 “After that, it’s tentacles. Big fat ones.”

The tentacles were big and fast. They flashed out of the broken manhole—four, with apparently more to come—and reached. Two wrapped around the railing surrounding the hero’s statue. One stretched and gripped the driver-side door post through the Studebaker’s broken windows. Another headed toward the hot dog cart, and still another started to rise from below street level.

Bomber vaulted over the cart. “Kreegah! Bundolo!!”


Bo watched. Long, springing leaps carried Bomber into the air and toward the monster. At the top of the airborne arc right above the creature’s head, Bomber swung a long samurai sword -- a katana -- over his head and down as he descended.

Where’d that come from? Bo wondered.

The thing jerked aside its head, and Bomber’s swing missed. The creature’s gatelike jaw opened and Bo heard a roar—but it sounded more like a truck-load of cellophane scrunching together all at once.

Bomber’s sword flared light from the sun as he dipped, skipped, leaped, and twisted, swinging the blade in arcs that sliced the tentacles from the monster’s body where they were rooted near the head.

The cellophane screeching continued and got louder. The detached tentacles—twenty and thirty feet long—thrashed and twisted. The railing around the statue was wrenched from its anchors and flung into a drug store window. Against the racket of the crashing plate glass, Bo saw the wrecked Studebaker hammered against the pavement by the tentacle that still clung to its door post, and broken asphalt and concrete danced and bounced with the quickly demolished car.

The crackling yowls emanating from the yellow mouth of the armless creature now were so great Bo could not hear Bomber. But he saw that strange, ungainly giant spring once more into the air, pirouette, and slice the head of the beast from its neck. The quivering stump spewed a yellow gout of viscous goo, then collapsed out of sight into the manhole.

Bo blinked. He stood up from where he’d hunkered behind his cart.

The tentacles had withered and now look like old yellow balloons that had lost their air, flat and wrinkled.

Metropolis square looked like some war zones Bo had once trod. He could hardly believe his eyes. His ears still rang, but he could hear an approaching siren in the distance.

Bomber rubbed his palms against his thighs, like a schoolboy wiping grease from his hands onto his pants. The sword was nowhere in sight.

He was walking back toward the cart, and Bo could hear him talking.

“No, it’s gone now. It came out of a manhole, and it was big and ugly and gooey inside, but it didn’t smell.” He looked up at Bo. “Did you smell anything?”

“Uh, no.”

“Me neither. Don’t like a smelly monster.”

>>Bomber, are you okay?<<

“I’m fine. Town looks a little rough.”

Bo asked, “How did you do that?”

Bomber grinned and light flashed in the lenses of his glasses. “Clean living.”

A police car roared into the square and swerved as its driver stomped the brakes.

“What was that thing?” Bo asked.

“I’d call it a monster. Unless it’s a typical citizen shows up here for hot dogs on a regular basis.”

Bo blinked, not sure what to say next. Then he felt the pavement shudder beneath his feet.

Bomber looked back at the manhole.

“Oh, poot,” he said.

>>Bomber, what now?<<

Bomber began to sing, but Bo was hardly conscious of the words. Because as the odd giant began to sing, cracked concrete and pavement around the sundered manhole flew into the air as the hole expanded. A bushel-sized chunk collapsed the roof of the squad car and the siren squealed back into life.

The pavement around the broken hole surged upward. More pavement flew as something else reared up from underground.

Like the first creature, it was yellow and roared in a cellophane-crackling voice. But it was three times the size of the first. It shoved upward, and its massive head swam in the air fifteen feet above Bo’s height. The tentacles—Bo counted six so far—were thicker and longer. One whipped out of sight around the corner and flashed back into the main area of the square swinging a small Volkswagen. It flung the vehicle to crash into the still-wailing squad car, and the siren went silent.

The two policemen hid behind the statue and fired their automatic pistols. The monster seemed not to notice.

Then Bomber ran forward, the katana again in his hands, and Bo heard his song:

“I cain’t get no . . . sad-iz-fack-shun. . .”

He leaped—He’s like a kangaroo or something, Bo thought—and somersaulted in midair. The blade aimed to cleave the creature’s head from top to bottom, held in both hands.

Then a lightning-swift tentacle snapped like a whip. Bomber flew to the side, and the sword pinwheeled down the street. The flare of the sunlight on the blade left a fiery streak burned onto Bo’s sight that left him blinking and rubbing his eyes.

Bomber hit the curb hard. He was on the other side of the street from Bo. The big man got up, shook like a wet dog, ducked as another tentacle whipped past.

He jumped, cartwheeled, dove, rolled as he dodged the snapping tentacles. He landed lightly on his feet by the hot dog cart.

“Quick!” he yelled at Bo. He plucked a black cylinder from one of his jacket pockets and handed it to the vendor. It was about six inches long and four across. “Wrap this in as many hot dogs as you can. When I holler, throw it to me.”

Then he snatched the parasol, still furled, from the ruined cart. He ran at the crackling beast, hefting the shaft of the umbrella like a pole vaulter, and roared: “Tarmangani bundolo!”

Bomber rammed the shaft into the maw of the creature, and his momentum opened the umbrella with a sharp POP! The monster shook its head, and its tentacles swam toward the object that both gagged it and spread its jaws so that it couldn’t open them further or close them.

Bo had wrapped a string of steaming hot dogs around the cylinder and secured them with a strap he’d ripped from his apron. He was just pulling the knot tight when he heard Bomber: “Gimme a frankfurter ‘fore I die!”

Bo launched the package to Bomber with the best form he’d used since his high school football days. Something popped in his shoulder, but his aim was true. Bomber caught the package.

The monster had just shredded the fabric and extricated the bent metal remains of the umbrella from its mouth when Bomber threw he hot dog-wrapped cylinder into the still-open hole in the vast yellow face.

The monster appeared to choke, then its mouth shut.

Its tentacles ceased their wild movement, remaining motionless in mid-whip.

Bomber leaped and landed beside Bo behind the cart. “Get down!”

And then the monster erupted.

Bo and Bomber were knocked flat and kissed the sidewalk, but the cart—twisted, bent, and spewing steam—took the brunt of the force wave.

The entire square was drenched in a downpour of yellow rain.

Bomber helped Bo to his feet. Puddles of yellow ichor were pouring down the storm drains. Goo dripped from the ends of their noses.

“Subterraneans can’t stand nitrates,” Bomber said. “Or nitrites. I can’t remember which.”

“What?” Bo said. “I haven’t heard a boom like that since my Navy days. What’d you say?”

But Bomber was already walking to the gaping hole in the street. He kicked aside the flaccid scrap of a tentacle and peered down into the darkness. A tendril of smoke spun out of the hole and dispersed in the sky.

He could barely hear Roxie twittering in his ear.

>>Bomber, pleeeeez answer me. What is going on?”<<

“Threat’s over, baby. Monster fall down, go boom.”

He could begin to hear another siren approaching.

“I’m going down to take a look, see if there are more of these critters around. Catch ‘em in their hidey hole.”

>>Bomber, do not, I repeat, Do Not go down underground. You need back up. The Boss will wring your neck as a prelude to serious torture if you do not follow this order.”

“Sorry, baby, the dark and dirty Down Below is calling me. Can’t hear you. Talk later. Ciao.”

And he hopped into the air and dropped like a plummet through the jagged-edged hole into the darkness.

>>Bomber? Bomber!<<

No response.

>>Stop calling me baby!<<

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