Superheroes have been around for decades. Comic books really took off with the introduction of Superman in 1938. They’re filled with good guys, bad guys, indifferent guys, supervillains, tights, muscles, anatomically endowed women (and men), incredible powers, angst, love, joy, hate, and storylines that last for years.
That’s the something old. The something new is what I’m working on now. It’s about a group of hitmen who assassinate superheroes.
It takes a special kind of person to eliminate a hero that’s universally beloved…which is exactly why they’re all in a support group. Read the first chapter below and let me know what you think!
There’s a hero in every villain.
The woman from South Korea looks fetching in a white pantsuit. Her hair is the color of a raven, flecked with rainy day gray, and she wears it cropped close and level, like a ’50s flattop.
Out of everyone in this godforsaken support group, I trust her the least. In fact, I couldn’t trust her less if I tried; yet, I’m starting to think that she’s not why I’m here.
Still, she’s got some nerve.
John Conklin carries doughnuts around the circle and when he asks in a hushed voice if I want glazed or Boston Crème, I politely decline. I know where his hands have been. “Suit yourself. They’re from that gluten-free place up near Powell’s.”
His eyes light up. “Yeah, that one!”
I reassure him that, indeed, I do not want a doughnut, though on most days, I’d give my right arm for their stuff. Bottom line, I don’t want John Conklin anywhere near my food.
Dallas works that Cheshire grin on her face, lying to everyone in the room, claiming that she’s responsible for Superman’s death off the coast of the Maldives.
We’re supposed to be here for that cotton-candy bullshit: love, support, understanding, and a shoulder to cry on. We’re not here to beat our chests about past conquests.
I should clarify: they’re here for that reason. I’m here for my own.
While the world mourns the death of the man in blue tights, from New York, to Shanghai, to Cairo, with newspapers screaming their headlines of despair, I sit here smoldering inside because I know the truth.
Dallas is lying, but that doesn’t mean she’s my culprit.
She sips her steaming mug of green tea and says, “You know I can’t tell you where the rest of the body is, Charlene, that would defeat the whole purpose. Imagine the hysteria.”
Charlene—she’s the attractive redhead—congratulates my South Korean counterpart and hugs her handbag closer to her chest. Her paranoia issues far outweigh my own manufactured problems, and the rest of us had begun to speculate that we’d never see her again. The fact that she’s here, that she made it again, says more about her character than I care to admit because she’s still a suspect. I like Charlene, no doubt, but if it comes down to a cup of coffee or handcuffs (not the furry kind) I’m choosing duty over desire.
Dallas goes on and on about her methods and tactics. She’s such a braggart that I’m beginning to wonder why she’s even here in the first place. She doesn’t belong. Neither do I, but I don’t care that she suffers from compulsive lying. I don’t like her.
“He was right there, guys. I’m telling you, just ripe for the plucking, and I was in and out before he took a second breath. Not that he would’ve had a chance to, mind you.”
“Of course I was sure he was dead before I left. Don’t you all double check?”
“I got the liquid kryptonite wholesale. I’ll see if my supplier wants me to pass his card around.”
How do I know she’s not telling the truth?
Because that gig was my handiwork. A week ago, I took out dear Mr. Kent with a simple medicine dropper full of liquidized kryptonite. Even Superman needs a nap, right? I’d waited until that floozy Lois went out for a dip in the crystal blue waters surrounding the aptly named yacht, Misery’s Fortune, slipped into the forward cabin like the stealthy ninja that I am, and viola, one dead superhero, as ordered. Everybody knows that he was vulnerable to kryptonite, but a single, concentrated dose that close to the brain? Dude never had a chance.
The thing is, see, people had been trying to send the man of steel to his grave for decades, but they were going about it all wrong; the trick was to get in there where he was vulnerable.
Hell, I can’t think of any good examples right now—okay, say it’s like Luke Skywalker and the Death Star. Superman’s ear canal could be that opening that Skywalker flies into and then fires his pew-pew proton torpedoes or whatever. Anyway, we all know how that ended.
Am I proud of it? Damn straight.
I mean, I guess I am. Superman had done a lot of good for the world and it was a shame, but come on, I accomplished something that no other person in history has been able to do. More people have walked on the moon.
Dallas says, “Tara, there’s simply no way—I’m sorry, Mara—there’s no way I’m going to offer you any legitimate proof and reveal my sources. We all know how this works.”
Mara crosses her legs and her arms. She pouts until Charlie Delta tries to put a hand on her shoulder. She squirms away with an upturned lip.
Dallas says, “Well, he certainly didn’t die with his books on—wink, wink.”
Here’s the problem: I have no way to refute this woman. She can sit there and lay claim to Superman or any of my other conquests like Gray Ghoul, Scarlett Gargoyle, Captain Kane, Deathmarch, Quickstrike, Sam Diamond, the entire Power Hour Team, and even the Crimson Gargoyle, and nobody would know the difference.
I’m bound by contractual obligation to keep my damn mouth shut—the US government doesn’t look kindly on its subcontractors sharing state secrets—and she gets all the glory. It’s ridiculous, and I have half a mind to call her out in front of this entire gaggle of heathens, but who will believe me? Dallas has clout among this den of miscreants and, supposedly, I’m just here for the anxiety issues.
What I’m doing with this gathering of mentally imbalanced, professional assassins is another story that I’ll get to in a minute, but first, let me offer a little background.
We meet every Tuesday in the back of a bowling alley that smells like stale beer and floor cleaner. I’m always worried about being congregated here with nearly everyone of my ilk.
If Billie Bombshell happened to learn about this highly clandestine meeting, she could swoop in, drop one of her explosive devices on the roof, and ninety percent of the world’s elite superhero assassins would vanish.
She swore her vengeance after I eliminated her brother, Billy Barbell, but if I took the time to worry about everyone who wants retribution at my expense, I’d be a quivering mess just like Charlene.
Remember how in Forrest Gump all the shrimping boats were destroyed and that left the spoils to Forrest? If somebody blew up this building right now, our few remaining colleagues left out there would have more work than they could handle.
The owner, this wrinkled raisin of a guy named Jeff, is a retired super-op himself, so he doesn’t mind if the twelve of us gather and whine about how hard our lives are, travelling all over the world to beautiful, exotic locations so we can purge superheroes as various governments deem fit. They have their reasons. I don’t ask. I just collect the paycheck.
‘If the price is right, no job is too small or too light.’
That’s my motto. Sure, the rhyming is hokey, but it makes it simple to remember me, and I’m partly convinced that’s why I get more work than some of these other jokers. I thought about getting it embossed on a stack of business cards and changed my mind. You don’t want a paper trail in this line of work. Literally and figuratively.
Anyway, back to the support group and this ratty bowling alley. I’d prefer a bagel shop, but a certain amount of discretion is required when you do what we do for a living.
On the plus side, Jeff also allows us to roll a few free games, and I have to admit, my skills have gotten better over the past month. I broke a hundred last week for the first time ever. John Conklin—he of the doughnuts, who is also the demented bastard with a necrophelia addiction—nearly rolled a perfect game back in March. I’ll never forget the look on his face when that final 10-pin didn’t fall, and if the guy humped something other than dead superheroes, I might be able to find a dash of sympathy for him.
I mean, damn, one pin away from a perfect game. Can you imagine?
Sorry, was that too callous? I’ve been at this a while, and I’ve seen shit that would make Stephen King cringe, so you’ll have to excuse my forays into not-giving-a-crap insensitivity. It’s natural to me at this point. You have to adopt a thick shell of armor or you’ll never get through the day.
Okay, so I mentioned there are twelve of us: Dallas, Charlene, John Conklin, myself, Don Weiss, Tara, her twin Mara, Eleanor, Mike, Charlie Bravo, Charlie Delta, and Fred McCracken. Each of us has our own—well, we call them “quirks” to avoid the true nature of the fact that we’re all certifiably insane—on some level—to do what we do as professionals.
I’m the normal one of the group, if we’re being generous, because I’m here under false pretenses. I don’t have “quirks” like these guys, but you sit around and listen to them long enough, it’s hard not to think that you might be one job away from tilting the pinball machine in your gray matter.
This is the Superhero Assassin Support Society (SASS for short—let it be known that I did not vote yes to that acronym) and I’m here because there’s a traitor among us.
At least, an underground branch of the US government thinks so, and I’m getting paid to turn on my own kind…which leaves me wondering; which is worse, betraying your country, or betraying your friends?
If there’s no honor among thieves, then there’s certainly no honor among sassy people.
See what I did there?
The meeting went well, aside from every single lie Dallas told. Fred McCracken had a breakthrough and cried for the first time. Don Weiss was the first to offer a clean hanky, and those two have been rivals for thirty years. Charlie Bravo and Charlie Delta didn’t argue once over whom Mom loved best and John Conklin kept his hands where everyone could see them. All in all, I’d say it was a successful Tuesday, and I’ve only been attending for a month.
I’m now standing by the shoe counter waiting on Jeff to bring me a pair of size elevens. Charlene approaches with her handbag clutched to her chest like it’s a shield—a zebra-striped shield with pink piping, but a shield nonetheless. She glances nervously from side to side, a tennis match of paranoid observation, and then manages to give me a smile.
“Hey, Leo,” she says.
I have to be suspicious of everyone, because that’s what I’m getting paid to do, but this is equally strange because she’s never spoken a word to me outside of “And how did that make you feel?”
Charlene has one thing in common with Dallas. She’s not why I’m here either and of that I’m positive.
Charlene is wearing a green shirt that compliments her red hair, so I say, “If it isn’t the Terror of Teal,” and immediately question if I could’ve come up with a better line. She’s a terror, all right. This five-eight bundle of cuteness is responsible for eighteen kills if you believe Homeland’s data.
Every single super with the ability to look great in spandex has it out for her after CNC revealed her identity on Tonight with Don Donner. It’s no wonder the poor woman wears her suspicion like a heavy winter coat. I shake my head, embarrassed, and add, “Sorry, that was dumb.”
Charlene titters nervously, like she wasn’t sure she’s supposed to laugh, and I feel a gooey warmth in my stomach. I can read people well enough to know that laughing when it’s not warranted is a sign of liking someone—I mean like like—and I immediately feel as if I’m back in high school. Next thing you know, Charlene will be wearing my class ring, but it’ll be too big for her and she’ll have to wrap blue string around the band so it doesn’t fall off her finger.
With that thought, my eyes go down to her hands, which I’ve never really examined before, and I see that they’re large and sort of masculine. Maybe she wouldn’t need the string after all and—
She says, “I wanted to ask you something.”
Jeff shows up at the counter—stealthy bastard—and drops off the red, black, and gray size elevens. He sprays them with the anti-death-by-feet-fungus stuff and then seems to notice that Charlene and I are hanging out…together. He winks at me like she’s not standing right there looking directly at him. I roll my eyes and take the fashionably awful shoes.
Charlene nods at a nearby table. “Want to go sit?”
“So it’s a sit-down conversation, huh? Do I get detention afterward?”
I’m mentally punching myself in the nads because that was probably the lamest joke I’ve ever told.
Thankfully, she doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care, because she titters again and heads to the table. The sound of bowling balls galloping down the lanes and the ear-shattering crash of flying pins reverberates around the room as we pull the seats out and sit across from each other. I feel like we should be sharing a root beer float.
This is the reason I’m still single. A woman says hi to me and I’m already planning who’ll get the kids after the divorce.
Charlene lets go of her bag long enough to pull her seat closer to the table. An unpleasant funk emanates from the bowling shoes and I discretely remove them from under my nose. They go into the chair beside me, but it’s too late; the nostril damage has already been done.
“So,” I say, “what’s up?” My voice comes out deeper than it usually is and I can only assume that it was subconsciously intentional.
She says, “Can we talk about Dallas for a minute?”
I scoff and do that nasally snort of disapproval. “That woman. Jesus. I don’t even have the words.”
Charlene checks the surrounding area and I follow her lead. Jeff remains behind the counter, spraying the fog of anti-death into a row of shoes while the other ten participants in SASS fling heavy balls at ten pieces of carved wood made from rock maple.
We don’t really have a group leader, by the way. Too many strong-willed egos for that to happen, but if I had to pick someone to be in charge, I’d go with Charlene. While she may be more timid and paranoid than a mouse poking it’s head into a room filled with starving alley cats, she also seems levelheaded and is highly precise with a Garrote wire.
That’s her trick. Even superheroes need oxygen to survive. Most of them anyway.
Charlene leans forward. Her lush red hairs falls around her shoulders and I get a whiff of perfume that smells like strawberry cream. She whispers, “It’s none of my business, but how could you sit there quietly and let Dallas take credit for your work?”