Thursday, July 24, 2014

Short Fiction: Cops Don't Wear Capes

Another story inspired by Terribleminds. The challenge was to craft a 1000 word superhero tale crossed with another genre. Here is my take on a superhero/police procedural. It runs just under 2100 words. Oops. In my defense, world building tends to eat up a lot of prose!

COPS DON'T WEAR CAPES

The call went out towards the end of my shift. I was on foot patrol thanks to a recent community outreach initiative.
 
“Dispatch to all in vicinity.” The voice from the radio was laced with static. “Officer needs assistance. One-seven-four reports drunk and disorderly at corner of Lynn and Gage. Be advised, extraordinary individual present. I say again, extro present.”

Her tone was professionally bored, but I broke into a cold sweat at the words.

Extro present.

The address was only five blocks away. I responded that I was on en route. I took off in the standard “running cop” pose: stabilizing my heavy equipment belt with one hand. My feet were killing me, but the adrenalin hit of an extro incident made it easy to ignore.

I didn’t know of a single cop who liked the Special Deputies and their silly costumes, but at least they were trying to be part of the solution—especially right after E-day, when it seemed like every corner had an asshole who enjoyed tossing cars or encasing grandma in ice. The SDs were obnoxious, but on our side. In a similar vein, the straight-up bad ones were handled by specialists. The real danger to law enforcement was the gray area in between: morons with super powers and poor impulse control. 

I always smacked him around before, officer. How’s I supposed to know his head was gonna come off?

I was halfway there after a few minutes. Decrepit pawn shops and corner stores became long rows of track housing and playgrounds with broken swings. I barely noticed. My world was reduced to blurred sidewalk lines, the stitch in my side, and the rhythmic noise my equipment belt made as its eclectic assortment shifted to and fro.

One block out I slowed to a walk. No other chatter had come over the radio and I needed to be alert—and not gasping so much. The late afternoon sun was just shading over into early evening. Made it easy to spot the faint red/blue shift of police cruiser lights on the faded paint of surrounding homes. One-seven-four’s car was just up ahead, hidden by the high wall of a community basketball court. I rested my palm lightly on the handle of my firearm and peered around the corner.

It was just another neighborhood street, but I’d walked the beat long enough to spot the warning signs. A couple of kids’ bikes were lying a little too far into the road. Means they’d been dropped and the owners had scattered. Then I saw the thin column of black smoke rising up from behind a hedge.

The cruiser was close, parked along my side of the street next to the sidewalk. I was relieved to see Officer Perry Marsh taking cover behind the open driver-side door. Perry was black, trim, and in his early twenties. He was a bit inexperienced, but professional as they came. A good cop. I called his name to warn him as I approached and dropped into a crouch.

“Orville! Glad to finally have some backup.” He was playing it cool, but his body practically hummed with tension.

“Just wish I had a cruiser.” I glanced around. “Can’t believe no one else is here.”

He shook his head. “Believe it. Some extro gangbangers decided tonight was the night they weren’t taking shit from some other extro gangbangers. Everyone’s hauling ass to a fight downtown. Including SWAT and SRT.”

I muttered the most vulgar epitaph I could think of. The Special Response Team was our answer to the Special Deputies. An in-house extro squad for situations just like this. Usually worked great—unless they were on another call.

“Okay.” I nodded. “Then we’ll just handle this.” I nodded again. My head probably looked a little wobbly. “We’ll just deal with it. Right?”

He gave me a dubious stare.

 “What do we have?” I asked, my tone perfectly neutral. Had to be careful. Nerves were contagious, and nervous cops make bad choices.

He licked his lips and nodded. “Okay. Responded to a neighbor’s complaint twenty minutes ago. Noise disturbance from the sky blue house across the way. I knocked and a man answered.”

“Description?”

“Caucasian. Fifties. Wife beater and boxers. Unshaven.” He paused. “Ugly as sin, drunk as hell.”

I nodded.

“Told the man to turn his music down,” Perry continued, “because maybe not everyone in the neighborhood wants to listen to Pink Floyd. He says ‘no problem,’ but his eyes tell me different. Still, he goes in and turns it off. I say ‘have a nice day.’ Go to leave, but I back down the steps because the vibe feels off.”

“Sounds like you made the right call,” I said.

Perry nodded. “Yeah, ‘cause then he’s at the door again—all calm like—and asks who made the complaint. I don’t say. He goes ‘I know who it was,’ and then—Jesus—then he points at a moped parked in the neighbor’s yard, and it just ... boom!” He mimed a starburst with one hand.

My breath seemed short all of a sudden. Heat beams? That was at least a Class 3. I risked a quick peek over the door. Street was still empty. I ducked back down.

“First time you ever see something like that in person?” I said.

“First time.”

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “It’s always freaky right in front of your face.” I jerked a thumb across the street. “That smoke the moped?”

He nodded.

“Damn. Do we have a name?”

“Dispatch says Lucas Hurrin.” He gave me a pointed look. “No EI jacket.”

An unregistered extro. Delightful.

We both jumped as a subdued crackling sound started up across the way. I gave Perry a reassuring clap on the shoulder and decided we shouldn’t be clustered together. I duck walked around the cruiser and stopped next to the right front wheel. After a moment, I eased up to peer over the hood.

The suspect—Hurrin— was standing on the stoop of his house. A mostly empty bottle of vodka was in his left hand, but no other weapons were evident.

Apart from the man himself.

Hurrin’s right arm was raised up with his hand limply extended. Reminded me of Adam reaching out to God in that Michelangelo painting. Instead of communing with the Almighty, he had set the neighbor’s hedge on fire. I could see a wall of sickly flames flickering across the top. It was healthy greenery, so apparently he was having to keep feeding the blaze. Visible waves of heat were radiating away from his fingers.

It was bad, but there was cause for hope. For one thing, Hurrin was sweating. He also seemed to be leaning forward a bit when he renewed the flames at the far end of the hedge. That meant his ability wasn’t effortless, and the range of the power looked to be about ten meters max.

“Perry, you seeing this?” I kept my voice low.

“Oh yeah,” came the reply from the other side of the car.

 “Okay, look ... I’m going to try and talk him down.”

Great, Orville. Real winner of a plan. 

“Seems like a bad move.”

“Yeah, maybe. But I have a little experience with extros.” I took a breath. “I’m going to have to get close. So keep your weapon holstered, okay? Even if he tries to flash-fry me. Worst case, close the distance and use your tranq. I don’t think he’s got much reach with that heat beam.”

I moved before Perry could protest, sliding my shoulder along the hood of the car until I ran out of vehicle. Then I straightened and moved toward the perp at a brisk walk. I unsnapped the carrier of my tranq, but didn’t draw it. Figured there was a chance I might actually be able to talk him down.

Hurrin spotted me almost immediately, but that was the idea. He dropped his arm. The hedge continued to smolder, snapping softly. He watched as I reached the middle of the street.

“Sir,” I raised my voice to just below a shout, “I’d like to speak with you, okay?”

He took a swig of vodka, but said nothing. 

I stepped onto the curb next to his little slice of yard. The potential danger amplified every detail of my surroundings. Heat roiling off the hedge. Behind it, the greasy, burning smell marking the moped’s final resting place. The way the cruiser lights glinted off the bottle.

“I have not drawn a weapon.” I was past the sidewalk now. “So this situation should remain calm.”

Twenty feet away. Fifteen. Ten. I stopped.

“Could you answer me, sir?” I said in my best soothing tone.

He smiled, and that’s when my instincts belatedly made the leap: Lucas Hurrin hadn’t actually swallowed the vodka.

The man leaned back like a circus performer and then heaved his upper body forward, spitting out the alcohol in a spray. Vodka’s not normally flammable—it has to be superheated. So of course it ignited into an expanding fireball almost instantly.

I could see it unfold in slow motion, feel the heat before the flames themselves began to wash over me. I twisted my body as it ballooned outward, and my exposed left arm and shoulder were completely engulfed. It wasn’t ordinary fire. It’s like Hurrin had transmuted the alcohol into a kind of plasma. I actually felt my uniform shirt disintegrate, the synthetic fibers melting against my skin and spiking the pain.

Training is a hell of a thing. My arm—burned or not—started grabbing for the tranq. As the wall of flame began to break apart, I cracked my eyes against the dissipating heat and took a look at Hurrin. The surprise on his face brought grim satisfaction. I pulled the small metal cylinder free from my belt and thumbed off the safety cap.

These days pretty much every police department had something like the tranq. It was a necessary countermeasure. If we had to detain an extro suspect, it’s not like handcuffs would always fit the bill—not like the tranq would either, but a slim hope is better than none. These things were designed to be fired up to ten feet away. Screw that. I went for what the manual termed “direct administration.”

Growling like a madman, I brandished the tranq above my shoulder like a horror movie psycho. By the time Hurrin realized I wasn’t going down he was only two feet away.

“Wait—” Hurrin said.

I slammed the tranq into his right thigh. Might have scraped a bone, but the industrial needle met no resistance I could detect. The mechanism inside whirred as it injected a vicious cocktail of chemical sleep. 

Hurrin bent down, grabbing at my bare shoulder. He tried to pour on the heat, but the drugs were already taking hold. I gasped as all his weight came crashing down on top of me. By the time I awkwardly dropped him into the uncut grass, he was out. Thank God. I knew those tranq chemicals would cause him all sorts of pain upon awakening.

I considered it karma. 

My shoulder was the next priority. It took a moment to work up the courage to look. I let out a breath, opened my eyes, and saw skin. Pale, seemingly unharmed skin. It felt irritated—like I’d forgotten to wear sunscreen while mowing the lawn—but that was it. I staggered under the feeling of relief that washed over me.

Perry closed the distance seconds later, dashing across the street with his weapon drawn. Couldn’t blame him for that, the fireball must have looked fatal from his vantage point. I slumped down onto the porch and held up a hand.

“You can holster it. He’s out.”

Perry slowed to a halt, mouth falling open. He wasn’t even looking at Hurrin. His eyes were latched onto the white flesh of my shoulder, its starkness amplified by the singed bits of surrounding shirt. I could see him put it together in less than a second. Perry was quick. Probably make detective some day.

He holstered his weapon and stood there. I waited for his gaze to make its way up to my eyes.

“You’re an extro,” he murmured. 

I looked at his face. Saw the bemusement and surprise, and the touch of fear. I decided to tell him the truth.

“I’m a cop,” I said.

THE END

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