October 22, 1973 (STILL) – We’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out

Thao (that’s the woman who came to warn us, who actually is Elvis’s cousin) didn’t know where Elvis was.  No one ever seems to know where he is.  I wonder if his reputation for wandering the neighborhood like an itinerant monk fixing people’s clogged sinks and babysitting and helping them pirate electricity is just a cover and really he’s doing something nefarious.  Madripoor seems like that kind of place.  I read a book about Port Royal once called The Wickedest City in the World.  It was about how the place was run by pirates.  I remembering thinking – this can’t all be true, you can’t have a city where everyone is on the hustle.  You need most people to be squares, otherwise who’s going to collect the garbage and clean toilets and other things no criminal wants to do?

But here we are.  I realize now that notion was narrow-minded.  In the Coalition, surrounded by roads and parks and Dairy Queens and drive-in movies and nude hot tubbing it’s easy to think that the world is a safe place, a tame place.  It isn’t.  

Thao didn’t know where Elvis was, but she knew where he was going to be later, washing dishes at a noodle house called Le Petit Point d’Arret Parlant.  Which is a pretty weird name.  I wanted to go looking for him, but Blue and Martialla said that roaming the streets like Hensel and Gretel (I always forget that birds came and ate their trail of crumbs, I wonder why that expression caught on since it didn’t work in the fable) would do no good, and in any case the Shadow Lords weren’t likely to kill him until later.  Thao didn’t even support me, she agreed that “probably” nothing was going to happen to her cousin until that night.

I kind of checked out while they continued talking about the best way to sell the Burlington Industries murder suit to maximize profits and minimize risk.  LBK doesn’t speak French, and even though they’re Canadian, Blue and Martialla don’t have real strong English (how does that make sense?) and the Tower of Babel stuff was getting old, so I chain smoked crappy cigarettes and drank crummy Chinese beer that seems to come in a “can” made of paper instead of paying much attention to what they were saying.

My grandmother would be very disappointed in me being sullen and withdrawn just because things aren’t going my way.  I loved her dearly but she was a hard woman.  It would have been nice if I had another grandmother who was more the nurturing sort to balance things out.  I’m the leader of this group (obviously) so I should always be doing most of the talking, but I found myself sinking further back into my chair and wondering how the Tropics are doing this year.  I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  

I haven’t even been in Madripoor for two months but it feels like I’ve been here forever.  And I don’t see any chance of getting out any time soon.  There’s no way we’re getting that money, I just know we won’t.  Something will happen.  When we try to sell this stupid robot suit, Mr. X or Superkill Shadow Lord or someone else I’ve pissed off is going to attack us.  And then some other supervillain asshole crimeboss is going to show up while we’re fighting them and steal the suit.  And then use it to give me tinnitus or an itchy rash on my thighs or some other damn thing to annoy me all day every day.  I started wallowing in self-pity and it’s challenging to pull out of a good wallow.  

While I was wallowing, I had a thought.  That Stars and Stripes jerk who showed up during the fight – who was he and what was he doing there?  Blue told me that a group called the New Founding Fathers are the ones that supered me up – a dude with an America flag chest seems like the sort that would be associated with a group like that.  Maybe this is some kind of field test of my powers and he’s been watching me this whole time.  Maybe the whole thing is a set-up.  I started peering suspiciously over my beer at everyone and wondering who else might be in on it.  I need some weed to calm my nerves.  Of course, they probably don’t even smoke weed in Madripoor, they probably smoke something like weed that’s made from sea urchin venom or some bullshit that gets you high but also causes violent cramping.  Stupid Madripoor.

Eventually it was time to go save Elvis so I had to pull myself out of my funk.  Martialla found some clothes that she put on OVER her wetsuit like a lunatic.  I think that thing is melded to her sick fish-flesh, she never takes it off.  How does she pee?  And she wasn’t even getting dressed to try and blend in, she just wanted someplace to hide her guns.  Blue didn’t even bother, he had an AK (or whatever) in his hand – which is actually fine in Madripoor.  How does he even pull the trigger with his giant lizard fingers?  He must use the claw.  Which seems fiddle.  LBK didn’t need any guns of course, since his hands are registered as deadly weapons with the deadly weapon registration bureau.  

I let Blue and Martialla go first (“taking point” as they called it) and I drifted back with LBK so I could feel normal for a minute.  Just a foreign lady and her friend out for a stroll.  I asked him how he came to speak English and he said that he went to a British School in Manilla before it was taken over by Japan.  We chit-chatted amiably for a while and then he confided in me that he got his powers from a mystical jungle rooster that was fifteen feet high.  So much for normal.

When we got to the noodle house, the woman in a red Cheongsam that was running the place acted like asking to speak to a dishwasher was stranger than the fact that we were there at all.  A giant blue lizard with a machine gun and a fish-woman walk into your restaurant and what fazes you is that they want to talk to the help?  She told us that we couldn’t talk to Elvis just then on account of he was washing dishes but she’d send him out on his break.  

I was only too happy to take a seat and start shoveling mie goreng into my maw and hammering bintang beer.  Blue and Martialla are used to it but LBK watched with fascination/horror.  The fact that my super-metabolism seemingly makes it impossible for me to get drunk really makes me try that much harder to get drunk.  I think I had four dozen beers that night.  I didn’t even get a buzz.

Fun fact, even though he’s huge, Blue hardly eats anything.  I guess lizards need far less food than mammals.  I don’t even know what Martialla eats, she probably sucks slime off the bottoms of ships or something like a catfish.  When my twentieth plate of noodles arrived, Blue gave me a concerned look (I think, lizard facial expressions are tough to decipher even for someone as emotionally keyed in as me).

“How are we going to pay for all of this?”

I ducked my head at LBK and talked around a mouthful of noodles “The new guy pays, it’s like an initiation.”

Lim seemed like he was going to say something but just then Elvis came over to our table.  He looked clean for once and grinned at the sight of me.  I never noticed before that he’s actually pretty handsome.  Or maybe that was the forty-eight beers talking.  

He wiped his hands on a towel and then threw it over his shoulder “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

I managed to stop eating for a second “We’re here to rescue you.”

He smiled slightly “From washing dishes?”

I shook my head “No, this is serious, the Shadow Lords say they’re coming for you tonight.”

He nodded “Yeah, I heard about that.  Ela, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, there’s always someone gunning for me.  I’ve learned the appropriate response is just to live my life.  I live the way I like and I’ll die the way I’ll die.  I get threatened all the time.”

“I think they mean it this time.”

He looked over at the other people at the table “So you came to defend me?  I barely know you, these other people I don’t know at all.”  

I gestured “These are my friends.” I pointed at LBK “Except him, he just glommed onto us like a slug.”

LBK threw his hands up “You told me to come!”  

“Nobody told you to follow fish-lips back to our secret lair from the robbery.”

“Secret lair?  It’s a bar in touristville!”

Elvis smiled “And you all came out to risk your lives for me?  I’m touched, truly.  But it’s not necessary.  However, if you want to protect me at a few bars after I get off work, that sounds great.  In fact, I was hoping I would see you, I’ve been working on a little surprise for you.”

October 22, 1973 – Elvis dies tonight

Blue carried me away from the fracas and down to the docks.  I suppose maybe that should have made me feel safe or something, but it didn’t.  It made me feel like a damn baby – helpless and vulnerable.  Also, his arms feel like leather on account of he’s a giant scaly monster – in case you forgot that.  When he set me down, he grabbed a hose and started rinsing the exploded human remains off me.  It took a good half an hour – I had a lot of exploded guy on me.  The entire time, despite the fact that it was nine hundred degrees like it always is here, I stood there shivering like a dog that’s being hosed down behind the barn after being sprayed by a skunk.  

When I looked down at the rapidly pinking water, I saw little silver fish coming up to nibble on the chunks of human flesh bobbing in the ocean.  I was in shock at that point, I guess.  I suppose I thought having super powers and fighting crime would be fun.  It’s not.  It’s pretty fucking terrible so far.  I don’t remember Bat-Girl ever struggling to comb chunks of brain matter out of her hair with a gaff hook while being sprayed like a mental patient with a dock hose.  Turns out the real world isn’t like TV.  Who knew?  I have a serious bone to pick with Archibald Low.

After I was “clean” Blue made like he was going to carry me back to Kruszarka 495 but I made him put me down so I could walk myself.  I’m not going to be carried twice in one day.  Not unless my legs are broken.  Or if I’m tired.  Or if I don’t feel like walking.  The point is if it happens, it’s going to be my choice.  I was pretty shaky at first as we walked, but for once the streets were mostly empty which helped me find my footing.  Before that moment, I don’t think I had been outside in Madripoor for two seconds without five to nine people pressed up against me like I was on the subway.  Or at a key party.  You know.

While we were walking, Blue looked down at me and said that he thought I needed some new threads.  I looked down at my borrowed clothing, comprehensively soiled with blood and human remains, and started laughing hysterically. I don’t know why.  Probably because I was hysterical.  Hence the expression.  It was just what I needed though.  Nothing like a cheap laugh to help you shake off a little thing like a guy exploding all over you (phrasing).

When we got to the bar, Martialla was there with the Man in Black.  They were sitting at a table drinking a concoction of rice wine and corn spirits they mix up around here and talking animatedly like they were old friends.  His name, I discovered, was Lim Boon Keng, and like Elvis he’s a neighborhood defender.  Although unlike Elvis, he’s not just a gritty little nobody, LBK has been gifted with super-agility and enhanced reflexes and “fighting spirit”.  He was cagey about where these gifts came from though.  He had followed Martialla back here and I guess they hit it off even though she’s a disgusting fish-monster.  There’s no accounting for taste.  I think Anton Chekhov said that.  Or maybe my grandma.  I get those two mixed up sometimes.

Martialla had grabbed a bunch of the crazy pink and purple money they have around here when the frat boys dropped it to start shooting (or because they exploded) but the big coup was that she dragged the robot-armor back as well, which she claimed would be worth millions.  The only thing I know about robot-suits is that the commies in South America have them so that’s why we need to create superheroes like Angel (before she got killed I mean) in order to fight them so they don’t turn us all into dirty commies.  But if each suit is worth millions, how do the commies afford them?  Isn’t being poor their whole thing?  I should learn more about global politics. 

I don’t know what military-grade killer robot suits have – label doesn’t seem right – that’s for clothing.  But whatever it had said that it was made by Burlington Industries, which I’ve actually heard of.  They’re a US company that makes fabrics that came up with a kind of new bullet-resistant stuff back in the 50’s and then got in a bunch of trouble for selling it to law enforcement people in the CS.  I guess they’re getting into the robot-suit game now?  Robotics seems like a far cry from making socks if you ask me, even bulletproof socks, but then again the Calloway Golf people also make parts for tanks, so what do I know about it?  I suppose you need to diversify to make money. 

Martialla and LBK were jazzed up because they thought we could take the suit to “the Shipyard” and sell it quick and be rich.  First of all, I’m not sure why the Man in Black thought he was getting a cut of money – he’s not part of our crew.  Second of all, taking a multi-million dollar robot-suit to a lawless criminal swap meet doesn’t seem like a wise move.  Why am I the only one who thinks of these things?

By the way, in classic Madripoor tradition, the Shipyard is not a shipyard at all, but rather an old soccer stadium that has been turned into a bazaar because it turns out no one here gives a shit about soccer.  I want to call it a black market but there’s really no such thing in Madirpoor, no one cares, sell whatever you want.  Making things more confusing is the fact that Madripoor has many actual shipyards.  When I voiced my concerns, Blue did chime in with the little tidbit that the Shipyard is the territory of a criminal quartet with the imaginative name of The Four.  Because there’s four of them. 

“See there you go, if we take this suit down there, these people are just going to take it from us.  No honor among thieves and so forth.  Now what we could maybe do is head down there and feel things out, see if someone seems like a likely buyer and set up a deal.”

LBK shook his head “If they find out, they won’t like that – they get a portion of all the sales in the Shipyard, so we’d be cutting them out.”

Blue’s tail was twitching curiously “I’ve dealt with them before, I’m sure we can work something out.”

While we were discussing one of Elvis’s sisters (or cousins, or maybe just friends, I can’t keep track – and not because I’m racist and think they all look alike, but because there’s a lot of them and I only meet them briefly) came in looking for me.  Which is a disturbing development.  Is this where I live now?  Is it known that I live in a bar?  That can’t be good.  That’s very low class.  She was clearly upset by something but it took a while to figure out what.  She spoke a different language than LBK, so it was Blue that was doing the translating with his twenty percent pidgin of the local patois.  Is that the right word?  What is a patois?  Sounds French so I should know. 

Eventually we figured it out – the Shadow Lords had declared that Elvis would be killed that night.  I guess this is a thing they do when they’re going to murder someone who’s really been a thorn in their side.  They made a grand proclamation so that everyone knows what’s going to go down and that they shouldn’t be messed with.  I took a last drink of cheap vodka and stood up feeling dog tired.  Even though I have super endurance. 

I let out what I have to admit was a very theatrical sigh “Well, grab your guns, it’s go time.”

Martialla frowned “What do you mean?”

I gestured “Didn’t you just hear?  We have to protect Elvis.”

Martialla looked confused “The singer?”

“No, the guy who saved me from the Shadow Lords when I first got here!”

“I thought you saved yourself.”

“Well I did, sort of, but he was the first person who helped me.  He’s my friend.  We need to go help him.  Plus, then you grab one of the Shadow Lords and beat him until he tells you where your niece is.  It’s a win-win.”

She looked at Blue who shrugged (lizard style with the tongue) “I’ll go get in a fight.  I don’t know what Elvis Presley is doing here but I always liked Suspicious Minds.”

LBK nodded “Good, good, you go do that and I’ll see about selling this suit.”

“The fuck you will, buddy.  You want in on this then you’re coming with us.”

Blue lizard-grinned at me “Look, we’re a super team just like you wanted, Ela.  I’m the big guy, M is the water specialist, you’re the leader, and now we have a stealthy guy.  It’s all coming together.”

I lit up one of the shitty local smokes they have here “Yeah, when I was on tour with KC and The Sunshine Band, this is exactly how I imagined my life going.”

Character – Elvis (not that one)

Raised in a collective on the mainland, Elvis was never what you’d call a strong supporter of the cause of international communism.  He wasn’t lazy . . . . exactly, but he was more interested in sports than planting community gardens or union organizing.  At a young age his goal was to compete in the Olympics.  In what sport?  What sport you got?  When his parents explained to him that participating in international athletic events was a betrayal of their ideological and political views, parents and son looked at each other and realized they had gone about as far together as they were likely to.

Elvis ran away, first to Vietnam and eventually to Madripoor, connecting with relatives whose concerns were a little more localized than the cause of global Marxism.  If his parents tried to find him, they didn’t try very hard.  Running the streets of Madripoor and getting into fights, Elvis likely would have ended up in a gang (or dead) if he hadn’t been captured in the orbit of his iron-willed grandmother.  Under her auspices, Elvis was directed towards physical pursuits more beneficial to the neighborhood and the community. 

In his heart of hearts Elvis considers himself the defender of the neighborhood, but he’d never say it out loud knowing what his grandmother would say about such foolishness.  In reality he does far more good as a self-taught handyman/contractor/carpenter/plumber/electrician than he does by punching out gangsters.   Since he doesn’t care much about money or things Elvis rarely bothers to ask for payment when he fixes something for someone or helps them.  At most he asks them for a favor that he uses to help someone else to needs something fixed.  Ironically making him a pretty good communist in function if not philosophy.  The community will be much worse off when he finally gets himself killed.  Which should be any day now.

Elvis has no superhuman abilities, but is a skilled hand to hand combatant.  He’s dabbled in various martial arts here and there but he’s more of a back-alley brawler than anything.  Unburdened by fear, unbothered by pain, and unfamiliar with good sense, when Elvis gets in a fight he never stops swinging, relentlessly attacking his opponents regardless of the damage he takes in the process.

People started calling him Elvis because of his unwarranted love for the movie Blue Hawaii, but no one remembers that since he grew the sideburns. 

Elvis HATES pimps.  His grandma’s street is the only one in the border zone of Madripoor where you will never find anyone hustling for johns. 

September 6th, 1973 – Which way to the embassy?

I asked my new best friend Elvis to point me towards the consulate for the Coalition States.  He didn’t know what I was talking about.  Doesn’t every country have a place in every other country where you go after you get kidnapped?  I tried to explain to him what an embassy was but I was hamstrung by the fact that I don’t really know what an embassy is.  It’s where the ambassador lives right?  That went nowhere but since I was still starving he took me to an open air noodle place.  It was like a shelter in a park, only it was a restaurant.  Elvis watched with mild disgust as I shoved noodles in my mouth.

“Why are you so scrawny if you eat like that?”

“Scrawny?!  I’m perfectly proportioned!”

He shrugged slightly “I guess.  Where does all the food go, that’s what I want to know.”

I looked around at the surrounding buildings “What I want to know is where the real food is around here.  I would die for a cheeseburger right now.  And some fries.  And a Coke.  And some cookies.  And a hot dog.  And some pizza.  And some ice cream.  I think those guys gave me a tapeworm or something.”

“What makes you think they did anything to you?”

“Well aside from the fact that I’m starving to death and I have a headache that would kill a gorilla, there’s this.” I twisted a fork around into a blob as easily as if it was a pipe cleaner.

He made a face “There’s no reason to ruin a good fork.  Are you saying you couldn’t do that before?” I shook my head “Huh.  I thought you were one of those American superwomen.  If the Shadow Lords have figured out how to give people superpowers that’s not going to be good for anyone.”

“What are you talking about?  What superwomen?”

He cocked his head slightly “I see in the news all the time about Americans flying around and blowing up bases and thwarting missile attacks.  Stuff like that.”

I chewed for a moment “You mean those two guys in the military that are always overthrowing regimes in South America?  And that Angel woman who just died?  What does that have to do with me?”

“Nothing apparently.  Supermen and women come from America and you have superpowers and are from America so I thought that’s what was happening.”

“You keep saying America like that’s a country.  I’m from the Coalition, I was born in the States and moved to the Pecos Republic but . . .”

Elvis held his hands up “Don’t get bent out of shape at me, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a strong grasp on the geography of southeast Asia either.”

“Fair enough.  Any thoughts on how I can get home?”

“Hmm, can’t you just fly?”

“How would I know if I could?”

He considered for a moment “Jump off a roof and see what happens?”

“Pass.”

“You’re going to need a plane ticket then sounds like.  Which means you’re going to need money.  I heard the Shadow Lords are looking for people like you.  I don’t know how well they pay though.  I think it’s more of an unpaid internship.”

“Hilarious.  You want to loan me some of your funny purple money to get home?  I’ll wire you the money back.  Eventually.  It may take a while, I’m kind of between jobs at the moment.”

He plucked at his dirty shirt “Do I look like I have any money to you?”

“No you don’t.  So what is your deal?  You just wander around picking fights with sex traffickers?”

He tilted his head “More or less yeah.  I know I guy you can talk to.  He’s in the CIA so he should be able to get you home somehow.”

“If he’s in the CIA how do you know about him?”

“I didn’t say he was good at his job.”

September 6th, 1973 – Elvis against the Shadowmen

Smiley suddenly dropped his ill-fitting suit of friendliness “We didn’t do anything to you.  You Americans are the ones who make monsters.  I have other appointments and I’m tired of asking nicely.  You work for us.  Now come along.”

He grabbed my wrist and without thinking about it, I reacted by shoving him.  Seemed like I barely touched him, but he went ass over teakettle off the stool like he got hit with a wrecking ball.  I jumped to my feet more out of surprise than anything, and one of his dark suited goons had a pistol aimed at me.  The others had their hands on their weapons as well but didn’t show them.  The smooth talker was on the ground wheezing like he was having an asthma attack so I spoke to the fellow with a gun in my face.

“What’s your plan?  If you shoot me in the face I don’t think you’re going to be bringing me in for what your boss wants.  You’re in a tough spot here buddy.”

“He can’t understand you, he doesn’t speak English.”

The new voice was a smallish fellow with mussed hair that looked like he had just woken up, possibly from sleeping in the street, although he was dressed fashionably enough.  He had thick sideburns that put his scraggy chin whiskers to shame.  Everyone else on the street had cleared out when Smiles and his friends turned, but this fellow had come towards the commotion. The wheezing man on the ground finally managed to catch his breath enough to speak.

“This doesn’t concern you Elvis.”

I raised an eyebrow “Elvis?”

He half shrugged “It’s more of a nickname.”  He turned to the man in the tan suit who was finally getting up with the aid of two of his lackeys “This is my street, everything that happens here concerns me.”

Tan suit reached into his pocket and came out with not a gun, or even a knife, but a dagger.  What’s the difference between a knife and a dagger?  I don’t know, but this was a dagger for sure.  It didn’t look like something any army man would have, it looked like something out of a Hercules movie, it had symbols etched into it and everything.

Elvis sighed at the sight of the blade “Look man I’m hung over, do we really need do go through this again right now?  You don’t have enough guys here to take me, do we have to go through the motions?  Do we want to see me snatch this guy’s gun away and then kick this guy here in the throat and beat all your asses?  We know how this is going to end, do we need to do it again?”

The dagger-wielder looked mildly surprised “You’re willing to cross us for this white girl?  This isn’t like before, this time it means war Elvis.”

Elvis looked unhappy “This is my street.”

Tan suit put his dagger away and waved for his men to back off “So be it.”

Elvis watched them walk away for a moment and then sighed again and sat down at the counter, reaching over and grabbing some weird little round glass bottle which he popped the top off with his thumb and took a drink.

“So, ah, who were those nice gentlemen?’

The glance at me and grunted “Those were some of the Shadow Lords.”

I scowled “Shadow Lords?  What kind of name is that?  Have I wandered into a Dick Tracy adventure?”

“When you’re an international criminal syndicate it doesn’t pay to be subtle.  Shadow Lords probably sounds better in Pilipino.”

“How do you say it in Pilipino?”

He frowned “How should I know?  Do I look Pilipino to you?

“Uh . . . . . no?”

He chuckled “Good answer.”