October 15, 1973 – Enter Martialla the super-mermaid!

It was the perfect plan.  I need food and I need money.  The answer?  Sharks!  Of course, the answer is usually sharks.  Did you know the largest order of sharks is called ground sharks?  I didn’t.  How does that make sense?  They don’t live on the ground at all!  Quite the opposite in fact.  There’s also an order of sharks called carpet sharks which sounds like a type of VD.  “Sorry sweetie I know it’s your birthday but my carpet sharks are flaring up.  Maybe next week.” 

The plan was simple.  Step one, I wade out into the ocean.  Sharks, being the voracious killing machines that they are would immediately come to attack me.  Ah-ha but the stupid fish wouldn’t be counting on me having the strength of twenty men – twenty men that were also very strong, not twenty normal sissy men.  Step two, the shark charges at me, eyes rolling wildly full of murderous rage, and I flip it onto the shore as easily as some square flipping pancakes at a church breakfast.  The shark is helpless on the shore and Blue bashes its head in with a mighty lizard-fist.  And Robert’s your father’s brother. 

Step three, we drag the carcass of the deadly monster triumphantly through the streets while people cheer our mighty triumph over nature’s perfect assassin to my favorite grilled fish place where they buy half from me for a boatload of crazy purple and pink money and they cook up the other half for me to devour on the spot.  What delicious irony!  The shark thought it was going to eat me and instead I eat it!  What a country!

The plan was flawless.  But the issue with the execution of that flawless plan was that no sharks came to eat me.  The nature shows try to say that sharks are shy and no threat to people as long as we leave them alone but that’s bullshit.  I read Jaws, I know the deal.  All the sharks must have been busy eating people somewhere else.  Probably what happened is a bus full of school children fell off a bridge and the sharks were all over eating them.  And the children they didn’t eat they held for ransom in their sea-caves.  Which is a real dick move because sharks don’t even understand the concept of money!  They were just doing it to torment the parents.  Sharks are like that.

I was just about to give up on this flawless plan when not a shark or even a shark woman but just a normal (sort of) woman popped out of the water wearing a wetsuit but no SCUBA gear.  I guess surfers wear those suits sometimes but she had no surfboard either.  Oh, also her eyes were all white and her fingers were webbed.  She looked kind of like Jenny Kemp, except for the monster eyes and freak hands.  Her French was funky like Blue’s, so she must be Quebecois or some other kind of fake French person.  Someday I want to meet someone here who speaks proper French.  Not French like they speak in France, but proper French like we speak in Arkansas. 

She looked at me curiously (I think, hard to know for sure with those eyes you know) “What are you doing out here?”

I gestured “Fishing for sharks, isn’t that obvious?  What are you doing?”

She looked around with her crazy pale eyes “Is this Madripoor?  I’m looking for my niece.”

I nodded “It sure is.  Are you saying that you just swam here?  Like from a boat?”

“No, from Vladivostok.” When she saw the look of shock on my face she shrugged “I’m a pretty good swimmer.”

“Are you looking for your niece like she’s lost or you mean looking for her like you’re going to stay with her for the weekend and you don’t know where her apartment is?”

“She was kidnapped.  I’m here to take her home to my sister.  And to kill the men that took her.”

“Right on, right on.” I clapped her on the shoulder “Well good luck with that, I got sharks to catch and you have men to kill so I’ll let you get to it.”

“Where is the ship called Empire?’

I turned back to her “Well now, that is an interesting development, a clear cut situation with a promise of advancing the plot you might say!  It just so happens that I was kidnapped and brought here on a ship called the Empire.  We have much to discuss.  But first, can you use your powers to talk to fish?  Tell them to come up here so I can eat them.  Well, kill them and have someone cook them first and then eat them, but you know.”

She cocked her head “Talk to fish?  I can’t do that.  Why would you think I could?”

“What about whales?’ She shook her head “You can’t even communicate with marine life?  All you can do is swim?  So you’re even worse than Aquaman?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

I smiled “What’s your name?”

“Martialla Chernyshevsky”

I put an arm around her and headed for the shore where Blue was watching with interest. “Martialla Chernyshevsky, I have a feeling we’re going to be good friends.  There’s just something I like about you. And I don’t like many people. Let me introduce you to my other friend, the giant blue lizard monster.” I laughed in joy “Now things are really starting to snowball.  We’ll be a league of justice in no time!” 

October 14, 1973 – License to krill

I ate a bucket of krill today.  I don’t know exactly what krill is, but I know that it’s what whales eat.  This is where I’m at in life.  And the worst part, I couldn’t even pay for it.  It was a bucket of charity krill.  Actually the worst part was the taste.  Actually the worst part was how grateful I was to get a disgusting bucket of slime.  I was shoveling it into my mouth like . . . well like something. 

If you had talked to me before I came to Madripoor, I would have told you that I was a real hero for overcoming my hardscrabble upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks and making something of myself.  I would have told you about how I fought my way up from the gutter.  But now I know better.  There’s gutters and then there’s gutters you know?  Read national geographic all you want, but you can’t know what life is really like for some people out there.   

I’ve been eating Blue out of house and home.  Which isn’t hard because he has neither house nor home.  He flops in the backroom of some crazy store that sells herbal dick hardeners and powdered tiger penis and stuff like that.  The man was a fucking special forces commando and he’s barely one rung up the ladder from me – and I’m essentially homeless.  I guess this is why so many super people become super villains – how else are you going to make money?  Being super strong and super tough seems only to be valuable on the supply side of crime.  Superman never made any money saving the world from Solomon Grundy.  At least Grundy had a sewer to live in. 

I’m hungry all the time, but even more than that I want a GOD DAMN CIGARETTE.  I want that sweet, sweet poison in my bloodstream.  I want that feeling of floating, of being lifted aloft by a pair of tarry filthy wings to be carried away by the wind.  Everything’s better when you smoke.  Your fears and anxieties don’t seem so bad because you got your old pal with you – inside of you!  That’s closer than any stupid non-smoke friends can ever get.  Well, they can get inside you a couple inches, but that’s different.  Now that I’m super powered it’s probably not even bad for me!  The point is – with your pal nicotine on your side you can handle anything. 

But there’s no use whining about how I want a bottle of tequila and a pack of 100s and a big fat juicy triple bacon burger with fries and an entire peach pie, you just gotta push forward.  Crying don’t put cigarettes in your pocket.  I mean Blue is a monster and he doesn’t complain about it.  Much.   

When I was on my disastrous (although it resulted in me becoming friends with Canadian Wally Gator so maybe it was actually great?) path of trying to cozy up to the pirates of Madripoor (I like the sound of that, maybe I should write a musical) I learned a little about the maritime shipping trade, and I know a little from working on the docks.  But I still have no idea how it all works really.  There’s 88 billion ships coming and going all the time, how the hell do you organize that?  I don’t really want to know because it’s super boring.  I got trapped talking to (being talked at really) some crusty old British guy who went on and on about what transshipping actually means and some treaty in 1912 about how the Strait of Malacca gets used.  I think his attempt to bore me to death came closer to taking me out than anything else since I got here. 

Blue said that he didn’t know anything about it and I couldn’t find Elvis (I should check in with his grandma since the Shadow Lords said they were going to kill him and all) so I returned to the crappy confines of Pinetree International Exports and its owner, chief operator, and proprietor of Alcazar.  He wasn’t happy to see me even though I am a pure delight and my Spanish is flawless.  You really find out who your friends are when you’re marked for death by an underworld murder crew.  I told him I wanted to find out everything I could about the ship that brought me to Madripoor.  He asked what was in it for him.  I said not getting his arms torn off by Blue.  I could also tear his arms off, but for some reason people are more intimidated by a giant blue lizardman than a soulful and sexy singer with a top 40 hit.  People are strange like that.

He didn’t have much information for me other than the ship is called “Empire” and it’s owned by Ulysses Tanker Corporation of Liberia.  For more than that we’d have to seek out THE HARBORMASTER.  Seems like an importer/exporter should know more about a ship.  Blue and I were on our way to see THE HARBORMASTER when I did a double take.  On the other side of the street I saw a familiar face.  Not familiar in the sense that I knew the guy, but familiar in the sense that I had seen him on TV.  You don’t see too many westerners outside of touristville but that’s not the only thing that made him stand out – he was also head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.  I poked Blue and pointed him out.  My grandma always said that pointing is rude but sometimes it’s necessary.

“Is that Wildman Wayne Wiley?” 

Blue squinted, I think his lizard eyeballs don’t see so good “The wrestler?  Yeah, I think it is.” 

“What the heck is he doing here?” 

“Probably here for the tournament.” 

I frowned “I thought that death sport you all are so proud of here was for super people.” 

“I’m not from here so don’t lump me into the death sports crowd.  Maybe he is a super person, didn’t he have to flee from the states because he beat a man to death in the ring?” 

“Did that really happen?  I assumed that was something they made up to make him seem tough, wrestling is fake you know.” 

He made a lizard huffing noise that I have come to understand is a snicker “You don’t say.” 

“Shut up.  Maybe we should talk to him.” 

“The murderer who came here to fight other men to the death for laughs?  Why would we want to talk to someone like that?” 

“It would be nice to hear someone speaking English for one.  But more because maybe he has a private jet that can get us out of here.” 

“Why would he let us on his private jet?” 

“Maybe he’s a music fan.  I had a top forty hit you know.” 

He flicked his tongue out in a reptile equivalent of an eye-roll “No, you never mention it.” 

“You’re just a jealous blue lizard.  Okay, forget the wildman let’s just find his jet and I’ll flash my boobs at the pilot and he’ll fly us to Zanzibar.” 

He gave me a side-eye “You have a pretty healthy opinion about your boobs.” 

“Can you blame me?  They’ve gotten me out of plenty of jams.” 

“And into just as many more I bet.  How about we just stick with the harbormaster plan?  Stealing the jet of a killing machine doesn’t seem like a great idea to me.” 

“You didn’t even like that plan to begin with!” 

“I know, but you just keep coming up with worse ones.” 

“Well I don’t hear any big amount of ideas coming from you!  Aren’t you supposed to be a tactician or a strategist or something?  Strategy us a way out of this!  Don’t just complain about my plans.  What did you learn to do in the Canadian military anyway!” 

His mouth hung open on the sides, a lizard-grin “Make maple syrup mostly.  I’m so glad I met you, I really value our friendship.” 

October 4, 1973 – SUPERFIGHT!!!!

Editor’s note – I know what you’re thinking “Jeremy, the Kool-Aid Man character didn’t come out until 1974 you moron!  You’re the worst writer ever.”  Well I am the worst writer ever but you’re forgetting that this is an alternate history deal.  In this world the Kool-Aid Man commercials started airing in 1972!  The changes that led up to this alteration and the staggering ramifications of it will be explored in my forthcoming graphic novel Kool-Aid: 1972.

A quarter of the world’s maritime trade passes through the Malacca Straits.  Half of all seaborne chemical and gas shipments pass through. So of course the area is infested with well-organized, well-armed, and ruthless pirates.  When they aren’t chased off by local brutal corporate-sponsored hired goons anyway. It’s estimated by people that estimate things that over one hundred ships a year go missing around Madripoor.  Hijacked and redirected to another port.  This does not include the innumerable others attacked and raided on their journeys.

When I first heard people in Madripoor talking about pirates, it threw me for a loop.  I never hear anyone in the CS talking about pirates.  The word pirate makes me think of ships with sails and guys with swords.  But I guess, thinking about it logically, there’s no reason for pirates to have gone away.  If you can’t stop people from stealing your shit, they’re going to steal it.  That’s a rule of some kind.

Grain of salt because it’s all rumors, but I understand that it’s sometimes part of an insurance scam.  You got a shipful of hot pants headed for Africa and suddenly hot pants aren’t cool anymore.  They’re just going to take up room in your warehouse in Johannesburg.  So you get in touch with your fixer who knows a pirate boss.  They “attack” the ship, you get the insurance, and they get some ransom money.  You dump the hotpants into the sea and everyone wins.  Except the insurance company.

I figured that pirates wouldn’t be afraid of the Shadow Lords and also could get me out of here.  You may be thinking “Dealing with pirates, Ela?  That sounds like a terrible idea.”  You happen to be right but where were you yesterday asshole? 

In my defense I’m a singer, not a . . . person who deals with whatever this situation is.  Whatever Steve McQueen would be if he was a real badass and not just an actor.  Whatever that is, I’m not that.  I’m all alone here and I don’t know what’s going on.  Plus, you don’t understand what kind of place Madripoor is.  If you were here you’d think that buddying up to pirates was perfectly normal.

Elvis’s friend Say likes to party so we went to a couple bars, a couple clubs, a couple parties, and it just so happens that I managed to rub elbows with a couple people in the piracy world.  Sidenote, about twenty percent of the men here are super into me because I’m white.  And about twenty percent think I’m super gross for the same reason.  It’s interesting. 

I met a guy I thought was named Preman.  I learned later that “preman” means gangster in Indonesian.  Although it’s actually from the Dutch language and means rooster.  Language is complicated.  “Preman” and I hung out a few times, smoked something like weed, drank some weird booze, and got to know each other.  Once we were good pals, he said a friend of a friend of a friend of his could help me out and wasn’t scared of the Shadow Lords and I should meet him at a restaurant the next morning to talk details.

It was a set-up of course.  What I didn’t know then is that the Shadow Lords were basically the seaside agents of the local pirates when the first came to Madirpoor.  The pirates would steal the stuff and then pass it off to the Shadow Lords as the middlemen.  Not only that, but most of the pirates around here are groups that grew out of the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon, a resistance group from the Philippines that fought against Japanese occupation.  The Huk and the Shadow Lords both hate the yazuka so they bond over that.  The point is that the entire idea was more or less the worst thing I could have done.

“Preman” and a friend came in to the restaurant, we sat down, and next thing I know someone is behind me and has a rag over my mouth.  Here’s the thing though, with my new metabolism nothing like that seems to affect me much.  I don’t know if the Shadow Lords didn’t warn them or if they didn’t know. 

I grabbed the ragman’s arm and flung him across the room like I was tossing a Frisbee (or a bag of rags, a ragbag if you will).  When I swung him around, I felt his arm come out of the socket.  Which was a little nauseating, but if we’re being honest it felt good too.  I was angry and frustrated and it felt good to hurt someone.  Does that make me awful?  I don’t know. 

“Preman” got the hell out of there but his buddy went for a gun.  I flipped the table into him and the gun fired.  You always forget how LOUD those damn things are.  As he raised the gun again, trying to get disentangled from the table, I tried to yank the gun out of his hand.  Instead I crushed them both.  The gun and the hand.  I never heard a human being make a noise like he did as he fell back against the wall cradling his hand to his chest.  It was truly chilling.

I took a hold of his forehead in one hand like Jackie Moon palming a basketball.  I wanted so badly to squeeze it.  That’s all it would have taken.  One little squeeze and a man is dead.  It would have been no more effort than checking the ripeness of a peach.  Just a little squeeze.  I wanted it more than I wanted any cigarette or any drink.  A part of my brain told me it would make everything better.  It would make all the pain go away.  No one would ever fuck with me again.  He was a bad guy, wasn’t he?  Why did he deserve to live? 

I wanted it. 

But I didn’t do it.  Just as I let the guman go, their ace in the hole came smashing in.  And I mean that literally.  He crashed through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man.  I have no idea why, the door was wide open.  He was easily over seven feet tall and he had electric blue scales.  It was like the skin of a technicolor crocodile on acid.   Only you know, on a big dude.  He didn’t look like a rhino but something about him made me think of a rhino.  Maybe just because he was massive and leathery and mean looking.

He came charging at me like a bull (a bull rhino) and I threw another table at him.  He batted it aside like he was swatting a volleyball.  I managed to leap out of the way of his crashing tackle and he slammed into and through the other wall out into the street.  I hope this restaurant is owned by the pirates or the Shadow Lords, because I’d hate to think some innocent people got their place wrecked just because this is where some assholes chose as their kidnap location.

As the blue alligator rhino man was getting back to his feet in the wall-hole, I grabbed him around the waist and hurled him back over my shoulders like a sack of grain.  It feels weird when you can throw someone ten times your size, but I knew from working on the docks I could lift him easily.  He slammed into the ground hard enough to shake the building.  Which was getting pretty shaky already from being run through on both sides.  I think I saw “Run through on both sides” on the marquee of a movie theater once.  You know the kind I mean.

I was ready to rumble but I saw that blueman’s head was twisted at a funny angle.  Not funny ha-ha but funny “oh shit I just killed a guy”.  I won’t lie, I stood there staring, mouth agape for a moment.  I’m not a murderer you know.  But while I stood there I heard a crazy crackling, snapping, popping noise and his head jerked back to the right way and his eyes opened.  I guess he can heal super-fast.

Since he wasn’t dead, I went outside and pushed the building down on him.  I should have grabbed something to drink before I did that.  Fighting is thirsty business.

September 27, 1973 – Avengers Assemble!

Elvis and I ended up on a couple of rickety chairs on the roof of his grandma’s place.  Not like a roof roof you know, it was like a patio with a garden.  Sort of.  It’s a different building style out here so I don’t know how to explain it.  Check it out sometime and you’ll know what I mean.  The first time I saw Elvis, I thought he looked like he had been sleeping in a dirty alley.  Now I think that’s just what he looks like after a day of crawling under sinks and on roofs to fix things.  Also he may have been sleeping in a dirty alley.  He handed me a bottle of . . . something alcoholic.  It tasted sort of like candy.  Shitty candy.  The kind that the bad house gives away at Halloween. 

I took another drink and grimaced “I don’t mean to sound provincial but what you people need is some decent booze.” 

“Sorry, for some reason it’s hard to find good American Kentucky bourbon here.  Must be eight thousand years of having our own culture.  I’m sure your Imperial overlords will straighten us out soon enough.” 

“You keep acting like I’m from the US, and I keep telling you I’m from the Coalition, we save all our military atrocities for South America, not south Asia.” 

He nodded apologetically “My mistake.” 

I asked him to tell me about the Shadow Lords and he did.  Nothing terribly useful though.  In the 1800s someone starts cultivating drugs and selling them to a cartel in the Andes and that leads to one gang which leads to another and Triads from China get involved and then the yakuza during the war and a bunch of people get killed and one group takes over another and etc. etc.  Long story short they’re an organization of violent gangsters in a place where the authorities don’t really care as long as they don’t stop rich people from becoming richer.   

“So, Madripoor has more than its fair share of NBHs right?  What we need to do is gather them together to stand against the criminals.” 

“Stand against how?  You want to kill them?  Gang warfare?” 

“No of course not.  I mean just . . . stop them . . . somehow.  You know, with superpowers.  We could form a league of justice of some kind.  Or a justice league if you will.” 

“Hmm, I’m not sure how being able to jump really high or lift heavy boxes helps with the societal and economic conditions that lead to crime.  Plus anyone like that is more likely to be working for the Shadow Lords or another gang rather than against them.  I know they have two people like that at least in their crew.” 

“Like that guy who pulled that weird knife?” 

Elvis shook his head “No, that’s just a shadowknife.” 

I waved irritably “Sure just a shadowknife, we all know what that is.” 

“It’s a mystic weapon that cuts not just the flesh but also the soul, to enslave the spirits of the people killed by it.  You know how that goes.  Also it allows you to travel to the Plateau of Leng if you believe in that kind of thing.” Elvis raised his glass as if in a toast “The leaders of the Shadow Lords all have them, stolen from a monastery on the mainland, hence the name.” 

“Wonderful.  So I’m not hearing a ton of support for my league of justice idea coming from you.” 

“Well, there’s a guy I know a little who has bulletproof skin, he’s an asshole but he likes money.  He’ll help if you pay him.  There’s a guy around who can turn into a tiger that’s not affiliated with any gang in particular.  He might help if you want to kill these guys.  He likes killing people.” 

“I don’t want to kill anyone!  I just . . . want to do whatever Superman does.” 

“What does Superman do?” 

“I don’t know, send them to the Phantom Zone?  I’m not a dork that reads comics.  What if I made a deal with the Shadow Lords?  If I defeat their champion then they leave me alone.” 

“Why would they agree to that?  And why would you trust them even if they did?” 

“Uh, honor?” 

He ticked off on his fingers “Drug trafficking, sex trafficking, slavery, murder, what makes you think these people have honor?  This isn’t a kung fu movie, the bad guys don’t have a code you can exploit.  Besides which, and I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, you’d never win anyway.” 

“Why do you say that?  I could knock this whole house down.” 

“First, please don’t knock my grandma’s house down.  Second, strength is fine, but who would you bet on in a fight – Joe Frazier or Vasily Alekseyev?” 

“Who’s Vasily Alekseyev?” 

“A Russian power lifter.  The strongest man in the world.  The strongest normal man anyhow.” 

“I take your point but you said it yourself, they’re normal.  I’m stronger than him.  I’m superhuman.  That has to count for something.”

Elvis stood up “Try and hit me.” 

“I’ll kill you.” 

He shook his head “You wont hurt me.” 

After much prompting I eventually got up and stood in front of him.  I threw the lightest punch I could and he slapped it away like a fly.  I tried a little harder and he avoided it again.  He didn’t really dodge or block it, but kind of did both – sliding away and moving my hand a little at the same time.  After the third time, he not only slipped my strike but he smacked me back in the face. 

“Hey!  Don’t do that!” 

“Is that what you’re going to tell the man you want to fight?  Don’t hit me?  All your strength you’re so proud of, what good does it do you if it’s going the wrong way?  Try and hit me for real.  Don’t hold back.” 

I did hold back some, but even a half-strength punch would have killed him I’m sure.  Which made what I was doing rather stupid.  If you’re going to hold back it should be enough to make a difference, otherwise what’s the point in doing it at all?  I did almost catch him once and as he twisted away he threw a strike of his own, I think without even meaning to.  He barely touched me, but I dropped to the ground and started to bawl. 

“You hit me!” 

He came forward with his hands out “Oh shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to . . .” 

When he came to comfort me I grabbed him by the shirt and lifted him up off the ground and held him over the edge of the roof “I win.  Don’t tell me I can’t beat someone.  I just need different tactics.” 

He gulped and looked down at the street “No one in the Shadow Lords has any feelings for you to take advantage of.” 

I set him down “Sure they do, they’re just different feelings than you have.  I need to think about your advice, use my opponent’s strength against them.  I can’t win a fistfight or a gunfight, but there are other ways to fight.” 

How to talk to your kids about super-soldiers and death

The Coalition States of America “super-soldier” project is renowned to be the most successful in the world.  Many people would be surprised to learn that the project (secretly dubbed “Godlike”) has only produced three viable outcomes.  At the cost of dozens of non-operable results (“zeroes” as they are deemed by the research team) and hundreds of deaths.  Even more surprising is that, despite that fact, it is the most successful program of its kind.  

The common belief is that people with the gene that allows for chemical manipulation to exceed human baselines are one in a million.  The truth is that they’re even rarer than that.  The chances of someone having the necessary gene already being in the CSA military were exceedingly small.  When Private First Class Amy Albright tested positive, the results were initially kept under wraps due to the high number of project failures.  After she emerged from the program a complete success, she became a media darling.  

A wholesome blonde girl-next-door type who had volunteered to serve her country that could fly at supersonic speeds and rip apart a tank with her bare hands?  It was a public relations windfall beyond the wildest dreams of the military spin doctors.  Her smiling face on 60 Minutes and the evening news did much to mitigate the (true) accusations of forced conscriptions and deadly consequences of the program.  

She went from being the face of a public relations campaign to a true national hero following the release of the 1970 documentary “Angel” showing footage of her in action during the Argentine Conflict.  The opening scene of a brutal looking staff sergeant explaining in no uncertain terms to his men that Angel One is a soldier and not “some mark in a pick-up bar” and will be treated as such in his unit unless they want a boot up their ass has become as iconic as the live footage of her turning the tide at Cordoba and saving the lives of thousands of CSA soldiers.  

It is because of this movie that she is known mostly to the public by her callsign used during that conflict – “Angel” or “Angel One” rather than her focus group-chosen public persona “Iron Heart”.  Angel One was reported KIA on March 4th, 1973, the details of which have not yet been released to the public.  It is widely assumed that a new chemical weapon provided to Ñancahuazú Guerrilla fighters by German communists is responsible for her death.  A sound clip of a CSA officer reporting “Angel One is down”, voice cracking with emotion, has become iconic.

September 9th, 1973 – Secret Agent Man

Pinetree International Exports is closer towards the Vegas/New York City portion of Madripoor than the “lowlands” but still in what I am calling the border zone.  This is the part of the city that seems almost familiar to me, if there weren’t so many people on bikes zipping around, it wouldn’t be out of place back in the CS.  It was the same kind of little office-prison you’d expect some guy with a comb-over to be selling insurance out of in Tallahassee or Gary. 

Alcazar, the owner, chief operator, and proprietor of Pinetree International Exports is from the Caribbean states of the US I think.  He has a long beard, not like a hippy beard but more akin to what you’d see in an old photo of a soldier from the First American Revolution.  It doesn’t suit him well at all.  His teeth are a mess as well, it looks like someone hit him in the mouth with a hammer at some point.  If he shaved his beard and kept his mouth shut he would be a handsome man.  After Elvis introduced us, I looked around at his cluttered and shabby office.

“So what is this operation?  An Air America type thing?”

He laughed loudly, putting his mouthful of crooked teeth on display, jerking his thumb at Elvis “This guy been telling stories about the CIA again? Would I be in a place like this if I was with the CIA?”

“Spies are supposed to be inconspicuous so yeah, this seems about right.”

He looked like he had never considered that before “That’s a good point actually.  But the fact remains that I am merely a humble importer/exporter.”

I picked up a card off his desk and examined it “What does that mean?  I know it literally means that you buy stuff somewhere else and bring it here and vice versa, but that doesn’t sound like a full time gig to me.  How much time does it take to buy something and then have it shipped somewhere else?  What do you do all day?”

He picked up a wad of papers and shook them at me like a wagging finger of disapproval “Trust me sweetheart, I got plenty to do.  So why did my good friend Elvis drag you into my office?”

“I’m in need of exporting.”

“Exporting what?”

I gestured like a showroom model “You’re looking at it tiger.”

After I explained my situation, Alcazar was nice enough to let me stay with him for a couple days while he did some research.  I definitely don’t think he’s in the CIA anymore.  I think even a CIA agent working undercover would have more than a single room above a dance studio with a mattress on the floor.  Clearly the import/export business isn’t going so great.  

I think he likes having me around just to he has someone to speak Spanish with.  I asked him how the Tropics are doing but he said that he doesn’t follow sports back home.  I asked him how he ended up in Madripoor and he said (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Madripoor is the only free place left in the world, as free as it gets these days anyway.  If you want to make some money and you don’t mind getting down and dirty, Madripoor is the place to be.  Madripoor doesn’t dance to the tune of politics or corporate interests.”

He went on to say that Madripoor was “a modern day Port Royale”.  It was enough of a non-answer that despite this crappy apartment, it made me think a little that maybe he is CIA again.  On the other hand, being into lawless pseudo-anarchy doesn’t seem like what a CIA man would be into.  Or maybe it does?

Alcazar and Elvis both suggested that I stay put since the Shadow Lords might be looking for me, but I got bored so I went to work with Alcazar a couple days.  Being his secretary was slightly less boring than sitting in his crummy apartment staring at the walls.  Against their advice I got myself a gig at a local joint.  I did The Witch Queen of New Orleans, Never Been to Spain, and Day Dreaming to scattered polite applause.  Don’t these people know I had a top 40 hit in ’70?  Where’s the respect?

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 – 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.”

Date unknown – Welcome to Madripoor

I’ve woken up with enough hang-overs to know a hang-over when I bump into one.  This wasn’t one.  My head felt like a bus was parked on it.  But the real tip off was how hungry I was.  I’ve known lean times, I’ve gone a couple days without eating many times.  Once I was so hungry I started blacking out.  This was way worse than that.  I don’t know what starvation feels like but this must be it.  I’ve never been starving and hung over at the same time.

Another bigger tip off that something was up was the fact that I was chained to the floor of what appeared to be the hold of a ship.  Not chained, it wasn’t a chain, it was like metal rope.  Is that something?  I guess it was cable?  It was looped through cuffs on my forearms and then through rings on the floor.  I saw similar set-ups all around holding stacks of shipping boxes in place.

It was cold and dark down there and I should have been scared out of my wits but honestly all I could think about was how hungry I was.  I felt like my stomach was turned inside out and I was digesting myself.  I heard someone either singing or mumbling softly to themselves and called out.  In the dim light I saw a man appear that I thought was Filipino maybe.  I don’t know why but my first impression was that he was dressed like a lumberjack.  When he saw me sitting up he said something in a language I didn’t understand.  I wanted to ask him if he had a Marathon bar in his pocket but I managed to make myself ask a more relevant question. 

“What’s going on?”

When he spoke English he did so with a French accent “You’re not supposed to be awake.”

“Where am I?  What’s happened?”

He turned to walk away and I stood up to go after him.  The wires or cords or whatever they were holding me weren’t long enough for me to stand up but they snapped when I pulled on them.  It sounded like a gunshot in there when they broke.  Those metal cables were about the thickness of a magic marker but they broke like they were shoelaces.  It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t hard either.  At the sound we both flinched and ducked, and then the man turned around to stare at me wide-eyed.

“You . . . . shouldn’t be able to do that.”

“What did you do to me?”

I didn’t even raise my voice but he cowered like I was holding a running chainsaw “Don’t hurt me, I just work here!”

He started speaking in a language I don’t understand again as I ripped the metal things off my forearms and dropped them to the floor with a loud clank.  He looked up at me, his eyes soggy with fear.  I’ve never had anyone look at me like that before.  It made me a little sick to my stomach.  Which, somehow, only made me hungrier.  He clutched a hand to his chest and barely whispered. 

“Are you going to kill me?”

“What are you talking about?  How could I kill anyone?”  I looked down at the broken cables “I mean . . . I guess . . . look man just tell me what’s going on.  Why am I here?”

He kept begging me not to hurt him in English and French and sometimes in other languages I don’t know.  It was really freaking me out so I headed for what looked like some kind of stairs.  Then I turned back and held out my hand.

“Gimmie your money.  I’m going to need some cash to get home and I feel like you owe me.”  He reached into his pocket and stuffed some crinkled bills in my hand. “What is this?  Monopoly money?  It’s purple.  And there’s a moose on it!”  He stuttered something I didn’t catch “What was that?”

“It’s a whale.”

“What?”  I turned one of the bills sideways and looked at it closely, maybe it was some kind of Picasso whale.  “Where am I?!”

“Madripoor.”

“Is that in Arkansas?”