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Desolation Island
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-375-1
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Supernatural/Horror
eBook Length: 344 Pages
Published: July 2006



From inside the flap

Framed for a murder he didn?t commit, second-tier superhero Ben Thomason, known in the trades as ?Desolation Outlaw?, is convicted and sentenced to life in prison at Eagle Island Detention Center, a top secret, billion dollar penitentiary that houses only the elite of super-villains and super- heroís gone bad.

Following the initial incarceration phase, he greets both old allies and enemies alike amid an inexplicable feeling of dread that looms atop the desolate island location like a toxic black cloud.

Set against a surreal backdrop filled with deadly mutants, vile alien entities and merciless madmen, the purest of all evils is slowly awakening just below the surface of the prisonís stringently controlled environment; an ancient being whose raw power dwarfs those of all assigned inmates combined.

As centuries-old mysteries unravel and shocking truths are unmasked, the imprisoned inhabitants and embittered staff of Eagle Isle are forced to ban together and pool their respective powers in order to survive the greatest threat of all, and from the most unlikely of sources.

No man is an island, indeed, most notably a penal colony turned beachhead graveyard soon to be renamed ?Desolation Island??


Reviews and Awards

Steroids has nothing on these guys!
 
Place a bunch of villains in a cellblock and you may have a riot. Now place a bunch of villains with super powers, plus one mighty pissed off innocent hero in the pot and you get Terry L. Vinsonís ?Desolation Island?.
 
The book begins with our main and lovable character Ben Thomason reminiscing with an old friend about the good ol? days when ass kicking and chasing villains was an ?honorable? job to have. As the conversation progresses, you experience his views on how the system has changed?but more than that you find out Ben is hiding out, framed for a murder he didn?t commit.
 
Immediately within several pages, a reader is thrust into a super fight?and I mean super strength fight with an unsuspecting foe for Ben.
 
Defeated, enraged, and yet framed for another murder, he is now facing life at Desolation Island, the governmentís top secret ?Alcatrez? for super villains. This enclosure meets every single possible counter measure to fight the gifts these prisoners possess?but does it?
 
Desolation Island was built on a secret plan to host a very mysterious entity, which only a few handpicked were privy to. Determined to unravel and discover the secret of this entity, a small squad of specialists enter this fortress. In a strange turn of events, Ben will be thrust for the fight of his life alongside some of his past friends and foes but more importantly, beside the gal he shunned not long ago.
 
Terry brings Desolation Island to life with his individual character profiles, and one can?t help but fall in love with Benís egotistical, macho and sarcastic personae. The whole book was a ?Marvel? delight to read and very easy to visualize as a movie. For those who love X-men, you?ll truly enjoy this Great Read.
 
Lea Schizas - Founder of Muse Book Reviews
 
GREAT READ


Desolation Island (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

Desolation Outlaw

The shot glasses smacked the oak bar at precisely the same moment, the retort of which echoed like a shotgun blast within the deafening silence of the otherwise deserted structure.

"Nothin? like a Southern Comfort burn to ignite the soul, am I right, partner?" the larger of the two men asked, his grotesquely oversized hand cupping the shot glass like a childís marble, its contents completely hidden within his massive palm.

The smaller man grinned through a dark crimson cowl, his meticulously toned physique perfectly defined through maroon-shaded tights.

"I?m not the elbow bender I was in our day, Force. Whoopsísorry, I mean, Desolation Outlaw. I?m gonna have a hard time calling you anything but Force, Benjamin. Force of habit, you might say," he replied with a sly grin, reaching up to push the cowl from his face.

Bending forward, the larger man studied the other for a moment while leaning onto forearms as large as a normal manís thighs.

"Ya don?t look too worse for wear,Condor. We?ve both added a few wrinkles, not to mention scars, over the past?.damn, how long has it been, Ray?"

"At least four years, Ben,?the Crimson Condor replied,?Haven?t laid eyes on your ugly mug since Baton Rouge back in two-thousand..one...or maybe two."

"Baton Rouge. Got?cha..,? he agreed with a nod, reaching over to refill their shot glasses to the brimís edge,"?helluva brawl, as I recall. Lost a tooth to Slayerís left hook. Damn thing is probably still lodged in his knuckle. You broke an arm that day, didn?t ya? Or was it a leg?"

"Right arm just below the elbow. Tried to glide beneath Stingrayís electro-cane and never saw The Brute coming. Big bastard straight-armed me right through the wall of that bank building. I had migraines for six months afterwards. Closest I ever came to permanent retirement, Force?uh..Ben."

Both men paused, then traded winks before downing the shots in twin blurs of frenzied motion. Again, the room filled with the thumping echo of glass against oak.

"I remember droppin? ya off at Doc Wilkes office that evenin?, Ray. Grumpy old bastard. The government was payin? him quite a wad to bandage up hero-types. Never could figure out his rabid Doberman personality."

Wiping his mouth with a gloved hand, the Crimson Condor then laughed aloud, glaring at the mostly empty whiskey bottle as if it were a crystal ball.

"He was an ornery SOB, all right. I?ll say this, he was an equal-opportunity jackass. Treated everybody like crap, from what I saw. Ben, you?ll never guess who I spent some rehab time with at Doc Wilkes? place."

Shrugging his massive shoulders through a snug-fitting black muscle T-shirt, Ben then pushed away from the bar and stood, various popping noises filling the air as he stretched his colossal frame.

"Old Flag-Face himself, Captain A. The Red Skullís cronies had messed him up pretty good. Cracked ribs, concussion; the works."

Now standing behind the waist-high bar, Ben pulled a fresh bottle of Jim Beam Gold from a dust-coated cardboard box and blew a wad of cobwebs free from the cap.

"Hoo-boy, spendin? time with true royalty there, Ray. Livin? legend material. So what was Mister Patriot like up close an? personal? Real ego-maniacal a-hole, I?ll bet?"

"Believe it not, Ben, the man was as down to earth as you could imagine. At least, for a guy whoís done and seen the things he has through the years. Quiet and reserved, but a real professional in every sense. Least, thatís the impression I got."

Ben broke the seal and proceeded to pour two more shots.

"Capís old school, Ray, like us. Heís waded into hell and back a few dozen times, no doubt. Only brush with hero greatness I had was a year or two ?fore I hooked up with the Revenge Squad."

As before, they each slammed down the shot and displayed similar grimaces.

"Who was that,Ben?"

"Met up with the West Coast Avengers in Phoenix. I was trailin? The Lost Souls gang for the CIA at the time, searchin? for stolen payroll money and a kidnapped heiress. Ran into Hawkeye, Vision and the Scarlet Witch smack dab on Main Street, brawling with some radioactive mutie with a head the size of a Mack truck. Got in a few decent swings ?fore he dumped a nearby building on top of our heads. Vision saved our ass with some kinda force-field. Weird dude, that one. Not exactly what you?d call a conversationalist. Ol? Hawkeye was a real hoot, though, and the Witch was drop-dead fine. I?ve rarely seen spandex stretched over anything so tantalizin?,?cept maybe for Marvella a?course."

The Condor laughed heartily as Ben poured them still another refill.

"Hey, I?d heard you and Leah, um, Marvella were an item a few years back. Whatís up with that, Benji? Never thought of you as the ísteady girl? kinda guy, not unless you?ve transformed dramatically since our days of running together."

Ben scanned the Jim Beam label as he replied, although his mindís eye was instantly transported to a faraway place and time.

"Ah, Leah. Have to admit, I miss that little Asian firecracker. Special woman, Ray. Not exactly painful on the eyes, either." We grew pretty close after that nightmare in Oklahoma. Spent a few months lyin? low in the Bahamas. Hell, we even tried reformin? the Revenge Squad, but found very few takers. Word is that she?.Marvella, retired from the business a short time back. Doin? fashion design in Fresno, last I heard. Lately, I?ve severely regretted not joinin? her within the ranks of inactive superhero for hire."

Condor studied his old friend closely, mildly surprised at the genuine emotion on display from a man who rarely allowed a crack in his grim, business-like demeanor. As freelance partners taking assignments from both the CIA and FBI, they had shared many a battle and countless brews, but rarely a secret pertaining to each otherís personal lives.

"That was the?when most of the Squad was?wiped out, right?I recall you never said much about it, other than being set-up by the team leader."

Groaning in disgust, Ben took a quick sip from the bottle.

"Oh yeah. Richard Masters. Asswipe went by the name Four-Star. Sold us out for a backhanded payoff from the former governor of Texas. Some good people died that day, man. Solid warriors and trusted teammates. One of ?em, Johnny Reb, was half owner of this dive when it was still takin? in a profit. Gave me a key and said to contact his Uncle Walt if I ever needed a place to lay low. Found out that Walt passed away a few months back, but still owned the deed. Place is in litigation hell as we speak. I was just glad they hadn?t cleared out all the booze. You hungry, Ray? I?ve mostly been livin? off rameon noodles and Snickers bars the past few weeks, but I do have some Hot Pockets and cold Coors stashed away. Got some semi-fresh jerky that?ll put hair on your chest?or at least yer tongue."

Condor waived him off, gently patting his taunt midsection with one gloved hand.

"No thanks, Ben. Had a bite a few hours back. Itís getting harder than ever to maintain the washboard abs of my youth. How long you been stashed away in here, anyhow?"

Pouring himself another shot, Ben strolled back around to the front of the bar and took a large chew of beef jerky.

"Couple of weeks. I had been toolin? around Charlotte at a campsite a few miles outta town, but even in civvies I felt like somebody was constantly tailin? me. Just my imagination playin? games more ?n likely, but it was too big of a risk to take. When yer faced with a half-million dollar bounty, there ain?t no shortage of clowns willin? to risk a severe beatin? to bring ya in. Spent a week in Birmingham, then a few days in Biloxi fore coolin? my heels here. What brings you to the Big Easy, Condor?"

"Tracking quarry, what else?" Condor replied with a shrug.

Ben instantly ceased chewing and cocked a decidedly bushy eyebrow.

"Somebody other than yours truly, I hope."

Folding his arms tightly across the monogrammed ?CC? adorning his chest, Condor stared into the tiled ceiling and frowned in deep thought.

"Weeeelllll, of course somebody else, Ben,? he smiled, ?almostembarrassing to mention, actually. Corporate embezzler skipped bail in Hot?lanta and the company President hired me to sniff him out. Supposedly the little geek is guarded by a trio of goons that label themselves ?Ninjas?."

Quickly concealing the grin covering his face with one huge palm, Ben muttered through splayed fingers.

"Don?t sweat it, Ray. A checkís a check these days, right?" he asked, suppressing a guffaw, "Ninjas, huh? Preppy with unlimited finances rarely goes cheap on protection. Hell, he might have Inspector Gadget or Captain Caveman on the payroll by now."

Both men broke into hysterics almost simultaneously, slowing only when their lungs had emptied of oxygen and their tear ducts had ran dry.

"It is pathetic, old buddy, there is no doubt," the Condor finally managed, wiping his eyes with a napkin.

"Hey, the big boys only want the marquee names these days. Major leaguers like the Avengers, X-men and Fantastic Four have the rep and clout. Guys like us were always considered second-tier, man. Damn shame. I never backed down from a scrap regardless of the pay they offered."

"I hear you, Ben. They?ve been slowly fazing us out for years. I?m taking assignments these days I would?ve laughed at back inthe 90ís, you know?"

"Same here, my man. Just might?a taken my last one, though.At least, as far as the governmentís concerned. To the stuffed shirts, I?m nothin? but an out of touch dinosaur gone to seed. Fifteen years of dedicated ass-kickin?, and I?m labeled a homicidal fugitive in the single blink of an eye. Ray, it just ain?t right."

Condor removed his gloves only after checking the retractable claws built into each, then began massaging the palms of his hands as Ben reached over and poured each of them a fresh refill.

"If you?re trying to get me wasted, Ben, your task is better than half complete," he said, merely sipping this time around.

"What did happen between you and Rap-Master XXX, anyhow? I may be prejudice, you and I being former partners and all, but I never could buy into any of the horse manure his campís been spreading to the media."

Ben gulped down the shot and grimaced only slightly, then quickly poured himself another and smiled as Ray waived off the same.

"Getting smoother with every swallow, Ray. Lemme know if ya change your mind. Got at least half a dozen fifths stashed away, and at least that many pints, but I loathe drinkin? alone."

Leaning back as he re-fitted his gloves, Condor feigned shock.

"Sure, Benji. Three more shots of that stuff and you?ll be hauling me out of here in a wheel barrow. Those legs of yours are as hollow as ever, pal. You still own that ?little black book? of super-hero groupies? Man, I recall you used to stash that thing away like it was the Holy Grail."

"Man, you?re talkin? ?bout decades long removed. Most of those chicks are housewives these days, doin? the ?Leave it to Beaver? bit. Now, what were you askin? me before?"

"Rap-Master XXX and the reason we?re presently hunkered down inside a closed bar like cornered rats. You do know they raised the bounty to an even mil, Ben."

"The hell you say!" he replied, his eyes widened dramatically. "Little ol? me rates a cool million? Second string superhero from a small town in North Carolina? Guess I had to go ultra bad to hit the big time, huh Ray?"

"NAACP stepped in to back the AASHS. Political pressure, Ben, backed with truckloads of cash. They want your Caucasian rump hung from the highest podium, old buddy."

Shrugging his bulky shoulders, Benís demeanor and tone remained surprisingly calm. Knowing his old running mate as he did, Condor had expected nothing less than a volcanic rage.

"Yeah, I had a feeling the African-American Super-Hero Society would call on a higher power to ensure I end up planted feet up in the nearest bone yard. Ya think they?d at least perform a token investigation on the gutter trash they represent. Rap-Master XXX wasn?t worth the skin off my knuckles,Ray. You ever run into any of the Hip-Hop Militia?"

Condor nodded to indicate he hadn?t, then quickly raised a gloved finger to contradict

"Shared a conference room at S.H.E.I.L.D with Princess Ebony once.We were never formally introduced though. Thatís about it. Aren?t they mostly centered around Detroit, Cleveland, and Chi-town?"

"Started out East Coast and Mid-West, I think, but are pretty much nationwide these days. Rap Master and his hood thugs were the southeastern reps. Scuttlebutt is they?ve got teams on both coasts and in Miami these days."

Ben paused, eyeing his former partner curiously.

"Ya mean they never offered you a? membership, Ray?"

Groaning in dismay, Condor folded his arms across his chest in mock defiance.

"Benji, are you mental? I?m part Cherokee Indian as well as black, remember? The HH boys don?t take kindly to half-breeds. Besides, my rep as one of the governmentís ?token? blacks for hire in the hero trade is well documented.

"White Dogs?, they call us. Your old teammate in the R Squad, DarkClaw, was referred to as such."

Once again, Benís eyes grew instantly distant, his lips pursed tightly.

"Helluva warrior, ol? Claw. Surprisingly, it never really bothered me that he was a tad bit ?light in the loafers?, if ya catch my drift?."

This time, it was Condorís eyes that widened.

"DarkClaw was gay? Never heard that one through the vine."

"Wiser to stay in the closet those days, at least for us hero-types, anyhow.Almost makes ya laugh, don?t it? Dime a dozen now. I hear the Gay Bolt is next in line for a Hollywood franchise. Pretty boy in pink tights with matchin? earrings to boot with a five film deal probably worth a few hundred mil. Fag groupies shadow ?im like flies on a fresh pile of steamin? crap, I understand. Seriously cracks me up ?til I ponder on it further, then I always wanna start bawlin? my eyes out at the warped universe we inhabit, Raymond. Sure makes hidin? from society an easy task, I tell ya."

Condor laughed lightly, nodding in agreement as his former partner poured himself still another refill of tinted firewater.

"You caught a glimpse of the newest West Coast Defender, Benji?"

"Oh cripes, yes. That Silver Fairy freak, you mean?? Ben replied, frowning in pure disgust, as if detecting a particularly reeking odor through wildly flaring nostrils, ?The Defenders actually granted that wimpy lookin? butt-pumper membership? Snooty Som?Bitches turned me down three separate times. Government must?ve assigned ?em a queer quota, ya think?"

"Possibly. Anyhow, didn?t mean to change the subject. I know how you are about homo-.." Condor began, cut off abruptly by the bellowing rant he had known was inevitable as soon as the subject had been breached.

"Half the gals donnin? tights these days are lezzies, anyhow.Ran into one last fall while workin? the Pentagon Security circuit callin? herself ?BullDyke-Devil?. Woman had more facial hair than yours truly. Owned a mug that could crack titanium and an ass shaped like a deflated medicine ball. You hear ?bout that sicko rapist outta Washington state that was callin? herself íStrap-on?? Rumor has it she had ol? Spidey KO?d and bent over a crate with his tights pulled down around his ankles before The Avengers showed up to rescue ?im. Man, it ain?t bad enough we?re forced to face down rampagin? muties, power mad lunatics or extraterrestrial baddies. The 21st Century has sure added some seriously scary categories to the íSuper Villain? ledger, pal."

"Um, Benji?"

"Man, I understand this business lends itself to freaks, but these days ya seriously don?t know who the baddies are without a name tag. Whatís with that ?Mystic? Shrimp? Looks like a walkin? stick in spandexísaw his weak ass on a Cola commercial a few weeks back?"

"Manís website, MysticRealm.com, supposedly gets a few thousand hits a day, Ben. Mostly teens and young..."

"?looks like a girl scout could wipe up the floor with his bony ass. What was his main power again? Altering airspace? What the hell does that mean exactly? Can he fart and then transport the stink across a room?"

Condor raised a finger and extracted a shiny, metallic talon, then waived it back and forth like a parent scolding a young child.

"Earth to Desolation Outlaw, come in, Benjamin?"

"Oh?uhísorry, Ray. Y?know how I get. Once I click into ?rant? mode, its damn near impossible to find the ?off? switch," Ben groaned, lowering his head in mock shame.

Along the back wall, hung between an ancient Budweiser ad and a faded photo of Mike Ditka in his coaching days with the Saints, a ?Jack Daniels? wall clock chimed in weakly, announcing the ten PM hour with a series of muffled rings more suited for a palm-held cellular phone.

Displaying a wide, toothy smile, Condor reached over the bar and gently pushed a full shot glass closer to the other man.

"You are consistently consistent, Benji. The one constant in an otherwise topsy-turvy Universe. Time hasn?t altered you a single iota."

After downing the shot in a blur, Ben wiped his mouth with a tree-trunk sized forearm and then eye-balled his former partner suspiciously.

"You just insult me, Ray?"

"Jeez, Ben?am I going to have to wait for the book or movie version?"

Raising his mammoth hands in defense, Ben paused to inhale deeply.

"Ain?t too complicated, Ray. I had tracked Shaker Jake and the Cocaine Cowboys to an abandoned sports complex just outside Tulsa. Been trailin? those slippery jackasses for a month and through five states, and you know the legwork involved ain?t exactly my strong suit. Jake had been runnin? a crank/crack empire through the Southeast for years, usin? the Coke Cowboys for transport. Lean, mean crew of roughnecks, Ray, with firepower to spare. ATF had originally hired Power Man for the job, but he called ?em at the last minute and cancelled. I gotta tell ya, partner, it was one helluva paycheck those boys were offerin?. Best I?ve seen in years; transportation, meals, per diem, the works. Course, I knew it was far from bein? gravy. Shaker and the Coke Boys were suspected in at least two dozenhomicides in the past year, and were well rep?ed as bein? the textbook definition of ruthless. Still, they were just common thugs after all, and we?re used to dealin? with a more lethal species of villain. Man, I snatched up that contract before the ink had dried."

"I remember hearing a few years back Shaker Jake McKay was the main distributor in the South and Midwest. Rumor was that he was raking in a few hundred million annually. Supposedly had a two-thousand acre ranch in Mexico and a fifty-room mansion in Puerto Rico," Condor interjected, now leaning back with his highly polished boots propped atop the bar.

"Those were just the confirmed hideaways. He also had a seventy-room castle in Spain and several villas in the Bahamas. Ran prostitution in South America for a sideline, as well as an ?Assassin for Hire? business that was thrivin? in Eastern Europe. Ol? Jake was a true renaissance man, all right. Closest thing to a rattler in human form you?ll ever run across."

"What was he doing in Oklahoma? Warehousing?"

"Bingo," Ben answered with a wink, creating a mock gun with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, then pulling the ?trigger? several times in Condorís direction.

"Had rented a thirty-thousand square foot warehouse buildin? and proceeded to pack it to overflowin?. Som?bitch had enough smack, crank, and weed stuffed away to OD the entire west coast. DDA estimated the street value at over fourteen billion. Thatís with a ?b?, not an ?m?. Heard it took two days of constantly runnin? forklifts to move it all outta there. Said it was like clearin? out a friggin? Super Wal-Mart. ?Course, I didn?t get a chance to witness any of this first hand, bein? the fugitive psycho that I am."

"Double homicide can taint oneís reputation, Benji, and you weren?t exactly known as a choir boy to begin with," Condor interrupted with a sly smile.

Crossing his grotesquely pumped arms across his chest, Ben winced as if stung by the sad truth of his former partnerís words.

"Yeah, I?ll admit I cultivated the image of loose cannon in my younger days. An extra edge is always helpful, especially when you?rejust startin? out in the business, you know that, Ray. That said, I ain?t never shattered a rib or jawbone that didn?t deserve it, and I sure as hell didn?t terminate anyone without ample justification. Rap Master Shitheel and his grille-toothed clones crashed my bust in an obvious attempt to collect the reward. Triple XXX all but admitted he?d tracked me to Shakerís warehouse with a crap-munchin? grin drawn onto his ugly mug. What pissed me off the worst was his crackerjack timin?. They didn?t even jump into the fray ?til I had already taken out most of Jakeís hired muscle. I?d already caught an M-16 slug in the shoulder and grenade shrapnel in both ass cheeks. Chicken shit jackasses thought I was just gonna step back, bleedin? like a stuck hog and let ?em take both the credit and the cash? Benjamin Thomasonís mama didn?t raise no chumps, Ray. Least, none I ever knew about."

"So the Rap Master was just blatantly jumping your claim or? was he under contract as well?" Condor asked, squinting past Ben momentarily to check the wall clock.

"Claimed the CIA had hired ?em six months earlier to nail Shaker J. I asked the dumb-shit if he?d arrived in Tulsa via Amsterdam, i.e., what the hell had taken so long. Thatís about the time his steroid-puffed goons jumped me from every friggin? direction. At the time, I had Shaker in a headlock and had pretty much heard him cry ?uncle? in three or four different tongues. In between absorbin? shots to the back, face, and groin from those damn stinger-canes, I saw XXX reach down real casual-like and cut Jakeís throat from lobe to lobe, all the while performin? some kinda rap lyric like he was bein? shown on MTV close-circuit. Took me a few well-aimed jabs and sidekicks to break free, but by then my back up generator had spewed forth quite a load of adrenaline. I hit Rapmaster XXX one time,Ray?once. A single right hook to the upper portion of his afro. And even that punch had ricocheted off one of the goonís shoulders before it landed."

Sighing heavily, Ben began vigorously rubbing the knuckles of his left hand, his eyes growing increasingly distant.

"Still, not bein? in the best of moods, what with the gunshot wounds and the bleedin? and all, I?m sure I didn?t exactly pull my punch as I normally do when dealin? with cupcakes like XXX.Needless to say, I was still wearin? the majority of his noggin? on my fist when I pulled back. Cracked his skull like a damned eggshell. His body ended up on top of a pile of jagged pallet wood ?bout twenty feet from impact. Looked like somebody had nailed ?im there like a crucifixion. Next thing I know, CIA Storm Troopers raid the place like fire ants on a friggin? banana peel, and I?m bein? accused of excessive force for Shakerís death and flat out murder for the Rapmaster, the gist of which his goons are claimin? as I was bein? hauled off for questionin?. Once I caught wind of the trumped up charges, I hauled ass. Needless to say, without the fedís permission. No doubt they?ve added assault of federal officers to the previous list of charges. Least I did remember to pull my punches on ?em. Been coolin? my heels ever since."

Condor stood from the barstool and stretched his arms high into the air, setting off a series of low, popping noises.

"Whatís the plan? You can?t hide out forever, my man. Sooner than later, you?re going to run out of booze, edible grub, and worst of all, toilet paper. Whoís your contact with the feds? Surely they would at least listen to your side."

Nodding vehemently, Ben quickly waived him off.

"Been there, done that. Contacted my assignment rep as soon as I got into Birmingham and settled into a suitable safe haven. Within five minutes of makin? the call, I found myself surrounded by a Swat Team decked out for urban warfare.Don?t think they were there to shoot the breeze or compromise in any form or fashion, Ray. My gunshot wounds had just begun to heal and be damned if I didn?t catch another slug in my right thigh. They weren?t shootin? to wound, ol? buddy, that much I do know for certain. Lucky I got out with my leathery hide intact. If not for my fast-healin? metabolism, I?d be a walkin? advertisement for gangrene."

Strolling stiffly from behind the bar, Ben then pulled up a chair from a nearby table and sat down with a loud, exasperated huff.

"Bottom line seems pretty clear. NAACP and AASHA needed a scapegoat and I filled the boots perfectly. Triple Xís goons would collect the reward, pass on a portion to the NAACP boys and I?d take the fall for all the mayhem. The fact their perpetrator is a second tier mercenary for hire with a penchantfor rampagin?, not to mention a white man from the Deep South, probably had ?em droolin? with anticipation, ya think?"

Condor walked around to the opposite end of the table, taking another quick peek at the hanging clock before pulling out a chair and straddling it.

"You never were much on conspiracies, Benji. Don?t tell me you?re buying into the ?Dino Spandex Sweep? theory thatís been making the rounds the past year or so."

Wearing a deep scowl, Ben lowered his head, rubbing his hands slowly through his gray-tinted crew cut.

"Truth be told, Ray, I hadn?t given it much thought. Now that ya mention it though, the ?Dinosaur Spandex Sweep? theory does explain why us old-timers have been droppin? like flies the past few years. If the government did set out to purposely rid the world of us older generation of hero-types, it ain?t like the younger generation would shed nary a tear. Itís a ?flavor of the month? world, Raymond, and I ain?t even rated a taste in years. Ol? Rap-Master turd-breath was part of the new wave ?hip-hop? breed thatís all the rage these days, along with powder-puff pansies like Mystic with his thousand-dollar haircut, silk cape and gold-plated trading cards bein? auctioned off to the highest bidder on E-Bay. Bet my old Crispy Cream Cereal trading card ain?t worth a friggin? dime on todayís market, ya think?"

Reaching back to pull forward and then re-secure his mask, Condor grinned while adjusting the tight-fitting cowl.

"You know, I?d forgotten all about those. I remember the day we posed for them at the Cereal Headquarters in Dayton. The ?Future of Justice Set?, they were called. The wife was thrilled beyond words her old man was going to have a trading card all his own. I think my oldest boy still has the entire set tucked away in a closet somewhere. Damn, Benji, hard to fathom that was almost fifteen years back."

"True enough, partner. Hey, maybe yer son outta hang onto those cards after all. I hear memorabilia for murderin? lunatics like myself goes way up in value followin? capture.Almost like makin? the bad guys hall of fame."

Condor stood without replying, swinging a booted foot gracefully over the chair back as he backed away in one fluid movement.

"Whatís up, Ray? Ya got an appointment somewheres?" Ben asked, flexing his triceps as he also stood.

"The Ninjas await, old friend, as does the monthly payment on my cliff-top condo. Can?t possibly pay the latter without kicking the hind end of the former," Condor replied while running in place, the dull thumping of his boots on the wooden floor almost drowning out the badly muted dialogue.

"Got a bottle of Jack Daniels Premium Gold I was ?bout to crack open. Have a snort for the road."

Ben quick-walked a few steps and leaped over the four-foot high bar in a single bounce, displaying a sleek, fluid agility that belied his mammoth bulk. Reaching into a lower cabinet, he pulled the bottle free, held it high into the air, and thenblew away a layer of dust coating the front label and neck.

"Wish I could join ya, Ray?at least give ya some backup in case the Ninjaís turn out to be authentic. I ain?t broke a decent sweat in weeks, I..."

The remaining words hung in Benís throat just as the double-door entrance to the bar blew inward in a rush of shattered oak and twisted, torn metal, sending shards sailing into the glass wall behind him in an explosion of glass, wood, and metal shavings.

"Som?.BITCH!" Ben screamed, ducking his head beneath the bar just as the bottle of whisky blew apart in his hand like a detonated grenade.

Despite the sudden carnage, Ben realized he hadn?t heard an explosion to indicate the use of the artillery normally associated with such instantaneous destruction. Duck-walking to the eastern side of the bar, he peeked around the corner justas the small room was bathed in swirling bright light originating from the tattered ruins of the bar entrance. He heard numerous voices permeate the opening, growing clearer as moments passed and the room filled with frantic movement. Crawling backwards a few feet, groaning silently as his knees crunched over jagged glass fragments, Ben reached into a lower shelf and retrieved the burgundy and white cowl he?d worn since adapting the identity of Desolation Outlaw, the forehead of which displayed a black-shaded ískull and crossbones?.

As he pulled the form-fitted mask and hood snugly into place, scattered bits of conversation became audible through the frenzied commotion.

"Charles Pierce for WJPM TV?New Orleans First News?live report from the..."

"?Williams reporting for Big Easy Live Dot Com, we?about?from a possible?confrontation..."

"?Evan Largent...WVIT TVísuspect in the murder?Rap-Master XXX has been?in...bar?formerly known as?Head East Bar & Grille?Davidson Street. This reporter is?.advised to don Kavlar in order to avoid possible injury?"

"?hero known as Mystic has?.the suspect, known?Desolation Outlaw, but?formerly as Forceíserved in the mercenary Super Group known as?Revenge Squad...in the late nineties and early twenty-first Century?violent confrontation?is imminent.."

Cupping his hands behind his back, Ben executed a quick succession of stretches while remaining crouched securely behind the thick oak stand.

"Set up like a fuckin? bowlin? pin by one of the few people I still trusted. Un-freakin?-real?" he muttered through teeth gritted as tightly as banded steel.

"Desolation Outlaw, or shall I refer to you using your former entity, Force?" the rather shrill voice rang out casually, "?I have been duly licensed by the United States Federal Government to serve a warrant for your immediate arrest and detainment. Mystic hereby offers you the opportunity to surrender peacefully, although use of excessive force is a viable option."

A chattering of mingled voices followed the obviously staged, overly dramatic announcement, as the media hordes prepped their perspective audiences for what they hoped wasthe battle royal to follow, jockeying for position like crazed fans fronting a concert stage.

"You?ve got thirty seconds to choose a method of detainment, Force. After that, Mystic will make that particular decision for you."

"Just love hearin? your own name, don?cha punk?" Ben growled in response, rolling over the bar top and landing in a crouched pose with his oversized fists clinched tightly at his sides. The T-shirt he wore seemed poised to literally rip at the seams from his massively pumped chest and pecs, just as the blue jeans wrapped around his tree-trunk sized thighs looked on the verge of splitting up both sides.

The semi-circle perimeter formed by the media-swarm instantly spread to the far corners of the confined space upon Benís abrupt arrival, as if distancing themselves somewhat from the impending combat.

"I take it this means you won?t go quietly?" the slim young man in Aqua-marine tinted tights queried, the spit-polished, dark green boots he donned floating several inches above the barís hardwood floor.

Ben shot him a playful wink, although his steely grimace remained firmly intact.

"Tinkerbelle old son, you have a definite talent for statin? the obvious. Truth be told, all this inactivity of late just ain?t me. I have an ?ass-kickin? quota that needs filled something fierce. Looks like you?ll have to do ?til a real scrap comes along."

The young man smiled beneath his dark green cowl, crossing his slim but well-toned arms across his chest.

"As long as we?re clear that a peaceful solution was at least offered."

Quickly scanning the smoke-filled structure, Ben was temporarily blinded by a bombardment of camera flashes, backing up a half-step until his heel propped against the lower portion of the barís solid foundation.

"Play it up for the folks at home, ya little shit. I think we both know what gets ratings, am I right? White flags don?t cut it in the world of reality progammin?, I hear."

Levitating forward a foot or so, Mystic swept his right arm around as if shooing away a pesky fly.

"I?m paid to provide a service to our government, Force, just as these fine folks are compensated for keeping our world informed through electronic and print media. The viewers at home have not only a need to know, but the right to know whatís happening around them."

Ben watched as a handful of overeager reporters attempted to move forward, only to be halted in mid-step, their faces awash in a mixture of shock and awe. With a single flick of a wrist, Mystic had apparently created an invisible perimeter; a transparent force field put in place to protect the news crews from possible injury, while also providing them a clear line of site to fully capture the action soon to follow.

"Why don?t ya turn up the volume on that little speech a little louder, pecker-head. I?m not sure the guys in the back caught it all. Ya sure don?t wanna be misquoted, now do ya?" Ben yelled, attempting in vain to drown out the building wave of wailing sirens emanating from the street. Trying not to be too obvious, he gradually scanned his inner circle for both a workable escape route and possible weaponry to utilize if the need arose.

"Last chance, Force. Lay flat on your chest and place your hands behind your head."

The chorus of sirens was near deafening as Ben poised in mock defiance, his head cocked hard to the left.

"Sounds like an army of reinforcements, son. They must know somethin? you don?t," he quipped just before lifting both arms and waving in a mocking, ?come on ahead? gesture.

Mystic sighed heavily, lowering his head in stage play dramatics. When next he spoke, his tone was purposely stern but strangely emotionless.

"Very well. Itís your medical bill, or better yet?..that particular burden will, unfortunately, befall the taxpayers of this fine land."

Ben rolled his eyes beneath his own tightly fitting cowl.

"Geez Louise, queer as a three-dollar bill and a friggin? politician to boot," he muttered, then sprang forward as if shot from a cannonís thundering barrel.

Mystic waited until Benís lead fist was mere inches from his breastbone before sailing straight up in an amber blur of frenzied motion.

Landing hard on his left shoulder, Ben combat-rolled until his right side nailed the force field in a bone-jarring thump, instantly knocking the majority of the air from his lungs.

Jesus?like?. runnin? into a titanium wall. So?..why don?t the prick just? wrap me up in a body-suit version of the same thing? Punkís playin? with me. Toyin? with? me for the cameras.

Resting on one knee while trying desperately to refill his battered lungs, Ben could hear Mystic speaking in the foreground, although he was unable to comprehend the gist of what was being said. He did hear the Crimson Condorís name spoken more than once, just the mention of which instantly caused his teeth to gnash together ever tighter.

Just as he found the strength to stand upright, a blur of maroon filled his still-bleary eyes. The forearm landed with a muffled thud across his forehead, sending him reeling back until his upper back again made contact with the force field Slumping to the dusty wood floor, Ben could taste his own blood coating the surface of his tongue.

"Truly sorry about this, partner, and I?m not just saying that,? Condor groaned in a half-whisper, as if purposely muting his words from nearby microphones, "...but, man, I?ve got credit problems you just wouldn?t believe."

Attempting to shove himself upward, Ben rose only halfway before a series of lightning quick kicks to his abdomen and upper chest drove him into the field like a ricocheting pinball, followed by a hard right hand to the jaw,jarring him to his knees.

"Margie has turned into a real gold-digger, Ben. I?ve got a least a dozen credit cards maxed to the hilt. Got collection agencies crawling up my rear on the older sonís Jaguar. Little shit goes through cash like a Vegas gambler."

Slumped on all fours, Ben shook his head vigorously from side to side.

"Fourteen year old daughter wants a new Dell set-up for her birthday, along with a laser printer and top of the line scanner. It seems everything I buy is out of date six weeks later," Condor continued, his body language resembling a preacher delivering the ultimate in fire and brimstone sermons to an enraptured parsonage of exactly one.

"This crap keeps up, I?ll end up selling the house in Jacksonville and living out of our Explorer. They just don?t get it, Ben. The daily pressure,the humiliation?the toll it takes?the shit I endure. Just to keep them content. Sad to say, old buddy, but turning you isn?t even close to the lowest I?ve sunk in the past year or so. Whore?d myself out in ways you could never comprehend, old pal. All in the name of good old American greed."

Ben lifted his head slowly and spat a mouthful of bloodied saliva onto the Condorís right boot tip, then displayed a wide, malicious grin.

"Yer breakin? my heart, asswipe," he managed in-between labored huffs, his thighs, forearms and upper back noticeably tensing as if ready to spring forward at a split-secondís notice, "...what I?m wonderin? is, how is it that the Green Pickle back there agreed to split his take of the reward stash with a gnarled up old washout such as yourself? Damn, Condor?.don?t tell me the Mys-ti-cal fairy back there is your personal government assigned pimp."

Condorís mouth opened for a quick rebuttal just as Mystic floated by and administered a light tap to his left shoulder, causing him to cringe back in comical shock.

"Cut the chatter and prep him for the fall, Condor," he murmured just inches from Condorís left ear, "...just remember, the decisive blow is mine."

Turning to face the smaller man, Condor openly smirked.

"Yassam, boss?whatever you say, massah Mystic Suh," he replied sarcastically, jerking forward a moment later as frenzied movement appeared at the corner of his eye.

Ben leapt forward at blinding speed, plowing his elbows into Condorís upper chest with jackhammer force just as Mystic levitated safely out of range.

Condor sailed into and through a series of stacked bar stools, landing with a resounding crash into a mirrored wall, shattering as if struck by a wrecking ball, shards of glass shrapnel filling the air like handfuls of tossed sand.

Ben reached down and jerked Condor from the rubble, hoisting him airborne with his right hand wrapped tightly around the smaller manís throat. Rearing back with his left, the fist he displayed loomed as large as an over-inflated beach ball.

"Fuckin? traitor. Hate to add to yer financial woes, Ray, but you got one helluva dental bill comin??"

The fist shot forward and halted less than an inch from the nose tip of Condorís cowl, his squinting eyes and frozen grimace still awaiting the blow that never landed. Ben felt the tendons in his shoulder catch fire as the punch was forcibly prevented from properly landing or following through. Releasing Condorís throat, he tried to use his free arm to force the other to his side, desperately pulling and tugging on the forearm and biceps like a street mime performing a comedic sketch.

"What?in the..hell?" he grunted, watching helplessly as Condor rolled away while grasping at his wounded neck.

"Itís referred to as a ?floating pocket of unmovable air?, Force. Nothing fancy, mind you, but it serves its purpose in a pinch. I could easily encase your entire head within a similar prism, thus cutting off precious oxygen, but alas, the authorities do frown on my utilizing such grisly techniques," Mystic bellowed while circling Benís paralyzed form in a green blur of chaotic movement.

"Ya keep playin??with dynamiteíson?your gonna lose?an appendage...or two?" Ben groaned aloud, his face and neck coated in sweat as he continued to strain and struggle to no apparentavail. In the background, mingled voices, some muffled and guarded; others loud and overly boisterous, could be heard analyzing the scene like play-by-play commentators witnessing a historic sporting event.

Pausing in mid-flight, Mystic hung upside down, his dark brown eyes parked mere inches from Benís own.

"Benjamin, I don?t question the brute strength you possess, nor take it lightly. That said, I?m about as intimidated by you as I would be in the presence of a Golden Retriever pup."

Ben threw a vicious uppercut with his free arm, growling in obvious agony as the flesh of his knuckles first flattened, then split open upon contact with the field encasing Mysticís skull.

"Ouch. That must?ve stung a bit," Mystic beamed while flipping right side up and levitating gently onto the floor, the field encircling his boots crushing chunks of glass into even tinier segments. A few dozen feet away, the voices of the media hordes grew ever louder, as if each were trying to drown the other out. Cameras flashed more rapidly in succession, resembling a grouping of ignited fireworks.

With his bleeding, wounded hand tucked tightly against his chest, Ben wrenched back in a final attempt to free the other, succeeding only in separating the attached shoulder, which popped loudly as he collapsed onto one knee.

"R-release the arm...magic boy..and I?ll..c-consider not...pullin? your lungs out through your asshole..." he barked with a snarl, lifting himself back up to alleviate the pressure from his wrecked shoulder.

Shaking his head slowly from side to side, Mystic glanced past his trapped quarry to where the Crimson Condor stood semi-slumped, his gloved hands propped wearily atop his knees.

"I?d always heard what a true charmer you were, Benjamin. I must say, all the stories of unchecked barbarianism and animalistic behavior tied to your legend have indeed done you justice. Pardon me while I check my partnerís status, will you?"

Without a single movement other than a brief flip of his right hand, he sailed upward until the tip of his cowl practically scraped the tiled ceiling, hovering like a feather swept along by a mild spring breeze before landing next to where Condor kneeled.

"Condor, are you able to rise?" he practically yelled as the flash bulbs freeze-framed his heroic pose, dramatically leaning over his fallen comrade as their embattled opponent continued his fruitless struggles in the background.

Gradually pushing himself upright, Condor took a few deep breaths before turning on Mystic with an expression of utter disdain.

"Aw, go to hell, camera hog. I?ll live. Letís...get this?charade over with before whatís left of my conscience makes a surprise appearance and I take a swing at you instead."

Mystic leaned over until the two men came dangerously close to butting heads, his voice barely audible over the clatter surrounding them.

"If I were you, fly boy, I?d refrain from spouting such vile dialogue for the remainder of this particular drama, or I just might turn the rabid pit-bull over there loose on your creaky old behind. Oh, I?d step in for the rescue, but only after heís managed to break a handful of bones, cracked your sternum, or ruptured your spleen."

Swallowing hard, Condor refused to meet the other manís gaze as they moved slowly forward.

"Do you read me clearly, Chicken-Man? Just keep your mouth shut and you?ll walk away with a third of the reward and at least that much of the credit."

"Under....I got it. Now, letís just...end this."

Mystic giggled briefly, though shielding it with the back of a gloved hand.

"I thought so. Just for the record, Pigeon-Toes, if not for your connection within the AASHS, I?d feed you to that animal for the sheer pleasure of watching you die."

Condor visibly tensed, opened his mouth to reply, then hung his head slightly and fell silent before continuing forward.

As they neared his sweat-soaked, spastically weaving form, Ben twisted around until it looked as though his head was literally sewn onto his back.

The two halted a half-dozen feet from his crookedly hanging frame.

"Jeez, t-talk about..the Odd Couple. How?d you...t-two meet..at a local Costumed Pricks c-convention?"

Unable to maintain eye-contact with his former partner, Condor instead turned to Mystic, who now floated horizontally with his head in the lead, lying flat as if perched on an invisible ironing board, his chin resting on his folded wrists.

"Put the air-cuffs on him, Mystic. Heís no threat now. Letís just take him i..."

Mysticís face turned towards him and away from the cameraís intrusive glare, the expression he displayed no longer heroically wholesome but obscenely malevolent.

"Not...just...yet, Wing-Nut. We need just a bit more action to fill in the chinks of tonightís little venture, don?t you agree? After all, the news boys have traveled all this way. They deserve more than the mundane, the ordinary. The capture must contain...a suitable filling. Besides, if you?re receiving a portion of the reward for this capture, you?re going to earn it."

"Kid, you are one seriously cracked egg, you know that?" Condor mumbled beneath a gloved hand, "...you cut that man loose, injuries or no, he will find a way to hurt you. Believe me, oh great and mighty master of the mystical arts, the man I knew as Force thrived on inexplicable comebacks. Heed my warning, forget the goddamned cameras for a minute and don?t? chance? it."

Mystic tumbled to the debris-strewn floor, falling to his knees as his hands engulfed each side of his cowl at the temples.

"C-can?t...h-hold h-him, Condor. Heís...t-t-too strong. The p-pressure of....maintaining separate...f-force fields...h-has d-drained me so." he announced loudly, tossing his head back for additional dramatic effect.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Condor managed to keep his reply in the form of a muffled whisper, despite the overwhelming urge to reveal the charade being played out solely for the media at large.

"Selfish, scrawny little weasel. If we do survive this, I swear I?ll take you apart myself."

Tumbling down like a puppet with severed strings, Ben landed on his injured shoulder before instantaneously rolling to his feet in one amazingly swift, fluid motion

Condor leaped back several steps and took a quick inventory of the immediate area as Mystic again bowed his head, tucking his upper body into a semi-fetal position.

"Looks like...I ain?t the only?one bein? sold out on thisparticular evenin?, huh Condor old com padre?" Ben blurted before spitting another thick wad of bloody saliva onto the dusty floor.

"Give it up, Ben. Kidís a sick pup. Heís playing up to the masses, thatís all. Don?t give him a reason to humiliate and injure you any further," Condor whispered harshly, watching in disgusted dismay as Mystic writhed and wriggled a few feet to his right.

Adjusting his cowl with his mangled right hand, Ben lunged back with one leg and assumed a defensive posture. The assault of clicking flashbulbs seemed to intensify two-fold, as did the manic, chattering dialogue accompanying it.

"Surrenderin? don?t exactly come naturally, Ray. The thought of it kinda sickens me, truth be told. Always has.

Immediate danger and extreme risk, on the other hand, give me a full-throttle boner every time."

"Do your worst, Pigeon-man. Rest assured, I?ll step in if the need arises," Mystic murmured from between splayed fingers. He rolled over onto his back, keeping his face covered as his legs kicked out spastically.

Cocking his head to one side, Ben clasped his injured arm at the upper bicep and jerked it roughly towards his body until an audible pop was heard. All the while, he never hinted at the intense pain surely associated with such a reckless procedure.

"Ah, good as gold. I guess itís show time, Condor. By all means, letís give the people what they crave."

Shrugging weakly, Condors? fists uncurled momentarily as he turned his gloved hands palms up.

"Wish it didn?t have to be this wa..."

"Cram it, Ray. Yer no better than the green turd over there. Ya might as well be fartin? in Russian for all your words mean to me now."

Sailing forward at break-neck speed, Condorís left boot ricocheted off Benís breast bone, using the blow as a spring board to flip up and over his obviously weakened, groggy opponent. Following a smooth, perfectly executed landing, hefollowed up with a sidekick to the pit of Benís lower back, sending the larger man scrambling onto his stomach with a loud groan.

Wiping embedded glass fragments from his abdomen and chest as he sprang to his feet, Ben wore a wry smile.

"Yer still damn quick for an old man, Raymond. Forgot all about yer patented ?tumbleweed kick? maneuver. Wouldn?t advise tryin? that again, though?"

"Save yourself any further pain and take a ten-count, Ben. Even if you do manage to get past me, Wizard-boy over there will take great pleasure in bending you like a soggy pretzel before unmercifully ending the festivities."

Lurching forth, Ben threw a succession of short jabs, all of which Condor effortlessly avoided with a simple bob and weave. After tossing a pitifully telegraphed right hook which found nothing but stale, smoke-filled air, Ben fell to one knee and swept the other across Condorís ankles, toppling him over onto his back with a resounding thud. He then landed an elbow into the pit of his former partnerís midsection, followed by a solid right to the jaw, spraying a fine, misty mix of blood from his shattered hand, as well as that from Condorís upper lip, onto the facing of a nearby jukebox.

Covering his battered face with both hands, Condor rolled weakly onto his right side as Ben wobbled shakily to his feet.

"Tactical errors can and will get ya hurt, Ray. You definitely need a bigger room if ya wanna stand toe to toe with me. Without flyin? space, yer just another half-assed kick boxer wearin? spandex. And, speakin? of flyin?..."

Reaching down with his right hand, which looked as though it had been run through a meat grinder, Ben grabbed Condorís left ankle, braced his feet a full two feet apart, then proceeded to sling the smaller man airborne, spinning his splayed frame over head like a human lasso.

Upon release, Condor easily cleared a series of stacked bar stools and a trio of ancient pinball machines, a crimson line-drive who eventually soared head-first over the bar and dead center into a shelf half-filled with dust-coated liquor bottles.

Vanishing behind the chest-high bar, he was subsequently bombarded by whatever bottles he hadn?t already shattered upon impact.

Just as the renewed sound of shattered glass began to subside, Mystic quickly pushed himself upright and started to levitate back at a deliberate pace as Ben turned to face him.

"Where ya goin?, squirt? Felt a sudden burst of energy, did ya?"

Mystic paused his backward momentum only when the protective force field he?d created for the media was mere inches away. Floating upward, he held his slim arms straight out as if to continue flight by flapping, keeping the palms pointed down as he grew completely still, as if in deep meditation.

Tugging again at his ravaged shoulder, Ben paused to refill his lungs with three quick inhales.

Cheese-dick is playin? it for all itís worth. He ain?t about to give me a free shot, and I can?t afford another broken hand courtesy?a that body-bubble armor of his. Guess I?ll have to play it by ear?or better yet?foot.

"By the power authorized to me by the Federal Government as well as the fine city of New Orleans, I hereby place you, Benjamin Thomason, now known as Desolation Outlaw, formerly the man called Force, under arrest for the crime of Murder, as well as the additional charge of evasion."

Ben slung his head back and howled.

"Whatever you say, Ace. Don?t bother takin? the initiative. I?ll gladly do the honors."

His speed increasing with each step, Ben raced forward like a charging bull, covering the twenty-yard space between them in just under four seconds. He leaped feet-first with his arms crossed over his chest, like a pole-vaulter attempting a record height.

Somewhat surprisingly, Mystic held his ground without even the slightest attempt to levitate out of harms way. As soon as the bottoms of his steel-toed Wolverineís made contact with what should have been the manís upper stomach and chest, Ben unfortunately understood the reason why. Bouncing away like a racquetball from a stone surface, Ben felt as if his knees and ankles had endured a ten-story fall onto a brick sidewalk. Tucking his torso like a platform diver, he landed with a tight roll, ramming still another stack of chairs like a human bowling ball before the far edge of the bar finally halted his forward progress.

Struggling to his feet, he spat a thick mix of dirt and blood onto the nearby bar top, acutely aware of Mysticís slow ascent towards him.

"Yer a real manís man, Misses-tic, yes indeed. Howís about droppin? that damned bubble for half a sec, what do ya say? De-pussy-fy yerself, so to speak."

Ben sidestepped over to a nearby table, which had been flipped over in his tumbling descent.

"You know, prove to yer internet fan club what a real action he-ro ya really are?"

"I?m not here to play games, mister. I?m here to enforce the law."

Snapping a baseball-bat sized table leg free with frightening ease, Ben casually propped it onto one shoulder while positioning the circular tabletop as a makeshift shield. Resembling a battered, battle worn warrior from two centuries past, he then pointed the club airborne and waived it playfully.

"Then by all means, turdheel, come on with yer bad self."

"You know, Benjamin, your blatant recklessness is surpassed only by your innate crudeness," Mystic remarked sourly, floating cautiously ahead, "stereotypical southern white male. It will be a true pleasure shutting you up."