Friday, January 23, 2009

Two Old Men And A Bottle Full of Rain


Two Old Men And A Bottle Full Of Rain
by
Al Bruno III



April 12, 1985

It was raining. Despite the weather reports to the contrary it had begun to rain just after midnight. Just like the intruder had promised.

But that intruder had known more than he was telling, he was all shifty glances and smug remarks. Reginald might have confronted him if not for the blank faced man the intruder kept for a bodyguard. What little Reginald knew of killing told him there was murder in that man's eyes. They had shown up for his father's funeral without an invitation, 'to pay their respects'. No one knew who they were and when asked the intruder had introduced himself as Phil and told them he had served with Reginald's father during the war.

Which of course was patently ridiculous because Reginald knew his father and the old man had never been inducted into the armed forces and he had certainly never enlisted. That kind of thing had never been Kerwin Hayter's style at all.

Soaked through to the skin and shivering, Reginald pulled his coat in tight around himself and tried to look like someone waiting for a bus. When all the traffic had passed and he was alone on the street he hopped the cemetery fence. He made his way through the maze of headstones to his father's grave.

All during the wake, while Reginald was trying hard to balance being a good host with being a good son, Phil had been pulling him aside and asking inappropriate questions.

It was very sudden wasn't it?

Bet the old man took you under his wing didn't he?

Have the police ruled out foul play?

Did he leave you everything?

Even the good stuff?

Even his war mementos?

That of course was when Reginald realized who the intruder and his stone-faced thug were. They were Pharos Agents. His father had worked for the Pharos project for the better part of a the Sixties; according to the records he had been a consultant for the National Security Agency but in reality he had been part of a nebulous special project that seemed to answer to no one.

The grave of Kerwin Hayter was just up ahead, Reginald could see a shadowy figure crouched before it, kneeling in the freshly turned earth. Reginald swept his wet hair from his eyes. This was worse than Reginald imagined, one of his father's old friends showing up now. Was he after the infamous Hayter secrets? The devices that could never be patented?

Reginald knew from his father's journals that he had left the Pharos Project in nineteen sixty-seven, angered at the organization's insular attitudes and the lack of a clear goals. Too many fact-finding missions had ended up being battles for survival, too many outright raids left them empty handed. Of course as long as the Pharos Project was willing to fund Kerwin Hayter's research into psychotronics he was willing to put up with the organizations failings.

Once they budget cuts began however his father quit, he took his research with him- and as much equipment and untraceable cash as he thought he could get away with.

The heavy downpour made it hard to make out exactly what the figure at his father's grave was saying. It sounded to Reginald like chanting, some of the words sounded like Latin.

Great. He grumbled mentally.

Reginald had come of age in the Seventies and soon found himself acting as his father's errand boy. When your father is privately researching the field of psychotronics, your errands inevitably ended up being more than trips to the hardware store. Over the next fourteen years Reginald became well aquatinted with bribery and theft, he learned to move in that shadowy, pseudo-mystical underground the rest of the world tired not to notice. What ever his father needed, he procured- when a rival appeared he was eliminated. He did whatever Kerwin Hayter asked of him.

The weight of the gun in his jacket pocket was reassuring, the handle was taped, the serial number was filed off. Pharos Agent or not 'Phil' wasn't going to get in the way now.

Not when Reginald had finally figured out where his father had been hiding all that money for all these years.

Leaning against a headstone he drew the gun and took careful aim. No one would hear, not out here in the middle of the city's largest cemetery. One shot. Reginald thought. One shot and I've gotten away with it.

By the time Reginald sensed the presence behind him it was too late.

One cold hand had him by the back of the neck, lifting him off his feet. The other hand grabbed his gun hand and snapped it at the wrist with a simple twist.

Screaming and kicking, his vision blurred with raindrops and agony Reginald Hayter was dragged to his father's gravesite. Phil was crouched there, an old winebottle half-buried in the dirt before him.

The thug dropped him, Reginald landed on his wrist and sobbed with agony. "It's not Victor." The thug's voice was deep and ragged from disuse.

Phil laughed, "Fuck John. You think I don't know that? All this little pissant is- is too ambitious."

"Then why are we here?"

"Because we had to be sure and besides, I think I owe poor old Kerwin this."

Reginald raised himself to his knees, "Look, if its about the money, I'll split it with you two- no three ways."

Phil smirked, "Kid, we're rich. If you're going to beg for your life at least show a little creativity."

John growled, "I'm not going to stand here and watch while you torment this moron."

This isn't happening. Reginald told himself, This isn't happening. Why hadn't he just gotten on the plane tonight like he'd planned to? Why had he left himself be lead into a trap?

"This is happening." Phil smiled as he drew the pistol from his jacket pocket, "And it was easy to get you here. All I had to do was hint that I knew something about treasures left over from your Dad's shady past."

John shrugged, "I think it was the rain that clinched it."

Phil rolled his eyes, "The rain always clinches it."

Reginald couldn't believe his ears, these were madmen, "You think...you think you made it rain?"

"I know I made it rain." Phil said as he made his prisoner sit on the freshly turned earth of the gravesite, his feet on either side of the slowly filling winebottle, "Not a cloud in the sky. The weathermen predicted sunny days all weekend and then all of a sudden out of the blue- I'm singing in the rain, just sing-"

"No..." John growled, "...singing."


"Just let me go and I'll give you whatever you want." Reginald said. His father's tombstone was cold against his back, water soaked through his pants, mud clung to the fabric.

"Can we please get this over with?"

Phil's expression went from gloating to glaring, "John could you please let me enjoy this moment here? If not for me then for poor old Kerwin."

"You hated Kerwin."

"No I didn't."

"You used to call him 'fuck-face' behind his back."

"You should hear what I call you."

"I do hear Phil. I do." John said with a wave of his arm. Glowering he retreated into the shadows.

"You'll have to pardon John." Phil crouched down so he could look Reginald in the eye, "He's not the man he used to be."

Reginald stared sullenly at the pistol in Phil's hand, he wondered if he could wrestle it from his grip. He figured he might be able to risk it, the guy looked to be pushing seventy. He could still get out of this, he still had the money. All he had to do was grab that bottle and use it as a weapon.

"I'm still old enough to kick your ass you little pissant!" His captor moved with sudden savagery, smashing he nozzle of the pistol into the side of Reginald's face. He yelped and fell to one side, pain-blinded and bloodied in the chilly rain. "Oh my God. Don't tell me you're crying now? You kill your old man and now you're crying?"

"He deserved it!" Reginald sobbed gently into the muddy earth. "He made us live like we were nobodies when he had all that money!"

"How did you find out?"

"Why do you care?"

"Look I need to know this and if you tell me what I want to know and give me what I want I'll let you live. That's more than a father killer like you deserves anyway."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

"He was sick. I was going bankrupt trying to pay his medical bills and take care of myself at the same time. The day after the bank told me they were going to take the car he told me. He had these briefcases full of cash stored in the crawlspace. They'd been there for years. We were millionaires and he'd never told me."

"Those were ill-gotten gains, he was trying to keep a low profile. Did you expect a fugitive living under an assumed name to live in a fucking mansion?" Phil straightened up to shout, "Hey John! All this bullshit because his Daddy didn't buy him a new bicycle for his birthday!"

An irritated voice called from the shadows "I'm going to the car."

"...my father has an assumed name?"

"Yeah. Your last name is really Bell. How about that?" Phil rested the end of the revolver against Reginald's bloody temple. "Now one last thing and we can all get out of the rain."

"Please..."

"Where did you hide the money?"

Some part of Reginald wanted to rear up, wanted to fight for what was his, but he had been a coward for too long. He had killed his father by poisoning because he couldn't bear to look him in the eye.

"Poison eh?" Phil hissed, "Not a very manly way to commit murder."

"If you can read my mind then why do you need me to tell you where the money is?"

"It's just a matter of difficulty. It's like the difference between shooting someone from a distance or from right up close." Phil jabbed him with the end of the revolver for emphasis. "Now the money… where can we find it?"

"Half." Reginald pleaded, "Leave me half. Please. You said you were rich."

"You can never be too rich or too thin. Besides it was our money to start with. Your Dad stole it from us."

"I thought-"

"Look unless you want your brains smeared across this nice new headstone you better tell me where the money is."

"In the trunk of my car."

"All of it?"

"All of it."

"There was that so hard?"

Reginald sniffled rainwater, "Can I go now?"

"Well I'm afraid I can't let you go. See the problem is that our little encounter tonight might raise questions among certain concerned individuals."

"I don't know anything."

"You know enough. See I need these people to think me and old John are dead. If you walk out of here and start talking…"

"I won't say anything! I swear!"

"Am I supposed to take the word of some little rat that poisoned his father?"

"You promised. "You promised you wouldn't hurt me!"

"So I did…"

The next words that came from Phil's mouth were harsh and strange sounding, they were from no language Reginald could recognize. Was he in the clutches of a madman? What kind of people had his father stolen that money from?

Everything seemed to pitch and heave around Reginald. He felt like he was loosing his balance but how could he be loosing his balance when he was lying flat on his back on the rain-soaked earth? Phil stood over him as he chanted in a long lost tongue, Reginald felt something hard and cold pressing against his cheek. Mewling, he closed his eyes.

Then opened them again.

The old man wasn't holding the gun anymore he was holding the bottle full. It was just glass that Reginald felt pressing against him, not gun metal. The rainwater spilled out over his face, flooding his nostrils, leaving him coughing.

What is he doing? Reginald wondered. Is he crazy?

The strange vertigo that gripped him grew worse, leaving him unable to stand, unable to speak. With every syllable Phil spoke the lethargy and light-headedness only grew worse. Reginald felt weightless and storm-tossed, like a leaf caught in the wind.

Water splashed in his eyes and mouth, the bottle seemed to have an endless supply of water. Reginald stared into the mouth of the old winebottle, it filled his vision with darkness and drew him deep inside.

Reginald felt his body draw its last breath, watrched it slump forward onto the muddy Earth. He watched every moment of it from within a prison of tinted glass.

When the cork slid into place he felt himself start to go mad.

In which I talk about webcomics for no good reason...

Why does it take me so long to post new material?

Sometimes it is because of my day job, sometimes it is because I am as much a perfectionist as I am a mad genius but most of the time I am reading other people's web pages and blogs instead of working on my own.

And the first place I go when shirking responsibility is the the webcomics.

Now you might be bored to learn that for much of my adolescence I wanted to be a cartoonist but my lack of any sort of artistic ability hampered my storytelling considerably and by age 18 I had taken those pages and pages of undrawn outlines and was trying to turn them into works of prose.

So as you can see the cartooning world's loss is the writing world's ... not as much of a loss.


Here are a few of the web comics I visit most often...

Rich's Comic Blog
This is the home of the Doctor Who comic strip 'The Ten Doctors'. The art style is simple yet graceful and a story that is funny and clever. I am constantly surprised at how well the author manages to juggle so many plot elements.

Darwinism by Francis Hogan
100% Bad by Francis Hogan
My Supa Life by Francis Hogan
I don't just follow all three of Francis Hogan's webcomics because he and I have been friends and infrequent collaborators for over a decade. Each of these strips gives you just a single facet of the man's unique and occasionally terrifying imagination. If you don't know his work then I think you are in for a treat.

The Parking Lot Is Full by Jack McLaren and Pat Spacek
Sadly this comic strip ended in 2002 but I have to say that it still is worth looking at. It is possibly some of the most twisted, surreal and wickedly funny stuff I've ever read. I don't care who you are, it is going to offend you at least once.


PvP by Scott Kurtz
What well-rounded nerd wouldn't have PvP in their favorite webcomics list? Consistent, excellent and funny work that continues to evolve along with its creator.

Penny Arcade by Gabe and Tycho
Another long running must-read webcomic, I remember reading one of the early strips and thinking to myself "I give it six months.". Well the joke was on me and thank goodness.

Supor Stupor by R.K. Milholland
All of R.K. Millholland's work is worth a look see but this is my favorite because back in my wannabee cartoonist days I tried time and time again to create funny super hero stories- mostly because that was the kind of thing I always wanted to read.. Well this comic strip is just that, but it is also better than anything I could have come up with or imagined.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Disclaimer

Disclaimer

Before we go any further please let me explain to you that nothing you read on this website is about you.

(But it might be)

Sure we might have met a time or twenty, maybe we where friends, maybe we were enemies but, absolutely nothing here is about you.

(Unless it is.)

None of the characters you read about are real people. Nobody like these people could survive in modern civilized society.

(Well, maybe in politics.)

If you’re a lady who was in the Albany area from 1988 to 1992 and you happened to date me, however briefly or unwillingly, this is not about you.

(Even though there were so damn few of you.)

If you happened to visit my house and accidentally sat on my cat causing him to spasmodically urinate for weeks afterward, I’m not gonna bring it up.

(Except for now.)

If you have worked with me or I have worked for you, no matter what conflicts we may have experienced in the past; be it a case of inadvertent sexual harassment or the occasional accidental workplace fire. I won't bring it up if you don't.

(But no matter what the others might think, I didn't draw that mustache on the picture of you near the front entrance.)

If you are one of my relatives, fear not all names and aspects of our relationship to the point where they have been rendered fictional.

(Except for the parts about my hot cousin, she was really pretty hot.)

Some of these stories might refer to certain famous and obscure role-playing games of the era; their names are mentioned lovingly and with nothing but respect.

(Still though, it took a damn long time to run a game of CHAMPIONS.)

If, by chance, you once bit me in your eagerness to explain your half-elves’ final defiant attack against that Mind Flayer I want you to know I bear no grudges – or scars. This is not about you.

(Or your overbite)

Perhaps you truly did play a ninja in one rpg or another, in fact I see such things as a legitimate and fascinating character choice, an archetype in fact.

(Pajama wearing, star throwing little FREAKS.)

However if you are one of the countless people who stop by here to read and re-read these strange little stories of mine, I'm flattered and honored, and sometimes a little relieved.

But still when you come right down to it, this still isn't about you either.

Because it’s all about me.

(Except when it isn’t)