The Kwanzaa Initiative

by Gary Phillips

  Crime Takes No Holiday

The Blonde Ghost drifted into Dr. Grayface’s lab, phasing through an alloy wall. Her icy stare swept the interior. She saw Grayface, whose real name was Hans von Hanz, directing one of his assistants, both of them wearing welder’s goggles. They were at a worktable upon which was a partially dismantled laser cannon. The assistant was welding a component in place, the flame thin, blue and precise jetting from the nozzle of his acetylene torch.

The Ghost solidified her diaphanous form, her ability such that even garb including the cape draped about her milky whiteness became spectral-like as well. Some sort of limited engagement field Grayface had concluded after several tests conducted on her at one point. She could extend the field to a degree and make say a book or dog intangible as well.

Once she did this to a tree hugger, freaking out the environmentalist’s allies for several minutes that their friend’s head had suddenly disappeared. The Blonde Ghost’s boot-clad feet came down softly on the metal floor. The lab was part of the floating fortress of the Medusa Council, a not-so-secret cabal of right-wing corporate and business interests.

The craft was large enough to house some 200 personnel comfortably and designed to look like a flying saucer, though more disk shaped than bubbled in the middle tapering to thin edges like a traditional UFO—at least one as imagined in 1950s films. There were four tank turrets equidistant around the top diameter of the airship. The craft was called the Sky Cutter. The cannon being repaired was usually mounted in one of those turrets.

Two days ago the Sky Cutter had swooped in over a massive rally in Cleveland protesting foreclosures. The protest had been given a boost due to a former governor and vice-presidential candidate who’d testified before Congress recently about how sorry she was the investment firm she was in charge of, Framken Ulbright Financials, somehow lost more than a billion dollars in assets.

The buzzing by the Sky Cutter had been an attempt by the Medusa Council’s chairman, sometimes called Potato Head or more often Spud One, to put a scare into the gathered, more than 10,000 strong. Rather, salted among the protestors, in their grey and black, bandanas worn stage coach robber style, were hardcore members of the 99 Brigade. They’d opened fire on the airship with a newly developed pulse wave device that blew the laser cannon apart. There was a cadre of techies among the 99ers where were about making the gadgets inspired by their beloved Star Trek reality. The Cutter flew away.

“Madam,” Dr. Grayface said, putting his goggles around his neck. He nodded at the Blond Ghost who strode past him. He smiled thinly as she didn’t acknowledge his greeting. He knew despite her practiced glacial countenance, her pulse was quickening given she’d spotted Perry Decaine in another part of the lab.

He was in fatigues and a tan T-shirt, its material stretched across his muscular chest. A few years ago on strikes against the 99 Brigade, he’d worn a black form-fitting suit and a domino mask he’d tie behind his head. The Blonde Ghost became smitten with that image of him. He’d still wear the mask now and then, for her. Toward the wall in back of him was a seven foot tall glass-like structure domed at its top. There was blinking machinery nearby and wires and piping led from the machinery into the covering. There was a human form within, but obscured due to heavy gasses swirling about it.

“American Black,” the Blonde Ghost said to Decaine, using his operative identity.

“Clara,” he said warmly, using her real name. He sat with one hip on a table and was assembling his handgun. Inspired by the Ghost’s powers, the weapon’s outer casing was composed of a blend of polymers such that its shell refracted light, making it nearly invisible. Decaine was so used to this procedure that he was looking at the Blonde Ghost as he reassembled the gun—machine grey inner mechanisms visible one moment then gone the next as he finished its assembly.

Indeed this rock hard specimen of U.S. manliness was well-trained to do many tasks in the dark, the Ghost reflected pleasurably. “Are you ready?” she intoned, doing her best shadowy voice. It took concentration for her not to reach out and touch his arm.

“Naturally,” he replied in that easy manner of his. “Everything is lining up as we’ve planned and plotted.” He leveled his light brown eyes on her and it was as if he could read her mind. There had been times she imagined he could.

Grayface walked over to the two, hands in his pristine lab coat. “The watch working okay, Perry?” Von Hanz had earned reluctantly his nickname due to an experiment going awry one time. It had left his face appearing immobile as his skin now had a concrete-like pallor to it.

There was a heavy silver chrome watch on American Black’s wrist. “No worries, doc. The adjustment you made was the thing. This bad boy works like a charm now.”

“Are you seeing them today?” she asked unnecessarily. The Blonde Ghost momentarily phased from corporeal to phantom form then back to regular. It was an unconscious manifestation of hers when under stress. For by “them” she really meant her.

Decaine was standing, picking through several gadgets arrayed on the table—some familiar and some unknown to the Blonde Ghost. “Tonight’s the night, eh, Blonde Ghost?” He paused, slightly shaking a gold plated Zippo in his hand. He smiled at her.

“The first blow in the war of the patriots is poised to strike at the damnable 99 Brigade. We will burn our place into history forever tonight, won’t we?” His words were both a challenge and a source of exhilaration to her. She almost got watery in the knees but maintained her stoicism.

“I will be in position,” she said, hoping he interpreted her reply as the double entendre she intended.

“Good,” a new voice boomed. A holographic monitor screen had suddenly appeared before them and on it was the spiky head of Spud One, their chairman. He was literally a blubbery head preserved in a chemical bath without a body. He had been when he was a normal human, a conservative campaign strategist who’d guided many successful elections for the crusade. But he’d also had an oxycontin, Hillbilly heroin, habit and burned his body badly one night in a binge in a hotel room with two cross dressing hookers. A side effect of the chemicals needed to be constantly circulated in his glass container caused the knotty growths to sprout—thus his appearance as an overripe potato with eyes and a mouth.

“The Kwanzaa Initiative commenced at a mere idle idea, and culminates with you as the mighty head of the spear we will drive in their raghead-lovin’ heart, American Black,” Spud One was saying. “You embody what we’ve always said, our blacks are better than their blacks.”

The Blonde Ghost had first said those words but the three knew better than to correct him. The head laughed in that weird, chilling way like a villain in an old reeler tying the damsel to the train tracks. His voice was digitized through a squawk box, adding to its unearthliness. The trio nodded their assent. Thereafter, geared up and standing at the open hatch, Perry Decaine made an adjustment on his glide pac’s control unit.

“God’s speed,” The Ghost said. She gave him a chaste peck on his cheek, residue of her glistening black lipstick stark against his bronze skin. Tenderly, she wiped the evidence away with her fingertips.

There was a stone stare in his eyes as he put a hand around her waist, pulling her close. “Just in case it all goes south.” They kissed passionately, and then American Black went out on the deck of the Sky Cutter as it momentarily hovered above the Watts area of Los Angeles. The craft was on radar stealth mode as it took position in the dark sky.

There were two crewmen on deck as well, their mag boots helping them cling to the airship’s steel-titanium hull. The running lights were on, illuminating the figures. One of the crew saluted Decaine, and he saluted back as scuba-fashion, he did a back dive off the edge of the disk into the air. He was wearing a so-called flying squirrel suit of material that billowed under his arms and between the legs. He glided toward the earth, specifically the Flying Foxx auto junkyard off of Beach Street a few blocks north of the Watts Towers.

Dawn was ten minutes away as American Black zeroed in on his landing zone, his night vision goggles giving his field of vision a green glow. Rather than a parachute, the glide pac on his back employed a prototype anti-grav device Grayface had engineered. The instrument had a limited range, involving magnetic repulsion, so the wearer had to be less than four hundred feet from a solid surface for it to work properly. But sure enough as he zoomed in closer to smashing against a pile of junked cars, the glide pac kicked in and American Black’s body suddenly, and jarringly, simply halted in mid-ar.

“Grayface’s gotta work on that,” he muttered, teeth clenched. He dialed down the pac’s power like lowering the volume on a radio and he touched down onto the ground. He was just outside the junkyard, his cover business for the last year.

“Say, home, you lost?”

Down on a knee, Decaine had just finished folding up his wing suit and turned to the voice. There having come up behind him were two members of the Rolling Daltons street gang. The outfit controlled this part of Watts, trafficking in the usual of drugs, but also having branched out into stolen cars and gun running. The gangbangers were in a tricked out Nissan 350Z. The aroma of marijuana drifted to American Black’s nostrils.

He rose. “I’m right where I need to be.”

“No shit.” The Dalton in the passenger seat exchanged a quick look with the driver. His eyes were red and glassy. “Maybe we better show you the way out of this bad place.”

“And here I was thinking I should try and get some gym time in today but you two will do for a tuneup.”

“Fuck you talking about, bitch?” the passenger sharled.

Having already tired of the banter he knew was going to escalate anyway, Decaine charged forward.

“Hold up,” the one on the passenger side said, reaching for a gun is his waistband.

But American Black had already covered the space and as the Glock came free, he grabbed the man’s wrist and shoved the muzzle into the cheek of the driver.

“Motherfuckah,” the driver blared, reaching for the gun.

Decaine released the other man’s wrist and with an edge strike of his hand to a cranial nerve in his neck, incapacitated him immediately. He’d done this so swiftly, the driver was still trying to comprehend what happened to his friend even as American Black used the handgrip of the Glock to club him unconscious too.

American Black smiled thinly at his handiwork. Yes, he was ready. Later, having deposited the trussed-up Rolling Daltons with an amount of weed and ecstasy pills in their pockets in back of the LAPD substation on 108th, he met with the rally committee at the Tabernacle of Zion church in South L.A. Rochelle “Roc” Nyler was speaking. She was a lead organizer with Urban Advocacy, one of the groups putting on the rally.

The action happened to coincide with the first day of Kwanzaa. Spud One and Grayface got excited about the idea of being able to strike a blow not only against the 99 Brigade, but take on a made-up holiday by a professional Mau-Mau.

“Yet another move by the Left to destroy Christmas,” Spud One had decried.

As far as American Black knew, Kwanzaa hadn’t exactly become a household tradition in black communities, but it was good for morale among the Council members. The two African Americans in the inner circle, Ragged Dick and Condor Connie the Cruel, were out-of-touch with the daily concerns and likes of ordinary black folk.

“Okay, we’ve got our assignments and the Guild’s legal observers will be stationed around in green caps.” She held her hands apart. “Anything else?”

There were a few other last-minute matters then the meeting broke up and people began leaving to head downtown. There were several chartered buses in the parking idling to take community residents to the area around City Hall.

Roc Nyler and Decaine stood near each other. His cover name to her was Sam Rogers.

“SEIU figures they’ll have five to seven thousand members out,” he enthused. He’d been the union liaison for the rally. Other unions such as AFSCME and the Teamsters would be in attendance as well as segments of the building trades, historically more conservative than their sisters and brothers in organized labor

“You do good work, Rogers.”

“Thanks, teach.”

She smiled and took hold of his hand.

He smiled back.

“Guess we better get over there,” Reverend Malcolm Stonehill said, stepping toward the doorway. He’d been talking to several of his parishioners who were among his church’s contingent coming to the rally. He was a broad shouldered man in a charcoal gray pinstriped suit.

“On it,” Nyler said, letting Decaine’s hand loose.

“I’d do something sexist like pinch your butt but wouldn’t want to you know, be all un-PC,” he whispered to her as they walked out.

“That’s right,” she said reaching back quickly and giving his crotch a squeeze.

“Oh my,” he said.


Among the main thrust of the year’s end rally was the celebration of the generally successful occupation of more than 100 foreclosed homes in the city where the residents faced forcible evictions. This had gone on for a month and the rally was billed as the True 100. Renters rights groups, financial reform nonprofits, the faith sector, the unions and more had not only pulled together to bring out the people, but they were also the ones who were occupying the homes. Estimates as high as 200,000 had been projected in terms of turnout.

But as Decaine stood on a set of steps, scanning the gathered, he estimated it was closer to nearly 300,000 who’d turned out. Large 16-wheelers driven by the Teamsters, maintenance trucks brought in by city and county including steamrollers and cherry-pickers, blocked the streets a half square mile around.

The plaza was at the apex of the freshly rehabbed section of three blocks of Grand Avenue redone in a kind of Champs Élysées by way of Hollywood approach. In the center of the plaza was the 65-story Prospect Tower, housing entities of international capital— including Framken Ulbright, F.U., Financials.

“I simply do not know where the money is, or why the accounts have not been reconciled as of today,” the heretofore well-respected former governor had said under oath. She further stated, “I know only what I saw on the news,” she’d said, her voice trembling with the proper amount of sorrowfulness. These were monies belonging to union pension funds, small farmers, teachers, firefighters and so on. The ex-governor had to have armed guards attached to her, and the SEC promised an investigation to get to the bottom of this business.

What better symbol to stage the protest at and what better day to sabotage the 99 Brigade, Spud One had chortled.

“Soon Herr Doctor, the sweet sound of freedom will ring loud and clear from down there.” The Blonde Ghost stood next to Grayface at a monitor. They were afforded a view of the unfolding events.

He regarded her and taking a dig, said, “Orgasmic you’d venture?”

She looked at him glacially. "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."

Dr. Grayface would have laughed, but it hurt his near-frozen face to do so.

At the rally, Reverend Stonehill was before the podium’s mic speaking about the need for a new Works Projects Administration. Thousands of placards shook and an echoing roar of approval went up from the masses. Checking his watch, Perry Decaine prepared for the bomb to go off.

After some discussion, it was agreed American Black would plant the bomb in the tower itself, this after putting it in the trunk of car and leaving it below in the underground parking structure had been dismissed. The thing was supposed to go off in the lobby of F.U. Financials, hidden in the soil of a potted plant.

F.U. was particularly an egregious example of post-modern wantonness. Not only had they benefitted from a bailout a few years ago, recently its CEO, a former U.S. senator, went before a televised hearing of his former colleagues. Tearfully, his voice cracking, he exclaimed, “I’m sorry, I just simply can’t ascertain why the books can’t be reconciled.” The firm had somehow “lost” a billion dollars in investment monies, including pension funds, bundled 401Ks and so on. Already there were hundreds of cases of homelessness, impoverishment and three suicides directly linked to this massive swindle in broad daylight. No one believed the money had simply disappeared and an investigation by the SEC had been launched.

Decaine had cloned copies of the magnetic pass cards used by the cleaning crew to gain access via service doors and the like to the inner stairwells and doors of the building.

The bomb’s casing was to have the fingerprints of Nyler on it. She was suspected as being one of the leaders of the secretive 99 Brigade. American Black knew she was from his months undercover and having gotten close to the woman. Very close.

The bomb went off and all eyes in the crowd looked upward toward the sound. But glass wasn’t cascading down to them from blown out office windows—rather the Sky Cutter suddenly wobbled into view from hiding in the grey overcast clouds.

“That black conniving bastard,” Grayface hissed on the ship. He hurried toward the domed cylinder.

The Blonde Ghost was transfixed at the monitor as she watched grey and black clad members of the 99 Brigade jump from highrises onto the deck of the listing Sky Cutter. She did note those fucking tree hugging commies were wearing glide pacs. Doubtless American Black had snuck one of the devices to them to have it reverse engineered.

The laser canons weren’t normally manned until needed. But one of the Council’s soldiers, called centurions as a harkening back to the days of ancient Rome, who hadn’t succumbed had gotten in a turret and was firing the weapon.

Two 99 Brigaders, a man and a woman, floating just to the left of American Black were seared in half by the sweep of the laser’s ray, not even having time to scream as they died. American Black dialed his glide pac up just as another beam blast swept by where he’d just been.

“I’m going to kill you, traitor,” the soldier in the turret vowed. He powered up the laser again, his shot going wide as the Sky Cutter listed once more. The ray seared off the tops off several of the large metal letters spelling Prospect at the top of the tower. Decaine had purposely set a secondary bomb in the craft’s gyro systems so they wouldn’t be able to make a speedy escape.

He suddenly cut the juice on his glide pac and as his body hurtled head first toward the Sky Cutter, the laser canon swinging toward him, he threw a small frag grenade right through the opening in the turret where the gunner looked out over the barrel of the cannon. His aim was true and the grenade sent shrapnel into the centurion’s neck and head, killing him. Freefalling, American Black then shot out a thin cable of titanium and platinum from hs watch. On its end was a magnetized grappling hook and as it took told, he grabbed his wrist with his free hand so the jerk of the line wouldn’t pull his arm out of its socket. He arced back up over the Sky Cutter and let go over the deck, having to go into a roll as he landed to prevent breaking some bones.

On the outer shell of the ship, one of the 99 Brigaders screamed briefly as a blast from a Mac 10 ripped into her gut. She was blown off the decking from the impact of the rounds. Roc Nyler’s expertly thrown butterfly knife penetrated the gunman’s neck and he went over dead. His mag boots held the corpse’s legs in place, the torso folded over at the waist.

American Black had hidden sleeping gas canisters onboard so he hoped a majority of the crew would be slumbering by now. The gas fed into the air and heat ducts, knocked out immediately, and dissipated quickly.

“This way,” Decaine commanded, his invisible gun sounding twice as he dropped a soldier exiting the access hatchway. By now the ship had righted itself and was heading west, out toward the Pacific. American Black hadn’t rigged his gas to affect the pilots as he didn’t want the Sky Cutter crashing into the protestors.

A computerized voice repeated over the PA system, “This is not a drill ... this is not a drill ...”

In the main corridor the 99ers battled with several centurions. The Sky Cutter was capable of high altitude flight, thus the ship could be pressurized. But as they were at low altitude, and not pressurized, firepower was employed by both sides, and holes were being punched through the ship.

“Watch out, baby,” Decaine said, tackling Nyler as a burst from an assault rifle nearly vaporized her head. As he fell with the woman sideways into an alcove, even off-balance he got off a shot, nailing the attacker dead center in his forehead.

The 99ers made their way way to Grayface’s lab. This was where the Medusa Council’s leadership would make their last stand. A brace of automatic fire blazed and two of the freedom fighters went down instantly. For a moment no one could pinpoint where the gunner was posted. But American Black, whose hearing had been heightened via nanotech, detected the scrape of cloth against burnished steel. He aimed at an air vent and let rip with a burst from a M4 one of the dead 99ers had wielded. That took care of the hidden assassin.

“Okay,” he said as the assault crew rounded a corner and before them were the heavy double doors to the lab. Old-fashioned one inch in diameter rivet heads framed each door. “You two with Roc and me,” Decaine continued, “the rest secure the flight bridge.” The squad split up and the four advanced on their target.

“Where’s that spooky girlfriend of yours?” Nyler whispered to Decaine. The Blonde Ghost had been conspicuously absent from the dust-up.

For an answer the Ghost’s gloved hands suddenly emerged from the lab door and she grabbed one of the Brigadistas. Given she could dematerialize what she touched, she pulled him into the door but only part way. As metal melded with flesh, his scream was mercifully brief and muffled, his protruding lower half in the door ceasing to writhe in seconds.

“Bloodthirsty bitch,” Nyler declared.

Absently American Black reflected that Nyler’s tome seemed odd. But he focused on setting the pulse wave mini-bomb. It was clamped on the door and triggered, blowing the doors open inward. The three went in firing, having also tossed in a couple of what were called phaser grenades that blinded and disoriented their opponents. The smoke was still drifting from the heated barrels of their assault rifles as the remaining five centurions crimpled to the floor, dead.

The Blonde Ghost, who knew she couldn’t sneak up on American Black, stood to one side. Dr. Grayface was next to his large domed glass cylinder. What was inside could be seen clearly now.

“Oh my,” the 99er beside Nyler said.

“I present,” Grayface began, “my greatest creation.” With much effort he grinned slightly. “Maximum Black.” The cylinder, which seemed seamless, suddenly parted at the top and each side descended into its base. Therein was a copy of Perry Decaine as imagined by the likes of Jack Kirby having drinks with Philip K. Dick, as Kirby sketched their idea on a flattened out cocktail napkin. The being was at least six foot eight, his frame seemingly twice the heft of the original. His forehead was disproportionately large and squarish.

“Cloned from my DNA,” Decaine concluded.

“Cloned and improved,” Hans von Hanz declared. “Whatever your abilities, he has them in ... spades, shall we say.”

Maximum Black, dressed in loose dark pants and a dark blue tunic with red piping, leaped and was on the 99 Brigader in a blink. He not only snapped the man’s neck, but tore his head off and contemptuously tossed it aside. Blood spurted about from the torn neck like in a samurai drama.

Nyler yelled and started firing her gun. After a quick burst, which the doppelganger easily evaded, the weapon jammed. She glared at her Beretta M12 then American Black.

“Magnetic dampeners messing with the release mechanisms,” he surmised. “Anyway, this is my fight.”

“Yes, darling, it is,” Roc Nyler said. She kissed him deeply.

He tossed the M4 aside. Decaine and his larger double circled one another, each with their fists raised as if squaring off for a bare knuckles contest of more than a century ago. A sneer on his face, Maximum Black swung, expecting to connect. Yet while the clone had superior strength and reflexes, he lacked American Black’s combat experience. He came in under the blow and drove a palm heel strike into the other’s chest, a move designed to stop the heart.

Maximum Black said in Perry Decaine’s voice, “That all you got, little man?” A backhand swat sent Decaine reeling into a bank of machinery. The impact of his body busted up several panels, causing sparking and crackling of electricity. His larger version was airborne, a flying kick zeroing in on the downed man. Decaine rolled away and Maximum Black’s foot went through more machinery.

Temporarily held in place, American Black struck and was counterstruck as the two used their kung fu skills on each other. But a switch up to American-style boxing allowed American Black to slip an uppercut past the bigger one’s defenses.

“Too bad I can’t keep you alive, big brother,” the larger man said, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth. “You do have a thing or two to teach me.” He pulled his foot loose, ripping wires and using his big hands to pull apart the bank of machinery, throwing it aside into a useless pile.

Again they hesitated as they stood down one another, each man seeking his opening. The ship hit an air pocket and lurched, American Black rearing backwards slightly. Maximum Black went down on his side and slid forward. With a leg sweep, he put American Black on his back. He responded with a quickness that would have been sufficient in any other situation. With a kick up and out of his legs, he brought this body upright again. Only Maximum Black had assumed he’d do this move. He lashed out with a double strike that broke American Black’s right arm in two places.

The Blonde Ghost gasped. Roc Nyler was near her, reaching for the woman from behind.

With foot blows and blocking what he could with his left hand, American Black avoided being finished off by Maximum Black—but both knew their contest would soon be over. Breathing hard, Decaine had his back against one of the damaged panels, wiring loose like the tentacles of comatose squid about him. He noted that as Dr. Grayface addressed him.

“I know you think you’ll be a martyr to the Cause, American Black.” He did air quote marks. “Having died in a fight against the oppressor and all that rot,” he went on condescendingly. “But once Maximum Black disposes of you, we’ll of course engage the echo chamber among the so-called mainstream liberal media who will only be too happy to report on the newly revealed evidence, including videos, of you drugging and having your wicked, wicked way with female and male civil rights leaders and Democratic members of Congress. Hell, we’ll throw in a few Teabaggers you’d call them who haven’t been adhering to discipline as well. And,” he added, “that you had a hand in stealing the supposed missing billion.” In reality, the theft by strokes of a keyboard had been committed by the Medusa Council’s financial black ops branch.

He snickered. “I think too I’ll throw in that you practiced cannibalism with tender young girls. That would be exquisite.” He hadn’t looked that happy in years.

Grayface pointed at American Black. “You could have had it all, you sorry fool.” Then to Maximum Black, “Finish him.”

As the clone turned to destroy Perry Decaine he grimaced and clutched at his head. “What ... what’s happening to me?”

American Black had seen the loose wiring and realized the main trunk for the PA system was at his feet. As Grayface had gloated, he’d surreptitiously removed the power unit from one of other wave pulse mini-bombs in a side vent pocket. The unit emitted a signal at a certain frequency to activate the bomb. Maximum Black’s hearing was more heightened that his, giving him a range that animals could hear, American Black assumed. He’d patched into the PA trunk and generated a sound only maximum Black could hear—a high-pitched sound that was debilitating him.

Yet already the larger man was shaking off the effects, using his nanotech to shut down his hearing. But the distraction was all American Black needed. He came at the man who grabbed him in a bear hug, lifting him up.

“Ha,” Maximum Black blared. He squeezed, cracking bone, soon to break American Black’s back.

The magnetic dampeners would shut down his invisible gun, but only after the gun was engaged, after pressing the trigger once. He only needed one shot and he took it, putting a bullet through the eye of Maximum Black. His arms went lax around Decaine who dropped to the decking, spent. Maximum Black staggered, his powerful body trying to go on despite the end of brain function.

He uttered forlornly, “The world won’t be mine, Tony M,” and he toppled over onto his face, dead.

“Oh, Perry,” the Blonde Ghost said.

“Be strong,” Roc Nyler commanded her. She had an arm around the other woman’s waist. “We have the codes now.” She referred to the bank accounts the stolen billion had been secreted away to in various countries.

“And each other.” The Blonde Ghost kissed the leader of the 99 Brigade passionately.

Grayface and American Black exchanged a look of incredulity.

Nyler walked over to American Black who’d managed to get to a knee but he had nothing else left. He looked up at her and she put a hand to the top of his short cropped head. “You were turned by my idealism while I was being turned on by money,” and winking at the Blonde Ghost, “my bloodthirsty bitch and her pussy.”

She laughed heartily and started to walk away. Grayface hollered, “I’ll finish both of you defilers.” He lunged at Nyler but she had her knife in his heart before he knew what had happened. He too staggered back and impotently clutched at the hilt of the blade. He did a half-pirouette of death then fell to the floor, forever still, grayer than ever.

Shooting out an observation window, the two women prepared to escape. Combined with her glide pac, the Blonde Ghost would be able to keep Roc Nyler aloft. The Sky Cutter was wobbling. The 99ers dispatched to the flight deck must have been ambushed by the two as American Black fought Maximum Black—the pilots having been killed too.

Roc Nyler and Clara “The Blonde Ghost” Rundgren looked affectionately at American Black as the ship plunged toward the calm, blue-green Pacific.

“Bye-bye, love,” the Blonde Ghost said, blowing him a kiss.

Roc Nyler stitched Decaine with a chatter from the M4, the magnetic dampeners having shut down as the airship’s control mechanisms failed. The two floated out like demonic angels as the Sky Cutter cleaved into the water.

“I know,” Roc Nyler told the Blonde Ghost, whose eyes were moist. So were hers. They flew away as the Sky Cutter sunk into the ocean.


Constructed of broken metal from the Sky Cutter’s hull, and the bloated dead bodies of Dr. Grayface and Maximum Black lashed underneath for ballast, American Black rowed his grim makeshift raft. He used a flat section of the downed aircraft’s stabilizer as a paddle, heading back toward land.

What Nyler had shot was a projection, a holographic image captured of himself moments before while he kneeled behind a pile of the destroyed machinery. It was projected by the gold Zippo. Had Grayface, who had given him the new gadget this morning, and therefore it was unknown to the Blonde Ghost, been alive, he might have told the couple.

Despite his wounds and broken arm, American Black ignored the pain and rowed on. Not only did his have revenge to dispense, but he had the people’s money to get back. Once more, he had purpose.

  American Black

  art: Paul Gulacy

Gary Phillips' latest is Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers, a collection of his short stories.


Gary Phillips writes like a diamond cutter making jewels, rough untouchable jewels that sparkle in the dark. This is a great mix of crime, comic book, hard edged dialogue and razor sharp prose, not a word out of place.

2011-12-29 by Richard Godwin

Tremendous stuff- stirring. We’l do this together. I’m honored to post on this site. Here’s a dedication to Gary, its called ‘Pulsar’

2011-12-30 by robert hagen

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