7/ Henchman On Vacation

            It was Jose who suggested the trip to Mexico.  He’d seen the shit hit the fan on TV much the same as everybody else in the country had and although he didn’t know I was on The Secret’s crew for certain he’d heard rumours.  So he called me up and suggested a vacation, our two families, just until the heat died down a little bit.  He’d been working with the weird dimensional boss TransVector and had enough money to escape the rat race for a bit.

            So it was that we were sitting by the pool drinking margueritas while our wives sunbathed and his boys and my daughter took turns to dive bomb into the pool.
“Man, that was really some crazy shit you were into,” he said.  Other than a brief whispered chat on the journey here, it was the first time he’d broached the subject and this was our third day here.  I guess he’d been waiting for the right moment.
“Yeah,” I agreed.  “Crazy.”
“You think the Feds will track you down?”
“Bound to,” I said.  “We were masked, but the heat on this one is insane.  They caught some of The Secret’s crew, they’ve got experts in every field, they’ll probably bring in some super-powered weirdos to assist.  They’ll get all our names sooner or later.”
“What you gonna do?”
“Having our names and proving it was actually us are two different things. The Secret said we’d be okay if we just held our nerve.  I trust her.”
“Didn’t she stiff you on your money though?” Jose asked.
“Well yes and no.  She said we’d get a million if we completed the job.  We didn’t complete the job because we didn’t get the artefact.”
“What artefact?” Jose asked.
“Doesn’t matter.  We didn’t complete the job.  Take my word for it.”
“It sure looked like you completed it to me,” Jose said.  He’d seen us kick The Flag’s ass and end up with The President at our mercy.
“The plan changed.  I think originally she just wanted to steal the thing that The Flag and his team were guarding, mostly to embarrass him.  She intended to sell the artefact as loot, but that wasn’t her main aim.  She has a personal issue with the hero. A big one, I think.”
“Something changed?” Jose guessed.
“Yeah.  I don’t know what, but somewhere along the way she decided to drop the theft and go for a much more public announcement instead.”
“She accused The Flag of being a rapist on national TV.  Serious shit, that.  But she’s a super-villain.  You think anybody will believe it?”
“I don’t think it matters,” I said.  “The rumour is out there.  His reputation is in tatters for his failure and that’s only compounded by the accusations.  He’s finished.  I think that’s what she wanted.”
“But you didn’t get paid?”
“We got generously paid along the way and she gave us a sizeable bonus, all she could afford I think, at the end.  She’d spent a lot of her spare cash on the preparations for the job.”
“I guess,” Jose agreed.  “Well, buddy, it was great to see the good guys win, for once.”
“The good guys?” I laughed.
“Don’t we all think of ourselves as the heroes in our own story, man?”
“I don’t know,” I said.  It was an interesting question.

            We’d been in Mexico for a week, enjoying the luxuries of our private condo and pool while our families became fast friends.  It was idyllic, I guess.  So it stood to reason that something would ruin it – and something did.  It was dusk when the guy in the bandit mask came over the rear fence and landed amongst some stacked deck chairs making a terrible racket.  Jose and I jumped to our feet.  “Get inside,” We said to the wives and our children.  Tabby and Jose’s wife Anna didn’t hang around, rushing the kids into the condo.

            “It’s okay,” Said the masked man.  “I’m not here to hurt anybody.  I just need to hide out.”
“Hide out from who?” I asked.  Just then another figure vaulted over the fence.  She was a flamboyant woman in a wide hat, a green cape and a red bodysuit wearing sword on her hip.  “I have you, senor maleante,” She cried.
The Masked Man snatched up the net that was used to lift the dirt off the surface of the swimming pool and brandished it at her.  “You do not, héroe,” he replied.  “You have nothing.”  The two faced one another warily while Jose and I looked on in astonishment.  “Can you believe this?” He asked me.  I shook my head.

            The woman drew her sword in a smooth motion as the man lunged at her with the net.  With two swift slices she cut the net into pieces and then stepped in and snatched the pole from his grasp.  She made it look very easy.  “This is the problem with your kind,” She told him scornfully.  “You underestimate women.”  There was a loud retort which, if I’m honest, made me jump out of my skin.  Then the woman’s eyes glazed over and she slumped to the ground.  It appeared that the man shot her in the gut with a hidden pistol. 

            “Oh shit,” Jose said.
The man glanced over at us and smiled beneath his bandit mask.  He strolled towards us, confidently, his gun on display.  “Well,” he said.  “It seems we have a little situation here.”
“We don’t,” Jose said.  “We saw nothing.”
“That’s nice, senor,” The Bandit grinned again.  I noticed the poor condition of his teeth.  An odd thing to notice in a situation like this, I know.  But still, they were horrible.
“But,” He said.  “You and I know that you all saw everything.  I have killed La Reina Roja and you have seen.”  Then he indicated the sliding glass doors against which our wives faces were pressed, “As have they.  Also, you must be rich men to be staying in a place like this, hey?  I think maybe tonight will prove profitable for me.”

            “Listen, man,” Jose said reasonably.  “You don’t know us at all.  But trust me, we aren’t the kind to be snitching on you to the cops.  Okay?  Just get out of here.  We’ll wait an hour, then call the Police.  Tell them we just discovered the girl out back and don’t know how she came to be there.  It’s all good.”
The Bandit raised his gun and pointed it at Jose, “I do not believe it is all good, senor.” He said.  “I think I need to make sure.”
“Fuck this,” I said.  With one fluid move I stepped forward, grasped the man’s wrist and twisted viciously.  The gun dropped to the floor.  Then I stamped down on his knee with my instep and slid it all the way down to his ankle with all the force I could muster  He screamed and fell sideways.  Before he hit the ground I’d driven an elbow down onto the bridge of his nose and knocked him out cold.

“Unbelievable,” Jose was saying.  “You were fucking unreal, man.”
I was a bit embarrassed.  “I got lucky,” I said.  “If the gun had gone off things would have been different.”
“The gun didn’t go off,” He pointed out.
“It might have gone off,” I said.  I was worried about it.  What if it had, and it had randomly hit one of the kids?  Or his wife?  Or Tabby?
“But it didn’t,” He said again.  “Those split second reactions, that’s what makes the difference.  I seen it a thousand times, man.  That’s some special shit.  You moved before I even thought to move.”

Jose’s wife Anna had been a nurse of some sort for years before becoming a full-time Mother.  She tended to the Mexican heroine, who it turned out was a fairly well-known local vigilante called The Red Queen.  The gut shot was nasty, but with the blood loss slowed she’d make it until the ambulance arrived.  The Police turned up first and took The Bandit into custody.  They asked us some questions and I simply explained that we’d overpowered the villain more by luck than skill.  They seemed to accept it.

Just like that it was over.  We retired to the condo where the wives bustled around us and the kids talked excitedly about what had seemed, in their young and naïve way, to have been a grand adventure.  Of course we knew that it could have been a very different ending to the evening, but this time it wasn’t.
“Makes you think, doesn’t it?” Jose asked.
“Think what?”
“He was like us, you know?  A crook?  When we are on a job, we’re no better than him.”
“Not true,” I said.  “He was fucking unprofessional.  Even when I was dressed as a pirate I wouldn’t have been as shit as that.”
Jose laughed.  “I dunno man.  You sucked real hard as a pirate.  Didn’t you attack some riot cops with a scimitar?”
“Hey,” I complained.  “That’s what pirates do.”

            The next day was Dianne’s birthday.  She woke me in the morning with a hug and a glass of fresh orange juice.  “Happy birthday, honey,” I told her and kissed her on the nose.
We all gathered in the lounge the Jose’s family produced gifts for her.  When she’d done opening the colourful packages I led her into the garden where a small section of the wooden decking was dominated by a large wrapped something.  Laughing, Dianne pulled the paper off to reveal a really expensive professional telescope on a revolving wooden platform.   She shrieked with joy.
“Happy birthday,” I said again.  It may not have been one of the giant ones I’d hoped for, but clearly she loved it.   That was good enough for me.