Short story and artwork by Leonard Pigg
It’s just another typical week in Dalton City, where stock prices go down and the crime rate goes up. The state decides to ramp up traffic stops for the entire month. The number of DUIs have gone down. The first and end of the month traffic stop blitz isn’t as effective anymore. People are getting smarter about their travels. With companies like Lyft and Uber keeping passengers safe, the State loses revenue on court costs, tickets, fines, fees, etc. I’ve linked up with other people who have decided to use the Scarlet Ace moniker and fight crime in their respective cities. The Scarlet Ace of Indianapolis was captured after crossing paths with Golden Archer, a deputized hero. The two paired up to take down a Yakuza crime family that had tried to set up shop on the south side of town. They succeeded in taking them down but the Indy Ace was critically injured. As a result, Archer took him to the hospital to save him.
There was another recent casualty as the Scarlet Ace of Florida died in a battle between Mermazons and the giant sea creature known as “Gorgo”. Because of the funds I’ve acquired by hacking criminal accounts, I made sure his funeral expenses were covered. It was the least I could do for someone who would take on my mantle and try to improve this world.
The media have been calling the serial arsonist “Mr. Oslo”. His calling card is burning down churches and writing the word “OSLO” somewhere on the grounds. The chemicals he uses also causes the fires to burn blue. Three churches have fallen to this maniac in Dalton City in the past two months. He always strikes on a Sunday night. My primary objective is to take him down before the cops do. In my research, I’ve found that he was inspired by the Norwegian black metal scene. Back in the 90s, there was a musician who decided to burn down churches and then confessed his crimes to a journalist, with the promise of his band getting exposure. I hacked the security system at one of the churches remotely and found a brief image of him. He’s a bald, Caucasian male wearing a bandana over the bottom half of his face and a “Burzum” shirt on his chest. I imagine he’s probably a Neo-Nazi, as he had red laces on his boots. Regardless, I’m taking him down. I found a pattern to his actions. He likes to go after black churches. There’s a small one on the south side of Dalton that will probably be his next target so I’ve been dressing like a vagrant and hanging out in the area. The south end of town is run-down and the local cops are too busy chasing down dope boys to bother with a vagrant. They probably won’t launch a proper investigation or start a task force until Mr. Oslo starts going after some of the local evangelicals. I’m glad to fight something that is actually human this time. I was unprepared to take on a damned supernatural monster. Human monsters are another story altogether.
Hours pass and the only action I’ve had was watching crackheads on the stroll back and forth to an abandoned house. The city block reeks of crack smoke, sewage, rancid trash, and despair. The combination of scents makes my stomach clench. I see a pimp on a corner, beating a hooker who was two dollars short from what I heard. I use my silenced pistol from a distance and end him before he curb stomps her. Two quiet shots to the back of his head and I don’t have to give away my position. When he hits the ground, she looks on in surprise. She scurries away, after taking all the money from his body and stealing his fur coat. I go unnoticed as I’m sitting near an old phone booth that should have been removed years ago.
I make a mental note to blow up every drug house in this area and the ones in the trailer courts on the north end at some point. In the meantime, I’m waiting for Mr. Oslo. I get a hunch that he’s going to make a move soon. The streets were silent for too long and I hear the sound of a loud truck near the small tabernacle across the street. I see a truck with a Confederate flag in the alley and see a wiry figure get out with a backpack that fits the description. From what I gather, he’s a lone wolf and completely unaware he’s being hunted.
I shed my vagrant guise and put my mask on so he knows that he’s facing the Scarlet Ace. I reload my guns, whisper a small prayer to myself, and stick to the shadows. Sneaking around to where the truck is, I knife the front tires to make sure he doesn’t get an easy escape if he happens to elude me. I hear the sound of glass breaking and I see him crawling through the window of the building.
My first thought is to toss a grenade through the window and leave but I’m spoiling for a fight. I wait a couple of minutes and climb through the window. I hear him in the sanctuary, breaking things and laughing maniacally. The noise he’s creating covers the sound of my approach. I stand behind a pillar, watching him steal the chalice and other valuables in the sanctuary, stuffing them into a backpack. He’s got a flashlight propped upon a pew while he starts taking microphones and cords as well. He takes a moment to pull a tiny plastic bag from his pocket and he snorts the contents. Once the packet is empty, he tosses it aside and gives a howl.
I find the nearest light and throw on the switch. He turns and sees me standing at the door of the sanctuary. He’s a quick draw and fires a couple of rounds at me, hitting me dead center. My bulletproof vest takes the slugs but I hit the ground. He ducks behind the preacher’s podium and yells, “I know who you are, man! Scarlet Ace, right? We’re on the same side! You fight against the establishment, just like me! What greater tyranny is there than the church?”
I crawl behind a pew and, right before I spring up and shoot at him, I reply, “Fascism, you moron! Democracy is a myth, we’re in a damned oligarchy!”
He’s got a .357 Magnum, which tears the shit out of the pews. I toss a couple of smoke grenades and hope he spends the rest of his ammo shooting at shadows. I see him reach into his bag and pull out a Molotov Cocktail. He lights it and, before he throws it, I shoot the bottle. The flaming contents shatter and his arm is doused in flaming liquid. He screams and falls to the ground, starting to roll around. The smoke from the grenades sets off the sprinklers and the silence is broken by a fire alarm going off. Between his rolling on the ground and the sprinklers, he gets doused quickly.
I charge at him and kick the gun from his hand. He grabs my wrist and we begin wrestling around. I catch a hint of the scent of burning flesh. As we’re fighting, I can see his eyes start to change colors and dark veins in his neck are throbbing. He’s high and in a near frenzy, strong as an ox. I drop my gun, as he throws me into the piano at the side of the pulpit. The legs of it give way under my weight and it crashes to the ground. He hits me with a microphone stand, knocking the wind out of me. Oslo then tries to use the stand to choke me out. I pull my knife and jab him in the gut. He backs off, bleeding like a stuck pig.
“Bastard!” he yells, as he lunges for his bag a few feet away.
Before I can reach to stop him, an arrow streaks through the air and hits his hand. Oslo screams and stops. A second arrow comes my way and I deflect it with my knife. In the rafters of the church, I see the Golden Archer. “This ends now. Both of you surrender or else!” he yells in a gruff voice.
“In case you weren’t aware, I’m the one trying to stop the arsonist!” I say to the Archer.
He swings down from the rafters and lands in between Oslo and me. Oslo’s eyeballs go jet black and he growls in a demonic voice, “There is no salvation for the church!”
Springing to his feet and moving faster, he pulls the arrow from his hand, tackling Golden Archer to the ground. The two are tussling on the floor and I make my way over to Oslo’s bag. I see there’s a bomb inside so I begin to deactivate it. The design is pretty crude so it doesn’t take long. Oslo has overpowered the Archer, throwing him against the wall. “I am Fenris!” he roars, as he rushes the Archer.
Oslo begins stabbing Archer with the arrow he pulled from his hand. I pull my gun, firing into Oslo’s legs. A higher shot would have possibly hit Archer. Once Oslo was hurt, the Archer begins doing grappling moves and takes the demonic arsonist down. Oslo is still struggling and knocks Archer away again. This time, I pick up a podium and throw it onto him. It breaks against his head and he growls. I begin kicking him, knowing the drugs must be making him this tough. I strike him repeatedly until he goes limp.
Winded, I sit down in the pew a moment. Golden Archer grabs Oslo, handcuffing the unconscious maniac. “I appreciate your help taking him down. His strength was inhuman.” Archer says as he leans against the wall, looking at his stab wounds. “Damn, he got me good. I’ve got something for that.” Archer says as he pulls a small syringe and he injects himself in the thigh. His wounds begin to heal and he gives a sigh of relief. “So, how many Scarlet Aces are there now?” Archer asks.
“I’m the original. There’ve been countless people inspired to take up arms. A rough guess would be maybe twenty here in the Midwest.” I reply casually and then ask “What was that you just injected yourself with?”
Archer smiles and says, “Hyper-regeneration Serum. Comes in handy. There’s big money, benefits and lots of support for heroes that get deputized. Something to consider, eh?”
I walk over to where Oslo dropped the baggie of drugs. On the side of the bag, there is a logo: a smiley face with a golden crown on his head. Showing it to Archer, “Here’s a clue as to what made him so damn strong. Yellow King Heroin. No idea where this stuff is coming from. I’ve seen it in the city more in recent weeks. If I let you take the credit for this collar, can we forego any type of cliché fight between us and we walk away as allies? I did defuse the bomb and save your life.”
The Golden Archer gives a sigh and says, “That’s fine. I have a soft spot for vigilantes, anyway, and my primary target was the arsonist. I’d like to take that baggie and see what kind of chemicals are in it to make someone ramped up like that.”
We two crime fighters shake hands and Ace says, “You can get so much more done having allies in the gray area, my friend.” Archer turns away, taps his earbud and then says, “I’m going to need a pickup at the church on McCord Avenue. I’ve captured Oslo. Feel free to alert the press, if you like. Archer out.”
When Archer turns back around, the Scarlet Ace is gone. “Ghosted. So that’s what it feels like…” Archer says with a smile.
The next day, I’m at work. Everything in my daily life is muted compared to my ultra-violent nocturnal activities. I go home for my lunch break and turn on the news. I see a press conference involving the Golden Archer. He actually gives me a shout-out and cites me as being integral to the investigation. I wonder whether he does that to get in my good graces or to spite the regular law enforcement? Nevertheless, we decide to keep in touch via email. With my encryption protocols in place, he’s not likely to find me unless I want to be found.
I have to admit that it was fun having someone to fight alongside. A few days later, he invites me to come to Indianapolis and help him patrol one of the rougher parts of town. I agree and we end up stopping over a dozen crimes. In the aftermath, I’ve made an ally who I can call upon. He also gave me a few vials of that regeneration serum, which I know will come in handy. Maybe there’s something to this. Why didn’t I even think of gathering the other Scarlet Aces in one city? I’ve got to get past this lone wolf mentality if I’m to survive in an era in which all manner of things, both mundane and supernatural, can occur.