by P. F. White
Ace was angry. He had had enough. After months in L.A., he'd had small parts in two B-level flicks, but instead of moving up, he'd had nothing since then but cattle calls for even smaller parts. For the last couple of weeks, his agent hadn't even called him.
He wanted the lead role in that Spade Studios production. He wanted it bad. He deserved it. He was strong, young, and beautiful. He never wore shoes. His shirt was always unbuttoned to show off his physique. In short, he was star material.
Ace got up, took a snort of coke, and hopped in his car.
Jack Spade was late to work that day. His studio was deep in the red thanks to the last few films flopping at the box office. Things were not looking good for the next one. His suit had cost him a hundred grand and the price filled his mind. He was unusually gruff when he came to the office. He took his katana from the wall and chopped down the potted palm. Then he told his secretary to hold his calls.
Priss, the secretary, wanted her boss. She loved Jack. She had brought a sawed off, eight gauge, lever action shotgun to work today to convince him of her love. But first she would fetch his coffee.
Ben was prowling for a job. He was sixty years old but well preserved. He figured he would try Spade studios today. Spade was an old friend, but a Hollywood friend. Ben might have to ask hard.
Andi Love had never taken her husband's ridiculous name when she married him. "Spade" was a name as phony as the rest of him. Andi was strong, smart, and full of moxy. She wasn't a private eye. She had told the weeping young actress exactly that on the phone. Of course she wouldn't listen and insisted that Andi Love take the case. Andi took the case, and the convertible. "A confrontation is in order," she intoned in full voice-over mode. "This city is built on harsh words and blood, and I aim to spill them in the name of justice."
Ace knocked the security men aside, his biceps and pectorals shining with a sweat as he posed after each deft maneuver. The building could not contain his awesomeness and he knew it. One went for his gun but Ace beat him to it. Ace flexed hard and turned the gun barrel sideways.
"Think about it." He told the guard. "That could have been your neck...Or, the neck of the villain in Spade Studio's next movie. I do all my own stunts."
The guard ran. Minimum wage did not cover standing in the way of steroid-pumped lunatics.
Spade was not satisfied with cutting trees. He straightened his thousand dollar tie and unbuttoned his jacket. The clothing was ridiculously overpriced and he hated it. He threw the jacket in the air, and cut it into four pieces before it hit the ground. He needed more things to cut.
Priss watched her boss's manly display with undisguised lust. She licked her ruby lips and pressed her hand harder between her perfect thighs. She had worked hard to make her body perfect. The secret CIA training had done wonders for the ex-soviet super child. She was not wearing underwear. Spade had to be hers.
Ben was stuck in traffic.
Andi was on the trail. Her husband was up to something. She wished she had never quit acting. She wished she was a real detective. "Not that it matters a hill of beans in this berg. The truth's the thing. We live and we die by lies, but only the truth sets us free." She paused for a moment's thought. "Or maybe that's bullshit." She lit her fifth cigarette of the day.
Ace tore the elevator doors open with his brute strength, not waiting for the elevator to get fully onto the proper floor. People screamed. He flexed. He had torn his shirt to expose more of his straining chest muscles. He tossed his flowing locks and smiled his most heroic smile.
Ahead was Spade's office. Priss calmly stood up, straightening her short skirt and adjusting her massive breasts so that she showed the correct amount of cleavage. For intimidation.
"Appointment?" she asked sweetly.
Ace glared at her. He wanted to fuck her. But now was not the time. He struck a pose and thrust one perfectly tanned finger at Spade's door.
"I want him. I am going to be the lead."
Priss only heard the word "Want." She bent low, retrieved the shotgun and racked a round into the chamber. It reminded her of Vietnam. She had spent twenty years there in a secret Chinese prison only to discover later that it was all a virtual reality hologram. Want had been her key to escape, a secret key deep in her mind.
"Eat lead, pretty boy!" she cackled, firing as fast as the pump action would let her.
Ace leapt through the gunfire as the bad art of the Hollywood office exploded around him. He caught a cloud of buckshot in the shoulder but shrugged it off. Fortunately, years of spray-tanning had numbed what nerves the steroids and coke hadn't fried. Also, the blood made a nice stain on his shirt, and added humanity to his character.
He grappled with Priss until a voice called from within the office.
"Thank you, Miss Priss, but I have it from here."
Priss relinquished the shotgun. Hate filled her sultry eyes.
Sirens wailed in the middle distance. Always the middle distance in Hollywood. Studio security never let the emergency vehicles get where they were going, even if they could get past the gridlock.
Ben was stuck in traffic.
Andi Love was stuck in traffic.
Ace tossed the shotgun out of sight and entered the office. Spade sat on a tatami mat in a four thousand dollar black silk shirt and eight thousand dollar shoes. He held a katana of priceless antiquity, its blade gleaming in a high mirror polish.
"You want the part, Ace?" Spade asked, not looking up.
"I need the part. I deserve the part. I will take the part. It is mine," the brawny actor replied in his best Austrian accent. For a boy from Schenectady, it wasn't bad.
"I think you will find it difficult, pretty boy. You haven't even seen the role. You just smell money like all the rest."
"No," Ace growled. He clenched his fists and flexed so hard that his shirt ripped up the seams.
His veins throbbed.
"I smell Oscar."
Spade and Priss attacked. Ace threw himself at Spade. Spade slashed out furiously with the blade. Blood spilled. Priss got wet.
Ben re-lived the glory days as he drove towards Spade Studios. In those days, his car was always washed and new. He had not yet been a space captain or played the president. He could snort cocaine without nosebleeds. The present faded as he convinced himself that despite it all, he still had it. The town owed him. He had asked for fame and he had given his blood. The town owed him, dammit. Just one more role.
Andi hung up on her husband's secretary. The lying bitch said he was occupied. They were probably fucking. She clenched her fists hard. She would murder him if she had too. She would make amends for her client. It was hard not to think like a private eye. She wore one of her husband's fedoras. It had cost three thousand dollars.
"She was lying through her teeth. They all were. Only one way to the truth in a town like this. Not with words, but with blood, and tears. Justice for the just, or just us for the rest." She thought for a moment. "I'm not sure if that even makes sense." She lit another cigarette.
Ace threw a desk at Spade. Spade could not cut through it in time. His blade got lodged in the metal halfway through. The desk hit him and its momentum carried him out of the office and through the window. He fell fifteen stories onto the hood of Ben's dilapidated convertible. Luckily he still had his katana. And his training. He brandished his sword in Ben's face.
"Stop the car!" he shouted.
Ben sped up. "Only if you give me a part!"
"I won't. You're a has-been! It's a sorry fact but you know it. I had Ace Brannigan in my office just this morning."
Ben sped up. His wrinkled hands gripped the steering wheel tight.
"Ace Brannigan can't act. I played Macbeth. I played the werewolf king. I played the president. I went to space. What can Ace do?"
"He can throw a desk through a plate glass window without effects."
Ben slammed on the brakes. Spade flew off the car and smashed through the window of a Hollywood boutique.
Priss was angry but knew guns were not the answer. Guns wouldn't work on a monster like Ace. If she was going to save Spade she needed to remember her secret and sinister past. Recall the ancient secrets of the Third Reich Ninja Assassin. She quoted the unholy verse and took the sigil into her heart. When Ace emerged into the waiting room she was in perfect fighting stance.
"We meet again...Herr Brannigan." Priss said in a thick German accent.
He squared his hips at her, thrusting his strong jaw in defiance.
"You won't stop me, you Nazi bitch. I'm Ace Brannigan, Rising Star. I beat you before and I will do it again."
Priss assumed the first position, then launched a flying kick at him. When her foot connected, it knocked out three of his teeth and tore a gash across his cheek that would take Makeup hours to remove.
The police had arrived downstairs and attempted to detain Andi. She shouted, "I'm on the case! You can't stop justice, not even in this town!"
The policeman in front of her laid his hand on her shoulder. She gave him a right cross for his troubles. The blow was too hard, given with too much fury. It knocked his eye out of its socket and sent it dancing across the floor.
The other policemen assumed fighting stances. They would obey kung-fu rules. No more than one fighting her at a time and always fair. There were manuals for this sort of thing in Hollywood.
Ace picked himself up and straightened his broken jaw.
Spade picked himself up from the debris. He was bloody from a dozen gashes and was missing one ear.
Priss laid a perfectly manicured hand on one full hip and inspected her nails on the other hand. She needed something witty to say, but the screenwriter's guild was on strike.
Ben was stuck in traffic. Another car had hit his back bumper and now they were entangled.
Andi hit one policeman so hard that he fell down and vomited bright blood.
The fights continued.
"I never miss a line." Ben bragged to Spade. Ben drew his old cavalry saber from under the seat of the convertible. "I can cry on cue and make the audience cry with me. I can seduce a nun. I can play any role from eighteen to ninety."
"Bullshit," coughed Spade. He focused his chi. The wounds on his body stopped bleeding from the power of his conviction. He was a Hollywood producer and the secrets of The East would obey his command.
"I am king here, actor. You cannot question my power." The two bowed to one another in their own way. Their blades flashed in the sun.
Priss and Ace battled like titans. Priss snapped a kick with the speed of a whirlwind and Ace grabbed it and hurled her six inches deep into the plaster wall. Priss smashed his kneecap with the secret panzer shadow step, and Ace responded by tearing a finger from her hand with his teeth. It was a bloody battle that destroyed millions in bad art and office supplies.
For some reason the cops did not intervene.
Andi held a forty-five caliber semi-automatic to the Sergeant's head. He held a magnum three fifty seven to hers.
"If you pull, we will never find out who did the crime." She said.
"Is it that important to you?"
She squeezed the trigger.
A foreign agent under the name of Jack Blade arrived in Hollywood under auspicious signs. The traffic lights turned green for him. He wore an all black suit but did not feel the heat. Babes cried when he leered at them. His hair was perfectly straight, powdery white, and combed. It looked like the quills of an albino porcupine. His face was angular and far too long to be handsome.
He arrived at Spade Studios just as Andi was replacing her gun in its holster.
"Does this make you the Villain?" asked Jack Blade.
Andi shook her head.
"I'm the anti-hero. I've had my knocks. I don't always do the right thing...but it was him or me. I think that the people will understand when all is said and done. It's a tough world and people get that. When justice is involved they want their heroes to do whatever it takes."
Jack Blade nodded. His smile was far too large. His teeth were yellow and sharp. Andi did not see the signs, too busy in monologue.
"There has been a terrible crime. I must discover everything about it. This city needs me. Justice must be served, but cannot rely on her servants. I am the law only in this crazy world."
She lit a cigarette and posed. Her hat framed her face perfectly, making her hard-edged but lovable at the same time. Jack let her smoke. Then he stabbed her in the kidney and watched as her heart filled with the poisons of her dirty blood.
"I guess I'm the villain." Jack Blade said. He withdrew the knife and Andi crumpled. Lifeless.
Upstairs Ace had Priss by the leg and was flailing her around in a massive circle, battering her bloodied broken body against anything hard enough to break. When he finally let her go, the madness had fled from his eyes. She was gasping her last breaths and he felt sorry. A single tear rolled down his face as he leaned close to the still gorgeous, and strangely blood free femme fatale.
"Priss...can you hear me?" he said, his voice choked by emotion. He grasped her hand tightly.
"Yes..." she managed, coughing weakly.
"I just want you to know...I've always loved you," he said.
She cried softly, and then died with an exaggerated death rattle.
He kissed her sweetly upon the forehead and closed her eyes.
He would seek revenge for this terrible wrong. He was filled with purpose. It was all Jack Spade's fault. He would find the producer and take the part from him. Then he would dedicate the performance to Priss.
Ace bounded downstairs and arrived outside the building to the bustling street bellow. All around him spread Hollywood. Vibrant, alive, and filled with possibility. His quarry could be anywhere. He felt a terrible purpose consuming him.
The cops had disappeared for some reason.
"I will kill Spade for his terrible trickery." Ace vowed to the world. He could almost hear the music swelling.
Then a rapier blade pierced his head from behind. It emerged from his mouth and skewered his tongue like a fish. He tried to speak but a rush of blood prevented it.
The blade withdrew and the actor crumpled to the ground. Behind him cackled the fiendish Jack Blade.
"You are an honorable swordsman." Ben said to Spade. He spoke with a southern accent, and held the cavalry saber perfectly. They both bled from a dozen wounds, but their swords showed not a hint of tarnish.
"And you are a motherfucker." Spat Spade. "I will never give you a part in my movie. You simply can't cut it with female audiences anymore."
"But...but..." sputtered Ben, at a loss. Spade launched an attack, leaping high into the air and yelling like a demon. Time froze as the sun flashed upon them both.
Ben deflected the attack on instinct, Jack Spade faltered and the older man's saber caught Jack in the stomach. Spade knelt to the ground as his intestines spilled onto the hot concrete. He knew that he had lost.
"I...just thought it would be someone--"
"Edgier?" said an unfamiliar voice. Both Ben and Spade turned to see the speaker.
From the glare of the setting sun, came a black suited man wearing sunglasses. He held a rapier casually over one shoulder and drew it with an elaborate flourish.
"Allow me to introduce myself." The stranger smiled a smile of yellow teeth and malice. "I'm Jack Blade, and I'm your Villain."
Spade nodded. "It's been a long time, Blade. I never really expected you to come to California. Can you defeat this has-been for me? I fancied myself the champion of the old guard...but as it turns out, I appear all too expendable."
Jack Blade nodded and assumed his stance. "I think I'm going to like it here. So many roles to play...and all of them fresh and violent."
Ben glared at him and nodded curtly. In his mind the newcomer was just another fancy foreign ringer who needed to be shown the ropes in America. He launched himself into a world class performance.
The fight was over in a flash, barely enough time to even be caught on camera. It would have to be fixed in post.
Jack Blade contemptuously left the rapier transfixed through Ben's aged body and walked away.
Ben crumpled slowly to his knees, a look of abject horror upon his face. He would not be getting anymore parts.
Jack Blade knelt before Jack Spade and smiled.
"How did I do?" the Villainous Jack Blade asked. His eyes held incalculable malice and cruelty, and a childlike creativity for its application.
Jack Spade smiled a gigantic fake smile, one he had developed after many years of practice.
© 2010 P. F. White
Bio: P. F. White recently completed his enlistment with the U.S. Navy. This is his third Aphelion appearance; his not-so-funny-animal boxing tale Blood, Bears, and Canvas appeared in November 2009, and his tale of a haunted Vietnam vet facing supernatural foes on the home front The Moonshine Monarch and the Elm appeared in the June 2010 issue.
E-mail: P. F. White
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