The Hastings Watchman 4: In the Shadow of Heroes

The final installment of the Hastings Watchman series. In this episode, Jake injects himself with the Rejuvicell and takes over as the Vancity Vigilante in the Watchman’s absence, battling a slew of new and old enemies while finding an unlikely ally in the process.

Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

“You have to turn me.”

Susan paused from dabbing the blood around the bandage on my face, “What?”

“I need you to do what you did to the Hipster–to me,” I said. “Inject me with the Rejuvicell.”

“Are you crazy?” She asked. “For what?”

“You know for what,” I said. “So I can fight this thing. So I can stop it. You saw what the Freak did to those people…to that child.”

She shook her head vigorously, “No, no, definitely not. You’re not going to go and get yourself killed. I lost my father twice. You’re all I have. Can’t we let the police handle it?”

She took a look in my eyes and immediately knew the answer. I think she knew it all along.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Let’s go.”

*****************************************

As we drove, we listened to the radio as the News about the Freak attacks went public, “The VPD and Animal Control are urging Vancouverites to stay in their houses after a large reptile attacked a group of families at English Bay only hours ago. The reptile is still on the loose and considered a life threatening danger to the public. Do not approach if seen. Among the dead today was the popular local vigilante, The Watchman, who was taken to the City Morgue along with the rest of the victims of this horrible tragedy…”

Susan turned off the radio as she parked in front of an old character house on Commercial Drive. She took the keys out of the ignition and nodded for me to follow.

“What’s up?” I asked, confused at why we had stopped. “Aren’t we going to PharmCorp?”

She chuckled, “Are you crazy? Axel Benjamin wants this serum. He has since the day he discovered my father was working on it. I’m not just going to leave the remaining samples of the stuff in a building he has keys to. This is a rental property my dad bought to help me pay for my school. But I haven’t rented it out since he died…it doesn’t feel right.”

We walked up the yard and entered the house. Everything was old and creaky. The door creaked, the floorboards creaked, the stairs creaked…I felt like a strong gust of wind would have this house folding faster than a pair of deuces. Other than a few orphaned pieces of furniture, the house was deserted.

I followed Susan up the staircase to an empty bedroom where she walked briskly over to a sliding door closet at the other end. She pushed the door aside and then pushed aside a hanger with an old maroon leather jacket paired with a red bandanna tied and hanging loosely off the collar. Dropping to her knees, she lifted up a false floorboard and pulled out a leather pouch. Inside the pouch were three syringes of a thin, golden liquid…Rejuvicell.

“You need to be injected with the right amount of adrenaline before taking the serum,” said Susan. “Too little, the injection will stop your heart. Too much, it will burst.”

I smiled nervously, “Well…That’s comforting.”

****************************************

Back at the lab Susan prepped me for injection. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any second thoughts about what we were about to do. I trusted Susan and everything, but this wasn’t piercing my ear or waxing my chest. An unbalanced combination of adrenaline and Rejuvicell would mean bye-bye Jake. And I wasn’t the only one with doubts. Susan kept muttering, “You’re such an idiot,” over and over under her breath as she was connecting the vital readers. I didn’t know if she was talking to me or herself. Before I knew it we were ready to go. She asked me one more time if I was sure I wanted to go through with this.

“Do it,” I said.

She flicked a switched and I watched both the adrenaline and the Rejuvicell flow through the plastic tubes, into my body. In a second, my muscles began to tighten and seize. I lost vision and blacked out…but when I opened my eyes, everything was different. Colors were brighter, smells were more distinct. I felt my biceps and forearms pulsing with strength like a could punch through a brick wall or lift up a car. I sat up in my chair and met eyes with Susan. She was in tears.

“I…I thought I lost you,” she said between weeps.

I put my hand to her face and wiped away her tears with my thumb. “I’m here,” I said. “I’m good…I’m…great, actually.”

I got out of my chair and danced around the lab. I was lighter, quicker and more agile than I had ever been before. I felt like I could swing dance for days at a time, that is, if I had any clue at all how to swing dance. Susan watched me and laughed. Then, suddenly her eyes went wide and she screamed, “Your cuts!”

She ran over to me and gently removed the bandage over the wounds I’d received from my short battle with The Freak at English Bay. She stepped back with such a look of shock that I thought she was disgusted but I touched my face and felt that the wounds had healed into nothing but scar tissue. I was starting to understand the power of what I was dealing with. I knew things were never going to be the same again.

“So what now?” asked Susan.

“The radio said they brought the Watchman to the City Morgue…Let’s go get those blasters…It’s time to pay Axel Banjamin a visit.”

“You can’t go like that,” she said, going back into the closet and pulling out the maroon leather jacket with the red bandanna tied around the collar.

I smiled. It was perfect. I put it on and it fit perfect, snug, but it fit great. It was a real race bike jacket, it even had the metal plates in the elbow. I wrapped the bandanna around my face and tied it in the back. It tightened over the bridge of my nose and just under my eyes. I looked up to Susan and she took a step back.

“You’re…You’re just like him,” she said.

I put my hand under her elbow and brought her close. I know it sounds gay but, because we both knew this might be a one way ticket to the graveyard, we just kind of stood there, holding each other for a bit.

“They do say girls end up falling in love with their father,” I joked after a minute.

She bounced her head off my chest softly, “Shut up, shut up, shut up…”

****************************************

When we got to the City Morgue, it was closed for the night.

“Come with me,” said Susan, heading around the corner of the building.

I followed her to the back entrance where she dropped to her knees and pulled out a bobby pin from her hair. She then started to use the bobby pin to pick the lock! You have to understand what a mind-fuck that was. I had always pegged her so sweet and innocent but the more and more she showed herself, the more I knew she was the seed of the Watchman.

“Since when do you know how to pick locks?” I asked.

She giggled as she reminisced, “I went through a phase in high school. I had sex with girls and learned how to be a thief…rebelling against my “straight-edge” doctor father…”

“And you learned how to pick locks…” I repeated, still baffled.

She smiled, “Pick locks and eat box.”

I felt my face getting hot, “Oh, really?” I said. “So you know all about that stuff then?”

“Oh yeah,” she confirmed as she wiggled the bobby pin just right and the door clicked open. She opened the door and motioned me into the dark hallway like a geisha, but I wasn’t finished talking.

“So…how do I do?” I asked, refusing to step forward until she answered.

She looked at me and smiled, pinching my cheek over the the bandanna saying, “You’re just tops. Come on, let’s go.”

Once the door was closed behind us, we were engulfed in darkness. Then, after a brief moment, the fluorescent lights started to flicker on and I saw Susan by the light switch. I’m not going to lie, it was starting to bug me that Susan was doing all the sneaky spy stuff. I mean, I was the guy with the bandanna over my face. She looked at me and laughed, knowing exactly what I was thinking.

“What?” She asked, fluttering her eyelashes and playing innocent, “I went to med school, I’ve spent a lot of time here. I know the layout.”

“So I bet you know where they’re keeping him,” I said.

She started down the corridor. “Follow me,” she said.

***************************************

The lights flickered over the body of the Watchman, laid out on a medical table and covered in a thin white cloth from head to toe. The room was cold and smelled of sanitation. Susan and I stood over the body in silence, coming to terms once again that, this time, the Watchman was not getting up.

“It’s weird,” I said. “Standing over him like this…I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“Just hurry,” Susan said.

I didn’t waste anytime, one by one I removed the blasters from his wrists and put them on to mine. As the last bracelet clicked on, a headlight from outside shone through the mosaic window and beamed into the room, causing both of us to turn our heads.

“Time to go,” said Susan.

When we came out the back door, there was a limo parked sideways in the middle of the lot. For a second I felt relieved, thinking it was just some aristocrat getting a back alley blowjob, but then Axel Benjamin stepped out from the vehicle and I knew things were about to get hairy. I, of course, had a settle to score. It would be foolish though for me to assume that Axel would walk into a fight with me blind, with nothing up his sleeve. I knew him better than that. And it was the, “thing up his sleeve” that was making me nervous.

“What do you want?” I asked bluntly.

He grinned wide, like a human version of the Cheshire Cat .”Nice get up,” he said. “I like the red.”

“What do you want?” I repeated.

He put is finger to his chin, “Well, for starters, I would have to say, I’d like to know what my Head of Research is doing breaking into the City Morgue…” As he continued, a freight truck started to back into the alley, beeping as it reversed, Axel spoke over the noise, “But we all know the answer to that, don’t we. The blasters look nice on you. They really bring the whole outfit together. We need to talk, Mr.Dunlop…You’ve been poking your nose around in business that does not concern you. Luckily for me, I found someone with a shared distaste for you, Jake. He came to me after you fucked him over, just like you fuck everyone over. Take your girlfriend for example, you’ve brought her into this and tonight she will pay for it with her life. You are poison, Jake. Everyone around you suffers…Well, no longer.”

The back of the freight opened up and something inside, something heavy, started to move and shake the trucks exterior. I watched as a mechanical leg, a big one, stomped onto the concrete from out of the freight box, then another leg hit the ground with a BOOM! And I saw it. A metallic exoskeleton about four times the size of a person emerged from the shadows of the freight box. Positioned inside the massive armor, his little dorky head sticking out of the top–was Jonah, the intern.

He glared at me and smiled, “I told you I would have my revenge, Jake!”

Scanning the mechanical suit, I could see the arms and legs worked on hydrolic pumps that Jonah must have controlled from the inside somehow. Wires poked out from the joints like the knees and elbows and connected to some kind of control center on the back. The suit seemed to have its own set of sonic blasters as well which, I must admit, concerned me just a tad.

“100 tons of titanium alloy,” boasted Axel, smiling at his asset. “Armed with an upgraded sonic blaster, flame thrower and rocket launcher. Meet…The Juggernaut!

Jonah huffed behind him, “That can’t be my name. Marvel already has a character called Juggernaut. He fights the X-Men.”

“Oh,” said Axel. “Well, then…” He recomposed himself and turned back to me, “Since this masterpiece will be the instrument of your death and the ender of your world, I invite you to meet…Apocalypse!!

I laughed.

“Apocalypse is already a bad guy too,” said Jonah, shaking his head.

“He even looks like Apocalypse,” I added.

“No, he doesn’t,” said Axel.

“How would you know,” I said. “You didn’t even know who Apocalypse was. He totally looks like Apocalypse. He’s got the blue chest plate, those shoulder pad thingies, and the silver metal arms…”

“He’s right,” said Jonah, his eyes glancing down at the suit. “We should think about re-painting.”

Even Susan chimed in, “The resemblance is uncanny.”

I chuckled, “X-men pun, very good,”

“Silence! All of you!” Yelled Axel, slamming his palm off the roof of the limousine. He turned to Jonah, “Kill them!”

The large machine stepped forward and Jonah raised his blasters. I turned to Susan, “Get out of here!”

“But–”

“Now!” I screamed.

She took off down the alley towards the street. Axel tried to go after her so, to stop him, I made an “X” with my wrists and the sonic blasters activated.  But not into the calm peaceful orb of light I had seen when the Watchman would activate them. Right off the bat they started firing wildly out of control, lighting up the back lot as beams crashed through the windows of Axel’s limo, leaving the doors dented and crumpled like a discarded piece of tinfoil. Axel dropped to the ground and took cover behind a garbage disposal unit as Susan ran out into the street and out of sight.

“Unclench your fists, you idiot!” yelled Axel from behind the dumpster.

I relaxed my hands and the beams immediately retreated, leaving the ally quiet once more. First lesson in sonic blasting…Do not clench your fists. Not unless you’re looking to seriously injure and/or kill somebody.

“My turn,” said Jonah. He raised his right hand and clenched his fist. A stream of fire plumed towards me from his flame thrower, instantly engulfing me in the bright searing heat.  The pain was unlike anything I had ever felt before, but it only lasted a moment. As quick as it came, I could feel the Rejuvicell working its magic and new skin cells flooding over the old damaged ones seamlessly. It was incredible. The force of the blast sent me crashing against the wall of the morgue and I fell to the ground. Jonah laughed as I rolled around the ground, putting the flames out on my jeans and my bandanna. I got to my feet, padding out the last of the flames. I wasn’t hurt anymore, I was just pissed off.

“That’s it, Jonah!” I screamed. “This ends tonight!”

He sprayed another line of flames in my direction but this time I took cover behind the front hood of the limo. When he finally stopped attacking to see where I was, I shot up from behind my hiding spot and fired to quick blasts which connected, but didn’t do a whole lot of damage to that titanium alloy. I ducked and ran alongside the length of the limousine, leaping out of the way just before a missile came whistling out of his arm, exploding upon detonation and sending the automobile tumbling through the air. It crashed against the morgue’s back entrance and erupted into a giant ball of flames that lit up the alley like the sun itself. It was clear Jonah wasn’t fucking around. This guy was out for blood.

Directly above him, the iron platform to the buildings fire escape dangled on a broken hinge knocked loose from the explosion. His body may have been impenetrable but his little peanuts head sure wasn’t and it was completely exposed.

“I can’t wait to watch you die,” he said, raising the arm with the missile launcher once again.

“Maybe you should sleep on it,” I said. Then I clenched my fist and fired off a sonic bream just over his head that crashed into the fire escape, knocking the platform from its hinge and sending it falling hard on top of Jonah’s crown. He dropped like a sac of potatoes and the armor suit fell with him, titanium alloy clanked against the pavement and the night went quiet.

“No!” Screamed Axel.

I turned and saw him curled up in the fetal position between the dumpster and the brick wall, watching in horror as his masterpiece lay powerless on the ground like a scrap car in a junk yard. Pieces of glass and broken limo crunched under my steel toe boots as I approached him. I disabled my blasters, crouched down and grabbed him by his silk tie.

“It’s just you and me now,” I said. I pulled him closer towards me and gave him a hard shake to let him know I wasn’t fucking around. “What was in those barrels you were loading on the ships? If not toxic waste than what?!”

Bodies!” He cried. “Are you satisfied? They were filled with bodies!”

I shook him again, “What do you mean bodies?”

“Test subjects,” Axel replied, “Human trials. I was trying to recreate Rejuvicell! I have been ever since I discovered what it did to Drake. I knew what he was up to but I had no idea of the power the serum contained in its compounds…But there were mistakes in the math…there were complications…”

“What complications?” I growled, tightening my grip.

“Introducing a reptilian trait into human DNA is complex. In many of the subjects the reptilian DNA took over and turned them into…monsters.” He hung his head low trying to hide a look that I thought I would never get to see on the face of Axel Benjamin. It was a look of shame. He continued on, “Of course, the genetic combination was too much for their bodies to handle and they all died.”

Suddenly it all made sense. The Freak that washed ashore on English Bay was one of Axel’s test subjects who crawled out of his drum, not a mutated fish monster caused by Fukushima.

“Do you realize what you’ve done?” I yelled, slamming my fist against the dumpster. “One of your test subjects is out there murdering innocent people! That Freak killed the Watchman!”

Axel grinned, “Yes, I suppose it wasn’t all bad.”

I was about to punch that piece of shit smile off his face when red and blue lights came squealing around the corner and two city squad cars screeched to a halt. Two officers quickly exited each vehicle and drew their pistols.

“Freeze, asshole!” said the Brut at the front. Their eyes gazed over all of the destruction; the limo burning strong in the background, Axel’s broken robot encasing a passed out Jonah and a mosaic of fire escape scattered throughout the Morgue’s back lot. Then their eyes landed on me.

“Holy shit!” said the Brut’s partner. “It’s the Watchman!”

“How can that be the Watchman?” asked an officer who exited the other car. “He’s dead!”

His partner chimed in, “He’s got powers! Maybe he woke up!”

“He looks different,” said the Brut at the front. “He’s got no toque and that jacket ain’t got no spikes.”

“Gentlemen, I can assure you this man, though his wardrobe has been slightly modified, is the fugitive known as the Hastings Watchman! Now arrest him!”

Just then the officers walky-talkies started blowing up with a voice on the other end shouting frantically, “All units! All units! Proceed to Coal Harbor Marina! Officer down! Code…uhh…Code…What’s the code for big fucking lizard monster?!”

The officers looked at each other with terror in their eyes. The Freak had surfaced once again and more people were dying.

“Let me go,” I said. “I can stop him.”

“Don’t let him go,” Axel warned. “He’s a criminal! Arrest him!”

The Brut at the front gave me a nod, “You ride with me, okay?”

Before I got into the passenger seat of the cruiser I turned to Axel and said, “This isn’t finished.”

He smiled, “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

**********************************************

The squad car screeched to a full stop at the end of Burrard Street. We got out and ran down the steps into Coal Harbor, following a trail of manic screams and gunfire. Running down the winding path I saw the Freak towering over the officers on the scene, a few of them were badly injured and the others were trying to dance around it, getting shots of when they could, but it was too fast, too powerful. One by one the officers fell at the hand of the scaly predator . Some were lucky enough to get up…some were not.

“What’s your plan?” asked the Brut, drawing his pistol and taking cover behind a bench.

I crossed my wrists and activated my blasters. This time I remembered to unclench my fists. “Win,” I replied. Then, I left the officer’s side and charged at the monster. As the VPD scattered, the Freaks vibrant yellow eyes centered in on me and the glow of the sonic orbs around my hand. It took a step back hissed violently.

I screamed, “Yeah, you remember these don’t you, you ugly fucker!”

Then I fired off a blast that exploded against the monster’s chest and knocked him to the ground, crashing into the sea wall. The Freak got to his feet and gave his head a shake before letting out one of those powerful ‘caws’ of his that had everyone taking a step back. It charged towards me, its long, reptilian tale came over its head and whip slapped me in the side of the face, knocking me off balance. It was only for a second, but with the Freak’s speed and agility, a second was all it took for it to tilt its head like a chicken and take a peck at my arm. And by ‘peck’ I mean ‘bite’ with those sharp fucking fangs of his.

I screamed out into the night sky and fired off two quick blasts to put some space between us as I took cover behind a tree. In just a moment, the intense pain cooled like an ice cube on a fresh, pulsing burn by the muscle, flesh and skin cells reproducing in front of my very eyes. Through the hole in the sleeve of my jacket I watched the wound miraculously heal itself.

But even healed, I had no clue how the fuck I was going to stop this thing. I mean, the Watchman was a full-fledged super-hero. He dropped from buildings. He stole cars. He was a brilliant chemist. I had been in about three fights my entire life…  what the fuck was I going to do? Fantasizing about going out there and kicking ass was a lot harder than actually going out there and kicking ass. But I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the next round anyway. Victory or not, I had made peace with the fact that I was going down swinging. Dead or alive, I was in it until the bitter end.

I stepped out from behind the tree and called to it, “All right, you mutant piece of shit! I’m done fucking around!”

I watched as its head slowly turned and when it saw me it huffed and snarled. It lowered its head and began to charge at me full speed. I lifted up my blasters to fire but, before I could get one off, another shot came from behind me and a section of flesh near the monsters right shoulder splashed open. The Freak shrieked into the night. I turned around to see who had fired the shot and that’s when I saw him in his sleeveless Guns n’ Roses T-shirt, his brown corduroys and his snake skin boots. He jerked back his head and let the night breeze carry his head of long, greasy hair over to one side of his face.

“The Hipster…” fell out of my mouth as I stood in disbelief at my unlikely ally. After all, I wasn’t completely sure he wasn’t going to shoot me next. But to my surprise, he flashed me a smile and then raised his shotgun, returning aim on The Freak.

“I heard it all through my police scanner,” said the Hipster. “I thought you might need a hand.”

“You? Helping me?”

“We may have our differences,” he replied. “But there is one thing we can agree on–this city is our home. And this asshole is not about to tare apart my home!”

I turned back to the monster as his yellow eyes flickered back and forth between the two of us, planning his attack for a moment. Then, as if some imaginary bell went off in his head, the Freak came back swinging.

I fired a blast, it dodged it.

The Hipster fired a blast from the shotty, it hit. The Freak howled.

I fired another two blasts that connected and knocked the lizard on its back, falling on the crumpled remains of the Marina office that sat in a pile of firewood, destroyed in the Freak’s earlier altercation with the VPD. Back and forth we came at it with an onslaught of firepower. I shot. He shot. I shot. He shot. The boardwalk lit up like it was the fucking fireworks on Canada Day. Then, the pile of wood that was once the Marina office and the Freak who lay on top of it, dropped beneath the waters surface with a KURPLUNK! after the foundation, taking so many hits, finally collapsed and sunk.

We stood there, tensely waiting for the Freak to pop out of the water…but he never resurfaced. Finally, I turned off my blasters and reached out to shake the Hipster’s hand. After all, I could have never defeated The Freak on my own. I, along with the rest of Vancouver, owed him a great deal of thanks. But he wanted no part of it.

“Save it,” he said. “The next time we meet might be under a less-inviting circumstance. No point in muddying things up with feelings.”

I scratched my head, “A hipster who doesn’t have feelings, hmmm. You certainly are an onion. Many layers.”

“Speaking of layers,” said the Hipster, turning and walking away, his spurs clanking softly. “It’s time that I returned to mine.”

Then, he was off quick into the night. Behind me I heard the heavy paddle of footsteps approaching. Out of breath, the Brut I had rode in with took of his police cap and wiped the sweat off his brow with his forearm saying, “Geeze, I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life! What do you suppose that was?”

“That was a monster,” I said. “And there’s more of them out there…”

The Brut looked over to his squad and then back at me. “Well, you better get out of here,” he said. “The word is to arrest the vigilante known as “The Watchman” on site but…I’m not going to be the guy dumb enough to try it.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “Thank you.”

I took off down the path of the seawall just as more sirens and press vans started to arrive on the scene. I wondered, what would the story be in the morning paper? That used to be something I cared about, that used to be a question for Jake Dunlop. But Jake Dunlop’s story had come to its end. And The Watchman’s story was just beginning…

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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