So… here’s some more of this ‘Henchman’ book from my uh… buddy… Mike Williams. It’s probably really rough, as I… er, I mean HE just wrote it, so if you notice errors, rest assured that HE will get around to squashing them before HE actually charges money for this nonsense. More to come!
The Day Dave Subbed
I watched Dave hustle down the hallway toward me, still tucking in his dark red shirt into his jet black fatigues. He grinned when he came to a stop on his side of the doorway. I nodded toward his crotch to let him know that he’d missed something. He looked down, back up at me with a sheepish grin, then back to his zipper, giving it a light tug.
“Why are you checking out my package, anyway?” he asked after finishing his task and turning to look straight ahead, standing at attention like me.
“It’s obvious with your tighty-whiteys and showing up half-naked,” I replied without looking at him. “What the hell are you doing here, anyway?” I asked, finally glancing over at him. “This is still Washington’s gig for the next eight weeks.”
“What’s the matter, I’m not black enough for you?” he asked, doing his best to stifle a laugh.
“It’s not funny,” I said in a low voice. “The dude scares the bejesus out of me.”
Washington, that’s the only name we’ve ever gotten from him, is a fellow henchman. He’s six and a half feet tall, chiseled like that guy on the Old Spice commercial, and about ten times more frightening than when the Old Spice guy gets all crazy-looking like he’s about to rip a car door off and hurl it into the sun. If he wasn’t so scary, it would be funny how militant he is about everything, not just white people. It’s like the guy is always on, his inner amplifier cranked to eleven.
I’ve seen him go toe to toe with one of the lesser Supes, and even busted the kid’s jaw in four places as well as busted one of the Supes’ ribs to where it punctured his lung in a real bad way. He’d even kept Joshua & Bathsheba at bay while they were in wolf form until Hyperion showed up and simply snatched Washington off the ground and flew him to the local county jail. I imagine Washington did everything he could to hurt Hyperion for the entire flight, and when that didn’t work, he’d more than likely verbally assaulted the Supe like no one ever had.
“You think he’s ever actually killed anyone?” Dave asked. It was a question we’d pondered at least a hundred times over the years since we’d met Washington.
“Nah,” I said. “He beat the shit out of that kid pretty badly when we were trying to burn a hole to the planetary core, and I’ve seen him crack a lot of heads, but I don’t think he’s a killer.”
“You know he’d probably kill you just for calling him soft like that.”
“Yeah, he’d probably kill you for asking around about whether or not he ever killed anyone.”
Dave pondered this for a moment, another thing that always happened during this conversation. I sighed inside, once again realizing that after fifteen years, I was finally growing bored. Maybe I was just growing up. Being a henchman wasn’t necessarily a bad job. It paid well, and there was job security, and the union wasn’t corrupt like most of the other labor unions (labor unions that our Vil employers almost always had a lot of hands in).
When I started wondering if we’d had this same conversation one hundred eighty-eight times, or one hundred eighty-nine, it always led me to wondering if I shouldn’t hang it up and go for early retirement. I’d cash in my fifteen year gold chip, plus the two years since then, and all of my sick and vacation time to pull my twenty early. Maybe go enjoy my vacation home in St. Kitt. Or St. Thomas. I’ve never even been there, but I own it outright, barring the American government somehow convincing the St. Whatever legal types to seize it.
“You never answered my question,” I said, washing away the gray-blue questions of whether or not I’d wasted half of my life. “Why are you on shift, and here? You’re working for Arachnor right now, and Washington is my partner for this rotation.”
“Oh, right. He’s taking his Class VIII exam today. I told the girls at the shop to give me first dibs on any sub jobs for a while. They texted me this morning and asked if I wanted to fill in for Dr. Carbon, and I knew you were here, so I decided that’d be cool even if I didn’t get to work with you, I’d at least catch up with you at lunch or something.” Dave shut his mouth after realizing he’d been babbling.
“They sweating you for more money again?” I asked, wondering if it was Diana, his first wife, ex-wife I should say, or Sunny, his second, that was on his ass.
“Nah,” Dave said, but I could see the trouble in his face with my quick glance. “I mean, yeah, so Janine, she’s been accepted at UVA, which is in-state tuition, but of course she wants to go to Rutgers, which is like, five times as expensive already, not to mention it’s also a total scam on the out of state thing.”
“And Diana?” I asked, knowing the woman was the master of using their oldest daughter, Janine, as a way to dangle and drag Dave around as if he were a marionette.
“Yeah, you know…”
“Sure,” I said.
It was a sore subject with him. Mostly because he still loved Diana as much as he did the day they were married. But he also felt the same about Sunny. He was on much better terms with Sunny, but that only made Princess, his current wife (and again, I’m not making her name up), go into violent fits of rage. Dave’s women troubles were epic, and a good source of watercooler talk whenever more than a few henchmen were gathered in a single location.
“Anyway, here I am. Lucky me, I get to save you from multiple daily heart attacks for one eight hour shift.” He looked over at me, forcing me to turn my head toward him. The smile on his face was almost evil. “Besides, this might have been the day Washington finally snapped and killed the first person he saw.”
“You know what would be funny?” I asked, looking straight ahead again but unable to squash a chuckle. “What if today, the one day you sub in, here of all places, a bunch of Supes decide to show up and kick everyone’s ass and haul us all off to jail?”
“That shit isn’t funny,” Dave said. I turned my head enough to see the deep frown on his face. “Don’t say that. I’ve gotten my face pounded in twice in the last two months, and did four days in the slammer a couple weeks ago.”
“Yeah?” I ask, surprised. I hadn’t heard of any big dust-ups between our bosses and the Supes in the last couple of months. “Who’d you tangle with?”
“Man, don’t ask,” he said glumly.
I laughed hard enough to no longer be at attention at my post. I immediately straightened up and tamped down the laughter, but it was tough to not want to take two steps and give my friend a hug. I wasn’t afraid Dr. Carbon would see me goofing off on a security camera then rush down here to Sub-6 and turn me into molecular particles from the kind of heat that only black holes and blue hypergiant suns could produce. I am, however, a professional Corporate Adjunct Specialist.
I’ve never had a black mark on my record, and because I’m adamant about being as professional as possible while on the clock, I’ve worked my way up into the A-List employers. No more wondering if I was going to get paid each week, and knowing I wasn’t when the email showed up in our inboxes saying pay schedules would be moving to a bi-weekly system, and actively asking my union rep to place me somewhere else when the next email showed up changing the bi-weekly pay schedule to a monthly one. No more living in a crap apartment where I came home every night wondering if the almost non-existent personal items I owned would be missing and my front door kicked in (or the locked drilled, which happened twice during my first three years on the job).
One downside of working for the top Vils was the extra attention from the Supes. And not the Dollar Store shit like the D-List or worse types (you know, the fifteen year old kid wearing a Halloween mask trying to stop muggers in a metro alley). Working for a guy like Gravity Wave, a nobody that retired after only eighteen months, means someone like Radion doesn’t show up and melt your balls off with his radiation powers very often.
The biggest name I ever had to tangle with during my early years was The Tornado, a C-Lister who hung up his work boots after twenty years to take care of his terminal wife. As I worked my way through the ranks though, life got more interesting, but the bruises and broken bones also became a bit more frequent. Now guys like Carbatron, not to be mistaken for my boss, Dr. Carbon (there’s a silly lawsuit going on right now in the 6th District Court over trademark or copyright, one of those) and The Crusher show up, usually with Hyperion and the J&B wolves and slap us around a bit before handing us over to the cops, sometimes the Feds.
“So Ninja Dave showed up both times?” I asked, laughing again, but this time keeping my composure.
“Don’t even say his name,” Dave grumbled. “I fucking hate that guy.”
Ninja Dave is a B-List Supe who is right on the cusp of making it to the big leagues. He’s really just an ordinary looking dude, someone you’d never even look at twice if you passed him in the supermarket, but he’s crazy good at martial arts stuff like Kung-Fu, Judo, Jujitsu, Ninjitsu, Kwan-Kea (whatever the hell that is), etc. He’s like one of those guys in the old Chinese Kung-Fu movies with the bad dubbing and hilariously exaggerated sound effects. He can’t maybe have a sword fight with three enemies at once while balancing on a half-bent bamboo trunk, but he can wall-walk up something like eighteen stories, can do backflips and forward flips at will, even do those crazy kung-fu jumps up to second floor balconies.
Somehow, and this has made both Dave and I question whether or not coincidences are a real, tangible thing or not, Ninja Dave has kicked the snot out of Dave Anderson seven times over the last twelve years. Nine, if you counted the two that Dave just suffered. Ninja Dave, he has no clue who Dave Anderson is, other than just another faceless henchman that needed a kick in the teeth, a karate chop across the neck, or maybe a quick three-strike knockout with the non-lethal rubber nunchaku Ninja Dave was famous for. To Dave Anderson, it’s personal.
“Well, lucky for you,” I say, doing my best to be serious, “Dr. Carbon has been pretty low key lately, so there’s almost zero chance of anyone more than a FedEx truck showing up.”
“Almost is still a chance,” he said darkly.
We stood at attention for an hour, both of us lost within separate thoughts. Mine bounced around between Dave and his ex-wives, my predictably boring life, and wondering if I’d socked enough away to put in for my retirement. St. Something Or Other wasn’t a cheap place to live, but the way my brain and computer at home had calculated it, since the house and land was paid for, I could get by and live out the rest of my days.
“Hey,” I said, breaking the silence. Mostly it was breaking the boredom of standing guard in front of a locked door that led to something sensitive, yet almost no one ever came in or out, at least on my shifts, and I worked the nine-to-five. “So, what happened up at the North Pole?”
“Dammit, Mike,” Dave said, refusing to look at me, “I told you not to bring that up.”
“What? The North Pole job? With Etemo and Explo-DAR… Oh. Oh, really?” I almost laughed out loud again, but I kept it in so Dave wouldn’t have to eat the humiliating icing on top of his already humble cake. “That bad, eh?”
“Jesus, Mike, it was a total disaster. I honestly don’t know how the hell the Supes haven’t wiped out all of these morons we work for. I mean, I—”
His words were interrupted by the emergency klaxon, a noise so loud, so grating, it made the homicidal rage one felt at the sound of an alarm clock waking them up feel like a day at the beauty spa. I immediately became alert, and grabbed my mobile comm from the webbing of my fatigues. I clicked the security alert app, praying today wasn’t another upgrade day where the damn thing didn’t work for a week.
“Oh boy,” I said.
Dave stared at me, and I wondered how he could have heard me, then decided the look on my face must have told him everything he needed to know other than the minor details. Like which superhero, or superheroes, since Dr. Carbon was pretty high up on the list of directors or chancellors or whatever kind of council they had at the League of Power, were about to kick down a steel-reinforced security door and start working us over. I know, The League of Power is a stupid name, but they couldn’t really call themselves champions of anything, unless you counted robbing bank vaults, hijacking high-tech component shipments, plots of world domination or even crazier schemes like blowing up the sun or collapsing the universe, as something to be a champion of.
Even though the world knew the guys we worked for were supervillains, the PR thing was still important. We only had howling mobs of people calling for the Vils to be put away once and for all, instead of massive protests and congressional oversight committees forcing the League members to testify before a bunch of crusty, old, men who still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that there were some people in the world who could do extraordinary things.
Crusty old Senators and House Subcommittee members didn’t like the Supes any more than they did our guys, but the Supes had the hearts of the people, something the lawmakers in D.C. hadn’t had since forever. The last few idiots on Capitol Hill to campaign against the Supes, actively calling for them to be arrested and somehow stripped of their superpowers, should they have any, and the put in prison to rot, had been swiftly and soundly defeated in the next election. Even with Wazzard hacking the electronic voting booths in more than a third of the counties and putting over ninety percent of the vote for the last guy, Senator Jacobson, the fiery senator was still defeated in a landslide.
“I hate you,” is all Dave said. He reached down to pull his sidearm from the holster, and I watched him pause in surprise before he remembered we weren’t allowed to carry firearms within the confines of Dr. Carbon’s inner labs. “I hate you triple!” he shouted at me, waving the retractable baton that he’d pulled from the other side of his belt.
I gritted my teeth, gave him a wolf’s grin, and closed my eyes for a few seconds. I did my best to clear my head, but the klaxon was loud enough to make half the animals in the Sonoran Desert, hell in Phoenix, go deaf after ten seconds. I tried to picture how the encounter would go. My mind wanted me to be the hero, waiting for the Supe to stroll in like he owned the place before I gave him a good kick to the chest that blew him back through the wall. The reality side of my brain reminded me how these encounters always went, usually with me holding a bloody rag to my nose while sitting on the intake bench at the local county jail.
I checked the app again, but the network was offline. That was trouble, more trouble than whatever had caused the alarms to go off. It meant they had their own hacker, or maybe Hyperion had just dive-bombed from high altitude right into the communications farm down on Sub-9. I growled and put the phone back in the webbing. I opened my mouth to let Dave know the network was down when a blur of movement caught my eye. I was still looking down the hallway when a sharp pain lit up my face.
The blur had been Colonel Blink, a Supe who wasn’t particularly strong, but was blessed with a very useful superpower: he could move almost faster than the eye could follow. By the time my eyes had registered the movement down the hall, he’d already punched me in the jaw. I swung my baton around, knowing he’d already have dodged away faster than I could follow, but it was almost two decades of regular training that the union demanded all henchmen take and pass successfully. I’d asked once how a normal, non-super human was supposed to defeat a guy like DiamondHead or Deborah Aegis with a stick or a punch to the head. I received a lecture about being harmful to the morale of the union with my pessimism.
Dave almost took my head off with his swing. His eyes went wide as I ducked just in time. I wasn’t sure if it was his surprise that he’d almost bashed my skull in, or that Colonel Blink had reappeared behind me. It was neither. When I turned around to maybe take another useless swing at Blink, The Fork stood about five meters down the hall from us, a sphere of lightning the size of a softball in each hand, a mad grin on his lips.
“Oh shit,” I said.
“Dammit,” Dave said at the same time.
I decided to charge The Fork, knowing I’d never make it in time, but also counting on my theory that Supes did everything possible to not kill henchmen who weren’t in the middle of some heinous crime, like torturing children or something totally evil like that. I’d never received more than a serious beating that required a week or two in the hospital, and most of those only required minimal ICU time. It’s a good thing the Corporate Adjunct Specialists United had a superb health plan.
I felt something hit my ankle, causing it to bang into my other ankle, which caused me to tumble face-first into the floor. My elbow hit the concrete floor and I felt fire shoot up and down my arm, my shoulder as well, and the baton fell out of my numb fingers. I heard Dave let out an “oof” behind me, most likely getting a Blink Punch, which was like getting hit by a ghost. My eyes were locked on the two balls of lightning that were zooming down the hallway toward us.
I tried to roll out of the way of the one aimed at me, but it veered just as I did, and my other shoulder and arm lit up like an exploding Christmas tree. I tried to yell in pain, but my lips and mouth didn’t work right. I felt a little wetness in my crotch, and the electricity in that coursed through me paused long enough to allow my brain to form the thought that I’d just pissed myself. It’s just another reason I hated electricity, and in general, was maybe starting to hate my job.
Dave groaned behind me before slumping to the floor. I got control of my neck muscles long enough to look behind me. Dave was propped up against the wall, tendrils of ethereal electricity slowly dissipating from his chest and legs. His hair stood straight up, and I noticed that the left half of his mustache was missing. The right side was perfectly intact, a nicely trimmed, brown em-dash of groomable punctuation.
His eyes were glassy, looking at nothing. He coughed once then lowered his chin to his chest. I had a sudden fear that he’d been killed. We were getting older, after all, and a hefty jolt of lightning to guys like us wasn’t as easy to shrug off as it was when we were in our twenties and full of piss an vinegar. We were only full of vinegar now, as I’d let all the piss out into my fatigues. I hated it when Supes showed up and I got my ass kicked, but I hated it even more when they humiliated me.
Hate didn’t even begin to describe how I felt about being humiliated as if it were an afterthought or side effect. Like The Fork could go back to his Chamber of Justice or whatever they called their club, and brag about how he’d just been casually putting down two henchmen in an inner sanctum, and by jove, one just happened to tinkle in his pants! I wasn’t even trying! Evil ol’ Dr. Carbon must be going senile to allow the old fogeys like the two noobs I zapped today work near his inner lab haha.
I turned my head back to see what The Fork might be up to, but all I saw was a fist come out of nowhere, then nothing.
When I came to, Dave, me, and twelve other henchmen that had been on shift at the underground lab were all chained to a worn, peeling bench made of cast iron that had been bolted into a concrete floor. The sounds of a police station finally overpowered the whooshing in my ears. I tried to open my mouth to say something to Dave, but my lips had become crusted shut with blood. I hoped whoever hit me didn’t break my nose. I’m not vain, but still… a broken nose sucks.
“Any of you guys like to give me your side of the story?” a fat cop asked as he strolled down the line of prisoners.
“Eat shit, you fat monkey,” Eric Childress said, sounding bored. He was a ten year man, and knew how the game was played.
“I ought to come over there and make you eat a fat fist, you piece of garbage,” the fat cop growled.
We all laughed at once, as if we’d been programmed back at Henchman Industries to do such a thing if certain keywords were heard. Officer Jowls wouldn’t come anywhere near us in anger, knowing the union lawyers, and probably the ACLU, would be all over his and the department’s ass. It wasn’t uncommon for one of us to be able to retire a little early thanks to a quiet but attractive settlement from various law enforcement agencies, and all you had to do was suffer a little police brutality, though that could sometimes be a lot more frightening, and dangerous, than getting a pounding from a Supe. Cops get a little crazy when you piss them off and you’re fully under their control. It’s impossible to run down an alley and jump a fence when two inch iron bars spaced four inches apart keep you and the outside world separated.
“How about you, dickhead?” Ofc. Jowls said, stopping front of me.
“Go eat another doughnut before my lawyer shows up and makes you eat your own asshole in front of all your buddies, and maybe even the Commissioner himself,” I said, not even looking up at him.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jowls said, wandering away after being rebuffed by us. “One day, you’ll end up a real prison, and then your little buttholes won’t be able to pucker up so easily.” He laughed as if he’d made a joke funny enough to make God snort milk through his nose.
Dave, Gale, and Roger all gave him the middle finger. We sat around for almost three hours, shifting every ninety seconds or so as the hard, cold bench tortured us more than any superhero ever had. At least they’d punch you and knock you out, or use their super bad breath, lightning, whatever, and then that would be that. Sometimes you’d even wake up and be able to just walk away. Henchmen far away from the center of the action got ignored quite a bit.
I woke up after a big fight one night, freezing my junk off, crusty with blood from a desk flying through a window and just grazing the back of my skull. It was spooky, the entire fortress was empty, cold, and silent, signs of the battle everywhere. I jumped in fright at every sound for the fifteen minutes it took me to get out of there and to the road, and jumped every time I heard a noise or saw headlights for the six miles I had to walk to get to a pay phone so I could call a cab.
Evan Mees, our union lawyer, finally showed up. He stood impatiently while the duty officers undid all of our restraints, then led us into the largest interview room in the building. Once we were all stuffed in, and Mees’ assistant was tapped into the building to make sure no cameras or mics were snooping, he asked us what happened. We all told him, one by one, keeping it as short and concise as possible, knowing the drill.
Mees made little notes on his tablet as we talked, nodding his head in agreement regularly, probably thanking fate or God or such that the group he’d come to rescue had all been seasoned veterans. It only took one idiot, usually a rookie so green he still had the union cheat sheet tucked into one of his pockets, to open his mouth and say something, anything, to sink a whole crew. Washington got burned for a nine month stint in county once because of a noob that had done that. Either that guy smartly hung up his henchman coat and disappeared to Europe, or Washington eventually found him and disappeared him. It would go against my belief that Washington was a bad motherfucker but not a killer, but he’d been so insane with rage that I thought he might simply explode in a weird, hybrid, nuclear-human explosion.
“All right, boys, and miss,” Mees said, ever the gentleman, even a ladies’ man, according to rumors. He tipped his imaginary hat at Kina, an attractive four year CAS, then continued. “So, this won’t take but an hour or so and we’ll have you in a comfortable ride to your houses, or to the nearest transit terminal if you’re here on temp assignment from another Local Brotherhood. There’s no case here, so bond should be minimal for everyone. Yadda yadda, you’ll get paperwork telling you when to show up to court. Make sure you don’t miss any dates until we get this taken care of. I’ll have your cases consolidated, since you all worked at the same facility, for the same employer, then tossed out.”
He smiled, shook hands with all of us, then knocked on the door to let the cop on the other side know to let him out. As two more officers were leading us back to the bench, we heard Mees shouting angrily at someone down the hall. I didn’t catch it all, but what I did hear had to do with making sure we weren’t chained back to the bench as if we were dogs, and to make sure someone came around with sandwiches and some juice or milk while we waited to post bail.