The face of the clock atop Strychnine Towers casts an eerie yellow glow across the city, as if the moon, putrid and sick, is illuminating the world with some foul contamination. Across the scaffolding at the bottom of the clock, visible only to the ravens roosting restlessly in the night, the front page of the Daily Metropolis reads: “Strychnine.com Offers Free Internet Starting Tomorrow: Millions to Sign Up.” Flame’s pointed brogan brushes away the paper as he crosses the scaffold, his face hidden by the yellow fedora pulled low over his dark, restless eyes, collar pulled high on the bright red trench coat covering a tall, muscular frame. He peers through a workman’s hatch in the clockface into the vaulted belfry, where a white-haired man, older but handsomely virile, and a stunning brunette in a sparkling blue evening gown talk on the landing below.
The woman slithers her arm inside Strychnine’s double-breasted suit, pushes her lithe body against his, the floor-length dress shimmering. “And while the numskulls gorge on their Facebook and iTunes, we will be downloading their account information, robbing them blind.”
Flame’s stern, steady voice cuts through their maniacal laughing. “Not so fast, Sapphire. There’s still time to deactivate the deceptive surcharge, if you know what’s good for you.”
A German Luger appears in Strychnine’s hand, firing wildly at the sound of Flame’s voice, but Flame appears from behind, knocking the gun from Strychnine’s hand. Roundhouse rights fill the room, Flame’s striking Strychnine’s chiseled jaw, but Sapphire seizes Flame from behind. Flame stumbles, caught in the train of Sapphire’s dress, while Strychnine climbs stairs high into the belfry. The bottom of Sapphire’s dress rips away, revealing stiletto heels, as Flame stumbles over the landing, grabbing the edge with one hand, his body dangling dark over the perilous precipice against the yellow clock face.
Sapphire, standing over Flame so his last glance could almost, if not quite, see up her tattered skirt, glares down at him. In the distance we hear the sound of a helicopter, Strychnine making his getaway. “This should be your last gasp, Flame.” She reaches down and pulls him to safety. “If I wasn’t working undercover for the Federal Communications Commission.”
“But… but…” Flame, kneeling on the landing, regaining his breath, stares up at her in utter disbelief. “That’s impossible.”
“Put a cork in it, Fireball.” From somewhere in the skin-tight, slinky dress, Sapphire finds a GPS unit. A tiny helicopter moves across the screen. “You almost ruined a year-long investigation. I need Strychnine to lead me to the mainframe before I can make the bust. Good thing I put a tracer in his jacket right before you got here.” She turns to leave, tossing luscious black locks over her shoulder as she grins back at the bewildered Flame. “You coming?”
Sapphire explodes from the grate in a dark blue bodysuit, .357 trained on Strychnine. “Not so fast, Poison Breath. That’s against Federal regulations.”
Strychnine surprises Sapphire with his athletic quickness, slaps the gun from her. It slides across the floor toward the grate, into Flame’s waiting hand. He picks it up, points it at the struggling pair. “Let her go, Strychnine. Maybe the judge will go easy on you.”
Strychnine subdues the struggling Sapphire, leans back against a bank of computers, puts his free hand next to a button reading ‘Activate’.
“What judge?” Strychnine cackles. “We’re talking FCC regulations. The person with the most money makes the rules.” His eyebrow arches, canine teeth emerge from thin lips. “And that’s about to be me.”
“Shoot him, Flame,” Sapphire commands, her face darkened deviously by Flame’s outline against the yellow Moon-like light. “Do the world a favor.”
Strychnine smiles, as if Sapphire’s vigilante values amuse him. “What our mischievous minx neglected to tell you, Flame, is that she’s a renegade, currently on FCC suspension. She wants to use my ill-gotten gains to fund liberal causes like free lunch for kids and NPR. She’s not trying to shut me down. She’s trying to take me over, and she’s using you to do her dirty work.”
Flame wavers the gun between the two figures in its sight, the luscious Sapphire, her blue eyes pleading, and the arch, evil Strychnine. Then he smiles.
Sapphire and Strychnine run, Flame trailing behind them with the pointed gun, their bodies lit from behind with orange light of the exploding building. Computer equipment clangs around them, until they reach the end of the dock and, standing side by side by side, watch the building burn to the ground.
“I’m going to sue your ass off for this, Flame,” mutters Strychnine.
“Blowing the mainframe was the only thing to do,” snarls Flame, his arm draped around Sapphire’s shoulder, fedora tilted wolfishly.
“The money from Strychnine’s evil scheme could’ve kept ‘This American Life’ in the black for decades,” bemoans Sapphire, then turning to Flame, a flirtatious smile crosses her full, red lips. “Oh well, guess we’ll just have to add an extra pledge drive. You’ll volunteer to work the phones with me, won’t you, Flame?”
Flame ruefully slaps his own head. “Anything but a pledge drive,” he groans as the night fades to black.
Andrew Waters believes the apocalypse will happen on the Internet and wishes he could write like Raymond Chandler. He lives in Salisbury, North Carolina. His story, “The Girl With Rain In Her Hair” will be published in the Spring 2012 edition of Pamlico Magazine, the literary journal of UNC Pembroke.