The second to last part surfaces as we tie up the last few loose ends… what will become of the evil guy we found out about last time has been pulling strings behind the scenes of the whole story?
Let us find out.
New people… hi. I was vague on purpose so you didn’t have anything spoiled for you.
This is a story about villains, amnesia, humor, redemption and a lot of other complicated things I didn’t see coming.
Now, enjoy the nearly complete story. -bows-
and our tower is almost complete… part 29, everybody!
Playgrounds, Moose and Unexpected Justice
If we’re talking explosions . . . the news about Mansley on the media was up there with the best of them. And that’s coming from me. I’ve seen a lot of explosions.
His public image basically dropped off the Empire State Building and plummeted to a fiery death at the earth’s core. Which he fully deserved, all considered.
There was more investigation and, turned out, he wasn’t just playing both sides of the chessboard. He’d gone out and carved his own chess pieces to play with.
When the superhero program started out, it had stayed around for the novelty of it. The public loved it and all, but it was diverting a lot of funds into something that was really not all that necessary. Superheroes were great for all their show and flash, but the normal police force was doing just fine, thank you very much. And for a while, the program lost steam.
It wasn’t needed. They’d shut it off, send the candidates back to their lives and send Mansley back to his desk job with a quarter of the pay.
Mansley saw what his game was missing . . . what needed to happen for him to keep his job . . . so he decided to go build himself a villain. Throw out a bomb, frame the hero for the massive loss of life . . . someone would emerge ready to commit the rest of their years to avenging their loved one.
Sure enough, out from the wreckage came just the man for the job . . . me. Leather jacket and evil name included.
So began the hero and villain smackdown that Mansley had wanted. He egged us both on . . . gave us both the weapons we needed and sat back to watch.
All had worked out wonderfully for him until his precious bad-guy went and got amnesia. Kind of yanked the rug out from under his perfect plans there.
Each newspaper found some new awful aspect to focus on . . . how much tax money he’d gotten into this project . . . how many people suffered . . . the levels of deception involved . . . but what no one seemed to be able to figure out was just where he’d gone and disappeared to.
Mansley could have teleported to Mars for all anyone knew. He’d just vanished. The SPI hadn’t appointed him to that position for being an idiot. He was one of their best agents. Trained to disappear in a blink if need be.
They had more investigations and searches going on, but it wasn’t looking good for finding him. He was just . . . gone.
And I was somewhat surprised with myself, but I didn’t care as much as I thought I would. Sure, I would have loved to punch Mansley in the nose . . . cuss him out . . . all that good stuff. But the burning in my chest I’d felt with Amazing Man and wanting to get him . . . it just wasn’t there. This was more an annoyance . . . an itch. But it didn’t define me.
It irked me no end how much of a clean getaway he’d made. Just the lack of justice in this whole thing. Again, I tried not to think about it. And tried to keep my prayers a bit more gracious than: “Really, God. Anytime with that fiery wrath.”
But I had to keep my priorities straight.
There were more important things now than that piece of scum that was cowering in hiding somewhere out there.
Like, for instance, my little brother. And mastering the art of pushing him on the playground swing while not falling over on my crutches.
I mostly stayed balanced on my one good leg, pushed with my good arm and stayed propped up on my crutches. It took a bit of trial and error, but it worked.
Leif was a pretty easygoing little guy and warmed up to me quicker than I thought he would. It helped having Fernsby and Dallas right there with the other kids so he didn’t feel totally dumped off with this cripple in a black jacket.
He tipped his head back and grinned at me as the swing went forwards, “Can you do an underdog?”
I stopped in my pushing for a second. “An underdog?”
“You know . . . when you run underneath the swing and push me super high up?” Leif made a few motions with his hands to show, twisting in his seat so he was halfway facing me.
I raised an eyebrow at him, “Crutches, buddy. It wouldn’t work really well with those involved.” I gave him another push.
He kicked his feet while he swung and looked around. “Dallas?” he yelled towards the other side of the playground. “Can you do an underdog to me?”
Dallas, obviously more acquainted with the wonders of underdogs than me, pushed up out of his seat and walked over. He got behind Leif and pulled him to a stop. One of his arms was still in a sling, but he still looked more confident in his abilities than I was.
I stepped back.
“Hanging on tight?” Dallas asked, positioning himself with his hand at Leif’s back. Leif nodded. Dallas pushed hard and ran underneath Leif’s swing as it shot upwards. Leif squealed.
Yeah, I definitely wasn’t doing that on crutches.
“But you didn’t yell ‘underdog’!” Leif accused Dallas as he swung up high again. Dallas shrugged and came around back next to me where we both stood, waiting for my brother to come back into earth’s orbit.
Dallas put his hand in his jeans pocket and looked over at me. “Going alright?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Since you guys are nearby, he’s doing fine.” I looked over to see Charles catch Jilly at the bottom of the slide.
I ignored the small knot in my stomach. There was only so much I could do for Leif. And I sure as heck wasn’t the family that he needed to grow up in. One older brother couldn’t do everything, no matter how hard I tried. Can I really take him away from all this? He has a family . . .
Dallas’s voice broke into my thoughts. “I can tell he likes you so far at least,” he said reassuringly.
“’Cuz he’s my actual brother,” Leif broke in, not liking to be talked over the top of. “And I like saying his name. Wolfgang.” He accentuated every sound in a way that reminded me why I hated that name.
“Dankworth. Wolfgang Dankworth.” Leif tipped his head backwards again. “Is my last name Dankworth too?”
Dallas looked over at me before shrugging, “Technically. Yeah.”
“Cool,” Leif grinned and kicked his feet, gaining more momentum to keep himself swinging. “Leif Dankworth. Leif Dankworth.” He repeated it like a tongue twister.
Well, he liked it at least. That was a start. But the commodity of a new last name would wear off . . . I swallowed and bit my tongue. I couldn’t take him. He had a family here. It would just be me being selfish again.
My phone buzzed against my hip and made me jump. Nerves of steel . . . I pulled it out and flipped it open to see who was calling.
I stared at the screen in confusion. Chris? He hadn’t made contact . . . hadn’t even showed his face since we disarmed the bomb. What would he . . .?
The phone buzzed again. Well, easy way to find out . . . pick up.
“What is it?” Dallas peered over my shoulder.
“Hold on a sec,” I adjusted my crutches and hobbled away as I hit the button to pick up.
There were a few seconds of quiet and I thought I heard breathing. I frowned.
“Kid?” Chris’s voice came over the line. It trembled. He sounded almost scared. I’d never heard his voice like that.
I felt my heart rate accelerate. “Yeah, I’m here.”
He swore quietly, but it didn’t sound like he was directing it at me.
“What happened?” I gripped the phone tighter, “Where are you?”
“I just . . .” he began, “There was . . .” he took in a breath and cursed some more before continuing. “I’m driving back into Utah now. I was up at my shack in Idaho for the last week . . . just . . . hunting. And there was this moose. Never seen a bigger rack in my life. I was kind of on his trail for a few days and . . . I . . .” his voice trailed of a little for a second.
I could feel my hands starting to shake a little. “Are you okay?” He sounded fine . . . aside from being shaken up. What could have freaked him out this badly?
Still using curse words as commas, he continued. “I’d lost some sleep . . . I wasn’t on top of my game and this morning I went out and . . . I had the moose right in my sights. Any regular day and I would’ve nailed the sucker right there.” Chris let out his breath slowly, “But I . . . I missed. I missed him and scared him off and . . . oh God . . .”
I bit my tongue and waited tensely for him to continue.
“There was . . . there was someone else in the woods. I didn’t see him, I swear. And my shot didn’t hit him . . . but that moose . . . he . . . he was in his way. The moose zeroed in on him. The guy didn’t even see until the last second. He tried to run, but . . . the moose . . . it trampled him.”
I was no outdoorsman. But I’d heard plenty about moose from Chris. They might look big and bumbling, but they were anything but clumsy and cute charging straight at you with two giant battering rams.
The trembling in his voice got worse, though he was obviously trying to hide it. “H-he’s pretty messed up. I didn’t mean to . . . but it’s my fault. I . . .” he stopped talking for a second and I could almost see him closing his eyes and clenching his jaw. Trying to calm himself down.
He started again, his voice hoarse. “I’m taking him to the hospital in Logan, but I don’t think there’s much they can do. Wolfgang, it’s my fault. He’s going to die.”
I didn’t know what to say. I swallowed hard and opened my mouth, “D-do you want me to come?”
Chris didn’t answer, but I heard his stiff breathing over the line. “I just . . . I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t know what to do. I’ve never . . .”
“I’m coming,” I interrupted him. “See you in a bit.”
“If . . . if you want,” I’d never heard that lost note in his voice. “See you.”
I flipped the phone shut and started back towards Dallas and Leif. Dallas gave me a questioning look.
“Who was that?”
“Chris,” I answered. “He was hunting and had a bit of an accident. How fast can we get to Logan?”
Dallas blinked, “Well . . . I’d ask Mr. Fernsby, but . . .”
“Right,” I swung my crutches out and made my way towards Fernsby.
Out of the things I thought would happen today, Chris resurfacing with a moose-attack victim was not one of them.
Goes to show how a day can go unexpectedly.
Chris had always been a bit of a pacer. Liza was always joking that we could hook him up to a generator and not have to pay electricity bills ever again.
He could probably power the whole hospital at the rate he was going in the hall. Back and forth, over and over. Twisting his hands and scowling at the floor. Not the usual “couldn’t care less” scowl, either . . . more like “caring too much and not liking it” scowl.
It was a little hard to approach quietly with a broken leg and he looked up as soon as I came around the corner from my long battle with the stairwell. He wasn’t kidding when he said he’d lost some sleep. His face was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes.
If I had grown a shell over the years, Chris had to have grown a double shell around his already prickly surface. But it was cracked now. He looked guilty, upset . . . and maybe even a little scared.
I nodded to him as I swung over. He nodded back, sinking into one of the hallway chairs and running a hand over his face.
“How’s . . . the guy doing?” I asked, setting my crutches aside and taking a seat next to him.
Chris cussed in response.
We were both quiet for a second and he let out a shaky breath. “Looks like he went through a meat grinder, I swear.”
I winced, tightening my lips. “Where were you? What was the guy doing out there?”
“I don’t even know.” Chris twisted his hands more. “I was at my old hunting shack up in the woods. Most abandoned place in the world. Never seen anyone else up there in my life besides the elk and moose and deer . . . what that idiot was doing up there was beyond me . . .” he rubbed a hand over his eyes.
A nurse with graying hair in purple scrubs stepped out of the nearby room holding a clipboard. Her brow wrinkled with concern, but she gave us a kind smile. “He’s . . . conscious. Partly.” She took a breath and her smile faded into a sad, resigned look. “I don’t think he’s going to make it, Mister Brown. Did you happen to know his name?”
Chris groaned and put his head in his hands, tipping his cowboy hat off center. “No,” he mumbled.
The woman put a hand on his shoulder and was quiet. “You can go in and see him if you want. He’s not going to last much longer, I’m afraid.”
“It’s my fault,” Chris swallowed and put his hands down, staring straight ahead of him. His face was paler than ever. “If I’d been more careful . . .”
“It was an accident,” I corrected. “It was out of your hands. Just . . . his time to go.”
“Don’t start that crud on me, kid,” Chris muttered. He got to his feet, took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll see him.” His voice was gruff.
I got to my feet with some difficulty, since Chris still didn’t seem to fully register the fact that I was on crutches and I had to do it myself.
The nurse nodded once to Chris and then looked at me doubtfully. “Is he a friend?” She looked like she thought it more likely that I was a patient.
“Yes,” Chris replied after a moment of hesitation. He met my eyes for a second, then looked away, took a deep breath and walked into the room. The nurse stood aside, holding the door. I thanked her quietly and followed Chris in.
And holy smoke, Chris wasn’t kidding with the meat grinder comment. Moose quickly moved about five levels up on my scale of dangerous animals.
A bandaged, bloodied figure lay on the bed in the middle of the room. An oxygen mask was over his face, his eyes were closed and an IV tube ran down his arm. His breaths rattled and rasped in the air, sounding like they took an immense amount of effort. Disheveled, salt-and-pepper hair stuck out over the top of the bandage around his head.
Goosebumps prickled my arms. I could barely even see what the guy used to look like underneath the moose mauling. What he ever did to deserve that . . .
Chris stood beside the bed, looking haggard. He kept his eyes fixed on the face of the man and his mouth stayed in a tight line. I moved over next to him, feeling sick to my stomach. It was painful to even look at the figure in the bed, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
The man rasped out something and tried to move. Chris closed his eyes with a grimace. Something froze inside me. I squinted at the man’s bloody face, getting a funny feeling that I’d seen him somewhere before.
But where? This guy had been in the Idaho wilderness . . . out in the woods, probably camping or hiking or something . . . the chances that this was someone I knew . . .
And then he opened his eyes, looking straight at me. Penetrating, frost blue eyes.
I sucked in my breath sharply and caught a tiny hint of something I hadn’t noticed before past the blood and antiseptic smell. It was barely noticeable, but I smelled spearmint.
I nearly choked. My eyes went wide and I felt my face go pale.
Chris ignored my strangled noises and put a hand on the man’s arm. “I-I’m sorry,” he whispered. The man didn’t look at him, still staring at me.
“Chr-chris?” my voice shook and I still didn’t take my eyes off the blue-eyed gaze fixed on my face. “I . . . I know this guy.”
Chris’s head snapped back around to look at me. “What?”
I swallowed hard before speaking, “He’s . . . this is Derrick Mansley.”
“The director of the superhero program?” Chris looked confused.
How could Chris not know? Mansley’s face . . . all that he’d done . . . it was all over the news. You’d have to be living under a rock to . . . I stopped, mid-thought. Or you could be up at a cabin in the wilderness for the past week.
I nodded slowly, “Well, yes. Among other things.”
Mansley stiffened in his bed and his breathing got more labored. He closed his eyes again, moaning weakly.
“See . . .” I bit my lip, “He’s actually . . . he’s the boss I’ve been meeting with. The one that supplied us with everything. He’s the one that tipped Amazing Man off to those plans that shouldn’t have gone sideways. He’s . . . also the guy that . . . planted the twin bombs.”
Chris just stared at me. He looked down at Mansley, shock and disbelief mixing on his face. “This guy? Mansley did . . .?” his voice rose and then broke off.
“Fernsby and I went to try and catch him, but he’d already taken off. He’s one of the SPI’s best agents. He had more than enough training to just vanish. No one could find him and it looked like he’d just made a clean getaway.” I looked down at the pathetic form in the hospital bed. “Apparently . . . looks can be deceiving.”
Mansley had covered his tracks. He’d planned for any outcome. For three and a half years he’d played his game perfectly, never even being suspected. He made absolute sure that no one was able to catch him.
And in the end, to be trampled down by a runaway moose.
If the fear of God hadn’t worked its way into me yet, I certainly had it now. Along with a redefinition of divine justice.
We can plan, we can scheme, we can be the best there is . . . but if nothing else, your retribution can even come in the form of a moose.
I cursed reverently under my breath.
Chris didn’t take his eyes off Mansley. “So he . . .” he stopped and swallowed, “he was the one that killed Sarah? This guy?”
I nodded, “Along with my family and Liza’s Eli.”
His brow wrinkled and he pushed back his hat. For once, Chris Brown didn’t know what to think. Just a few minutes ago, he’d been absolutely wracked with guilt about taking an innocent life But now that it wasn’t innocent anymore . . . was he supposed to be happy? Vindicated?
He just looked lost and torn. Confused.
“It wasn’t Amazing Man, then . . .” he muttered. “We’ve been after the wrong guy this whole time.” He took a breath and looked up at the ceiling to cuss quietly.
“Guess justice happens on its own sometimes,” I commented, fingering my crutch handles and watching the blanket over Mansley’s chest rise and fall unevenly. His rattling breathing filled the silence.
Chris and I both watched him for another minute.
Rise and fall . . . rise and fall . . . the breaths got shallower and shallower, then Mansley let out a kind of coughing sigh and the room was quiet.
He was gone.
I shook my head, “Live by the sword. Die by the . . . moose.”
I’ll be back on Monday, folks.
Sorry, I am pitifully behind on responding to comments, but by way of explanation, we got a house and are moving in as we speak so yay. -confetti-
I still love seeing what you guys think, and hope you enjoyed the story. 😀 ❤