As I’ve mentioned (or at least…. I think I’ve mentioned), Blank Mastermind is going through a few changes before I take a whack at this publishing thing.
I thought I’d let you guys in on a few of the changes.
So, I was writing out all the backstory for the rest of the gang, Dallas, Amazing Man and everyone else. A few of the notable changes are demonstrated in this story.
- Before the bombing, Bad News (fun fact: he’s Jewish) got sick of gang life and “retired” to travel the country, playing random instruments, hustling pool, doling out bad luck as he saw fit and basically becoming a living legend.
- Roy knew the Dankworths before the whole bombing thing, and was also involved with some gang things so he’d heard of the legendary Baden News.
- Roy and Liza met with the common goal of breaking Wolfgang out of prison and decided to recruit a certain legend to join the team.
Hopefully be interesting for you all.
Enjoy the latest Blank Mastermind Thursday!
I’d had a couple of brushes with the American police and wasn’t terribly fond of them. But this . . . this was the last I could take.
Kill a man’s family, refuse to let him look for them, then shoot him and throw him in jail.
I was just . . . I was so done. It was the most I could do to keep on a civil face while I was going into the place they had Wolfgang locked up at.
The guy had the right idea with what he did, even if it landed him in the cooler. And I wanted in. We could get a plan together . . . show those bloody fools who their ‘superhero’ really was.
Eli wasn’t going to just be blown away like that while I sat nicely.
Tears stung my eyes again and I swallowed, pushing back the feeling.
“You alright, miss?” asked the cop by the building entrance. He tilted his head and looked concerned.
I flashed him a stiff smile. “Fine, thanks.” I pushed through the doors and into the queue waiting for their visits. It was overcooled inside the building and I rubbed a hand on my arm.
After standing there for way too long, it was finally my turn. I stepped up to the desk.
The woman behind it looked up and raised her eyebrows. “Who are you here to see?”
I licked my lips. “I’d like to see W-Wolfgang . . .” What was his last name again? Something stuffy and dark . . . damp . . . dank. That was it. “Wolfgang Dankworth, please.”
The woman looked down at the clipboard she held and her eyes popped open wide. She looked at me with a slightly concerned expression. “He’s . . . under high security, ma’am. Are you . . .a friend?”
I opened my mouth a second before speaking. “Er . . . of a sort? But I really would like to have a word with him if . . .”
“I’m sorry, that’s not possible.” The woman shook her head, waving her hand like she was shooing away a fly. “Next please.”
I bit the inside of my cheek and clenched my fists as I stalked away from the desk. I took a seat in one of the stiff plastic chairs nearby. There was no way I was breaking him out if I couldn’t even bloody get to the cell he was in and take a look around.
Perhaps if I got to talk to someone else.
I pulled my hair into a ponytail over my shoulder and waited, crossing my legs. I occasionally shot a look over in the direction of the desk, but mostly ignored them. And tried to keep my mind off Eli. No way I was blubbering in front of any of these morons.
Then, to my surprise, a familiar name surfaced again.
“And who are you here to see?”
“My buddy, Wolf. Wolfgang. Probably the only Wolfgang here so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding him.”
My head snapped up and I stopped fiddling with my shoelaces.
A blond kid with spiky hair stood, leaning against the counter. A tiny girl in an orange t-shirt stood by his knees. He grinned at the lady.
“I mean, unless you got the composer locked up in here. But then again, he’s not composing much nowadays. Decomposing’s more like it . . .” he poked the little girl in the ribs.
The secretary wore a classic “shut your face, please” look as she looked back up and interrupted him. “I assume you mean Mr. Dankworth, then.”
“I’m sorry, he’s under high security at the moment. No visitors allowed. Next please.” She started to brush him aside.
“Hey, hold it, hold it . . .” The kid held up his hands in a pleading gesture. “Wolf and I had a big race scheduled. He couldn’t miss it; we’ve been planning for months. Can’t they just pop ‘im out for just a few hours? A few hours. All I ask.”
If there was ever an obvious attempt at springing someone from prison . . . I stared at him.
The woman shook her head again. “I’m sorry, sir. That isn’t happening. Please move aside.”
A police officer stepped up threateningly and the kid backed off, taking the little girl with him.
I heard him swearing under his breath as he started back towards the door.
Common goal . . . even if he took the idiot approach, we could still try and join up . . .
I followed him, barely slipping through the door back out into the hot, August air as the door swung shut. I jogged a few steps to catch up. “Hey!”
He stopped and turned. His eyes went to my hair, as most folks’ did.
I came to a stop. “You’re trying to . . . to . . .” Hold on. Rephrase that, there were still cops around. “You’re a friend of Wolfgang’s?”
“Friend of the Dankworths, yeah,” the kid winced a little as he said it. “Or . . . well, Wolf is what’s left. As of . . . yesterday.”
The dark skinned little girl buried her face in his jeans.
That gaping ache of all the loss opened up inside me again, but I forced my face to stay the same. I stuck out one hand. “I’m Liza Allister. I think we have something to talk about.”
“Roy Tucker,” The kid shook my hand, tipping his head. “You know Wolf too?”
“As of yesterday.” I nodded. “Let’s find somewhere better to talk.”
After a half an hour of talking while parked in a grocery store lot, we figured out a lot.
Two of the main applicable things were that both of us were dead set on getting Wolfgang Dankworth out of prison . . . and that we were woefully unequipped to do it.
I chewed on a strand of my turquoise hair as I thought. Roy had actually shut up for a couple of minutes and looked to be thinking as well. The little girl who was apparently named Cardboard had fallen asleep in the back.
I let out my breath, dropping my ponytail back onto my shoulder. “Well, this isn’t even close to happening with the crud we’ve got on our side right now.”
Roy bit his lip and nodded reluctantly, rubbing his hands over the steering wheel.
Quiet for a few more moments. My mind kept working.
“You know, what we need is someone who’s got experience with this,” I thought out loud. “Someone who has connections . . . someone . . . big.”
Roy blinked a couple of times and narrowed his eyes. I could almost see an idea enter his spiky head as his eyes lit up. A grin slowly stretched across his face.
I tilted my head questioningly, raising an eyebrow.
He looked over at me, nodded and shifted the car into gear. “I think I have a guy.”
I’d been to worse bars.
But not many worse than the place Roy pulled up to after an hour of driving.
Graffiti covered the front and I think the only reason the trash was in the gutter was that it was blasted there by the loud music coming from the open doors. The sun had just gone down so the neon signs for beer and whiskey brands glowed colorful patterns onto the sidewalk.
Clanking noises, loud voices and other ruckus was audible over the music.
Roy put the car into park in a spot near the front that said “no parking”. He nodded like he was quite pleased with himself, then turned to me.
“I’m telling you, there isn’t a better man for the job. You want big?” he laughed. “Bad News is Big. Big with a capital B.”
“His name is Bad News?” I gave him a doubtful look as I popped my door open.
Roy nodded vigorously, lifting Cardboard out and swinging out himself without opening the door. “They say he was born full grown man size, with sunglasses on. The doctor spanked him and he whacked the doctor clean out of the hospital with a right hook. And the doctor had bad luck for the rest of his life.”
Sure he did. I coughed a little as we walked up to the bar. “Listen, if this doesn’t work, we really do need an actual person to help us . . .”
“Bad News exists,” Roy assured me. “I have it from a very reliable source. My old gang buddy, Snake, he’s actually worked with Bad News and said he was here in town. He said this Bad News guy does everything. He kills, he plays instruments, he bakes cake, he does . . . just everything.”
Snake. Sounded like a reliable source.
We came into the bar entrance, a wave of noise, cigarette smoke and beer smell hitting us as we did.
It took my eyes a bit to adjust to the dim light. A few people sat at the counters and tables, nursing beer bottles and shot glasses. One or two looked to be passed out drunk.
“Is Spike here tonight?” Cardboard asked loudly, tugging on Roy’s shirt.
“We’re not here to see Spike, kiddo. We’re here for . . .” he turned slowly, holding up his finger, then pointed as he saw what he was looking for. “That guy.”
I followed where he pointed his finger.
A group crowded around a pool table so thickly I could barely see the table around all the bodies. Everyone was placing bets, drinking and yelling over each other, shoving to get a better view.
And right at the end of the table, with a pool queue big enough to be a flagpole, a dark fedora, sunglasses and a tie, was the biggest human being I’ve seen in my entire life.
Bad News towered over a head taller than everyone there and seemed unbothered by the ruckus around him, even grinning about it.
Someone shouted something over to him. He laughed and pushed his hat back on his head, shouting back in a voice that cut through the rest of the noise like a hot chainsaw through butter.
“L’chaim!” he raised a drink that was big enough to drown a cat in, nodded, and downed the whole thing. Bad News set the mug down, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve.
A cheer rose from the men around the table as he bowed and bent over, lining up to take another shot.
It was all I could do to keep my mouth from falling open. I found myself actually considering that Roy’s tall tales might be true. Bad News was certainly tall enough to match them . . .
Roy pulled on my arm. “C’mon, c’mon, let’s go!”
I let myself be dragged towards the pool table for a few seconds before joining the effort of pushing a way through the people around us. It took a lot of shoving, but we got a spot by the edge of the table and somewhat near Bad News.
He was even bigger up close. If that was possible.
There was a deafening clack as the cue ball slammed into an orange three ball, smacking it into the corner pocket, then bounced off the edge and came around to hit the four in.
That was the last of the solids, aside from the eight ball.
Bad News straightened up, a sideways grin on his face. He nodded in satisfaction as a yell rose from around the table.
The other guy, who I’d normally call big except that he was standing next to a giant, came and took his shot, missing hopelessly. He was booed down. Bad News bent down to the man’s level, patting his back and assuring him it was a good try. Then going on to hit the eight in, exerting about as much effort as blinking.
One final shout erupted from around the table. The crowd loosened a little as a few people drifted away and money from bets was exchanged.
“Frank, you had the next game, right?” Bad News shouted to a guy over by the bar. The man waved back and he laughed. “God bless America, man, it’s been a long time.”
“Hey! Hey, News! Got somethin’ I need to ask you!” Roy pushed the rest of the way over to Bad News and tapped his arm.
I half expected him to be crushed as Bad News turned to see who was talking to him. But this guy was supposed to help us out, so I shoved over to behind Roy.
Roy waved. “Hey, man. I’m a friend of your old buddy, Snake. Remember him? Good times, right?” He grinned up at the legend next to him.
Bad News’s brow furrowed for a second, then he nodded, his smile coming back. “Yup, Snake’s a great guy. Been a while since I’ve seen him too. Never forget a face, though.” He tapped the side of his fedora. “Elephant memory.”
“I bet,” I muttered, still unable to stop staring.
“And you guys are . . .?” he looked between the three of us, leaning on his pool queue.
“I’m Roy,” Roy valiantly kept his grin in place. “This little nut is Cardboard,” he ruffled Cardboard’s hair, “and this here is Lisa.”
“Liza,” I corrected in a hiss, elbowing Roy.
Bad News nodded, putting his fingers to the brim of his hat in salute. “Nice to meet you all. Nice hair, Liza.”
“Er . . . thanks.” I gave him a wobbly smile.
“Listen,” Roy continued, all business. “We need to talk to you about something kind of serious. Think there might be somewhere . . .”
“A tad quieter?” I finished for him, having to raise my voice quite a bit to be heard over the din.
The guy named Frank came sauntering up to the pool table and nodded to Bad News. “Ready to play?”
“Hold on a sec,” News told him over his shoulder before turning back to the three of us. “How serious we talking here?”
Roy blinked, “Well, ah . . .” he looked over to me.
“Matter of life and death serious,” I responded, looking up at Bad News and seeing myself reflected in his dark sunglasses.
Well, it was more death. Death that had happened and death that needed to happen.
His eyebrows shot up to nearly touch the edge of his hat. After a second of thought, he turned to Frank. “Just give me a minute with these guys, alright man? I’ll be back in a few.” Bad News handed over his pool queue and picked up a black dress jacket from the back of a chair, slipping it on over his enormous shoulders.
He nodded to us. “My trailer’s around back. We’ll talk turkey there.”
Bad News started towards the back door, ducking under a few of the hanging lights. The crowd around the bar split around him, leaving a wide wake in which we trailed.
It felt like we were following a giant to his cave to be eaten. At least that’s how it felt to me. Cardboard and Roy both seemed thrilled at the opportunity.
Bad News appeared to know almost everyone at the bar. He waved and called out greetings as we walked, using a different salutation every time.
Everything from “howdy” to “cheerio” and “shalom”.
He honestly seemed like a character from a really odd dream.
We got to the back door and Bad News pulled it open, putting a hand on his hat and ducking down low to get out. He held the door for the rest of us. Polite at least . . .
“Thank you!” Cardboard chirped out, grinning up at him.
News nodded and smiled at her. We all got out and he shut the door. “Just a little ways down the alley. Follow me.”
And into the dark alley we went. After a few minutes of walking, a strange glow lit from ahead of us. I squinted, trying to make it out.
At the front was a big, black pickup truck, jacked up to be as tall and intimidating as its owner. The dirty grill and headlights glinted in the dim light.
Behind that was a silver airstream trailer, covered in bumper stickers of all kinds. A few strings of multicolored twinkle lights were haphazardly thrown over the top. It gave the alley a strange, warm, Christmas-y glow.
Bad News turned around, walking backwards for a few steps and sweeping his arms out grandly. “The News truck. Or Newsmobile, maybe. Plus ol’ Bertie back there.” He nodded to the trailer and waved like it had said hi to him. “Either way, home sweet home.”
He bounded the last few steps over to the door, pulling keys out of his pocket and unlocking the door. It swung out on creaky hinges and Bad News reached in to flick on the lights before gesturing to the inside.
“Head on in. Cleaning day was yesterday, so you should be able to find somewhere to sit.” He chuckled . . . a sound that almost rattled the sidewalk. “Couldn’t tell you the same if you’d showed up on Wednesday . . .”
I didn’t want to know.
Roy went in first and I followed close behind him with Cardboard on my heels.
The inside of the camper gave off the same unpredictable, eccentric feeling as the outside . . . and its owner.
The lighting came from a mini-chandelier made from a rusty bike wheel. The couch and chair were upholstered in what looked like a couple of old quilts. Magnets covered the fridge and freezer. More Christmas lights strung around the corners like cobwebs. A rack of guns hung on one wall and a shelf with a weird, multi-branch candlestick and blue blanket on the other wall.
There was another shelf for . . . instruments, it looked like. An accordion. A guitar. A trombone. A harmonica. A stand-up bass, propped next to the shelf.
I took all of this in, trying not to stare too much.
Roy only seemed interested with one of the place’s fixtures, however.
A chocolate layer cake sat on a big plate on the counter, an enormous fork sitting next to it.
I elbowed him and shook my head. But my doubts about whether we needed this fellow were starting to dissipate. He might be overkill, sure, but he’d certainly get the job done.
Bad News pulled the door shut behind him as he stepped in. “Take a seat, guys. Really.” He smiled at us, “Any of you want a piece of cake?”
“Heck yeah!” Roy replied.
“Heck yeah!” Cardboard echoed, bouncing.
Which left me. And of course we did need to prove the legends true or false whether Bad News could cook.
We all took seats next to each other on the couch, which smelled like a mix of vanilla and gunpowder. Bad News sliced the cake and passed out paper plates to all of us before taking a seat in the chair across from us. He pulled a fork out of his coat pocket, starting in on the cake.
I looked down for a moment, taking a couple of bites of my cake. Which was the best chocolate cake I’d had up to that point in my life. I was a horrible baker, so that wasn’t saying too much.
But when I looked back up, News’s cake was gone already and he was tossing the plate into the garbage. It was like he’d just absorbed it. He pulled off his sunglasses, propping them on the brim of his hat, then leaned back and crossed his long legs.
His deep-set, friendly, brown eyes looked between all of us. “So, what’s this life and death serious thingamajig you guys have going?” His mouth stayed in a crooked, half smile.
I glanced over at Roy. Roy raised his eyebrows and motioned to me a little, like he wanted me to talk first. Gentlemanly.
I took a breath, met the giant’s eyes and forced my voice to stay steady as I spoke.
“We . . . need your help for a prison break.”
The smile melted off his face and his eyes went stone cold. He frosted me with his gaze for another few seconds before responding.
Roy stopped mid-cake bite and stared. “But . . .”
Bad News sat up straighter, propping one arm on his knee. “I’m retired. Every idiot in the gang world knows that. Who sent you?”
Now this was the murderous monster I more expected. He looked about ready to snap us each in half.
I flapped my mouth a few times before managing to get sound out. “N-no one sent us. We came ourselves . . . and we really do need your help . . .”
News pulled a sawn-off shotgun out of practically nowhere, propping it against his hip. “Get out. You’ve got twenty seconds, then you’re gonna start having real bad luck.”
I cursed, slapping my hands on top of my head immediately. Cardboard squeaked.
“Hold it, hold it . . .” Roy dropped his cake in his lap and held up his hands. “This isn’t gang anything, News. I promise.”
Bad News gave him an unconvinced look.
“It’s a worthy cause,” Roy insisted. “Cross my heart.”
The shotgun started to come up again.
“Pinky promise! Scout’s honor!”
News stopped and narrowed his eyes, still looking skeptical.
“Just . . . for God’s sake . . . hear us out at least,” I put in. My knees shook and I was glad I was sitting down.
We were scrutinized for another minute before Bad News finally set the gun back down, keeping it within reach. “One chance.”
A relieved smile broke onto Roy’s face. “Okay, so you’ve heard about that bombing yesterday, right?”
“Well, you see, I’ve had this friend for a while now.” Roy shifted forwards in his seat. “Great guy. Has a great family. Helped me out a good few times when I’m broken down on the side of the road and all. We race every now and then. Anyway, his name’s Wolfgang Dankworth.”
Bad News’s serious, cold demeanor broke for a second and he spluttered out a laugh. “You’re yanking my chain.”
Roy shook his head. “Dead serious. Wolfgang Dankworth.”
“Nobody could have a name like . . . like that . . .” News looked to try and get it back under control, but let out another guffaw. “His parents must be loopy . . .”
“Says the man named ‘Bad News’,” I muttered.
Bad News held his laughter back. “Baden, actually. Most people just call me Bad. Point taken, though.” He nodded to Roy, pulling his serious expression back into place. “Continue.”
Roy glanced over in my direction before continuing. “So, they’re still tallying all the dead from the explosion over there. Over a hundred, so far. But Wolf works out of town and was just coming in for the weekend to spend with his family. He didn’t get back before . . . the bomb blew. Right in his town.”
“Hm.” News grunted, but I saw a bit of sympathy in his eyes.
I swallowed, taking the narrative from Roy. “They wouldn’t even let him in to look for his folks. Had a big police line right at the entrance to town and were tasing people who tried to get in. He and I . . . managed to sneak past the barricade to look for . . . for his family.”
Bad News nodded, watching us. “You find ‘em?”
I tightened my lips. “Y-yes and no. By the time we got there . . . they were dead. All of them . . . his whole family.” Keeping my mind from Eli and keeping myself from crying took real effort.
“What about that hero dude?” News frowned. “Fantastic . . . no . . . Amazing Man? Wasn’t he supposed to . . .?”
“He was,” the words came out a bit harder than I expected. “Didn’t make it in time though. He was too busy with his bloody parade.”
“Well that’s crap,” Bad News’s frown deepened. “Some superhero he is.”
Roy nodded in agreement. “And you know what they did to ‘im?”
Quiet for a second. Bad News shook his head. “ . . . gave him . . . life insurance?”
“Shot him and threw him in jail for trying to give Amazing Man a piece of his mind, that’s what they did,” I finished. “They absolutely destroyed his life. He has nothing left.”
Roy snorted. “God bless America, huh?”
Bad News was silent. His face didn’t show much, but I saw we’d struck a chord. Awakened some sort of instinct for justice and protection. He pushed his hat back on his head and gave his tie a thoughtful tug, biting his lip.
Would it be enough? Was he with us? Or were we getting thrown out into the alley?
I held my breath, sitting on my hands so I wouldn’t bite my nails. We needed this guy. We needed him so bad. There was no way we were getting the justice we needed without him on our side.
Another minute of thought and Bad News nodded slowly. He sat up straighter in his seat and met each of our eyes in turn.
“That’s a worthy enough cause. This . . . Dankworth guy . . . sounds like he needs someone to watch after him. I mean, loosing your family like that . . .” he shook his head. “Not cool, man. Stupendous Man . . .”
“Right, Amazing Man. He needs a good smack upside the head about all this.” Bad News gave a firm nod, then smiled at me. “I’m game. Retirement was getting old anyway.”
Roy let out a whoop. “You’re awesome, dude.” He held up his hand for a high five, “Just let ‘em try and stop us now.”
I just sat back, letting out my breath. A sick feeling started in the pit of my stomach and I winced.
News high-fived Roy. He stood, pulling his sunglasses back down over his eyes and starting to move towards the fridge. “An ice-cream-toast to our success . . . on me.”
Someone’d better warn the world that Bad News was coming.
Hope you guys liked finding out a bit more of the behind-the-scenes workings of the story!
More scenes next week and a review of the Flash TV show hopefully sooner than that.
And until then…
Over and out,