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Generations of Strangers


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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

56

 

1958-Bubba Smith smiled when he heard the airboat coming back to the hummock of land the cabin sat on. He looked out the window. His boss waved on the chair of the flat boat.

 

Smith checked his watch. The boss was a day early like he had thought would happen.

 

The second in command nodded at the men. They had worked on weapons and suits to be ready for whatever score they were supposed to take down. Everything was loaded in cases and ready to go.

 

They wouldn't look like swamp rats when they did the job which would make it harder for the authorities to narrow down their escape route when the dragnet was thrown out over the city.

 

And that was what Keys wanted.

 

He loved to hit the places and make the cops look foolish, but he didn't want to make it too easy for them to find his hideout.

 

The airboat drifted into the crude dock. Keys jumped out and tied the craft to the small pier. He started up to the cabin as the men stepped out to watch.

 

They all had money from the jobs they had done, but none of them dared suggest they should stop. Anyone who did would be the next one to catch a bullet from the Bunny.

 

"Is everything ready?" Keys looked around for his lieutenant.

 

"Yep." Smith stood in the door, behind the rest of the gang. "Everything's packed. We just have to motor back into the city."

 

"We'll start tonight and use the lot next to the grocery store like last time." Keys smiled. "We're going to hit a bunch of places at once so you guys are going to have to be sharp."

 

Smith hid his own excitement as well as he could. The more jobs they pulled meant a better chance for him to get away from the gang and start his own racket.

 

He would have to think of some way to slip away from the gang during the job.

 

"Everybody, divide up into four groups." Keys waved his hand. "That's who you will be doing your job with when the time comes."

 

The men broke apart and started seeing who wanted to work with the others. Most of the men had different skills, and the two good getaway drivers were in high demand.

 

"Bubba, Jimmy Lee, and Mike." Keys gestured for the three men to follow him outside.

 

The Bunny walked over to a small sand pit on the edge of the water. A set of logs acted as a dam to keep the sand from drifting away.

 

"This is how this is going to work." Keys picked up a twig out of the water and knelt down by the sand. He drew a rough map in the yellow dirt in a few minutes. He smiled when he was done. "There are four places with a lot of cash and valuables open the day after tomorrow. We're going to hit all of them at the same time."

 

"This is the grocery store we used the last job." He indicated the rally point. "The four targets are two banks, a jewelry store, and an auction house."

 

"Jimmy Lee and Mike gets the banks." He indicated two squares down the street from the grocery store. "I'm taking the jewelry store. Bubba takes the auction house."

 

"There won't be any cash at all at the auction house." Smith frowned. Most people sent checks to those places to pay for what was bid on. You couldn't spend a check.

 

"That's why I'm sending you." Keys smiled. "I want you to clean the place out."

 

Bubba thought about the location on the crude map and how much he was going to have to go through to show he was on the job while he was doing his own plan.

 

He might be able to grab some loot from the auction house before he broke with his gang.

 

"We're hitting these places at the same time." Keys checked his watch. He shook his arm. Then he smiled at it. "We're going to go at four, so we're going to be at the grocery store by one. I'll have the rest of the plan ready when we get there."

 

"What about Sue?" Jimmy Lee scratched his head. "She's been sick the last couple of days."

 

"How bad?" Keys glared at the three men. Jimmy Lee stepped back.

 

"She threw up in the morning while you were gone." Smith crossed his arms. "I asked her if she wanted to see a doctor. She said no."

 

"I'll talk to her." Keys glared at the three men. "You three pick the groups you want and start them moving into town."

 

The three lieutenants headed back to the cabin. Bubba walked last. At least they weren't going to put the jobs off because Sue was throwing up all the time.

 

He hoped whatever she had wasn't contagious. He wanted to be in top shape for his escape.

 

Jimmy Lee and Mike had already picked their guys by the time he reached the cabin. He waved at a third group. He tried not to listen to Keys and Sue talking at the back of the place. Now he had to start ferrying men out of the swamp to the city.

 

Despite what the Bunny had said, they would have to get started right then if they wanted to have everyone ready to move the next day. They only had the one boat.

 

"Take some of your crew in, Mike." Bubba gestured for the boat. "We'll start running everyone into the city now so we don't have to work through the night. Send the boat back, and we'll send the next batch. We'll run the relay until we're set."

 

"Got it." Mike pointed out five of his men. "Get your stuff."

 

The squad went out to the boat with suits and guns. One of them got the controls. He would be the one coming back for the next group.

 

"Make sure you get undercover until tomorrow." Bubba nodded at Mike to get started.

 

The hours passed slowly. The crowd diminished until Bubba saw that he was ready to ride. Keys' group was on its own until the boss and his girlfriend worked out whatever they were talking about away from everyone else.

 

He got on the boat and his pilot took the last group to the edge of the swamp. The sun was nearly down. That meant Keys would have to bring his men across in the dark.

 

Bubba hoped the Bunny fell overboard to feed the gators. That would make things easier from his perspective.

 

He wouldn't even have to worry about the gang if Keys fed the local wildlife. They would go back and get their swag and go their separate ways.

 

The airboat landed on the dock. The men jumped off on dry land. Jimmy Lee and Mike had already taken their guys to ground until the next day. He should do the same.

 

Bubba climbed up in the pilot's chair after the last of his group reached the dirt road. He might as well start ferrying Keys's men to the road since he knew the swamp at night as well as day.

 

"Get us some cars." Smith used his hands as a megaphone. "I'll get everyone else across while you're doing that. Then we'll find a place we can hold up until tomorrow."

 

The nearest man raised a hand in an okay. They started down the road toward one of the houses that the gang used to park their vehicles.

 

Smith turned the airboat and headed back across the swamp. He kept an eye out for things in the water his craft might hit. He saw the cabin and pulled up to the dock. Someone had thought to put a small light out at the end of the pier so he could see.

 

Bubba held the boat in position as part of the last group came out and boarded. He turned the boat and headed back to the other side. He would need to put some more fuel in the engine sooner or later. They had been working the boat pretty hard.

 

They should have gotten two, but they hadn't wanted to attract any more attention than necessary.

 

One boat had worked well so far, but Keys had never wanted to hit four places at the same time. They had usually only had half the men on a job at one time. The rest would wait and listen on the radio for news of an arrest, or escape.

 

The men waiting would have been stuck if a job didn't work out right.

 

Smith finished ferrying the men across. Keys rode on the last trip, girlfriend at his side. He was talking to her, but the words flew away in the wind to anyone else who might be trying to listen.

 

Hopefully Sue wasn't going to get in the way of his leaving.

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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

57

 

1958-Bunny's marauders assembled at the meeting place at the ordered time. The men had changed into their working clothes and carried their weapons in their cases. They looked more like an orchestra getting together for a concert than a band of bandits.

 

The Bunny smiled. He held his long-eared mask under an arm. Everyone needed to know that he was doing the robbing.

 

"Jimmy Lee and Mike." He crooked his finger for them to come up.

 

He spread out a map on the trunk of a car. He showed them the fastest routes back to the garage for their vehicles. They should hit the places and roll south without leading the police to the hideout. Jimmy Lee made notes so he wouldn't get lost. Mike nodded.

 

They had been on runs before and knew how to do things.

 

The only thing that stood in their way was bad luck.

 

They led their groups to their cars and drove off. They had three hours to get into position. That would let them look at anything that might be wrong with the set-up before they started doing their jobs.

 

They wouldn't want to run into cops while they were clearing the place out.

 

"Bubba." Bunny pulled out some pictures to show his lieutenant.

 

Bubba looked at the city map. His target had been circled in red ink. He frowned that it was further away from the safety of the swamp than he wanted.

 

"This is what the place looks like." Bunny handed over the pictures. "They are holding an auction today. I want you clean everyone out."

 

Bubba looked at the pictures. The building was one of those square white bricks common in Miami. He saw a few windows, but only two exits. That would make things easier.

 

Smith checked his watch.

 

"We'll have to leave anything big behind." He looked at the parking lot. "We don't have a truck to haul off what we can't carry."

 

"That's fine." Bunny smiled. "Anything really big will be too hard to fence."

 

Smith nodded. The Greek had been their only real connection into the black market. The other fences they knew couldn't handle anything too valuable.

 

"Meet back at the hideout as soon as you're done." Keys nodded to himself. "This will go down in history as the biggest robbery Miami has ever seen."

 

"I'll see you there." Smith took the pictures and headed back to his group. He studied them, but was really thinking how to turn things to his advantage. The last thing he wanted to do was return to base after he was done.

 

Something this big was going to attract all kinds of the wrong attention from all over the country. That's what got all the old time bank robbers crushed back in the twenties and thirties. He didn't want to be around to see what the government did to put a stop to Keys and his gang.

 

Still he could hit the auction house and get away before anyone knew what was going on. He knew a lot of things could go wrong, and he didn't want to have the sky fall down on him while he was trying to get out of the state.

 

Bubba got in the passenger side of his first car. His men got in around him as he thought about what he should be doing next to stay out of trouble.

 

The job itself was simple enough. He had done the same thing many more times than this previously. Four hits would have the police running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

 

If things went wrong, everyone would be in jail by the time the sun went down.

 

He wanted to have a bag of loot and a car heading out of Dade County before anything like that happened.

 

He wanted to be away from Bunny Keys before he got a bunch of guys killed chasing glory.

 

Bubba looked up from the pictures as his car turned on the street heading to the Cristos Auctions building. He looked at the addresses as they ran lower toward the one they were going to rob.

 

"Drive pass so we can scope it out." He put the pictures away.

 

His driver nodded as he kept the car moving at the speed limit. Any slower and anyone watching would know they were casing the place. Any faster and they would miss important details.

 

Bubba turned his attention on the neighborhood. He didn't see any guards sitting out front, lurkers in cars, or many pedestrians. He supposed that time of day, people were trying to get home, hitting the bars, or generally doing anything to take them away from the street while the night took over.

 

The place looked like a pushover from their drive-by. Maybe the Bunny had been wrong about anything valuable inside the white brick building.

 

"Pull over in the next parking lot you see." Smith had already decided they would do a lightning raid to clean the place out before there was an alarm.

 

And it was the tactic the men knew well and used most of the time.

 

They found men standing beside limos at the next lot. The drivers smoked while talking about their charges. Some gave the two cars a glance as they pulled into the lot.

 

"Take them." Smith jumped out of the lead vehicle, pistol in hand. He pointed his weapon at the drivers as he ran forward. His men followed as fast as they could. The chauffeurs raised their hands at the sudden assault.

 

"Clothes." Smith pulled the hammer back on his pistol when he didn't have immediate compliance. "Which one of you do I have to shoot first?"

 

The men began to discard their uniforms. They glared at the overwhelming force pointed at them, but said nothing.

 

"Tie them up and dump them into the trunks of these cars." Smith raised his pistol off target. At least he hadn't been forced to shoot someone before they started their robbery.

 

His men moved ruthlessly, using belts to bind the chauffeurs. They used ties for gags. Keys were found and the men were dumped in the opened trunks. Down slammed the lids.

 

"We're going to go ahead with the job." Smith put the pistol away. "Gamey, take your car and head around to the back. Cut the phone lines while you're back there. We'll hit the doors in ten minutes."

 

The other car's squad piled in and drove off while Bubba took his seat in the first car. His men joined him after a moment. Andrews fired the car up and they drove back to the front of the white building.

 

Bubba kept an eye on his watch as the car rolled to a stop. He got out when there was a minute left. His men, except for Andrews, followed. If the job went bad, Andrews got to drive away while the rest of them hung.

 

Smith checked the door and found it unlocked. He pushed the door open. His men fanned out to cover the lobby with firepower. Bubba pointed at the receptionist and beckoned her to get up from behind her desk. One of the men helped her roughly to her feet.

 

"No alarm button." He pushed her to a seat out of the way.

 

"Keep quiet and keep still and nothing will happen to you." Bubba gestured for the inner doors to be opened.

 

Men pushed the doors in and rushed the room beyond. They pointed weapons at everyone. The audience started to murmur at the sight. Smith stepped down the aisle between the two sets of seats. He looked the crowd over for troublemakers.

 

"Nobody move, and nobody will be hurt." Bubba shook his head at one man starting to get to his feet. "Don't make me shoot you."

 

The man sat back down.

 

"Pass your valuables down to the end of the row. My men will collect them." Bubba looked up at the appearance of Gamey from a door in the back of the room. He walked over to talk to his subordinate.

 

"There's a ton of stuff on the shelves back there." Gamey gestured with a thumb. "We'd need a truck to haul it off."

 

"Let's see what we got." Smith and Gamey walked back the holding area. There were many valuable things, but few of them would be easy to sell. "Anybody else back here?"

 

"Everybody is in the office." Gamey pointed to where one of his men guarded a closed room. "I pulled the phone out to make sure they couldn't call anybody."

 

"Bring me one of the haul bags. We'll fill that and leave the rest." Smith started walking the shelves, looking at the pieces that were up for auction. One of his crew followed behind him with an open canvas bag. Small jewelry pieces were placed in the bag as they walked.

 

The stones could be sold to be recut, and the gold and other precious metals could be melted down.

 

"All right." Smith looked in the half-filled bag. "We're done here. Let's go."

 

Gamey nodded to his guard on the office door. The man pushed a rack in front of the door and used some twine to tie the rack to the door's knob to make it harder to open for those inside the room. He joined the rest on the way out the back door.

 

Smith went back to the front where the buyers and other staff waited silently. He waved his men out ahead of him.

 

"Thank you for your cooperation." He left the building, getting into the car as Andrews started pulling away from the curb.

 

The job had gone perfectly. Bubba hid his disappointment behind a veneer of caution. They still might run into the cops and he could make his break.

 

The men talked about what they wanted to do with their share of the loot when they finally got leave to spend their money. They didn't seem to realize the Bunny was having too much fun to let them have some freedom where they might give everything away.

 

He might kill them just to keep them from talking.

 

The cars wandered back through town. Smith noted that Gamey used side streets running parallel to the ones Andrews picked so they both wouldn't be taken at the same time. He approved of that.

 

"How do you think the rest did?" Andrews turned on the road heading back to the hidden garage they used for the cars.

 

"We'll know soon enough." Smith watched the mirrors. "I doubt anything went wrong. We've been doing this for too long."

 

Smith reflected it was a miracle they could rob anyone in Miami anymore.

 

Sooner or later, someone was going to catch up to them.

 

He hoped it wasn't before he got free of the gang.

 

He didn't want to run up against Nightmare, Doc Shadow, Adam Blake, or any of the other mystery men roaming the country.

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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

58

 

1958-Bubba waited by the pier after his group was all back at their hideout. It had taken a little bit of time, but the ride back had gone as smooth as everything else so far. He hoped that the Bunny had run into someone with a gun and that was the end of him.

 

He had hoped his own job would give him some chance to run, but his men had known what to do the whole time.

 

He should have expected that. They had been robbing places in Miami for a while. The men had become machines.

 

He couldn't shoot them all so he could run.

 

Jimmy Lee's guys started drifting in as the sun went down. Jimmy Lee was on the last boat across. His last guy took the boat back for the next crew. The loot was dropped on the table they used to work out shares.

 

The Bunny would take of that when he got back. Anyone else who tried that would be shot.

 

"Any word on the others?" Jimmy Lee lit up a cigarette as he and Smith watched the long grass sway.

 

"Not yet." Smith frowned. "They might have had to go to ground in the city. These scores will have stirred up a hornet's nest."

 

"We didn't see anything while we were heading back to the garage." The other lieutenant shrugged. "Maybe they had some bad luck."

 

"Maybe Bunny stayed to attract some attention." Smith knew from his expression that Jimmy Lee thought the same thing.

 

"I hope not." Jimmy Lee threw the stub out in the water. "We have a good thing going. We don't need him causing more problems than necessary."

 

"I'll let you tell him that." Smith knew that very few people crossed the Bunny and lived. He was still looking for Rory Hobson for what happened in stir all those years ago. The man had vanished from the face of the Earth.

 

"I'll pass." Jimmy Lee looked at the cabin. If anyone told the Bunny what he had said, there might be problems. Keys didn't take criticism well.

 

"We're stuck here without a boat." Smith shrugged. "There's nothing we can do about any problems from here. The only thing we can do is wait and hope they didn't have a lot of trouble getting out of the city."

 

"How long do we wait before we swim for it?" The other lieutenant looked out in the night.

 

"It might take a while for everyone to get back." Bubba didn't want to try to build a raft and pole through the gators to solid land. "Let's give them a couple of days before we do anything we'll regret."

 

"I hear you." Jimmy Lee smiled before lighting up another cigarette. "I wonder when we're going to move from here. Knocking places over is great, but eventually something bad is going to happen to mess it up."

 

"I know." Smith nodded. "I'll talk to the Bunny when he gets back. Maybe I can get him to set up somewhere else for a while. The last thing we need is everyone getting cabin fever and start losing their edges."

 

Jimmy Lee nodded and headed to the cabin. He doubted the Bunny would agree to that. Once the men separated, they would be easy pickings for anyone who knew who they were.

 

And everyone knew who the Bunny was thanks to his grandstanding and stupid trademark mask.

 

Everyone expected the cops to show up and take them away eventually. The amount of damage they were doing was up there with the old time villains the Feds turned into Swiss cheese back in the old days.

 

Eventually Hoover's boys would put things together no matter how careful they were, and Keys wasn't that careful to begin with.

 

Smith looked out on the dark water. He had to get away before the axe came down.

 

He shook his head. He couldn't do anything until the boat stopped ferrying men to the island in the swamp. Then he would have to think of some way to borrow it and not come back.

 

He couldn't come up with a scheme that would get him close to that. Keys trusted him to carry out jobs, but not to case the thing all the way on his own. The museum job had been his last chance to shine. And the Greek had ruined any chance for him to plan another one.

 

At least he still had the two jewels from that robbery. They were emergency money waiting to be used if he could get back to civilization and flee the state.

 

How long did they have before their luck ran out completely?

 

Smith saw a light in the distance. He nodded. The first of Mike's men were coming in. He recognized the wide lieutenant as he sat in the control chair of the boat.

 

"It's about time." Smith looked at the men. Some of them had bloody clothes. "What happened?"

 

"There was a shoot out." Mike killed the engine as one of his men jumped on the pier to tie the boat off. "The cops were waiting on us when we left the bank. We had to leave some of our guys."

 

"Did anyone follow you?" Smith frowned. This could be really bad.

 

"I hope not." Mike wiped the sweat off his brow. "We sprayed bullets like water busting out of there."

 

Smith examined the boat and saw that it looked in working order. He would have to get the men moving to another location. He didn't plan to be trapped in the swamp if the law knew where he was.

 

"What about the rest of your guys?" He needed to know if he had to send a boat back to get them. It would be better if they stayed with the cars.

 

"This is it." Mike waved at the small force standing on the pier. "Everyone else got shot, or cuffed."

 

"This is bad, Mike." Smith knew Keys was going to go through the roof at losing an eighth of his gang. Mike was a walking dead man. "The boss will not be happy."

 

"I know." Mike looked around. "We should have kept going, but the roads are crawling with cops. We barely got to the garage without being stopped."

 

"You guys go inside and have a beer and something to eat." Smith thought hard. "Someone needs to take the boat back and wait for the boss. I guess that will be me. Don't worry. I'll smooth things over before I bring the boss back."

 

Bubba watched them walk down the pier to the cabin. Mike's shoulders slumped at the prospect of a short future.

 

Smith untied the boat and got behind the controls. He fired up the fan and spotlight and pulled away from the dock. This might be just the chance he needed to get loose.

 

He just had to get to a car before Keys showed up at the garage. Then he could just drive away. No one would know what happened to him. Only Keys would care.

 

And he planned to put miles between him and Keys as fast as possible.

 

And if Keys was there when he got there, he could act like he had been there to pick up the rest of the gang.

 

He couldn't miss unless something worse than what he expected happened when he did reach the meeting point.

 

If he did run into the Bunny, he would have to explain about Mike's near capture. That wouldn't be good.

 

Mike was as good as shot when Keys found out what happened.

 

The best Smith could hope to accomplish was to try and get it where the Bunny agreed Mike couldn't know that the cops would show up and try to keep him locked in the bank. Busting out had to be done if they wanted to escape jail time.

 

It might be enough to save Mike's life. They wouldn't break camp over that unless the law came too close for comfort. Even then, Keys might prefer to fight it out instead of surrendering.

 

Smith preferred not being in the vicinity of such a thing.

 

He saw the landing by the road and slowed the boat to a crawl. He didn't see anything moving in the long grass next to the dirt passage. He might have beat the Bunny to the spot.

 

He might be able to clear out without a problem.

 

He landed the boat and tied it off. He didn't see a guard. One of the men Mike brought back should have stayed until everyone was back home. It was better this way for him.

 

He went to where the cars waited. He took one of the gas cans they left with the vehicles and filled the chosen auto as much as he could. He avoided looking at the car that Mike had been driving. It had bullet holes and blood to show that it would have to be junked before the gang could use it again.

 

It was a wonder that Mike had been able to make it back to the hidden motor pool at all. He and the rest of his men should be dead from the looks of things. That was some kind of luck depending on how you looked at it.

 

Bubba got behind the wheel of his choice. He had his hand on the key when he heard other cars coming down the road. He ducked down and watched.

 

This could be the Bunny, and the end of his escape attempt.

 

He waited as the glare of the headlights cut off. He closed his eyes and waited for them to adjust to darkness again.

 

No matter how he looked, he was in the middle of a mess if he couldn't explain why he was about to leave without anyone riding with him.

 

He might have to shoot his boss right there on the side of the road. The rest of the men would shoot him back before he could get away from there. He couldn't shoot them all with his pistol without expecting some return fire.

 

He decided to try to talk his way out. He hadn't started the car yet. He could say he was on guard for the rest of the men to come back.

 

Bubba saw the men stagger from the lead car. Then the other car started emptying. One long-eared silhouette stood out from the rest. It barked orders at the men to conceal their presence.

 

"Bunny!" Smith had his hand on his pistol in case he was wrong.

 

"Bubba?" The masked man looked at his minion. "What are you doing here?"

 

"Mike just got back." Bubba decided to stick to the truth as much as possible. "He walked into an ambush at that bank you sent him to rob. He lost one car of men fighting his way out."

 

"They're back at the hideout?" Keys looked down the road.

 

"Yeah." Smith pointed at the boat tied to the road. "I came back with the boat."

 

"We're arranging an ambush." Keys went to cover off the side of the road. "As soon as the fighting is over, we're going to take the cars and hide them somewhere else. We're going to have to move our operations somewhere else."

 

Bubba watched the road. What could have made the Bunny decide to run? Did he want to run into that force in the dark, when they should be driving away? Who were they going to be shooting at when things were said and done?

 

What had Keys done while robbing the jewelry store he had selected?

 

Did Bubba want to know?

 

Sirens sounded in the distance. Police cars roared down the road toward where the men waited. The men tensed.

 

Bubba saw what Keys planned. He realized the battle would turn all of them into marked men. The police wouldn't try to arrest them if the ambush went off as planned. They would be hunted down like animals and shot on sight.

 

How could he get clear before things got worse?

 

Bubba knew that he would carry out the shooting. He had no choice since Keys had turned things into kill or be killed.

 

The police cars rolled into the trap without noticing men on the sides of the road. The bandits could have let them pass and try to sneak away. Instead Keys opened fire on the lead vehicle as it passed him. The rest of the men opened fire at his first shots. The cars sprouted holes up and down their metal bodies as the outlaws did their bloody work.

 

Bubba didn't fire his pistol. He stood back and watched the butchering. The gang had moved from a public menace into mad dogs.

 

The Bunny laughed when the shooting was done.

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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

59

 

1958-Bubba looked at the carnage on the swamp road. He shook his head. He couldn't believe it.

 

The Bunny had lured a convoy of cops down into the swamp and wiped them out. Every cop and Fed in Florida would be looking for them now. Other bandits and villains would be given a pass until the Keys Gang was wiped out.

 

This was a disaster as far he was concerned.

 

And there the Bunny stood laughing at his victory.

 

Smith didn't see anything funny about the spot they were in.

 

"We won't have time to ferry the others back here so they can get away." Bubba still held his pistol in his hand. "The cops will comb the swamp to find us thanks to this."

 

"What does that matter?" Keys turned sharp eyes on his lieutenant. Flames reflected in them. "We'll still be free and they won't know where we went."

 

"You're going to leave the others behind?" Smith felt the anger boiling under his skin. It was quickly outstripping the fear he felt of his boss.

 

Normally he would have exercised caution knowing the Bunny's temper. His anger burned most of that away, and it lapped at the remainder while he waited for the answer to his question.

 

"We can't take them with us." The gang boss shook his head. "We don't have the time to ferry back and forth. The cops will be here too soon."

 

"We can take them the boat and let them head out the other side of the swamp." Smith pointed at the horizon. "It will get them some time. Everyone was waiting on you to get back so we could divide the loot. No one thought you would bring half the police force to our steps."

 

"What are you saying exactly?" Keys crossed his arms. One bunny ear flapped over the back of his mask.

 

"I'm saying you screwed up." Bubba glared at the other man. "You wrecked the gang with your stupidity. You killed the rest of the guys waiting on you to get back. The police will wipe them out if we don't warn them."

 

"I don't see how that's my problem." Keys made a finger flip. "They're expendable."

 

"I don't think so." Bubba raised his pistol. He was done taking orders from this nut. It was time he went his own way.

 

Pain erupted the bandit's back. He fell, still trying to shoot his boss. His finger wouldn't close on the trigger as he wondered what had happened to him. One more stabbing pain erupted in his chest.

 

Keys stepped into view while Smith struggled to breathe. He took his former henchman's pistol and tucked it into his belt. The bunny mask looked like it was smiling.

 

"I'm the boss." Keys kicked his fallen friend. "You don't tell me nothing. I tell you."

 

He kicked Smith again to emphasize his point.

 

"Load this dummy into that shot up car." He pointed at the getaway car Mike's men had driven into the swamp. "It'll look like we lost some of our men here. Turn the airboat on and point it into the swamp. That'll get rid of it."

 

Keys nodded as his instructions were carried out. It was too bad about everyone else and the loot they had stockpiled at the cabin, but those were the breaks. He glanced back at the city. No one seemed to be on the road into the swamp as far as he could see.

 

He planned to be in the next state while his men took all the heat at the cabin if they were found out. The island would keep them in until they got desperate enough to do something. By then, the authorities would have rounded them up.

 

"Everybody, mount up." Keys went to the lead car. "We're heading out before the cops get here."

 

The Bunny drove down the swamp road away from the carnage. His men followed in two other cars, one of which was from the hidden garage.

 

The police cars burned behind them to mark the way for any other pursuers.

 

Smith sat behind the wheel of Mike's riddled car. He stared out at the swamp. The police arrived and found him an hour later. They swarmed around the burned out wrecks that remained of their comrades. He didn't hear what they said as they surveyed the scene.

 

They took a picture of him behind the wheel. And then they left one guard to hold the scene while they followed the road.

 

The guard watched the swamp as he smoked a cigarette. He doubted the convoy would catch up with Keys, but they wanted to deal with him for good.

 

Smith straightened behind the wheel of Mike's car. He looked around. He remembered he had been shot. He looked down. The bullet hole in his chest was a closed pucker from where the slug had entered his body.

 

He listened. He couldn't hear his heartbeat. He felt his neck around his jaw bone. He didn't feel anything.

 

He couldn't be dead and still moving. He didn't care if he was sitting in a pool of his own blood.

 

Where had Keys gone?

 

Smith looked around. He needed a car if he wanted to catch up to his enemy. He doubted Mike's would do. It had been pure luck that it had lasted as long as it had to make the garage.

 

He needed a new car if he wanted to catch up with his killer. He decided that he could take the lone police car he saw parked on the side of the dirt road.

 

He doubted the policeman on guard would mind.

 

Bubba got out of the wrecked car. He felt cold, but put it out of his mind. He had a mission to carry out.

 

The policeman turned at the sound of the door opening. He reached for his pistol when he saw the dead man walking toward him.

 

"Pull that gun and you're going to get hurt." Smith glared at the man with empty eyes. A film already covered them from the time he had spent waiting to come back to life. "All I want is the car."

 

"Why?" The policeman halted drawing his weapon. He wasn't sure that it would work, and he didn't want to chance that it wouldn't.

 

"Because I have unfinished business, boy." Bubba took off his jacket and threw it in the grass. "Let me have the car."

 

"The key is in it." The policeman stepped back from the specter.

 

Bubba went to the police car. He nodded at the key inside the ignition. He got in.

 

"You might want to not come back in here after this." Bubba turned the engine over. He smiled at the roar of it.

 

Bubba drove out on the water. The grass supported the weight of the car as he headed for the hideout. He made sure to cut the bubble lights on top of the car off. He didn't want the men to panic before they saw him.

 

The way he looked would be bad enough.

 

He drove across the swamp at high speed. The grass and water solidified under the weight of the car for as long as it touched a particular piece of area. It was faster than the airboat as far as his speedometer could tell.

 

He spotted the island up ahead. He felt the men wandering around on it. He knew they wouldn't like what he had become. He didn't like what he had become.

 

He drove up to the front of the cabin. Men poked weapons out of the windows at his car. He got out of the car and started walking toward the cabin.

 

Jimmy Lee opened the door. He pointed a surplus automatic rifle stolen from the National Guard. He squinted at the bloody man walking toward him.

 

"Bubba?" He didn't drop the end of the rifle off target.

 

"Get everybody together." Bubba waved his hand. "Keys sold everyone out."

 

Jimmy Lee retreated from the dead man, but didn't quit pointing his gun at his former friend.

 

"What happened to you?" One of the men winced at the blood covering Smith as he went to his bag.

 

"Got shot, dummy." Bubba threw his riddled shirt to the floor and pulled on a new one. "Keys left you here for the police to find. He had a shootout with them at the garage. Killed a bunch of cops. He isn't coming back for you."

 

"How do you know this, Bub?" Mike had his pistol in hand, but he wasn't pointing it at his comrade.

 

"Who do you think shot me?" Smith pulled on a jacket and a battered fedora stolen from a couple of the men who weren't coming back. "Get your belongings and the loot. I am going to do this one last favor for you boys. After that, you're on your own."

 

"What about Keys?" Jimmy Lee dropped the end of the rifle down. "How do we get even with him?"

 

"I'm going to do that next after I help you guys." Bubba brushed the blood off his pants. "Let's go."

 

The men hastily gathered up everything they could carry. Jimmy Lee and Mike grabbed the sacks of loot and shouldered them out of the cabin. Bubba went to the police car and got behind the wheel.

 

"Keep hold of the car and I will carry you across to the other side of the swamp away from Miami." He shouted to be heard. "After that, you are on your own. Don't look back."

 

Bubba started the car. He drove out on the water. Part of the island followed like a raft. He aimed for the side of the swamp away from the city and gunned it. He smiled as the auto roared through the wildlands.

 

He should be done in an hour at the most.

 

Bubba didn't know why he was still moving around. He didn't care. He had one thing to do after making sure his former comrades were moving away from the dragnet.

 

He was going to find Bunny Keys and kill him.

 

Smith made no apology for being a thief. He had killed people on top of that. He had never left anyone he worked with in the lurch. And to have his boss shoot him on top of that. His anger was ice in his veins.

 

Keys would never make it out of the swamp.

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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

60

 

1958-Smith watched as Jimmy Lee and the rest of the gang disappeared down the road. They would procure cars and move out of the state. Every lawman in the country would be looking for them after what the Evil Bunny had done.

 

You didn't kill cops unless you were ready to go to war for the rest of your short life.

 

Smith turned his car around and headed back into the swamp. He had a chore to take care of before the sun came up.

 

Bunny Keys had to die before the sun peeked on the wet lands. His continued living had become a thorn in the side of the dead man.

 

Smith felt the living things moving away from his car as he drove. He didn't blame the animals for that. A fast rolling car could injure and kill all but the biggest of them. They didn't know that he was one of them now.

 

He could never go back into the city after coming back from the dead. People would do whatever they could to get rid of him. He had no illusions that he would be able to fit in and hide his condition. And he doubted a cure existed for him.

 

He wondered if that was how Lazarus had felt when he had been summoned back from the hereafter.

 

Bubba listened to the swamp as he drove over the water. Cars were moving fast to the north of where he was. He turned and drove in a straight line. He didn't know if that was the rest of the gang fleeing from Dade County, but he had to cross them off.

 

The swamp had its share of humans roaming it. He had to make sure that the man he was looking for wasn't roaming the dirt roads in and out of the wilderness. Once he had done that, he could narrow down his search area.

 

He wanted to catch his enemy before he had to patrol the borders of the preserve. If that happened, he had lost his chance to catch the man. He didn't want to lose his revenge.

 

He didn't know how long he could exist as a walking corpse. He didn't want to start breaking down before he saw Keys again. He definitely didn't want the man escaping his betrayal of his men.

 

Keys would live it up and believe that he was invincible if he got away.

 

Bubba crossed one of the roads and turned on it. He followed it along at high speed. The night was as clear as day to his altered eyes. He didn't worry about the change as he looked for a way to cut through to the other road to get at the convoy fleeing along it.

 

He smiled when he saw lights dancing among the tall grass.

 

He yanked the wheel hard. The car missed a spindly bush, and a tree, as it bumped off the dirt and headed across grass and water. He aimed for the lights as they sped west on the curvy road.

 

He jumped an embankment and landed behind the last car. He sped up to catch up with it. He smiled as he turned on the siren.

 

Bullets zipped by him through the smashed windows from the earlier gunfight. Some dug into the seats as he put his foot down on the gas. He didn't care about bullets anymore.

 

The rear car grew as he caught up with it. He slammed into it at full speed. The getaway car swerved on the impact. He drove it off the road, pushing it across the outer edge of a curve.

 

Smith frowned at the smoke coming from the front of his car. He must have broken something in the ram. He needed to hurry before his car quit for good.

 

He poured on the gas but the car was slowing down. The other two cars pulled away from him as he struggled along. He needed another car if he wanted to catch them again.

 

Smith pulled the police car over and jumped out. He ran back to where he had pushed the third car off the road. The men were fighting their way to shore. He sent out a call. He didn't have time to deal with them himself.

 

Alligators floated in silently. They knew a free dinner when they saw it. And the humans were in their waters and didn't know they were swooping in like land sharks.

 

Men disappeared in the dark waters as the reptiles went about their work. Some of them got wise that something was in the water with them. They began shooting wildly to discourage any attack. One reptile floated belly up from a lucky shot to the skull. The rest tore their enemies' legs until they couldn't walk clear. Then they finished the job with triangular teeth.

 

Smith walked to the half-buried car. He willed the swamp to lift it up so the water could run out of it. The gators dispersed with any food they could carry with them as he turned his mind to finishing the rest of the job.

 

He passed the dead gator. He looked at it. He couldn't bring it back to life. He didn't have the power.

 

Fire touched his leg. He reached into his pocket. One of the gems from the museum gleamed in the starlight. He shook his head.

 

What did he know about magic rocks?

 

He placed the jewel in the empty socket and stepped back. If it worked, it worked. He had a car to get on the road before he could worry about a dead gator.

 

The reptile twitched, then righted itself. Its long nose pointed at the dead man as he walked around to the open front door of the vehicle. The back of the car was smashed in but the back wheels looked free to move.

 

He got behind the wheel. He nodded when the engine turned over as soon as he turned the key. He heard a snuffling at his side. The alligator looked up at him.

 

"Get in." He reached around and opened the back door for it. "I don't have all night."

 

The gator climbed into the back seat with a speed that belied its short legs. It huffed as it looked over the front seat.

 

"Settle down." Bubba turned the car to get back on the road. He roared up on the dirt, and relaxed his control of the swamp to concentrate on his driving. "You're dead now."

 

The alligator snuffled again as if it didn't believe him.

 

Bubba shook his head as he pushed the gas pedal all the way down. He had two more cars to catch if he wanted to get revenge on Keys for what he had done.

 

He spotted the taillights ahead and smiled. He could still catch them before they left the swamp. He just had to get ahead of them somehow.

 

He looked around for something he could use to get that advantage. He realized the road formed an S in front of him. He didn't have to stay on it. He could cut across and reach the other side before they did.

 

He smiled as he drove off the road again. He swerved on the water as he roared fullbore down his shortcut. He saw lights coming up on his right. He pressed the gas down harder as he tried to intercept the other cars.

 

He frowned as the first car jetted by as he reached the embankment. He glared at the bunny ears flying out the window as Bunny Keys looked at his new car. He crashed into the second car before he could focus his attention back on his driving. He slammed the car in the door, driving it off the road. It flipped over on its side as it slid down the embankment. The men scrambled from the nearest windows as the wreck settled in the mud.

 

Bubba turned to chase after the lead car as the gator expressed its discontent at the second collision. He slapped its head out of the way.

 

"Nobody asked you to come along." He turned his attention on the fleeing taillights. He had to catch up. His enemy was within reach.

 

Bubba pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor as he focused on catching his enemy. His sense of the land told him the road was straight for the next little bit before it started curving back and forth again. If he could just keep up until he found another hairpin, he could cut across like he did to smash into the other car.

 

He knew that Keys would be looking for the same thing so he could arrange an ambush. He wouldn't run forever from a lone car on his trail. He would turn to fight eventually.

 

That would be Bubba's chance to catch up. Bullets meant little to the dead, and he felt he could put out any fire that might come along.

 

He watched the other car for anything that looked like it was about to stop to let its passengers out. That would be a sign for him to let the gators know they could eat some more.

 

He found he had little regrets about feeding his former comrades to the animals. They shouldn't have allowed Keys to shoot him.

 

The car took a curve. He lost sight of the lights for a moment. He smiled. This was it.

 

"Better get down if you don't want any bullet holes." He pushed the gator down in the floorboard in the back as he kept going. He concentrated on the grass in front of him as he drove.

 

He noted the men waiting for him to drive into the trap. He told the long grass to wrap around them as he looked for Keys. The stems bunched together like rope and dragged the waiting men down. They vanished into the water without firing a shot.

 

Smith smiled.

 

He pulled to a stop and got out of the car. He jogged over to where one of the men had went to a watery grave. He found a repeating rifle. He fired it in the air until it was empty and then he threw it out in the water.

 

He hoped that was enough to fool the Bunny.

 

He was done chasing. He wanted to wait for his enemy to walk into a trap he had prepared. Then he could think about what he was going to do about being dead.

 

What kind of doctor was expert on his condition?

 

Bubba waited by his wrecked car. He doubted anyone could see him in the dark, but he made sure to use the shadows as cover. He didn't want Keys to spook and run. He could chase the man for eternity, but not having a car would make it hard to overcome the headstart the other man would have on him.

 

Lights came back down the road. Smith moved to the back of his car to keep out of their reach. He moved carefully so he didn't attract attention. The car pulled to a stop a fair distance away from the other car. The driver sat there.

 

Where were the men he had left behind?

 

Smith concentrated. The road softened under the weight of the car. It slowly sank up to its doors into the ground. He nodded. The driver wasn't going anywhere now.

 

Bubba walked into the darkness and circled around to the side of the trapped car. He saw the Bunny trying the doors and realizing they wouldn't open. He walked to the driver's side and smashed open the window with his fist. Bullets passed through his body in reply.

 

"You're dead." Bunny pushed back from the door. "I killed you."

 

"Meet my new friend, Keys." Bubba gestured with a hand. "I'm sure you have a lot to talk about."

 

The one-eyed alligator climbed through the window with a swish of its tail.

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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

61

 

1959-Susan Dabney Keys waddled down the hot sidewalk. Pain wrapped around her midsection, but she kept going. She wanted to get home for a warm bath after the day she had just gone through.

 

Who knew cleaning people's houses would be so much of a bother?

 

A sharp stab made her stagger. She held out a hand to keep her balance.

 

A hand wrapped around her arm. She looked up at a lean face and long nose half buried behind a beige scarf. The pale eyes glittered as they looked down on her shorter stature.

 

"Thank you." Sue frowned at the stranger. She pulled her arm out of his grip. "I can manage."

 

"I think perhaps that you should think about going to a hospital." The voice was gentle, but somber. "Your son will be here soon."

 

"I don't need any advice from the likes of you." She took a closer look at the man. She didn't like what she saw.

 

He stood tall and lean in a beige suit to go with the scarf around his chin. A short cape draped over his shoulders, pinned closed by some kind of medallion. His hat and scarf obscured his face unless you stood close enough to look him in the eye.

 

He looked like road dust come to life.

 

"I'm sure you don't." He echoed her waddle with silent steps. "I simply state the facts. You need someone to walk with you until you are ready to accept help."

 

"What's your interest?" Sue brushed her hand across her face.

 

"In what?" He kept pace like a pale shadow.

 

"In me exactly." Sue felt anger bring a flush to her face. Stabbing pain told her that she should try to calm down.

 

"I have no interest in you at all except that you seem to need aid, or at least someone to keep you company for the next few minutes." He smiled at her.

 

"You got a name?" She resigned herself to his company since he didn't seem to take the hint. And the pain was getting worse, instead of better.

 

"I am simply a wayfarer walking from one place to another." He made a gesture to indicate his name wasn't important at all. "Do you need to sit down?"

 

"I want to keep moving." Sue waddled on. "I want to get home so I can get off my feet."

 

"You won't make it." The wayfarer shook his head. A tiny breeze played with the brim of his beige hat. "I judge you won't walk twenty more steps before your son has his way."

 

"Are you a doctor?" She shook her head. "How do you know it's a boy?"

 

"I know things." He held out a hand as she bent double. "I hear things in my travels. It's how I know you are going to die in a few years."

 

"What?" Sue looked at him through the pain. He looked more like a ghost in the Miami daylight. "Who are you?"

 

"I already told you that." The pale man shook his head. "I can only offer you some advice if you would take it."

 

"What kind of advice?" She spotted a bench and staggered to it. She settled on the wooden slats.

 

He remained standing.

 

"Have your son, and leave the city as soon as you can." He raised his hand to hold his hat down against a sudden wind. "Arm yourself with salt and holy water when you arrive wherever you decide to settle. Keep an eye on your son, and be ready."

 

"Be ready for what?" Sue glared at the enigmatic stranger.

 

"You'll know it when you see it, Susan Keys." He pointed behind her. "Just as I am sure you will know a hospital when you see it."

 

She looked over her shoulder. She squinted at the white building standing across a short lawn. She turned to look at her companion. She growled as soon as she saw that he had vanished in the daylight as soon as she took her eyes off him.

 

How the heck had they reached any hospital? It was miles out of the way from her route home to her tiny house. She rubbed her face as she thought.

 

The pain decided for her. She had to get help. She could worry about the rest of her encounter after she made sure her son was here.

 

She decided to keep some table salt near until she was ready to leave the hospital. Forewarned was forearmed.

 

She missed Bunny. He would know what to do.

 

She levered herself to her feet. She had sat out that last raid the gang had pulled. The news had plastered pictures of her Bunny's death car, and recounted most of the jobs he had pulled in the city. Speculation had run rampant about how an alligator had come across him while his car was stuck and chewed him up.

 

None of the gang had come around. She had watched the news avidly. Most of the gang was unaccounted for after the police found the smashed cars in the swamp. No one knew what had happened.

 

She had hoped Bubba Smith would at least have sent some kind of message to let her know what had happened.

 

She waddled to the door of the hospital and pushed inside. She looked around for someone to help her. Maybe she had put things off too long.

 

"Excuse me." She grabbed a nurse by the arm. "I'm having a baby."

 

"Of course you are." The nurse smiled at her.

 

"I'm having the baby now." Sue wanted to punch the smile off her face.

 

"Let me get you to a room." The nurse hurried to get a wheelchair. "Do you have a doctor?"

 

"No." Sue grabbed the arms of the chair as she wheeled into an elevator.

 

"Husband?" The nurse pushed the button to take them up to the maternity floor.

 

"Dead." Sue winced as the elevator shook to a stop.

 

The nurse rolled Sue to her room and helped her out of her coat. She helped Sue change into a backless gown and put the discarded clothes in a pile in a closet. She hurried out to get a doctor.

 

Sue lay on the bed and wondered what her son would look like. Would he be handsome like his father? Would he be charming and daring? Would he understand about his father not being there for him as he grew up?

 

How do you explain to your child that his father was eaten by an alligator after being one of the most successful criminals in Florida?

 

She couldn't quite believe it herself. She admitted she kept hoping it was some kind of trick to throw off the cops.

 

She knew better. He would never go anywhere without his mask, and that had been found covered in blood in the car with the rest of him.

 

The doctor came in and told her to spread her legs. The rest of the day and night were a blur of pain and people bustling around her. She was too busy to worry about mysterious strangers and dead lovers.

 

The cry of her son cut through her. It was a relief, and joy that he was here. She smiled as the swaddled bundle was handed to her.

 

"It's a boy." The nurse smiled down at her. She was a different woman from the one that had rushed Sue up to the floor.

 

"Of course." Sue laughed as she hugged the baby close. She didn't care that the boy cried as she looked down at him.

 

"We're going to need you to fill out the paperwork for your baby." The doctor appeared to her right. "You both should be able to leave the hospital in a couple of days."

 

"Thank you." Sue ran her finger across her baby's face. "I love you, baby boy."

 

"We're going to take him over to the nursery." The doctor smiled. "Get some sleep. I'll be back to check on you tomorrow."

 

"I'll be here." Sue closed her eyes. "I won't go anywhere without my son."

 

The room slowly emptied. She watched her son be carried away in the arms of the nurse. She hated that, but she was too weak to do anything at the moment. She needed to recoup her strength and consider the warning she had been given.

 

Whomever that pale man was, he represented danger to her and her son. She took his warning for being true. She just wanted to know who would want to hurt her child. Then she would exact some preventive medicine on them.

 

The Bunny had taught her that much in their short time together.

 

She closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep. The next few days would be busy if she did follow the advice she had been given. She had to get out of Miami as soon as possible.

 

That would have to wait until she woke up. She had to rest first, then arm herself. Salt and holy water should be easy enough to get as she packed up and moved.

 

Where could she go and start a new life? That was another thing to think about in the morning.

 

She closed her mind to the worry and fear. There was nothing she could do about that. She had to take care of herself first, then her son. If that meant moving, so be it. She drifted off to sleep.

 

The nurses checked on her during the night but she brushed off their visits and went back to sleep. By the time the day had arrived, she was ready to get to work.

 

Sue got her clothes and went into the bathroom. She cleaned up and dressed in private. She was sore and bleeding a little, but that couldn't be helped. She felt the walls closing in and had to get out of the hospital as soon as possible.

 

She asked for the paperwork and birth certificate so she could fill it out. She rode down to the nursery in a wheelchair, and then she and her son headed for the front door to start their new lives together.

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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

62

 

1960-Mad George Tribolyte surveyed his kingdom and found it adequate for his purposes. He supposed he should be happy after all that he had gone through. He just couldn't make the effort.

 

The power to create a new body eluded him, and the spells he wanted seemed to be missing from the spell books he had salvaged.

 

He couldn't consult with other magicians. His reputation was known far and wide and those that didn't fear him wouldn't help him, and those that did fear him didn't have the power he needed.

 

He almost had the power to change the world in his nonexistent hands when that meddler had interfered with his plans. All that stored energy had been blasted around the world and wasted.

 

If only he had a fraction of that power, he could make ectoplasm into a new body easily.

 

Mr. Cook's power to animate drawings of blood could have been made to work to give him a permanent substitute.

 

Other options flitted through his mind at the thought of the loss of his hoarded life energy. Fury crept into his thoughts. He shrugged it off to think about the next steps in his plans.

 

His new sanctuary was embedded in the banks of the mighty Mississippi. The river dumped tons of life energy into the crystal collectors he had set up with the help of his butler. It protected his lair from scrying thanks to the water rushing above the structure. And he only had to shield the entrances from anyone passing by, or actually seeking them.

 

He had the comforts of home and enough spell books to keep him busy for a time. Eventually he would have to travel and seek out other lines of knowledge. He had built a submersible to help him do that when the time came.

 

He felt he had exhausted everything he possessed already. He would look through the books one more time and then he would start looking for someone who could help him.

 

There had to be someone in the magical world that specialized in body makeovers.

 

He felt Mr. Cook enter the base from the upper entrance. He looked and saw his butler descending the steps to the lower floors. He had bags of books and groceries in his arms. His ability to speak was still missing after the explosion they had survived.

 

Mad George admitted that he would only wish his condition on his worst enemies, but it was still better than being dead.

 

Anything was better than being dead.

 

Mr. Cook put his supplies on a counter and walked into the office and laboratory his master called home. He pulled out a pad and wrote down a passage in his neat handwriting. He held it so the brain could read it while floating in his shallow pool.

 

"Are you sure?" Tribolyte didn't have the face to frown anymore. He put it in his mental voice.

 

The butler shrugged his shoulders.

 

He raised his hand. Blood poured into the air, recreating a street. Partial mannequins appeared to represent people. Blocks were cars rolling along. One mannequin appeared. A "C" marked it as the butler on his way home. Another mannequin came into view. It had a cowboy hat on. It vanished as the Cook drawing started to cast an animal attack in front of the pedestrians on either side. The stand-in picked up his bags and kept walking. The diorama broke apart in a mist.

 

"Where did he go?" Tribolyte retreated inside his fuzzy shell to think. The burning lights of his eyes winked out. They came back on a few minutes later. "I have to see the scene myself."

 

Mr. Cook went and got the perambulator. It was an effective disguise to carry a nearly round mass through the streets of the city. He placed his master in a carrying box and that went in the bottom of the stroller. He wheeled it toward the main entrance of their hidden base.

 

They slid through the hidden exit to a spot covered by trees and bushes.

 

Mr. Cook pushed the buggy out on the sidewalk and headed toward where he saw the cowboy. His uniform marked him as someone who was doing an errand for someone else. That kept the questioning looks to a minimum as he walked. His silent stare did the rest.

 

Mad George looked around with his psychic vision as they walked along. Traces of people and animals hung in the air like scents of bad perfumes. He ignored it as he concentrated on finding the one person who shouldn't be alive but was according to his butler.

 

There had to be an explanation for it.

 

He supposed that Mr. Cook could be wrong, and misidentified someone as the one person they both hated. It was a mistake that he hadn't made before, but there was always a first time for everything.

 

"Halt, Mr. Cook." Mad George blinked at what his scan was telling him. It seemed impossible, but their enemy was still alive.

 

He searched the area with his thoughts. His enemy had walked to the spot and disappeared. Where had he come from? The ghost retreated backwards from the spot under his mental urging.

 

"Follow this street until I tell you to change directions."

 

Mr. Cook pushed the buggy along. He found himself turning at random spots, pausing at some points, and generally heading to the Northwest. A grumble caused him to stop walking near a slow road heading toward the highway.

 

"Take us home, Mr. Cook." Mad George sounded excited and puzzled at the same time. "I have much to think about before I can make plans."

 

The butler raised his hand. A giant bird formed under him and his master. Wings beat to lift them into the air. They headed south to the river, and their headquarters.

 

Tribolyte closed off his mind as he thought about the development. Sheer chance had given him an option to get his body back. How could he use it? What did he need to procure to take advantage of this good fortune?

 

How many did he have to kill?

 

He would kill the world to have the use of his own hands again.

 

Mr. Cook dropped them in the trees above their entrance. The portal opened and pulled them inside the lair without a problem. He pushed the buggy into the laboratory so he could put the brain back in its pool.

 

"I have some research to do, Mr. Cook." Tribolyte pulled one of his spellbooks closer so he could read it better with his fiery eyes. "Take the rest of the day off."

 

The butler nodded before retreating. He didn't have the magical knowledge of his master, but he knew that he witnessed something unique in their world.

 

A man who didn't possess any ability of his own didn't just vanish in the middle of a street.

 

It defied the rules of magic and science both.

 

Mr. Cook smiled as he set about making some dinner for himself. He had thought his master would retreat inward and give up under an excuse of not being able to find the right spell for the job. Now he had a puzzle to work through. The revived interest would enable them to move out of the underground and back on the path of running the world.

 

That would keep them both busy enough that boredom would be the least of their problems.

 

Mad George ignored the happy humming drifting to him across the lair. He concentrated on finding an answer to what he had seen with his extraordinary sensing. An explanation could provide him with the path to rebuilding himself.

 

Then he could show his peers what magic could really do.

 

Dr. Long would feel his wrath, as well as Hermit Spangler. Neither man deserved the power they wielded. It should be taken from them and used for the good of Tribolyte.

 

His loyal subjects will worship him and be delighted if he deigned to turn them into lamps.

 

Tribolyte read every book in his library again. They didn't offer him any answers. He needed someone capable of talking to the spirit world. His present condition left him little ability to do that.

 

He needed an oracle.

 

He placed his books back on their shelves with his mind as he considered what he should do. There was someone he could use in Europe. He didn't know if the man was still there, but a trip would shake off the sense of futility he had acquired lately.

 

He needed to gather more power before he did that. The man he was thinking of surrounded himself with demonic messengers. They could be annoying at the best of times.

 

Mr. Cook would have to work on his magical dueling if he was going to be any help.

 

Mad George floated in his bath and gave some thought on his plans. He would need something to give to his intended source. That could act as the fee.

 

He didn't plan to kill the oracle, but he considered the option as he put his thoughts down on paper with a floating pen. Ripping silent mediums apart was something that Mr. Cook did well.

 

He supposed it was the whole animal drawing acting as the real thing that caused that.

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Re: Generations of Strangers

 

63

 

1960-The wasp man split into two diagonal pieces before falling out of the sky. Some of its brethren followed it to the ground as the stroke finished cutting the air in a semicircle.

 

The wielder of the sword shook off a piece of lightning from the blade at part of the swarm trying to regroup to resist his assault. That scattered them in a smoking stench as he floated forward on his cloud.

 

Rain fell from the ceiling of the cave as the sword master floated down the tunnel. The black paint on his face gleamed as small streaks curled away from his body.

 

He shook his head. He had a hive, but that meant nothing. The insects had no technology. Their weapons and lairs were constructed from chewing material and putting it back together like a real wasp. None of them could talk, and none would surrender.

 

Dr. Hoz had built his lackeys with an instinct to fight until they were exterminated unless ordered to do otherwise.

 

And he had already destroyed three hives that had been discovered by the Allied Command.

 

Dr. Hoz had been absent from all three when he had burst in behind his electrical display. Allied agents had finished cleaning up while he looked for clues. Nothing led back to the mad scientist.

 

He supposed that was to be expected. The man knew they were looking for him. He would let his minions operate on their own while he performed his experiments away from the fighting.

 

Susano threw lightning down the tunnel. He wanted to keep up the pressure. As long as the wasps concentrated on him, they would ignore the unobvious threats at the other entrances. By the time they were alerted to a problem, it would be too late for them to do anything about it.

 

It kept the toll on the invaders to a minimum by sealing the entrances and letting him do most of the heavy lifting.

 

The wasp men's main weapons shot lightning. That was useless against him. Their claws were better weapons. It didn't make them a match for his skill.

 

His blade cut sunlight. Chitin and meat were nothing to it.

 

Susano paused inside the great hive. Numerous bug people hovered in the air around the queen. She chittered at the intruder. Drones herded larva toward another opening on the other side of the hive.

 

Apparently word of his destruction of the other hives had gotten out somehow. They were trying to protect their young from him.

 

Dr. Hoz had built well.

 

He still had to kill them all. Their ability to spawn would allow them to outstrip humanity if it was allowed to continue. It wouldn't take much for them to be able to take over a small country and expand until they covered the rest of the world.

 

He supposed Hoz had planned things that way to keep the governments of the world busy stamping out his minions while he performed experiments to create even more powerful weapons to use.

 

Susano swung his sword. Lightning blasted out and washed over the Queen. The giant bug exploded in a cloud of ichor and gobbets of flesh. The energized rain fell to the floor of the hive.

 

The insect warriors flung themselves at the lord of the storm. They buzzed furiously as they struck with the three pronged claws at the end of their arms. Blood flew under the assault.

 

The Japanese agent retreated from the cloud of biting and clawing berserkers. He sliced back and forth with his sword as they kept coming. Pieces of bugs and droplets of blood dotted the walls as his cloud slid away from the insect soldiers.

 

"Behind you." The Arc unleashed a volley of lightning that lit up the cave. That blunted the charge of the insects.

 

"We talked about this." An American spoke a word and the rocks of the cave came to life and acted as cannonballs. "You can't keep trying to go things alone."

 

"Not now, mate." The Arc raised both hands and cut loose with another bolt of lightning. "We're in the thick of it."

 

"Not for long." Susano pushed his cloud forward. He swung his sword in front of him as he pushed into the center of the attackers. The insects tried to swarm him, while trying to get pass him to attack his comrades. Those closest to his sword as it sliced fell in pieces from the air.

 

Lightning and flying rocks exploded around him as his comrades fought to keep up with him.

 

The insects wouldn't give up fighting. Their nature forced them to keep battling until the enemy was dead, or they were. If they prevailed, one of the larva would be grown to be the new queen and lead the hive on its duties.

 

The agents held them in the tunnel until flamethrowers could be brought to bear. The American said a word, and the jets of fire engulfed the narrow corridor like the plume of a rocket's exhaust. The lord of the storm surrounded himself with wind and rain to deflect the blast around him.

 

"All right." The Arc nodded. "Let's clear out the rest of the place. Then we can try to find the real headquarters."

 

"There's nothing here but bugs." Susano slid forward on his cloud. "These places are both a distraction and a threat."

 

The Arc jogged forward, lightning blazing around his fist. He was glad his hood covered all of his face as he sniffed the air.

 

Burning meat and ozone covered everything in a foul stench. He shook his head as he followed the other man into the central chamber. He paused as he caught sight of the babies and their guardians across the room. They chittered at the humans blocking the main exit.

 

"I'll handle this." The American walked forward, short cape fluttering around his suit. He raised his hands. He said a word. Wind blasted the bugs into the tunnel they were heading into. He said another word and the tunnel collapsed on top of them.

 

"This is getting nastier and nastier." He wiped his hands together. "How many more of these beasts will we have to kill before we're done."

 

"As many as it takes." Susano waved his sword away. He looked around. He saw nothing that pointed to Hoz. The wasps settled and then built their hives. Why wasn't the doctor checking on them?

 

"Easy." The Arc shook his head. "Clear heads think the best."

 

Susano took a breath. The Australian was right. What had they learned from this?

 

He sighed. They had learned nothing. The wasps were not intelligent and followed their own rules. They had no connection to each other, or their creator. It was a dead end to keep killing them when they knew nothing.

 

They had to change focus and think of some other way to get what they wanted.

 

He looked at the other two agents. They seemed to feel the same way.

 

"Let's head back to the White Wing and discuss our strategy." Susano took one last look around the lair before the cloud started carrying him away. "We need to change tactics."

 

"Right." The Arc shook his head. Of course they did.

 

Susano floated through the charred hall to the outside. His cloud lifted him into the sky. He looked down on the world. What were they doing wrong?

 

He admitted that he wasn't much of a detective. His powers and temperament led him to think of ways of direct action against visible targets. Searching for an invisible man was proving to be a test of character.

 

He smiled. He was going to pass this test. All he needed was the right clue to turn to his advantage.

 

He urged his cloud toward the White Wing. A search through the files gathered by the intelligence services might alleviate his mood. He couldn't kill every wasp man with his bare hands.

 

He was wearing himself out trying.

 

Susano drifted over the converted freighter and landed silently on the deck. The men ignored him. They were busy looking like a crew who cared about the cargo on the ship rather than searching for other ships across the horizon.

 

He went below deck, wiping the symbol from his face with a rag. He walked along the narrow corridors until he reached the event room they had installed to track their movements and what they had discovered.

 

He would start his search here and hope to find something he could use to track down his enemy.

 

Susano started with the personal history from Australia that the Arc had dug up from their files. He sat down and started reading. He nodded when he had an idea of what seemed important to the doctor. He went through again, looking for connections to what he already knew and what they had encountered looking for him.

 

Something about the ocean bothered him. He went back and searched for events that happened on the Pacific. He frowned when he realized that most of Hoz's crimes had been committed on the ocean, or near to it.

 

The Pacific Rim was a big place to search for one madman.

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