We present the second installment in Bleeding Cool's first fiction serial by Adi Tantimedh and premier PUNISHER writer Steven Grant. You already know what goes on in Adi's mind, so find out what goes on in Steven's mind when he's not writing for Marvel, and what the two of them get up to when they get bored and want to try something without the aid of recreational drugs.
Last week, London media wag, critic and all-round arsehole Alan Brond was about to engage in a gunfight-to-the-death with his archrival Horace Pemfrey at the elite soho watering hole The Harpo Club, only to be beaten to the punch by an unseen shooter who managed to blow Pembrey's brains out a fraction of a second before Brond opened fire, making it look like Brond had finished off the hated fat bastard.
Later, commiserating with his Machiavellian producer girlfriend Yvonne, her lawyer stepsister Lola tells Brond that she has been charged with executing Pemfrey's will, and he is surprised that his archenemy had left his vast fortune to Brond rather than any of his large brood of legitimate and illegitimate offspring. The will stipulates that the money would only pass onto them after Brond's death…
BROND ON THE RUN
By Adisakdi Tantimedh and Steven Grant
Of course! Typical of Pemfrey! That explained everything! It explained his "leaking" that he was gunning for me tonight, giving me ample time to mentally prepare myself for a Close Quarter Firefight. It explained why he would try to take me on in Harpo's, knowing my reflexes before my first drink were quicker than his gin-soaked, DT'd fingers, and my Widowmaker easily outgunned his Mauser.
It probably also explained the swarm of red laser dots suddenly inching their way across the wall towards my chest.
I'd barely grabbed Yvonne and dived behind the sofa when the first barrage of shots pelted through the window. Lola merely stood there as the bullets punched at her like blows from an abusive boyfriend. She seemed to be enjoying herself tremendously.
"She's wearing her kevlar corset." said Yvonne. "She'll be sore for days after, but she's used to that."
Well, I certainly wasn't used to it. The fuckers were violating my palatial bedsit, and I wasn't about to stand for it.
I cocked the Widowmaker, chambered the first round and fired a volley of 10mm exploding slugs out the window.
Inside of twenty seconds what had previously passed for the garden was shredded into colorful confetti. Fortunately, so was Galahad Pemfrey, the old man's crapulent middle son. Even writhing in the pain of sudden total amputation below his waist, disemboweled by my specially made ammunition, which shattered into whipsaw flechettes as air pressure mushroomed them, he still had the wherewithal to gnaw on a barely cooked turkey leg, as though it were some magic tonic that would restore him to health. His other hand fumbled with an antique German luger clumsily updated with a laser sight, but it was clear his main interest was the food. Despite the serious damage, he was a tough old bird himself. He'd live, though not in one piece.
"Was that really necessary?" he asked with the wondering eyes of a betrayed little boy, as I stood over him.
"Shouldn't fuck with an Englishman's garden, old son."
"But you fucked with it, not me!"
"Semantics," I said, kicking both gun and turkey beyond his reach. He wailed and floundered. I was no longer interested in him. If he had found me this quickly the rest of his miserable and numerous brood wouldn't be far behind. It was time to run.
Yvonne had already vanished, no doubt off to create cover identities for us. I left Lola in the garden, grinding her heel into Galahad's Adam's apple, listening in rapture to his grunts of pleasure.
"And what the bloody hell do you call this?" I asked as I stepped out of the building.
"Your next career move, love."
Yvonne had not only brought the Jaguar round, but trailing beyond it was a complete camera and sound crew in an unmarked van.
"The next step in reality TV!" she declared. "Documentary crew follows besieged-but-brilliant *enfant terrible* critic as he goes on the run, having to write his reviews while trying to evade a family of cash-mad aristos out to top him! We can't fail! It'll be a ratings bonanza! You'll be the envy of both the Harpo Club and Soho House!"
"How do you reckon that?" I asked as I jumped in the car. "Most people think we media-types are wankers…"
"Yes, but we'll snag both audiences: the ones who wish they were you, with your glamourous, debauched lifestyle and posh girlfriend, and the ones who think you're a tosser and would tune in hoping you'll get killed."
"I'll drive. I want you to sign those contracts so filming can get underway. They're going live on BBC Prime once the ink dries."
I grumbled as I scrawled my moniker on the triplicate sheets. If I didn't love her so much, I'd hate her. Or was it the other way round?
As she sped through Holland Park at 120 mph, evading the mortar shells from the tank being commanded by Edith Pemfrey, Horace's embittered cat-breeding sister, Yvonne chuckled as she read my mind, delighting in my ardour and apprehension.
"There's still the matter of who *really* wants me dead." I said. "Whoever blew Pemfrey's head off at the club must've known about his will. Wanted to make sure it looked like I snuffed him. I've been fitted up!"
A high-speed chase is perfect opportunity for reflection, if you're not the one doing the driving. Despite the shell concussions rocking the car as Yvonne violently swerved again and again, I had no sense of real danger. She had an instinct for ratings, Yvonne did. It kept her employed. She could measure just how narrowly our escape from each shell would have to be to maximize viewer interest the way witchwives used to measure the coming winter's snowfall by tasting the autumn wind. A benefit, from my perspective, was that, gripped as she was now in the throes of near-orgasmic excitement from the admixture of possible imminent death and the near-certainty of rapid career elevation, she wouldn't be listening in on my thoughts. These moments of danger were rare oases of privacy for me.
How many children had Pemfrey had? Galahad and Edith were two of his legal offspring, and nothing to worry about. They were both idiots. Their mother was a Tory sow whose claim to fame was the winning bid on Ebay for Margaret Thatcher's corpse, which Dame Edna Pemfrey then had taxidermed and placed in a private shrine, now the reputed site of pilgrimage for intended conservative PMs, who showed their obeisance to the party by sodomizing themselves on Mrs. Thatcher's limbs, as rigid and unyielding in death as they had been in life. (There was also the rumour the Iron Lady's intestines had been removed, dried and ground to aphrodisiac — in the Middle Ages, Egyptian mummies met the same fate when discovered — the powder now shared between the rotting remnants of the Royal Family and MI6, after a sizable cash bounty entered the Pemfrey coffers.) Pemfrey had three other children by Edna, so useless I couldn't be bothered to recall their names.
But those weren't his only offspring. Pemfrey had spent his life sowing bastards far and wide. Unlike most men of similar desire and sloppiness, he legally adopted most of them. His severe obesity made his irresistibility to women a mystery to most other (rather jealous) men. I was among the rare few who knew the truth. Few knew we had gone to school together, and before he knew what women were, he was already irresistible to boys. He was corpulent even then, but food hadn't done it. A spectacular and irreversible hormonal imbalance made him fat, as well as spiraling his body's manufacture of pheromones ridiculously out of control. He used it, making himself the most feared being at our boarding school. It became a ritual, watching boys transferred in, particularly older boys whose greatest ambitions in life were to play rugby and pound the shit out of fat little pig-faced younger boys, approaching Pemfrey to demonstrate their dominance and suddenly, publicly, dropping to their knees to desperately fellate him. Even our teachers learned, after similar experiences, not to cross him.
Yet I was his one schoolmate over whom he had no power. Neither of us ever had an explanation for it. I simply wasn't interested. Effectively, I'd been the school's only line of defense against him, successfully nominating him year after year for the role of Piggy in the annual amateur production of LORD OF THE FLIES. I grew to find his humiliation mildly amusing. And I confess it was I, on the advent of the Falklands War, who had notified the army of Pemfrey's military potential. He was still little more than a boy when parachuted behind enemy lines, though he may have been a critical element of British victory. Stories spread of whole battalions of Argentinean soldiers, once swaggering with machismo, killing themselves or deserting for the less savory quarters of Rio after encounters with him. Pemfrey, unfortunately but in keeping with tradition, came out unscathed, and I and every Briton who enjoys beef owe him our undying gratitude for his pivotal role in the Falklands victory.
But he had discovered women and his unnatural power over them on his South American jaunt. His return to Britain climaxed, quite literally, in an unfortunate ceremony at Buckingham Palace quickly reduced to an orgy reputedly including Diana, Fergie, the Queen Mum, Liz and the Iron Lady herself, after which it was solemnly decided that under no circumstances would Charles ever, ever be made king. Shadowy videotapes allegedly documenting the event can be bought in Hong Kong. Reports still circulate of Pemfrey's royal bastards being strangled in their cribs, their tiny bodies dumped in the North Sea.
Once returned to civilian life, Pemfrey turned his attentions back to me. That was why he became a rival art critic — I no longer speculate on the how of it — but his criticism reflected his taste in women, and explained his popularity with the public. He was a gourmand. Whatever in art or flesh was closest at hand, regardless of age, beauty or desirability, was good enough for him, a debased democracy of desire. It was Pemfrey who foisted David Hockney on the British public (and the Spice Girls, and Helena Bonham-Carter, all rumored to be among his multitude of conquests, the bastard. Oh, Helena!) As always, they ate up whatever Pemfrey fed them.
But was Pemfrey the problem? He was dead, after all. Something didn't make sense. If he had willed all his possessions to me, he'd intended me to outlive him. Yet, at the pub, there was the clear intent of murder in his eye when he attacked me? Did whoever shot him do it to save my life or guarantee my persecution? Had the shot had anything at all to do with me? It wasn't like Pemfrey hadn't made other enemies.
Yvonne? She was getting what she wanted out of this: a new lease on career life after a precarious slump due to a bad review I'd given her last offering. Could she have shot Pemfrey and set "the show" into production? She had certainly responded with cameras quickly enough. I had no doubt she loved me but loyalty had never entered into it for either of us.
Lola? I still hadn't figured out her role in all this. Why had the heirs enlisted her? Unless… Given that Pemfrey left bastards in his wake the way some people take shits, I started to have serious questions about Lola's pedigree. It would make sense, Yvonne's mother leaving everything to follow him, though I'd never made the connection before. "Pemheads," as we called them, now littered the British landscape.
"Aren't you going to do something?" Yvonne asked, a trill of panic in her voice as a shell exploded overhead. Explosions never bothered her. I knew it must be something else.
"Ratings are starting to drop. People are tired of you just sitting there. Statistically, an escape attempt holds an audience's attention for 3.7 minutes, but now they want to see the clever means by which you eviscerate Edith's superior firepower. Don't forget to include a witty post-ironic catchphrase. It'll give the drones a giggle and we'll be able to sell t-shirts later."
"I thought maybe I'd just die," I said.
Yvonne was shocked. "You can't be serious."
"Why not? All this violence is so aesthetically displeasing."
"We've had this conversation before, darling," she reminded me. "This is television. Aesthetics have no place here."
"Alright, then…" I grumbled as I opened the sunroof.
In truth, I was glad to be going into action. It kept Yvonne from telepathically gleaming the true details of my history and how I was at Public School with Horace Pemfrey. I had been one of those lucky working class lads who got given a scholarship in one of those bizarre liberal social experiments that Thatcher eventually put a stop to. Yvonne still didn't know how I managed to look at least twenty five years younger than Pemfrey, the twenty years I spend cryogenically frozen in that special facility in Hackney and the crash course in catching up I had to go through when I was revived. Yvonne would sign me up for another documentary, and I already had my hands full with this one. Besides, our relationship was complicated enough as it was.
"You did pack some antitank rounds, didn't you?"
"Got three from the BBC arsenal." she said. "They'd been sitting there for yonks since the end of the Covent Garden Siege."
I remember Yvonne telling me that passive protagonists in stories were crap, in spite of my arguing that they were a far truer representation of the Malaise of Man in Western Civilisation. She'd written that as her Master's thesis at Cambridge. Engaging her in this debate was my way of distracting her from trying pry out the truth about my past.
As I stood up out of the sunroof, I could see the crew keeping a discreet distance in their van, the camera leaning out the passenger's side to film Edith's pursuit and persecution of me. No doubt Yvonne will make the appropriate deal to acquire footage from the surveillance cameras on the street to intercut with the crew's footage for the final edit later on.
Ever conscious of my appearance on camera, and thus at least ten million television screens a few months hence, I smoothed my hair so that it billowed Byronically in the wind as I loosed the first round from the rocket launcher.
End of Part 2
Luxuriating in… something, I dunno what, at firstname.lastname@example.org
I've begun the official LOOK! IT MOVES! twitter feed. Follow me at http://twitter.com/lookitmoves for thoughts and snark on media and pop culture, stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about.
© Adisakdi Tantimedh and Steven Grant