Thursday, February 17, 2005

Frank's Vacation

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL - August 23rd, 1:00 AM

Tonight is the culmination of three month's hard work. It's taken me that long to track down every shred of information I could find, steal or extort on the subject of the Mendoza drug cartel. Enrique Mendoza himself has called a top-secret meeting of all his top lieutenants - the first meeting of its kind in years. They've planned this meeting down to the very last detail, picking an abandoned cabin in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. They don't think there's another soul anywhere for ten or twenty miles - and they might be right, because whether or not I have a soul left at this point is debatable.

One of the advantages of such an isolated location is that I don't have to worry about either cops or civilians. Barring the unforeseen, I can be as loud as I want. So instead of bothering with bullets, if all goes according to plan I'll be able to kill the upper hierarchy of the biggest drug cartel on the East Coast, in addition to dozens of representatives and ambassadors from competing families and syndicates, from half a mile away. Not bad for a night's work.

I've been camping out in an outcropping of rock on a nearby hillock for two days now, so I'm tired and just a little bit cranky. I'm in the mood to shoot a couple stinger missiles. The last convoy of dark luxury sedans and Hummers just rolled in from the city. There are probably fifty people, jammed into a small cabin only a little bigger than an outhouse. The walls are old, dry wood: once a fire starts, anyone who isn't killed in the initial explosion will probably suffocate or burn to death in the fire. And just in case any of these unlucky mooks happen to make it out what's left of the front door, I've got a long range rife with a hunter's scope and a thousand rounds in my backpack.

I'm just leaning over to where I've stashed my missile launcher behind the rock when I hear something behind me. The night was quiet and calm, but suddenly I heard the sound of breathing and ruffled polyester behind me. Whoever the #%!!! it is is clearing his throat.

"I am from ... Beyond!"

I roll over to look behind me, the Glock in my shoulder holster already out and aimed at the space directly behind me before my eyes can catch up.

But there's no one there - or at least, not where I was aiming. He's standing about four feet above the ground, in a silver-white track suit and white leather boots. He's dressed like a Studio 54 reject with a Jehri curl haircut, and he's looking at me like a small puppy looks at a tennis ball.

Great. The last thing I needed tonight was a costumed Loony Tune.

"I am from ... Beyond!"

"Yes," I whisper, "you mentioned that. Could you please go away? I'm in the middle of something." I lower my gun and grit my teeth. I don't recognize this joker, but if he can levitate like that there's a strong likelihood that I don't have anything that could stop him. With enough planning, these guys are easy to handle - but when surprise is on their side sometimes it's better to cut your losses. Most of them have some pretty naive ideas about life, but there's not a one of them that couldn't beat me to within an inch of my life if I wasn't careful.

"I desire to understand what you are doing."

Hmmm. He doesn't seem angry. He seems .... stupid?

"I'm about to kill about fifty very bad people."

"These people - they have hurt you?"

"If you're not going to try and stop me, could you move? I've been planning this for months and if they see a six-foot tall disco freak standing four feet above the ground on a nearby hill, they'll probably want to investigate."

"You need not worry, Frank Castle. No one can see or hear me at this moment, except for you. I do not wish our conversation to be interrupted. Now - please, have these men hurt you?"

I sigh and answer his question. If this guy is as powerful as he seems I don't think I have any choice but to humor him. "No, not me personally. But they've hurt hundreds - thousands - of people, both directly and indirectly. They're all killers, and they're all in the business of smuggling and selling illegal drugs. The Mendoza cartel is second only to the Kingpin in terms of the volume they move on the East coast, and after tonight their organization will be effectively dead - decapitated."

"I see. These ... drugs create societal disharmony?"

"Yeah. They destroy lives, kill people -- children -- promote crime and poverty. They're a plague."

The guy in the tracksuit doesn't seem interested in going anywhere. "I have tried drugs. I have taken heroin. It was ... stimulating."

"You've shot heroin?"

"Yes. I believe you know ... Cloak & Dagger?"

"Yeah, but they're not exactly on my Christmas card list."

"They helped me to understand the nature of drugs."

"Well," I said slowly, thinking to myself that this conversation was getting more and more surreal by the moment, "then you understand why I've got to do this."

"Yes, I can understand the utility of such an act. But - I have followed you, secretly, for many weeks. I have seen what you do - you kill criminals, you plan to kill criminals, you dream of killing criminals. I understand what you do but I do not understand why you desire to do it."

"So, uh, that's all you want to know?"

"Yes. I initially came to this universe to understand the nature of desire. I have met many beings in my travels who have helped me to understand this concept - but you are unique."

"Thanks, I guess. I don't care about being unique. I just want to see that what happened to me never happens to anyone else again."

"Ah. You are referring to your family."

"Yes," I winced inwardly. What didn't this joker know about me?

"You are not insane, despite your monomania. I believe you understand perfectly well that you will never eradicate crime on Earth . . . so why do you continue in what you know is a futile mission?"

"Because it's what I do. I kill people. It's just ... what I do."

"Interesting." He seemed to be thinking, almost as if his mind were a millions miles away. Who knows - perhaps it was. Finally, he lifted his head and resumed our conversation.

"I have met many other costumed adventurers on your planet. Many of them are in constant conflict between what they identify as their desires and what they acknowledge as their duties or responsibilities. You, however, are unique, in that you identify your desires and your duties as identical - there is absolutely no conflict in your perceptions. Rather, you act with no compunctions despite the fact that there is no way for your desire can ever be truly fulfilled. Am I correct?"

"Yeah, I guess. I don't usually think about it much, but yeah, I guess that's right."

He beamed and seemed relieved. "I am happy to hear your words. So often I have been confused on this planet ... so many people do not understand the nature of their own desires. In particular, the one you call Spider-Man is especially perplexing ..."

I didn't want to hear him babbling about the spandex guys any longer than I had to. The Mendozas weren't going to be in that hut forever, and there was always a chance one of their perimeter guards could stumble upon me, and then life would get a lot more complicated.

"Look, have I answered all your questions? I've got an appointment."

"Yes, yes, I know! But I am so happy to hear your answers and to understand your desires so fully that I will be pleased to help you. You say that you desire the death of all criminals, yes?"

"Uh, yeah." I wasn't quite sure where this was going.

"And by that you don't simply mean drug dealers, correct?"

"No. There's drug smugglers and dealers ... but maybe not all the street guys, some of them are just junkies who deal to get high. There's murderers, serial killers, rapists, child molesters, terrorists, crooked dictators, corrupt cops ... if I had a million years I could never get them all."

"Yes, but you would keep trying until you died, correct?"


"What would you do if they no longer existed?"

I finally leaned back and laughed. This guy was a real piece of work. "I have no idea. I don't anticipate I'll ever get the chance to find out."

"It would be very interesting to discover just what you would do if you no longer had any purpose."

"I don't know. I guess I'd take a vacation . . . and then find something else to shoot."

He just smiled and snapped his fingers. I didn't hear or see anything, didn't feel anything except maybe a faint breeze in the air.

"What the hell did you do that for?"

"You will see. Perhaps you should return your attention to the cabin."

I turned away from Fruit Loops and looked back at the cabin through my binoculars. Where there had been fifty or so well-dressed mooks huddled inside a log hut not five minutes ago, it was empty. The lamps were still lit but from where I could see there wasn't a soul left in the building.

"What the #@!!? Where'd they go?"

"Nowhere. They no longer exist."

I ignored him this time, grabbing an automatic rifle and jumping off the outcropping. I landed on my feet and ran down the hillock, warily approaching the hut.

Sure enough, it was totally empty. There were empty coats on the back of chairs, still-smoking cigarettes in the ashtrays and a fleet of cars parked on the dirt road outside. But there wasn't a soul anywhere to be found.

I turned around and Space Case was standing right behind me, again, still floating about four feet up in the air.

"What the hell did you do?"

"I merely fulfilled your desire. It was relatively uncomplicated and easily accomplished: it was a pleasure to find someone on your planet with such straightforward moral prerogatives."

"Yeah, whatever." I felt slightly dizzy. If I understood him correctly he had just made my job a lot easier.

"Um," I grasped for words. "Thanks, I guess?"

"No need to thank me, Frank Castle! I should thank you for having illuminated such a thorny area of human nature for me. I believe now that I am one step closer to truly understanding the nature of desire."

"Great, glad to hear it."

And with that he was gone, and I never saw him again.

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL - September 13th, 2:00 PM

I was the only person on the planet who knew just why every prison in every country had been suddenly emptied, and why a large percentage of all the suspected murderers, rapists and drug dealers on the planet as well. There were dozens of folks in every prison who didn't disappeared, and all of were later exonerated by the resources of a suddenly empty-handed criminal justice system. Many of these "left behind" had been on Death Row. I guess Mr. "I Am From Beyond" knew what he was doing.

I was happy to see that only a small percentage of policemen disappeared. Of course, there were also about fifty or so countries that experienced sudden coup d'etats when their autocrat or ruling generals disappeared. Half a dozen American senators and a handful of congressmen were gone too. I felt bad for the families that experience seemingly random disappearances - respected fathers and beloved mothers who vanished along with the hardened criminals. By the time these disappearances were made public, however, I knew better than to doubt what I had seen: somewhere in their pasts, those seemingly upstanding people had done bad things.

Spider-Man and Daredevil and the rest of those clowns spent a lot of time sitting on their hands. There were still giant monsters and space aliens to fight, but it's been three weeks and there hasn't been so much as a mugging anywhere from Bangkok to Bangor. I am beginning to expect that what Mr. Beyond did was a lot far ranging than I suspected at first, because there haven't been any crimes, anywhere, ever since that night.

Me, I took my first vacation in years. I grabbed some cash from a safe house in Brooklyn and spent an extremely pleasant two weeks at an all-inclusive resort in Maui. No one knew what had caused the disappearances, so travel was fairly light. I got a hand-job from a Vietnamese masseuse and had sex with a thirty-five year old travel agent from Nebraska.

I spent a lot of time thinking. I wondered if Mr. Beyond or whomever was still watching me - wondering to see what I would do next.

Well, I've finally decided on a logical course of action. There aren't any criminals left to kill. But after all this time I don't see myself settling down again. I'm actually a pretty odd fellow when you get down to it.

It's a hot Indian Summer in the Bronx. I can hear the Steve Miller Band playing softly over the radio somewhere down the street. Children are playing on the sidewalk, boys with toy guns for their games of cops and robbers (harmless play, considering that there's a good likelihood there will never again be another bank-robbery), girls jumping double-dutch and playing hopscotch on chalk-drawn grids.

I've got a high-powered sniper's rifle with Teflon bullets, enough weapon to blast a hole the size of a toaster oven in a rhino at five hundred yards. I'm half a block away when the target comes into range.

Little Janie MacPhearson had a birthday party yesterday. She got a Barbie dollhouse that her dad spent two hours trying to put together, a large stuffed bear and two Disney DVDs. Her mother spent an hour braiding her hair into a long cord running all the way down her back, downy-soft blond locks catching the sunlight as she skips rope.

Little Janie is nine years old, and she must be stopped.

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