You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, Part 15

Posted: 25 January 2013 in fiction, writing, You'll Never Believe A Man Can Fly
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Chapter Eight

Jordan had been worried before, or at least he thought he had. But whatever he had previously experienced, he knew, no longer qualified to be counted in the same universe as the worry he currently felt.

The story had been filed to great acclaim from his editor and the by-line had been his alone. Scott Jordan wasn’t an idiot. He was aware that most people had no idea of the process that led to a story appearing in a newspaper. He was pretty confident, however, that the public, even the British public, were intelligent enough to realise that he wrote the story, not the headline, but that didn’t matter. Not anymore. Not right now.

In the two hours since the story had broken, there were five things he unquestionably knew about his current predicament. The first was that he was now famous: his name was known around the world, and would be forever, given the state of online media. Secondly, he knew that the world was now aware that super powered beings were not limited to the realms of science-fiction, badly produced movies and comic books. The third thing he knew with certainty was that his newspaper, Scott Jordan and the editor were the laughing stock of what was still called Fleet Street even though no newspapers had actually been based there for years. Further, he also knew that Ian Davies, despite not being identified in the story by name, would never, as in ‘not ever’ live it down. That whatever credibility he had had up until then had been completely, utterly, totally, entirely, absolutely, comprehensively and more than somewhat destroyed.

The final thing he was absolutely sure about was that he was about four hundred feet above London, his jacket being tightly held by a very, very angry super-hero. And that he was increasing in altitude with every second. Although he couldn’t see Davies’ eyes, he wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been little lightning flashes coming out of them.

What he didn’t know was what Davies was thinking. What flat out scared him was that Davies hadn’t said a word.

Davies had heard the story on the radio as it had awakened him. At first, he couldn’t quite believe the details of the story and had flicked through the television channels in his room as the truth slowly sunk in. In disbelief, he’d taken a shower and had stood there, letting the ice-cold water wash over him, hoping that the feelings, a mixture of incredulity, upset, irritation and sheer blinding anger, would somehow diminish.

They hadn’t.

Once dressed, again in the black outfit, although without the mask, he had opened the door from his bedroom, wondering if Jordan would still be there. He was. He looked, Davies thought, as if he’d been kicked in the gut. Repeatedly.

He hadn’t been, but Davies knew the day was still young. There was still time.

He’d walked across to the window, opened it, looked out across London, and then very casually walked across to Jordan. The other man had seemed to shrink slightly as Davies approached him. Jordan’s mouth opened and closed a few times, doing an impression of a fish that would undoubtedly have gained him a starring role in the sequel to Finding Nemo, before shutting at the look on Davies’ face.

Davies had smiled a single half-smile, feeling his mouth curl up at the same time as his eyes turned to flint. He took hold of the lapels of Jordan’s jacket and to Jordan it seemed as if Davies was falling backwards. Then, just before he fell to the ground, Davies aimed himself and Jordan at the open window and took off.

They exited the room, from a standing start, doing 70 miles an hour horizontally before Davies changed the angle of his flight and shot up, still carrying Jordan.

When they reached seven hundred feet up in the air, Davies stopped, the wind buffeting him and Jordan. He hauled Jordan up to his level and pulled him close, staring at him in the face. He said, slowly, “you bastard.”

And then he let go.

– o –

It was later calculated that of all those who heard or read about the story either because they saw the newspaper, because they heard about it in offices and shops, or because they saw the news, 99.384% of them laughed.

One of those who didn’t laugh or express any reaction that morning probably would have laughed if he’d have been remotely capable of human thought. A sense of humour would have helped, but the shambling wreck that used to be Samuel Withers had lost that as well. He’d lost a lot since he’d died, but that was only to be expected.

What wasn’t to be expected was that two days after he’d been roasted in a petrol explosion and had a carcinogenic, not to say, mutagenic mass of material blasted through him, he’d be walking around. Well, maybe walking was putting it too strongly. To walk, you need legs, and the appendages currently under the body of what was formerly Samuel Withers could only be described as legs if you placed far more weight upon the English language than it was ever truly expected to bear.

No one who saw the creature would have recognised it as Samuel Withers. To be fair, though, it’s unlike that anyone would even have recognised it as human.

The lump of matter on top of the body didn’t look too bad, as long as it was looked at side-on. And from the right side at that. From the left, what could be seen was an almost entirely flat surface, with the occasional mass of what may have been scar tissue, but it was, as has been said, only occasional. The rest of it looked like what a four year old child may have sculpted from Play-Doh, if told to imagine a head that had been scraped along a cheese grater.

It was from the front, though, that it looked truly disturbing. It appeared as if someone had taken a meat cleaver, sliced a head in two and thrown one half away.

And that was the best part to look at.

It’s unlikely that it would have understood The Guardian piece, although it would probably have still been a reader of The Sun, had it been able to get hold of a copy.

There was only one thing that could have passed for a thought in what some anthropologist possibly would have called a brain: hunger.

Unfortunately, even if it knew what it hungered for, it didn’t have much left of a mouth with which to communicate that need. And so it contented itself with walking around the basement of the hospital.

And, of course, with killing the three people who’d so far wondered downstairs to the basement that morning.

– o –

Someone else who didn’t laugh, or at least didn’t admit to it, when they learned about the story was Jez Docherty. Docherty thought himself an intelligent man, but even he was surprised how easy he’d put it together.

Unlike many people, he’d actually read the story, and completely missed the mistyped headline. He had the newspaper spread over his desk and he gulped down steaming hot coffee as he read it. He’d often wondered how anyone could drink coffee unless it was hot enough to hurt. As for tea, he never drunk it – it got cold too quickly for him.

It was only after he’d read a hundred words into the story that it hit him. He stopped, looked up at the headline and winced on behalf of the poor bastard who’d have to live that down for the rest of his life. Then he returned to the story and as he read it became convinced that he was one of the few people that knew the identity of the Pub(l)ic Defender.

Everything fit. Even the meagre physical description given was close enough to that of Davies to convince Docherty that he had the right man. He wondered how long it would be before he got the phone call, and as if the thought were mother to the deed, his telephone rang. The digital display showing Caller ID was exactly as helpful as usual, giving the number as “Number withheld”. He hit a six digit code and the number was revealed. As he’d expected, it was Clooney on the other end of the phone. He considered for a moment whether to take the call, and grimaced.

He picked up the receiver and said “Yes, Rosemary?”

There was a pause as Clooney wondered how the hell Docherty knew she was calling him. Her telephone was always set to “Number Withheld” and she knew that it would bug her unless she asked. So she did. Her only answer was a “don’t ask silly questions, Rosemary,” and then Docherty asked, “what can I do for you?”

To Clooney’s intense embarrassment, that simple question, or rather her potential answer to it, led to her feeling flustered and she could feel her face colouring. To cover her discomfort, she asked whether Docherty had any leads about Withers.

“No, none,” he replied, troubled. “It’s beginning to irritate the hell out of me, you know.”

Clooney didn’t know, and was surprised for a moment that anyone as self-assured as Docherty could be irritated by anything. Upset, sure. Even angry, but irritated? It just didn’t fit in with her image of the man. But then, she considered, she’d only known him for a couple of days and she was still learning new things about him in almost every conversation they had.

“What about Davies?” she asked, wondering for the twelfth time since she’d read that morning’s Guardian if she was going completely nuts. It had taken her some time to read the full story, just because she’d been laughing so hard at the headline. She was pretty sure that Docherty would have creased up at it as well, but didn’t think it was the right time to ask him. “Is he…” she asked, “is he… the … Pubic…” She couldn’t complete the question, falling back into her chair in helpless laughter.

Docherty waited for the laughter to subside. When it became apparent that it wasn’t about to any time soon, he hung up the phone.

He turned back to the newspaper, starting the story again, and this time making notes on a scratch pad while he read. He was about half way through the story when his phone rang again. He hit the answer button without looking and said “Docherty.”

“It’s me again,” came the voice of Clooney through the loudspeaker. Then a slight pause, followed by “Oh hell, you haven’t got me on speakerphone, have you?”

“Yes, I have,” he said, for some reason enjoying the annoyance in her voice, “and for what it’s worth, yes, I think it’s him. I think the…” he stopped, wondering what he could say that wouldn’t set her off again. He finally went with, “…Defender is Ian Davies.”

“But,” Clooney said, grateful at Docherty’s turn of phrase. “If it is him, and he can do all these things that the newspaper says, why that’s… that’s…” She stopped again, trying to marshal her words.

“Super?” asked Docherty, a smile playing across his features.

“You can joke all you want,” Clooney started, before being interrupted by Docherty’s “I’ve never needed permission before, but thanks.”

“This is serious,” she said.

“Doctor,” Docherty said, reverting to formality, “Trust me – things are far, far more serious than you know. If we have got a real Superman out there, then…” said Docherty, wondering whether or not to tell her the rest of it, and deciding against it for the moment. “If we have got a real Superman out there, then just think of the benefits to mankind.”

“Exactly,” Clooney said, missing the hesitation in Clooney’s voice. “I’ve looked at the reports and have some tentative ideas as to how he can…”

Docherty was suddenly very attentive. “I beg your pardon, Rosemary. Are you saying that you know how he’s doing what he does?”

“Not quite yet, no,” she replied, “but I’ve got some theories. Why?” She’d only mentioned it to try to justify to herself why she’d wasted an hour scribbling formulae down.

“This is really important,” Docherty said. “Seriously, Rosemary, how long would it take you to prepare a briefing paper?”

“For you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he lied, fluently.

“The rest of the day,” she said, “if I’m left alone to think. Do you want to come to the lab or to my home to pick it up?”

“Could you deliver it here, in person?” he carefully enquired. “Say around five this afternoon?”

“Sure, I’ll put something together for you, Jez,” she said.

“Great, see you later,” he quickly said and hung up. Docherty leaned back in the chair, deep in thought, the fingers of his hands steepled before him. She would be delivering it in person, he thought, but not just to him.

He dialled a number and spoke to his Head Of Section. “Yes, sir – Docherty. I believe that we have identified the man in today’s newspapers. Ian Terrence Davies. Yes, that Ian Davies. Doctor Clooney is going to present to Blue Committee this evening.” There was a question asked in response to this and Docherty frowned. “How did she react to being told that she’d be presenting to Blue? I don’t know; ask me again at seven o’clock.”

Blue Committee was the liaison group responsible for extra-normal activities. Every major country had a Blue Committee, and its chair at anytime was the head of government of whichever country convened it. Unusually, as a result, it included representatives from other country’s security services officialdom, and what minutes resulted were circulated to all, eventually; attendance to individual meetings, however, was by invitation only. The ostensible purpose of Blue Committee was to protect the safety and security of the planet, and make recommendations based upon mature consideration. Indeed, that’s what it’s remit gave it the authority and power to do: consider and recommend, that and no more.

However, Docherty knew the other purpose of Blue Committee. If an event occurred that was not controllable, each Blue Committee, ever since the first in 1945, was authorised at its own discretion and without later punishment, to use ultimate sanction. If this man was Superman, it could be said that this was the only committee on Earth who had a direct mandate from the Presidents and Prime Ministers of twenty-eight countries to come up with Kryptonite.

Because that was the unspoken part of the job. That was the bit of the job that he didn’t like doing. That he was superbly efficient at it was just unlucky… for those who were uncontrollable. In the past six years, Docherty’s department, under authorisation of the UK Blue Committee, had “unfiled”, as the jargon had it, eighteen people whose actions threatened global safety.

Docherty had unfiled seven of them.

That gag he’d made about being Lex Luthor wasn’t as funny anymore.

– o –

© Lee Barnett, 2013

To read part 16 of You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, click here.

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