The Justice Trio and The Chimney Sweep Alliance

I wrote this a couple years ago. It has been formatted and edited for your, well, not convenience, since it’s on a blog and not, like, printed out, but. Er. Here.

The business major from Austin stood outside the large deep blue steel door that served as the entrance to the Fortress of Justice. Generally, the only people who came to the Fortress of Justice were annoyed police officers who drew the short straw and had to alert the Justice Trio that something was ripping the city of Houston to shreds (ninety percent of the time, the Justice Trio’s phone was out of order). Matt Thomas, the business student from Austin, was here because he was tapped to take part in the Federal Superhero Internship Program. According to his advisor, lucky students from across the country—two from each participating school, all ten of them—were chosen to assist American superhero groups with their day-to-day tasks, including ledger-keeping, PR appointments, and coffee runs. Matt’s friend, Ashley, was lucky enough to be shipped off to Nashville to work with one of the rising superhero groups, the Ryman Seat-Fillers.

For his part, Matt didn’t know anything about the Justice Trio (if he had, then chances are that he would have refused to come in the first place), and being chosen was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he had the good fortune of staying in the state, in a city where his family owned two houses. This meant that it would be a significantly less-expensive internship, since it was unpaid. On the other hand, he knew nothing about the Justice Trio aside from hearing that they recently defeated seventeen different incarnations of Friedrich Nietzsche from, apparently, seventeen different dimensions[1].

Getting to the Fortress was hard enough. All he had been told was “The Fortress of Justice is in the warehouse district right next to the Gulf. Hard to miss. Look for the warehouse.” Matt assumed that the vague directions he had received from the Federal Bureau of Superhero Affairs would clarify themselves when he finally arrived in the warehouse district, but, having never been in that part of Houston before, Matt didn’t know how impossibly wrong he was until he arrived in the mammoth stretch of mostly abandoned warehouses bordering mostly abandoned docks (over the past three years, the warehouses had been steadily and speedily abandoned as rumors swelled through the area that the region was haunted by the vengeful ghosts of a Nordic hunting party that had discovered a temporal and spatial warp leading from Newfoundland to Houston and died in the process, and only a sixth of the seven hundred previously functioning warehouses and docks were functioning). He parked his BMW on the top level of a parking garage and looked out at the stretch of crumbling warehouses. When he reached the two hundred mark in his counting, he gave up and wept at the looming task of hunting down his new employers.

It was sunset by the time Matt reached the front door of the Fortress, and he had to work up the nerve to knock on the door after being roughly five hours late. As he moved his fist back to knock, the doorbell rang itself and Matt remarked, “Er,” before a laser shot out of the top of the door, hitting his car and causing it to explode. Matt shielded himself as debris scattered around the gravel area and the door opened. SquidJew, dressed in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and jeans, blinked at him. “Who’re you?” he asked, his breath reeking of whisky.

Matt put down his briefcase and stuck out his hand. “I’m Matt Thomas, your intern. Um, my car just blew up and I wonder if I could use your—”

SquidJew burst into laughter. “You’re not Matt Thomas any more, Archibald!” His eyes contorted into giant orbs, bloodshot from drink and shining with madness.

“Um…”

SquidJew then punched Matt Thomas on the side of the head, rendering him unconscious. He then dragged the business student inside the Fortress and locked him inside a dark room.

 

The thing about warehouses is that they’ve got this habit of being places without a lot of light—unless there are light bulbs, of course. For whatever reason, whoever built the warehouse that would become the Fortress of Justice did not see the point in putting in a lot of light bulbs, and, after the government converted it into the Hero Residence Quarters – Division 3F[2], there were many rooms that did not have any lighting at all.

The former Matt Thomas woke up in one of these rooms, opened his eyes, and immediately thought he was mistaken and tried to open his eyes again. The resulting discomfort shooting out of his eyelids told him that he was right the first time, and he was simply in a very dark room. He shifted in the very cold chair. It felt like steel. The various pokey sensations on his wrists told him that there must have been something tying his hands together. Since he was bound in a completely dark room, tied to a chair, it wasn’t too far-fetched to assume that his wrists were bound together with rope.

Just wait until the Business Department hears about this, thought Matt.

His eyes adjusted a bit to the complete darkness. Nothing much to see. There was a crack of light shooting out from what had to be a door. He coughed and was disgusted by the wetness that immediately soaked his lips. Great. He was tied to a chair, his hands were bound, and he was gagged.

There was a sound outside. An argument. Two voices, one shrill, yelling rapid-fire in a tone that meant that the voice could only be hurling obscenities. The other one laughed, responded at a much slower rate, and was probably drunk. The door shook, and the shrill voice receded away. Matt gulped.

The door swung open and he was temporarily blinded. When he was able to look back towards the light, his vision was filled completely with SquidJew standing above him, grinning and holding a lit electric lantern. “So you’re the intern,” SquidJew said.

Matt responded in the affirmative, “Feff ah am, fmmfam meffunff—”

SquidJew slapped him upside the head and pulled a steel chair over from the wall against which Matt had been leaning. The screeching of the steel against tile made Matt wince. “Don’t speak,” said SquidJew. “Don’t speak just now. We know why you’re here, Archibald. We know who you were.”

Matt responded: “Muerf—”

SquidJew slapped him upside the head again. “You rich bastards in the Business Department sicken me! You know what I did at Austin? HUH?! I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR AND WE HAD SHIT FOR FUNDING! NONE OF YOUR FUCKING TOUCH SCREEN DESKS FOR US, NO SIR!”

This wasn’t Matt’s fault. He squirmed in the chair to try and tell SquidJew this.

SquidJew reared back his head and barked laughter again. He stopped, took a swig from a flask he produced from his jeans, and leaned in close to Matt. “You are no longer Matt. You are Archibald the Intern and you do nothing but make us juice. You hear me?”

Matt—sorry, Archibald—nodded.

“I don’t believe you,” SquidJew said. He walked back over to the door, opened it, took a rolled-up newspaper from the hallway wall and smacked Archibald in the head with it. “Listen: You’re gonna accept that you’re Archibald. We’re gonna tell the Business Department that you died and we have the burned-up car to prove it. Fuckin’ government didn’t give us enough funding to have a proper laser defense device.” SquidJew took another swig from the whiskey and reeled. He got a little green in the face. “Listen, Archie. I don’t want you to come out of here until I say so.” He stood up in the chair to leave. “We’re gonna get you a nice blender, you hear me, Archie? A nice blender and a gift card to the grocery store so you can get plenty of produce.”

* * *

Police Chief Bob (known to his officers as the Blueberry of Justice due to his massive, round form in a police uniform) waddled into the lobby of the First Bank of Cupidity to a scene that could only be described as horrible carnage. Against the wall marble wall next to his desk, the former bank manager—covered in soot—lay prone, a trail of bloody gray matter leading up to a large red splotch about six feet up from the floor. Two guards were unconscious next to the doors, covered in soot. Three tellers had marks on their foreheads written in soot. To the right of the entrance, the vault’s door was wide open. Bootprints formed in carbon led to the interior of the vault, and another set led out through the doors.

Bob, in all his days as Houston Police Chief never had the opportunity to say anything dramatic due to his insistence that he not be present at any crime scene, but he leapt on it now. “Oh my God,” he said, miming removing a pair of glasses from in front of his eyes. “What in High Holy Hell happened here?”

An officer walked over from one of the tellers with a notebook in his hand. “Hiya chief, the teller over there wasn’t making a lot of sense, but from what I could tell… well, I’m just confused.”

Bob, riding a wave of melodrama, slapped the officer, wheezed a bit from the movement, and shouted, “Get a hold of yourself Ramirez!”

The officer rubbed his left cheek. “My name’s Parker, sir.”

Bob slapped him again. “Get a hold of yourself Parker! You’re not making any sense! I need cold, hard, truth, not goobledy-gobble!”

Parker had never heard anyone say ‘goobledy-gobble’ and spent a couple seconds wondering if that was in any dictionary, his mouth working up and down in lieu of actually saying anything. “Uh,” he finally managed, “well, sir, it seems there was a platoon of, er, chimney sweeps.”

Bob tilted his head not unlike a confused dog. “What? Chimney sweeps? We have chimney sweeps in this city?”

“Apparently, sir. According to the witness, five chimney sweeps came into the lobby, knocked the guards unconscious, shot the bank manager, and launched into a diatribe about how the nation’s history of cutthroat capitalism at the expense of the proletariat was coming to an end. After this, they raided the vault and started marking all of the tellers.”

Bob looked around the bank at the witnesses the police had gathered together. “What about the customers?”

“Sir?”

Bob’s face turned beet-red. He slapped Parker in the face. “I need answers, Ramirez! What happened to the customers?”

Parker now began to regret Bob’s presence. “Sir, none of the tellers said anything about the customers. Sergeant Johnson is looking over the security tapes right now.”

“Finally,” Bob said, “something that makes some sense! Let’s establish a perimeter, I need snipers on the roof, stat! No one not wearing a uniform gets out alive, the killer’s still in here!”

“No sir,” Parker said, “we’re pretty sure the robbers are gone. We saw some burn-out marks in the parking lot. Pretty safe bet that they belong to the robbers.”

“Sir!” a woman officer said, running in from the vault. She held a CD in her hand. “We found this in the vault with a note on the case. It was addressed to you, Chief.”

“Well let’s see it.”

Another officer came over with a laptop. He put the CD inside the drive and a video started playing on the screen. A man in a chimney sweep outfit—complete with top-hat and soot-covered face—was grinning and holding a broom. “Well hello there, chief,” he said, his voice thick with a Texan accent. “If you’re seeing this, then you’ve run into the Chimney Sweep Alliance for the first time. This won’t be the last time either, I can assure you of that. You see, we represent the disaffected, the marginalized, the people who have been cast aside by this techno-industrial state of the country and don’t much care for the way we’ve been treated.”

“I didn’t know chimney sweeps could sound like sociologists,” said Bob.

Parker nodded.

“The way we see it, chief,” said the sweep, “it’s y’all or us. It’s high time that the workers of the world unite and cast off our chains. This first act of violence is only a prelude to the way that we shall soon depose the despots and the corporate CEOs. Soon your glorious concrete jungle, the vast, unsightly sprawl of Houston with its disgusting glass skyline will be covered in black—the mourning black of soot representative of the ashes of your world. I suggest that you tell your corporate lackeys to start believing in the God they shunned, for Death comes in the form of the Chimney Sweep Alliance!” He raised the broom above his head and the video stopped playing.

Bob took off his cap and scratched his head. “Huh.”

“Well boss?” asked Parker.

“I don’t know. Is there precedence for chimney sweeps attacking a city?”

The woman officer, McMahan, said, “There was that Plumber’s Revolt in Cleveland about a year ago.[3]

“Yeah, but that was more of a union stunt than anything else,” said Parker.

“Eighty people died,” said McMahan.

Parker shrugged. “There is power in a union.”

Bob sighed. “I hate to do this, men—and woman, sorry McMahan—but I think it’s time to call the Justice Trio.”

“Aw, c’mon, Chief. You can’t do that. They’ll just somehow blow up half the city. Remember last month?[4]

“To be fair, Parker,” said Bob, “they only blew up half of Rice. I think this is a special enough circumstance to get them involved, Parker. Houston just got the Beautification Award, we can’t have that tarnished by soot. McMahan, get on the horn to the Fortress of Justice.”

 

SquidJew woke up to the sound of an Astros ballgame on T.V. He cracked an eyelid, noted that he had passed out on the couch, and asked whoever else was in the living room of the Fortress of Justice, “What inning is it?”

Killman 5000 answered from the thrift shop recliner to SquidJew’s right, “Bottom of the second, Astros up by two on the Rangers. It’s about eight o’clock, if you were wondering.”

SquidJew groaned. His head started to throb. He tried to test the severity of his hangover by lifting his head an inch off of the green couch cushion. His headache switched from a mild inconvenience to pain on par with having bamboo chutes forced under one’s fingernails. He groaned again. “How early did I start drinking?”

“Oh, I’d say you had your first beer at about eleven. Shortly after, you went to vodka, chased it with whiskey, puked, and went back to whiskey.”

“Why did I drink so much?”

“I think you were visiting your dad earlier today. I’ve gotta say, SquidJew, this is a record. Blackout by noon. Nice.”

SquidJew thought back ten hours to when he was still in his father’s apartment, trying to convince him to move to a retirement home. “It’s called Thanatos!” protested his father. “What you think I am, some kind of stupid? Don’t know what that means? It’s death!”

“Well yeah,” said SquidJew, “but only in Greek. In English it’s a very posh old folks’ home with not just Bingo, but shuffleboard.”

“Fuck you, idiot! You were always trying to get to my money, why can’t you be like your brother?”

SquidJew sighed. “My brother hasn’t talked to you since he went into rabbinical school ten years ago. And your money? Sorry dad, but the government pays me more than that.”

SquidJew’s dad, Saul, spit on the T.V. screen. “You are a welfare whore!”

“Dad, I’m a superhero with a government job.”

“Government job? Get a listen of yourself—you prance around in tights for a living!”

“I wear jeans, not tights.”

“A gay by any other uniform would be as gay.”

“Your mother!”

“Get out!”

“Yeah,” said SquidJew back in the present, “he was pretty bad today.”

Killman walked over to the black-and-white set that somehow clung to continued existence and turned it off. A lonely tendril of smoke lifted up from the back as the sound and picture died. “So, you want to talk to the guy you have locked up in the storage room?”

This made SquidJew open both his eyes and sit upright. He winced in pain from the effort. “What?”

“The intern we were supposed to get from the University. He’s here. You locked him up in the storage room after knocking him unconscious when he first arrived. I tried to stop you, but you brought up the whole melting-the-cat incident.”

“Ah. Sorry.”

The melting-the-cat incident referred to a time about three weeks ago when Killman—longtime sufferer of a disease[5] so rare that the only time it was previously recorded was in ancient Egypt and was seen as a blessing from Anubis—removed his special skin-toned leather gloves to pet a cat. The feline went through an unbearable amount of pain for a half an hour before bursting into flames.

Killman waved his hand through the air. “It’s okay. I do suggest you go apologize to that guy before we get hit with torture charges.” He pointed to a pitcher of water on the black plastic coffee table in front of the green couch. “I’d down that thing and then take a couple of aspirins, though. You’re in for a world of hurt if you don’t quell that hangover before it gets too bad.”

“Can’t we just ignore him? Maybe he’ll go away and we won’t have to deal with it.”

“My friend, that would be bad. Demolition Man’s scheduled to clean that room in a couple of hours and more likely than not, he won’t hesitate to call the cops on you.”

SquidJew buried his head in his hands and groaned.

There passed an uncomfortable few moments. Killman, who usually made it a point to avoid such hangovers by drinking a vitamin cocktail after imbibing any alcohol, did not fully appreciate the severity of a nighttime hangover and sighed and began to hum.

“Keep humming and I’ll rip out your throat,” said SquidJew from inside his hands.

There passed another extremely uncomfortable few moments. Finally, SquidJew emerged from the shelter of his hands and stood. “All right, I’ll go fix this.”

He shambled out of the living room and stood in front of the storage room/jail cell. He took a moment to ponder the patterns that various stains made on the tile floor, the symphony of Demolition Man’s nearly constantly running two vacuum cleaners and dust busters and the new sound of what seemed to be a gigantic rat scurrying around in the storage room. He cleared his throat and heard the steel chair scrape against the cement floor of the room. He opened the door and blinked a few times until his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

When he was finally adjusted, he saw a man sitting hunched over in the chair, slowly rocking back and forth. His pink polo had been ripped and the sleeves were tossed on either side of the chair. He sniffed the air. “The enforcer!” he rasped.

SquidJew blinked. “…” he not-said with an open mouth. His mind quickly caught up to the situation, and he said, “SquidJew, actually. The Enforcer is in Los Angeles. You’re Matt Thomas?”

The man leapt up and immediately dropped to his knees and started crying. “No! I am Archibald! Archibald! No Matt Thomas, Matt Thomas is dead! Look!” he pointed to the sleeves. “He is in them.”

The question what have I done? flashed through SquidJew’s mind. “Wait, it’s been about four, five hours since I threw you in here.”

“In those hours, I have seen hell,” said the man.

“Okay. Well, you’re Archie. I guess.”

Immediately, eerily, pants-shitting terrorily, the man leapt up and all fright and inhumanity swept from his face in an instant. He nearly ran over to SquidJew, still standing in the door, and shook him by the hand. SquidJew could have been mistaken, but in the now good-natured eyes staring at him, he thought he saw every well-behaved child character from every Fifties television show he’d ever seen. “Well gosh, SquidJew, I sure am glad to hear you say that! That Matt Thomas, I didn’t like him. He didn’t know the pure joy of blending up some juice and relaxing in front of the tube. He had to sit in his BMW and screw every thing with two legs and lady-bits. But we taught him, didn’t we, SquidJew?”

“I… yes?”

“Well, I am your intern, I guess I’d better get to making some juice!” He brushed past SquidJew and, judging from the ensuing clatter of metal pots and then the sound of a previously unseen blender, walked into the kitchen.

SquidJew leaned up against the doorframe and scratched his head until Killman appeared in the hall, blinking in confusion. “SquidJew, I have two things to say. One: Apparently you snuck a phone call to UT earlier and alerted them to the tragic death by drowning of one of their students. We are invited to the memorial service on Monday. Two: There is a manic individual blending rotten fruits in our kitchen. When did we get a blender?”

“There’s a madman blending fruits in our kitchen and you ask about the blender?”

“The madman I can deal with. Randomly self-generating blenders I cannot.”

SquidJew shrugged. “Maybe my mom got it for us.”

“Your mom’s been dead for twenty years.”

SquidJew shrugged.

The phone rang in the living room and the blender sputtered to a halt. The sound of tennis shoes against the tile floors echoed down the hallway, as did, “This is Archibald the Intern at the Fortress of Justice, how can I help you?”

The two heroes ran into the living room and, due to the peculiar nature of the telephone that is not in speaker phone mode, did not hear the other end of the conversation, which went something like this: “I didn’t know the Trio got an intern.”

“Oh they sure did! Who am I talking to?”

“This is Police Chief Bob.”

“Gosh!” said Archie, right before SquidJew knocked him down with an elbow and captured the phone.

“Hello?” he asked.

“That wasn’t cool, SquidJew!” said Archie, rubbing his nose, which was streaming blood.

SquidJew responded, “Get over it, go finish up whatever you were making.”

Like a chastised dog, Archibald the Intern got up and returned to his rotten fruit juice in the kitchen.

“SquidJew, is this a bad time?” asked Bob.

“Oh hey, Bob. Not as such. A business student flipped his shit and thinks he’s Beaver Cleaver. You know, life as normal in the Fortress of Justice.”

“Right… Well, look my friend, there’s been some weird shit going down at the First Bank of Cupidity.”

“Giant sloth?”

“Nope, chimney sweeps raided the place and killed the manager.”

“Chimney sweeps.”

“That’s right.”

SquidJew handed the phone to Killman, who greeted Bob and was told everything SquidJew was. “Chimney sweeps.”

“That’s right.”

Killman arched an eyebrow. “Bob, I really don’t know what to say about chimney sweeps killing a bank manager.”

“Well, you can get SquidJew and Demolition Man ready, because we think we know where they’re going to attack next. See, Ramirez down here—”

“Parker!” screamed a voice on the other line.

“Right, Parker down here has a cousin who said she saw a bunch of chimney sweep vans driving down to Von Bon Oil, you know, over by Intercontinental, about two hours ago. She and Parker think that—oh hell.”

“What Bob?”

“Turn on the news.”

Killman hit CNN’s channel number on the remote and the TV turned on. A reporter stood in front of what used to be Von Bon Oil’s headquarters, wearing a bright yellow jacket, trying her best to look harried and affect a British accent[6] and sadly failing, stood as firefighters rushed by her with hoses and axes. For a moment, the camera panned across the burning inferno towering up from Von Bon Oil’s main building and showed dozens of fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, and, just behind the civic authorities, standing in front of Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes, personal injury lawyers. Killman turned up the volume and heard the reporter say, “Thanks Howard. I’m standing in front of what used to be Von Bon Oil’s headquarters. Von Bon Oil is a multinational corporation with assets in the trillions and ties to the government since the second Bush administration. Just thirty minutes ago, three white vans slammed into the building’s front face, exploding and destroying the vast majority of the building’s foundation.

“All of the authorities I’ve spoken to here are under the impression that this was the result of an intricately planned attack by a terrorist organization. Already, seven organizations have laid claim, from Al Qaeda to The Aryan Front, to The Nebraska Mujahadeen—the organization that was recently defeated by the Federal Superhero Organization known as We Roll Twenties. Ranking officers here have refused to comment, saying that their main concern now is saving anyone who can be saved. Calls to the FBI office in Houston have gone unanswered and—” the reporter squinted and held a hand to her ear. Killman guessed the gesture was supposed to indicate that someone was speaking to her in an earpiece.

“Howard, I’ve just been told that there has been a definitive claim to this attack. It is a new group from what I can tell, and CNN has been granted exclusive privileges to broadcast the tape.” She nodded to someone off camera.

The picture changed to a man who looked like he belonged in Mary Poppins. He sat in a red leather chair in front of a roaring fireplace. He was flanked on both sides by two soot-covered chimney sweeps who held giant brooms. On either side of them, there were bookcases filled with leather-bound gigantic volumes that looked like they could easily crush a man’s lap. The chimney sweep in the chair grinned and said in a soothing voice, “Good evening, fellow citizens of Houston. You may call me Ashes. These are my associates Flamer and Flaming.”

“Heh,” said SquidJew, “he just called his friends gay.”

Killman shushed him.

“We are responsible for the attack made on Von Bon Oil. Over the past decade, we have heard nothing but complaints aired on the national media from professionals as well as people on the street, dealing with the corrupt politicians in Washington and the brute power of the so-called ‘Big Oil.’ However, in the true American way, no one is willing to do anything else but complain. Think about it: Rather than solve our own problems in our cities by socially progressive policies, we have the Federal government create a network of bumbling superheroes. We lay blame without doing anything. Well, the time has come for my companions and I, hereafter referred to as The Chimney Sweep Alliance, to take a stand against the corrupt forces that run this country. Whether you, Houston, are willing to join us or not.

“Our methods shall be similar to what we have done tonight, except on a much grander scale. Skyscrapers shall fall, banks will be gutted, and fast food establishments will be blown to smithereens. The previous order will fall in a torrent of soot brought about by our hands. Because we are well aware that some of you will not come willingly, and will require further proof that everything in which you place your faith is fallible and responsible for the current condition of the Union, we offer the following challenge to your representatives, The Justice Trio: Meet us in Memorial Park, in between the volleyball complex and the pond tonight at midnight. Failure to show will be admission of defeat, and you will leave the city of Houston, indeed, the nation, at our whim. Know this, our brothers are everywhere. In every metropolis, suburb, and rural town in the nation. We are united in our cause and will not quit until this nation molds itself to our vision.

“Chimney Sweep Alliance out.”

The video cut and CNN went back to the faux-British reporter in front of the burning Von Bon Oil building. The reporter was obviously feigning shock—no one actually drooled when their mouth was open, and no one shook their head as much in disbelief as she was doing. “Howard,” she intoned as dramatically as an actor in a high school play, “I don’t know what exactly to think about what we have seen tonight. Our prayers go out to those families who have lost loved ones in this… this… brazen attack. We plead, no, beseech The Justice Trio to do something.”

Killman turned off the TV and said into the phone, “Bob, you still there?”

“Sure am, Killman. Looks like you guys have a job to do tonight.”

“Looks like it.”

SquidJew snatched the phone out of Killman’s hand. “You fuckers gonna pay us for this one, shitkickers?”

“What do you mean?”

“We haven’t gotten one check since we first started in Houston.”

There was a pause on the other line. “They’re in the mail.”

“My ass.”

The other line went dead.

“Fucker hung up on me.”

“Imagine that. Go get Demolition Man. What time is it?”

SquidJew checked the broken clock above the doorway to the kitchen. “Three in the afternoon.”

“That’s not right.”

“Good point. About nine?”

Killman flicked on the TV long enough to check the time according to CNN and turned it back off. “Nine-fifteen. Get Demolition Man, get ready. We’ve got a job to do.”

Archie skidded into the living room carrying two glasses of blackish-reddish liquid. “You guys want some juice?!”

“Um, what’s in there?” asked Killman.

“Oh, a little of this, a little of that.”

“Better take some,” whispered SquidJew, “he might kill us otherwise.”

The two heroes took the glasses and sipped. The juice was surprisingly good. They sipped again. Hell, it was fantastic! They felt invigorated by the disgusting-looking liquid and stronger, braver than ever! “Archie!” said Killman. “This is fantastic!”

Archie blushed and looked down at the floor. “Aw, don’t mention it, guys.”

***

Memorial Park is a large green area near downtown Houston. Since the inception of superheroes in the realm of civic defense, the Justice Trio had noticed that it was the location in which their enemies liked to duel. Whenever there wasn’t a large something or other ripping through uptown or downtown, or when a villain built a doomsday machine out of junked cars[7], the villains seemed to have an odd fixation for recreating their old childhood dreams of dueling in a vaguely Wild Westish setting (obviously, they had to make do with a park instead of a dusty street in a mining town).

Even odder, the villains always chose to meet in the same spot: in between the volleyball complex and the central pond in the park. Tonight, SquidJew and his comrades stood next to the usual park bench and waited for The Chimney Sweep Alliance to make their entrance.

“You are going to have to remind me why you chose to bring me with you two,” said Demolition Man.

“We need a strong man,” said Killman.

Demolition Man nodded and wrung his hands. His eyes constantly scanned the opposite side of the pond. “Yes, I understand that. My concern, however, is the nature of our enemies in direct relation to my, ah…”

“Batshit insanity?” offered SquidJew.

“I would say neurosis,” said Demolition Man. He turned to face Killman, who was leaning on the bench and yawning. He had not changed into his work uniform—a black t-shirt with ‘Guns = Bad’ ironed-on and a pair of cheap jeans—and was wearing a shirt depicting a cartoon bear ripping a cardboard cutout of Darth Vader to shreds. “Killman,” said Demolition Man, “I would not expect SquidJew to take my problems into account due to his selfish nature, but you should know otherwise. Imagine the horrors that would transpire if some of their soot were to fall upon my uniform during the fight.”

Killman gave Demolition Man’s white suit, white shirt, and white shoes a look over. “You’re free to go back in the van, Demo. Thing is, I noticed that the previous renters left a dirty diaper in the back. Baby did a decent job of pissing all over it. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

Demolition Man twitched for a moment. “I had noticed the stench of urine, but I hoped that SquidJew had just soiled himself.”

“What makes you think I would soil myself?” asked SquidJew.

“You were not exactly in a healthy state. I just assumed that you had refused to go to the restroom before we left and found that you could easily do so in the van.”

SquidJew, from time to time, had entertained thoughts of hitting Demolition Man. The thing that kept him back from doing so was that anything he could do would not harm Demolition Man on account of his strength, as well as the possibility that the other superhero would then hit him, possibly sending him flying through the Fortress’s wall. “You’re a smug son of a bitch, you know that?”

“Well, well, well,” said a voice coming from the direction of the volleyball courts. “Houston’s finest show themselves at last. I momentarily thought that you wouldn’t show up. After all, the knowledge that one’s world is going to implode is often grounds for playing truant.”

The Justice Trio turned to the source of the voice and saw Ashes the chimney sweep, broom in hand, alongside Flamer and Flaming. “The last time I skipped anything,” said SquidJew, “was shul on Friday. And brother, you ain’t shul.”

Flamer poked Ashes on the shoulder and whispered, “Did he just say we’re not worthy of skipping out on?”

Ashes blinked. “Maybe? I’m not really sure, to be honest. You think we should ask?”

Flamer and Flaming both shrugged.

“We don’t know exactly what you meant by that,” said Ashes, “but we are prepared to set the fate of the world tonight. Are you prepared?”

Killman was about to make a legitimate answer that would have been considered extremely eloquent[8] when the park bench flew over SquidJew and Killman’s heads with the grace of a water fowl, landing on top of the three chimney sweeps. SquidJew and Killman, though shocked, heard what sounded like scores of bones breaking, immediately followed by obscenities from the parking lot on the other side of the volleyball court, engines starting, and tires burning rubber on pavement. The two heroes turned around and saw Demolition Man, standing where the park bench was until very recently, straightening his sleeves. They stared at him, open-mouthed.

Demolition Man smiled crookedly. “Sorry, I’m not sure what came over me. I imagine part of it was needing to get back to finish cleaning.”

“You just killed three men,” said Killman.

“That ain’t cool,” added SquidJew.

“Ah, yes. Yes I did.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” asked Killman.

Demolition Man happened to be the only one of them who had read the charter that created the Federal assistance for superheroes. “Actually, no. In extreme cases, federally-sponsored superheroes are allowed to dispense threats with lethal force. Since our recently-deceased friends there chose to go the violent route and blow up a building without any warning—an act that could easily be construed as terrorism and not the typical villain behavior we should be dealing with—I would define this as an extreme case. At least for us.” He wiped off the remnants of the dirt that came from the bench.

One of the sweeps groaned, and SquidJew rushed over and kneeled. The man was in bad shape. The top iron bar from the bench had landed on his throat in a bad way (as much as there could be a good way for an iron bar to land on one’s throat) and the rest of his body was underneath the bench. The other two sweeps were obviously dead—the bench had landed on one of them so that one of the bars had dug into his skull, and the other fell victim to a broken wooden board that cut through his throat. “Phantom,” Ashes said weakly.

“What?” asked SquidJew.

Ashes cracked open an eyelid. “The Phantom. J’accuse.” This was quickly followed by a death rattle.

SquidJew stood up and by the time the other two heroes walked over, SquidJew was as pale as a dead man.

“What’s wrong, SquidJew?” asked Killman.

SquidJew croaked. Then he coughed. “The Phantom. My past has returned to haunt me.”

Killman and Demolition Man knew better to ask questions of SquidJew when he looked like he did now, and only moved him to their van.

***

The next day, SquidJew and Killman were on the freeway driving to Austin in the rented van. (By now, it should have qualified as a stolen van, but until the rental company called the police, the Trio preferred to refer to it as a rental.) They rode in silence save for the Dire Straits album in the CD player. SquidJew gazed out of the window, thinking back to the time before he was in the pay of the government, and Killman sung along with the band.

When they finally hit the Austin city limits, Killman turned down the CD player and said, “SquidJew, I don’t want to bother you when you’re in what seems to be a meditative state, but I would like to know why we’re leaving Houston for Austin. This isn’t our city, and if we’re going to come here, then we might run the risk of cheesing off the local authorities.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said SquidJew. “We’re not here to police or be heroes. There’s just something I need to see. We’re going to the university center.”

 

When SquidJew was a student at the University, there was a professor who taught Religious Studies who was only known as The Phantom. He had a habit of never coming to class in person, instead broadcasting his voice through dozens of speakers set up around the room. He ensured that he had a class to teach by installing dozens of cameras around the room, some visible, some implanted in the most clever of places. He could do all of this because he had tenure.

His eccentricity did not stop there, however. He was one of those souls who believed that learning a certain subject (namely, Religious Studies) was tantamount to being a functional human being and American citizen. So, to properly teach his students the ins and outs of religion, he punished wrong answers and faulty logic, rewarded correct answers and shining logic. The punishments tended to come in the form of the students’ worst fears coming to life in front of them.[9]

SquidJew, when he was in the class, was among the lucky few who figured out the various horrors that The Phantom could unleash and managed to avoid or dodge most of them. (His worst fear—water—being very easy to counter with an umbrella.) But now, walking down the hallways of one of the buildings on the University’s main campus, he felt a series of chills running down his spine. He’d always had a dislike of fluorescent lighting, but now, with it beaming down on him and casting an odd paleness on his skin, the dislike turned to hatred. The student working at the main desk in the administration building turned death-white at SquidJew’s request. “Why would you go to that dark place?” he asked. For the life of him, SquidJew felt something similar and really wished that he could just stop walking and let The Phantom off the hook, but his feet kept moving.

Somewhere along the line, The Phantom had moved to the Visual Arts Department, which allowed him to project his grotesque sense of humor all across campus. Now, standing outside of The Phantom’s door—a black iron hulking monstrosity with a horn-shaped doorknob—SquidJew had guessed that The Phantom was always a bit more unhinged than he had thought during his undergrad years. The door was slightly ajar, and the hero walked inside.

The inside of the office was chillingly like every other office SquidJew had ever seen. There were a couple of wood bookshelves against the walls filled with books on both religion and art. There was a large wooden desk on which was strewn stacks of essays, a couple more books, an idle MacBook, and a small lamp, turned on and lighting the room, shaped like a tiki warrior.

SquidJew thought for a moment that he was horribly mistaken about which office he was in, then he took a look at an envelope that was underneath the lamp. The word ‘SquidJew’ was written on it in curly, practiced script. He walked over, opened the envelope and read the following:

To the one the media calls ‘SquidJew,’

 

It has been quite a while since you were in my Religious Studies class. Making the Most Money Possible Off of Burgeoning Religions, wasn’t it? I never forget a face, my friend.

By now, I assume you’ve either taken The Chimney Sweep Alliance into custody or inadvertently killed them all. Either way, it does not matter. They most likely gave me up in their waning hours—otherwise, why would you be reading this?—and here you find yourself, at the desk of an old professor hell-bent on jamming worthless information into your skull, wondering why it is that he is involved in a plot to destroy the modern world order.

Well, the answer, as it happens, is very simple: It was an end-of-the-semester project. Do not feel guilty for ending students’ lives, as I assure you they chose it of their own free will. Granted, it was on my list of possible projects, and I suppose that I am to blame because of that. In any case, they chose to go about bringing about a new world order as a way of speaking out against the injustices of the current Presidential administration. Personally, I felt that blowing up the oil company headquarters was a nice touch.

Because of the evidence against me (not the least of which is this letter), I am fleeing the country and heading somewhere south. Not Mexico, that is too, oh, I don’t know, passé. Perhaps Columbia.

In any event, I wish you the best in your future superhero endeavors. Please do spare the Modern Art Museum from any villains, as a recent student of mine is having an exhibition there in the coming months—he worked with wood and fecal matter. Quite brilliant, I think.

 

Best,

Phantom

SquidJew folded up the letter, placed it into his jeans, and had a blissfully silent mind—brought on by the satisfaction that his worst suspicions of one of his professors were proven to be true. He turned off the lamp, pulled the door shut behind him, and walked down the white tiled hallway, out the front door of the building and got into the van parked out front.

Killman noted that SquidJew said nothing for the first twenty minutes of the drive and finally said, “So…”

“Yup,” responded SquidJew.

“Learn anything?”

“Oh, the professor had everything to do with it.” He took the note out of his jeans and read it to Killman. Then he folded it back into his jeans and started whistling “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Now it was Killman’s turn to mull the note over for about twenty minutes. “I guess you missed him.”

“Killman, he probably left town after they bombed the oil company. Probably gave the poor bastards a C, too.”

“What should we do?”

SquidJew shrugged. “Out of our jurisdiction, isn’t he? Can’t go after him or we’d probably lose what funding we have.”

“Fucking bureaucracy,” said Killman.

SquidJew nodded. “Fucking art classes.”

End

 

 

 

 


[1] The Houston Daily Issue, a Houston-based tabloid that had a hard-line anti-hero stance, called the accomplishment “the worst thing to happen to modern philosophy since the burning down of the Philosophy Good Time Café in Seattle” and then proceeded to call for the deaths of the heroes only to immediately retract the statement on the next page in favor of pleading with the Houston populace to leave rotten fruit outside of the Fortress of Justice.

 

[2] The lowest division of Hero Residence Quarters; as a matter of comparison, the Division 3A HRQ came with subterranean caves, helipads, plasma hi-definition TVs, working telephones, and laser defense mechanisms that didn’t fire off at random, blowing up cars—but 3As were only found in Manhattan and a couple cities in California, definitely not in Texas.

[3] See: Cleveland Sun Times, “The City Has Now Gone to Shit.” Volume 64, Issue 42—September 21, 2016. –Ed.

[4] See: The Houston Daily Issue, “Justice Trio Blows Up Rice University, Misses The Dada Crew Yet Again.” Volume 22, Issue 87—November 1, 2017.

[5] Omigod I Just Melted Off Your Skin-itis, as recorded in Donnovan Sullivan’s Worst Possible Diseases to Have (2009).

[6] This, obviously, was a result of the 2015 study done by a media organization that showed that networks with British reporters—even if they were obviously faking Britishness—had double the ratings of other networks.

[7] “Justice Trio Battles the Machine-icanic,” The Houston Daily Issue vol. 21, issue 2. January 21, 2016.

[8] According to an interview with Killman 5000 that took place in March.

[9] The Phantom’s methods were so severe that, a year after SquidJew had graduated, the Texas state government investigated his methods of extracting these worst fears and his teaching method. The investigation yielded no compelling answers, and The Phantom’s tenure, though suspended for a blissfully calm semester, suffered no long-term effects. See: Sock Puppets, Snakes, and Coffins: The University of Texas’s Dark Professorial Secret by Don Montgomery.The business major from Austin stood outside the large deep blue steel door that served as the entrance to the Fortress of Justice. Generally, the only people who came to the Fortress of Justice were annoyed police officers who drew the short straw and had to alert the Justice Trio that something was ripping the city of Houston to shreds (ninety percent of the time, the Justice Trio’s phone was out of order). Matt Thomas, the business student from Austin, was here because he was tapped to take part in the Federal Superhero Internship Program. According to his advisor, lucky students from across the country—two from each participating school, all ten of them—were chosen to assist American superhero groups with their day-to-day tasks, including ledger-keeping, PR appointments, and coffee runs. Matt’s friend, Ashley, was lucky enough to be shipped off to Nashville to work with one of the rising superhero groups, the Ryman Seat-Fillers.

For his part, Matt didn’t know anything about the Justice Trio (if he had, then chances are that he would have refused to come in the first place), and being chosen was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he had the good fortune of staying in the state, in a city where his family owned two houses. This meant that it would be a significantly less-expensive internship, since it was unpaid. On the other hand, he knew nothing about the Justice Trio aside from hearing that they recently defeated seventeen different incarnations of Friedrich Nietzsche from, apparently, seventeen different dimensions[1].

Getting to the Fortress was hard enough. All he had been told was “The Fortress of Justice is in the warehouse district right next to the Gulf. Hard to miss. Look for the warehouse.” Matt assumed that the vague directions he had received from the Federal Bureau of Superhero Affairs would clarify themselves when he finally arrived in the warehouse district, but, having never been in that part of Houston before, Matt didn’t know how impossibly wrong he was until he arrived in the mammoth stretch of mostly abandoned warehouses bordering mostly abandoned docks (over the past three years, the warehouses had been steadily and speedily abandoned as rumors swelled through the area that the region was haunted by the vengeful ghosts of a Nordic hunting party that had discovered a temporal and spatial warp leading from Newfoundland to Houston and died in the process, and only a sixth of the seven hundred previously functioning warehouses and docks were functioning). He parked his BMW on the top level of a parking garage and looked out at the stretch of crumbling warehouses. When he reached the two hundred mark in his counting, he gave up and wept at the looming task of hunting down his new employers.

It was sunset by the time Matt reached the front door of the Fortress, and he had to work up the nerve to knock on the door after being roughly five hours late. As he moved his fist back to knock, the doorbell rang itself and Matt remarked, “Er,” before a laser shot out of the top of the door, hitting his car and causing it to explode. Matt shielded himself as debris scattered around the gravel area and the door opened. SquidJew, dressed in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and jeans, blinked at him. “Who’re you?” he asked, his breath reeking of whisky.

Matt put down his briefcase and stuck out his hand. “I’m Matt Thomas, your intern. Um, my car just blew up and I wonder if I could use your—”

SquidJew burst into laughter. “You’re not Matt Thomas any more, Archibald!” His eyes contorted into giant orbs, bloodshot from drink and shining with madness.

“Um…”

SquidJew then punched Matt Thomas on the side of the head, rendering him unconscious. He then dragged the business student inside the Fortress and locked him inside a dark room.

 

The thing about warehouses is that they’ve got this habit of being places without a lot of light—unless there are light bulbs, of course. For whatever reason, whoever built the warehouse that would become the Fortress of Justice did not see the point in putting in a lot of light bulbs, and, after the government converted it into the Hero Residence Quarters – Division 3F[2], there were many rooms that did not have any lighting at all.

The former Matt Thomas woke up in one of these rooms, opened his eyes, and immediately thought he was mistaken and tried to open his eyes again. The resulting discomfort shooting out of his eyelids told him that he was right the first time, and he was simply in a very dark room. He shifted in the very cold chair. It felt like steel. The various pokey sensations on his wrists told him that there must have been something tying his hands together. Since he was bound in a completely dark room, tied to a chair, it wasn’t too far-fetched to assume that his wrists were bound together with rope.

Just wait until the Business Department hears about this, thought Matt.

His eyes adjusted a bit to the complete darkness. Nothing much to see. There was a crack of light shooting out from what had to be a door. He coughed and was disgusted by the wetness that immediately soaked his lips. Great. He was tied to a chair, his hands were bound, and he was gagged.

There was a sound outside. An argument. Two voices, one shrill, yelling rapid-fire in a tone that meant that the voice could only be hurling obscenities. The other one laughed, responded at a much slower rate, and was probably drunk. The door shook, and the shrill voice receded away. Matt gulped.

The door swung open and he was temporarily blinded. When he was able to look back towards the light, his vision was filled completely with SquidJew standing above him, grinning and holding a lit electric lantern. “So you’re the intern,” SquidJew said.

Matt responded in the affirmative, “Feff ah am, fmmfam meffunff—”

SquidJew slapped him upside the head and pulled a steel chair over from the wall against which Matt had been leaning. The screeching of the steel against tile made Matt wince. “Don’t speak,” said SquidJew. “Don’t speak just now. We know why you’re here, Archibald. We know who you were.”

Matt responded: “Muerf—”

SquidJew slapped him upside the head again. “You rich bastards in the Business Department sicken me! You know what I did at Austin? HUH?! I WAS AN ENGLISH MAJOR AND WE HAD SHIT FOR FUNDING! NONE OF YOUR FUCKING TOUCH SCREEN DESKS FOR US, NO SIR!”

This wasn’t Matt’s fault. He squirmed in the chair to try and tell SquidJew this.

SquidJew reared back his head and barked laughter again. He stopped, took a swig from a flask he produced from his jeans, and leaned in close to Matt. “You are no longer Matt. You are Archibald the Intern and you do nothing but make us juice. You hear me?”

Matt—sorry, Archibald—nodded.

“I don’t believe you,” SquidJew said. He walked back over to the door, opened it, took a rolled-up newspaper from the hallway wall and smacked Archibald in the head with it. “Listen: You’re gonna accept that you’re Archibald. We’re gonna tell the Business Department that you died and we have the burned-up car to prove it. Fuckin’ government didn’t give us enough funding to have a proper laser defense device.” SquidJew took another swig from the whiskey and reeled. He got a little green in the face. “Listen, Archie. I don’t want you to come out of here until I say so.” He stood up in the chair to leave. “We’re gonna get you a nice blender, you hear me, Archie? A nice blender and a gift card to the grocery store so you can get plenty of produce.”

* * *

Police Chief Bob (known to his officers as the Blueberry of Justice due to his massive, round form in a police uniform) waddled into the lobby of the First Bank of Cupidity to a scene that could only be described as horrible carnage. Against the wall marble wall next to his desk, the former bank manager—covered in soot—lay prone, a trail of bloody gray matter leading up to a large red splotch about six feet up from the floor. Two guards were unconscious next to the doors, covered in soot. Three tellers had marks on their foreheads written in soot. To the right of the entrance, the vault’s door was wide open. Bootprints formed in carbon led to the interior of the vault, and another set led out through the doors.

Bob, in all his days as Houston Police Chief never had the opportunity to say anything dramatic due to his insistence that he not be present at any crime scene, but he leapt on it now. “Oh my God,” he said, miming removing a pair of glasses from in front of his eyes. “What in High Holy Hell happened here?”

An officer walked over from one of the tellers with a notebook in his hand. “Hiya chief, the teller over there wasn’t making a lot of sense, but from what I could tell… well, I’m just confused.”

Bob, riding a wave of melodrama, slapped the officer, wheezed a bit from the movement, and shouted, “Get a hold of yourself Ramirez!”

The officer rubbed his left cheek. “My name’s Parker, sir.”

Bob slapped him again. “Get a hold of yourself Parker! You’re not making any sense! I need cold, hard, truth, not goobledy-gobble!”

Parker had never heard anyone say ‘goobledy-gobble’ and spent a couple seconds wondering if that was in any dictionary, his mouth working up and down in lieu of actually saying anything. “Uh,” he finally managed, “well, sir, it seems there was a platoon of, er, chimney sweeps.”

Bob tilted his head not unlike a confused dog. “What? Chimney sweeps? We have chimney sweeps in this city?”

“Apparently, sir. According to the witness, five chimney sweeps came into the lobby, knocked the guards unconscious, shot the bank manager, and launched into a diatribe about how the nation’s history of cutthroat capitalism at the expense of the proletariat was coming to an end. After this, they raided the vault and started marking all of the tellers.”

Bob looked around the bank at the witnesses the police had gathered together. “What about the customers?”

“Sir?”

Bob’s face turned beet-red. He slapped Parker in the face. “I need answers, Ramirez! What happened to the customers?”

Parker now began to regret Bob’s presence. “Sir, none of the tellers said anything about the customers. Sergeant Johnson is looking over the security tapes right now.”

“Finally,” Bob said, “something that makes some sense! Let’s establish a perimeter, I need snipers on the roof, stat! No one not wearing a uniform gets out alive, the killer’s still in here!”

“No sir,” Parker said, “we’re pretty sure the robbers are gone. We saw some burn-out marks in the parking lot. Pretty safe bet that they belong to the robbers.”

“Sir!” a woman officer said, running in from the vault. She held a CD in her hand. “We found this in the vault with a note on the case. It was addressed to you, Chief.”

“Well let’s see it.”

Another officer came over with a laptop. He put the CD inside the drive and a video started playing on the screen. A man in a chimney sweep outfit—complete with top-hat and soot-covered face—was grinning and holding a broom. “Well hello there, chief,” he said, his voice thick with a Texan accent. “If you’re seeing this, then you’ve run into the Chimney Sweep Alliance for the first time. This won’t be the last time either, I can assure you of that. You see, we represent the disaffected, the marginalized, the people who have been cast aside by this techno-industrial state of the country and don’t much care for the way we’ve been treated.”

“I didn’t know chimney sweeps could sound like sociologists,” said Bob.

Parker nodded.

“The way we see it, chief,” said the sweep, “it’s y’all or us. It’s high time that the workers of the world unite and cast off our chains. This first act of violence is only a prelude to the way that we shall soon depose the despots and the corporate CEOs. Soon your glorious concrete jungle, the vast, unsightly sprawl of Houston with its disgusting glass skyline will be covered in black—the mourning black of soot representative of the ashes of your world. I suggest that you tell your corporate lackeys to start believing in the God they shunned, for Death comes in the form of the Chimney Sweep Alliance!” He raised the broom above his head and the video stopped playing.

Bob took off his cap and scratched his head. “Huh.”

“Well boss?” asked Parker.

“I don’t know. Is there precedence for chimney sweeps attacking a city?”

The woman officer, McMahan, said, “There was that Plumber’s Revolt in Cleveland about a year ago.[3]

“Yeah, but that was more of a union stunt than anything else,” said Parker.

“Eighty people died,” said McMahan.

Parker shrugged. “There is power in a union.”

Bob sighed. “I hate to do this, men—and woman, sorry McMahan—but I think it’s time to call the Justice Trio.”

“Aw, c’mon, Chief. You can’t do that. They’ll just somehow blow up half the city. Remember last month?[4]

“To be fair, Parker,” said Bob, “they only blew up half of Rice. I think this is a special enough circumstance to get them involved, Parker. Houston just got the Beautification Award, we can’t have that tarnished by soot. McMahan, get on the horn to the Fortress of Justice.”

 

SquidJew woke up to the sound of an Astros ballgame on T.V. He cracked an eyelid, noted that he had passed out on the couch, and asked whoever else was in the living room of the Fortress of Justice, “What inning is it?”

Killman 5000 answered from the thrift shop recliner to SquidJew’s right, “Bottom of the second, Astros up by two on the Rangers. It’s about eight o’clock, if you were wondering.”

SquidJew groaned. His head started to throb. He tried to test the severity of his hangover by lifting his head an inch off of the green couch cushion. His headache switched from a mild inconvenience to pain on par with having bamboo chutes forced under one’s fingernails. He groaned again. “How early did I start drinking?”

“Oh, I’d say you had your first beer at about eleven. Shortly after, you went to vodka, chased it with whiskey, puked, and went back to whiskey.”

“Why did I drink so much?”

“I think you were visiting your dad earlier today. I’ve gotta say, SquidJew, this is a record. Blackout by noon. Nice.”

SquidJew thought back ten hours to when he was still in his father’s apartment, trying to convince him to move to a retirement home. “It’s called Thanatos!” protested his father. “What you think I am, some kind of stupid? Don’t know what that means? It’s death!”

“Well yeah,” said SquidJew, “but only in Greek. In English it’s a very posh old folks’ home with not just Bingo, but shuffleboard.”

“Fuck you, idiot! You were always trying to get to my money, why can’t you be like your brother?”

SquidJew sighed. “My brother hasn’t talked to you since he went into rabbinical school ten years ago. And your money? Sorry dad, but the government pays me more than that.”

SquidJew’s dad, Saul, spit on the T.V. screen. “You are a welfare whore!”

“Dad, I’m a superhero with a government job.”

“Government job? Get a listen of yourself—you prance around in tights for a living!”

“I wear jeans, not tights.”

“A gay by any other uniform would be as gay.”

“Your mother!”

“Get out!”

“Yeah,” said SquidJew back in the present, “he was pretty bad today.”

Killman walked over to the black-and-white set that somehow clung to continued existence and turned it off. A lonely tendril of smoke lifted up from the back as the sound and picture died. “So, you want to talk to the guy you have locked up in the storage room?”

This made SquidJew open both his eyes and sit upright. He winced in pain from the effort. “What?”

“The intern we were supposed to get from the University. He’s here. You locked him up in the storage room after knocking him unconscious when he first arrived. I tried to stop you, but you brought up the whole melting-the-cat incident.”

“Ah. Sorry.”

The melting-the-cat incident referred to a time about three weeks ago when Killman—longtime sufferer of a disease[5] so rare that the only time it was previously recorded was in ancient Egypt and was seen as a blessing from Anubis—removed his special skin-toned leather gloves to pet a cat. The feline went through an unbearable amount of pain for a half an hour before bursting into flames.

Killman waved his hand through the air. “It’s okay. I do suggest you go apologize to that guy before we get hit with torture charges.” He pointed to a pitcher of water on the black plastic coffee table in front of the green couch. “I’d down that thing and then take a couple of aspirins, though. You’re in for a world of hurt if you don’t quell that hangover before it gets too bad.”

“Can’t we just ignore him? Maybe he’ll go away and we won’t have to deal with it.”

“My friend, that would be bad. Demolition Man’s scheduled to clean that room in a couple of hours and more likely than not, he won’t hesitate to call the cops on you.”

SquidJew buried his head in his hands and groaned.

There passed an uncomfortable few moments. Killman, who usually made it a point to avoid such hangovers by drinking a vitamin cocktail after imbibing any alcohol, did not fully appreciate the severity of a nighttime hangover and sighed and began to hum.

“Keep humming and I’ll rip out your throat,” said SquidJew from inside his hands.

There passed another extremely uncomfortable few moments. Finally, SquidJew emerged from the shelter of his hands and stood. “All right, I’ll go fix this.”

He shambled out of the living room and stood in front of the storage room/jail cell. He took a moment to ponder the patterns that various stains made on the tile floor, the symphony of Demolition Man’s nearly constantly running two vacuum cleaners and dust busters and the new sound of what seemed to be a gigantic rat scurrying around in the storage room. He cleared his throat and heard the steel chair scrape against the cement floor of the room. He opened the door and blinked a few times until his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

When he was finally adjusted, he saw a man sitting hunched over in the chair, slowly rocking back and forth. His pink polo had been ripped and the sleeves were tossed on either side of the chair. He sniffed the air. “The enforcer!” he rasped.

SquidJew blinked. “…” he not-said with an open mouth. His mind quickly caught up to the situation, and he said, “SquidJew, actually. The Enforcer is in Los Angeles. You’re Matt Thomas?”

The man leapt up and immediately dropped to his knees and started crying. “No! I am Archibald! Archibald! No Matt Thomas, Matt Thomas is dead! Look!” he pointed to the sleeves. “He is in them.”

The question what have I done? flashed through SquidJew’s mind. “Wait, it’s been about four, five hours since I threw you in here.”

“In those hours, I have seen hell,” said the man.

“Okay. Well, you’re Archie. I guess.”

Immediately, eerily, pants-shitting terrorily, the man leapt up and all fright and inhumanity swept from his face in an instant. He nearly ran over to SquidJew, still standing in the door, and shook him by the hand. SquidJew could have been mistaken, but in the now good-natured eyes staring at him, he thought he saw every well-behaved child character from every Fifties television show he’d ever seen. “Well gosh, SquidJew, I sure am glad to hear you say that! That Matt Thomas, I didn’t like him. He didn’t know the pure joy of blending up some juice and relaxing in front of the tube. He had to sit in his BMW and screw every thing with two legs and lady-bits. But we taught him, didn’t we, SquidJew?”

“I… yes?”

“Well, I am your intern, I guess I’d better get to making some juice!” He brushed past SquidJew and, judging from the ensuing clatter of metal pots and then the sound of a previously unseen blender, walked into the kitchen.

SquidJew leaned up against the doorframe and scratched his head until Killman appeared in the hall, blinking in confusion. “SquidJew, I have two things to say. One: Apparently you snuck a phone call to UT earlier and alerted them to the tragic death by drowning of one of their students. We are invited to the memorial service on Monday. Two: There is a manic individual blending rotten fruits in our kitchen. When did we get a blender?”

“There’s a madman blending fruits in our kitchen and you ask about the blender?”

“The madman I can deal with. Randomly self-generating blenders I cannot.”

SquidJew shrugged. “Maybe my mom got it for us.”

“Your mom’s been dead for twenty years.”

SquidJew shrugged.

The phone rang in the living room and the blender sputtered to a halt. The sound of tennis shoes against the tile floors echoed down the hallway, as did, “This is Archibald the Intern at the Fortress of Justice, how can I help you?”

The two heroes ran into the living room and, due to the peculiar nature of the telephone that is not in speaker phone mode, did not hear the other end of the conversation, which went something like this: “I didn’t know the Trio got an intern.”

“Oh they sure did! Who am I talking to?”

“This is Police Chief Bob.”

“Gosh!” said Archie, right before SquidJew knocked him down with an elbow and captured the phone.

“Hello?” he asked.

“That wasn’t cool, SquidJew!” said Archie, rubbing his nose, which was streaming blood.

SquidJew responded, “Get over it, go finish up whatever you were making.”

Like a chastised dog, Archibald the Intern got up and returned to his rotten fruit juice in the kitchen.

“SquidJew, is this a bad time?” asked Bob.

“Oh hey, Bob. Not as such. A business student flipped his shit and thinks he’s Beaver Cleaver. You know, life as normal in the Fortress of Justice.”

“Right… Well, look my friend, there’s been some weird shit going down at the First Bank of Cupidity.”

“Giant sloth?”

“Nope, chimney sweeps raided the place and killed the manager.”

“Chimney sweeps.”

“That’s right.”

SquidJew handed the phone to Killman, who greeted Bob and was told everything SquidJew was. “Chimney sweeps.”

“That’s right.”

Killman arched an eyebrow. “Bob, I really don’t know what to say about chimney sweeps killing a bank manager.”

“Well, you can get SquidJew and Demolition Man ready, because we think we know where they’re going to attack next. See, Ramirez down here—”

“Parker!” screamed a voice on the other line.

“Right, Parker down here has a cousin who said she saw a bunch of chimney sweep vans driving down to Von Bon Oil, you know, over by Intercontinental, about two hours ago. She and Parker think that—oh hell.”

“What Bob?”

“Turn on the news.”

Killman hit CNN’s channel number on the remote and the TV turned on. A reporter stood in front of what used to be Von Bon Oil’s headquarters, wearing a bright yellow jacket, trying her best to look harried and affect a British accent[6] and sadly failing, stood as firefighters rushed by her with hoses and axes. For a moment, the camera panned across the burning inferno towering up from Von Bon Oil’s main building and showed dozens of fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, and, just behind the civic authorities, standing in front of Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes, personal injury lawyers. Killman turned up the volume and heard the reporter say, “Thanks Howard. I’m standing in front of what used to be Von Bon Oil’s headquarters. Von Bon Oil is a multinational corporation with assets in the trillions and ties to the government since the second Bush administration. Just thirty minutes ago, three white vans slammed into the building’s front face, exploding and destroying the vast majority of the building’s foundation.

“All of the authorities I’ve spoken to here are under the impression that this was the result of an intricately planned attack by a terrorist organization. Already, seven organizations have laid claim, from Al Qaeda to The Aryan Front, to The Nebraska Mujahadeen—the organization that was recently defeated by the Federal Superhero Organization known as We Roll Twenties. Ranking officers here have refused to comment, saying that their main concern now is saving anyone who can be saved. Calls to the FBI office in Houston have gone unanswered and—” the reporter squinted and held a hand to her ear. Killman guessed the gesture was supposed to indicate that someone was speaking to her in an earpiece.

“Howard, I’ve just been told that there has been a definitive claim to this attack. It is a new group from what I can tell, and CNN has been granted exclusive privileges to broadcast the tape.” She nodded to someone off camera.

The picture changed to a man who looked like he belonged in Mary Poppins. He sat in a red leather chair in front of a roaring fireplace. He was flanked on both sides by two soot-covered chimney sweeps who held giant brooms. On either side of them, there were bookcases filled with leather-bound gigantic volumes that looked like they could easily crush a man’s lap. The chimney sweep in the chair grinned and said in a soothing voice, “Good evening, fellow citizens of Houston. You may call me Ashes. These are my associates Flamer and Flaming.”

“Heh,” said SquidJew, “he just called his friends gay.”

Killman shushed him.

“We are responsible for the attack made on Von Bon Oil. Over the past decade, we have heard nothing but complaints aired on the national media from professionals as well as people on the street, dealing with the corrupt politicians in Washington and the brute power of the so-called ‘Big Oil.’ However, in the true American way, no one is willing to do anything else but complain. Think about it: Rather than solve our own problems in our cities by socially progressive policies, we have the Federal government create a network of bumbling superheroes. We lay blame without doing anything. Well, the time has come for my companions and I, hereafter referred to as The Chimney Sweep Alliance, to take a stand against the corrupt forces that run this country. Whether you, Houston, are willing to join us or not.

“Our methods shall be similar to what we have done tonight, except on a much grander scale. Skyscrapers shall fall, banks will be gutted, and fast food establishments will be blown to smithereens. The previous order will fall in a torrent of soot brought about by our hands. Because we are well aware that some of you will not come willingly, and will require further proof that everything in which you place your faith is fallible and responsible for the current condition of the Union, we offer the following challenge to your representatives, The Justice Trio: Meet us in Memorial Park, in between the volleyball complex and the pond tonight at midnight. Failure to show will be admission of defeat, and you will leave the city of Houston, indeed, the nation, at our whim. Know this, our brothers are everywhere. In every metropolis, suburb, and rural town in the nation. We are united in our cause and will not quit until this nation molds itself to our vision.

“Chimney Sweep Alliance out.”

The video cut and CNN went back to the faux-British reporter in front of the burning Von Bon Oil building. The reporter was obviously feigning shock—no one actually drooled when their mouth was open, and no one shook their head as much in disbelief as she was doing. “Howard,” she intoned as dramatically as an actor in a high school play, “I don’t know what exactly to think about what we have seen tonight. Our prayers go out to those families who have lost loved ones in this… this… brazen attack. We plead, no, beseech The Justice Trio to do something.”

Killman turned off the TV and said into the phone, “Bob, you still there?”

“Sure am, Killman. Looks like you guys have a job to do tonight.”

“Looks like it.”

SquidJew snatched the phone out of Killman’s hand. “You fuckers gonna pay us for this one, shitkickers?”

“What do you mean?”

“We haven’t gotten one check since we first started in Houston.”

There was a pause on the other line. “They’re in the mail.”

“My ass.”

The other line went dead.

“Fucker hung up on me.”

“Imagine that. Go get Demolition Man. What time is it?”

SquidJew checked the broken clock above the doorway to the kitchen. “Three in the afternoon.”

“That’s not right.”

“Good point. About nine?”

Killman flicked on the TV long enough to check the time according to CNN and turned it back off. “Nine-fifteen. Get Demolition Man, get ready. We’ve got a job to do.”

Archie skidded into the living room carrying two glasses of blackish-reddish liquid. “You guys want some juice?!”

“Um, what’s in there?” asked Killman.

“Oh, a little of this, a little of that.”

“Better take some,” whispered SquidJew, “he might kill us otherwise.”

The two heroes took the glasses and sipped. The juice was surprisingly good. They sipped again. Hell, it was fantastic! They felt invigorated by the disgusting-looking liquid and stronger, braver than ever! “Archie!” said Killman. “This is fantastic!”

Archie blushed and looked down at the floor. “Aw, don’t mention it, guys.”

***

Memorial Park is a large green area near downtown Houston. Since the inception of superheroes in the realm of civic defense, the Justice Trio had noticed that it was the location in which their enemies liked to duel. Whenever there wasn’t a large something or other ripping through uptown or downtown, or when a villain built a doomsday machine out of junked cars[7], the villains seemed to have an odd fixation for recreating their old childhood dreams of dueling in a vaguely Wild Westish setting (obviously, they had to make do with a park instead of a dusty street in a mining town).

Even odder, the villains always chose to meet in the same spot: in between the volleyball complex and the central pond in the park. Tonight, SquidJew and his comrades stood next to the usual park bench and waited for The Chimney Sweep Alliance to make their entrance.

“You are going to have to remind me why you chose to bring me with you two,” said Demolition Man.

“We need a strong man,” said Killman.

Demolition Man nodded and wrung his hands. His eyes constantly scanned the opposite side of the pond. “Yes, I understand that. My concern, however, is the nature of our enemies in direct relation to my, ah…”

“Batshit insanity?” offered SquidJew.

“I would say neurosis,” said Demolition Man. He turned to face Killman, who was leaning on the bench and yawning. He had not changed into his work uniform—a black t-shirt with ‘Guns = Bad’ ironed-on and a pair of cheap jeans—and was wearing a shirt depicting a cartoon bear ripping a cardboard cutout of Darth Vader to shreds. “Killman,” said Demolition Man, “I would not expect SquidJew to take my problems into account due to his selfish nature, but you should know otherwise. Imagine the horrors that would transpire if some of their soot were to fall upon my uniform during the fight.”

Killman gave Demolition Man’s white suit, white shirt, and white shoes a look over. “You’re free to go back in the van, Demo. Thing is, I noticed that the previous renters left a dirty diaper in the back. Baby did a decent job of pissing all over it. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

Demolition Man twitched for a moment. “I had noticed the stench of urine, but I hoped that SquidJew had just soiled himself.”

“What makes you think I would soil myself?” asked SquidJew.

“You were not exactly in a healthy state. I just assumed that you had refused to go to the restroom before we left and found that you could easily do so in the van.”

SquidJew, from time to time, had entertained thoughts of hitting Demolition Man. The thing that kept him back from doing so was that anything he could do would not harm Demolition Man on account of his strength, as well as the possibility that the other superhero would then hit him, possibly sending him flying through the Fortress’s wall. “You’re a smug son of a bitch, you know that?”

“Well, well, well,” said a voice coming from the direction of the volleyball courts. “Houston’s finest show themselves at last. I momentarily thought that you wouldn’t show up. After all, the knowledge that one’s world is going to implode is often grounds for playing truant.”

The Justice Trio turned to the source of the voice and saw Ashes the chimney sweep, broom in hand, alongside Flamer and Flaming. “The last time I skipped anything,” said SquidJew, “was shul on Friday. And brother, you ain’t shul.”

Flamer poked Ashes on the shoulder and whispered, “Did he just say we’re not worthy of skipping out on?”

Ashes blinked. “Maybe? I’m not really sure, to be honest. You think we should ask?”

Flamer and Flaming both shrugged.

“We don’t know exactly what you meant by that,” said Ashes, “but we are prepared to set the fate of the world tonight. Are you prepared?”

Killman was about to make a legitimate answer that would have been considered extremely eloquent[8] when the park bench flew over SquidJew and Killman’s heads with the grace of a water fowl, landing on top of the three chimney sweeps. SquidJew and Killman, though shocked, heard what sounded like scores of bones breaking, immediately followed by obscenities from the parking lot on the other side of the volleyball court, engines starting, and tires burning rubber on pavement. The two heroes turned around and saw Demolition Man, standing where the park bench was until very recently, straightening his sleeves. They stared at him, open-mouthed.

Demolition Man smiled crookedly. “Sorry, I’m not sure what came over me. I imagine part of it was needing to get back to finish cleaning.”

“You just killed three men,” said Killman.

“That ain’t cool,” added SquidJew.

“Ah, yes. Yes I did.”

“Isn’t that illegal?” asked Killman.

Demolition Man happened to be the only one of them who had read the charter that created the Federal assistance for superheroes. “Actually, no. In extreme cases, federally-sponsored superheroes are allowed to dispense threats with lethal force. Since our recently-deceased friends there chose to go the violent route and blow up a building without any warning—an act that could easily be construed as terrorism and not the typical villain behavior we should be dealing with—I would define this as an extreme case. At least for us.” He wiped off the remnants of the dirt that came from the bench.

One of the sweeps groaned, and SquidJew rushed over and kneeled. The man was in bad shape. The top iron bar from the bench had landed on his throat in a bad way (as much as there could be a good way for an iron bar to land on one’s throat) and the rest of his body was underneath the bench. The other two sweeps were obviously dead—the bench had landed on one of them so that one of the bars had dug into his skull, and the other fell victim to a broken wooden board that cut through his throat. “Phantom,” Ashes said weakly.

“What?” asked SquidJew.

Ashes cracked open an eyelid. “The Phantom. J’accuse.” This was quickly followed by a death rattle.

SquidJew stood up and by the time the other two heroes walked over, SquidJew was as pale as a dead man.

“What’s wrong, SquidJew?” asked Killman.

SquidJew croaked. Then he coughed. “The Phantom. My past has returned to haunt me.”

Killman and Demolition Man knew better to ask questions of SquidJew when he looked like he did now, and only moved him to their van.

***

The next day, SquidJew and Killman were on the freeway driving to Austin in the rented van. (By now, it should have qualified as a stolen van, but until the rental company called the police, the Trio preferred to refer to it as a rental.) They rode in silence save for the Dire Straits album in the CD player. SquidJew gazed out of the window, thinking back to the time before he was in the pay of the government, and Killman sung along with the band.

When they finally hit the Austin city limits, Killman turned down the CD player and said, “SquidJew, I don’t want to bother you when you’re in what seems to be a meditative state, but I would like to know why we’re leaving Houston for Austin. This isn’t our city, and if we’re going to come here, then we might run the risk of cheesing off the local authorities.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said SquidJew. “We’re not here to police or be heroes. There’s just something I need to see. We’re going to the university center.”

 

When SquidJew was a student at the University, there was a professor who taught Religious Studies who was only known as The Phantom. He had a habit of never coming to class in person, instead broadcasting his voice through dozens of speakers set up around the room. He ensured that he had a class to teach by installing dozens of cameras around the room, some visible, some implanted in the most clever of places. He could do all of this because he had tenure.

His eccentricity did not stop there, however. He was one of those souls who believed that learning a certain subject (namely, Religious Studies) was tantamount to being a functional human being and American citizen. So, to properly teach his students the ins and outs of religion, he punished wrong answers and faulty logic, rewarded correct answers and shining logic. The punishments tended to come in the form of the students’ worst fears coming to life in front of them.[9]

SquidJew, when he was in the class, was among the lucky few who figured out the various horrors that The Phantom could unleash and managed to avoid or dodge most of them. (His worst fear—water—being very easy to counter with an umbrella.) But now, walking down the hallways of one of the buildings on the University’s main campus, he felt a series of chills running down his spine. He’d always had a dislike of fluorescent lighting, but now, with it beaming down on him and casting an odd paleness on his skin, the dislike turned to hatred. The student working at the main desk in the administration building turned death-white at SquidJew’s request. “Why would you go to that dark place?” he asked. For the life of him, SquidJew felt something similar and really wished that he could just stop walking and let The Phantom off the hook, but his feet kept moving.

Somewhere along the line, The Phantom had moved to the Visual Arts Department, which allowed him to project his grotesque sense of humor all across campus. Now, standing outside of The Phantom’s door—a black iron hulking monstrosity with a horn-shaped doorknob—SquidJew had guessed that The Phantom was always a bit more unhinged than he had thought during his undergrad years. The door was slightly ajar, and the hero walked inside.

The inside of the office was chillingly like every other office SquidJew had ever seen. There were a couple of wood bookshelves against the walls filled with books on both religion and art. There was a large wooden desk on which was strewn stacks of essays, a couple more books, an idle MacBook, and a small lamp, turned on and lighting the room, shaped like a tiki warrior.

SquidJew thought for a moment that he was horribly mistaken about which office he was in, then he took a look at an envelope that was underneath the lamp. The word ‘SquidJew’ was written on it in curly, practiced script. He walked over, opened the envelope and read the following:

To the one the media calls ‘SquidJew,’

 

It has been quite a while since you were in my Religious Studies class. Making the Most Money Possible Off of Burgeoning Religions, wasn’t it? I never forget a face, my friend.

By now, I assume you’ve either taken The Chimney Sweep Alliance into custody or inadvertently killed them all. Either way, it does not matter. They most likely gave me up in their waning hours—otherwise, why would you be reading this?—and here you find yourself, at the desk of an old professor hell-bent on jamming worthless information into your skull, wondering why it is that he is involved in a plot to destroy the modern world order.

Well, the answer, as it happens, is very simple: It was an end-of-the-semester project. Do not feel guilty for ending students’ lives, as I assure you they chose it of their own free will. Granted, it was on my list of possible projects, and I suppose that I am to blame because of that. In any case, they chose to go about bringing about a new world order as a way of speaking out against the injustices of the current Presidential administration. Personally, I felt that blowing up the oil company headquarters was a nice touch.

Because of the evidence against me (not the least of which is this letter), I am fleeing the country and heading somewhere south. Not Mexico, that is too, oh, I don’t know, passé. Perhaps Columbia.

In any event, I wish you the best in your future superhero endeavors. Please do spare the Modern Art Museum from any villains, as a recent student of mine is having an exhibition there in the coming months—he worked with wood and fecal matter. Quite brilliant, I think.

 

Best,

Phantom

SquidJew folded up the letter, placed it into his jeans, and had a blissfully silent mind—brought on by the satisfaction that his worst suspicions of one of his professors were proven to be true. He turned off the lamp, pulled the door shut behind him, and walked down the white tiled hallway, out the front door of the building and got into the van parked out front.

Killman noted that SquidJew said nothing for the first twenty minutes of the drive and finally said, “So…”

“Yup,” responded SquidJew.

“Learn anything?”

“Oh, the professor had everything to do with it.” He took the note out of his jeans and read it to Killman. Then he folded it back into his jeans and started whistling “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Now it was Killman’s turn to mull the note over for about twenty minutes. “I guess you missed him.”

“Killman, he probably left town after they bombed the oil company. Probably gave the poor bastards a C, too.”

“What should we do?”

SquidJew shrugged. “Out of our jurisdiction, isn’t he? Can’t go after him or we’d probably lose what funding we have.”

“Fucking bureaucracy,” said Killman.

SquidJew nodded. “Fucking art classes.”

End

 

 

 

 


[1] The Houston Daily Issue, a Houston-based tabloid that had a hard-line anti-hero stance, called the accomplishment “the worst thing to happen to modern philosophy since the burning down of the Philosophy Good Time Café in Seattle” and then proceeded to call for the deaths of the heroes only to immediately retract the statement on the next page in favor of pleading with the Houston populace to leave rotten fruit outside of the Fortress of Justice.

 

[2] The lowest division of Hero Residence Quarters; as a matter of comparison, the Division 3A HRQ came with subterranean caves, helipads, plasma hi-definition TVs, working telephones, and laser defense mechanisms that didn’t fire off at random, blowing up cars—but 3As were only found in Manhattan and a couple cities in California, definitely not in Texas.

[3] See: Cleveland Sun Times, “The City Has Now Gone to Shit.” Volume 64, Issue 42—September 21, 2016. –Ed.

[4] See: The Houston Daily Issue, “Justice Trio Blows Up Rice University, Misses The Dada Crew Yet Again.” Volume 22, Issue 87—November 1, 2017.

[5] Omigod I Just Melted Off Your Skin-itis, as recorded in Donnovan Sullivan’s Worst Possible Diseases to Have (2009).

[6] This, obviously, was a result of the 2015 study done by a media organization that showed that networks with British reporters—even if they were obviously faking Britishness—had double the ratings of other networks.

[7] “Justice Trio Battles the Machine-icanic,” The Houston Daily Issue vol. 21, issue 2. January 21, 2016.

[8] According to an interview with Killman 5000 that took place in March.

[9] The Phantom’s methods were so severe that, a year after SquidJew had graduated, the Texas state government investigated his methods of extracting these worst fears and his teaching method. The investigation yielded no compelling answers, and The Phantom’s tenure, though suspended for a blissfully calm semester, suffered no long-term effects. See: Sock Puppets, Snakes, and Coffins: The University of Texas’s Dark Professorial Secret by Don Montgomery.

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