by Karl Wenclas
A red flash appeared at the muzzle of the officer’s weapon. The bullet traveled toward him and passed through his shoulder, the pistol a black nine-millimeter Smith-and-Wesson. Ernesto saw it.
Numbness in his arm. The sound of gunshots echoed through his ears and between the decayed-gray urban structures on both sides of the avenue, across layers of wrecked buildings, and more of them, hordes of rats scattering at the “crack!” of pistol shots. The sounds traveled down the avenue and across the downtrodden city.
The pistol kicked up, a shell ejecting as smoke appeared at the end of the barrel. The shadow of the suspect paused then moved as the patrolman brought the weapon involuntarily down, in a mechanical motion. He’d fired three shots, though he believed it was one.
Quickly he brought the pistol back up to sight again but the figure was gone.
“Run!” Ernesto’s mind told him. Get the hell out of here depart the scene don’t trust them expect no mercy they’re out to destroy you– was the realization that passed through his mind in a millisecond; he’d already stepped back moved away into the black night swifter than their methodically organized minds could realize.
People in the neighborhood became alert at the sound of the gunshots, as if they’d been expecting them. They’d heard gunshots before– heard them all the time in fact– but knew these were different.
On the city’s news radio station:
“We have a report of a shooting on the city’s southwest side. Our own Loretta Jankins is on her way to the scene.”
Two scout cars were at the location, more coming. An officer spoke calmly over the car’s radio to his captain, though his heart raced. The car door was open, his twitchy left leg in the street, pulsating blue light splashing upon the pavement. His adrenaline’d eyes saw before him through the windshield the panorama of the neighborhood.
“Suspect is on the run. . . .”
Waiting back at Ernesto’s space was a black cat. Not all black, but with tufts of white fur displayed on its chin and chest.
A mongrel, like himself.
Ernesto B. Smith was a 29 year-old army veteran, half Mexican, half white. A “white Hispanic.” He’d fought in Afghanistan, had been honorably discharged four years ago with a partial disability, which helped pay his bills.
His PTSD condition was considered minor. Ernesto knew he’d been affected by the war, but he also judged by his experiences in and out of the service that everybody high and low was affected by something.
Blue-uniformed police officers on the scene examined the area with flashlights.
“Did we hit him?” one of the older men asked.
A rookie officer noticed something on the ground. He squatted.
“His cards,” he said, his voice ringing against the night.
“Calling cards,” he added in a quieter tone as others hurried over to see what he held in his hand.
Their heavy belts of pistol, mace, handcuffs and flashlight along with their body armor rustled as they hustled over. One of them shone his too-large steel lamp upon the small card.
“The Sable Cat!” the rookie read from the face of it. Orange letters against black background. “That’s him.”
More than a dozen cards scattered across the rough texture of the concrete street. Flashlights turned the spray of paper rectangles against a gray background into a modernist art display, their black-orange color spotted with dots of another color, of deep crimson.
“Blood!” the rookie exclaimed with a blend of triumph and regret.
The event which triggered Ernesto’s transformation into a superhero was attending a comics convention.
He went with Desmond, a black gamer guy who lived in his building. Des was on disability from the state, had lost part of his foot to diabetes. They’d taken the Fort Street bus downtown.
“Look at all these crazy people,” was Ernesto’s first thought at encountering the costumed attendees. “Desperate, clueless, awkward, lonely people.”
To his friend he said, “Star Wars? Superheroes? Man, I’ve been in a real war.”
But he found something strangely compelling about the costumes and camaraderie, the colorful fantasy of it all.
Entering the convention center had been like stepping onto another planet. Bizarre costumes of every color and variety– pink, purple, green, gold hair and goggled eyes– so that in contrast Ernesto felt impossibly straight and square.
By his military standards the people in the crowd were woefully out of shape– this accentuated by their tight leotards. But nobody cared. They’d abandoned their previous identities. Mass reinvention, if only for a day.
“In America, you can be anything you want,” one of his schoolteachers once said.
In his thoughts in the days and weeks after the convention, Ernesto thought of the show’s celebration of heroes. The trick, he decided, was to be your own hero. To construct a role and jump into it. The world needed heroes.
Later he wondered if the White Huntress had been one of the participants. That tall young woman, or that one. White costume with black boots. Scarlet lips beneath a silver mask. Carrying a bow. His cat-like instinct told him she’d been there.
His metamorphosis into the Sable Cat occurred over a period of months. It began one night when he climbed onto the roof of his building.
“I’m a cat!” he said to himself as he made his way up.
The part of the army he’d enjoyed most was climbing. He’d been in an elite unit.
From the roof Ernesto saw the city spread before him, steel bridge over the river to the north, close. To the northwest, the city’s famous crumbling ruin of a train station. “Ruin porn,” people called it. The city was filled with ruin porn.
Vacant land, shuttered factories, shattered people stumbling lost and broken down purposeless streets. Dazed zombies. Red-blue-green graffiti sprayed across soot-covered bricks. Silhouettes of shadows of ruin porn. Ernesto sat on the roof taking it in.
Below, on the street, a man and woman were fighting. She slapped him. The man punched her in the face. Twice, knocking her down. “Bitch!” the man said as the woman screamed and the cursing, anger, and fighting continued. Kicking. Boot against flesh.
A different kind of war zone.
“Yo! Stop that,” Ernesto shouted down.
A voice from above. A pause in the violence.
“Who’s that?” the man said, turning around. Then, to the night: “Mind your own fucking business, whoever you are.”
“This is my business,” Ernesto yelled back.
Can one man make a difference? In a world of chaos, can one man step forward in the face of impossible odds and say, with back straight and decided eyes, “Enough!”?
Ernesto B. Smith still remembered the man in the army recruitment office ten years ago, who’d looked directly at Ernesto and asked him, “What are you doing with your life? What are you going to do?”
A lean white man with a corded neck and weathered face. With sloping strong shoulders as hard as steel. Blue eyes facing Ernesto out of a permanently-tanned face. The man carried credibility in every part of his being. Someone who’d fought, somewhere. Sergeant stripes on his shirtsleeves. Battle ribbons on his rock-like chest.
The man’s pale eyes questioned Ernesto. Looked through him. Knew him. Understood him. A forefinger on the man’s muscle-knotted hand pointed. At him. Ernesto Smith.
“You can make a difference,” the man said.
It was the kind of neighborhood where druggy prostitutes stood on the avenue flagging down rumbling trucks. Occasional truck drivers letting one in for something quick, for ten bucks, letting the skinny young woman, white or black, off at God knows what location afterward. They’d find their way back.
It was a neighborhood where the sounds of pain and trauma, punctuated by sirens, continued from eight in the evening until four in the morning, leaving behind a fresh array of whiskey bottles, needles and crack pipes, scattered across broken sidewalks.
They were escaping from the world.
On the night bus which Ernesto sometimes rode downtown, then returned, every passenger would be high or drunk. Often himself, if he’d had a few shot-and-beers to cleanse his head and remove pain from his back, knees, and neck.
The same middle-aged white couple every night, heroin addicts nodding on their seats, tumbling into the aisle of the bus each time the vehicle braked.
Maddened bus drivers behind schedule running traffic lights, missing stops, wannabe fares running after them shouting, cursing, waving fists against the night.
A young woman of the night looking into Ernesto’s eyes as he prepared to step off the bus, staring with desperation. Hunger. Ernesto not responding.
Walking instead to his room on the avenue as a black man across the street dragged a baseball bat along the pavement while screaming at no one.
Outside, never-ending gunshots: distant pops. Or someone in his own building, on a floor below or above, shooting toward the night sky. At those times, the close gunshots reverberated like cannon fire.
Ernesto closed his eyes and fell back within himself, was overseas again, in a foreign land, watching red tracer bullets travel through an empty black night.
The psychiatrist at the V.A. hospital, originally from Pakistan, looked at Ernesto B. Smith with unease, trying to understand him. The doctor was not comfortable with these warriors. Killers. Soldiers of empire. Ernesto Smith needed his prescriptions, and the young doctor needed this job. While he listened to Ernesto, the doctor imagined the day when he’d be able to open his own practice.
His first year after the army, an agency found Ernesto a summer job at a downriver recreation center, working with developmentally disabled children. He thought it appropriate.
“I’m disabled also,” he would tell the kids. “Really.”
He’d show them a scar on his leg, acquired in war.
His co-worker was a young woman fresh out of high school.
“We both graduated,” he said. “I just graduated out of the service.”
Her name was Karina, a blonde white girl with an unpronounceable Polish last name and an unformed face. She’d been on her school’s volleyball and swim teams. Karina was slim, but as tall as himself. She brought to the job the enthusiasm Ernesto lacked.
“C’mon guys,” she’d yell to the hapless children as they played kickball or basketball. “You can do it!”
“You could be a drill sergeant,” Ernesto marveled.
“We have to bring out their potential,” Karina told him with fierce determination in her hazel eyes.
She was a kid to him. He was twenty-five then, but had been through the wars. Literally.
“Eighteen?” he said. “A good age. That’s how old I was when I enlisted.”
She looked at him with awe and respect– the kind of respect he’d received when he wore the uniform.
The center of activity in the neighborhood was Fort Street, oldest avenue in the city. It dated back to when the only walled structure in the region was a fort. Over a couple centuries an industrial city grew around it.
On this avenue huddled the area’s remaining businesses– if worn taverns, diners, and strip clubs were business. Gray glass kind of worn, interspersed with dilapidated churches which ran homeless shelters and soup kitchens.
The avenue extended through the long neighborhood then out of it, into and through suburban downriver communities as beaten down as those in the core city, only more white.
Walking the avenue at night, Ernesto’s eyes watched for movement. Dangers. A thin door clattered open and shut, offering a glimpse of a blue-and-white stage of a seedy strip joint, of druggy girls with opioid eyes, tattooed brows and shuffling feet in front of lonely men placing green dollar bills before them. The more careless and drunk men were rolled outside in the parking lot, relieved of their wallets by local predators.
In this town, this nation, predators were everyplace.
Conversation on bus.
“Did they get you again?”
“Three of ‘em.”
“For how much?”
“For real? Did they have a gun?”
“I would’ve fought.”
Ernesto had long since concluded the world consisted of predators and prey. Hustlers and targets. Scam artists and victims. Predators existed in every level of society and on every side, distinguished by the fact they were continuously selling. Whether hot jewelry or cd’s or bootleg movies, or ideology, or fantasies.
When the noise in his building became intolerable– wall-shaking music and monster-roaring movies on all sides– Ernesto left.
He moved into the basement of a nearby vacant building. The several-storied structure was in receivership; kept by the bank which owned it in a modicum of shape. There, Ernesto created a cave. An escape. A small window, easily pried, provided access.
The first night he noticed a visitor in the form of a pair of green eyes. A cat.
In daylight he realized the cat was more or less black. Ernesto adopted its guise. So garbed, in the evening he became invisible, blending into the night.
He realized he needed a name. Something which could be placed on calling cards. Every superhero had an adopted name. An alter ego. It came to him in a dream:
“THE SABLE CAT.”
The new name filled his eyes and his mind.
The Sable Cat’s first rescue came as he passed a neighborhood taqueria owned by a young couple from Mexico.
A narrow space with three tiny tables on a white tiled floor, and green-and-orange painted walls. In addition to the usual tacos and burritos, the spot sold more authentic Mexican fare such as mole and menudo.
The young wife waited tables with broken English while her young husband cooked.
They were busiest on “Taco Tuesdays” when truck drivers stopped for cheap orders to go. On other days business was slow.
Instead of a cash register they used a wooden cabinet with a drawer, found at a Salvation Army resale store. Instead of a counter there was a glass partition behind which the man cooked, with the cabinet at the end of it, green bills visible in the top drawer. No credit cards accepted.
One afternoon as Ernesto walked by he heard discordant noises. He glanced inside, past the window’s hand-lettered sign.
Empty tables. A tall man stood at the counter, wearing a red-and-white ski mask. His hand gestured. The wife stared, was displaced by her husband. Angry voices.
The tall man’s left hand pointed toward the cash drawer. His other hand held a gun.
“Your money. All of it!”
Ernesto slid on his own mask. A black one. He ran through the door and leapt at the man sideways, hitting him on the back of the neck, the man’s head bouncing off the wall into the cabinet, then snapping back. The big man lay unconscious on the hard tiled floor while the owner’s eyes gaped.
Ernesto ran swiftly outside and down the street. A cat could not have been quicker.
Headlines on city websites that night:
“Who Is the Mysterious Masked Hero?”
Ernesto’s costume consisted of black jeans, a thin black turtleneck sweater, a black ski mask, and black athletic shoes. He was agile and compact. Climbing was a joy for him. Yes, one of his knees was 50% shot, even after several surgeries. For his actions as local superhero he depended on his upper body strength, which remained ample.
After excursions the knee swelled. He remained in pain for several hours, though taking oral painkillers.
After an adventure Ernesto would lay for hours in his den, on his back on an army-style cot, scarcely moving, with leg propped. Eyes scanning the darkness and ears hearing sounds of the night, as he thought, or dozed, or daydreamed.
Upon more appearances of the masked rescuer, the city’s media turned the affair into a bigger story, prodded by black-and-orange business cards left on the scene, three words on them: “The Sable Cat.”
Local headlines: “Who Is the Sable Cat?”
Superheroes were everyplace.
The White Huntress was a superhero, but she appeared only at local business functions, like openings of car dealerships.
Ernesto first saw her two years ago on television as spokesperson for a downriver store which sold mattresses and vacuum cleaners. There she stood, in her white costume with bow and arrow, next to a thick-set man who was brother to the proprietor.
“We hit the target on price!” the pitchman yelled at the camera.
As he spoke, the masked woman, dressed in white, with black boots and a silver mask, pulled back the bow and let an arrow fly.
“Ka-thunk!” echoed off camera.
The next camera shot was of an arrow sticking into a bullseye. Cut back to the man and the woman in white, who were smiling.
“The White Huntress knows!” the pitchman said with insane enthusiasm. “Prices lower than low. No one can beat us!”
The character of the White Huntress gained a level of local popularity, but the business folded. Maybe too low of prices.
Afterward the White Huntress freelanced.
The Sable Cat interrupted another robbery, and another one. In the second one he flipped the would-be assailant over his shoulder, a judo move. He found the encounter exhilarating.
Ernesto discovered a comic book shop in a nearby suburb and bought a stack of graphic novels and comic books. The classics. He recalled suddenly he’d owned some as a child, had been fascinated by them, then after his dad died then his mom he’d put them out of his mind. Now he spent hours going through them, fascinated by the dramas and personalities on the pages.
Reports of appearances of the unknown crimefighter poured into the police department, as well as local radio and television stations. Investigators concluded that most though not all of the appearances were illusory. Imagined.
The city– call it inner city, call it ghetto, except for isolated pockets like downtown it was the entire city– consisted of a dispersion of gangs.
The police were the most powerful gang in town. The cops. Driving through neighborhoods in scout cars like staring impassive bulldogs waiting for action. For someone to step out of line. Some foolish person to take them on.
Many entered the police force with idealistic motives. Many were veterans, like himself. Ernesto might’ve joined the force himself if he wasn’t on disability.
Idealistic cops were idealistic until they realized on the streets it was themselves against the world. Their gang versus other gangs. Their uniforms were their gang colors bonding them together into one unit. The uniform became their identity. Their marker of loyalty.
Ernesto understood this because he’d worn a uniform. He’d been a member of a different-but-similar gang.
Of course many who became police officers weren’t idealists at all, had never been. They’d joined for other reasons. Many needed a job. A few– an unfortunate discrediting few– became cops because they were closet wannabes, closet sadists. Closet monsters. They joined the force to beat up people. To impose their will upon the weakest members of society, those who couldn’t hit back.
Ernesto spotted those few quickly. He saw them preening within their uniforms. Behind the gun and badge.
As he walked down the rubbled avenue a police car pulled up with skidding tires, doors opening, two officers stepping out and putting him against a wall. Patting him down.
“Carrying weapons?” one of the two asked, nervous and trigger-happy, adrenaline pouring out of him.
“No sir,” Ernesto responded.
Ernesto held back his contempt.
The red evening sun hung over the avenue’s brown brick buildings.
“We had a report of an armed robbery,” the officer said, stepping back and requesting identification.
Ernesto gave the black-stubbled, pasty-faced man his state-issued identification.
The other officer looked on impassively. He hadn’t moved. Hadn’t blinked. He took the identification to their vehicle, to look for outstanding warrants or wants.
“The perpetrator fits your description,” the first cop told Ernesto. “Been up to any funny business out here? Throw away the weapon?”
“No sir,” Ernesto told the man. “I’ve been walking. I have a bad knee. I need to walk.”
Silence. The officer stared at Ernesto, through him, to say this was irrelevant. Unnecessary information, for a question which hadn’t been asked.
What this was really about was the city’s number one gang asserting its dominance. Letting everyone know they were around.
In the basement, the cat with green eyes looked at Ernesto, as if he held an answer. Did he have an answer?
In the entire vast universe, he wanted– needed– someone to understand him.
The Sable Cat believed in honesty and virtue. His mission: Protect the defenseless.
When two police officers beat up a suspect in a back alley one night, the Sable Cat noticed.
“Back off!” he said from a metal fire escape three floors up. “You’re being watched.”
The larger of the two beefy young men turned at the sound.
“We’re POLICE!” the man yelled, looking about himself. “Do not interfere with us.”
The officer’s blue eyes scanned the sky. His ears heard whistling night.
Then: “Let’s go,” he said, pushing his partner away from their suspect.
Their haste to leave in the face of an unknown voice occasioned mockery among their colleagues, once word of the incident spread around the station house. They’d described the figure above them: “A huge silhouette against the sky.” Their imagination greatly increased his size.
Police-beat reporters who heard snatches of the tale took a different tack.
“Did the Sable Cat Save a Man’s Life?”
Not long after, the captain at the local police precinct announced a meeting open to all residents of the neighborhood. On distributed flyers: “The Topic: Vigilantism.”
Ernesto B. Smith sat in the audience, toward the back, amid a full room of every ethnicity. News hysteria had built, public concern risen.
The captain was a political cop. A glad-hander. Happy face slapped on the reality of the police department. Community good guy. In the military he’d be a fast-climbing officer.
Behind the captain stood the police chief, who resembled a Rottweiler.
The captain spoke for fifteen minutes without saying much of anything but making the audience feel good, before the Rottweiler replaced him.
“Do not take the law into your own hands,” the mahogany-hued man said. “Allow us to do our job.”
The chief looked personally at everyone in the audience. His eyes fell on Ernesto for an instant, before moving on.
The chief looked down at a notebook in his large hand.
“The alleged vigilante is a troubled individual,” he read. “Potentially dangerous. Please report his whereabouts to us, so the individual can receive all necessary help. There is no room for his unpermitted behavior in this city. Above all, do not follow this individual’s example. Do not, I repeat, do NOT take the law into your own hands.”
He looked up.
“Allow us to do our job.”
The local news radio station covered the meeting.
A voice: “We go now to our own Loretta Jankins, live at the precinct.”
“Thank you, Tom. The meeting was quite a lively affair. I’ve covered many community meetings, but have never felt as much electricity in an audience as I did today. Residents applauded any mention of the anonymous crime fighter. A few expressed trepidation.”
Loretta owned a huge smile which came through over the airwaves. She was the station’s most popular reporter.
“I’m here now with Kevin, who approves of the mystery person’s actions. Why do you, Kevin?”
“Why? Why? Because this neighborhood’s a mess, and no one does anything about it. We work hard. We tired of being ripped off.”
“And anyway,” he continued, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Other cities have crime-fighting superheroes. Gotham City. Metropolis. Why not us?”
Rumored on the streets was that after his speech the chief turned aside and muttered to no one in particular, “Someone shoot the bastard.”
In his head Ernesto was back at his job at the rec center, standing with Karina in the park on a breezy warm day, the sun impossibly bright. They watched children playing awkwardly. The sun warmed the two of them. They didn’t talk. No sounds but children playing.
The Veterans Administration building was set at a confusing confluence of avenues and streets at the center of town. An enormous turquoise postmodern monstrosity, with gold highlights.
Inside revolving doors sat a huge lobby several floors high, with a pyramid-shaped chapel at the center of it. Doctors, patients, and bureaucrats hustled like hamsters past the garish centerpiece.
The psychiatrist’s office was high up and far away in an obscure corner of the building. Though he had a desk phone and an emergency buzzer, the doctor felt trapped with his on-edge patients.
“Doctor. . . ,” Ernesto B. Smith said to him.
When things were hinky in Afghanistan he found himself losing himself inside his mind. He imagined himself invulnerable– or with magical powers which, if he wished, could fly him away from danger.
“I need money for college,” Karina at the rec center had said to him one time. “Should I enlist in the army?”
Ernesto thought of what he’d been through.
“Well. . . .”
The man sat isolated on a small chair in front of the impressive desk. The patient’s brown eyes were unfocused, in movement.
The doctor noticed many veterans were acutely aware of their environment. A survival mechanism.
“You see, Doctor, I want to help people. I have this need to be useful, something keeps driving me– the idea that my training, what I’ve been through, has led me to do something important. That I have a purpose.”
The doctor scribbled notes with a cheap government pen on a sheet of paper on a clipboard, as the rush of words from the man increased in tempo. The energy level in the room ramped up. Should he increase the patient’s dosage? The man’s thoughts were disjointed and chaotic.
As chaotic as this mad hospital in this chaotic city.
What the Sable Cat needed to bring out his best qualities was a supervillain, but had yet to find one in this city.
Ernesto saw the White Huntress once for real, when she appeared at a suburban shopping mall in a promotion for a store which sold t-shirts.
A long bus ride took him past vast undeveloped spaces with signs that read, “For Lease.”
“SEE: The White Huntress! In person,” the radio spot had said. No one asked why they should see her. That she was a superhero was enough.
For Ernesto, superheroes now embodied the mystery of personality. Of outdated concepts like honor, character, and bravery.
The spacious mall stretched half-a-mile in length, the t-shirt store at the other end from the bus stop. Ernesto saw balloons as he approached, the store decorated for her appearance.
He didn’t expect to be impressed. He’d met big names overseas. Generals. Senators posing in front of television cameras to show support for the troops. The surprise was they’d been so ordinary.
A modest crowd of mothers and children grouped around a figure in white. Teenage boys stood fearful and intrigued to the side. Ernesto wore an expression of curiosity.
The costume glowed under the mall lights. A blaze of white. Her back was turned. In a quiet voice the figure spoke intently to the smallest children, crouching to do so.
When she stood, the flimsy costume, worn too many times, displayed the woman’s spare but sinewy physique. The striking icon was taller than he’d imagined. He noticed three-inch heels, likely used only for public appearances. An active superhero couldn’t wear heels.
A part of his brain realized she was a person making a few bucks. Playing a role, this an available gig. She was impressive nevertheless. A huntress, though the famed bow and arrow were nowhere in sight. Wouldn’t need them here.
The Huntress turned– from his spot twenty feet away he glimpsed her masked visage. A silver mask, highlighting golden-orange eyes. The eyes glistened within the mask.
The White Huntress furiously signed autographs. She had a mission to complete.
The police chief held a meeting with his top assistants and precinct captains. They sat in a large and secure room at police headquarters downtown. Headquarters resembled a concrete fortress. A huge bunker built to withstand rocket attacks and repel car bombings, though neither calamity in this town had ever occurred.
The secure room sat at the center of the building, surrounded by thick walls and rooms, and other walls and other rooms, so that no electronic device could penetrate to its secrets and sounds.
The chief had further instructed that all phones and potential recording devices be left outside.
“Stop crime,” the chief said to the men and women around him at the table.
“What?” they said to themselves, alert at the firmness of his expression and tone. “What did he say?”
“Stop crime,” the police chief repeated, mouth moving within the fleshiness of his cheeks and chin.
Ernesto could see the man’s face.
“Stop crime. All of it. We can’t have this character embarrassing us. I’ve discussed this with the mayor and he’s in agreement. He monitors news reports assiduously.”
The chief paused, then repeated the word for emphasis. “As-sid-u-ous-ly.”
“While you’re at it,” the chief continued, “bring in anyone on the streets who fits the Cat’s description. An athlete, in good condition, but, you know. Not all there. This guy’s a nut. We’ll find him.”
Ernesto’s mind-camera zoomed in further on the man’s face, until the determined eyes encompassed the entire screen.
This image of the police chief, true or not, planted itself into Ernesto’s head, so that it became for him substantial reality– a reality he saw on the city’s streets in the form of increased patrols and raids on after hours “blind pigs.” Men thrown against walls, ID’s examined, names taken and scanned through computers. Ernesto knew all this because he saw it and was told about it.
He was certain the chief’s conversation had taken place, because he knew of similar conversations that happened in Afghanistan when brass decided they wanted someone. When they received information on this rebel leader or that one, and made an official decision to take him down. To find him or locate his position, discover what people he knew and in what cave he hid, then, via drone or patrol, neutralize him.
Himself against an entire police force. He found it humorous.
Days went by. Weeks. The clothes Ernesto used as the Cat remained on hangers decorating basement pipes. The identity. On vacation. In retirement. Waiting to be assumed again.
In his memory he was back at the shopping mall, standing on the polished floor expanding around him in all directions. Colorful balloons coming within sight. Her. The superhero.
The idol’s head turning, turning, toward him.
One evening Ernesto fingered the stack of black-and-orange cards he’d had printed with his adopted identity on them. The colors filled his head, entrancing him. He wondered if he should toss the cards or save them. Or spread them through town? They were markers of identity. His real being.
A sense of adventure called him.
Two tall policemen in a local diner grabbed their hats and stepped up from the counter.
“C’mon,” one said. “Let’s hit the streets.”
The Sable Cat moved with agility over buildings and through alleyways, scattering his brand– then froze, like a rabbit, in the face of a bright-shining light.
A policeman scanned the area with his flashlight, hand on his holstered weapon, a nearly hysterical look in his eyes.
“Who is that?” his high-pitched voice demanded. “Who’s there?”
The hands. Ernesto knew enough to watch their hands. He saw as if in slow motion the arm come up, weapon in hand.
Three sharp cracks on top of one another, sounding as one.
Ernesto Smith moved hurt through shadows of the alleyways he knew so well, through debris and decay, chased like a damaged rat while sirens and blue lights screamed on all sides.
“This is Loretta Jankins at the shooting scene involving a possible crime suspect believed now to be the self-described ‘Sable Cat.’ His calling cards were left behind– they’ve been seized by police and held as evidence.
“A small group of neighborhood residents have gathered on the sidewalk, outside yellow crime scene barriers, where I stand. They ask questions we all could ask:
“Where is the Sable Cat? Will he survive? Will his story survive– or be quickly forgotten, one more of the many tragedies seen on these streets on a regular basis?”
From a police statement: “The fugitive must be considered disturbed and dangerous.”
He saw his building directly ahead, a dark silhouette. Could he make it? He found himself tiring from every step. Energy flowed from him.
An unseen wall stood directly in front of him. He needed to push through it.
In the army you keep going, keep pushing, no matter what.
The Sable Cat crossed the distance without being seen. His hand felt the structure’s grizzled brick. His fingers touched it. He was still in the world.
Gold eyes within a silver mask.
Find the window, he said to himself. Try to grip it. Need to pry it open.
He was again in the Brown Zone in Afghanistan, in the mountains, snowflakes brushing his face. He gripped his rifle, tightly, with his fingers, the experience very real. Intense.
The Sable Cat crawled through the basement window and fell clumsily to the floor. His agility had left him. Maybe it’d been an illusion all along. His right arm was stiff, as unfeeling as a log. But he was in his den now. His cave. Safe.
Ernesto touched the wet shoulder of his sweater. He’d lost a lot of blood. It’d be ironic if he’d survived overseas, but not his hometown. He found a canteen of water and took several pain pills. They’d numb him, maybe put him to sleep.
A pair of green eyes caught his attention in the darkness. The cat!
What would the animal be thinking? What did it sense? Know?
Ernesto lay on his cot against the wall, blanket roll against his back. He attempted to become comfortable. Focus, he said. No need to focus. He needed the White Huntress to rescue him.
“Superheroes need to stick together,” he said to himself.
In his mind he saw a benevolent, superhero smile.
He imagined the Huntress on her way, as the cascade of sirens from police cars bounced along the street outside. Intermittent waves of pulsating blue light reflected against the concrete walls of the den. Blue lights, then moving off. Waves of them. Sirens, and more sirens.
Again and again, as Ernesto B. Smith drifted into the sleep of night.
Karl Wenclas is an editor at newpoplit.com. Currently he and co-editor Kathleen M. Crane are working to develop the “3-D” multidimensional short story, which they believe will– once perfected– revolutionize short story writing.
A previous 3-D-style story published at our site was “Vodka Friday Night.”