“Ah, so familiar and friendly.” The masked man giggled.
Isaac carefully backed out of his space, his eyes locked on the rearview mirror. The black wooden mask his passenger wore was purposefully featureless, and his hunched posture made it difficult to estimate his height or weight.
“Which one are you? Apollo, Dionysus…Ares?” Isaac shifted the car into gear and put his foot on the gas.
“You remember!” the masked man said, high pitched voice sliding like a manic violin. “So good to know that you haven’t forgotten your old comrades. That there’s something of my old war buddy in that fat old man suit you’re wearing.”
The Regal roared sedately around the wide curves of the empty parking deck. Isaac’s hands gripped the wheel loosely, hands at ten and two. He braked as they approached the parking lot attendant, a bored-looking man idly spitting sesame seeds into a paper cup.
“Not a word now.” the masked man pressed the barrel of his gun more firmly into his neck for a moment, then shifted it to press into the soft flesh over his kidney.
Out of the corner of his eye, Isaac saw the masked man press his hand against the glass of the back window. The masked man’s hands were gloved, plain black cotton gloves – workman’s gloves. The attendant ran his eyes over the Regal, and stared into the back seat for a moment. Bored eyes looked at the black splayed fingers and saw nothing. The masked man giggled again in triumph.
The attendant didn’t see the masked man. Because the masked man wouldn’t let him.
Isaac nodded at the attendant, who waved politely with his paper cup. The pulled the Regal to the edge of the deck, nose pointed into the street. The oncoming traffic was steady – Isaac laid a hand on his blinker. He tried to keep his voice calm, and his heart rate down — Training, Whitaker, training. Remember it. — but the slow trickle of sweat down his back revealed the strain.
“Where are we going? Left or right?”
“Oh…..right.” The masked man stretched out on the backseat, gun barrel steady in Isaac’s side. “Right will be fine.”
He doesn’t care. That’s not good. Not good at all. Isaac pushed up on his blinker, and pulled into traffic. He scanned the sidewalks without moving his head, hoping to spot any sort of ally. I’d even take Weinberg right now.
Isaac only saw a few strangers, civilians.
“Take a left at this light…Isaac,” the masked man said his name with a sing-song reverence. “And speed up, we’re in a hurry.”
He took the green light, and accelerated slowly. The street was lined on either side with various government and office buildings. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the four lane street, and he was able to move between the other cars with little difficulty. It was just after dusk, the street lights burned orange and remote.
“Okay. I’ve had enough. Enough of this. What’s going on? Why are you here? What do you want with me?” Isaac’s gaze burned into the rear view.
The masked man curled up and flopped a friendly hand over Isaac’s left shoulder. The mask leaned into his peripheral vision on the right, black gun barrel dangled over his chest with elan.
“How rude of me! Of course you want your marching orders, you good little soldier. To the point, Captain Whitaker, to the point! Just like always. You have an important mission.” the black wood vibrated with the man’s laughter.
“Yes,”the masked man whispered. “You are being reactivated. Today. Now. Most expeditiously.”
“Reactivated?” Isaac felt his stomach drop and his veins begin to drip acid. He had expected to be quietly terminated, driving himself to a quiet grave site that the masked man had prepared.
This was much, much worse. He felt a hot, wetness on his cheeks. The masked man chuckled with sympathy, and dabbed at his face with his free hand.
“But…I can’t be…there’s no way…they promised…”Isaac managed. “There’s no way. There’s no way.”
“Oh, there’s a way. There’s most assuredly a way. Now pick up your left leg.”
Isaac could feel a slight tingle on his scalp, but it might have been a memory. Something in his bones screamed at him, and he kept his leg where it was.
“Mmm. Resist. Yes. Please, resist,” the masked man crooned. “Pick up your left leg.”
Slowly, as if through water, Isaac pulled his left leg up and propped his foot up on the dashboard. It was a strain to keep his right foot on the gas pedal, but he managed.
“Pull up the pant leg.”
Isaac kept his right hand on the wheel, and grabbed the khaki fabric of his uniform with his left. They were tight around his calves, they had begun to spread just like his middle. He grunted with the slight exertion, pushing the fabric up his hairy, white leg.
Tight around his left calf was a band of steel. It was about two inches wide, with grommets every inch of circumference. There was a serial number, but it had worn off years ago.
“There it is. Your chain. Good, Isaac. You’re doing so good.” the masked man sighed with pleasure. “Rip it off.”
His hand began to slide towards the steel band. It’s grafted to my leg, some of the pins go into the bone. It was never supposed to be removed. Isaac began to pant as his hysteria mounted.
“Rip it off. Rip it off!” the violin sawed at the air.
He tried to resist, he tried to remember his training. But the masked man’s voice hit him like a whip, and he watched as his left hand moved forward. He watched as his finger nails dug into his own flesh. He watched as they curled under the edge of the metal band, blood and pain flowing. He watched as his left bicep flexed and tore the steel band free, the metal halting and bending as each grommet tore free.
Isaac stared straight ahead, his right hand in a different continent. He changed lanes in front of a blue coupe, even managing to signal. His left hand tossed the steel band over onto his passenger seat. His blood was going to leave quite a stain.
“Now, listen closely.” The masked man sighed. “In a moment you are going to wreck your car. Drive as fast as you can into the nearest obstacle. With the inhibitor band removed your abilities should return in a matter of hours, but we need to jumpstart the process. A little mortal trauma should do nicely.”
“I didn’t want this.” Isaac said numbly.
“I’ve left a little package in the trunk of your car. Some supplies, a bit of your old equipment, a snack for later, and of course the details on your mission.”
“I didn’t want this.” Isaac repeated, his eyes moved to the mirror. “And I will make sure that you don’t want this either.”
The masked man nodded with approval. “There’s the Isaac I used to know. Welcome back, Hermes. Now it’s time to wreck your car. There, that rail should do.”
The black glove gestured towards the right side of the street, and Isaac’s hands began to turn the wheel. He pulled his bleeding leg down off the dash, his right leg stomped down on the accelerator. The tingle on his scalp was now a steady vibration and it was not a memory.
Isaac looked into the mirror, and saw that his back seat was empty.
The Regal hit the steel rail at 67 miles per hour.