Big Ape Chapter One
“My name is Harry Moreau. You probably know me as Big Ape, from the Lawful Legion. You’ve never heard my real story.”
I thought I’d be nervous, telling the truth. I had a lot of lies to unravel, and no short, easy answers to explain my path to becoming an internationally famous superhero, and definitely no simple explanation for why I was throwing it all away. Luckily, there were no TV cameras, so I started talking like I knew everyone in the room, even though one of them was that paparazzi jerk I almost killed a few months ago. I tried not to make eye contact with him, both because he’s paparazzi scum and because losing my temper and trashing his car wasn’t one of my finer moments. It was odd speaking to an almost empty room. Lawful Legion press conferences are always packed. Not that I actually got to speak at those events. Golden Victory usually spoke for the team, or sometimes Tempo before we learned the truth about him. When I was Sock Monkey, I’d occasionally jump in with some quip or goofy comment, anything to boost sales of my action figures. Since I changed into Big Ape, I mostly stand behind my teammates looking menacing. Not that I’m trying to look menacing, but I’m an 800 pound, nine foot tall man-ape with six inch fangs. I look menacing sitting on a park bench eating an ice cream cone. But with this handful of reporters and Val and Jenny at my side, I loosened up. By the end of the night even the paparazzi guy was laughing at my wisecracks.
After the press conference, we went to dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Val couldn’t keep her eyes off her phone. She used the be the vigilante known as Cut Up Girl and her tell-all book, The Butterfly Cage, was moving up the Amazon rankings, having sold over a hundred copies since the press conference. Since she'd only sold a few dozen copies before the press conference, maybe that nerd with the superhero blog who’d talked to us had some pull after all. As we ate, Val got a call inviting her onto a local television show the following morning.
Jenny said, “That’s great,” but her tone sounded less than thrilled. Maybe she was worried about the fallout. Our teammates in the Lawful Legion weren’t going to be happy we’d spilled the beans on the Butterfly House. Of course, it might have been something else that kept Jenny from being happy for Val. Jenny was clingy all during dinner, much more than if we’d been eating on our own. Jenny and I had broken up not too long ago and only got back together after we did a mission with Cut Up Girl. Jenny’s always been jealous of Valentine, even though I’ve explained that Val’s more like a sister, not a rival love interest. Jenny isn’t big on public displays of affection, so the way she kept stroking my hands and batting her eyelashes at me had everything to do with making sure Val knew I was off limits. Luckily Val seemed too wrapped up worrying about whether anyone would read her book to notice.
We finished up. I opened my fortune cookie. Time in nature heals the soul.
“Talk about a fortune cookie misfire,” I said, showing the slip to Jenny. I’m a human-chimp hybrid conceived in a petri dish by a mad scientist. I’m about as far removed from nature as a living thing can get. The only jungles I felt comfortable in were ones made of concrete. Any time I’ve been surrounded by fields or forests, I’ve wound up with fleas. My soul was just going to have to suck it up.
Val seemed subdued as we stood on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. As we said our good-byes, a passing driver rear-ended the car in front of him. I’m present for a lot of fender benders. Apparently, I’m distracting, even in the tailored suit I had freshly dry-cleaned for the press conference.
“We should hit a bar to celebrate,” I said, not really wanting to leave Val alone, though I couldn’t say exactly why. My teammates weren’t going to be happy with her revealing the truth about the Butterfly House, but they were good guys. It’s not like they’d send goons around to break her kneecaps for spilling the beans. “There’s a nightclub just a few blocks away and they’ve got a private room in the back. We should head there for a few drinks to celebrate.”
“I don’t drink anymore,” said Val.
“Cut Up Girl’s stopped drinking?” said Jenny, her eyes growing wide. “You buried the lede. Even CNN would have showed up for that press conference.”
I kept my facial expression neutral. Jenny hates it when I take Val’s side. Luckily, Val didn’t look offended.
“You think so?” she asked. “If it helps draw attention to my book, maybe I’ll throw it out in the interview tomorrow.” She sighed as she looked around her. “There was a time not so long ago I couldn’t walk in public without reporters hounding me. I really need a sixteenth minute of fame. Not because I want to be famous, but because the truth needs to get out.”
“It will,” I said.
“Do you think I should wear my old costume?” Val said, chewing a nail.
Jenny rolled her eyes. “There are more dignified ways of getting attention than showing off your cleavage.”
“That’s the usual opinion of flat-chested women,” said Val, giving her a withering gaze.
I jumped in before things got really nasty and said, “Don’t worry about publicity! I promise you The Butterfly Cage will be the most talked about book in the world tomorrow. And if you’re not drinking, let’s do something else to celebrate. Milkshakes, maybe?”
“Not if she’s planning to get into her costume again,” said Jenny.
Val threw her hands in the air. “What the fuck is your problem? I know your whole superpower is verbal abuse, but what the hell did I do to make you hate me?”
“I’ll tell you what you did,” Jenny growled, poking Val in the chest with a finger. With lightning reflexes, I grabbed them both by the arms and pulled them apart before they started throwing punches, but that didn’t stop Jenny from unloading. “I never wanted to be a superhero. When I finally did agree, I thought at least I’d get some respect! But you came along with your painted-on costume and sex tapes and public drunkenness and dragged down the image of every female superhero out there.”
“I dragged down the image?” Val shouted. “She-Devil’s been fighting crime in a bikini since before I was born. And Nimble’s costume is two strips of fucking electrical tape! What the hell do you care what people think about superheroes? You’re part of the covert team! Before today, no one even knew you were part of the Legion. You don’t even have a costume!”
“These are all excellent topics for discussion,” I said, coolly. “But perhaps not at this moment, and definitely not in public. There’s a tachyon tube on the roof of the Sheraton. Let’s head back to Florida and have a nice, calm talk. We’ve got some powerful people angry with us. The last thing we need is to be fighting one another.”
“You’re inviting her back to my house?” asked Jenny.
“You’re always telling me it’s our house,” I said.
Jenny glared at me, then broke free of my grasp. “Fine. You’re right. It’s safer there.”
“I don’t recall agreeing to come along,” said Val.
“If we go back to your place your dog will go crazy again,” I said.
“Wait,” said Jenny. “You’ve been to her place?”
“Yes,” I said. “The Retaliator sent me to tell Val about her father.” I turned to Val. “What’s it going to be, your place or ours?”
“I guess we’ll go to Florida,” said Val. “But first I need to go home and walk Bullet. He’s been cooped up all day.”
“Bullet’s your dog?” asked Jenny. She didn’t sound as hostile. Jenny has a thing for animals. I mean, duh, she’s dating me.
“He’s a Chihuahua,” I said. “Cute, but he wants to kill me anytime I’m near him.”
“So you’ve been to her place more than once?”
“Bullet used to belong to Rose Rifle,” I explained.
“You never told me she had a dog,” said Jenny, her hostility ebbing even more. I felt a stirring of hope. My life would be a thousand times easier if Jenny stopped being jealous of Val. I love Jenny, but her trust issues wear me out. She’s accused me of having a crush on She-Devil, and says I’m constantly ogling Nimble, but, come on. Nimble’s costume always looks like she’s about one stretch away from exposing an interesting body part. Jenny’s jealousy of my teammates is nothing compared to her fears that I might choose Val over her if given the chance. Val’s been my best friend a long time. In addition to our shared history at the Butterfly House, then fighting together on the Red Line, we have the weird connection that both of us are the offspring of supervillains. Her Dad turned out to be Professor Power, the big time drug lord, and my mom is Anastasia Moreau, the maker of man/animal hybrids. We have a lot in common, and, sure, there was a time in my life my brotherly love might have grown into something romantic.
Unfortunately, Valentine got wrapped up in all those scandals and her life fell apart just as I started getting my life together. There’s ten thousand reasons we could never have worked as a couple, even if I still count Val as my best friend. Jenny hates my emotional closeness to Val, so I seldom talk about anything Val and I do together. Of course, the less I talk about Val, the more certain Jenny is I’m doing stuff behind her back. What if, all along, I could have made Jenny like Val by telling her about Bullet?
Val pulled out her phone and said, “It’s a good hike back to my place, but Uber can have a car here in a couple of minutes.”
“Cars aren’t really an option for me anymore,” I said. Where does an 800 pound gorilla sit? Anyplace he wants, except inside a car. “You two get a lift and I’ll take the rooftop route. I’ll probably beat you there.”
To my relief, Jenny didn’t protest the idea of riding along with Val. Bullet to the rescue!
I gave Jenny a kiss on the cheek, then dropped to all fours and raced toward a tall palm tree planted in front of the hotel. It swayed beneath my weight, but made for a good springboard to launch me across the street to grab the edge of a brick building. I made it to the roof two seconds later. The reboot drug that changed me from Sock Monkey into King Kong’s little brother had also boosted my strength, speed and agility. It’s kind of a superhero cliché that we like to race across the skyline, leaping from roof to roof, but it helps me avoid crowds. In the denser parts of LA it’s easy to make good time. Most of the roofs are about the same height and the streets aren’t all that wide. You can pretty much travel in a straight line, while cars have to zig zag through a maze of some of the worst traffic on the planet. I wasn’t surprised when I reached the balcony of Val’s apartment and found that they hadn’t made it there yet.
I was surprised when Bullet threw himself against the sliding glass door to the balcony, teeth bared, barking and snarling with wild eyes. I should have expected it, but it still caught me off guard. Once my heartbeat returned to normal, I did the mature, sensible thing and flipped the little bastard twin birds. I went to the edge of the balcony to watch the street and wait for Jenny and Val.
Alone with my thoughts, I had to wonder what the hell I’d gotten myself into. Val, Jenny, and myself were all former residents of a place called the Butterfly House. It’s a government facility that rounds up children who manifest potentially dangerous powers, then trains them to use those powers for good as members of the Lawful Legion. The thing is, the government really doesn’t want to turn these dangerous people loose in the world without being absolutely certain they’ll be good guys. So part of the training is a highly sophisticated brainwashing. There’s a psychic on staff who helps guide each graduate of the Butterfly House through virtual realities where old memories and personalities get overwritten with memories and motives that make the graduates more heroic. Since kids who arrive at the Butterfly House have been kidnapped and imprisoned by Big Brother, and often traumatized from having their powers harm or kill their loved ones, nobody who graduates from the Butterfly House even remembers it exists.
Val and I remembered only because we escaped before we reached the brainwashing portion of our training, which can’t be done until your late teens, since the brain is busy rewiring itself unpredictably during puberty. Jenny went through the mind-wipe, but her fake memories were overwritten by even faker memories by a villain named the Victorian. When his psychic influence over her was taken away, her real memories seeped through.
Honestly, I don’t know if the Butterfly House program is good or bad, a pragmatic necessity or an Orwellian overreaction. Since older, wiser Legionnaires like Golden Victory give the program two thumbs up, I kept my mouth shut. Val felt differently, I guess, and that’s why she wrote her book. I couldn’t turn my back on her, even if it means the end of my career with the Legion. From the balcony, I heard music thumping from a nightclub down the block. If I wasn’t going to draw a salary from the Legion anymore, I wondered if they might be hiring bouncers.
Speaking of bouncers, I was drawn from my reverie when I spotted a guy with a classic bouncer build lurking in the alley across the street. I mean, it was textbook lurking, the most obvious lurking I’ve ever seen. He stood next to a dumpster in the shadows of the alley, his face concealed by a gray hoodie. No one voluntarily hangs out next to a dumpster just to enjoy in the atmosphere. He was watching the front of Val’s building. Since Val was the most famous person who lived here, he had to be waiting for her. I could tell his eyes were firmly on street level and he hadn’t spotted me five stories up. I climbed onto the balcony ledge and crouched, getting ready to jump across the street. I wanted to drop in behind him and have a little chat before the girls arrived.
Of course, at that exact second, a RAV4 pulled up to the curb in front of the door. Val and Jenny stepped out, both smiling. I was happy to see they were getting along. I wasn’t happy to see the big guy in the hoodie step out from behind the dumpster and start running toward the girls.
“Watch out!” I shouted, leaping down.
Val and Jenny both looked up toward my voice.
The big guy moved with inhuman speed, covering the distance to Val faster than I could fall. He grabbed her by the neck just as I hit the ground. I wasted no time grabbing his free arm and jerking him away. Val fell like a limp doll in the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t turn to make sure she wasn’t seriously hurt before the dude drove his elbow into my throat with a force that damn near tore my head off. I stumbled backward, clutching my throat, staggering toward the dumpster. A big, meaty fist flew toward my chin. Next thing I knew I was flat on my back, blinking stars from my eyes.
“Hello, Harry,” said a deep, familiar voice as the big guy pulled back his hood to reveal a bald head covered with scars. I recognized him instantly.
“McGruber?” The word left my lips in a strained wheeze. My windpipe felt like it had been flattened.
“You didn’t think dropping me from a helicopter would kill me, did you?”
“I kind of hoped it might, sure,” I admitted, punctuating my statement with a coughing fit.
“You made a laughingstock of me by escaping. I’ve been planning to get even for a long time. My superiors told me not to touch the two of you. Said it wasn’t my job to get revenge. But there’s some things you do just for pleasure.”
I rolled over, trying to get up. The ground shook as he launched himself into the air. He landed with his full weight on the back of my skull, crunching my face into the filthy pavement next to the dumpster. My skull’s pretty tough, but McGruber was probably strong enough to crack it.
Rather than waste his time trying to get through my thick skull, McGruber knelt and placed his hands on both sides of my head. One swift twist and he’d snap my neck. Suddenly, his hands went slack as I heard Jenny cursing a blue streak. The stink of the dumpster gave way to the acrid smell of smoke as his hoodie caught fire.
His weight left my back as he took a step toward Jenny. From some inner reserve of strength, I grabbed him by the ankle before he reached her. He responded by turning around and kicking me in face. The world exploded into a swirl of bright sparks.
When my vision cleared, I found myself staring up into McGruber’s junk. Every last stitch of his clothing had been burnt off by Jenny’s pyrokinetic cursing. Jenny had jumped onto his shoulders from behind, grunting as she stabbed at his eyes with her switchblade. The Jenny I know most of the time is gentle and quiet and shy. Sharing space in her skull is a psycho-rage machine who scares the bejesus out of me.
I’d seen McGruber shrug of a rifle shot to the eyes, so Jenny’s switchblade was merely annoying him. He finally caught her by the arm. I drew a deep breath, certain he was about to tear her in two, but instead he threw her. She went flying out of the alley, landing hard in the street. As she rolled, tires squealed and a Hyundai skidded to a halt inches from her head.
McGruber moved toward her, fists clenched. I made it to my knees and growled, “Touch her and you’re dead.”
He looked back and nodded. “Good luck with that.” He kept walking.
I came up screaming at the top of my lungs, fighting through pain and blurred vision. He turned well before I reached him, drawing back his fist to put me down again. This time, I knew better than to lead with my face. I planted my hands against the pavement and flipped, driving my feet into his gut. It was like kicking a brick wall, but even brick walls give way to wrecking balls. He staggered backward, folding as he clenched his belly. I bounced to my feet and clocked him with my left fist, then my right, tearing skin from my knuckles with each blow. His head snapped from side to side, but he didn’t drop. When I swung at him again, he caught my fist and squeezed. I sucked in air as bones cracked. Christ, he was strong, but he was also bleeding. I’d bloodied his nose. He might be bulletproof, but he wasn’t Golden Victory. He could be hurt.
Jenny jumped onto his back again, shouting curses directly into his ear. I wasn’t sure if she could actually set his brains on fire, but he gasped and spun around fast, shaking her off. When he stopped, reddish brown liquid dripped from his ear. I thought it was blood, but my nose quickly puzzled out the odor of molten earwax. That had to hurt like hell but wasn’t going to stop him. Still, in the span of seconds while he was shaking his head trying to get the burning fluid out of his ear, I spotted a manhole cover next to me. Growing up, I developed my own fighting style, ape-fu. It’s a cute name for fighting dirty. I bite, eye-gouge, and bludgeon my opponents with any blunt instrument that’s handy. All that matters is that at the end of the fight I’m standing and they’re down for the count.
A manhole cover was heavy and hard enough to do some damage. My fingers were too thick to fit into the holes, so I punched the ground beside it, bloodying my knuckles further. The shock of the blow caused the manhole cover to jump enough for me to grab the edge. I lifted it, pleased with the heft. It easily weighed seventy pounds, maybe a hundred.
I wasn’t stupid enough to throw it at McGruber and let him catch it and use it against me. Instead I gripped it with both hands above my head and charged. He braced himself, legs spread wide, ready to block the blow, when Jenny came up dead center behind him and kicked him in the nuts. Jenny’s footwear of choice is steel toed work boots, so he felt it enough to take his eyes off me for half a second.
I brought the disk down with everything I had, catching him on the eyebrow. He staggered backward, dazed, until Jenny thrust her leg behind his ankle and he fell to his back. I was on him a second later, smashing his head again and again with the disk. He fought back, landing blows to my chest and face, but I was so hyped up I shrugged them off. A sense of panic began to grow as the manhole cover bent. What did it take to knock this fucker out?
About the ninth time I hit him there was a sickening crack. His forehead sort of dented in, causing his eyes to bulge. His arms dropped to his sides, limp.
I rolled off him, panting, my arms like lead.
“Val,” I whispered, forcing myself to rise again.
I found her on the sidewalk where she’d fallen. She was completely still, face down on the pavement. It didn’t even look like she was breathing.
“Val?” I said, my voice on the edge of a sob.
I knelt beside her and touched her hair. She didn’t react at all. I turned her over. She was utterly limp, her face pale, her eyes half open, unfocused. My senses are much sharper than a humans, but I still pressed my ear against her chest to confirm what I could already hear. She wasn’t breathing. Her heart had stopped. McGruber had broken her neck. Or… or had… when I’d grabbed him, did I…?
In the distance, I heard sirens screaming. My mind was locking up, refusing to believe what I was seeing. How could Val be dead? How could this have happened just as she was finally getting her life back together?
Jenny put her hand on my shoulder. I looked around. A crowd had formed outside the bar across the street. Everyone had out phones, capturing the moment on video. I felt the rising urge to yell at them, to chase them away. Couldn’t Val even die without being hounded by cameras? But I didn’t yell. I didn’t even move. I could only sit there, holding her, shaking my head slowly. Even in death, Cut Up Girl was once more about to go viral.
Is Cut Up Girl really dead? Will Harry face any consequences for beating a guy to death in front of witnesses? Yeah, life's about to suck for Harry. Read all about it his fight to clear his name, a journey that leads to Harry commanding an army of animal men in a battle against an army of robotic dinosaurs. Nothing's ever easy. Except for clicking this link to order BIG APE: LAWLESS BOOK TWO today!