Today I’m slipping in here an excerpt from my last novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, published via Perfect Edge Books in September last year. This is Chapter #132, from Page 188, in which our hero Jack tails his teammate the Brick out into the city.
The Brick, for anyone who hasn’t figured this out yet, is hugely inspired by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Joe Sinnott’s vision of the Thing in Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic books in the mid 1960s — and the opening to this passage pays equal homage to the sequence in the film Singin’ in the Rain (1952) in which Gene Kelly dances and sings… in the rain.
The store names are one giveaway.
There’re also references to Johnny Guitar (a 1954 Republic Pictures western starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden), and the dance studio is called ‘Satori’ because this is is a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening, “comprehension; understanding”, etc, etc.
Chapter #132 introduces us to the hidden relationship between the Brick (seen here in a picture by Seth Hatland that doesn’t appear in the book itself) and his amour (see above, by artist Hannah Buena, in a picture that does).
This isn’t quite the image I had of either character when I wrote the novel, but these artists do capture the spirit of both.
There are 34 other character designs in the book where a similar “story” holds sway.
It’s been a fantastic opportunity to see how people perceive these characters on a visual level, and more recently Matt Kyme did Bullet Gal in Tales to Admonish #2.
But more than anything, the dance between the Brick and Prima Ballerina was inspired via a real ballet sequence by Alessandra Ferri and Massimo Murru in a 2004 production of La Chauve-souris (The Bat) — the reason for the framed poster in the studio paying the two dancers their dues.
I absolutely love this sequence, and it played a key role in defining the vignette between these two mismatched lovers.
Here is that sequence on YouTube, and beneath that Chapter #132 from Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
CHAPTER #132 [EXCERPT]
When the Brick exited the building not long later, Jack couldn’t decide why, exactly, he followed.
There were too many mysteries circulating, no clear-cut answers.
Thirty seconds between them, each man passed a sleeping guard in the dark foyer, the muted portable TV creating dancing monochrome shadows in one corner.
The Brick carried an umbrella and declined to take his car — perhaps he felt it was the perfect evening to promenade the city, wrapped in an overlarge trench coat with a straw hat and a pair of sunglasses his only disguise. Oddly, the ruse seemed to work. No one on the streets noticed this hulking behemoth passing them by. For a while, the Equalizer walked beneath a wooden trellis overpass that shook and groaned whenever one of the peak-hour trains scuttled along. Jack hung back several metres, far enough to remain anonymous (he was wearing a suit and hat), unless the Brick actually looked his way. The man didn’t. He focused ahead and occasionally up at the brilliantly lit city skyline. There was a zeppelin, hundreds of feet in length, sliding through a network of spotlights and heavy cloud-cover.
They passed a boarded-up haberdashery. Most of the other shops, although still in business, had closed by this hour and some had their metal shutters down, others lights on in their window displays. It started to rain.
Slowing down as he passed a row of lit-up store windows, the Brick inspected a Smoke Mahout window display in a pharmacy, hats on show in the LaValle Millinery Shop, a bookstore called First Editions, and finally Mount Hollywood Art School.
The rain was getting heavier and Jack had already raised his umbrella, but the Brick took longer to open his. After a few short seconds sheltering beneath it, he shrugged, closed it again and laid it on his shoulder — even went so far as to skip the next few steps along the pavement. The lamppost was probably lucky that the Equalizer didn’t try swinging around it.
The Brick reopened his umbrella, grinned boldly to no one, and stomped off.
From the darkened doorway of the pharmacy close by his left, Jack heard a voice, all quiet-like. “Hey, mister.”
Since the rain had eased off, the Equalizer dropped his brolly and examined the shadows. The first thing he noticed was a glowing cherry, and then an individual stepped out into the yellowish luminescence, cigarette dangling from his lips.
“There’s only two things in this world that a ‘real man’needs: a cup of coffee and a good smoke. Got the ciggie, but not the Joe. Can you lend me a dime?”
Jack noted that the fancy coat the newcomer wore was hardly down-at-the-heel. “You don’t look short of a buck.”
“Still. Won’t tell the big fella you’re following him, if you do. C’mon — help a fella out.” He lifted an upside-down red hat, as if that was where Jack was supposed to drop his donation.
He had no time for this. He took out his wallet and deposited a dollar bill. “Get yourself a Thermos to go with the coffee.”
When he turned around, Jack realized he’d lost sight of the Brick.
The street was dead quiet in both directions.
“Think you’ll find the guy went up there.”
The charity-case pointed across the road and up to the third floor of a tenement building. It had big windows with blinds drawn, ‘SATORI DANCE STUDIO’ stencilled in orange letters on the glass.
“You’re kidding me.”
“Nup. Favour for a favour”
“I didn’t get your name, stranger.”
“Didn’t give it.”
The man faded back into the doorway, so Jack took that as his notice to move on. Having checked for non-existent traffic, he crossed the street and found an iron staircase leading off the footpath.
He ascended the steps quietly, three at a time, and finally came to a small, covered balcony with a door that had the number three on it and the name of the studio, along with splashed black paint that formed a rough kanji symbol.
Jack could make out music within. Something orchestral — melancholic, yet oddly uplifting, all strings and horns and a softly tinkering harp.
The large window was just to his right, spattered with droplets of water, and he noticed a gap: about an inch, between closed blind and the sill, through which light escaped. Jack leaned over to put an eye to the glass.
There was, indeed, a studio, with a rotating wooden fan up on the ceiling, oak flooring, handrails attached to two of the walls, and a large, simple framed poster bearing two names (Alessandra Ferri and Massimo Murru) beneath the French words La Chauve-souris.
Otherwise the place was empty — aside from a duo dancing together across the boards, doing some kind of ballet routine in time to the music.
The man lifted his partner into the air and she affected a handstand, legs scissored; with effortless ease she wound herself around the man’s neck and their faces came close, almost a kiss.
Swivelling into her beau’s embrace, the woman was then spun several times, and she deliberately fell into his arms. He whisked his partner full somersault, landing her behind on her toes — from there to lean in for a desperate hug. Their faces again touched.
The music reached a crescendo, all clashing timpani and violins, just as the girl, perspiring, and her partner — who couldn’t sweat — clung to one another and smiled. Yes, it was moving, mesmerizing, astoundingly beautiful, and other superlatives that should not have
Jack had to drag himself away from the spectacle. The man was the Brick, and he could dance.
The Brick’s agile partner may have worn something different — a white, full-body leotard that hugged every immaculate curve — but Jack recognized the domino mask she was wearing, and her different coloured eyes.
Jack swung about, spooked, even as he felt an inordinate amount of anger.
“Think I’m bloody justified in saying the same of you.”
“Shhh. Fair enough.”
“The Brick and Prima Ballerina. How—?”
“Long? About a year.”
Pretty Amazonia had precariously perched herself on the wet, flimsy balcony railing, long hair — Tyrian purple in the evening illumination —waving in a soft breeze. She possessed something of a cheerless attitude, and Jack had to resist the impulse to push her over the edge.
“Now you know our Brick’s skeleton,”she said. “They breed like rabbits. We all have them. Soon enough you’ll hear the pitter-patter of little skeletons.”
“So I’m learning. Heropa has more secrets than a grave.”
“Oh, very pithy, Jack.”
“What’s your secret?”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be one.”
“But why does the Brick keep this — this relationship — hush hush?”
“With good reason. Remember when you first arrived, and he told you the rules of Heropa? How he skipped past the third one, pretended he forgot?”
“Number three dictates no sexual relations between members of the Equalizers and the Rotters. It’s expressly forbidden.”
“Don’t ask me.”
“Who conjured up these dumb rules?”
“A bunch of idiots, I agree, but we have to carouse by them. Anyone finds out, those two,” Pretty Amazonia nodded in the direction of the window and the score they could still hear, “will be given the boot from Heropa. The sad part is they believe no one knows.”
“Who does? Know, I mean.”
“Me. Bulkhead. Now you. So we keep this under the cuff — the three of us. Like our other secrets. Mister B doesn’t need to know, agreed?”
Jack could make out the rousing music inside. “Okay.”
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