Issue #55 – Beer Money

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 3

After taking a day to hash out better plans than just ‘take booze’, the trio put their plan into motion at parties up and down the beach.

Kevin insisted on some ground rules, namely that they only took an armful at most from any one party (with special exceptions for kegs), and that they would stop if anyone had to go to the hospital because of them. The others weren’t interested in doing anything truly heinous anyway, and so quickly agreed.

And then they went to work.

***

Members of the Omega Mu sorority were having their annual, week long summer bash at a house owned by members of the Newport News chapter. It wasn’t really a beach house, more a sprawling mansion set on a hill overlooking the beach. And while some guests were frolicking in the surf below, the real party was around the pool where there was an open bar and a live band, Brinksmanship.

The Mus hire bouncers to keep posers from coming in the front door, but with the enhanced strength and agility granted by the ring, Duncan easily jumped the stone wall surrounding the property. He was wearing his best party clothes to fit in; leather pants, a red, silk shirt, and a vest with brass rings down the front. His identity was protected by a handful of rub-on tan, a bowler hat and sunglasses.

After a short hike, he emerged from the hedges around the pool area and onto the concrete patio. Any other time, a landscape of women in their beachwear finest would have been a very welcome sight indeed. But this time it had him worried: The party was apparently members only, meaning that the only men in sight besides himself were the shirtless, buff and well oiled waitstaff.

He palmed his face. It was Reggie’s job to case targets for them. In retrospect, such an important job shouldn’t be left to the likes of Reggie. Taking that as a mental note, he hurried along to the bar where a bartender with biceps a wide as his entire body was trick pouring for the sorority women there.

With confidence plucked up as one can only achieve with powers born of a magic ring, he walked right up to the bar. On the way, he consulted the list Kevin gave him. He had at least realized the folly in letting Reggie make suggestions on which drinks to take, considering how Reggie was fine with a bottle of cheap vodka and a water filter.

“Excuse me.” He said to the bartender as the man was in mid-bottle twirl.

“Who are you?” asked the surprised Mu sister he’d sidled up beside. She had her blonde hair tied back and wore a red tankini that Duncan’s eyes roamed of all on their own. He tried to reply but nothing came out of his mouth. “The party theme is girls’ night out.” She informed him. “That means no boys allowed!”

“Okay, so screw the list.” muttered Duncan. Without further adieu, he hopped up and slid over the bar, narrowly avoiding the bartender’s flailing arms.

His sudden interference caught the man off guard and one of his bottle got away from him, tumbling out of his hands and hitting the bar. It exploded, showering several women there with whiskey and glass. Duncan took the confusion as a chance to grab some expensive bottles of vodka and run.

***

Later that night, the Class of 66′ from the nearby town of Yowell Meadow was celebrating their 20th anniversary with a bonfire, just like they celebrated graduation back when the beach was mostly a spit of inhospitable cove near a naval base. Back then, the fire had caused them to suffer a minor invasion by military police. Two decades later, they were about to be invaded by a different group.

Only Sonny Boylen and Janice Franco had thought to bring coolers, so the beer was still in its cases, waiting for space in the cooler to free up. Sonny was keeping an eye on it, as only the ex-class parliamentarian could. No one was a bit shocked to learn that he’d grown up to be a manager, nor did anyone really care what he was supposed to be manager of.

Unlike the Mus, the Class of ’66 didn’t have the money for a private stretch. They just rented a house and held their party on the public beach in front of it. That made Reggie’s job considerably easier. He just strolled right up and grabbed a couple of six packs.

This did not go unnoticed by Sonny. “Hey you!” He shouted, pointing in Reggie’s direction. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Dude, what’s it look like I’m doing? Grabbing some brew.” Reggie grinned as he held up the beers. He hadn’t been picky, grabbing the first cans that he found and by luck had come up with one six pack of the cheapest beer on the beach and another of expensive Mexican import.

Sonny grit his teeth and charged over. “Those are ours, ya dumb kid.”

“Kid? I’m twenty!” said Reggie with an offended air. He copied out two more versions of himself and then those three became nine. Then the nine spread out and copied themselves once again. “Twenty going on twenty-seven.” The herd of Reggies bolted in different directions, each carrying their own pair of six packs. Even when the other guests joined in to try and stop them, they didn’t catch the original.

***

Big Sky was a bar with a bad reputation. Though it was only one block up from the beach, the tourists who did any research at all avoided it because it was an open secret that it was neutral territory for the local gangs going on a year now. It started as a typical dive hangout of a biker gang out of Norfolk called the Surgers before it was bought by someone with the Gainer Syndicate bought and renovated it. Now the locals all took orders from the Syndicate to various degrees of autonomy and Big Sky became a fairly classy joint for Syndicate underbosses to meet their lackeys.

Still, adventurous types came to sample the offerings of Big Sky’s on-site microbrewery, particularly the Chitown Lager they kept in the cooler behind the bar.

Duncan found out about it from the internet and despite Kevin’s protests, went to Big Sky with a foam mini-cooler and far too much confidence in his powers. His disguise consisted of the same sunglasses from before, plus a comically long fake beard he picked up at a dollar store.

Confidence only extended to the door though. The second he stepped in, all the brass fixtures and elegant lighting in the place didn’t take his attention away from Big Sky’s open carry policy. Everyone he could see besides the waitresses and bartender were strapped, some with weapons he didn’t even recognize and were probably very illegal. Fighting the urge to turn right around again and leave, he hefted the cooler and walked straight for the bar.

The bartender was a middle aged man, still fit and clean shaven. When Duncan thumped the cooler on the bar, he grunted and gave the young man a visual once over before gruffly asking what he wanted. Over the months, Big Sky had found that the ‘tourists with a death wish’ demographic was not only never going away, but was more than eager to pay prices inflated specifically to get rid of them. So they changed tactics and embraced a few ‘bad guy bar’ stereotypes like rude service and tough guy attitudes, though only for tourists.

“About a dozen of your Chitown Lagers .” Said Duncan, hoping his voice didn’t crack with nerves.

Once again, the bartender grunted and set to work with the cooler, layering in crushed ice before starting to pack in the bottles. “Sixty-eight fifty.” He said simply as he worked.

Duncan plunked down five twenties on the bar as the man returned. All the while he prayed that Reggie and his six duplicates down the street wouldn’t get distracted and disband “Keep the change.”

Unbeknownst to the trio, there was a practical limit to how far from the original a duplicate could get before it stopped being quite as perfect a copy as it was when it was created. Two city blocks was stretching it, and Reggie Prime and the original twenty were twice that distance at the moment.

So when the bartender picked up the bills, they were markedly stiff and rough to the touch. They might have still passed in another bar, but Big Sky catered to people who didn’t like leaving paper trails, so where most clerks saw paper money maybe once a week, Big Sky’s staff saw it on the daily.

“Wait a minute.” This time the gruff tone was entirely genuine. “What the hell is that you’re trying to pass me?” His trained eye quickly noticed that all five bills had the same serial number and spot of red ink on the corner now that he was looking at them. “Who the hell tries to pass of fakes of bills this small?”

“More importantly,” A dark rich voice came from Duncan’s right and he saw a tall, heavily built Filipino man coming toward him from the other end of the bar. His clothing marked him as not part of the staff, but probably one of the clientele; part of the Syndicate. “Who the hell is dumb enough to try and rip off Big Sky?”

Duncan swallowed and tried to smile. “I didn’t… I mean I had no idea that those were… bye!” He grabbed the cooler and ran for the door. But by then, other patrons and members of the waitstaff had noticed. All of them had a vested interest in Big Sky’s reputation that they were determined not to allow some college kid to jeopardize.

A waitress swung at him with an empty drink tray, but the second she made contact with his back, an unseen force sent her sprawling forward courtesy of the power of retribution. Another man, elderly and bald, didn’t even get out of his seat to swing his cane for Duncan’s kneecap. While the obstruction made Duncan stumble, it was the man who screamed and grabbed his knee.

But things up ahead were uglier. Literally uglier, as two crew cut men with spray tans and matching suits moved to block the door. And off to the side, he spied someone freeing their gun from its holster.

Retribution power or no, things looked bad. And if someone actually shot him, he didn’t want to see what the retribution power would do to them. So Duncan focused on the sliver of day light between the meat monoliths in front of him and prayed he could get through…

And suddenly he was through.

He hadn’t blown past them, hadn’t fought past, or even managed to slip through their defenses. There was a sizzling sound in his ears and suddenly he was standing just outside Big Sky with the cooler gripped in his arm. Never breaking stride, he headed straight for where the Reggies were waiting.

And as he did, it downed on him: the powers of the ring had done that. There was so little they knew or understood about it and this was one of them.

“Magic freaking rules.” He gasped under his breath.

***

The Bruinhauser Beer Company’s party cruise was anchored in the bay at the halfway point between Nag’s Head and it’s ultimate destination of Baltimore. Beer was available 24/7, naturally, but when the sun went down, the bands took the stage: Sunder and Frightening, Naturally Occurring Riot, and Lithium Flower. There were kegs set up everywhere and even as NOR was tuning up, the party was already in full swing.

With so many people already tipsy and more on the way, the reaction to the appearance of the pirates was applause and cat catcalls instead of shock and confusion.

Both Kevin and Duncan told Reggie it was stupid, but he couldn’t resist. He bought a a plastic hook, eye patch and pirate hat from the same dollar store where Duncan got his fake beard as well as an eyebrow pencil. After splitting off a copy, he donned the pirate togs and beard while outfitting the copy with a dew-rag and fake stubble with the eyebrow pencil before having him split into a dozen.

Now they leapt on stage in front of NOR, Reggie Prime hamming it up so as to look like it was all part of the show.

“Avast, ye drunken dogs!” He couldn’t manage to pull of a pirate’s growl, and so was left sounding like he was the forbidden love child of surfer and pirate. “We be here for the booty!” He Grinned and pointed to a woman standing in front of the stage.“ She made a rude gesture. “Um… and by booty, I mean the beer. You sure about that, lady? Fine, whatevs.” He hadn’t expected it to work, but he really liked the idea. “Anyway um… Oh, dude, right. Ahoy me hearties! Two kegs says I!”

The copy Reggies went to work, grabbing a pair of untapped kegs and loading them into an inflatable raft. By the time someone realized that it wasn’t a publicity stunt, they were paddling off into the darkness with their loot.

***

“Hey, take a look at this.” JC was sitting on the couch in the beach house’s living room, reading something on his palmtop while Warrick was in one of the arm chairs, watching a Malady Place rerun.

Warrick opened his own palmtop to find that JC had already sent the link to him. “Is this the news blog for Dawson Bay?”

“Yeah.”

“On vacation. You’re reading the news on vacation.”

“You made pancakes with bacon smilie faces and egg eyes this morning.” JC retorted. “While wearing an apron.”

“It was a Cooking with Awesome apron.” Said Warrick, folding his arms defiantly. “Oh jeez, we’re not in college yet and we’re getting old.”

JC laughed. “Quick, let’s got rent some boards and surf badly or something. Then we’ll try and eat ramen dry on top of it.”

“I think I’ll wait until we’re actually in college.” Warrick finally scanned over the article o his screen. “’Booze Bandits Burgle Bay?’ I wonder how long that one took.” He read further. “Okay, this guy… Emil Espinoza is having way too much fun with this. Listen to this: ‘mothers, lock up your lagers’. He actually wrote that.”

“So what do you think?”

“That bad puns are the cure for what ales you.”

“No, for real. Did you read the whole thing? Read all of it, carefully.”

Warrick sighed, paused the TV, and did so. His eyes widened as he did. “’The suspect then ‘turned into ten men’ and fled the scene.’ Wait. What?”

“Exactly.” said JC. “Super-criminals. So are you guys going to track these guys down?”

Re-reading the article, Warrick shrugged. “I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

“What? War, there are powered thugs looting the Bay and you’re going to ignore it?”

“We don’t go after everyone that breaks the law.” said Warrick, settling back into his seat. “Not even the powered ones. We’ll stop them if we see them on patrol, but that’s the difference between superheroes and cops: our job is to protect people and stop the big things—and most important for us, we’re trying to stop Tome.

“But this… this is not big. The reporter makes it a joke because no one’s been reported hurt and they’re stealing stupidly small amounts, not even enough for a grand theft charge. The victims they interviewed aren’t taking it seriously either: the sorority wants to press charges for trespassing more than theft and the Bruinhauser people tried to play it off as part of an alternate reality game before they found out this happened elsewhere.”

“So what, you’re just going to let them go?” JC looked profoundly disappointed.

“Sorry, but powers or no, these guys are like kids shoplifting. The cops can deal with it. And frankly, any one of us would be massive overkill.”

JC made a face. “Fine, but remember that the concert tomorrow is going to be serving alcohol. Are you going to sit back and let it happen there if they show?”

“If they show. That’s different from going after them. No, we’ll take them down if they try their thing and we’re around. But really, what are the odds?”

***

Kevin stepped back from the poster, spinning a roll of masking tape around his finger. Relax Five was a club on the boardwalk and they had people up and down the beach handing out promotional posters: Saturday only Sonja Remington making her singing debut with the Mayfield based band Snackrifice.

“She is intensely hot.” Said Duncan, who was laying on the couch.

“I dunno dude,” Reggie was sitting on the floor, playing games on his palmtop. “I’m not sure I’m into shiny women. Also, the hair. Like you know me: blonde or brown; anything else is fail.”

“Like you’d say that if she was here.” Duncan mocked. “So Kev, are we hitting this place up for drinks or what?”

Kevin shook his head. “We’ve been at this all week, man. We need to relax for a while. Everything goes smooth, we’ll be able to hold our own party next week.”

***

“Superior definition cameras; expensive, but so worth it.” mumbled the tech woman sent up from Richmond to review the security camera footage from Big Sky.

Harold Crichton, the man in charge of Big Sky, glowered at her. “Can you tell me who he is or not?”

She continued cycling through the various angles and high lighting spot with a stylus. “The Syndicate isn’t the FBI, Mr. Crichton. We don’t have the databases to run his face through to get a name just from security footage. But what I can do is extrapolate from the shots we have from the sides to give you his eyes… and the contours and movement of the fake beard to give you his face…”

A few more adjustments and she grinned. “And we use his eyelids to figure out his real skin color… put it all together and…” A three dimensional image of Duncan appeared on screen. “Now you have a face to sic your dogs on.”

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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