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October 4, 2012

I Hraet You (43)

Beat 43: Onward to the Climax!  Well, Maybe

“Lloyd, did I ever tell you the story about how I met your mother?”

Lloyd nodded.  “Several times, actually.  Quite a tale, that.”

Patton nodded in kind, and resumed his silent driving of the armored truck.  “Okay, how about the time when I got banned from England?”

“You were banned from an entire country?  Is that even possible?!” Lloyd asked , his eyes wide.

“Well, not officially.  But I kind of made a mess over there, and we all just decided it would be much better off for everyone if I never went back.”  He tapped his hands against the wheel a few times, and sniffed a bit.  “Whole lot of swans died.  But they had it coming.  The long and short of it is, when somebody offers you a tour of the museum, DON’T split off from the group.  You’re gonna miss out on a lot of good info.”

“Sage advice as always,” said Lloyd, hands clasped like a sweet schoolgirl.  “Can you tell me more?  Your misadventures are always a treat.”

“Maybe as a bedtime story, son -- AFTER you do your homework.”

“I was expelled today.”

“Oh.  Well in that case, I’ll just have to have a talk with your principal.”  The wheel stated to bend between his fingers.  “Yeah.  A nice, peaceful, bone-breaking talk.”

Before Lloyd could advise him not to immediately opt for attempted murder (or manslaughter, for that matter), the back wall of the truck started to rattle.  “Are we almost there?” Trixie asked.  “’Cause I gotta tell ya, I ain’t too keen on tryin’ to stay in this truck with the doors busted open!  Especially with y’all drivin’ as fast as ya are!”

“I offered you a seat on my lap,” said Lloyd.

“And mine,” Patton chimed in.

“I-I ain’t about to sit on either o’ yer laps!  I got my dignity, ya know?”  A heavy thud shook the wall; judging by the pitch and timbre, Trixie had slammed her head against it.  “Well, I got most o’ my dignity…”

“That’s the spirit,” said Patton.

“What in the…”  They heard a high-pitched squeal -- no doubt the sound of Trixie’s hand sliding down the wall in defeat.  “Just…just don’t hit any more speed bumps.  I’m already holdin’ on for dear life as it is.”

With Trixie going silent (and hopefully not bucked out of the truck), Lloyd turned to Patton.  “So, let me review the details once more before we arrive.  Haldane Manor is where Gaston made his appearance, yes?”  He stroked his chin, pressing his finger and thumb deep into his skin.  “Interesting.  Not exactly my first choice for a world premiere, but clearly we’re dealing with someone who has divergent tastes.”

“Yeah.  That old place has been abandoned for years.  Any guesses why he might want to hang out there?”

“It could be precisely because it’s been abandoned for years.  It’s certainly a safer place to build a home base than anywhere in town; one look at him by one of the townsfolk would be enough to shut down his plans.”  He covered his mouth, and his eyes turned toward the streets rushing past.  “I wonder if there’s a connection…”

The corners of Patton’s mouth crinkled.  “Maybe so.  The richest man Porbeagle’s ever seen used to live there.  Maybe Gaston knows him from somewhere.  A distant relative, or a lost heir, or something like that.”

“Maybe.”  Lloyd looked back at Patton.  “Do you know anything about the man that lived there?  I can’t recall anything…likely because I never knew anything, but that’s all just semantics.”

“I don’t blame you for not knowing.  Hell, I barely know anything myself,” Patton said with a shrug.  “Ask anyone around town, and you’ll probably get the same story: a businessman who made it big and retired young, and spent the rest of his life inside that mansion.  Nobody really knew him -- and even if they did, they’re probably right beside him in the cemetery.”

Lloyd raised an eyebrow.  “We’re sure he’s dead, right?”

“For at least fifty years.”  Patton glanced at Lloyd.  “What do you think?  Any chance Gaston’s got an interest in that guy?”

“Well, that’s usually how it tends to go in stories like this,” said Lloyd, folding his arms.  “Some unsatisfied malcontent wants to raise the specter of the past for his own selfish aims…and naturally, the key to defeating him lays in the past.  In other words, as we are we’re unequipped to deal with the matter.”

“But we will soon.”

“But of course.  Our victory is assured.”

“Damn right it is.”  Patton brought the truck to a halt.  “We’re here.”

The Hoigleheimers climbed out of the truck and stared at their destination, the proving ground, and the haunt where all the answers hid: L. Bernstein High School.  “It’s all right if I park in front of the school, right?” Patton asked.

“Well, we should only be here momentarily -- if all goes well -- so I see no harm.”  Lloyd rubbed the back of his head and grinned sheepishly.  “Besides, it’s not as if I’m a student here anymore, so they can’t punish me too severely.”

“And this isn’t even my vehicle, so it doesn’t matter if it gets towed.  Everybody wins.”

Trixie stumbled her way out of the back of the truck, looking just as sick as she had at the park.  “I’m seriously startin’ to wish I’d stayed out on the streets,” she moaned -- but at the sight of the looming high school, she regained a bit of her balance.  “What the -- what’re we doin’ here?  Shouldn’t we be at that old mansion?”

Lloyd shook his head, and led the trio toward the school.  “It’s likely we’ll have to return there eventually -- but for now, we have more important matters to attend to here.  If my deductions are correct, JP is in here.  Perhaps Gaston and this Mrs. Overdose, as well.”  He held the door open for Trixie.  “It’s likely that dastard has some sort of tricks in store for us, so I recommend that you be prepared for anything.”

Trixie stepped inside the hall and frowned, but otherwise kept her cool.  “Well, it ain’t like I’m gonna go runnin’ anytime soon,” she admitted in a low tone.  “I said I’d protect JP, and that’s exactly what I’m gonna do, pal.”

Lloyd and Patton exchanged a quick look, and the former flashed a big smile.  “You’re a swell girl, Trixie,” said Patton as he nodded and folded his arms.  “You’re gonna make some lucky guy real happy someday.”

“L-let’s just go nab this guy.”  She took a few terse steps down the hall, hoping that the Hoigleheimers hadn’t seen her reddening cheeks.  “Where’re we headed, anywa-?”

 “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS ALL ABOUT?!”

Lloyd, Patton, and Trixie all turned to the left hall.  Sure enough, Mr. Hansen marched his way toward them, fists clenched and facial hair a-bristling.  “I try to take a power nap so I could have enough energy to try and beat my high score in Pinballmageddon, and the next thing I know Edith’s waking me up because there’s a damn armored truck parked outside the front door!”

“Maybe I should’ve parked somewhere else,” Patton muttered.

Mr. Hansen shot a finger at the trio.  “You, and you, and -- oh, what is this?  I thought I friggin’ expelled you!  You know what that means?  You!  Don’t!  Come!  Here!  ANYMORE!  Jeez, what’re they teaching you kids these days?!”

“I wouldn’t know, sir, I was expelled,” said Lloyd.

“Don’t get snippy with me, boy!  I’ll send you back to kindergarten if I have to!”

“Y-you can do that?!”  Lloyd clasped his hands.  “Ah, that would be just grand!  Finger-painting and Tinker Toys and banana pancakes…I wouldn’t mind that at all!”  His eyes twinkled, and he raised a leg like a coquettish wife.  “Can you send me back?  I promise I’ll be good!”

“I don’t think there’s any class in the world that can teach ya common sense, pal,” said Trixie as she pushed Lloyd to the side.  “Sir, we’re only here ‘cause this school’s got a problem.”

Mr. Hansen grimaced.  “Yeah, I know.  A spider problem, thanks to this kid.  You know how many people in this school are afraid of spiders?  Spoiler alert: a whole friggin’ lot.”  He clapped a palm against his forehead.  “Cripes a la mode…you know how much work Edith’s gonna have to do to clean this mess up?”

“Sir, if ya just give us some time to do our business, we’ll be outta yer way and yer bound to have a much safer school.  Isn’t that what’s really important?  So just let us head on over to…to…”  She turned to Lloyd.  “Where’re we headed?”

“The auditorium.”

“Right.  The audito…wait, what?”

Lloyd pointed down the hall on the right.  “Gaston is likely hiding in there.  It makes perfect sense, if you think about it for a moment.  You see --”

Mr. Hansen raised his hands in objection.  “Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Nobody’s goin’ in the auditorium until it’s done being renovated -- and you’re sure as hell not going without my permission.”  He puffed out his chest.  “Besides, the doors are locked, and only I have the key.”

Patton took a step forward.  “So I guess you’d better give it to us then, huh?”  He popped his knuckles, and the cracking of bones echoed through the halls.  “I don’t like beating up old men but…oh wait, yes I do.”

“Ha!  Think you can take me?  You may have those muscles, but I’ve got skills!”  Mr. Hansen slid into a martial arts stance, his legs coiling with power and his fists curled, ready to explode.  “I’ll have you know I’ve been training in the art of Hakkyokuken before you were born!  Well, maybe not the big guy, but definitely you kids!”  He stomped the ground.  “It’s ten years too early for you to try and beat me!”

Ka-TWILIGHT YEARS!

Mr. Hansen slapped a hand against the small of his back, and hopped around like a half-broken pogo stick.  “Oooh, oooh, oooh!  Ah, my back!  My aching, awesome back!  HRRRRRRRRRGH!”  He pointed feebly at Patton, managing a cocky (if a little transparent) smirk.  “Oh, oh yeah, you’re gettin’ your beatdown, buddy!  You just wait right there!  I’ll be back as soon as I get an ice pack, and then, oh ho yeah, you’ll WISH you hadn’t ruined my nap!”  He hopped away, laughing and moaning all the while…and muttering about popsicles. 

“Everyone in this town needs to see a shrink,” Trixie grumbled.  She looked down at the ground, and noticed something sparkling atop it.  “Hey, it looks like he dropped his key.  That’s pretty convenient.”  She picked it up and examined it; apparently Mr. Hansen had it specially made, judging by the fact that it had a cartoonish version of his head affixed to it.  “Well, I guess we’d better get movin’, huh?”

“Yes, indeed,” said Lloyd.  “Miss Walters, could you toss me the key?  I’d like to examine it for a moment.  If it’s a skeleton key of some sort, it’s likely that I may need to make use of it in the future.”

Trixie tossed him the key as asked.  “You know anythin’ about keys?”

“Well, I’ve heard one or two things.  You tend to learn a few tricks when you’re a member of the drama club.  For example, it’s important to be able to act on signals.”  He tapped his nose.

“Well, I wouldn’t know anythin’ about --” Trixie would have finished her sentence, if not for Patton seizing her from behind in a bear hug.  “What the…?  What the hell’s this about?”  She wriggled ind squirmed in Patton’s grip, but she’d sooner break out of a prison than loosen his grip on her.

Lloyd shook his head slowly, and offered a slight smile.  “Miss Walters, I would ask that you not resist.  You just might get hurt.”

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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