Keeping Things Where They Belong

Jake walked slowly along the boardwalk in front of the shops, scrutinizing the beach. He knew he was in the right place at the right time. It was just a matter of...

There. Not a hundred yards away from him.

Two women were talking animatedly on a bench. One looked distraught, the other sympathetic and consoling. It had to be them.

He wanted to be sure, though. He glanced around, to see if there was any route he might take that would get him closer without being obvious.

Nothing. Everything was too out-in-the-open.

But still, it had to be them. None of the other benches were occupied, and these two women matched the descriptions he'd been given. The dark-haired one--the calmer one--was in the early stages of pregancy, and the other one--the agitated one--had fairer hair and was wearing a brown t-shirt, beige trousers, and sneakers.

Yep, it had to be them. And it was up to Jake to make sure their conversation was not interrupted.

He slowed his pace and pretended to look in the shop windows, all the while listening for anything that might seem out of the ordinary.

The sound of the waves against the sand was calming to his nerves, and the occasional car or bus passing by up on the road punctuated the stillness with a soft rumble.

Damn, this was a nice place. If he hadn't had work to do...

No, can't think like that right now. No time for it. Gotta focus on the job at hand.

He continued up the boardwalk, moving slowly and pausing at all the windows, getting a feel for the environment. Occasionally, he would glance back at the bench, where the two women continued their animated conversation. All seemed well. But Jake wasn't convinced.

A moment later he heard it. The telltale sound of something that didn't belong. His mind cranked into high-alert mode, and his muscles tensed slightly. He was ready.

The sound came again. A clank. followed by a whine. It was not overly loud, but it was definitely out of place.

Jake picked up his pace and moved towards the far end of the row of shops. He knew he didn't have much time...

He rounded the corner of a building and stopped. There, standing right in front of him, was a tall figure, fairly dripping with incongruity.

"You don't exactly fit in here, pal," Jake said.

"Nor do you," the tall figure replied.

"Yeah, but at least I'm dressed the part."

"A trench coat and suit for the beach? Hardly." The figure began to laugh.

Jake gritted his teeth. The sound was resonating in his bones.

"Will you turn down your damn reverb?" Jake snapped.

The tall figure made something akin to a throat-clearing sound, then reached up with one of its massive metallic arms and turned a dial on its throat.

"Is that better, weakling?"

"Yes. Thank you," Jake replied.

"Fine. Now tell me who you are and why you are in my way!"

Jake pulled a small wallet out of his coat and flipped it open. His badge glistened in the sunlight.

"Jake Hartigan, PCPA. And I'm here to make sure you don't ruin this story... General Villainous."

"Ha. The PCPA. You mean the Pathetic Clumsy Pinhead Association?"

"That's funny, General. Had to give up your stand-up career, did you? Gigantic metal limbs punch one too many holes in stage floors?"

"You dare to mock me?"

"No, General. In order to mock you, I'd have to be able to imitate you. Geez, why does everybody get that word wrong?"

"I'm not here to debate semantics with you, Hartigan. I'm here to take over this story."

"Yeah. About that. In case you hadn't noticed, this is a serious story. You, on the other hand, are a comic character, and you belong back in the story you came from."

"This story is much better written than the one I came from. I deserve quality writing. Even... even... Noble writing!! Yes!! I deserve that. My magnificence demands nothing less."

"No ego problems here," Jake muttered to himself.

"Besides," Villainous continued, "they're not doing anything with me over there! I had my head stuck in a lath-and-plaster ceiling for four days! That's degrading!"

"These things take time, General. You have to be patient."

"You don't get to be a megalomanical cybernetic villain by being patient, my young friend. I will have this story, and the world that surrounds it!"

"Weren't you listening? You're a comic character... Hell, it's not even that. You're a parody of a Star Wars character. Don't you get it?"

"Star Wars!? Don't talk to me about Star Wars!? Flashy special effects do not a universe make! You have to have good dialogue! Damn it, man. Why can't they have decent dialogue? When I'm through with this beach, and those pathetic whiny women over there, I will make my way to the Star Wars universe and have my dominion over it as well! Then, you'll see some dialogue, pal. You just wait."

Jake put his hand to his head. He was getting nowhere.

"How the hell are you going to do that?" he asked. "You're a character on Protagonize, for God's sake."

"I have technology far beyond what you could understand, puny mortal. I will take over the whole of Protagonize, and then the internet itself."

"No, you won't."

"What?"

"I said: No you won't."

"And I suppose you're going to stop me." The general's mechanized voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Yeah, actually, I am."

Villainous laughed again, without quite so much reverb this time.

"Look, sonny," he said, "why don't you go back to your worn-out wooden desk at your precious agency and interview Little Red Riding Hood? Eh? There's a good lad."

"Not my job description. I'm a field agent."

"Ooooooo, a *Field Agent*!! That sounds like a real, grown-up job. Maybe I should be scared, huh? What do you think?"

"Maybe you should. 'Cause, you see, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve as well."

"Empty threats." Villainous crossed his metallic arms, an act which took about fifteen seconds all told, what with coordinating all the servos and gears and all.

"No, no, I'm quite serious," Jake said. "Big ole bag of tricks."

"Well, make up your mind," Villainous growled. "Are they up your sleeve, or are they in a bag?"

"Stop stalling, Villainous. You know you're never going to succeed."

"Oh. Cockiness now. What is it that you have in your bag or sleeve that makes you so cocky?"

Jake grinned. "Glad you asked." He pushed the sides of his coat back and put his hands in his pants pockets. "You see, I've got one thing you don't have."

Villainous just glared at him.

Jake continued cheerily. "I've got the cooperation of the guy who's writing this scene."

Villainous frowned.

"Yeah," Jake said. "You think about that for a minute." He looked up towards the sky. "Make it something really good, will you?"

Villainous blinked.

A moment later, a giant boot descended from the heavens and landed squarely on Villainous, squashing him to the pavement with a raspberry sound.

Jake let out a sigh and dusted off his hands. He looked up at the sky one more time.

"That was good," he said. "I liked that one."

He glanced back at the beach. The two women were still talking, still animated. They appeared unaware that anything untoward had occurred.

He looked at the spot where Villainous had stood a moment before.

"They never learn," he muttered.

He straightened his trench coat and moved off down the boardwalk.

The End

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