Super - Excerpt

Super by Ernie Lindsey
Super - Star Ratings

Even heroes wear masks. 



Present Day 


The woman from South Korea looks fetching in a white pantsuit. Her hair is the color of a raven, flecked with rainy day gray, and she wears it cropped close and level like a '50s flattop. 

Out of everyone in this godforsaken support group, I trust her the least. In fact, I couldn’t trust her less if I tried; yet, I’m starting to think that she’s not the reason I’m here.  

Still, she’s got some nerve. 

John Conklin carries doughnuts around the circle, and when he asks in a hushed voice if I want glazed or Boston Crème, I politely decline. I know where his hands have been. “Suit yourself,” he says. “They’re from that gluten-free place up near Powell’s.” 


His eyes light up. “Yeah, that one!” 

I reassure him that, indeed, I do not want a doughnut, though on most days, I’d give my right arm for their blessed pastries. Bottom line, I don’t want John Conklin anywhere near my food. 

Dallas works that Cheshire grin on her face, lying to everyone in the room, claiming that she’s responsible for Patriotman’s death off the coast of the Maldives.  

We’re supposed to be here for that cotton-candy bullshit: love, support, understanding, and a shoulder to cry on. We’re not here to beat our chests about past conquests. 

I should clarify: they’re here for that reason. I’m here for my own. 

While the world mourns the death of the man in red, white and blue tights, from New York, to Shanghai, to Cairo, with newspapers screaming their headlines of despair, I sit here smoldering inside because I know the truth. 

Plus, a woman named Kimmie Strand has been all over the news, talking to whomever she can, claiming to be the only witness. 

Whatever. I repeat. I know the truth. 

Dallas is lying, but that doesn’t mean she’s my culprit. 

She sips her steaming mug of green tea and says, “You know I can’t tell you where the body is, Charlene. That would defeat the entire purpose. Imagine the hysteria.”  

Charlene—she’s the attractive redhead—congratulates my South Korean counterpart and hugs her handbag closer to her chest. Her paranoia issues far outweigh my own manufactured problems, and the rest of us had begun to speculate that we’d never see her again. The fact that she’s here, that she made it again, says more about her character than I care to admit because she’s still a suspect. I like Charlene, no doubt, but if it comes down to a cup of coffee or handcuffs—not the furry kind—I’m choosing duty over desire. 

Dallas goes on and on about her methods and tactics. She’s such a braggart that I’m beginning to wonder why she’s even here in the first place. She doesn’t belong. Neither do I, but I don’t care that she suffers from compulsive lying. I don’t like her. 

“He was right there, guys. I’m telling you, just ripe for the plucking, and I was in and out before he took a second breath. Not that he would’ve had a chance to, mind you.” 


“Of course I was sure he was dead before I left. Don’t you all double check?” 

Lie. Lie. 

“I got the liquid brozantium wholesale. I’ll see if my supplier wants me to pass his card around.” 

Damned lie. 

The only thing she’s gotten right is the fact that they don’t know where the body is. 

I do. 

How do I know she’s not telling the truth about the rest of it?  

Because that gig was my handiwork. A week ago, the world learned that Patriotman was eliminated with a simple medicine dropper full of liquidized brozantium, delivered to the ear canal. Every major news outlet on the planet received word that he’d died on the aptly named yacht, Misery’s Fortune 

The only known witness was a woman—apparently a (ahem) friend of Patriotman’s—who saw it from a hiding spot in the main cabin. 

I wonder if she’s been enjoying her time in the spotlight. I may need to pay her a visit. 

The story goes that some top secret, ultra clandestine government organization paid an assassin (yours truly) to get rid of the dear Commander, and voila, one dead superhero, as ordered. Everybody knows that he was vulnerable to brozantium, but a single, concentrated dose that close to the brain? Dude never had a chance. 

The thing is, see, people had been trying to send the man of chiseled chest-diamonds to his grave for decades, but they were going about it all wrong; the trick was to get in there where he was vulnerable.  

Hell, I can’t think of any good examples right now—okay, say it’s like Luke Skywalker and the Death Star. Patriotman’s ear canal could be that opening that Skywalker flies into and then fires his pew-pew proton torpedoes or whatever. Anyway, we all know how that ended. 

Am I proud of it? Damn straight. 

I mean, I guess I am. Patriotman had done a lot of good for the world, and it was a shame, but come on! On the surface, as the world sees it and will never, ever know, I accomplished something that no other person in history has been able to do. More people have walked on the moon. 

There’s a part of me that wants to say, “Good riddance,” because it’s the end of an era. New book, new story, new chapter. A world that will learn to be self-reliant on the other side of Patriotman’s death. 

Dallas says, “Tara, there’s simply no way—I’m sorry, Mara—there’s no way I’m going to offer you any legitimate proof and reveal my sources. We all know how this works.” 

Mara crosses her legs and her arms. She pouts until Charlie Delta tries to put a hand on her shoulder. She squirms away with an upturned lip. 

Dallas says, “Well, he certainly didn’t die with his boots on—wink, wink.” 

I understand what she means, but, gag me with a spoon if she’s insinuating what I think she’s insinuating. 

Here’s the problem: I have no way to refute this woman. She can sit there and lay claim to Patriotman or any of my other conquests like Gray Ghoul, Scarlet Gargoyle, Captain Kane, Deathmarch, Quickstrike, Sam Diamond, the entire Power Hour Team, and even the Crimson Gargoyle, and nobody would know the difference.  

I’m bound by contractual obligation to keep my damn mouth shut—the US government doesn’t look kindly on its subcontractors sharing state secrets—and she gets all the glory, at least among our counterparts.  

In fact, if she signed the same agreements I did, then she’s in clear violation of subparagraph three, section four point two. Forget what it says, but if I had a mind to tattle, she’d be up a certain creek without a certain boat propulsion device. 

Should I care? No. Do I? Bah, whatever.  

It’s ridiculous, and I’m tempted to call her out in front of this entire gaggle of heathens, but who will believe me? Dallas has clout among this den of miscreants and, supposedly, I’m just here for the anxiety issues. 

What I’m doing with this gathering of mentally imbalanced, professional assassins is another story that I’ll get to in a minute, but first, let me offer a little background.  

Yes I'll Take It

We meet every Tuesday and Thursday in the back of a bowling alley that smells like stale beer and floor cleaner. I’m always worried about being congregated here with nearly everyone of my ilk.  

If Billie Bombshell happened to learn about this highly clandestine meeting, she could swoop in, drop one of her explosive devices on the roof, and ninety percent of the world’s elite superhero assassins would vanish. 

She swore her vengeance after I eliminated her brother, Billy Barbell, but if I took the time to worry about everyone who wants retribution at my expense, I’d be a quivering mess like Charlene. 

 Remember how in Forrest Gump all the shrimping boats were destroyed, and that left the spoils to Forrest? If somebody blew up this building right now, our few remaining colleagues left out there would have more work than they could handle. 

The owner, this wrinkled raisin of a guy named Jeff, is a retired NSA agent himself, so he doesn’t mind if the twelve of us gather and whine about how hard our lives are, travelling all over the world to beautiful, exotic locations so we can purge superheroes as various governments deem fit. They have their reasons. I ask, they tell me, and more often than not, I’m happy to comply. The bastards deserve it. 

‘If the price is right, no job is too small or too light.’  

That’s my motto. Sure, the rhyming is hokey, but it makes it simple to remember me, and I’m partly convinced that’s why I get more jobs than some of these other jokers. I thought about getting it embossed on a stack of business cards and changed my mind. You don’t want a paper trail in this line of work. Literally and figuratively. 

Anyway, back to the support group and this ratty bowling alley. I’d prefer a bagel shop, but a certain amount of discretion is required when you do what we do for a living. 

On the plus side, Jeff also allows us to roll a few free games, and I have to admit, my skills have gotten better over the past month. I broke a hundred last week for the first time ever. John Conklin—he of the doughnuts, who is also the demented bastard with a necrophilia addiction—nearly rolled a perfect game a couple of weeks ago. I’ll never forget the look on his face when that final 10-pin didn’t fall, and if the guy humped something other than dead superheroes, I might be able to find a dash of sympathy for him. 

I mean, damn, one pin away from a perfect game. Can you imagine? 

Sorry, was that too callous? I’ve been at this a while, and I’ve seen shit that would make Stephen King cringe, so you’ll have to excuse my forays into not-giving-a-crap insensitivity. It’s natural to me at this point. You have to adopt a thick shell of armor or you’ll never get through the day. 

Okay, so I mentioned there are twelve of us: Dallas, Charlene, John Conklin, me, Don Weiss, Tara, her twin Mara, Eleanor, Mike, Charlie Bravo, Charlie Delta, and Fred McCracken. Each of us has our own—well, we call them “quirks” to avoid the true nature of the fact that we’re all certifiably insane—on some level—to do what we do as professionals.  

We kill superheroes for a living. 

I’m the normal one of the group, if we’re being generous, because I’m here under false pretenses. I don’t have “quirks” like these guys, but if you sit around and listen to them long enough, it’s hard not to think that you might be one job away from tilting the pinball machine in your gray matter. 

This is the Superhero Assassin Support Society (SASS for short—let it be known that I did not vote yes to that acronym), and I’m here because there’s a traitor among us. 

At least, an underground branch of the US government thinks so, and I’m getting paid to turn on my own kind…which leaves me wondering…which is worse, betraying your country, or betraying your friends? 

The answer to that is pretty easy on a personal level, but, at the same time, if there’s no honor among thieves, then there’s certainly no honor among sassy people. 

See what I did there? 

Yes I'll Take It

The meeting went well, aside from every single lie Dallas told. Fred McCracken had a breakthrough and cried for the first time. Mike was the first to offer him a clean hanky, and those two have been rivals for thirty years in different aspects of their careers. Charlie Bravo and Charlie Delta didn’t argue once over whom Mom loved best and John Conklin kept his hands where everyone could see them. All in all, I’d say it was a successful Tuesday, and I’ve only been attending for a month. 

I’m now standing by the shoe counter waiting on Jeff to bring me a pair of size elevens.  

I don’t know about actually bowling this time, because I’m nursing a wound in my side from the Patriotman gig. Let’s just say that I had an accident, and for some reason, I’m not healing as fast as I normally do. 

Charlene approaches with her handbag clutched to her chest like it’s a shield—a zebra-striped shield with pink piping, but a shield nonetheless. She glances nervously from side to side, a tennis match of paranoid observation, and then manages to give me a smile. 

“Hey, Leo,” she says. 

I have to be suspicious of everyone, because that’s what I’m getting paid to do, but this is equally strange because she’s never spoken a word to me outside of, “And how did that make you feel?” 

Charlene has one thing in common with Dallas. She’s not why I’m here either, and of that I’m positive. 

Charlene is wearing a green shirt that complements her red hair, so I say, “If it isn’t the Terror of Teal,” and immediately question if I could’ve come up with a better line. She’s a terror, all right. This five-eight bundle of cuteness is responsible for thirty-nine kills if you believe Homefront’s data.  

Every single superhero with the ability to look great in spandex has it out for her after CNC revealed her identity on Tonight with Don Donner a couple of weeks ago. It’s no wonder the poor woman wears her suspicion like a heavy winter coat. I shake my head, embarrassed, and add, “Sorry, that was dumb.” 

Charlene titters nervously, like she wasn’t sure she’s supposed to laugh, and I feel a gooey warmth in my stomach. I can read people well enough to know that laughing when it’s not warranted is a sign of liking someone—I mean like like—and I immediately feel as if I’m back in high school. Next thing you know, Charlene will be wearing my class ring, but it’ll be too big for her and she’ll have to wrap blue string around the band so it doesn’t fall off her finger. 

With that thought, my eyes go down to her hands, which I’ve never really examined before, and I see that they’re large and sort of masculine. Maybe she wouldn’t need the string after all, and— 

She says, “I wanted to ask you something.” 


Jeff shows up at the counter—stealthy bastard—and drops off the red, black, and gray size elevens. He sprays them with the anti-death-by-feet-fungus aerosol can and then seems to notice that Charlene and I are hanging out…together. He winks at me like she’s not standing right there looking directly at him. I roll my eyes and take the fashionably awful shoes. 

Charlene nods at a nearby table. “Want to go sit?” 

“So it’s a sit-down conversation, huh? Do I get detention afterward?” I shake my head, mentally punching myself in the nads because that was probably the lamest attempt at a witty flirtation that I’ve ever screwed up. 

I’ve seriously been off my game since my divorce three years ago. 

Thankfully, she doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care, because she titters again and heads to the table. The sound of bowling balls galloping down the lanes and the ear-shattering crash of flying pins reverberates around the room as we pull the seats out and sit across from each other. I feel like we should be cheek to cheek, sharing a root beer float. 

Is it my imagination or is this absolutely awes— 

See…this is the reason I haven’t gotten remarried. A woman says hi to me, and I’m already planning who’ll get the kids every other weekend.  

Charlene lets go of her bag long enough to pull her seat closer to the table. An obnoxious funk emanates from the bowling shoes, and I discretely remove them from under my nose. They go into the chair beside me, but it’s too late; the nostril damage has already been done.  

“So,” I say, “what’s up?” My voice comes out deeper than it usually is, and I can only assume that it was subconsciously intentional. 

She says, “Can we talk about Dallas for a minute?” 

I scoff and do that nasally snort of disapproval. “That woman. Jesus. I don’t even have the words.” 

Charlene checks the surrounding area, and I follow her lead. Jeff remains behind the counter, spraying the fog of anti-death into a row of shoes while the other ten participants in SASS fling heavy balls at ten pieces of carved wood made from rock maple. 

We don’t really have a group leader, by the way. Too many strong-willed egos for that to happen, but if I had to pick someone to be in charge, I’d go with Charlene. While she may be more timid and paranoid than a mouse poking its head into a room filled with starving alley cats, she also seems levelheaded and is highly precise with a garrote wire, from the stories I’ve heard. But is that it? Are they just stories? 

That’s her trick, she says. Even superheroes need oxygen to survive, most of them anyway. 

Charlene leans forward. Her lush red hair falls around her shoulders, and I get a whiff of perfume that smells like strawberry cream. She whispers, “It’s none of my business, but how could you just sit there and let Dallas take credit for your work?” 

Whoa. What? 

Yes I'll Take It



I step off the commuter plane at PDX and feel the rush of cool rain and wind on my face. Portland’s finest weather, and part of the reason I live here. I love that misty spritz. 

The white-haired woman shuffling next to me says, “I thought it would be sunny.” 

“Vacation?” I ask. 

“Visiting my sister. I hoped to get some sun and sand between my toes this close to the ocean.” 

I chuckle. She’s clearly never been to the Pacific Northwest before, and I don’t have the heart to tell her that the only waves she’ll see in Portland are over in the Timbers’ stadium. 

The woman who had been sitting three rows up from me looks over her shoulder and smiles. Our eye contact lingers, and I’m already planning the honeymoon. 

Forget it, bud. You promised yourself time to relax, remember? 

Sometimes there are long weeks between jobs, and honestly it’s a good thing, because I don’t care how much of a pro you are, you need time to wind down after eliminating someone that’s universally beloved. It’s a hard job, no matter how much some of them deserve it. 

I like to sit on my front porch, with a blanket wrapped around my legs, watching the rain while I read non-fiction books about physics and marketing. I read the nerd journals to keep my mind sharp, but I’m also a businessman.  

Do I question why I do this, why I fight for the wrong side? Sure. Every day. But, just as sure as somebody needs to dig ditches, somebody needs to do what I do. 

Is there a wrong side? Depends on how you look at it. 

We all have our faults. None of us are innocent. 

Even our heroes. 

I’ve been at this for a few years now, but the worst was Polly Pettigrew, also known as White Cloud. She was originally the Blue Baroness, but she dropped out of the crime-fighting scene for a spell, and everyone thought she was dead. When she came back, she was essentially reborn, so the name change was appropriate. She was a billionaire heiress from somewhere deep in Texas—old money that came from centuries of her family controlling bountiful oil fields. 

Polly was beautiful, and my God, did that woman have a heart of twenty-four carat gold when it came to the public persona. She was America’s sweetheart on nightly television, but I’ll tell you what, if you’re cutting backroom deals with the Chinese over oil shipments to the tune of billions, Uncle Sam doesn’t care how many little girls adore your action figure, you’re taking a dirt nap. 

Polly had a good soul, even if it was a little misguided, and my eight-year-old niece, Stephanie, absolutely worshipped her as White Cloud. Had to be done, though, because once you turn down a job, the men in the black suits who cut the checks may not come calling again. 

So here I am, walking into the outer hub of PDX where they bring in all the small flights, stepping into the din of chatting travelers while they wait on their boarding instructions. I smell coffee and hamburgers, two of my favorite things in the world, next to a good northwest-brewed IPA, and immediately regret the half of a leftover peanut butter sandwich I had on the plane. What a waste of stomach space. 

The woman I’m marrying in my mind glances back at me again and slows her marching speed. 

Oh ho, what’s this? Will we go to Belize or Hawaii? 

She’s wearing a charcoal gray blazer, matching gray slacks, and a white top. The carry-on suitcase she drags along is one of those standard black ones that everyone has, and I can see that it looks spotless. There are no scuffmarks or tears in the fabric. She doesn’t have anything tied around the handle to indicate that it’s hers, should she have to check it, and it also looks rather empty. It’s not bulging like it’s jammed with shoes, clothes, a hair dryer, and other necessities.  

Either it’s brand new, and she’s here for a short stay, or that thing is a decoy. When you travel as much as I do, you get a certain sense for this stuff. 

I get my answer right away when she says, “You look tired, Leo.” 

I sigh and nod. These approaches rarely surprise me anymore.  

“Got a minute to talk?” 

“Which agency?”  

I ask this because the NSA pays the best, the CIA is finally learning that you have to open your wallet for quality work, and the FBI, well, let’s just say that I have a certain appendage that could use servicing if they ever lowball me again. 

“I doubt you’ve ever heard of us.” 

Yes I'll Take It


“Try me.” I keep my eyes focused ahead, paying attention to the swarming, milling crowd. If there’s one, there’s another, and I like keeping these people on their toes. It’s always more fun when I have them shaky and slightly less confident. I spot who I’m looking for about thirty feet ahead.  

He’s a dinosaur to be in this line of work and probably had his heyday when the Teletype was still in use. But, he’s good at disguising himself because I never would’ve thought to check him until now. He got on the plane about twenty minutes after I did and I remember he bumped into me when he was trying to put his briefcase in the overhead compartment, then scrambled to get off the plane before everyone else. I see now that he was trying to get into position, but once I’m alone, I’ll have to remember to check my collar and pockets for microscopic tracking devices in case he planted one. 

“And,” I add, “tell your buddy up there that if he wants to get someone’s attention off him, he should start picking his nose. Works every time.” 

She smirks. “I’ll be sure to let him know. Good eye, actually.” As we pass the aging agent, she says, “Tough break, Agent Carter. Maybe next time.” 

Agent Carter’s eyebrows arch high. He shakes his head, grumbles something unintelligible, then he tosses his newspaper into the trash. He follows, but not too closely. 

The agent at my side clears her throat and says, “We realize you just got back from, you know, that job in Beijing, and Powder Keg was tougher than you—” 

I hold my palm up to her. “Nope.” 

“Nope what?” 

“He wasn’t tougher than I expected and not another word until, one, you tell me how you know where I’ve been, and two, you tell me which agency because I don’t make a habit of talking to people I’ve just met. Stranger danger.” 

This elicits a throaty laugh from her. Did I say something funny? 

“We know more about you than your own mother, Leo, but I appreciate your candor.” 

No, she doesn’t...she does not know the truth. But, I play along. “Then you’re aware that I’m not a fan of secrecy.” 

“You like northwest IPAs with a low IBU, right? Let me buy you one. I know a good spot.” 

Okay, now I’m impressed. “Local brew?” 

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” 


I never accept rides from ultra-secretive government agents, especially ones who refuse to identify themselves until they have a cold brew in their hand. 

However, her invitation intrigued me because the way this usually goes is via a self-destructing cell phone that receives vague texts, handed to me by some “whitebread” dude in dark glasses. Good thing I operate well on little instruction. 

She doesn’t even tell me her name until the waitress brings two heavy mugs full of a golden amber liquid. These things are made of such thick glass, you could use them as hammers. 

She says, “Wait until you taste this. New guys in town doing some amazing craft work.” 

“How do you know I haven’t had it before?” I ask. She’d ordered them while I was in the restroom. I couldn’t find any tracking devices, but if they think they already know so much about me, I doubt it matters. 

She grins and sips her beer. “Please. You know the answer to that.” 

I shrug and let her have this small win. Chess matches can take a long time. 

The IPA is amazing, unlike any I’ve ever tasted, and I have to work to contain my excitement. She’s right, the bitter taste of IPA is almost negligible and there’s this sort of heady, fruit-forward taste with a soft touch on the back end. Magnificent. I smack my lips and feel a grin stretch to my ears. 


I lick the foam off my upper lip and take another swig. “That’s just…unbelievable. So good. I can’t decide if I should propose to you or threaten to walk if you don’t tell me what I want to know.” 

Her eyes soften over the rim of her mug. When she sets it down, I notice the small trace of lipstick left behind on the glass. “Let’s start with the latter.” 

I inspect the bar. We’re alone except for the bored bartender and the waitress folding napkins around silverware. The sounds of basketball, scuffling shoes and bouncing rubber, along with the voice of an excited sportscaster, emanate from the embedded speakers while Agent Carter sits at the bar, arms crossed, watching the Blazers play. They’re winning, finally.  

“Great,” I say. “Who the fuck are you?” I force a smile to look real, but she can sense my impatience. Time for the game to be over. I’m walking in dangerous territory here and I’ve let it go too long already.  

“Agent Lisa Kelly,” she answers. “Sorry about the discretion. Can’t be too careful in airports. Too many cameras, too many ears.” 

“And you’re with…whom? You’re too laid back for a spook. You’re drinking a beer so you can’t be one of those stiffs from the FBI, and the NSA would do a handoff in the grocery store. So that leaves, what? Secret Service? Homefront?” 

“What if I told you that we’re so far off the books, the president doesn’t even know about us?” 

“Then I’d call bullshit and walk out the door. I might finish my beer first, but that’d be about the end of our conversation.” 

Agent Kelly leans back in her seat and sips. She has green eyes, unnaturally tan skin for someone who likely spends more time working than enjoying her days off, and brunette hair pulled into a tight bun. I’ve been seeing her face, but this is the first time I’ve actually looked at her. She’s a beautiful woman. I’d put her at about forty, close to my age, but not a day over. 

She stares at me intently while I wait. It doesn’t take long before I grow uncomfortable and say, “What?” 

“I’m waiting on you to walk.” 

So she’s really going to play it out, huh? Might as well see how far she’ll take it. 

“All right.” I lift my shoulders and let them drop with a huff. “Let’s hear it.” 

“Thought so. They said you were the curious type.” 

“They who?” 

“The data nerds.” 

“And exactly where does this data come from?” 


I look at my watch. I don’t really care what time it is, but this is getting old. 

“Somewhere to be?” 

“Oh my God.” She’s maddening. “Are you married?” 

“No, why do you ask?” 

“I’m not surp—never mind.” 

Agent Kelly chuckles and signals for the waitress to bring us another round. “Deke…Agent Carter over there, he and I are from DPS.” 

I’d never heard of it before and tell her so. I also don’t call bullshit, nor do I get up and walk out the door. She has my attention. There isn’t much I don’t know about the darker side of our fine governmental establishment. 

“Direct Protection Services,” she continues. “When the suits see certain patterns in your testing, you’re given the option to take a post with DPS. It’s almost like the Witness Protection Program, in a way, except for the fact that we’re not running from anyone. If you join DPS, you say your goodbyes and then you vanish. All records, all traces…”—she swipes her hand across the table—“gone. You never existed. From then on, it’s service until you retire or take the long road home.” 

“All in the name of God and country? Admirable, I suppose.” 

Agent Kelly impatiently glances around for the waitress. “Sacrifices were made, but the pay makes it worth it.” 

“Wild guess says that Lisa Kelly isn’t your real name.” 

She shakes her head. “Just like Leo Craft isn’t yours.” 

“Touché, but that one’s free.” Something occurs to me—the way she fidgets in her seat, the way she slyly glances at Deke Carter for approval, and how her fingers can’t stop fiddling with a packet of sugar; they’re all signs of some underlying current of insecurity. “You’re new at this, aren’t you? At least with the DPS.” 

“What makes you say that?” 

The hint of surprise on her face is all I need to see. It means she can be manipulated if the situation calls for it. Somebody thought she was prepared for this role, but you can’t make up for inherent human nature. “What do you need from me, Agent Kelly?” 

When she gives an indirect answer, for once, I’m not prepared for what I hear. 

Yes I'll Take It