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Birmingham / RESISTANCE
The Chairman’s Suite at the Bellagio was a great place for a hangover, or it would have been if Dave had one, which he didn’t. And that was just awesome. Sure as hell he’d made a champion effort to get himself a hangover, but despite his best efforts—or maybe his worst—here he was in this expensive hotel suite, on this enormous and bouncy bed, atop this small but even bouncier Saudi princess, while he chugged a superstrong Belgian beer and scarfed down a really excellent breakfast burrito. The beer, his fourth, could probably fuel a ride-on lawn mower. But the princess, his first, was a much better ride and a hell of a lot more fun than any goddamn lawn mower.
“America! Fuck yeah,” he roared for no particular reason beyond the dizzying joy of being alive as he bucked away in time to AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill.” The music pounded from a massive TV that loomed over them like the screen of a drive-in movie theater. The Chairman’s Suite had two bedrooms, but one had been an early casualty of some superpowered romping. Kneeling on the second bed, the unbroken one in the second bedroom, Dave did his best to take a bit more care.
“I fucking love this movie,” he yelled after swallowing a mouthful of burrito, ordered by the suite’s own full-time, by now exhausted bartender, who was herself a significant hottie and the reason the Bellagio was going to need to do some repairs to the sunken bar. Structural repairs.
“Fuck yeah! A classic of American cinema!”
Ostensibly he was commenting on the Dukes of Hazzard YouTube clip they were watching—or rather he was watching, the princess being indisposed and somewhat facedown at that moment—but Dave Hooper could just as easily have been making a larger comment on the strange turn his life had taken this past wild week.
To be sure, he was not a guy who was entirely unfamiliar with jungle sex in hotel rooms and beer and burritos for breakfast. But to be fair to the historical record, he was more familiar with the Motel 7 end of the market, the kind of hookers you took to Motel 7, and six-packs of 7-Eleven Game Day Ice to wash away the sour taste of existential defeat afterward. Maybe, if he was really flush, he sprang for a Big Mac. But there had not been much to spring for in his middling stage of life. Not until a few days ago. Now, however, he was permanently sprung.
“Sprung,” he chuckled through the mouthful of meat and cheese.
The burrito was a step up in quality, too. Some kind of tasty Italian ham and bacon in there, they told him, “they” being the accommodating management and ever-friendly staff of the Bellagio, who insisted on comping him into the Chairman’s Suite lest he have to drag ass back to the budget dive the government had rented for him when he was stranded in Vegas at the last minute. Dave Hooper was a hero, a superhero even, and the Bellagio did not turn away genuine American superheroes just because Uncle Sugar was too fucking cheap to pony up for anything better than a three-and-a-half-star flophouse a couple of blocks beyond the frayed edge of downtown. No, the Bellagio did not do that, not when genuine superheroes were so goddamned good for business, it didn’t.
And there was no question that having Dave at your tables was good for business. Half the city had crowded in to get a little touch of him last night once word got out he was there—and the Bellagio’s hardworking PR flacks made damn sure that word got out. It seemed the other half of the city had dropped by to get a look at Lucille, currently resting on a hastily built display in the main entrance to the hotel. There was no chance of anyone stealing his enchanted sledgehammer. Only Dave had been able to lift her up there onto the black satin cushions, and only Dave would ever be able to take her down. In his hands she seemed to weigh less than the factory-specified twelve pounds of American steel. To anyone else, Lucille was heavier than the superdense mass at the core of a neutron star.
It bothered him only slightly that he seemed to be able to hear her whining to him about being abandoned. Stupid enchanted hammer was as bad as his ex-wife.
Thoughts of Annie were enough to wilt him slightly, forcing Dave to refocus on the princess. A few moments of concentrated effort and she started moaning all over again, causing him to harden and a happy mindless grin to reappear on his face.
“Sprung,” he giggled again. “Totally sprung.”
This end of the world shit had all turned out so well. For him, at least.
Dave had rolled into Vegas quietly, modestly, around chow time yesterday, a couple of hours after their flight to 51, or Nellis, or whatever the fuck they called it, had been forced down by the dragons . . .
Well, okay, back it up again, he conceded while enjoying the vision of Jessica Simpson backin’ it up toward the camera and while Princess—er, Mulan?—backed it up toward Dave. Only he’d said they were flying to Area 51. Heath and Ashbury and that puckered ass Compton just called it “the base.” (Dead giveaway in Dave’s opinion. Had to be a cover for something X-Filey with a name like that.) And no dragons—or Drakon, as Urgon the daemon in his head reminded him—had come anywhere near their slow-moving transport plane on the uncomfortable haul up from New Orleans. It was just that every flight all over the damned country was grounded now because a bunch of big-ass fire-breathing lizards had dropped out of the sky on top of half a dozen planes, some big, some small, and one of them Air Force fucking Two no less.
That particular dragon hadn’t flame grilled old Joe Biden. He’d been waiting to pick up his ride at the other end. But long story short, millions of angry, frightened travelers were stuck wherever Homeland Security and their freaked-out air traffic controllers had ordered them to put down.
Hence the cheap hotel room. Las Vegas was full, according to Compton.
Everywhere was full.
Including, for once, Dave Hooper. He tossed the remains of the burrito aside, and as AC/DC gave way to Motörhead (“Fuck yeah!”), Dave Hooper turned his full attention back to Princess Mulan or Pocahontas or whatever her name was.
“Holy shit!” another voice cried out. “What time is it?”
Dave plowed on with just a bit too much enthusiasm, collapsing the bed frame. Wrapping his arms around the Saudi princess as they rolled out of bed in a hurricane of sheets and comforters, he found he could keep the beat going while getting to his feet.
“Damn,” he said happily, taking in yet another broken bed. A second female voice, light, corn-fed. A blond and breezy American voice. Midwestern charming despite the discernible edge of panic. The sort of voice Dave Hooper was familiar with from an unknowable number of titty bars. The anonymously pretty blond girl emerging from beneath the rumpled sheets of Dave’s ginormous bed could easily have been asking him if he wanted “more Buffalo wings with the next jug, honey.” But instead she was cursing in a very focused and unfriendly fashion, putting up her little fists and punching him on the shoulder while the princess ignored them both, continuing to grind her ass back into him.
“You promised me. You promised that you’d give me an exclusive this morning. A live fucking cross. And I promised New York, Dave. I promised them.”
But Dave was laughing, and Mulan was moaning, and Motörhead was not much interested in any live cross. He flipped Mulan over to get another look at her pretty face, and walked back to the bar and the snoring barmaid, carrying the princess in front of him. She laughed and gasped in Arabic that Dave didn’t understand, but it was hawt if you asked him about it. Hawt enough to make him want another beer and perhaps more if the full-time bartender was willing.
“Darlin’,” he said, “I dunno why our two cultures can’t get on like this all the time.”
But Foxy—because she said she worked for Fox News, Dave had insisted on calling her “Foxy” all night—was not to be put off. She would be reporting, and America would be deciding, and there was no way known she was letting any reprobate fucking superhero ruin this chance for her.
“Come on, Dave! Hurry up.”
Dave just grinned at her as he woke up the bartender to ask for a beer. She smiled slowly and happily when she saw him.
He got his beer, winked, and turned around to head back to the bedroom, ignoring the shattered dining room table behind him. It lay under piles of sweet, sweet swag that had started showing up from folks wanting Dave to say just a few nice things about their fine products.
“Can’t hurry the superhero, darlin’,” he said, still plowing into the princess, her legs locked around his back while her long black hair thrashed back and forth. “It wasn’t just my ass-kickin’ skills got a power up in N’Orleans. They call me Captain Stamina now.”
He favored Foxy with an exaggerated wink before making his point by ever so slightly hyperaccelerating while he held on to Mulan. Two seconds of Captain Stamina going at it like the Flash was enough to send Her Royal Hotness over the edge. Quite literally. When Dave let go on his final thrust, she flew off him for a soft landing on the ruins of their bed, shrieking and laughing.
“Great, you’re done, think you can get your pants on now, Captain?” said Foxy. It was more of an order than a question.
“Oh, baby.” He chugged his beer while admiring her. There was something about frustrated, angry blondes that really excited him. No idea why it hadn’t worked out between Annie and him. “You really aren’t a morning person, are you?”
“No, damnit, I am a morning news producer. Now get your pants on, mister; you have a live cross to get to.”
“Can’t I even have a shower?” he asked, pointing down at himself. “A bit messy here. We could shower together. You could make sure I was scrubbed till my belly button shined.”
She marched through the ruins of the bedroom, past the shattered bed, and ducked into a white tiled bathroom, also one of two in the enormous suite, this one still in usable condition. The water ran for a bit as Dave stood there pondering his situation, draining the last of his beer. When she emerged, she threw a wet towel across the room at him. He accelerated just a notch to catch it with his still erect penis, a feat he could not have managed even in his high school days.
“Ta-da!” he shouted until the icy cold moisture sank in. “Wooo! Not fair! Come on, have that shower.”
“Fuck my life, it’s not smell-o-vision, Dave. No one’s going to know. They just want to see your pretty face and hear about how you kicked monster butt. Especially after last night. People need a good news story. And this week you’re it.”
Dave scrubbed and massaged himself with the wet towel in one hand while making sure every last drop of beer was drained from the bottle. He set the empty down with some care and patted the princess on the ass as he passed her. She panted something in her native language that he took to be contented congratulations. He was inclined to just stand there in all of his naked awesomeness—and damn if he wasn’t all kinds of awesome these days—drinking his beer and checking out his reflection in the full-length mirror at the end of the room. There wasn’t an ounce of fat anywhere on him. A description of a young Schwarzenegger came back to him from somewhere. Like a ton of walnuts stuffed in a brown condom. Or something.
“Fuck yeah.” He grinned, narrowing his eyes just a little and totally believing that his hairline, which had been creeping backward ever since he got married, was now beginning to inch forward in the right direction, chasing the gray away with it.
“Do you think my balls got bigger during the night?” he asked. “What do you think, Princess? I think they got bigger.”
Mulan merely mumbled into the mattress, sated and falling toward sleep.
But he didn’t linger. Or not for long, anyway. He had the excuse of a long walk toward the bathroom to enjoy the arresting vision of his ripped and naked body—was it possible his dick was getting bigger?—but he didn’t want to piss off Foxy too much. He was fast recovering from his last orgasm, and his thoughts were turning naturally toward where he might find his next one. And to be honest, he did recall promising to do this cross thing for her. And then he’d done all those things to her . . . so turnabout was fair play, he supposed.
Plus, he was still pissed at some of those first stories that had come out blaming the explosion and the fire out on the Longreach on “human error.” Like it was his fault, him being the safety boss of the rig and everything.
Yeah, he could easily imagine some floorwalking asshole in BP’s Houston office briefing the press against him just to give them some wriggle room.
“Well,” he imagined them saying. “Hooper has always been a terrible fuckup. We have files, detailed files . . .”
Yeah, fuck them, Dave thought.
Motörhead abruptly cut off, giving way to a rapid succession of infomercials, cartoons, and talking heads until Foxy found what she was looking for: the vapid twitterings of some haircut and that chick from Survivor, the one where they dumped them in outback Australia. Fox & Friends according to the scrolling news ticker. Yeah, now he remembered. He’d promised to give his first ever interview to those assholes just because li’l ol’ Foxy here was a damn sight hotter than the old scrote who’d fronted him at the craps tables last night and said he was from the New York Times and most interested in recording an interview with “Mr. Hooper. For posterity.”
Dave had never been one for watching the news unless it was sports, and for that they had ESPN out on the rigs. His ex-wife, in contrast, was always obsessing about some bullshit story that meant nothing to anyone, but that was why she loved MSNBC. Annie’d go apeshit if he was in the New York Times. And a whole different kind of apeshit if he turned up on Fox.
He chose Fox because sexy producer plus pissed off ex-wife equaled all sorts of epic win.
He couldn’t tell what the Haircut and the Survivor hottie were talking about because Foxy was already yelling that they were late, they were late, they were very fucking late, to which Dave responded that her bosses looked cool with it. He waved one hand at the screen while climbing into the jeans he’d discarded just inside the door last night.
“That’s because it’s their job to look cool. But they are not cool, Dave. They are a thousand miles from cool. You think She-Ra managed to survive in the Outback because she’s cool? No, she survived because she’s a life-sucking hell bitch who uses kittens for sanitary pads. Can’t you use some of your superhero speed to put your fucking pants on? I’m going to lose my job if we’re not there five minutes ago.”
“Okay, okay,” he muttered, putting on a burst of speed that, far from helping, put them even farther behind the clock when he tore the new pair of Levi’s as though they were made from wet tissue paper.
“Shit,” said Dave. “Tore my jeans.”
“It’s a head shot,” Foxy fired back at him. “We don’t need the pants. Let’s go. Get a bathrobe.”
“Mine’s wet. In the hot tub.”
And that was how Dave Hooper, American superhero, found himself hurrying through the corridors of the Bellagio Hotel without pants but wearing a dry towel and the fetching black silk wrap of a sleeping Saudi princess as a concession to modesty.
They headed for the double doors leading into the hallway, where he found Chief Petty Officers Zach Allen and Harley “Igor” Gaddis. How do they keep track of all of that rank crap? The Navy SEALs were dressed in dark polos and khaki cargo pants with pistols at their hips and Oakleys on their mugs. They were talking about firearms while sipping coffee. Seated in comfortable chairs, they did not give the appearance of being on guard duty. Dave noticed for the first time that Igor sported a simple wedding band on one of the thick dowel rods the man called a finger. Or rather, it wasn’t that he noticed the gold ring, but he attended to it for the first time as Igor lifted his coffee mug to drink. Dave rubbed at the smooth skin of his own ring finger. The imprint of his discarded wedding band was almost faded. Almost.
“I’m thinking an Alexander Arms fifty-cal might do the job,” Igor said. “Just swap out the upper receiver and away you go. Better than trying to haul a Barrett around.”
“Yeah,” Zach said, taking note of Dave and Foxy without making any comment. “You’d lack the range of a Barrett, and I don’t know that I want a bunch of those monsters turning my legs into drumsticks while I’m changing mags. Mornin’, Dave. Ma’am.”
“When did you guys come on shift?” Dave said, trying to act as though he emerged from luxury suites dressed like a transvestite every morning.
“Six,” Zach said. “Busy night?”
“Up all night, am I right?” He winked at Foxy.
“Ma’am, I can shoot him, if you please,” Igor said to the producer, who just shook her head.
“After my live cross,” she said, taking Dave by the arm as she worked her cell phone, requesting the concierge deliver a light blue business shirt to the hotel’s media center ASAP.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Armando. I love you, babe. And I owe you. Big-time. Yes, it’s for Dave. Something stylish but not faggy, no offense. No, I can’t give you a size. You’ve seen him. Make your best guess. And bring a couple of sizes on either side of that. Big through the neck and chest, narrow at the waist. Yeah, your basic male stripper.”
“I was a stripper once,” Igor supplied, trying to be helpful and possibly gain some ground. Foxy ignored the six-foot-four SEAL completely.
“Igor, one night drunk in a Manila strip club does not make you a Chippendale. It just makes you a little sad,” Zach said, tapping his mike. “Asset mobile, overwatch in close order.”
Dave might have objected save for the fact he was hurrying down the hallway in his undies, a towel, and a princess blouse, escorted by Igor and Zach, all of them whipped along by a small blond hurricane, herself wearing nothing more than bed hair and the sole surviving waffle weave bathrobe from Dave’s suite. Always a leg man, Dave was enjoying the sight of her brown calves and dainty ankles as she hurried on ahead of him. The robe was short enough that the slight H-shaped folds of skin on the backs of her knees were visible. He had always found that sight powerfully arousing, and he glanced to either side of him at his military escort to see if either of those good old boys was enjoying the view.
Igor looked pained. So enticing, so close and yet so far away.
Zach, however, did smile for a ghost of a second.
“Dude, what would Sammy think?” Zach whispered.
“You know that’s not me. And Sammy’s cool,” Igor said, trying to sound unrepentant.
The married man, Dave thought. You could always tell them by the clinking of the ball and chain.
Foxy finished her call to Armando the concierge, decelerating to drop back beside Dave but only to take hold of his arm and speed up again, dragging him along. It was early enough that most of the hotel guests were either still in bed or hanging on grimly at the gaming tables. The breakfast traffic hadn’t started yet, and they moved down the hallway toward the elevators without having to dodge around tourists or conventioneers.
“You need to get up on what’s happened, Dave,” Foxy said. Dave was aware of the feel of her hip against his and way more interested in getting up on Foxy than on the news. “Normally this first interview would be all about you, but after last night they’re going to want to ask you about the dragons and the demons, especially if they’re busting out all over like the one in New York, and they’re going to want to know what people can do to protect themselves.”
Dave almost stopped in his tracks, and Igor had to swerve to avoid running into him.
“There were Horde in New York?” he asked as they got moving again with a few excuse-mes and apologies.
“Yes,” said Foxy. “What, they didn’t mention that on The Dukes of Hazzard?”
“Shit,” he said. “I didn’t know. That sucks. Anyone hurt?”
“It was only one of them as best anybody knows. And it jumped into the middle of some FBI thing. Totally unrelated. Got cut down pretty quick, but there were some people killed, some more injured.”
He hadn’t seen or heard anything about New York, but then he had been distracted and there was more than enough monster news from New Orleans, and now with the dragons, maybe a lone monster didn’t rate the front page anymore.
“The feds locked down the scene,” she said as they weaved through a couple of housekeeping carts. “They blacked out all the surrounding phone calls going in and put all the witnesses into protective custody. Or quarantine or some shit. Hardly matters. There’s witnesses free to talk yet. No visuals, no witnesses, no story. And we got plenty of orcs and dragons to go around. So what’ve you got for us on that?”
“But I don’t know shit about dar Drakon,” Dave said, dropping into the old language without thinking about it.
“What’s that?” Foxy asked, turning to him but not stopping. “What did you call them?”
Dave had to think about it for a second. “Dar Drakon,” he repeated, a little slower and more thoughtful this time. “That’s what the Hunn call them.”
“Cool,” Foxy said. “Right there, you can talk about that, everyone’s calling these things dragons, except for the freaks who think they’re like mystical visitors or some shit. You tell us that the real name is that Dacron thing”—she pronounced it ‘Day-crone’— “and right away we got a news lead. What else can you tell me about them? No. Hold that thought. You need to get across your brief.”
“My briefs?” Dave asked playfully as they pulled up in front of the elevator. She ignored him.
“What a dick,” Igor sighed.
“I know, right?” Foxy said, taking proper notice of Igor for the first time. “And yet . . . you know,” she sighed, and shrugged. “What a dick.”
“Come on, Dave,” Zach said, sounding peeved. “Some of us didn’t get to party in the Frank Sinatra suite. Which floor?”
“Down on five,” Foxy said. “They’ve set aside a lounge for us.”
Long before the doors of the elevator opened on a large party of drunken frat boys, Dave could hear them coming. Or at least Dave took them to be drunken frat boys. Maybe they were drunken software millionaires. Who knew these days? They were already pretty rowdy, but as soon as one of them laid eyes on Dave, they erupted.
“Holy shit! You’re that guy. Super Dave. You kicked fuckin’ monster ass down in N’Orleans, dude.”
“Don’t encourage the egomaniac, please, sir,” Zach said.
“Why, yes, son. Yes I did.” Dave grinned.
“DAVE!!!” they shouted at once, and it was much better than being blamed for an explosion and a fire that had nothing to do with him.
Foxy cursed under her breath, Zach and Igor both broke out of character to roll their eyes, and the frat boys erupted in cheers and hoots. Mostly for Dave but in one confusing case somebody let go with a loud, lingering shout out for some guy called Leroy. They poured out of the elevator in a sweaty masculine wave, punching Dave on the shoulder, slapping him on the back, trying to do the same with the SEALs who had kicked a lot of monster ass, too. A couple of the fratboys finally paid some attention to Foxy, standing there in her little Bellagio signature waffle weave bathrobe looking fit to blow steam from her ears.
“Autographs, man. We need autographs.”
“No. Beers. We need breakfast beers with Super Dave.”
“Woot woot woot.”