[AC] Bush43 #18

Jason Kenney jasonkenney at gmail.com
Sun Dec 5 13:40:06 PST 2004

Artifice Comics - http://www.artificecomics.com


She looked like Anna Romanova, only shorter and with harsher features.
And paler. And kinda goth and all. All right, fine. Short of the long,
dark hair, she looked nothing like Romanova.

"You need to stop resisting," she said, though I wasn't sure what

All I knew at that moment was that my gut was feeding a fire that
burned through my entire body, and her hands were right in there,
moving around.

"You need to calm down, Jeffery," she said, and I wondered briefly how
she knew my name, considering I had never met her before, but then
chalked it up to the fact that many strangers seemed to know my name as
of late--and that bothered me. She must have sensed that.

"I said calm down."

She moved to emphasize her point, the pain racing up my spine and into
my head like a bullet. I opened my mouth but could not scream, as
darkness enveloped my vision once more.

"You owe me for this," she said, as I entered into comfortable
oblivion. "Remember that."

And then, everything ceased to be.


Issue #18
"Hide and Seek"
By Jason S. Kenney


Harsh lights burned at my eyes, as they tried to adjust.

I was lyaing on the floor of the cave under Burke Manor-- the Bush
Cave, as I'd taken to calling it.

Thing is: last I remembered, I was laying on the floor of Burke Manor.

Bleeding to death.

I sat up quick and just as quickly laid back down and shouted in pain,
grabbing at the knives that seemed to jab at my gut.

"Take it easy," said a female voice off to the side. I looked over to
see that woman again, the pale, kinda-short chick with long, black

"Where's Alfonse?" I asked, as I started to roll over and try and get
myself to my feet. I stopped, as she gently placed a hand on my

"He is up stairs dealing the police," she said, as she pushed me onto
my back. She grabbed and pulled up my right arm.

I winced, as she touched the still open wounds on my forearm, the ones
made during a certain session with a particular new New Mage.

"What are these from?" she asked, as her fingers danced from one cut to
the next, eventually touching upon all seven of them.

"A ghost doggie," I said.

She nodded and seemed to contemplate that and then dropped my arm.

"It'll have to heal itself," she said, standing upright. "The cuts
aren't very deep anyway."

"Who are you?" I asked, as she turned and walked from me. I slowly
rolled over again and started to get to my feet.

"Lilith Cadduceus," she said, as she started to pace. "I arrived
shortly after your little cut," she said, gesturing towards my gut,
"and your friend Alfonse woke up shortly thereafter and advised that
you be moved down here."

"Is Alfonse okay?" I asked, as I stood up way too quickly.

"He's fine, but he recommended you remain down here for the time


Lilith shrugged. "The police, I suppose."

I looked down at my gut and ran a finger along the nice scar that had
formed there, then moved to the longer though not nearly as deep one
across my chest.

"You fixed this?" I asked looking up to Lilith.

"I did," she said with a nod, "but it comes with it's price."


"I don't do this shit for free," she said, tucking loose strands of
hair behind her ear, bracelets sliding along her forearm as she reached
up and then back down. "You owe me. And I will call in the debt."

"Owe you what?"

"It doesn't matter. I'll ask; you'll do. If that's not good enough,
I'll put you right back the way I found you."

I looked back to my gut and noticed that I'd still been touching the
scar. I self-consciously pulled my hand away.

"I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

"Good," she said. "Your chest is fine; your arm should heal itself
nicely. I did what I could for your abdomen, but your body resisted too
much for me to fix it completely. You're going to hurt for the next few
weeks, and you have to take it easy, or you'll make it worse, and you
won't be much good to me then."

"Thanks, Doc," I said with a smirk.

And with that, Lilith Cadduceus disappeared.


I'd gotten bored, so I tried to do some sort of exercises, but the pain
in my gut kept me from doing anything except laying down and hoping the
pain would end while trying to remind myself to leave a bottle of
aspirin down here for future use.

About an hour after Lilith left, Alfonse came downstairs. I jumped to
my feet and immediately clutched my gut, as pain once again raced
through me so hard that I almost collapsed.

I'd never seen Alfonse move so fast. He braced me with a hand on my
shoulder, as his other hovered just inches from my hands at my gut. He
leaned to look me in the face.

"Are you okay, Jeffery?" he asked, his face a look of concern over
sorrow. There were bruises just under his eyes, red with tears, and his
nose was in a brace.

"Are you okay?"

"I will be fine, Jeffery," said Alfonse, straightening up and trying to
clear his face of emotion. "I am glad to see that you are doing well."

"For the most part," I said with a grimace, as my stomach continued to
argue that point. "What about that other lady?" I asked.

Alfonse hesitated and looked down for a moment.

"Miss Burke is dead."

"She's what?!?" I almost jumped at Alfonse.

"LAYLA Burke," restated Alfonse as he registered my misinterpretation.
I clutched my chest and loosened up a bit. I thought Victoria was dead.

"Layla Burke," I said, trying to remember the name.

"Victoria's mother," said Alfonse, looking into my eyes. He seemed to
be on the verge of tears.

"Oh. Oh no..."

We both looked away from each other. Alfonse trying to hide his sorrow;
me willing to let him.

"Does Victoria know?" I finally asked. Alfonse shook his head.

"No," he said, "she hasn't been home since yesterday. And, quite
frankly, I'm worried."

"I'm sure she's fine," I said, trying to put some sort of good spin on
something in this mess.

"The police are looking for her."

"They are? For wha..." Oh crap. "Do they think she did this?" Alfonse
nodded. "But she didn't!" I said. "I saw who did this; it's not
Victoria. I'll tell the police."

"There lies the problem, Jeffery," said Alfonse, looking back to me.
"If you tell the police, they will ask how you know. If you say you
fought the murderer, they will ask where you were when they arrived. Do
you tell them you were down here," he said, gesturing to the cave
around us, "being healed? How did you get down here? Why did I move
you? And what is this cave for?"

"Why did you move me, Alfonse?" I asked in a more accusatory tone than
I meant.

"Because my first thought was to protect your identity and Victoria's.
Why were you here? What relation are you to Victoria or myself or what
happened? And you needed medical help, Jeffery. Doctor Cadduceus needed
time to work on you, and she was not going to have that time upstairs
with the police around.

"I fear I've made a mess of things, Jeffery," said Alfonse, shaking his

A lot of questions ran through my head:

What about my blood being all over the scene?

What about my room being a mess and full of my stuff, if they did a
search of the house, which I assume they would have?

What about so many things.

But I didn't want to voice them to Alfonse. Not now, not with the mood
he was in. It'd only have made things worse.

"Any idea where Victoria might be?" I asked.

"She was out with Cindy Marigolds," said Alfonse, "although she
probably stayed with Crowley." He grimaced, practically spitting out
the name.

"Where would that have been?"

Alfonse started to speak but stopped, his mouth hanging open and then
shutting quickly. He swallowed hard.

"Jeffery," he finally said, "you need to rest. You almost died last
night, and you can not go out just yet."

"We need to find Victoria," I said, "before the cops. I can do that,
Alfonse, and without jumping around or anything. I'll be careful, I

He hesitated, then nodded.

"I will get you the address while I gather you some clothes," he said,
turning and heading for the stairs. "You will have to find another
place to stay until this blows over, you know."

"I figured as much," I said, noticing my hand and stopping it from
playing with the scar again.

"Alfonse," I called out. He stopped halfway up the stairs and turned to

"I'm sorry," I said. "If I'd just been here sooner..."

"You did not know, Jeffery," he said with a choked voice. "There was
nothing you could have done."

He turned and went up the stairs.


Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to borrow one of the Burke Estate cars
to drive into town, but I couldn't exactly have run there, given how
much pain I was in. And seeing as how I hadn't driven a car in almost a
year, I pissed off a lot of folks by driving speed limit or less all
the way. Well, lack of driving combined with fear of getting pulled
over. Last thing I needed was to have to explain why I was driving a
car registered under the Burke name.

I parked at a strip mall just outside of Pacific City and caught a bus
into town, backpack over my shoulder with a couple changes of clothes
and one trusty mask just in case. While the itch was there, I was
hoping that I wouldn't need to use it. Rather, my stomach was hoping.
Pleading. Attacking me.

The apartment Alfonse sent me to was in one of those ritzy buildings
with a guy at the door, and I had to try and finagle my way past the
man with some story about losing my keys and my mother really needing
something important in my bag. He wasn't buying it, but some guy trying
to race past us and into the building seemed to warrant his attention
more, so I was given an easy out and booked it to the stairs before the
guy could notice.

Now, normally taking the stairs isn't any sort of trouble, seeing as
how I'm really strong and athletic and stuff. But now it was the worst
idea I had ever had.

I got to the seventh floor and had to rest a few minutes while my gut
punished me for living. God, I hope this pain doesn't last.

I looked up and down the hallway before stepping out and walking
towards apartment 7B.

I stopped in front of the door, took a deep breath, and knocked.

There was some noise inside, someone shuffling, sounding like they were
either trying to hide or get dressed. After a few minutes, the door
opened a bit, the chain on the inside keeping it from opening much
more, as a man's head poked into view.

"Yeah?" he asked from behind the cigarette clamped in the side of his
mouth. The guy wasn't from around here, his accent closer to mine than
Victoria's. American.

"Crowley?" I asked.

"What?" he replied as he shifted a bit.

"Is Victoria here?" I asked, trying to look behind him.

"Who the fuck are you?" he asked as his eyes narrowed slightly.

I didn't have time for this.

Crowley was knocked back on his ass, as I kicked the door in. He was
cursing while I slammed it behind me after stomping into the place.

"Victoria?" I called out as Crowley got to his feet. I ignored him and
his shouts, as I went to the bedroom and pushed open the door.


I went for the other bedroom and started to turn the doorknob, when I
suddenly stopped, let go, and turned around to face Crowley.

"Who are you?" he asked as he stepped towards me.

"Jeffery Carter," I found myself answering. I also found myself not

"What the fuck are you doing here?" he asked, as he kept coming and lit
a new cigarette in his mouth.

"Looking for Victoria Burke," I said against my wishes--which, at that
point, were to punch the shit out of this guy and maybe urinate on him
for good measure.

"Why?" Crowley stepped right to my face.

"Because her mother is dead."

His face dropped slightly.

"Huh," he said. "Shit." He turned and walked from me, his hand stroking
his chin while I just stood there and tried really hard to move.

"She's not here," he said finally, turning and plopping himself down in
a chair. "Hasn't been for a couple nights."

"Do you know where she is?" I asked, and the look on his face changed
to one that I found hard to identify. It was like he tried to
concentrate more. And I felt something in my head shift.

"No, I don't," he said as his face relaxed. "How did Layla Burke die?"

How'd he know her name?

"Stabbed," I said.


"Burke Manor."


"Last night."

"Who did it?"

"I don't know," I said.

Crowley frowned and then looked past me at the bedroom door briefly,
then snapped back to me.

He stood up and walked to me again, stopping about a foot away and
studying my face.

"So you're Bush43," he said with a snicker. I couldn't do much but I
could widen my eyes at least.

And then something clicked, and I stumbled and caught myself. I could

"Nice save, hero," he said as he took a drag off his cigarette.

I stood there for a moment and flexed my hands, happy to be mobile
again. Then I looked at Crowley, with that fucking smug look on his

And I punched him in it.

He fell to his ass yet again, his cigarette flying out and smoldering
on the carpet. I shook the pain from the punch out of my hand as I
loomed over him.

"Don't fuck with my head again," I said.

And I stormed out of the apartment to more of his cussing. v***

Isiah Rowe opened his door with a slightly concerned look on his face.
He must have been reading the look on mine.

"What's up?" he asked, stepping aside to let me in.

"I can't stay long," I said, as I dropped my backpack on his couch and
unzipped it, pulling out my mask and stuffing it in my pocket. "But I
was wondering..."

I turned to him.

"I hate to be a burden, man, but can I crash here for a couple nights?"

"Sure," he said without hesitation. "What's up? Are you all right?"

"Not really," I said, heading towards his kitchen for some water. "I
got stabbed last night and haven't fully recovered."

"Stabbed?" Isiah asked, as he followed me. I grabbed a glass out of the
cabinet, filled it, and finished it off.

"Yep," I said as I refilled the glass. "With a sword."

Now my stomach was hurting with a different pain, and I went for the

"What about being invulnerable?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, as I rummaged through his fridge, "that's what I was
wondering." I found some left over lo mien and was pleased as punch.
"But," I said, closing the fridge, "I've got more important things to
worry about. You mind?" I gestured to the lo mien I already had open.
He shook his head. "Sweet."

I found a fork and started to dig in.

"I saw the news," he said, and I stopped with noodles dangling out of
my mouth. "About Burke."

I sucked the noodles in and nodded.

"Yeah," I said, poking at the food, suddenly not very hungry. I set it
down and drank my water. "Yeah," I said again. "Look, I have to run.
Are you sure you don't mind my staying?"

"Not at all," Isiah said, as I put the food back in the fridge and then
headed out of the kitchen. "Jeff," he said as I got to the door,
"you're not involved in this shit, are ya?"

I smirked.

"Isiah, my friend, I'm up to my neck in it."


"I don't know where she is, Jeffery," said Erlend Romanov as he leaned
back in his seat, a cigarette dangling from his fingers, its ash
threatening to fall onto the carpet.

"Well then, can you call the cops off?" I asked, as I shifted my weight
from one foot to the other. I could never make myself comfortable in
Romanov's office. Not after my history there. Not given my relationship
with the self appointed Mayor. Nope, was not gonna get comfy.

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Jeffery," said Romanov, sucking on his
cigarette, the tip flaring red. "The police have complete authority to
do their jobs in civilian affairs, such as the murder of Layla Burke."

"But what about Victoria?"

"Victoria's personal life is not mine to intrude upon," said Romanov as
he started to rock in his seat. "My involvement with you lot ends with
your job as New Mages. If you all insist on having these alter egos,
then you must deal with them yourselves."

"But they think she did it!" I shouted. How could he be so unattached?

"And they are wrong, but Victoria will have to deal with that herself.
You're not exactly helping her with that, are you?"

He stubbed out his cigarette and stood up.

"You were there, Jeffery. You fought Layla Burke's murderer. You could
identify her. You could prove Victoria's innocence."

"But what about..."

"Your being there? Your involvement with Victoria and Alfonse? Yes,
what about that, Jeffery?"

"Are you going to help or not?" I asked, avoiding what he was trying to

He only looked at me with that fucking smile.

I turned and stormed towards the door.

"And what exactly is it you intend to do?" I heard a female voice ask
me from behind, and I turned to see Anna Romanova standing there now
with same damn smile Romanov had. "Why are you looking for her,
Jeffery? To tell her the police are after her? To provide her a
shoulder to lean on? To hide her? To protect her?"

"She needs to know," I said.

"And you need your rest, Jeffery," said Romanova in reference to the
pain that still tore through me, the pain whose cause I had not told
her about. "She will find out on her own soon enough."

"Are you going to help or not?" I repeated roughly through clenched

And now, Romanova just looked at me with that smile.

Fuck this.


Alfonse answered the phone quicker than I expected. I still hadn't
figured out what exactly to say.

"Hey, Alfonse," I said after a pause that almost had him hang up.

"Jeffery, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," I said, as I leaned my head against the side of the phone
booth. "Have you heard from her at all?"



"Jeffery," he said, the sound in his voice something I'd never heard
from him before: he sounded on the verge of tears. "She was here and

"Gone gone?"

"She saw the foyer and disappeared."

"And the police?"

"Those here saw the whole thing."


"More or less."

"Okay, all right, any idea where she might run to?"

"Other than Crowley's? No."

"She's not there, or hadn't been when I was. I'll check again."

"Jeffery, are you sure you are okay?"

"I'm staying at Isiah's," I said, and I gave him the number. "If you
hear from her or see her, please call and leave a message there, and
I'll get it. I'll check in time to time, too."

"Jeffery," said Alfonse sternly, "are you all right?"

"Jesus, Alfonse," I said, closing my eyes, "are YOU all right? This is
practically your family we're dealing with here. How are YOU doing?"

"I am holding up like I always do, Jeffery," Alfonse said very
unconvincingly. "But you need to rest. You have to heal some, and your
running around isn't helping."

"I'll rest once we find her," I said. "I'll keep ya posted, Alf."

"Do be careful," Alfonse said.

"I always am."


There was a breeze cutting across the rooftops of Pacific City as the
sun tried to hide behind the horizon. The wind did wonders to cool me
down and went a long way to taking my mind off the raging fire that
tore through my insides. What kind of a healing job did that chick do
that still hurt so much?

I looked around the city, hoping to see some sign of Victoria jumping
around and maybe doing the heroing thing.


"C'mon, Vicky," I said under my breath as I looked around.

I heard something behind me, a scrape or a shuffle, definitely the
sound of a foot step, and I spun and crouched, ready to face whoever it

And it was her.

"Victoria," I said, straightening up and trying to hide the grimace on
my face.

She wasn't in any sort of costume, just normal khaki's and a blouse of
some sort, and as usual she looked exceptional.

But her face told it all.

She opened her mouth to say something, but I don't know what, as her
mouth just hung there and her entire body seemed to just give up.

I ran and caught her before she fell off balance, and she fell right
into me, her head on my shoulder, her body shaking mine as it convulsed
with sobs. 

And I held her because it's all I could think to do.

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