In this excerpt from The Red Menace #1: Red and Buried, Patrick “Podge” Becket and his partner, Dr. Thaddeus Wainwright, have entered 1972 Cuba as guests of Fidel Castro. Becket’s high-tech security firm offers state-of-the-art gadgets to prime ministers and presidents the world over, and this is only the second time his company has agreed to supply an enemy of America. It’s all a ruse to get Becket’s alter ego, the Red Menace, into Cuba so the United States can find out just exactly what it is the Russians, led by the Menace’s old enemy Colonel Ivan Strankov, are up to at a secret base in the jungle outside of Havana.
This is the first time the Red Menace costume has been out of mothballs in over a decade, and Podge Becket finds that maybe the cynical 1970s aren’t the place for an outfit that seemed perfectly normal in the innocent 1950s.
Their luggage had been searched.
The practice was common in totalitarian regimes, and the only difference from country to country was whether or not the host nation wanted its guests to know about the invasion of privacy. In this case, the Cuban government did not want Podge aware that it had riffled through his shaving kit and underwear. Everything had been neatly removed from their bags and great care had been taken to replace each item in the precise same spot where it had been found. But even professional snoops weren’t perfect.
A twisted collar here, a misaligned pant crease there. To a trained eye, even one a decade out of practice, it was not difficult to see if one’s bags had been tampered with.
Podge was not worried that the official government snoops in Uganda or Cuba would find his greatest hidden prize. No enemy ever had.
The special false bottom in his suitcase was undetectable, and if by some bit of freak luck it was ever discovered it would simply look as if the lining of the bag were coming loose. Only careful manipulation of a hidden lock opened a secret compartment.
If an enemy ever tried to open the false bottom, a canister of colorless, odorless gas would release and render unconscious any nearby living creature. The range would vary depending on the location, but in the case of the Revolución Grande Hotel, Podge estimated that at least three floors would succumb to the gas.
Podge successfully avoided rendering the seventh, eighth and ninth floors of the Grande unconscious and slipped from the secret compartment a bundle of carefully folded red cloth. He gave the fabric a vigorous shake and it spread out wide across the bed of his hotel suite without so much as a single visible wrinkle.
“You know, I never really realized how silly this thing looked,” he called out to the living room as he reached back inside the suitcase. He placed the matching mask next to the cape. “Oh, geez,” he muttered.
Both mask and cape were bright red, almost glowing. He stepped back several feet and watched the luminescence fade and the red change over to midnight black.
“And it would have made a hell of a lot more sense just to make it black all the time.” He stepped forward and the cloth turned red once more, back again and the cloth once more faded to black. “What were we thinking?”
“Not we,” Wainwright replied. “You. I made the mistake of telling you about the strange properties of those berries I found in the Philippines, but you’re the one who insisted I use the dye on the cape. I, if you don’t recall, argued vigorously against it.”
Podge changed into a pair of black slacks and matching shirt. He was glad Wainwright was in the other room as he dragged the cape around his shoulders. He checked his reflection in the big mirror above the bureau.
“Holy cats,” he muttered.
Podge had never been embarrassed to don the cape back in the old days. He was much younger then, as had been the world. A creeping cynicism had bled into every corner of society since the 1950s and the innocence of those long-ago years had been replaced, bit-by-incremental-bit, with a world that Podge no longer recognized. So sinister were the subtle forces of change that even Podge, aware that they were taking place, did not realize how deeply they had taken root in his own attitudes. It was as if someone had crept into his house and replaced everything he owned with exact replicas. It might look like his home, but there was an indefinable, otherworldly strangeness to it.
Never in the past thirteen years had he felt more starkly the utterly changed world around him than he did in that moment, standing in his old cape before the mirror in his Havana hotel room and feeling the complete fool.
Better to do it fast and get it over with.
Podge went to work on his other suitcases. Other hiding spots yielded a dozen mismatched pieces of black metal. Some bits were hidden in plain sight as parts of handles, hinges and protective metal corners. With expert hands, Podge assembled the parts into his familiar gun. He loaded in the more exotic weaponry, finishing up by slapping in a clip of conventional bullets.
He had tested the weapon regularly in Hawaii over the past decade, the only aspect of his previous life that he had allowed into his current one.
He slipped the gun in his holster. Spare clips and assorted weapons he stashed away within the folds of his cape. The last few were the mask and gauntlets which he held in one hand as he walked out into the suite’s living room.
Wainwright had spread the Cuban documents, including blueprints to Castro’s house, out on the coffee table and was writing hastily in a yellow notebook. As was always the case, the doctor’s pen never seemed able to keep up with his brain. His hand was scribbling seemingly with an independent will as he looked up at Podge.
Podge was relieved when Wainwright didn’t make some smart-alecky remark about the cape. Although the hint of worry on the older man’s usually bland face did nothing to help relieve the squishy feeling in the pit of Podge’s stomach.
“How many Cuban security agents did you see outside?” Wainwright asked.
“Lots. I guess the front door is out of the question.”
“Well, let’s just hope they leave me alone. I have enough with all your homework to worry about without a bunch of pineapple herders poking their noses in on me.”
“They’ll stay put unless they’re told not to. The ones I saw are staked out for the night. So. You gonna wish me luck?”
“I am, and I do,” Wainwright said. His hand was still writing and he turned his attention to it, as if checking it to make certain it hadn’t made any errors while he was not watching. “Do me the great favor of not getting yourself killed tonight, Patrick. There are very few people in this world who are worth a spit. I’d hate to be left alone to deal with the morons and lunatics who constitute the rest of the human race.”
Podge watched the top of his old friend’s gray head as he hunched over his work.
With a tight nod, Podge tugged on his black gauntlets. There was only one thing left.
Podge lifted his mask and pulled it down snug around his ears.
It was the first time he’d donned the mask in thirteen years. He thought it would feel strange and so was surprised at how normal it felt. Like pulling on a favorite childhood shirt that he should have outgrown decades ago but which somehow still fit absolutely perfectly. It covered tightly both hair and face down to his nose.
Without another word, the Red Menace turned and slipped into the dark spare bedroom. Wainwright heard the door to the balcony open and the brief sound of honking horns and the hum of evening traffic before the door clicked shut again.
“God help us,” the doctor said to the empty room.
With a worried exhale, Thaddeus Wainwright threw down the pen and fished in his pocket for his silver cigarette case.
The Red Menace #1: Red And Buried is now available for purchase through Amazon’s Kindle service.