Monday, November 24, 2014

The Amazing Adventures of The Emperor Number 4
 Charles Lee Jackson II


 I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO. I mean, Hollywood is home, and I love it, too (at least, my Hollywood, which is somewhat more 'forties than average). There are maybe a dozen other spots on the globe I treasure, but there's just something about San Francisco.

Actually, there are a lot of things about it, not the least of which is the presence of the winner of the nation-wide "CL's sidekick we want to see more often" contest, the lovely and talented Shanghai Lil.

After the trouble I'd had the last time I was in town, I'd bought a new æroplane, and had brought it down uneventfully at Gashouse Cove, where I'd been met by the beauty herself.

We were strolling along near Fisherman's Wharf a little later when we stumbled onto a young riot. Shanghai dragged me into the middle of the crowd, where two old guys were arguing over a basket-woven crab-trap, the sort of thing with a funnel-shaped opening, into which, but not out of which, the crustaceans can climb.

"Do something," Shanghai chided.

"Owl roight, owl roight," I spoke up, "whot's all this then?"

The two oldsters ignored me, but I clapped my hands together very hard. They turned to me. "What's the problem?"

"He's tryin' t' steal my crabs," both chorused.

"Wait a minute. You first," I said to the one on my right.

"I pulled up my crab pot, and this guy tried to take it from me!"

I turned to the other.

"He try steal my crabs an' I stop him!"

I addressed the crowd. "Anybody know whose pot it is?"

Despite the number of times that question must have been asked in The City, it got the same answer as always. Nobody knew.

I knelt beside the pot and opened the front. Three very uncomfortable crabs were jockeying for position inside.

"Any of you guys know whose pot this is?"

The crowd backed away from me. I stood up, and said, "These guys say they never saw either of you before, and they want to go home."

The two old guys backed away from me, too. Suddenly Shanghai and I were all alone on the pier. I looked at her. "Happy?"

She smiled. I hefted the pot and walked it to the edge of the Wharf, tipping the crabs back into the Bay. Shanghai and I watched for a moment.

Two of the crabs popped up to the surface a moment later, one clearly pointing at me before they vanished into the water.

Shanghai's eyebrows rose. "What was that?"

I gave her my most annoying smile and said, "That one crab asked, ‘who was that nice human?’ and the one that pointed said ‘That was no human, that was... The Emperor!’"

Chapter One

Jurisdictional Dispute

ON THE NORTH slope of what used to be called Mount Parnassus is an interesting little modified Queen Anne house, which, if it were not painted mauve with black trim, would seem perfectly ordinary. Of course, the place is far from mundane, as is its owner. It's the pleasant little pied-a-terre maintained in The City by yours truly. At street level are coach-house and steps to the second floor, wherein are living room, den, dining room, kitchen, et cetera. The top floor contains the master bath and a combination bedroom and solarium, depending on whether the drapes are drawn or not.

This morning they were open, and I lazed over breakfast, watching San Francisco come to life.

I leaned back, thinking how sensible a nap would be right then, just after breakfast, before I dressed for the day. But there's so much potential fun in San Francisco that I decided to greet the day wide awake. And then something happened to justify my choice.

Shanghai Lil waltzed in. (Shanghai Lil, of course, isn't her real name, but, as regular followers of these chronicles know, she protects her privacy under this evocative nom de guerre, the derivation of which, if you but knew her better, would be patently clear.)

She paused, looking resplendent in a calculatedly casual outfit: snug slacks and an oversized V-neck sweater made of silk, with her hair in a high ponytail with a big lace bow. What you'd call the "Gidget" look. I wondered who she though she was fooling. She gave my outfit – silver pajamas and black silk dressing gown – the once over, and gave me an appreciative whistle, saying, "My, aren't we grahnd this morning," in her best Eric Blore impression. "I'll bet you wowwed the maid."

"Not yet. Actually," I groused, "except for you, the only one that's whistled at me so far was some fellow out on the street, when I stepped onto the porch for the paper."

Shanghai surveyed the wreckage of my repast, and took up one of the extra cups from the breakfast service. She poured herself a cup, and gestured with the pot. "Tin-fresh cocoa, Emperor?"

"Thank you," I acceded. As she poured me one, I added, "But no buttered toast: you spread it on a little too thick."

Shanghai made a face, and went to the window, looking out toward distant Telegraph Hill as she sipped her cocoa. I left my cup and stepped up behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

She turned her head slightly, looking at me in her periphery. "Did you have plans for today, Emperor?"

I took a deep breath, trying to decide how to phrase my answer. But I never got to deliver it.

For just then the telephone chimed. That was puzzling. Very few people had the number, and if it had been business, surely I would have simply heard the dulcet tones of my communications chief Richmond, intruding upon my shell-like ears – my hearing is, well, better than average – directly.

Shanghai knew this as well as I. She gave me a quizzical stare. My return expression said, don't ask me. I gestured to indicate she was free to answer if she wanted. She did.

"Shanghai Lil's Palace of Amusements," she said with a straight face. I suppressed a chuckle. After listening a moment, she held the handset out to me.

"It's Ed Green."

I took the instrument with interest. Certainly my old pal Ed had the number: among other things, he was the liaison officer between the US military and The Empire. What could this be?

His familiar voice came over the wire. "Are you busy, Sire?"

"That's... not a question I like to answer."

"Well, I've been told to secure your coöperation on a matter of great importance."

"Skip the officialese, Sport. What's cookin'?"

"The old need-to-know, CL. They didn't tell me. But if you can make a meeting this afternoon, it'd be a swell gesture of inter-governmental good will."

I snorted. I'm sorry, but that's what I did. Ed's been my pal for a long time, but he's done an excellent job of fitting into the military establishment, and that includes slinging their particular brand of verbal hash. "OK," I said. "Where and when?"

He gave me the particulars, and I rang off.

Shanghai's big bright eyes gleamed. "Something interesting?"

"Don't know yet. Whatever I had planned for today will have to wait. Something's cooking. Could be trouble."

"Trouble's my middle name."

"I thought it was—." (I actually said a name here, but that would be a clew to her true identity.)

She made a face. I made for the closet to pick out a wardrobe. The housekeeper never got to see my outfit, at least not on me.

THE PALACE OF Fine Arts loomed artistically in front of me as I arrived for my rendezvous. That's sort of its point, these days, looming, that is. The original building had been built as part of the nineteen fifteen Panama-Pacific Exposition, a sort of World's Fair celebrating the City's recovery from the big 'quake. The vast complex had filled what is today the Marina district, with palaces of machinery, arts, and amusement. It was the last flower of an innocent, pre-World War America.

Today, painstakingly duplicated from castings of the original, a new Palace stands facing the wonderful Exploratorium, with a swell pond at its back, just east of the Presidio.

This was the spot selected as the location for a singular meeting with a prestigious collection of dignitaries. It was an amazing group, and about to become more so.

As Shanghai Lil and I approached, Ed Green broke from the pack and came up to us. He was in mufti, presumably so as not to attract attention. Just as well: His dress uniform, with sergeant's chevrons, doesn't reflect his actual rank, but is an official pretext to cover up his specialized duties. He had hardly changed in the years I'd known him, still fresh-faced and stocky. Oh, his hair is shorter these days, but after all, he is in the service.

Naturally, I had changed into something more suitable, black shirt and trousers, grey jacket and tie. Shanghai hadn't changed, except to don sunglasses.

As I performed introductions, I scanned the crowd he'd left. I recognized a man from the Mayor's office and a guy from Sacramento. Uniforms indentified a Coast Guardsman, a sheriff, and a US Marshal. Two women in suits were so obviously from the FBI that I couldn't believe their supervisor let them out into the field.

What could have brought together such a group? And what did they expect me to do?

THEN, FINALLY, THE last member of this group showed up, as one of the federal girls opened the door of a limo that pulled up. That G-girl stayed back at the curb, becoming a lookout, while her partner accompanied the last member of our group when he approached and shook my hand.

He was an assistant to the Secretary of State.

"Mister Jackson," he began, "my apologies for the delay. And my thanks for coming."

"I was beginning to wonder whose party this was," I commented.

"Actually, that's the problem. It's no one's party – and everyone's."

The inboard FBI woman cocked an eyebrow at Shanghai and her flouncy costume. "This is a rather sensitive matter. Should she be here?"

Shanghai bristled slightly. I sighed. "Well, I'm a very sensitive person myself. Anything too sensitive for my associate would, I'm sure, be too much for me." I gave my head a little shake. "Fiddle-dee-dee."

"Excuse me?" The Federalette asked.

"My associates are the most trustworthy and worthwhile people you'll ever meet." I mentioned Shanghai's real name and explained that she, "has taken time out of her busy schedule to be here. Anything you tell me I'd simply have to repeat, and excluding her now would be rude."

Ed Green spoke up. "She's worked with The Emperor on several occasions. I'm sure the Joint Chiefs would have no problem with her participation." That shut up the G-girl.

"Now," I asked, "what's the situation?"

The marshal spoke up. "The situation is what you'd call a jurisdictional problem. Over the last three months we've had a series of raids by some sort of pirate."

"Pirates are a Coast Guard matter."

"Until they strike the Sacramento waterway – and until they hit an FBI cargo – and until they attack a foreign freighter off the Farallons."

"We couldn't agree on who should supervise the investigation," the gentleman from State explained. "Someone suggested that you frequently visit this area, and might have an interest in the matter. We were able to agree to see if you'd let us pass you the buck."

I frowned. This was one trip to the City that had been entirely motivated by social intentions. Both Shanghai and I had some free time and had decided to spend it together. The last time we'd tried this, we’d ended up in the Bay, by way of Nevada. It had certainly been a fun time, but rather more of a work-out than I'd intended. I looked over at her. "Sounds like a sailor's lot. What d’ you think?"

"I think you'll look adorable in a Donald Duck suit."

I pondered that one a moment. Disney's duck doesn't wear pants. The assorted officials looked puzzled.

"She means that a little investigation won't interfere with our intended vacation. Let's hear the back-story."

They gave me a few pages’ worth of exposition, about a series of raids staged in the fog by a crew of modern pirates. Boiled down, it seemed that it had started with a small sailboat, which had been boarded by a half-dozen men in crisp blue uniforms – sans insignia – who had relieved the owners, husband and wife, of money, food, water, clothing, kitchen utensils, and chandlery.

Private boats at dock had been similarly burgled. County-supervised ferries had been stopped and shaken down. The Red-and-White to Alcatraz was next. Then bigger vessels were included in the circle. Osaka Maru, a freighter out of Japan, had been knocked over, and not without difficulty, by a force of fifty.

Easily stored, non-perishable foodstuffs had topped the list of items stolen, with tools, rope, haberdashery, and fuel oil close behind. Drinking water and some currency had been taken, but seemed incidental.

Whenever possible, life had been preserved. No one had been killed, though one man was reported missing, and only three people had been shot, brave men who had opposed the pirates.

The pirates all wore beards, and blue uniforms. They sounded like the crew of Disney's Nautilus. Descriptions of the pirates all included these facts, but tended toward vagueness on other points.

Since the various authorities all had an interest, each had tried to take charge. And each had resented the same action on the part of the others. They'd been arguing for a week – well, they said discussing – when somebody suggested me. Thanks, somebody.

"...Sounds like we're going sailing, Shanghai."

That G-girl gave Shanghai a rude stare and pointed out, "We can't be responsible for injury to civilians, Mister Jackson."

Shanghai cocked her head to one side, flouncing her ponytail, and pulled down her shades with one finger, eying the Government woman over the frames, and frowned.

I shot her a sidewise glance and addressed the Federalette. "Nobody's responsible for Shanghai but herself, and maybe me, slightly," I said. "She'll be of considerable assistance in this matter."

"How do you know?"

Friday, November 7, 2014


The Heroes
THE EMPEROR – Central figure of The Emperorverse, smart, swift, capable of amazing feats, all but indestructible, well dressed, and able to charm beautiful women with a single smile, Charles Lee Jackson, II, not only leads the fight for law and justice against all odds but collects the records of his cases and those of his partners to dramatize them for you.
BILL MILLS – Musician, stuntman, and adventurer who joined The Emperor to make motion pictures and stayed to fight crime. Whether on stage or in the field, a winner.
MAX DECKER – Federal Intelligence agent who met The Emperor in the field and worked for many years as a crime-fighter while masquerading as a criminal gang-leader, The Gila.
CHRISTOPHER "KIT" CASSIDAY – Innocent secretary who gets caught up in the deadly battle between The Emperor and the villain.
The Villains – but not this time
VARAN HARUCHI – The Black Dragon, leader and creator of Continent-Eight, the international Executive of Crime, expatriate Japanese criminal whose exposure to arcane experimental chemicals has resulted in his long-lived youthful appearance, and who, due to plastic surgery, now bears an uncanny resemblance to The Emperor.
DR. YALTA – Doctor and dentist recruited by US intelligence for his resemblance to warlord Adolf Hitler, kept young by the same accident, supervises medical and scientific crimes for Continent-Eight.
MASKMAN – Mysterious helmeted figure, whose true identity is unknown even to his partners in crime, who supervises scientific crimes, and conducts experiments for the Continent-Eight.
The Villain
HORST STERLING ROSEFELD – Mysterious and powerful leader of the Church of Nihilism, dedicated to the destruction of the human race, and ruthless enough to accomplish it. His great strength and endurance make him a dangerous foe for The Emperor.

Chapter One Miner Difficulties
Chapter Two In Your Philosophy
Chapter Three The Dead and the Quick
Chapter Four The Terrors of the Earth
Chapter Five Idylls of The Emperor
Chapter Six Storming the Castle
Chapter Seven Going Bughouse
Chapter Eight A Mighty Man Is He
Chapter Nine The Old Town Tonight
Chapter Ten The Not-so-quick and…
Chapter Eleven Deadly Cold
Chapter Twelve Relatively Heroic
Last Chapter Alice's Queen Refigured

YOU SEE ALL sorts of things out in the country.
Understand, I didn't see this, didn't hear of it, didn't even know about it until recently, but once a few facts came to light and I started to put things together, this is what I found.
It was like a sort of ripple, or a flat dust-devil, a loose agglomeration of particles loping across the ground. The first mention of it was in a police report, out near the desert town of Llano, north of Los Angeles. It was November of nineteen seventy-seven. Several elderly folks complained about ants crawling over their feet – but there were no ants to be found, no indication of their passage, no bite marks, nothing.
   Christmas that year brought an account of "dust bunnies" on the highway near Red Rock Canyon. A park ranger claimed that something that looked like little tumbleweeds not only rolled past him, but detoured around him when he stepped in front of them. The ranger followed the tumbleweedy stuff for over an hour, observing that it was really more like a wave, thicker enough in spots to be obvious but thinned out in others.
   In Mojave, California, the next spring, things that looked like actual tumbleweeds were spotted blowing through town – except that the wind was from the east, and the "tumbleweeds" were moving against it. A woman at a motel swore that the dusty stuff had broken open, diverting around the building!
   The last report came from a couple of superannuated hippies who'd been camped out in the wilderness north of Edwards Air Force Base. They claimed to have seen waves of dust converging on a central point, where they climbed one upon the other, building into a tower about six feet high, a mass that coalesced into a man!
   The man roughed up the couple, knocking down the hippie and threatening the girl until she gave him some of their clothes; for the man's own suit, some sort of uniform, was scorched and tattered.
Given that when the pair stumbled into the local sheriff's office both were somewhat the worse for wear and not a little under the influence, the report was taken and filed and forgotten.
   It shouldn't have been, but one can hardly blame the sheriff for discounting the story. He'd never heard any of the other reports, and wouldn't have connected them if he had.
But it sure would've saved me a lot of trouble.

I'D JUST COME back from a science-fiction convention the Thanksgiving week-end of that year, where I'd been one of many guest speakers. Being too early Monday morning for any reasonable person to be awake, I was dressed casually, which means no neck-tie. I'd just sat down when my executive assistant, Heather McKenzie, entered my office and without preamble said, "When did you sell the Lone Star?"
   I looked at her, five and three-quarters of a foot of pretty – and pretty efficient – young woman with sandy blonde hair and bright green eyes, dressed in a sharp looking straw-colored suit and a beige silk blouse with a scarf-neckline.
"Well, we just got a call from Ramsom saying some guy named Sterling showed up this morning with papers saying you did."
   To bring you up to speed, the "Lone Star" is a little silver mine I own up in Idaho, and Ramsom, the foreman, is a young member of the family that had originally owned it in the nineteenth century. Both that family and I have brought a lot of ore out of that hole, and I've used my share of the resultant wealth to finance my what-you-call second career, the fight against crime.
   I mused only a moment before saying, "Then I'd better run up there and disabuse this 'Sterling' of that notion."
   "Yes, Sire," McKenzie said with a smile, "Nobody steals from… The Emperor."

Chapter One
Miner Difficulties
BEFORE SUNDOWN I was standing in the trailer that comprised the office of the Lone Star Mine, an hour out of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Outside was a verdant landscape only slightly blighted by the diggings. Like the original owners, I'd kept the mine entrance concealed, and left the surroundings unblemished.
   If you're not familiar with me, that was my name on the title page, and my nom de guerre in the title itself. As a crippled child, I had strived to overcome my difficulties and had succeeded more thoroughly than anyone could have guessed, and now I'm gifted with abilities and skills beyond those of ordinary men. Though my career is entertainment, my responsibility is using my power for Good. So I'm a story-teller by day and a crime-fighter by, well, by day, too. In the late 'seventies I was primarily involved in making motion pictures, but images or words, the adventures I produce are based mainly upon case files of actual events in which my Swashbuckling friends and I have been involved.
   You may have seen some of my re-creations, and if so, you'd recognize me: five, ten; brown hair with a bit of red in it and a little gray; blue eyes with green sunbursts in them; a ready wit and the smile of a pirate, dressed most often in black trousers and shirt, with a gray jacket and silver neck-tie. You couldn't miss me.
   I was running my operation from an office in a building north of Hollywood Boulevard, into which I'd recently moved after my previous location nearby had been fire-bombed by an organization known as "Dominion" in retaliation for my foiling two of their devilish plans of conquest and destruction, about which you may have read. My associates and I were settling into the new digs well, and it looked at the time like we'd be back in business on a full time basis soon.
   Part of that business was entertainment, but the part of it upon which I had just embarked was the other part, trouble-busting.
   After speaking to foreman Ramsom by telephone, I'd made a few other calls, squared away the entertainment business for the day, and fired up my favorite aircraft, Skystar, a jet plane styled like the famous Concorde, with its modified delta wings and "scoop snoot", but about a third the size. Equipped with panels of a gravity-defying metal, it can take off and land pretty much anywhere, so it was now settled in the middle of the mine's dirt parking lot. As the employees had all been sent home that morning, there was plenty of room in that lonely location.

IDAHO MAY BE more famous for potatoes, but it's also a great place for forestry, services, and mining. Deposits of silver and molybdenum in several parts of the state have brought in millions over the years, though within a decade of this particular adventure some of the old holes would be played out to the detriment of the market.
   The Gem State joined the Union in eighteen ninety, and some parts of it seemed unchanged since those days; in fact, a sign reading "Lewis and Clark wuz here" wouldn't have looked out of place in Shoshone County, in the east part of the tall skinny neck of the state. That rustic quality wouldn't last long, though, for the population had been on the increase for decades, and the trend looked like it would continue through the turn of the century.
   Shoshone is Rocky Mountain country, and one of the silver-bearing areas is in a pastoral area just north of the Saint Joe National Forest, and about ten miles from the county seat, Wallace.
Recent rains made the area lush, with pines and grass competing for any available green. Even the other mines, several in a comparatively small tract, made less of an impact on the environment than they might have, with little surface evidence beyond the big holes in the ground. Most of the offices adjacent to these mines were temporary structures, for all the many years they'd stood.

IN MY OFFICE/TRAILER, for example, I was standing over a fellow seated at what should've been Ramsom's desk. Sitting in his place was this stranger, nicely dressed in a brown sharkskin suit, tan shirt, and maroon neck-tie, a stocky fellow, about six feet tall, with a lantern jaw and black eyes. His complexion was sallow, but seemed like it should be ruddy, somehow.
   He scowled up at me, entirely unimpressed by my striking figure.
   "I'm here to see the manager," I said, starting out polite.
   "I'm in charge here," he claimed.
   "You're not the manager," I told him. "I'm looking for Mister Ramson. He was here the last I time I came up."
   "Ramson's gone. I'm in charge here, now. If that's all, good day."
   "It's not all. Do you know who I am?"
   "I don't care who you are," he said. "I'm in charge of this property."
   "I'd like to know how. This mine has been in the same hands for almost twenty years."
   "Well, it's not any more. I bought this mine property free and clear from the owner, and that's all there is to say. Now get out."
   "You're welcome to try to move me, Mister…?"
   "Sterling. Horst Sterling."
   "Sterling. Can you make me leave my property?"
   "Your property? My company, Sterling and Associates, bought this property from a…" he paused to look at the top sheet on a stack of papers on his desk, "…Charles Jackson of Los Angeles."
   "Who happens to be me," I pointed out. "And I haven't sold this mine to anyone."
   Sterling stood. "I don't know who you are, Mister, but I met with Jackson last Friday in town and we signed the papers."
   I stepped over to my left to a file cabinet and collected a heavy brochure, and slapped it down on the desk. I slipped a finger under the cover and opened the brochure to the title page, where there was, among other things, a photograph of me.
   "I don't know who you met with, but you can see it wasn't the owner of this mine."
   Sterling stared at my face in print and looked up to my face in person, but it was obvious he was still going to be belligerent about it.
   "Now, I suggest you go find your lawyer and find whoever took your money and get it back. Or my lawyer will be up here to help you go."
   "I don't know what's going on here, but I paid a lot of money for this property and I'm keeping it. You want it, you'll need a lot more than your word."
   "I've got a lot more," I said. "I can have federal marshals here by tomorrow morning to remove you from these premises."
  That got some action, but not what I was expecting.

STERLING PRODUCED A small capsule from his jacket pocket, and threw it in my face! The pellet burst with a puff of weird smelling gas, which provoked a sneeze from me.
Sterling, however, seemed startled. But only for a moment.
   Moving with a speed surprising for someone of his bulk, he fairly leapt from a sitting position, flying over the desk and tackling me amidships. Unprepared, I was knocked back several steps before I caught my balance. And by the time I did, Sterling was already on the attack, hammering at me with fists like pile-drivers. Anybody else would've been pounded senseless.
He struck at my jaw, my chest, my stomach. Dancing around me he pummeled me with a fast dozen kidney punches. I spun on my heel, catching him in the solar plexus with my elbow and following it up with a right to his jaw.
   He'd seemed surprised and confused that his attack had been ineffective against me. I was surprised it had been as effective as it had been. Contrariwise, I was startled that my counter-attack against him had been relatively ineffective.
   His strength was impressive, and so was his endurance. My double strike had only cost him his footing, and he sprang upright again almost immediately.
   An old-fashioned fist-fight was not what I'd been expecting from what seemed like an ordinary high-binder trying to chisel my mine, but now that we'd taken the measure of each other, that's what it was sure to be.
   I am, as I said, rather more than I appear. I'd worked very hard to overcome my childhood disability, and I hadn't stopped when I was on an even footing with everyone else. I'm very quick, and very strong, and impervious to most injury. (I'm also very smart and handsome, but you didn't hear that from me; modesty, you know.) This superior ability is what got me into the trouble-busting business in the first place, and my proficiency at it is what commands the respect of my fellow crime-crushers.
  It also gave me the wherewithal to back up my position.
   As Sterling was finding out.

HE THREW HIMSELF forward, grabbing me up in a bear-hug. He lifted me from the floor and began to close his grasp. The pressure was amazing; intended to crack ribs, it was the strongest grip I'd ever felt.
   Sterling grew red in the face, and sweat beaded upon his forehead. He was really trying, and had lost sight of common sense.
   I hooked my ankles behind his knees, and head-butted him as hard as my poor leverage could manage. His head snapped back from mine and his knees buckled. He released me as he toppled backward, and I got in one line-drive to his jaw as he fell.
   But his stamina was amazing, and he rolled over and regained his footing even as I sprang sidewise from where I had alighted. Sterling came at me but was just behind the curve, missing me by inches. I back-handed him across the base of his skull as he passed, and he stumbled forward, crashing headlong into the row of steel file-cabinets, the fronts of which buckled under the impact.
   He went down to hands and knees, shaking his head as though to clear it. He stood up, turning to stare at me through eyes obscured by blood that now trickled down from a wide gash at his hairline.
Ignoring what ought to be severe pain, he charged me again. This time I used a trick I'd been perfecting recently: I simply stepped aside so fast he didn't even see me move, and his charge was so single-minded that he sailed right past me through the space I'd occupied, slamming against the front wall of the trailer.
   The structure couldn't stand the strain, and the thin metal wall and a window therein gave way.
Sterling ended up half in and half out, his torso dangling against the outside of the trailer.
   Coming outside, I stood before him, lifting him by the shoulders, assuming he'd be unconscious. He wasn't.

HE HIT ME with a line-drive fist right in the face. Caught off-guard, I was knocked completely off my feet. I skidded to a stop in the dirt and rolled over, getting back upright.
   Sterling came at me full tilt, and I side-stepped only slightly, hooking an elbow through his and sending him spinning. He twirled and sat down hard, and swore at me in some language I didn't recognize.
   He started to get up, but I closed in, bringing up a good old hay-maker to the point of his jaw. It stood him up, but, rather than falling over backward, he stayed on his feet and came at me.
   I was quick, but even so Sterling was at me again before I could brace myself. His freight-train attack picked me up and knocked me flat. Sterling slammed himself down on my chest and grabbed another of those pellets from his now torn and soiled jacket.
   "I don't know why the first one didn't kill you, but this one will!" he shouted.
   I was staring up at him in wonderment, my jaw drooping. He shoved the capsule into my mouth and crushed it.
   It tasted like the odor in a powerhouse, and I coughed, spewing a cloud of the unpleasant gas into Sterling's face.
   He'd expected the gas to be poisonous to me, but I don't poison easily. I don't know what I expected the gas to do to him, but it wasn't what did happen.
   His head became transparent. Then his whole body became insubstantial.
   At first he was surprised, but then an evil leer crossed what little I could see of his face. He leaned forward, pushing his face and shoulders against me. I swatted at him, and his body blew apart like smoke in a breeze.
   The rest of him reared away from me, and collapsed into a sort of dusty tumbleweed for a moment before reinstating itself as a man. (You see how this ties in with those strange events I mentioned earlier. Obviously there was a lot more going on here than I knew at the time.)
Sirens sounded in the middle distance, and as Sterling solidified once again, he poised on the balls of his feet for a moment, clearly weighing the odds of fight versus flight.
   Flight won.
   By the time the local sheriff pulled up, summoned by complaints about the noise we'd been making, I was all tidied up after the fight, and entirely alone.