The Return of the Purple Puffin – Day 27

“Certainly,” Regina said, and turned to her other guest. “Mr Cuffe, I believe you have met the Purple Puffin before. I’m delighted to reunite you in this manner.”
Declan’s head was ringing. Once, in his fledgling days as the White Knight, he’d Moved the wrong way during a battle against Ironmaster, and had walked into a massive, and entirely metal, right fist that had nearly torn his head off, and it would not have gone well for his nascent career if, at the same time, the Red Devil hadn’t been making a largely successful attempt at unscrewing Ironmaster’s own noggin. The experience had always stood out in Declan’s memory as the most disorienting thing that had ever happened to him. Until now.
The Purple Puffin?
The Purple Puffin!?
Back again?
She called him Eric. Jesus, that’s got to mean Eric Johnson! He’s a certified supervillain? He’s the Purple Puffin?
The Purple fucking Puffin. Take me now, God.
“What a shame, Regina,” the man in the purple costume said. Declan refused to let the name cross his lips and would have done much to ensure it had never even crossed his mind. “Our guest seems to have temporarily lost his voice. And he was so obliging with his comments only so short a time ago, wasn’t he?”
“Indeed he was,” Regina said. “To listen to him, you’d think he was the perfect advertisement for the clean living, ultra competent hero, but he doesn’t seem to be so confident in his superiority over such figures as ourselves any more. Mr Cuffe – or should I begin to call you the White Knight at this point? – you don’t seem prepared to greet the Purple Puffin after so long a gap in your shared history. That’s most unmannerly of you.”
“History?” croaked Declan, amazed to find his voice still working, even if it sounded like a swinging chain in an abandoned shipyard.
“Well, yes,” the figure in purple said. You look at him and your eyes want to both run away somewhere round the back of your head and want to gape even wider so that you can assure them that they are indeed beholding the spectacle of a grown man wearing an action costume based on, indeed, the puffin. “Surely you can’t have forgotten our last meeting? In that jeweller’s warehouse? It certainly seemed to affect you. After all, you retired immediately after our encounter, didn’t you?”
Unfortunately, Declan did remember. He could have gone to Brainshaver and had the offensive memories sucked out of his head, so he’d never have to remember that moment of utter loathing, the lowness of discovering that, far from being the big go-to-guy that protected the weak and seriously duffed up the imprudently strong, he had only helped to invent new ways for people to try to force their greed on everyone around them. His presence only forced them to greater and more desperate lengths to try to get their own way. That there were no depths of inanity to which people wouldn’t stoop to be noticed as they beat their own heads in against the defensive ramparts of a cadre of supposed heroes, seeking to protect society, even as Government denied its existence. That he was standing in the path of a mass of people whose values of taking, demanding, wanting and grabbing he could no longer distinguish from the ethos of those who were supposed to demonstrate to them the value of life accessible to everyone.
Unfortunately, he still remembered the absurdity, the humiliation, the moment of nihilistic despair when he was brought face to face with the understanding that, instead of acting as a bulwark, a protector, a shining White Knight providing a living example to those in need of inspiration as to their lives, all he had done had been to create a situation where an otherwise ordinary, self-centred creature found it appropriate to dress up as a Puffin.
And a Purple Puffin at that.
“You remember,” said the man in the absurd costume. “Of course you remember. You wouldn’t fight me. You wouldn’t even look at me! I was standing there, ready for you. I’d planned for your tricks carefully, I was ready, I was going to beat you, and you just turned round sand walked away!” His voice rose. “Just what the hell was the matter with you? Fucking superhero, turning your back on me, me! Like I was nothing at all, too insignificant to be bothered with.”
Declan tightened his fists, his nails grinding so far into his palms that he began to think he was cutting into the bones. He couldn’t trust himself to speak. Normally, this wasn’t a bad idea, since most of the mad bastards could be relied upon to come out with enough waffle to cover up any number of gaps in the conversation, but this horrific re-emergence of a nightmare that had sent him fleeing was too much of an enormity for him to handle it.
“And then you disappeared. And nobody knew where you’d gone, White frigging Knight, but everybody said it was me, it was down to me, I’d gotten rid of you, and we were all well rid of you. But I didn’t get any credit. They weren’t praising me, they weren’t respecting me, they were… laughing!”
Declan looked up at that. There was something extra to the voice there, something more than megalomaniac rant, the ego spilling out and getting on everybody’s clothes. This had really meant something to this guy. Who he still couldn’t believe might be Eric Johnson. And who he seriously couldn’t believe was acting in concert with someone like Regina Tyler.
“No!” the birdhead foamed. “No, they didn’t respect me, they didn’t look up to me for getting rid of one of you sanctimonious cretins, they were laughing. At me. Behind my back. And to my face. Saying that you’d quit because you just couldn’t face the humiliation of being seen fighting someone so pathetic and feeble as me!”
A slow grin began to spread on Declan’s face. “What if I did?” he asked, relieved to hear his voice operating somewhere in the vocal range he was used to.
“You were a coward! You wouldn’t fight! You walked away from me! It was you who was pathetic, not me! They should have been laughing at you! Coward! You never gave me the chance! I would have shown how much faster than you I was, and stronger, and cleverer, and stronger too. You cheated me, and then you ran away and hid so no-one would see you, but you couldn’t hide from me! Oh no, I found you. I always knew I’d find you.”
“Ok, Johnson,” Declan said. The other man’s ragged anger inspired confidence in himself. So the Purple Puffin, the embodiment of all his doubts and fears about this whole life, should be a very successful businessman in real life? Or a property owner and developer like Eric Johnson should also be such an ineffectual supervillain? Somewhere, his contempt shifted, the balance of the scales tipping away to where it should have been all along.
“So you went looking for the White Knight, to try and get over your little self-humiliation,” he said, his voice getting clearer and more contemptuous with every syllable, “and you didn’t even get it right. You fixated on some poor innocent that you decided was your fantasy enemy and now you’re trying to make his life a misery because you can’t get your hands on the real thing.”
“Oh, Declan,” Regina cut in it exasperation. “We’re not complete idiots. Stop trying to pretend that it’s someone else beneath that mask. Or that it isn’t the same person behind the helmet of the White Knight.”
“And what makes you sure of that, Regina?” Declan asked, turning her direction but keeping more than half an eye and a great deal of focussed power trained on the purple clown. “Only, given this poor fool’s less than glowing track record, I wouldn’t put much weight on anything he claims.”
The Purple Puffin fluttered his fake feathers aggressively, but Regina Tyler stepped across to him, laying a soothing hand on a wing. She smiled sweetly at Declan, and a look of concentration entered her eyes.
A figure began to form in the air between them. At first it was transparent, a collection of lines and shades like a particularly uninspired abstract. But it grew more solid, developed a shape. It looked like a hoodie from the back, in the exact shade of the one Declan wore, and at his exact height. When it solidified, the figure turned on absent legs, and it’s hood fell away. Declan’s own face stared at him, lacking the mask he had drawn upon himself.
“Impressive,” he said. “You should paint that on a wall somewhere, someone might mistake it for a Banksy and pay you a lot of money for it. But where’s the post-modernism? Where’s the irony? And who’s the artist?”
“Does it matter?” Regina said. “You can see that these are the same people. The ridiculous mask doesn’t hide who you are.”
“Yes, I’ve looked you in the face, Declan Cuffe, and I know who you are. You sat opposite me in meetings about Canalside, blocking everything I did or said, at every turn, frustrating every move I tried to make, getting my project thrown out, and I kept wondering, who is this man, the little, petty man, who couldn’t build anything, couldn’t make anything stand up, and what has he got against me, such meagre resentment.”
“You have one of the worst cases of galloping paranoia I’ve ever come across, and you know nothing about Local Government if you think a single Council Officer blocked a scheme of that size,” Declan said, watching carefully.
“And it wasn’t until after, until we spoke, face to face, after that decision, when you gloated over me, that I realised who you really were. That I understood where I knew that voice from. That you hadn’t been able to beat me when I wore this suit, and you knew that I was your better, you just lied and planted stories that made people think you’d hidden for any other reason than that you were scared of me. And now you’d seen a way, a dirty, indirect, sneaking way to frustrate my plans,  to enable yourself to pretend you weren’t my inferior.”
The Puffin face was expressionless, but the mask was an inadequate cover for the naked hatred in the voice. “That’s when I swore I’d destroy you. That I’d take away from you everything that went to make up your sad, limited life.”
“Good luck to you,” Declan said. “I hope you’ve got enough money, to pay damages to this poor sod you’ve dragged in to your warped ideas. Because, for once and for all, I am not your Declan Cuffe. I’m not even the White Knight.”
And upon this enormity of a denial, the air at the end of the room shimmered like an acid curtain, and the tall, lean, muscular figure, in it’s white casing, leggings and boots, and the high, blank, ceramic helm with the flowing plume, stepped into Regina Tyler’s office and eased Declan out of the way.
“This meeting’s overdue, I think,” the White Knight intoned, in a voice not dissimilar to, but clearly different from Declan’s.
The Purple Puffin drew back, wings raised, an odd, barking shriek erupting from it’s beak and its feathers rustling. Regina Tyler, however, remained utterly calm.
“Oh, you have a White Knight, do you?” she said, stepping aside rapidly, as the wall shattered inwards, showering the office with bricks, none of which so much as grazed her. A tall figure dressed in white emerged unhurriedly through the rubble, a flowing plume depending from a blank ceramic helm.
“So do we.”

2 thoughts on “The Return of the Purple Puffin – Day 27

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