Aces Abroad



Stephen Leigh



The Sony threw flickering light over Sara's Thanksgiving feast: a Swanson turkey dinner steaming in foil on the coffee table. On the television screen a mob of misshapen jokers marched through a sweltering New York summer afternoon, their mouths moving in silent screams and curses. The grainy scene had the jerky look of an old newsreel, and suddenly the picture swung about to show a handsome man in his mid-thirties, his sleeves rolled up, his suit coat slung over a shoulder and his tie loose on his neck-Senator Gregg Hartmann, as he had been in 1976. Hartmann strode through the police lines blockading the jokers, shrugging away the security men who tried to hold him, shouting at the police himself. Alone, he stood between the authorities and the oncoming crowd of jokers, motioning them back.

Then the camera panned toward a disturbance within the ranks of jokers. The images were jumbled and out of focus: at the center was the ace/prostitute known as Succubus, her body seemingly made of quicksilver flesh, her appearance constantly shifting. The wild card had cursed her with sexual empathy. Succubus could take on whatever shape and form most pleased her clients, but that ability was now out of control. Around her, people responded to her power, grasping out for her with a strange lust on their faces. Her mouth was open in an imploring scream as the pursuing crowd, police and jokers both, bore her down. Her arms were stretched out in supplication, and as the camera panned back, there was Hartmann again, his jaw open in surprise as he gaped at Succubus. Her arms were reaching for him, her plea was for him. Then she was gone under the mob. For several seconds she was buried, lost. But then the crowd drew back in horror. The camera followed Hartmann closer: he shoved through those around Succubus, angrily pushed them away.

Sara reached for the VCR's remote switch. She touched the pause button, freezing the scene, a moment of time that had shaped her life. She could feel the hot tears streaking her face.

Succubus lay twisted in a pool of blood, her body mangled, her face turned upward as Hartmann stared at her, mirroring Sara's horror.

Sara knew the face that Succubus, whoever she might have really been, had found just before death. Those young features had haunted Sara since childhood-Succubus had taken on Andrea Whitman's face.

Sara's older sister's face. Andrea who, at thirteen, had been brutally murdered in 1950.

Sara knew who had kept that pubescent image of Andrea locked away in his mind for so many years. She knew who had placed Andrea's features on the infinitely malleable body of Succubus. She could imagine that face on Succubus as he lay with her, and that thought hurt Sara most of all.

"You bastard," Sara whispered to Senator Hartmann, her voice choking. "You goddamn bastard. You killed my sister and you couldn't even let her stay dead."



My name is Xavier Desmond, and I am a joker.

Jokers are always strangers, even on the street where they were born, and this one is about to visit a number of strange lands. In the next five months I will see veldts and mountains, Rio and Cairo, the Khvber Pass and the Straits of Gibraltar, the Outback and the Champs-Elysees--all very far from home for a man who has often been called the mayor of Jokertown. Jokertown, of course, has no mayor. It is a neighborhood, a ghetto neighborhood at that, and not a city. Jokertown is more than a place though. It is a condition, a state of mind. Perhaps in that sense my title is not undeserved.

I have been a joker since the beginning. Forty years ago, when Jetboy died in the skies over Manhattan and loosed the wild card upon the world, I was twenty-nine years of age, an investment banker with a lovely wife, a two-year-old daughter, and a bright future ahead of me. A month later, when I was finally released from the hospital, I was a monstrosity with a pink elephantine trunk growing from the center of my face where my nose had been. There are seven perfectly functional fingers at the end of my trunk, and over the years I have become quite adept with this "third hand." Were I suddenly restored to so-called normal humanity, I believe it would be as traumatic as if one of my limbs were