At the Fiction Freedom Force's modest beachfront cottage headquarters, Captain Conflict and his workout partner, Major Action, started the day by sparring together on the beach.
The major, tanned and toned to a tee, avoided his mighty leader's headlock by feinting left before throwing a classic right hook. "Eat fist!"
"Is that the best you can do?" the silver-haired captain snarled as he easily avoided the punch and kicked sand into the major's face. "Where's the build-up? Where's the finesse? If you knock me out, what are you going to do for the rest of the morning?"
"I dunno." The major knuckled his eyes. "Your wife busy?"
"You're going to lose a tooth for that," the captain promised just before he lunged.
In a parallel scene, Captain Conflict's wife, Dame Dialogue, stood in the cottage's kitchen having a talk with Setting Son about his compulsive redecorating. From just outside the door, the ever-meddling Plot Twister eavesdropped.
"Sweetheart, please understand, it's not that I don't like your little pink restrooms," Dame told her son. "I think they're adorable. It's just that your father . . . ."
"I know, I know." Set scowled down at his plate of heart-shaped waffles. "He thinks they're sissyboy stuff."
This talk was not going as Dame had planned. Her rough-and-tumble husband and sensitive, artistic son rarely agreed on anything these days. "I'm sure that your father realizes that you're doing your best, dear--"
"Oh, H-E-double toothpicks, Mom," Set said, pushing his plate away. "All Dad wants me to do are stupid war-torn battlezones and ridiculous chrome-and-glass situation rooms. He said if I use pink in one more scene he's going to send me to work for Tom Clancy."
"Oh, no, not Tom. All he uses is camouflage and interior Russian sub scenarios." Dame sighed. "Look, honey, I'll talk to your father, but in the meantime just stick to outside nature scenes." She smiled. "Your father can't complain if the sky happens to be robin's eggshell blue, or the grass a minty green, can he?"
Set grinned. "Thanks, Mom. You're the best." He jumped up and kissed her cheek before hurrying out the back door.
"You can talk anyone into anything." Plot Twister came up behind Dame and rested his thin, cold hands on her shoulders as he added in a whisper, "Even me."
"Stop it." Dame glanced through the window at the beach where her husband and the major were still wrestling on the dunes. "I told you before, it's over between us. Didn't I speak plainly enough? Or are you deaf as well as manipulative, transparent and pointless?"
"How quickly she forgets." Twist ran his palms down the sides of her arms. "You needed someone to really talk to, remember? So who was it that put in enough twists in the last story to keep both of those grunts chasing red herrings for six months?"
Dame turned in Twister's arms. "We have no future together, Twist. You're too unpredictable, you never say what you mean and I don't like the way you look at Set when you think I'm not watching."
"Just doing my job." He tried to kiss her. "If you don't play along, baby, I might have to throw a wrench in your happy, boring little marriage."
"You wouldn't," she flared. "You couldn't."
Twist patted her stomach. "Set could use a little brother who doesn't resemble the captain in the least." He looked up as the door slammed and narrowed his eyes. "Who the hell are you?"
"Not saying." The large, bland-face man glanced at the watch strapped to his thick wrist. "Yep, it's time." He pointed at Twist. "You. Outside."
Twist released Dame. "I think I'll call for the Captain. Hey." As the big intruder grabbed him, he paled. "You can't do this to me. You want her husband. Hey!"
The large man tucked Twist under his meaty right arm and nodded to Dame. "Ma'am, I'm sure we'll meet again in the next book." He strode out of the cottage carrying the writhing Twist and abruptly vanished out of sight.
"Wow." Set, who had come in to quietly redo the kitchen curtains, put his arm around Dame. "Gee, Mom. How come you never told me that you knew Cliff Hanger?"