The small metal bowl splashes me as I push it around. I found it in the old kitchen, and JJ said I could use it. I feel wet, but I don’t mind. Mostly, I just feel sad.
I think about the way Ms. Kitty purred when I petted her. My hand was almost bigger than the little cat, but I always thought my friend was never afraid of me. I thought I always gentle with her. I called her Ms. Kitty because I wasn’t sure what her real name was, and she didn’t seem to mind.
Every night I put a bowl of water out for her before I left the bar. I wanted to put out milk, but Georgia said that was bad for cats. Then, everyday Ms. Kitty would come to sit with me when I was outside. One time she even brought me a mouse. I remember, I didn’t want to be rude so I took it from her, but I buried it later. Poor little guy. I felt really bad over that, but I never blamed my friend for killing him. I mean, I used to do a lot of bad stuff too. It’s called survival. That’s what my brother always called it.
At least that was what he used to say before he left me. Except, he didn’t really leave me. He died, but it feels like he left me. People always leave me. They die, or they get mad at me when I make a mistake. Some people also leave because they are afraid of me. That always feels the worst. I don’t mean to be scary, but I’m big and clumsy and sometimes I don’t know how strong I am. Maybe that’s why Ms. Kitty left me? Maybe she was afraid of me after all?
This morning, I found her bowl still full of water. It was just sitting there, like she had never seen it. I looked for her everywhere. I looked in the trash cans. I looked around the alley. I even looked in the street, even though JJ says I shouldn’t go out there during the day. I was afraid I would find her squished under a car, but I didn’t find her at all. I hope she’s okay. I hope she doesn’t hate me.
“Hey big guy, what’s got you looking so down?” says the small woman in front of me. I guess I hadn’t noticed her come up. She is wearing a big brown coat and a mask.
“I lost my friend,” I say, but I still remember to block the door to the bar.
“Sorry to hear that, pal.” She tries to get around me. “Say, would you mind moving. I got to get inside. Lot of villain-things to do.”
“No. I don’t know who you are?” I cross my arms and try to look mean, like Georgia taught me, but I think I feel too bad to look very mean today.
“It’s me,” says the woman with a big pretty smile. “I’m the uh… Masked Trench-Coater.”
“I’ve never heard of you.” I lean against the door. “And I’ve gotten fooled by people dressed up like that before.”
“I’m new in town.” She holds out her hand. “Pleased to meet you, pal. I just got the train in from Paradigm City.”
“I’m Edward.” I reach out and take her hand, but I think I squeeze too hard because she pulls it back with a yell.
“That’s quite a grip you got there, big boy.” She rubs her hand but tries to hide it. “Now you gonna open that door for a girl or what?”
I don’t move. “JJ gets mad when I let in people we don’t know. I don’t think I can let you in.”
“JJ, ehh?” She has a strange look on her face. “Is that the notorious… I mean famous James Joseph Friday? The guy they used to call Joe Friday? Some of the villains back in Boston told me about him. I would love to get a sit down and hear some of his stories.”
“Boston?” Now, I feel confused. “I thought you said you were from Paradigm City?”
“Yeah, sure, but by way of Boston. Keep up there, pal.” She tries to push past me again, but it takes a lot more than her and her nice smile to get me to move. “C’mon, just let me in.”
Something seems familiar about the small woman so I reach down and pull off her mask. She tries to stop me, but its not on very well. Most people use tape or glue, but hers is just tied. “Hey, you’re not a villain,” I say recognizing her. “You’re that pretty news reporter from the television.”
“Oh, fine,” she says. “I was getting hot in that thing anyway. I don’t know how you people stand it.” She holds out her hand again, but then pulls it back as if remembering how hard I squeezed the first time. “Alice Adams, this town’s second best damn reporter. I’m here for an interview for Channel 8, Titan City’s number two action news team.”
I smile and look away. Without the mask she is even prettier. I’ve never met a celebrity before. “It is nice to meet you, Ms. Adams. I’m Edward.”
“Nice to meet you too, big boy. Now, if you’ll just run inside and get Joe Friday for me. You can tell him he has a date with stardom.” As she talks she opens up some kind of makeup mirror and touches her face.
“I can’t do that,” I say.
She puts the makeup back in her bag. “Fine. Then let me in and I’ll find him. With the city’s first exclusive on the mythic Friday’s Bar, Channel 8 is soon going to be top of the ratings, and I’ll be its number one reporter.”
“Uh,” I say remembering not to move. “JJ says that if any news people were to come by I had to tell them, JJ Friday is a private citizen now. This is a private establishment and then for them to go away. I cannot let you in… Sorry.”
“I see how its going to be then.” She lifts her chin up to me, like she’s not afraid at all. I feel my face get hot, but I try not to smile. That is rude. “Just so you know, pal, Alice Adams has cracked tougher nuts than you, yes ma’am. I will find my way inside that den of villainy, don’t you worry about that.”
“But that is what I am worried about?” I say as she walks away. Her heels click on the pavement. I watch her leave and then feel embarrassed that I’m staring and turn my gaze up to the sky. Its a nice day.
When I look back she’s gone and I feel alone again. I think about going inside to wait for someone to get mean, then I would get to throw them out. Throwing people out always cheer me up, but today I don’t feel like being happy. So I just sit and keep looking around the alley. I don’t want to miss Ms. Kitty if she comes back, or Alice.
When I think about the reporter I smile. She seems smart, and real tough. I like that, because she’s not afraid of me. She also talks really fast, but I don’t mind. A lot of people try to talk slow to me, because they think I don’t understand, but not her. I hope she likes me, but I don’t think so. I stopped her from going in the bar and that’s not a very nice thing to do, but it is my job. I will not let JJ down, no matter how pretty Alice is.
I remember I kissed a girl once when I was a kid and accidently squeezed her hand too hard. She needed to go to the doctor and when she got back she wouldn’t look at me anymore. That was the last time I ever kissed a girl. I wonder what it would be like to kiss Alice? I wonder if I would hurt her?
I smile at that thought. I know I am not supposed to want to see her again, because she is trying to get into the bar, but I want to anyway. JJ would not be happy, but I hope she comes back. Luckily, I did not have to wait long to see her again. Maybe an hour later she did come back, but this time she was not alone.
“Step aside, you great giant/Let us through. Now, be compliant.” Quiz Master stands in front of me, dressed in a purple suit twirling his cane. Holding onto his arm is Alice. She smiles at me as if she has won a prize. Mostly, I just smile back, but I still do not move.
“Didn’t you hear? Are you thick/Let us by and do it quick.” Quiz Master’s brow scrunches up when he gets angry. It makes his small mask look funny on his face.
“I can let you in, Quiz Master, but not Alice.” I shake my head back and forth.
“That won’t do. That can’t be/This gentle lady is with me.” He raises his cane. “Let us in, on the double/If you don’t there’ll be trouble.” I do not like Quiz Master. The way he talks hurts my head and he is always getting drunk. I have to throw him out a lot. JJ always says he is going to ban him from the bar, but then JJ grumbles something about him always paying his bar tab on time.
“C’mon, pal. Just let me in,” says Alice. “Mr. Serr here promised to give me a tour of the place. Says he knows everything there is to know about Friday’s Bar. Isn’t that right, Brian?”
“That is true, my knowledge is great/And once we’re in, we can start our date.” He smiles at her and for some reason I want to hit him, at least more than I usually do.
“Date?” I say.
“A business date,” says Alice. “I knew Brian, back when he worked at the station as a game show host before he went…” She stopped talking and just looked at Quiz Master, like she was trying to be polite.
“I can’t let you in.” I say looking at Alice and feeling mad. I don’t have to pretend very hard this time to look mean. “JJ would be very upset with me.”
“This I swear, you won’t ruin this night/I’ll get in, whether by charm or by might.” Then he raises his cane. It extends into a long metal rod and he swings it at my body. I don’t move and his weapon just breaks in two as it hits me. I look at him and he starts to back away.
“Leave,” I say and Quiz Master runs away down the alley leaving me and Alice alone. It is the best I have felt all day.
“Why did you have to go and do that?” She hits my arm and then shakes her hand as if she hurt it.
“I’m just doing my job,” I say, not feeling so happy anymore. “I’m sorry.”
“Well I have a job to do too, pal.” Alice sits down and crosses her arms. “So, I’m not leaving here till you let me in.”
“No. You can’t stay here. What if someone sees you? What if JJ sees you?” I look around waiting for someone to find us.
“Good.” She nods her head once. “Then I’ll interview him, and I’ll interview anyone who tries to get into this bar. I’m going to bother every single person until all your customers leave or…”
“…Until one hurts you?” I am sure I look worried because her mean-face goes away when she looks at me. “There are a lot of bad people here who will hurt you.”
She pats the ground next to her. “C’mon, pal, sit.” I don’t and then she says, “I promise I won’t try to go in there… for now. What do you say, big boy, truce?”
I carefully sit down, but even sitting I am much much bigger than her. Her head only reaches my chest.
“So what about you?” She taps a finger against my chest.
“Me?” I ask.
“Yeah, you said there are a lot of bad people here. Are you one of those bad people? I mean look at ya.” She waves her hand in front of me. “Your huge and tough as a nail. What were you before you were a glorified doorman?”
I don’t like talking about it, but then Alice smiles at me and I feel better. “I used to be a bad person, not because I wanted to. I had to survive, but I’m real sorry over the things I did. I really hate to think about them.”
“I understand, pal.” She puts her hand on my arm and it feels nice. “Heck, we all got to do what we got to do to get ahead in this life. I mean I didn’t become the best damn reporter in this city by doing things the nice way, if you know what I mean…”
“I thought you were the second best damn reporter in Titan City?”
“Don’t rub it in, pal.” She smiles at me. “What I’m trying to say is that I’ve done lots of things I regret to good people too, but this business is about surviving.”
“But I don’t want to be mean. Sometimes I remember the things I did and I feel really sad.” I put my head down.
“Don’t be like that,” says Alice. “Everyone feels that way sometimes. The important thing is to remember the person you want to be. That’s how we keep moving forward, big boy, and forward is the best damn direction to go, in my opinion… well maybe not as good as up but that’s another story.”
“Thank you. You’re a lot nicer than you seem,” I say and then I feel stupid for saying it, but Alice just laughs.
“Thanks pal, and you’re not as thick-headed as I first thought… well not figuratively anyway.” She continues to laugh so I stat laughing, because my head is thick.
“Say, did you ever wear one of those costumes back in the old days,” she says after we are done laughing. “You know, those ridiculous getups, like the one Quiz Master was wearing. I bet you were The Garbage Truck or something like that, and all your henchmen dressed up like garbage men. Yeah I bet that’s what you were.”
“No,” I say and laugh again. “I never had any henchmen. I’m not smart enough to lead a gang.”
“I think you’re selling yourself short there, pal. I know plenty of men who talk a lot faster but are a lot slower in the head than you. I mean you’re definitely smarter than old Brian T. Serr. He may call himself the Quiz Master, but I don’t think he could master his way out of a paper bag.”
“No,” I say. “He’s much smarter. He almost always wins at bar trivia every month. I’m lucky if I know one answer.”
“Trivia facts and book reading does not make one smart. Take it from me, I’ve dated plenty of the dumbest doctors you have ever met, and I’ll prove it.” She takes my hands and puts them over my eyes. “Keep your eyes closed and now visualize a tree.”
“Okay,” I say and I start to think of a tree with all its pretty leaves and big thick trunk. It looks strong and green, just like I remember when I was a kid.
“Now describe the tree to me,” says Alice.
“Well its very big. Much bigger than me, and there is a squirrel with a nut on one of the branches…” I open my eyes and reach over and put my hand on the door. I do it so fast and hard that the door rings from the sound and Alice jumps back. She pulls her hand away from the door handle like it was too hot to hold.
“See,” she says with a smile. “I told you that you were smart.”
“You tried to trick me.” I stand up and brush the dirt from my pants. “I don’t like when people try to trick me.”
“Can’t blame a girl for trying, pal.” Alice gives me a smile. “Well its been fun chatting. I’ll see you around.” Then she walks away again, like before, and like before I try not to stare at her as she leaves. She doesn’t look back.
A lot of people think they can trick me, but at least Alice is nice about it. I don’t know why, but I feel happy again, even later when I have to help Georgia throw out the Check-Mates.
Rook is super strong, like me, and those are always the hardest people to deal with. Thankfully, he listens to King and Queen. King always tries to use his mind control powers on me, but I am not affected by mind control. I don’t know why. Some people claim it’s because I am too dumb, but I don’t care. All I have to do is pick up King by his little head and then act mean. After that he orders his gang to leave and all five of them walk out, Even Bishop and Knight. Knight doesn’t like me very much because I call him horsey.
“That’s good work, sugah,” says Georgia after the Check-Mates leave. “I can always count on you.”
“Georgia,” I say before she goes back inside. “Can I ask you a question?”
“As sure as a priest on Sunday, Edward. You can ask me anything.” She smiles and throws a towel over her shoulder.
“How do you make a woman be your friend?” I look down at the ground and my face gets hot.
“Why, Edward, have you got yourself a little crush. Ain’t that just the sweetest thing.” She lifts my chin up and smiles. “Whose the lucky lady?”
“Just this girl I met,” I say. “She’s nice and funny and very pretty. She’s not even afraid of me, but I don’t want to make her hate me. I don’t want to make her afraid of me.”
“Now, sugah, all you got to remember is to be yourself. You’re a sweet, kind, and generous man. Any woman out there would be luckier than a turkey after Thanksgiving to have you in her life, and don’t you ever forget that.” Georgia pats me on the back with a wink before going back inside.
Be myself, I try to remember that as I stand there for a while. Sometimes I think of my tree again, but mostly I just try to think of funny things to say for the next time I see Alice. I like the way she laughs and I want her to laugh again.
Then I hear something clatter near the back of the bar. It sounds like a trash can being knocked over, and my heart beats faster. I run to the back door, where the kitchen is. Maybe Ms. Kitty has come back and is looking for food, but instead I see two small legs kicking in the air. The window is usually locked, but even when it isn’t it still does not open very much. I recognize the blue high heels as they swing through the air.
I try not look up Alice’s skirt as I gently grab her by the ankles. It does not take long to pull her out of the window. She is very light, but I don’t want to hurt her so I go slow. She still yells in surprise.
I’m sorry,” I say as I hold her in my arms. “Did I hurt you?”
“No, you big galoot, now put me down.” She pounds her fist on my chest and I laugh because it tickles, but I put her down because I don’t want to make her madder.
“You shouldn’t try to get in that way,” I say. “You could have gotten hurt.”
“I was perfectly fine.” Alice straightens her coat and shirt and the pretty blue skirt she is wearing underneath it. “I wasn’t stuck… Okay, I may have been a little stuck, but I can handle myself.”
“I believe that,” I hesitate, but then say, “Do you want to hear a joke?”
“Is it the one about the reporter that keeps missing her big chance at her big break?” She takes out that small mirror again and begins fixing her hair. “Because that’s not a funny one, pal.”
“No,” I say. “It’s about a chicken…”
“Listen, big boy. I don’t need your jokes or your help.”
“But everybody needs help sometimes. Even me, and JJ says there is nothing out there that can hurt me.”
She looks at as if she doesn’t believe me. “What could you possibly need help with? Fitting into those triple XL shirts?”
“Well… I lost my friend. I wish someone would help me find her.”
“Oh?” Alice puts away her mirror and puts a hand on my arm. “I’m sorry. Was she you girlfriend? Your sister?”
“Oh, no, no.” I say. “She was just my friend. I used to give her water and she would let me pet her while she purred and sat on my lap.”
“Wait.” Alice pulls her hand back and laughs, but not like before. I don’t like this laugh. “Is your friend a cat? Do you two go out to dinner for tuna and milk?”
Something about the way she talks makes me madder than I mean to be. So, I put my hand against the nearby wall hard and I feel it crack. A brick even comes loose and hits the ground. Then, Alice doesn’t laugh anymore. Then Alice looks very scared. “Ms. Kitty is my friend, and its not nice of you to make fun of her or me… I miss her.”
“Hey, pal,” she says softer than I have ever heard her be. “I didn’t mean anything by that. I was just…”
“Leave,” I say and she takes a step back. “Leave and don’t come back.”
She walks off back toward the front of the building. I watch her go again, but this time I don’t look away. I make sure she does not try to go into the bar. She doesn’t, but she does look back at me and she seems sad. I don’t care. I’m still angry with her. I thought she was different. I thought she was nice, but she laughed at me and at Ms. Kitty, just like everybody else.
“Edward? What’s going on out here? What’s this window doing open?” I hear JJ open the back door and step out. “I heard someone scream then…” I know he’s looking at the wall I broke. “What happened?”
“Nothing, JJ,” I say, but I cannot look at him. He would know I’m lying and he would be able to see that my eyes are wet. “I’m just going to stay out here for a while. I wouldn’t want to scare any of the customers.”
“Edward?…” I walk back toward the alley door and I hear JJ hobble after me. He is not using his cane anymore, but he is still not very fast. I know he can’t catch me and I don’t want him to. I hear him go back inside as I walk to the main door, but as I get there another person steps out and nearly walks into me.
“Hey, man, watch where you’re walking.” The person is dressed in a leather jacket with spikes. His hair is flames and he has tattoos all over his face and neck. I know his name. They call him Pyrrhic and most people are afraid of him. I am too angry to be afraid, but he doesn’t notice. He just keeps walking. Holding onto his arm is a girl. She is dressed in red and blue and has a lot of stars on her. I know her too. She is Georgia’s niece, Savannah. She does not look at me at all as they head down the alley, but then Gill comes running out.
“Annah, wait,” he yells. His apron is greasy and his hair is a mess. The girl looks back but keeps walking. “Fine. Go with him, then… See if I care.” Gill says the last part quietly, but I don’t think she heard any of it. Then he kind of slumps forward a bit, like a broken toy I used to play with.
“Hi, Gill,” I say. “How are you?”
“Oh,” he looks up as if just noticing me. “Hi, Ed.” He’s the only one who ever calls me Ed, and I don’t mind. “I’m fine. I was just saying goodbye to Annah and her… friend.” He gets angry when he says the last word.
“Are you not happy they are friends?” I say not knowing why. “I thought Savannah was your friend?”
He watches the opening to the alley for a long minute as if expecting something to happen, but then nothing does.”I thought so too, but not since I introduced her to Pyrrhic. Now she barely looks at me and the way she laughs…” He pounds his hand on the door. “The way she laughs when he makes a joke, like its the funniest thing in the world. Like when he just called me Greasy Gill. That’s not even clever, but she just giggled.”
“That’s not nice.”
“No… well she said she was sorry, but I don’t care.” He balls is hands into fists. “If she wants Pyrrhic they can have each other… You know, I used to admire that guy. I wanted to be like him and everything and now I just want to kill him and maybe her too. She’s not my friend. She’s not my friend anymore. Maybe she never was.”
“That doesn’t sound like someone a friend does,” I say.
“She is a bad friend, Ed.”
“I meant you. You’re mad at her. You’re angry so you are saying things you don’t mean. That’s not what a friend does. They forgive each other. She said she was sorry, and just because she is friends with him does not mean that she is still not friends with you.” I suddenly think of Alice and start to feel bad.
My words don’t work for Gill either. He just looks frustrated. “Ed, what do you even know about woman?”
I put my hand to my chin and think. “I know that they usually have long hair… bit I guess not all the time. Some girls wear makeup, but some don’t, and either way you’re not supposed to talk about it. It is their choice. I also know that you’re not supposed to stare at women, because it is rude. And I know that women have a vag…”
“Ed!” he now looks embarrassed. “That’s not what I meant. I meant… forget it. I have to get back to fixing one of the tap lines before JJ gets upset.” He opens the door but looks down the alley one more time. The he goes back inside and I’m alone again, wishing I could talk with Alice. I should not have gotten mad.
Then someone screams. It sounds like Alice, but what if it is another trick? What if she is just trying to get me to leave the door, but I don’t stay. I run as fast as I can. The sound comes from across the street, and I barely hear the cars as they honk me. I don’t care, because now I can see her. She is between two buildings, but she’s not alone.
Quiz Master and three of his men are standing their laughing and he is twirling his broken cane. Alice looks like she wants to run but can’t.
“You will rue this day, rue your mistake/because now its my birthday and you’re my cake.” I hear him say and his three henchmen laugh. They move in to grab her, but Alice kicks one of them in the groin. He falls down as the other two grab her by the wrists, but not for long.
I am quicker than most people think and the first henchman goes flying backwards when I run into him. Alice then attacks the last man with some sort of spray she has in her purse. He goes down crying as I grab Quiz Master by his jacket. I press him up against a nearby wall and his three henchmen suddenly disappear, their purple and gold costumes disappearing among the busy crowds of Titan City.
“You shouldn’t do that to people,” I say loudly as Quiz Master squirms in my grip but there is not much he can do to get away.
When I look back I see Alice sitting on the ground staring back at me. Her cheek is bleeding and the sight of red blood makes me want to kill the man I am holding.
Quiz Master squeaks as I turn to him. “I just… What I mean/It’s not what it seems.” I scream and punch the wall next to his head. The entire building shakes. When I pull my hand back its covered in plaster and concrete. I hold it up to him like I used to do back in the old days when I had to make people squirm, as my brother used to call it.
“I’m… I’m…. I’m/can’t find a rhyme. Don’t hurt me/Because I’m sorry.” I let him go and he goes running off after his henchmen. I feel so mad I want to hit something really hard, but then I feel a light touch on my arm.
When I turn Alice is standing there smiling at me. “Thanks, big boy.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I am sorry for getting mad before. I just did not like it when you laughed at me… even though I like your laugh…”
Suddenly, she hugs me. Her arms don’t fit around my body, but it feels nice, and all my anger just goes away. “Don’t worry about it, pal. It’s all water under the bridge, and you were right.” She steps back. “I was wrong about you. I guess I was wrong about a lot of things. Maybe we all need a little help sometimes… Well, not me. I’ve handled worse than people like Brain T. Serr. He was about to get a swift kick in the question marks, if you get what I mean.”
“Not really,” I say.
“Listen, what I’m trying to say is I thought about what you said before and I wanted to… Oh, well just look.” She turns and shows me what is behind her.
“Ms. Kitty!” I say as I see my friend. She is lying in a small box with three small kittens nestled against her belly. She meows as she looks up at me, and as I reach down to pet her she purrs and rubs her head against my big hand.
“That’s why she disappeared on you,” says Alice as she kneels beside me. “The old girl just needed to find a quiet place to have her kittens.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“Don’t mention it, big boy. I went looking for her after we talked. I’ll be honest I was hoping that you’d let me into the bar for helping.”
“I can’t,” I say quickly. “JJ would never…”
“I know, pal.” She fake punches me in the arm. “Anyway, when I found her, well then Brian found me. He hit me and I guess I screamed. It’s an old habit I picked up from back when I dating this hero and was always falling off buildings… Anyway, Brian starts ranting about how much he loves me, and something about setting doves free. He was acting all crazy… more crazy than usual… and he had his goons with him, so I was afraid he was going to hurt the kittens, and…”
“Thank you.” I put a hand on her shoulder. She stops talking and smiles.
“Anyway, the long and short is that maybe I’ll find another story for the evening news.” She leans forward and scratches Ms. Kitty. The cat purrs softly under the touch.
I look at the kittens again. They are very small and nearly naked. “It looks like I have four friends now.”
“Pal, I have a feeling you have a lot more than that,” says Alice, “but for the record, you have at least one more.” She leans over and kisses me on the cheek. I smile and she smiles as she gets up. “I’ll be seeing you around, big boy.”
I stand up holding the box of Ms. Kitty and her kittens. “What do you mean?”
“C’mon.” She starts to walk off. “I haven’t given up on that story for forever… just for today.” She looks back with a wink. “See you soon, pal.”