“So the wall explodes and there is like plaster everywhere. The people in the inside are all like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ So as the dust settles I make my entrance and I do the maniacal laughter-thing, of course, and announce, I am the Mandroid, yadda yadda yadda… You know the typical speech. That’s when that douche, Half-Life, shows up. He trashes my robot minions and the next thing I know I’m getting a face full of his radiation blast… I mean come on, radiation blast. That doesn’t even sound safe. They call me a menace yet their hero is a walking Three-Mile Island. If I get cancer I am so suing his ass.”
I stood there wiping down a dirty beer mug as I listened to the man. Suddenly, he was silent and mumbled something into his glass of liquor.
“How’d you get away?” I finally asked as I finish cleaning the mug.
“Get this,” he said with a laugh. “I made him think one of my minions was wired with explosives. I gave him the ol’ ‘save them or catch me’ speech. What an idiot.”
“I didn’t think you were the bank robbery type, Mandroid?” I said as I poured the brightly colored-clad man another drink.
“You know how expensive it is to have robot minions? Enhanced neural processors don’t grow on trees you know.”
“Barkeep, I think I’ll take that kicker./Give me a drink of your best liquor,” called the man from at the far end of the bar.
“I think you have had enough, Quizzy,” I said as I hobbled down to him.
“Nonsense, for I am the Quiz Master,/and I won’t be ordered about by some drink caster.” The man stood up from his bar stool and brandished some kind of staff that extended in his hand. His purple and gold sports jacket hung off him like a cheap suit.
“Drink caster? Your rhyming is making less sense than usual. You’re cut off.” I motioned to Edward in the corner.
The big hulking brute of a man lumbered his way toward the bar and picked up the slender squirming drunk from where he stood. With very little effort he carried him to the front entrance of the bar and tossed him like a rag doll through the open door. In a past life, Edward had been known as Two-Ton, a third string villain in Titan City’s super-criminal underworld. That was before he got clean and I gave him a job. When you cater to the type of clientele I do it helps to have a seven-foot, super strong, near-indestructible bouncer at the ready.
Of course, there were still some mishaps. A year before some mercenary named Raymond Gunn shot up the place. He destroyed my prized pool table. Then there was the time Professor Nightmare started a brawl with Kid Cyanide because the kid was hitting on Nightmare’s girlfriend, The Couger. Still, for the most part everyone remained civil. They all knew my bar as a place they could wind down. Really super-villains are just like anyone else. All they want is a place where they can go and forget about the world for a while. I like to think I offer that. My name is James Joseph Friday but most people nowadays call me…
“JJ,” the voice called my name. I turned to find my newest employee, Gill Laridae backing away from the bar top with a gun pointed at his chest.
“What’s the problem, Gill?” I said as I hobbled my way toward him.
“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” said a small big headed man as he stood on top of his bar stool. His tiny child-like hands clutching the firearm with the steady grip of a professional killer. “This kid asked me for ID. Don’t you know who I am, kid?”
“Gill,” I said calmly, “this is Child Endangerment. He only looks like a kid. Really he’s 42 years old.”
“I’m 41,” said the big headed assassin as he put away his gun away and sat back down. “Now how about that drink?”
“Coming right up,” I motioned for Gill to pour his drink order and to his credit the kid snapped out of his stupor and got to work. It’s always a little disconcerting the first time you have a customer push a gun or a knife or a fully charged plasma cannon in your face, but in this business you learn to get over it fast, or you quit. I have gone through more than my fair share of employees. Most quit, but a few disappeared without much of a trace. No two ways around it, you had to be tough to work in this industry.
I watched my table waitress Georgia Atlanta as she slapped some guy who looked like he was half-octopus and half-human. I guess he was getting too touchy feely with her, as customer sometimes do. Georgia is one of those people who can handle herself. She used to be a villainess by the name of Southern Bedlam, but she gave it up when her son was born. She moved out west to Titan City to get a fresh start.
“What’s it like to be a villain?” asked Gill later on after he had calmed down. The kid had an abnormal fascination with super-villainy and I knew where that path led. I had hoped to dissuade him from it by hiring him on as my part-timer. I wanted to show him that it wasn’t all fun and grand larceny.
“Its not anything you want to be a part of kid,” I said as I tapped a new keg. I hefted the large metallic cylinder underneath the bar with a grunt. I was not as young as I used to be. I stood and wiped off my hands with a nearby dish towel. When I turned back around he was still looking at me expectantly.
“Listen, kid,” I said. “you don’t want to get mixed up in this world. It never ends well. Look at Dr. Zirconium over there.” I motioned to a large hulking monster sitting alone in the corner. Underneath his white torn lab coat his skin looked like it was made of jagged crystalline material.
“Dr. Zee used to be a Nobel-prizing winning metallurgist, until one of his experiments went horribly wrong. Sure, the accident gave him increased strength and skin almost as hard as diamond, but it also reduced his intelligence down to that of a twelve year old. Super-villainy always comes with a price. It ain’t worth it.”
“What about you?” said Gill. He reached into his pocket and he pulled out an old picture, and suddenly I was staring at a memory I hadn’t thought about in a long time. There I stood in a black and white jumpsuit. I had this great big mask covering my eyes and the days of the week were written all over my damn costume.
I took the picture from his hand. “God, look at this. I looked ridiculous. Look at my mustache. What was I thinking?”
“You used to be Joe Friday,” persisted Gill. “You used to run around with a calendar pinned to your chest. How can you tell me being a villain isn’t worth it?”
“First off, it was a weekly planner not a calendar. Second off, I was never much of a villain. It turns out planning your schemes based around a weekly schedule makes you a bit too predictable.”
“But everything turned out alright for you. You’re fine…”
I don’t usually get angry but all the questions along with the old photo had me riled up, “Kid, I was one of the lucky ones. Some of the guys I knew from the old days, King Carnivore, the Piper, Lady Gravity, they weren’t so lucky. Most of them are dead or in jail. Damn, the Emerald Hood has spent the last twenty years trapped in some kind of parallel hell-dimension. Is that what you want to happen to you?”
“No,” he said meekly.
“I was lucky. Shining Templar only broke my leg in four places when he captured me. I spent a few years in jail and now I got a bum leg to show for all of my troubles, but that’s when I decided to go legit. Take it from me. Make an honest living, its a lot less hazardous to your health.”
I shoved the old picture back in his trembling hands. “Watch the bar. I’m going out back for a smoke.” I left the poor dumbfounded kid alone inside. His shocked face the last thing I saw before the back door swung shut behind me. I fumbled for a cigarette and lit it with one of the matches I had in my back pocket. The first drag was like a warm blanket. All the tension and anger seemed to drain away as I stood there smoking and watching the sky over Titan City.
Its an old habit, I suppose, watching the skies. Its something most villains learn to do in their careers. You never know when some guy in a cape and long-johns is going to come swinging down and ruin your day. Even though I hadn’t committed a crime in over two decades I guess it was still a hard habit to let go of.
I knew there were still times when I felt the urge and the old excitement would start to kick up again. Friday the 13th’s were always the worse days for me, but I had been clean for too long to let myself fall back into bad habits. Besides, I was too old to play the game anyway. A man had to admit his limitations and I knew mine. Idly I stretched my bum leg.
I wasn’t a villain anymore. I was just a bartender, and that’s good enough.