“Why don’t you let me take you away from here,” says the man as he rolls a coin across his fingers. His pressed suit is unbuttoned and it flaps open as he leans back in his chair. “You and me can be so happy together?”
“Com’on, sugah, you know that line ain’t never worked on me,” I say as I pick up the empty glass from his table and put it on my tray.
“And yet I am compelled by your beauty to say it every time,” he winks and the coin in his hand disappears in a flash of fire and sulfur.
“Zagan, darling, you may have been a king in hell, but up here ya just another bar fly, and this month’s tab is due.”
He smiles his wicked smile and for moment I get a glance at the demon underneath. One moment his hands are empty the next he is holding several hundred dollars of crisp green bills.
“Now, sugah, JJ done warned you about using that funny money in here. We don’t accept no bad bills.”
His face is suddenly all innocent as if he has no idea what I am talking about. “Georgia, darling,” he says with his best smile, which only serves to remind me of some of the men I’ve dated in my life. All of them were no good neither, just like Zagan. “You think I would dare swindle good Mr. Friday, or you, my delicious pomegranate?”
He takes my hand to kiss, but I’m faster than he thinks. In one swift jerk I not only manage to slap some sense into him but I come back with his money square in my grip. All I need do is squeeze and the bills turn to ash, like year-old burnt paper. I watch the little bits of them float to the ground, nothing more than soot and lies. I know what’s coming next. I’ve done this dance before.
“You dare strike me,” he thunders. He’s up faster than my old dog, Bush, when he used to hear the cats scratching around out back. His chair clatters to the ground and he has a sort of red glowing flame about him. “I am a Lord of Hell,” he continues. “I have killed scores of angels and men. Both the good and the wicked whisper my name in fear and awe. I am the Lord Zagan, and I will not be treated…”
He’s too busy doing the old monologue to really see my fist until its lands square in his jaw. He staggers back in surprise and that red glowing aura of his is no where to be seen. He’s cradling his mouth as if I’ve broken it. I haven’t. I know how to break a man’s jaw and what I gave him weren’t anything more than a friendly tap. In the background I see Edward perk up from his place near the front, but I shake my head at him. I don’t need no help with the likes of men like Zagan.
“Don’t give me that ol’ speech, sugah. Everyone knows you were thrown out of hell faster than a priest from a whore house. Now best git from here before I do the same.”
“You bitc…” He rounds on me his fist coming like he intends to do some harm. Its a big mistake. I’ve been trained by the best and even if Zagan is immortal he still bleeds like the rest us. His punch finds nothing but air, but my roundhouse on the other hand, connects squarely with his chest. He gives off a noise like a deflating balloon before he impacts with the wall a few feet behind him. He keeps his feet for a moment but soon enough collapses like a dog on a summer’s day.
Edward is already there, bless his simple heart. He doesn’t even say a word as he picks up the fallen demon and throws him into the side alley with the trash. The rest of the villains in the bar barely notice what happened. Things often get rough in here, but I don’t much mind. Back in my day I was one of the most feared martial artists in all of Dixie, back when I was known as Southern Bedlam, but those days were ages ago.
Now I’m just plain old Georgia Atlanta, bar waitress and mom. I smile at the thought of Owen, my son. He’s the only man in my life now and as much as I miss the thrill of it all, I would gladly give it all up again. I’d do anything for that boy. I already have.
“That was really great, Miss Atlanta,” says Gil. He’s whipping up the beer and blood from the floor as I finish clearing Zagan’s table.
“Sugah, how many times do I have to tell you, call me Georgia. Last time I was Miss Atlanta it was during my beauty pageant days, back when I was sixteen goin on thirty, and I haven’t been sixteen in… well a while.”
“Sure,” says Gil as he stands from up off the ground. “Whatever you say.”
I can tell the boy is sweet on me, but I try not to encourage it. He’s a nice enough kid, but as wet behind the ears as a tadpole. JJ took a special interest in him, but I don’t have time to be playing nursemaid to some wonder struck youngin’. I have my own concerns in life. Even as I think it, I glance at the dirty clock on the wall, and realize that I have to be at daycare to pick up Owen at quarter past.
“Gil, I gots to get going. You can finish up for me here, right?” I don’t even wait for an answer I just shove the tray and empty bottles into the boy’s hand. I turn toward the back of the bar and begin to undo my apron. “And tell JJ…”
“Hello, Southern,” the voice is strong yet scratchy. Like it hasn’t been used in a long while. I had not heard it in years, but all the same it is still unmistakable.
I never finish what I am about to say to Gil. I freeze mid-step, my hands still fumbling with the strings of my short apron. It takes a moment to find the fellow I am looking for, but sure enough he’s right there sitting at a table not three feet in front of me. He must have come in when I weren’t looking. The man was older than I remember, with a shaggy growth of hair that covers him chin to nose. One of those brimmed hats is covering his face, but as he talks he takes it off I see his once beautiful blonde hair is showing patches of gray.
“Albert,” I hear myself exclaim. I take a step back from him before I even know what I am doing.
The man stands and now the whole room is paying attention. His frame is thin, thinner than I can remember, but I know that his wiry body does not do justice to the power the man has. As he comes to his feet his brown coat comes open and I see the symbol adorning the tattered suit hidden beneath, it is the symbol of a fist orbited by four stars. Some of the other patrons see it too and suddenly I hear his name being whispered all about me like crickets on a spring night.
“General Relativity,” I hear them say. “I thought he was dead?” asks one man. “Nah, I heard he was doing time is some government max-pen,” responds another. All the voices are lost to me as I find myself falling back into old memories.
The world knows him and fears him as General Relativity, one of the most powerful super-villains to walk this here planet or any other for that matter, but I knew him as the man he was, Albert Issacs. To them he was destruction incarnate, to me he was the man who brought me flowers and fumbled over his words like a wide-eyed schoolboy. I suppose that for all his power, even old Albert was powerless when it came to love. For my part, I can’t be sure if it was love or just awe. The most powerful man in the world had fallen for pretty little me, who was I to refuse.
Our lives were fun at first. With my skills as an assassin and his power we were unstoppable. We did what we wanted, went where we wanted, and no one with a badge or cape could tell us otherwise, though they sure as hell tried. Yet, after a while it got to be too much. Albert was too destructive. He enjoyed killing too much, and he wanted it too much. All the things that had so attracted me to him in the first place were suddenly what scared me the most about him. After I found I was pregnant with Owen, I knew it had to stop, but how do you tell the most powerful man in the world no? Where could I even run that he couldn’t follow?
So I did the only thing I saw fit to do. I sold poor Albert out. I watched from the shadows as the Feds gassed the motel where we had been sleeping. My former lover never saw it coming. He was too busy, passed out from all the beers I had been feeding him all night long. I watched as they carried him out of the room, all unconscious, knowing that the next time he woke he would be staring up at the inside of some government holding facility. I hoped that would be the end of it.
“Five years,” says Albert bringing me back to the present. “The government kept me alive, but I couldn’t move, could barely think. They fed me through a tube, and I was kept in complete darkness, to keep me disoriented. I was alive, but everyday I wanted to die. I couldn’t feel, couldn’t hear, couldn’t see. I forgot the taste of food and the smell of fresh air.” As he’s talking he’s taking steps closer to me. I want to move, but my training has kicked in now and I refuse to show fear even in the face of him.
Edward seeing that I was in trouble comes charging out of no where. Normally, people know to steer clear of the big galute. He’s near-indestructible and weighs more than a house full of mack trucks, but I know even that won’t be enough this time. With a wave of Albert’s hand, Edward just stops in place. He is suddenly under the pressure of a gravity more than thirty-times that of Earth, but the big moron keeps trying to move. He keeps trying to get at Albert. I try to tell him to stop but Edward always had more muscle than sense about him. General Relativity just laughs.
The bull of a man finally falls to his knees at about fifty-times normal gravity, and at a hundred-times he is laying flat on the ground. The wooden planks around him begin to shatter under the pressure and even the concrete foundation below groans and cracks with the weight of it all.
“Albert,” I call frantically, “stop this! Albert, stop!” Edward can’t even breath. Albert once explained it to me that with gravity that high even oxygen weighs as much as my old Chevy. “Albert!”
With another laugh he lowers his hand and I can see Edward’s chest begin to expand and collapse again. The big galute is passed out but at least he’s alive. Most of the patrons, I notice, have decided to do the smart thing and make themselves gone. A few still stand around caught between their head and some morbid curiosity which will probably be their death.
“Now wait a minute,” I hear JJ say as he hobbles out from the back. He had been doing inventory. “Nobody causes trouble in my bar…” He stops. I can tell he is taking in the destruction around him. JJ was always clever and cagey, but even he seems at a loss for what to do when he sees Edward passed out only a stone’s throw away.
“Stay out of this, old man,” says Albert. “This is between me and Southern here.” He rounds on me like a mountain cat. “You took a lot from me, Georgia. You took five years of my life. You took my heart, but most importantly, you took my son. Before I kill you for what you did, I want to know where he is.”
I begin to figure how long it would take for me to make a move, but as wild as Albert’s acting, he’s no one’s fool. He’s staying out of reach and anything I can think to do would take at least a second’s worth of time. Albert’s power works at the speed of thought and as fast as I am, I ain’t that fast.
“Now just calm down there, son,” I hear JJ say. “I know you think you have been wronged, but there is no need to do anything rash.”
“Rash?” says Albert and as he turns his head to stare at JJ all the tables around us begin to float up to the air as if they were balloons at a carnival.
“I just mean to say that you’re free now. There’s no reason to go and jeopardize that. You start throwing fits and you’ll have everyone from the FBI to every blasted member of Eternal Vigilance here. No one wants that.”
“I had to bust my way out of that government facility. They forgot I used to be military. They forgot that they were the ones who did this to me. I know how they think, and now they’re not thinking anymore. What I did to them, I’ll do to anyone who tries to stand between me and my son, including the woman I love.”
Suddenly, I get that feeling you get on roller coasters or when you are in a plane and even though I leave my stomach standing where I was I feel my back land hard against the far wall. I can see JJ is similarly pinned to the wall near the dartboard. Next, Albert starts in on the pressure and I can feel it build on my chest. At first it’s like a small stone but soon enough it’s the weight of a boulder.
“Where is my son? Where is Albert Junior?” He is screaming now. The tables are doing slow orbits around him and everything else in the bar is rattling like hell. Any straggling patrons are nowhere to be seen, which is good because Albert is losing it. I only ever saw him like that once before, and Lincoln City was never the same after that.
“His name is Owen,” I managed to squeeze the words out as the pressure on me doubles. Somewhere far off I register the sound of one of my ribs snapping, but I was trained to ignore such trifles.
Then suddenly its over. I fall to the floor like a sack of beans. JJ and the tables too come crashing down around me. The bar is strangely silent and when the bells in my head stop ringing long enough for me to pull myself upright all I can see is Albert in a heap. Standing over him is Gil a dented carrying tray in his hands. The boy’s eyes are popped open so wide I think they might fall out his head to land next to the unconscious Albert.
I’m not sure how the boy got close enough to him do it, but he just stopped one of the most feared super-villains of all time, and all he could do was stand there and try not to wet himself. If right then and there it hadn’t hurt so much to do so, I would have laughed. I guess even tadpoles grow up eventually.