pyrrhic

“I like your costume, Gill,” said Savannah Atlanta, “…err sorry, Seaguller.” The balaclava around her mouth muffled her naturally sweet tone, giving her the menace of a much older assassin. Her red hair was dampened by the cold and wet Titan City night. It seemed like everywhere else spring had sprung, except for that one rooftop above the dark streets of Daedalus Heights.

“Thanks,” I said, not knowing what else to say, nervously twisting my cape of white feathers in my hand. It was the third such cape I had made in so many months. “Your new uniform is nice too.” Her eyes were too beautiful, so instead I glanced around the roof. All concrete and gravel, it was covered in a maze of low-laying pipes, but not much else.

“Do you really think, so?” She said shyly. “I wasn’t too sure how well it would go over.” Unthinkingly  she flattened out the creases in the hard leather and kevlar fabric. Form fitting and zipped all the way to the neck, her new outfit was mostly black with highlights of red. A single crimson bandolier of throwing stars cut across the chest to meet with a wide belt holding two smaller daggers, a bola, and a few pellets of varying gases. A red leather strap hugged her hip, holding a single sai in place where it could be easily reached in a time of need.

“You know, I was never really a fan of the Southern Bedlam costume,” she continued. “It had too many overtones toward certain controversial notions that I do not personally believe in, if you know what I mean. So, since I’m just plain ‘ol Bedlam now I wanted to change things up. Still, I am not quite sure of the color scheme…”

Without thinking I put a hand on her arm and she got silent. “Black and red is very classic,” I said before pulling back quicker than I had meant. “It looks good on you.”

“That’s nice to hear. Rick, wasn’t really a fan of it when I first showed him. He said he like the old one better, something about how the added armor in this one doesn’t show off my feminine form enough.” She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

“Well, I think Pyrrhic is… is…” In my mind I knew exactly what I wanted to say about the man, but I couldn’t get it out. “… is late.” To hide my cowardice I took out a small make-up mirror and adjusted the black and white paint around my eyes. It looked fine, same as it had two minutes before when I had checked it for the fourth time. I was more nervous that I had ever been, and being so close to Annah was only half the reason why.

“Rick is never on time.” She stood up and looked around before sitting back down. “Especially, when he is with those friends of his.”

“It’s okay.” I rubbed my hands together more out of anxiety than for warmth. “It gives me time with you. I like spending time with you.”

“I like spending time with you, as well,” she said with a smile hidden beneath her mask. “You’re such a good friend, and you’re like the smartest guy I know.”

“I’m not that smart…”

“You’re being too humble?” She tapped the feathered crown on my head. “I could never make something like that. I mean how did you ever think up such a gizmo?”

“It’s really not that complicated. All you have to do is find the right brain frequency that seagulls use, and then attune that frequency so it responds to human thought patterns and…” I stopped, knowing that I was boring her. So instead, I reached out with my mind and suddenly Icarus, my seagull friend, appeared doing loops and cawing, just as I commanded him. “Maybe it is a little impressive.”

“Ain’t that sweet.” Pyrrhic’s voice was deep and fiery, but his laughter was bone-chilling. I got up to find him standing behind us, his leather jacket open revealing a bare and ghost-pale chest of tattoos that ran all the way up to his neck and face. His ears and eyebrows were pieced full of metal and his eyes were completely black, like deep wells of the special liquor JJ hides in the back room. His most distinct feature was his hair, flames of dark reds and blues flickered from the top of his head, casting a cold glow over everything around him.

“Rick,” said Annah as she ran to him. I tried not to watch as he lowered her balaclava and kissed her like no one’s watching, except everyone was, including me.

“Good to see you, babe.” He let her go and looked to me. “And you too, Greasy Gill. It’s been a while. Where’ve you been hiding?”

“He’s the Seaguller,” corrected Annah fixing her mask, “and he’s been studying for his exams. Gill, here, is going graduate tomorrow from Titan City University, with a bachelor’s in engineering, and with top marks.” I felt my face get hot. Annah said it like it was the most impressive thing she had ever heard.

Pyrrhic just gave me a look, the kind that bores into your soul, almost literally. Behind him, his three friends laughed. Punk Shocker, had his electric guitar strapped over one shoulder and his blue mohawk seemed even brighter and taller than usual. Redheck’s demon horns protruded out of his old trucker’s hat, and small drops of rain silently hissed as they touch the pink skin exposed by his sleeveless plaid shirt. Syber_Sorcerer was the creepiest of them all. An electronic mask of glowing nodes and diodes, designed to look like a big-nosed plague mask, hid all expression. Black and neon green robes hid the rest.

I usually feel more confidant when dressed as the Seaguller. It is the real me, the me that people will one day respect and fear in equal measures. I am the terror awaiting to be unleashed on Titan City. I know all this, as sure as I know the tides will flow and that gulls will roost together, but that night, on that roof, and in the presence of those five, I could feel my heart racing and my pulse pounding. We were about to commit true villainy, and as much as I now despised Pyrrhic and his friends, I also didn’t want to make a fool of myself.

“Well, unless we’re planning on throwing Featherhead a graduation party,” said Pyrrhic, “than we need to get moving. We’re burning moonlight, and tonight is a night I have been waiting for, for a long time.” He casually walked to the edge of the roof and stepped off, dropping three stories and landing unphased on the pavement below. His three friends followed, Punk Shocker floating down on bolts of lighting, Redheck crossing the gap with a few flaps of his demon wings, and Syber_Sorcerer just simply disappeared, only to reappear a moment later on the ground.

“Wait,” I said to Annah before she went too. I dug around the pockets in my cape and came back with a large throwing star. “I wanted to give this to you. I made it.”

“What is it?” she held it up and admired the etching along the blade that took me hours in the college’s metal shop to complete.

“It’s remote controlled.” I pulled out a small device and clipped it to one of her shoulder straps. “You can command it to go where you want: around corners, through windows, or you know, where ever.” My foot dug sheepishly at the gravel on the roof.

“Aw, Gill. I love it.” She rewarded me with a friendly peck on the cheek. “Thank you so much.”

“Well,” I said, regaining my senses. “I just wanted to say thank you for talking Pyrrhic into taking me along tonight. This is my first real villain team-up.”

“Honey,” said Annah turning around to face me. “I didn’t convince Rick to do anything. He’s the one that suggested you come along.” Then she was gone, somersaulting off the roof and swinging down a nearby drain pipe, like a leaf dancing through a storm to land gently on the pavement below.

I had to go the long way down. There was an access hatch that led to an exterior landing. Below that was another smaller ladder that cut off about ten feet from street level. I hung down and fell as gracefully as I could, knocking over some garbage cans before landing on my back. Before I could stand back up Redheck had me by the scruff of the neck and started dragging me along. “Whatcha you wanna do,” he said, “wake the whole damn neighborhood?”

“Enough,” commanded Pyrrhic as we marched down a long alleyway. Redheck released me, but not before hocking a piercing hot spit at my feet. It burned through the pavement.

“Uhh,” I sputtered up the courage to ask. “Do we have a name?”

Pyrrhic and his friends stopped and turned to me. “What the hell you mean?” said Redheck.

“Well, I was thinking we could call ourselves something like Generation Nightmare, or maybe something more classic, like the Seditious Six…” I trailed off, realizing that everyone was just looking at me like I was crazy. Then Punk Shocker burst out laughing, but Pyrrhic was dead silent.

Without warning he grabbed me. “Get this straight, Featherhead. I don’t like you, and after tonight I don’t expect to see you ever again. As for your ideas, team-names are for our grandparents. They’re for people like your busted-ass boss and his generation or circus buffoons. We don’t need labels to wreak our kind of havoc.” He hauled me around the corner of the alleyway before shoving me a few steps away.

“We’re here,” said Pyrrhic, as he raised his hands in a grand gesture. In front of us was a massive complex of warehouses and office buildings. A barbed and electrocuted fence stood between the alley mouth and some far off loading bay, over which were written the words: Hephaestus Enterprise Laboratories.

“We’re breaking into HEL?” I said.

“You got a problem?” said Pyrrhic, “You could always turn back now if you ain’t villain enough for it.”

“No, I’ll be fine breaking into one of the most secure and important science corporations in the city.”

“It will be simple,” said Syber_Sorcerer in his monotone, almost electronic voice. He pushed a small thumb drive into my hand. “There is a security office on the third story. It is the one with the window open.” He gestured with a robed finger to a nearby building. “We paid an employee to leave it open. All you need to do is insert this drive into any open port on the console. I will then connect with it remotely and hack the system.”

“You want me,” I said. “How…”

“Hello,” said Pyrrhic, smacking me on the back of the head and nearly knocking me from my feet. “You got your damn birdies, don’t you? Use them. Geez…” This time he laughed along with his three friends. Annah just looked at me, unsure of what to do.

“Right,” I said pretending to laugh too. “Of course.” I thought hard and summoned one of my nearby seagulls, a female with a small black spot on her head. I had named her Dot. Without hesitation she gripped the drive in her talons and took off toward the window.

Conveying complex instructions was not a simple task, but I had been practicing with my device for weeks and had gotten pretty good with it. I visualized the port as best I could, but even so it took more than ten agonizing minutes for Dot to locate it and figure out how to plug in the small device. Luckily there seemed to be no one in the room.

“I am interfacing now,” said the sorcerer as I watched Dot swoop away from the distant window. “It should only take a few moments now.”

“Good job, Featherhead.” This time he slapped me across the back. My cape and makeshift armor did nothing to lessen the pain of the blow.

Annah smiled at me just as all the lights of the building began to go dark. An alarm started sounding, but that quickly died too. A second later some emergency generators kicked on, but the rest of the complex remained black.

“So, what’s the plan?” I asked suddenly realizing that I knew very little about what we were actually doing there at HEL.

As if in response Pyrrhic nodded to his friend and said, “Show ’em, Shocker.”

Punk Shocker took off toward the nearby fence. As he ran he unslung his guitar, dropping to his knees mere inches from the razor wire. He reached his hand to the sky and brought it down, strumming out a single deafening note. Electricity arched up his back, launching from the guitar in a wave of blinding light. The fence exploded backward, showering sparks everywhere.

“Rick,” said Annah. “That is your plan? I thought we had talked about letting me take the lead and being all stealth-like?”

“Sorry, babe, the plan’s changed. I want this to be loud.” He turned to Redheck and said “Go.”

The cornfed demon fell into a crouched, four-legged sprint, looking more animal than human as he ran. Punk Shocker merely stepped aside and smiled as he raised his sunglasses to get a better look. Redheck was suddenly engulfed in flames. By the time he struck the large loading bay doors he was a fireball. Like the fence, the doors shattered apart. Flaming pieces of aluminum and brick fell all around us.

Then came the gunfire. A dozen security guards and two armored vehicles turned the far corner of the building, their bullets whizzing past like swarms of angry hornets. Punk Shocker was the first to react, strumming out a few cords that sent bolts of lightning into the lead vehicle. Its tires exploded and the truck flipped two times before rolling to a stop.

“Damn you to hell,” said Annah. “Rick, you know I don’t like no killing unless I absolutely have to.”

“Babe,” he said as he strained to pick up a nearby dumpster. “That’s a pretty stupid thing for an assassin to say.” Pyrrhic hurled his makeshift weapon at two men in full body armor. Their screams were gut wrenching, and I felt suddenly sick.

A flash grenade detonated and the next thing I knew I was on the ground, a piercing sound ringing in my ear. As the sensation died and my vision returned, I found myself along. Pyrrhic, Annah, and even Syber_Sorcerer were nowhere to be seen.

“Don’t do anything stupid, asshole,” said one of the guards, his assault rifle pointed at my chest. I could see his eyes beneath the shaded visor of his helmet. My breath was ragged and my heart pounded harder than I can ever remember. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be back at the bar, cleaning the bathrooms, wiping down puke and blood, anywhere else but right there and then.

Then the man screamed. A flock of black and white wraiths descended upon him, ripping the weapon from his hand and pecking at every exposed inch of skin. I’m still not sure if I had commanded my seagulls to attack or not, but there they were. My friends had come to my aid and I no longer felt alone or as scared. I picked up the man’s rifle, and slammed the butt of the weapon into his armored head. He fell unconscious on the floor.

I felt strong again. I was the Seaguller, maybe for the first time ever. All would fall before my wrath. All would cower at my presence. I was the winged scourge whose very name would strike terror in the hearts of the meek and strong alike.

Icarus landed on my arm and cawed at me. “I’m alright, my friend.” I cackled as I surveyed the battleground before me. Suddenly it seemed as if I was seeing it for the first time. It was not sickening or terrifying, but glorious chaos. Lightning and fire roared across the open parking lot as cars and people unceremoniously burst apart.

I never heard the bullet. I didn’t fall this time, even as the sensation of fire shot up my arm and my snowy white cape suddenly turned crimson red. I didn’t even scream, at least not until I looked down and saw Icarus dead at my feet, part of his little body missing.

Two more guards were running toward me, but for the first time since the battle began my fear was replaced by another sensation. “You will pay,” I yelled and my flock took wing and swarmed the nearest guard. He went down screaming as a dozen tiny razors cut at his skin.

His partner raised his weapon but didn’t make it much farther. Annah was there, like an image appearing from shadow and darkness. Her sai found the man’s leg, and his mouth opened in a silent scream. With lethal grace she turned the weapon around and smashed the blunt end into the guard’s nose. He went down unmoving.

“Gill,” she said looking at me. “You’re hurt.”

“It’s fine,” I lied. “I barely feel it.”

She lifted my arm and looked at the wound. “The bullet didn’t go in, only tore the skin. You got lucky.”

“Yeah,” I said looking down at Icarus’ body. “Lucky…”

“C’mon,” She grabbed my by my good arm and pulled me toward Pyrrhic and his band of friends. He was already barking orders as we got close enough to hear him. The warzone had become quieter with most of the guards dead or retreating.

“…Shocker and Heck,” he said pointing at the blown open door. “There will be more coming, including cops this time. Keep ‘em busy, and if any capes show up, don’t hesitate to fry ‘em. I don’t want to be interrupted.”

Pyrrhic watched them go, both were laughing like two kids in a toy store. “Everyone else is with me.”

Two more guards tried ambushing us inside, but Syber_Sorcerer chanted a string of 0’s and 1’s from his Spell-eBook and the two men digitized into pixelated frogs. Pyrrhic then promptly stomped the two 8-bit creatures into dust and we moved on. It was not long before we found what we were looking for. We entered a warehouse-sized laboratory, and in it center was a giant square archway connected to a machine and a large plastic booth.

Without a word Syber_Sorcerer walked to the console and plugged in some device. Immediately it came to life with restored power. The sorcerer began interfacing with it, and soon the archway itself lit up. A shimmering blue wall of static and otherworld energy glowed within its confines, brightening the previous dim and cavernous laboratory.

“What, in the name of all that is holy on Easter Sunday, is that?” said Annah gazing at the glowing doorway.

“The beginning of the end for this city. It is the second coming of doom,” said Pyrrhic with a hungry look in his eyes.

“It’s a trans-dimensional doorway,” I said starting to recognize the components scattered around the room. “I’ve read about them in my super-science classes…”

“This doorway does not lead to just any dimension. This doorway leads to the Quantum Zone,” said Pyrrhic stepping next to his robed friend as he worked the console. “Have you found him yet?”

“I am locking in on his essence currently,” said the sorcerer as a hazy image began to appear in the doorway. After a moment it came into sharp contrast, and someone let out a sharp gasp. I couldn’t be sure if it was Annah or myself.

The unmoving figure hanging on the other side of the glowing doorway was wreathed in hellfire, wearing an abyss-black mantle and shrouded in dark obsidian armor. His head looked more skull than flesh and though the creature was unblinking and unmoving he still radiated a power of pure terror. “Holocaust,” I said finding my voice. “I thought he was dead…”

“No,” said Pyrrhic,” his voice changing. “Scarlet Falcon only succeeded in locking my father away in this electronic limbo.” His hair ignited and burned as hot as his words. “That was thirteen years ago, thirteen years stolen from him and from me. Scarlet Falcon and those goody-goody-shitheads of Eternal Vigilance thought they could keep me from him, but tonight that all changes. Tonight Holocaust returns and no one will be able to stop him this time.”

Police sirens and gunfire erupted outside the laboratory. “Heck and Shocker are in trouble,” said Annah. “They ain’t going to be able to hold that door for long.”

“Their fate is insignificant,” said Pyrrhic. “All that matters is that we return my father to this world, and to me.”

“They are your friends.”

“I will honor their sacrifice,” he said before turning to the man at the console. “What is taking so long?”

“There is a malfunction with the transport tube,” said Syber_Sorcerer. “It requires repairs, as we feared.” The enclosed booth near the portal doorway lit up. It cracked in half revealing a space large enough to fit a single person.

“Time to earn your keep, Featherhead,” said Pyrrhic motioning toward the open tube. “You have that fancy engineering degree. Get in there and see what the issue is.”

Without thinking my feet started moving toward the open tube. Small nodes winked on and off, and overhead LED lights cast the inside in a sickening white glow. I stepped through the opening and began looking for some sort of access panel or diagnostic read-out, but before I could find anything the door snapped shut.

I turned and found Pyrrhic standing there locking it with a devilish smile. “Let me out,” I said not sure if he was joking or serious. When he started to walk away I banged hard on the door, but it was made of industrial strength clear nano-carbons and reinforced plastics. The door could hold back a tear in the space-time continuum. My strength was nothing in comparison.

“What are you doing?” Annah’s voice was muffled through the door, but still audible.

“A sacrifice is required,” said Syber_Sorcerer from the console.

“What?” Annah ripped the balaclava from her face. “You’re kidding, right?”

“The Quantum Zone,” said Pyrrhic, “is a fickle master. It will only release someone from it’s grip so long as another takes his place.” He looked at me meaningfully. “Why else would I have asked this D-Lister along with us tonight?”

“You can’t do this. I won’t let you.” Annah’s sai came readily to hand, but Pyrrhic was faster.

The brute backhanded her so hard she went flying, falling to the ground unmoving. Her weapon skittered across the floor, coming to a stop inches away from the tube. “You will thank me once my father has been released, for you will rule beside me as my queen,” he said to Annah’s unconscious form.

“Leave her alone.” I started banging harder, but it was no use.

“My only regret in all this,” said Pyrrhic, “is that you are such an unworthy sacrifice. I would preferred if it was Scarlet Falcon in that tube, or someone worth the effort. You’re nothing more than a worm, but look at it this way: what you are doing now will be the greatest thing you could have ever hoped to accomplish in your life.”

A streak of green lit up the laboratory and Redheck skidded to a halt in the center of the room. He was barely alive and missing one of his arms and wings. The rest of him was sizzling. Even his trucker’s hat was melting into a pile of radiative goo.

“No,” bellowed Pyrrhic. “Not now. I’m too close.”

I watched him turn to gaze at the open doorway. Standing there, backlit by police searchlights and helicopter spotlights was a man dressed in a form-fitting green and yellow containment suit. Stylized goggles were pulled down over his eyes and a distinctive radiation symbol adorned his chest.

“Always now,” said the superhero, Half-LIfe, “Always and forever, Pyrrhic. Quit your deeds and give up. Your two friends outside are down for the count, and you’re going to be next.”

“Keep working,” the large villain said to Syber_Sorcerer. “I’ll deal with this little meltdown.”

Pyrrhic roared as the flames atop his head soared higher than before. Half-Life unleashed a beam of pure radiation. It struck the villain melting the leather jacket from his chest, but otherwise failed to slow him down at all. The two titans met, locked in the eternal struggle of good and evil. I admit that I geeked-out, momentarily forgetting my own peril, but not for long.

A loud thunderous noise drew my attention back to the panel where Syber_Sorcerer worked. The lights around me began to rotate, slowly at first but steadily picking up speed. So, I did the only thing I could think to do. I reached out with my mind.

My flock of seagulls soared down from the rafters and swarmed the sorcerer and his control panel. The man swatted furiously at the small birds, deflecting their beaks and talons with swipes of his hand. While he was distracted, Dot flew over to the tube and started working on the lock. She pecked at it furiously trying to get it to unlatch.

“If only you had opposable thumbs,” I cursed. “Why couldn’t I be Monkey-er instead?”

“I actually think your birds are kinda cute, honey,” said Annah as she reached over and pulled open the lock. She spit a glob of blood from her mouth and picked up her sai.

“Thank you,” I said stepping down out of the booth.”

“Don’t mention it,” Annah winked, “but it would be best if we hightail it out of here, sooner rather than later. This whole thing has gone sideways and I don’t want to be around when it tips back up.”

“0111010010110101,” suddenly Syber_Sorcerer was in front of us, chanting his magic spells. My hands and feet froze, bound by some sort of digital chains.

“Oh shut your piehole,” said Annah and she hurled her sai harder than I thought possible. It struck the sorcerer in the mask, deflected off, and sank into the console controlling the Quantum Zone doorway. My pixelated chains immediately disappeared.

“You, bitch,” said the sorcerer, his voice no longer synthesized. Part of his mask fell away to reveal a pimply plump face. “I’m going to…”

The world seemed to spin and go deathly quiet. The silence was quickly replaced by a thundering sound, like ten-thousand toilets being flushed at once. The console sparked and shattered apart as the doorway escaped the confines of the archway that was holding it in place.

“No,” said the sorcerer turning toward the growing and wild portal. It was the last word he ever spoke before the maw of the raging dimensional storm engulfed him.

Then the world changed. Annah had been right, everything did go sideways, just not as either of us had predicted. I grabbed on to anything bolted to the ground as everything else fell around me. Right became down and left became up and each moment the growing portal threatened to swallow us down, as it had the sorcerer. My hands found a small water pipe, and I hung on for dear life.

I risked a glance and saw that Annah was holding onto a dagger she had dug between the floor tiles of the laboratory floor. Pyrrhic was above us holding on by sheer strength and screaming obscenities that were lost in the whooshing sound of the open portal. His opponent was nowhere to be seen.

Then I Pyrrhic did the unthinkable, he jumped. “This is your fault, you little asshole,” I managed to overhear him say, as he came plummeting toward me with hatred in his dark eyes. When we collided he grabbed my body like a wrestler and both of us began tumbling toward the portal. “It took me years to find my father,” he was screaming as we fell. “I am going to throw you into that portal if it’s the last damn thing…”

I stopped with a sudden jerk. I nearly snapped my neck as my feather cape snagged onto something, ending my tumble toward oblivion. Pyrrhic cursed as he lost his grip on me and went spinning past. He disappeared into the portal, his eyes locked on me as if willing me to die, right then and there.

When I looked up to see what was holding me in place, I found a distinctively etched remote-controlled throwing star lodged between my cape and the floor. I smiled my thanks at Annah across the room. Her smile was bigger than anything I had ever seen, but then it fell, just as Pyrrhic had.

The sound of the device changed. It whirled up several octaves like a bomb ready to erupt. Shockwaves exploded out of the growing nova of energy, and Annah’s knife jerked loose of its hold. She yelled something as she plunged past. I tried to reach out, but she was gone too quick.

Then gravity righted itself. I stood up, but I knew it was too late. The light from the portal began pulsate and grow more and more unstable. Everything went white, and the world exploded around me.

******

Georgia pulls back the cloth she’s been using on my arm. It is still wet with blood. She just looks at me, as if she is seeing me for the first time. I usually feel speechless when Georgia looks at me, but right then it was for different reasons.

“I’m sorry,” I say, refusing to turn away from her accusatory stare.

“What happened to Annah?” asks Ed, his lumbering figure leaning on a nearby wall. Unlike Georgia he only looks at his shoes.

“I don’t know,” I say. “The device was unstable. It exploded.”

“Well, then how did you survive?” There is a hard edge to her voice.

“I must have lost consciousness. Half-Life pulled me from the building, along with Redheck. When I came awake a few moments later the entire place was gone. Half the block was on fire. People were yelling, fire trucks were pulling up, and in the confusion I just slipped away. I came straight here. I didn’t know where else to go…”

“You didn’t even try to look for my Annah, my only niece?” Georgia’s handias suddenly high over her head, as if she means to slap me, but then stops. A look comes over her face, as if I have just dug a knife in her back. Her hand drops and all I can do is wish that she would hit me. At least then it might mean something. At least then it might mean she still cares.

Without another word she walks out of the empty bar. I want to go after her, but something keeps me still, and it isn’t my half-bandaged wounds. After another second Ed follows her out of the bar, always being the first to sense when someone needs comfort, especially in a time of grieving.

“We’re live here at the scene of this raging inferno in Daedelus Heights.” I turn my attention to the softly glowing screen at the corner of the bar. It is small and full of static, but clear enough that I can see the towering fire behind the female reporter.

“Chuck, Behind me is what remains of Hephaestus Enterprise Laboratories, one of the city’s leading scientific corporations. A little over an hour ago police responded to the scene of a daring break-in by a gang of supervillains led by the notorious Pyrrhic. The gang was stopped by the hero Half-Life, with most of them perishing in the blast.”

Four pictures flash across the screen, each with captions: Pyrrhic, Syber_Sorcerer, Punk Shocker, and Bedlam. I wipe a tear away as the image of Annah is replaced again by the reporter.

“One more of the gang, Jeremiah ‘Redheck’ Memphisto is in critical care tonight, while the final member of the gang managed to elude capture.” The next picture that appears is very familiar mugshot. “City authorities are asking every citizen to be on the look-out for this man, whom they have identified as Gill Laridae, aka the Seaguller. He is considered to be very dangerous, and if you see this super-villain it is advised that you call the police immediately.

“For Channel 8 news, I am Alice Adams, signing off.”

“Are you happy, now?” says JJ. He has not spoken since I came falling into the bar, half-burnt and bleeding from a half-dozen wounds.

I don’t answer. I refuse to give him the satisfaction.

“Congratulations, kid.” He paces, hobbling back and forth in front of my stool. “You’re a genuine super-villain. The entire city will know your name by tomorrow morning.”

I know I should feel remorse and shame, but I can’t keep the anger from my voice. “I didn’t think…”

“No, you didn’t think.” JJ cuts me off, his foot kicking over a barstool. “You thought you knew everything there was to know. Well, now you do,” he says once the clatter of the stool stops.

“Pyrrhic is the one who did this. Get angry at him.” He has always treated me like a child, lording over me like he knows better. Well maybe Gill just sat there and took it, but not the Seaguller, not anymore. “This isn’t my fault…

“You’re a super-villain now, son. It doesn’t matter who came up with the plan or who did what. You went along with it. You put on the costume, and people died because of it. That’s what happens when you choose this life…”

“Just say I told you so, and get it over with.” I am on my feet, despite my dizziness. “Then you can make me clean the entire bar on my Saturday or whatever punishment you have in mind.”

“Fool,” he says suddenly quiet. “You still don’t understand. They have your real name from your prior arrest. You’re life is over. You can kiss your graduation goodbye, and your degree. There are probably a platoon of policeman going over your dorm room, right now, and interrogating any frat boy within thirty miles. By morning Half-Life, Ionic Storm, Shining Templar, Patriot Missile, and maybe even goddamn Scarlet Falcon himself will be outside your parents house, trying to track you down.”

“But…” A cold fist clenches my stomach as what he says starts to settle in. “I…”

“So congratulations,” he says turning his back, “because Gill Laridae is dead. Now you’re just the Seaguller.”

“What do I…” I start to follow JJ, but stop. “Can I at least stay here?”

He turns and looks at me, there is actual pity in his eyes. “No. It’s not going to take long for one of the other villains to talk, maybe PaceMaker, or AtoMcDoanld, or Kid Cyanide, or whoever. Sooner or later some cape is going to come knocking on my door looking for you, because they heard that you once worked for me.”

He gets still for a long moment. “When that happens, and it will happen, I’ll hand you over. I like you, only God knows why, but this is your mess. You got to live in it.”

I grab the barstool for support. My knees suddenly feel weak. “JJ, what are you saying?”

He heads toward the back room, looking as if he will ignore my pleas, but then stops and looks at me one last time.

He turns the lights out and waits. I can no longer see him, but I can still hear his breathing. My eyes adjust and it’s as if I am seeing the bar again for the first time. It’s dark and suddenly strange, like foreign world fixed over a familiar one.

Finally, JJ makes a noise as if coming to a decision. “You’re fired, Gill. Get out, and don’t ever come back.”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains
American Identity

Perhaps you’re familiar with Two-Face, the Batman villain, played both by Aaron Eckhart and by Tommy Lee Jones doing an impersonation of a malfunctioning black-light. Regardless of which version you cling to as the definitive one, Harvey Dent is a super-villain who uses his trademark coin to make all his decisions. One flip to decide which bank he will rob, which city official he will shoot, and which pair of sewed together suits he will wear for the day. -His tailor fees must be outrageous- Yet, in a lot of ways Two-Face may be a good metaphor for our American identity, because it feels as if we are split between two parties, two points-of-view, and as if every decision we make is made by the flip of a coin.

The Face You Choose
Harvey Dent had acid thrown in his face, leading to his identity complex, but America’s split-personality disorder traces its origins back to something much more sinister and corrosive, politics. Since 1852 either a Republican or a Democrat have come in first or second for the Presidential race, except for one. Theodore Roosevelt lost as a third-party candidate to Woodrow Wilson, but that was after he had already been President as a Republican. In the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats have become the only two parties to hold power -aside from a very few exceptions- for the better part of a century and a half. In fact, since World Way II no more than two seats in Congress have gone to third-party candidates. We have to face facts, people, we have a Two-Face problem with our American identity, and its not something that Batman can simply solve by punching.

Our election process uses First Past the Post Voting. Basically it a system where the person to win the majority wins the election. It seems like the most simple form of democracy -mostly because it is- but there are serious drawbacks. The biggest being that even electoral systems that feature multiple parties will, over time, eventually be whittled down to a two-party system. It is something that very often happens in Britain, Australia, or other countries that have several political parties. Two tend to emerge as more dominant. That is because with FPTP voting, there is a lot of potential for wasted voting.

Think about the 2016 election. -We know it hurts, but try anyway- Anyone who wanted to vote for Jill Stein or that other guy… we want to call him… Jerry… It doesn’t matter… Either way, you knew with a fair amount of certainty that there was not a Mr. Freeze’s chance in Hell that either candidate was going to win the election. So, even if you agreed 100% with their platforms, you still realized that you were throwing your vote away, and by doing so you might be accidentally helping the candidate you dislike most. Thus, most rational voters tend to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” Basically, you’d rather choose to vote for the mafia over the Joker, because at least your fairly certain you understand the mafia’s motives. In FPTP voting most people tend to vote against candidates rather than for candidates. Now there are other systems, but that’s for another article. As for right now, all we need to understand is that for 150 years America has been stuck in an entrenched two-party system, and that has very much affected our American identity.

Heads or Tails
In much the same way that Harvey Dent’s injuries are superficial, so are the labels of Republican and Democrat. They are two valid philosophies on how to approach the governing of our country, at least that was how they started. Two-Face’s injuries may be superficial but they have become the basis for his mental disorder, in much the same way that our political parties have become the basis for our American identity crisis. This has become especially true over the past decade. Each party has always had their extremes, but they always seemed to be able to find compromise, yet that has changed. Gridlock, in-fighting, and extremism have become the common practice of Washington, and it has come to affect the rest of the country.

A new survey from the Associated Press’ NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found that we can no longer even agree what it means to be American. Unsurprisingly, the results are split down party affiliation lines. Roughly 65% of Democrats cited a mix of cultural groups and ethnicities as being either very or extremely important to the American identity. Only 35% of Republicans agree. However, 57% of Republicans believe that strong Christian values are very or extremely important to the American identity. Only 29% of Democrats agree. Republicans are far more likely to cite European values and Christian practices as our biggest strengths, while Democrats are far more likely to cite our country’s traditions of immigration and diversity as our biggest strengths. Regardless of party affiliation, 7 in 10 people agree that America is losing its identity.

These results aren’t exactly surprising. What is surprising is that: despite the fact that the amount of Independent voters -or voters unregistered with any party- is up, strong political leanings of voters -especially over the past few years- have sharply divided down demographic lines. Depending on whether you are old, white, Hispanic, religious, college-educated, or live in Gotham city, it is more likely that your political leanings have become sharpened over the recent years in very predictable ways. Overall, 48% of registered voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 44% who identify as Republican or lean toward Republicanism. That only leaves about 8% of American who are truly undecided and independent, and this hyper-partisanship is tearing at our American identity.

Everything is becoming political. The advent of social media, cable news, and the constant echo-chamber-interaction of modern politics has ensured that almost every issue -from religion to Broadway– exists inside a political spectrum. That means when people begin to strongly identify with conservative or liberal leanings, they also tend to mindlessly begin to judge the world through those lens. In many ways, it has stopped being about what do you think of an issue and become more about what does the party think about an issue. In a sense, we have lost a bit of our own thoughtfulness and replaced it with blinded adherence to political doctrines handed down from self-serving political super-villains. We are no longer content to be “fiscally conservative” or “socially liberal” or some other piece-meal-political view. We have begun to pitch our tents under one flag or the other, and that does not lead to a healthy American identity.

The Bicameral America
A phenomenon happened in America over the past two decades where politics became something more than external labels. We equate it to how people feel about sports teams. Of course, we’re nerds so we cling to labels such as Trekkie or Whovian, but the principal tends to be the same. As humans we don’t like complexity, it muddles our minds and takes brain power away from things we enjoy, so we condense ideologies and slap labels on them, like a can of soup. We also do this when it comes to ourselves, and thus we get people who live and die by the New York Giants, or the LA Lakers, or your local high school sports team. We all want to feel as if we are a part of something bigger and then we take that thing and integrate it into our own sense of identity. In one form or another we all do it. Yet, before the 1980’s, people rarely did it with politics. Sure, there were always the exceptions, but back then knowing how someone voted did not always correlate with their self-identity.

Something started during the Reagan years, where people’s party affiliations and labels of progressive and conservative became ingrained with their sense of self. That’s not a good thing, because… well just log onto Facebook. When your political affiliation starts to become essential to the core understanding of who you are as a person, than your liberal aunt isn’t just attacking Donald Trump, they are attacking you. When your conservative cousin badmouths Obama they are -in essence- badmouthing you. The vitriol and hard-line division is not because we are really defending one policy or politician over another. It is because we defending ourselves against each other. This is why people cry at baseball games. -Despite what Tom Hanks believes- When your team loses, you lose. When someone tells to you that the “Yankees suck,” all you hear is that “you suck.”

America has become Two-Face because much like Harvey Dent we have internalized our superficial disorder. The American identity has become a split personality because we have become homogeneous in our beliefs. Among engaged voters -those who always vote- 99% of engaged Republicans are more conservative than the median Democrat, and 98% of engaged Democrats are more liberal than the median Republican. That’s up from 88% and 84%, respectively, in 2004. We have compromised our American identity for party politics and it is driving us farther apart. We have stopped looking for the common ground and started fighting over the higher ground. We want to protect our sense of self so we argue that we are on the winning side in a battle that was never really meant to have winners or losers. In a way, we have internalized politics and that is a dangerous chemical to be fooling around with, unless of course you are fine with becoming a super-villain.

alice

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.”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains
Poker

“… and then I offered him only 1% above market price, but I had my lawyers arrange the deal so that the stocks were transferred over the course of sixty business days so as not to force an increase in market value. The fool had no option but to accept my offer. And that was how I gained controlling interest in Trojacon Technologies,” said the largest of the seated men with a thunderous laugh. Bald on top and rotund in the middle he wore an expensive looking three piece suit of dark grey fabric. His powder blue tie matched the flower attached to his lapel. Charles Edward Onyx, known in the underworld as the CEO owned half the city and three-quarters of the gangs reported directly to him. He was not a man you crossed lightly or more than once.

“That was so boring I think I blacked out,” said the man sitting next to him. Wild brown hair held in check by mechanized lab goggles and set above a sharp snarky face. The man was no older than 30 years but everyone knew that Dr. Desmond Mentor was one of the smartest people in Titan City if not on the planet. An evil genius he was patenting multi-million dollar inventions by the age of 8 and building doomsday devices by the age of 12. “C’mon, Chuckie Boy, where’s the murder? The mayhem?”

CEO scowled at the man, creases running up his forehead like canyons of hatred. “I also had his family kidnapped at the time. Does that make you happy?”

“Doctor Mentor has a point,” said the third man. He was blue and covered in scales and dark crustacean-like armor. A black and teal cape draped out behind him and his trident leaned lazily against his chair. Yellows eyes were set below a red bindi on his forehead, and a crown of black spikes. Lord Karta Kumari, also known as Kingfish, was the deposed ruler of the underwater nation of Lemuria, and sworn enemy of Atlantis. “I think, you are not so good at being the story teller. You should have led with that instead of telling us about this money deal.”

“Its called a hostile takeover.” The CEO said in a huff.

“Wasn’t that that the name of an old villain from the 80’s?” said Mentor.

“I would not know,” said Kingfish. “All you surface dwellers look the same to me. You would have to ask Iron Cross.”

Warning: Social interaction imminent, said the incessant voice in my head.

“Yeah, Cross,” said Mentor turning to me. “You’re older than dirt. Did you ever hear of a villain called Hostile Takeover? I think he wore… like a big business suit, and hit people with one of those old giant cell phones or something. I tell you, the 80’s were weird.”

Answer: Hostile Takeover operated from 1991 until 1994 when he took his own life after failing to crash the stock market.

“It was the early 90’s,” I said through the armored face plate of iron and obsidian. As I talked I admired my crimson cape and hood. The light reflected off the black mystic symbols of the Third Reich that trimmed the fabric. “I believe he killed himself in 94.”

“Some people can’t take the pressure,” said the CEO before turning to the last of our party. “Georgia, my sweet, may we begin anytime soon?”

“Hold your horses, darling,” said Georgia Atlanta as she finished shuffling the deck. “Alright, boys. The game of the night is Liberty City Draw, red sevens are wild. Ante up.”

Statement: This is an error in judgement.

“Shut up,” I cackled at the voice in me head as I tried to pick up the cards that were dealt me. My massive metal gloves failed miserably at the task.

“What did you say, my friend?” said Kingfish to my right. “Were you talking to me?”

“No… I mean, nein,” I said with a growl as my cards spilled onto the floor. “Blast these clumsy claws.”

“Geez, Cross,” said Doctor Mentor. “I knew you were old, but is the arthritis so bad that can’t you even hold your own damn cards.”

“Hold you tongue, you upstart.” If he could have seen my face behind the armor he would have known the true meaning of the word wrath. Unfortunately, the moment was ruined when I hit my helmet against the table, but no matter, because everything was going according to plan. While out of sight I quickly snatched up my cards, taking out the ace of diamonds and replacing it with an exact replica that was concealed within my suit.

Status: Decoy activated. Functioning nominally

“Of course it is,” I said under my breath as I picked myself back up. “I created it, you fool of a voice.” Kingfish looked at me again as if he had heard, but said nothing. So, I slid two chips into the center, matching the bet of the other men.

The rest of Friday’s Bar was clear of tables and chairs, but that did mean it was empty. Various henchmen and bodyguards lingered in rings around the spotlighted table. Large men in suits and sunglasses stood beside spindly warriors that looked more fish than human, and both mingled with faceless soldiers of fortune and cybernetics. Their weapons were not visible, but that did not mean that they were not within easy reach.

“I’ll raise,” said the CEO. He looked meaningfully at Doctor Mentor, daring him to match. “And, Doctor, if you did not enjoy the tale of my latest villainy maybe you might care to share with us what you have been doing since our last meeting?”

The man in the lab coat slid two more chips into the pot, holding his smug smile. “Just the usual, of course. I consider mad science to be more than a job. It’s a passion.”

“I heard you’ve been creating some sort of weather domination machine,” said CEO over his cards. “A little cliche, don’t you think?”

“Don’t blame me if you don’t appreciate the classics,” said Doctor Mentor as he put one card on the table and waited for Georgia to replace it with one from the deck. “Besides this is no mere weather dominator. My machine has the potential to reshape the world and no troglodyte in a cape and mask will be able to stop it.”

“I do not care for these weather machines you scientists are always creating,” said Kingfish as he received two more cards. “You surface villains always try to melt icebergs or shift the poles and who is it that suffers? It is the ocean.”

“And here, I thought you’d be happy,” said Mentor as he threw two more chips into the pot. “More water means more real estate for your people?”

“I fold.” The Lemurian put his cards down in front of him. “The flooding is not the problem. That is a common misconception. You see, my friend, my people are affected by the weather too. Do you not know how hard it is to plot revenge on my traitorous half-brother when the currents keep shifting? Suddenly, my schools of venomous salt-water piranha are swimming back at me because some gaandu decided to put giant mirrors in orbit and heat the Atlantic, or some such surface-world nonsense.”

“Personally,” said CEO rearranging his cards, “I’m against the idea of weather machines. Their effects are too unpredictable on the market. What’s the point of creating cheap beach-front property if your investment portfolio drops by 12 points.”

“This here is too rich for my blood,” said Georgia folding her hand. “Didn’t Dark Horse just get busted with some sort of weather device?”

Statement: You have a 67% of having the winning hand.
Suggestion: Increase the ante.

“Fold,” I said in defiance of the voice in my head. My game was not about winning at paltry poker.

“Dark Horse?” said Mentor in disgust. “He’s a second-rate villain and a third-rate scientist, and who names themselves Dark Horse?”

“I always assumed it was because he was black?” said Kingfish.

“Yeah… but just because your African American doesn’t mean you have to go and name yourself Dark Horse… Right?” said Mentor. “I mean, this isn’t the damn 70’s anymore. I feel uncomfortable just saying it.”

“I would not be surprised if that’s why he did it,” said CEO. “And I’ll call.” He put down his cards, a straight.

Showing the kind of smug smile that often haunted my dreams, Doctor Mentor revealed a full house. “Too bad, Chuckie boy. I win again.”

Alert: Danger. Proximity warning.

The door to Friday’s Bar burst open and the assembled thugs and henchmen raised their weapons as one. The sound of a hundred safeties being released was like the sound of a thousand clocks ticking down to doomsday. Doctor Mentor was the first on his feet, a strange glowing gun of wire and circuitry held in his hand. Kingfish was next to stand, his elegant trident held at the ready. The CEO was the only one that remained seated, besides myself, mostly because the deplorable pressure cooker I was trapped in weighed a literal ton, and had no robotics whatsoever.

A spindly old decrepit figure was wheeled into the room. A tube of oxygen hung from his nostrils and a bag of undefinable substance sat suspended above his wheelchair. The whole contraption was being pushed by a rather rotund and fierce looking woman dressed in a white nurse’s outfit adorned with swastikas.

“Curses,” I said. The cumbersome metal casing was suddenly hotter than before.

“Count Von Eisen?” said Kingfish. “If you are there than who is this, sitting in your Iron Cross armor?” So, that was how I found myself detestably facing the business end of a trident, a ridiculous laser gun, and about a hundred other assorted weaponry. CEO finally stood and removed my monstrosity of a helmet. It felt like I could breath again, but for how much longer?

“Mandroid,” he thundered. “Did you really believe a C-Lister like you could sneak into our monthly poker game and walk out again with your limbs intact?”

Statement: Your ruse has failed, said my never-ending internal voice.

“Shut up, damnit,” I responded and immediately saw my mistake.

“You would speak to me in that tone, you half-machine half-wit.” The big man snapped his fingers and two of his thugs stepped forward, looking ready to pull me from the armor by force.

“No, no, no!” I would have gone down to my knees if not for the lead weight around my body. “I wasn’t talking to…” My words fell short as the cold steel of a pistol muzzle touched my temple.

“He stole my magic armor,” screamed the Count Von Eisen. “He must pay!”

“I just wanted to play cards,” I said thinking fast. “And bask in your glory. Yes, that’s it. I am such a big fan of all of you. I just wanted to be near you to… uh… bask and such.” The hammer on the pistol clicked back.

“Now, that’s enough, you hear?” said Georgia standing from her place. “First of all, Count, you ain’t worn that armor in what? Three decades?”

The old man looked suddenly lost for words. “I put it on, sometimes on Sundays…”

Next she turned on the CEO, “And you, Charles, do you know how upset JJ is going to be if you stain his little old floors with blood and motor oil? You can kiss this monthly poker game goodbye, I’ll tell you that for sure. Is that what you want, to lose the only night you four get to kick back and have a little fun? All because of some villain like Mandroid?”

Correction: The Mandroid

The Mandroid,” I corrected.

“Not helping, sugah.” She sat back down and started shuffling the deck as if nothing had happened.

“Yeah,” echoed Doctor Mentor. “I say you let him stay. We’ve been short a player ever since Comosis got pinched by the Intergalactic Guardians.” He plopped back down in his seat and put his feet up until Georgia pushed them off with a stern look. “I’m sure Manny’s good for it.”

“Oh, I just don’t care,” said Kingfish as he threw a glass of water on himself. “By Agni’s seven pits, it is so hot on the surface world. Can we just get back to the game?”

“Fine,” relented the CEO. “The mechanical moron can stay, but he better be able to cover the pot.” His henchmen resumed their place on the wall. “The buy-in is 100,000 dollars. I know it’s a little low, but it’s only a friendly game after all.”

Statement: Current Expense Account Total is $507.34

“I’m good for it,” I said as I unlatched the armor and climbed out.

“Do not scratch my suit,” said Count Von Eisen, the real Iron Cross, as his nurse wheeled him over to the table. “In my day people had more respect for their elders. They didn’t go around stealing their magic armor, and you know why? It’s because they feared me. Back then being a super-villain meant being ruthless. It meant being so terrible that your enemies quaked in their lederhosen at the very mention of your name. It meant that your underlings did as you told them for fear of swift and terrible retribution.”

“It also meant getting your ass kicked by heroes wearing literal spandex, with names like Captain Super or Dashing Dynamo,” said Mentor as he picked up his cards.

“I killed Captain Super in the 50’s,” said Von Eisen. “I dipped his body in acid. Turns out he wasn’t so super after all… and the title was mostly honorary. He had never served in the military.”

“I’ll take fighting heroes like Ionic Storm any day of the week. At least he has real superpowers. So many of those capes in the 30’s and 40’s were just lunatics with a strong left hook and a Hollywood smile.” Mentor waved is hand to pass the bet.

“Ionic Storm also has an ego the size of Titan City,” said CEO. “I don’t mind his heroics but must he take selfies with every one of my crime bosses he foils. I mean he can’t even smile, he’s wearing a robotic helmet for God’s sake. He looks the same in every picture he posts online, and I am sick of seeing that armored visage on my newsfeed.”

Status: Decoy card is not in play.

“Damnit,” I muttered.

“What did you say, my friend?” said Kingfish as he threw in a chip into the pot.

“I said, Damn Ionic Storm. I have faced him many times in glorious battle…” I looked at my cards: a 2 of spades, a 3 of clubs, a 6 of hearts, a 10 of diamonds, and a 7 of spades.

“And he’s beat you more times than an abusive boyfriend,” said Mentor. “I’ve seen those selfies too.”

“A slanderous statement,” I slapped my cards on the table, “and… wait, you’re telling me you follow him on social media?”

“…I don’t understand all this social what’s its?” said Count Von Eisen. “In my day you followed someone from the rooftops under the cover of darkness, not through chirps or shares or whatnot…”

“…Of course, I follow the Ionic Idiot,” said Doctor Mentor. “I also follow Social Justice, The American Eagle, Arachna-Kid, and the entire Law and Order Brigade. I even watch The Real Heroes of L.A.”

“That reality show about that second-rate superhero team of kids? What are they called?” said CEO taking two cards.

“The Millennial Squad,” said Doctor Mentor,” and don’t knock it, Chuckie Boy. I’m positively hooked. I can’t wait until next week’s episode so I can figure out if Hacktivism ever gets out of her abusive ‘ship with the Handsome Hipster…

“…I served on an abusive ship once,” said Count Von Eisen to himself as he took three more cards. “It was during the First World War…”

“… She deserves to be with Emoticon 2000. He may be made of steel and zinc but he has a heart of gold. And I hear that next week they face off against First World Problem Child,” said Mentor taking two cards from Georgia.

“You know, I met the Problem Child at a party once in Paradigm City?” said the CEO putting in an additional betting chip. “I couldn’t stand the little ingrate for more than two minutes, what with his tattoos and stupid haircut, and whining about how he couldn’t a wifi signal. I swear I have no idea what is becoming of this next generation of villains?”

“I’m sure the Millennial Squad will beat him silly as they yell squad goals, and all that crap. I am convinced the producers pay those villains a fee to lose on purpose,” said Mentor matching the bet. “But what I’m really trying to say here, Manny, is that this why I’m at the top of my game and you wallow down in the minor leagues. When my enemies are stupid enough to advertise themselves over the Internet or on TV, I’m smart enough to pay attention. Just like I am smart enough to know that you have nothing but garbage in your hand.”

Statement: You have a 8.3% of having the winning hand.
Suggestion: Fold

“Garbage!” I said. “I’ll show you garbage, you fool. I’ll see your chip and raise you two more.”

“You know each of those chips is worth 500 dollars,” said the CEO with a look of warning.

“Then I’ll use my winnings to fly a giant blimp over the city that says, Doctor Mentor is a Loser.” I put two more chips into the pot.

“You’re an idiot,” CEO said and folded his hand.

“I’m in,” said Mentor. “I’m interested to see what old Manny has up his sleeve. You have to be better at cards than you are at villainy. You can’t be any worse.”

“Well, I’m out, sugah,” said Georgia.

“Count Von Eisen, never runs from battle,” said the old villain, “but he knows when to tactically withdraw. I fold.”

“I will see your bet,” said Kingfish.

“Say, Manny, before you show us your cards why don’t you tell everyone about the last gamble you made? You know during your little vacation in Vegas?” Mentor smiled and put his feet up on the table till Georgia pushed them off again.

I froze. I hated the man more than I have hated any arch-nemesis I’ve ever had, even more than that accursed Half-Life.

“No,” he said. “Well, I’ll tell it than. You see, a few weeks back Manny here decided to try and head for greener pastures. So he picked up his little science experiments and went out to Vegas where he fell in with a guy named Damien, a man who claimed to be the son of the Devil. He wasn’t, by the way. The guy grew up in Yonkers, and didn’t even have any superpowers. He did, however, have a few D-Listers convinced of his little ruse. Long story short Manny spent two weeks brainwashed into doing menial labor for this Damien and his ragtag group of rejects until they were all busted by Diva and thrown into super-max… He was their bag boy.” Mentor laughed like it was the funniest thing he had ever heard.

“By the Great Fin of Matsya, have you ever seen her show at the Grand Pilgrim Hotel?” said Kingfish ignoring the joke. “I know Diva is a superhero, but I hear that her voice is to die for.”

“Oh, honey, I went last summer and the notes that girl can hit… well to listen to her you would just think that you’d up and went to heaven.,” said Georgia. “Now, Doc, if you are done embarrassing poor Mandroid here…

Correction: The Mandroid

“The Mandroid,” I said.

“… can we just get back to playing?” She looked at me. “Let’s see your cards, sugah?”

“My cards are unimportant, compared to the insults of this douche.” I stood. “I don’t have to sit here and take this from…”

Alert: Danger. Tactical error in progress.

Suddenly all the weapons in the room were again pointed at me.

“Mandroid,” said the CEO. “If you walk away now, you forfeit the complete $100,000 buy-in. Sit back down.”

“I suppose I can play a few more hands,” I resumed my seat, “but I refuse to play this hand… out of protest.”

“Fine, than I win,” said Mentor as he showed a straight.

“Correction, my friend,” said Kingfish. “I win. Five of a kind, I think.” The fish-man swept all the chips to his corner, leaving Mentor mumbling to himself. “It is so typical of you surface-dwellers. You are so preoccupied with your own little problems that you fail to realize the true threat rising beneath your feet, the threat of Lord Karta Kumari.”

“Don’t start this again?” said CEO, as he anted for the next hand “We’re all sick of hearing about the wrath of the sea. You know nobody cares, right? Nobody cares about what happens in the ocean. It’s boring. I mean you talk to fish. What kind of power is that anyway?”

“How dare you?” said Kingfish. “Three-quarters of this planet are dominated by the oceans. 80% of you surface-dwellers live within 60 miles of an ocean. 90% of your internationally traded goods are moved by ship across my oceans. Millions of fish are caught every year from my waters, and not to mention the hundreds of millions of Atlanteans and Lemurians who live in cities in the very depths of the oceans that you dare insult. If you think that because I am an ocean-villain,” he paused to throw another glass of water on himself, “that I am somehow less of a menace than you surface-villains, than you are mistaken. If anything I am the greatest villain here. I have power over a vast realm of creatures, and I promise that I will soon be bringing my armies to march on every major capital in…”

“Oh, stop monologueing,” said Count Von Eisen. “You villains today, your always spouting off about your great and masterful plans. In my day, you didn’t talk about the death laser you had aimed at the continental United States, you just obliterated a small Midwestern city and showed people that you meant business. With you young punks its all talk, talk, and more talk. Why do you even reveal your plans at all. Sure, you may think you have the hero strapped to a laser cutting table, but does that mean you have to tell him everything?”

“Or her everything?” corrected Georgia as she won the next hand.

“And that is another thing. When I ran the organization of the 5th Reich, women were secretaries and sometimes sexy bodyguards. Now they can be anything, even a hero? That is outrageous.”

“Did you not once work with Lady Zeppelin?” said Kingfish.

“She was my top henchwoman. She typed a hundred words a minute, took perfect dictation, and was also an animal in the sack. Yet, I would never think of putting her or any woman in a slow-timed death trap. A real gentleman does not hang a lady over a tank of sharks. Its disrespectful.”

“That’s just a double-standard, darling,” said Georgia.

“I don’t care if you like it or not. I’m old, and a literal Nazi. I used to go to dinner parties with my Mein Fuhrer. What do you want from me? Progressive policies on women’s liberation?” He took the cards that were dealt to him.

“Can you cut the Nazi act, old man?” said CEO. “I mean you want to talk about cliched, you can’t get much more cliched than that.”

“This coming from the man who runs a greedy corporation and is secretly a criminal,” said Von Eisen. “You’re basically the villain in almost every movie I’ve ever seen about about a scrappy young protagonist just trying to make it in the world. At least, I’m the original villain, the very definition of evil. I shall never be defeated…”

Status: Decoy in play

“Except when you lost the war,” said Mentor, “and then the Power Platoon finally caught up with you. I heard you were cowering in a bunker on the outskirts of Munich, and you spent the next six years locked away in a ceramic cage buried somewhere in the middle of West Germany.” He picked up the two cards that were dealt to him and dropped one immediately as if he had been shocked. It tumbled to the table to reveal itself as the Ace of Diamonds. Quickly he snatched it up and put it back in his hand.

Status: Interface Established. Download progress 7%

Count Von Eisen threw a chip into the middle. “I surrendered to the Power Platoon. It was all part of my long term plan. Besides it was better than confronting their Soviet counterparts, the Terrible Troika, even if it meant having to put up with the gloating smile of that American moron, Ironside.”

“Did you ever find it strange,” I said, trying to keep the conversation going, “That both you and your most hated enemy used the word Iron, in your names?”

He dismissed me with a wave of his skeletal hand. “It was a different time. Iron was a common a name. There was myself, Ironside, The Iron Curtain, Lady Ferrum, but I was the only one who actually wore iron.”

Status: Download progress 19%.

“If we’re done reminiscing, can we get back to cards?” said Doctor Mentor passing two back to Georgia, neither was the decoy.

“I do not know if I could have done six years in prison,” said Kingfish as he put two cards down on the table and got two more back, “We have all been to prison here, but that is a long time. Personally, I spent six months in the dungeons of my half-brother and that was enough. Thank Kali, I was able to signal a passing whale and command it to free me. Oh, what an escape that was, let me tell you. The coral wall exploded apart and I rode the beast back to safety all while Atlantean cannons boiled the waters around me.”

“Aren’t whales mammals?” said the CEO putting down three cards. “I thought you could only control fish?”

“They all live in the water,” said Kingfish suddenly not making eye contact. “It’s all the same.”

“No, it’s not,” said Mentor. “Mammals and fish have completely different brain structures. Could you command a dog if its swimming in the water? What about a Gorilla is a diving suit?”

Status: Download progress 35%.

“Wait,” said Count Von Eisen as he put one card down and looked at me. “Mandroid, didn’t Doctor Mentor say you got thrown in super-max a few weeks ago? How did you escape so quickly?”

CEO was suddenly staring me down.

“Was it the laundry truck?” said Mentor with a sneer

Status: Download progress 40%.

“No,” I said thinking fast. “I was sent to The Dome out in Utah. The fools use robots as cafeteria servers, something about an incident between a cafeteria lady and the villain, the Cafeteria Lady. So now they use robots. It was a small matter to rewire them to do my bidding. After all, I am The Mandroid, Master of Machines, Ruler of Robotics…

Status: Download progress 48%.

“Uh… uh… Earl of Electronics…”

“Yes, yes, my friend. We get the picture,” said Kingfish. “I once heard that Cerberus Super Max has an 11% escape rate per year, and that is considered one of the lowest in this country. You would think they would learn to build better ones.”

“I’ll call, said Mentor holding his cards as if he meant to drop them.

Status: Download progress 66%.

“Wait,” I said. “I’ll raise you… two chips.”

“Not this again, Manny. Didn’t you learn your lesson last time?” He matched my bet and raised me an additional chip.

Status: Download progress 71%.

The four other players at the table went out and I found myself faced with the scientist I hated most in the world. Here was the man that had hounded me since graduate school. He took every chance he could to embarrass me. He was the reason why I never became Dr. Mandroid. I could still see his smug eighteen year old face sitting on the review committee as he mocked and destroyed my dissertation. He gloated how cybernetics were the key, like the ones he had installed in his own body, and that robotics were too 1970’s. The others had agreed and I found myself out on the street bested by someone ten years younger, but no more. For as we sat there my decoy card was hacking those very same cybernetics and downloading the schematics to his vaunted weather machine.

“I’ll see that and raise you two more,” I slammed three chips down as if I were pressing the button on one of my doomsday droids.

Status: Download progress 88%.

“You’re a fool, Manny.” He smiled and slid two more chips into the center. “You always were.”

Status: Download progress 93%.

I put my cards down revealing a straight flush. “How do you like that, Desmond.”

Status: Download progress 98%.

“I like it just fine.” He put his own cards down, revealing a royal flush. “You lose again, but at least you’re used to it.”

Status: Download progress 99%. Connection lost.

“I don’t see it,” I said. “How is that higher than mine?”

He grew angry. “It’s a royal flush, you ass. Look.” He grabbed the cards and held them up for the entire table to see.

Status: Connection established. Download progress 100%. Download Complete.

I laughed maniacally. The fool was completely clueless to my masterful ruse. My evil cackle echoed off the walls of the empty barroom. No one could withstand the intellectual might of the Mandroid. My time of revenge was finally at hand… and then I realized I was kneeling on the table as everyone in the room silently watched me. “I mean… curses. You win again.”

The CEO and two of his goons personally threw me out of the bar after that outburst. His massive girth towered over me as my face hit the pavement. “You’re a fool, Mandroid. I never would have paid your way out prison if I knew you were going to be this amateurish.”

I turned over, my face feeling raw and soiled. “I got the plans you wanted.” I ejected a small disk from a socket in my torso, and the man snatched it up like it was made of gold.

“Excellent,” he said with a sudden sneer. “With these plans I’ll finally be able to sink a few troublesome islands and the offshore accounts that reside on them.” He pocketed the information and headed back toward the bar.

“Wait,” I said. “What about the payment you promised me?”

The CEO turned and brought his massive foot down next to me. The cement cracked where it landed. “Considering that you just lost about $30,000 in poker chips, $30,000 of my money! I would say you’re lucky I don’t have my men take you apart and sell you for scrap.”

He put his hand on the door and disappeared back inside the bar. His two thugs lingered longer but they soon followed leaving me alone in the dark alley. I picked myself up off the ground and clutched the duplicate data card in my hand. I inserted it into my data drive and hobbled off knowing that soon Titan City would feel the true wrath of the…

Status: Analyzing data disk.
Error: Disk unreadable. Data corruption detected
.

“…”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

“Get your behind in here.” I hold open the door and wait, like a polecat eyeing down its dinner. I make sure to leave no room for argument. “Now,” I say, and Gill finally gets the hint. He don’t look none too happy about it, but he marches into the backroom of Friday’s Bar all the same. We’re both drenched from the rain, but the only difference is that he’s dressed in some ridiculous getup, with black paint ringing his eyes and a cape of feathers. I think he looks more raccoon than bird, but there ain’t much using in telling him that.

“What the hell were you thinking, boy?” I turn on the lights and slam the door shut to keep the rain out, feeling like a drowned river rat, and none to happy for it either.

“I was being true to myself.” There was a summer’s heat to his voice. It had been the first thing he had said since I picked him up at the police station. “And I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for that star spangled bastard.” He slammed his fist down, powerfully, on the kitchen island.

“You had best watch your tone, boy.” I put a sharp finger in his chest and for a moment there was fear in his eye. He needs to learn a little fear if he’s going to go around dressed like a giant bird. “Patriot Missile could have skewered your innards from five-hundred paces. That red, white, and blue Robin Hood is the best damn shot from here to the Mississippi.”

“He humiliated me, and defeated my minions in combat.” Gill throws his cape back like he’s making some grand gesture of villainy, but the poor soaked fool just looks as awkward as a sow in a prom dress.

“The way I heard it from the boys in blue, he bought a pretzel and put it on his arrow. Then he went and shot it out into the harbor. Your little birdies followed it like a dinner bell.” My hands found my hips and I gave him my best stare. My shirt was wet and I was showing off more of my assets than I normally cared to, but for the moment I didn’t give a lick. If Gill wasn’t going to listen to JJ and stop all of his super-villain nonsense than I would just have to beat it out of him the good old fashioned way.

“Those cops. They thought it was all such a joke. They couldn’t even stop laughing long enough to take my fingerprints.” Normally Gill would be struck near dumb by the sight of me in a wet t-shirt, but something was different, tonight. He seemed to barely notice or even care, instead being all worked over his little escapade. “I’ll show them. I’ll show them all. Then I’ll be the one laughing.” Suddenly, it was my turn to lose my composure. His maniacal laughter was almost convincing, at least it would have been if he didn’t start hacking up a coughing fit about midway through.

“Sugah, you had best count your lucky stars the police found it so damn amusing. It’s the reason they released you into my custody and dropped the charges of villainous menacing in the 3rd degree. You could have found yourself in super-max for the next six months, and I promise you that the men in there wouldn’t find your little eagle costume as amusing.”

“It’s a seagull. I’m the Seaguller.” The boy started sneezing up a storm.

“Really?” I say. “Why didn’t you pick something more menacing… like maybe a hawk… or even a sparrow.”

“I am the Seaguller, master of all seagulls,” he said in-between sneezes. “Everyone will soon fear the name.”

“Well, if I was you, I had best start learning to fear me. Do you know what its like trying to find a sitter at three in the morning. You were just lucky Ms. Parsons across the way was able to watch Owen, so I could come down and bail your sorry hide out of jail.” The boy at least had the decency to look muddled about the whole damn thing, but I weren’t done with my anger. “And another thing, JJ, ain’t going to be none too happy, either, when he hears about all this foolery of yours. I can guarantee you that.”

“You don’t get it. JJ doesn’t get it. You’re both so old. You have no idea what its like to be me,” he railed.

“I’m not…” It was a silly old thing but suddenly I felt painfully aware that I was standing there looking drenched without a lick of makeup on. I caught sight of my own reflection in one of the steel cabinets, its scratched shiny finish showed every wrinkle and crease. My eyes had bags so big I could have used them to pick up groceries. “Gill, darling,” the fire gone from my voice. “We’re only worried about you, that’s all.”

“Well don’t. This is what I want. This is what I want to be.” His own fire had died and as he talked his shuffled his feat like my Little Buford Heck, the first kid I ever danced with. “I don’t care if you tell JJ. I… I don’t care if he fires me.”

I tipped his chin up till he was looking me in the eyes. “Sugah, you need to tell JJ.”

He swallows hard like a man facing the hangman. “He’s going to be real mad at me.”

“Gill, darling, I’m real mad at you. JJ, is going to be damn near furious, but that don’t change what you have to do. A real man takes responsibility for his actions.” I let go of his chin and leave him looking like my Owen when I tell he needs to eat his greens.

I notice my hands, they’re wrinkled from the rain and they’re a pain in my joints like a dull fire when I bend them. They’re the hands of an old woman, a sow past her prime. When did I get old? Where did all the time go? I look again at Gil and the boy seems so young. How long ago had it been since I was his age?

The boy lets out another hacking cough and my own aches are momentarily forgotten, I put my hand to his forehead only to discover he’s burning up worse than one of my Sunday pot roasts. “Sugah, you ain’t looking so good. I think we’d best get you home.”

I lead him out the door and back into the pounding rain of the night. “What about JJ?” he asks as I put my coat around him.

“You ain’t getting out of bed tomorrow, you hear? You’ll just have to face the music on Thursday. I’ll tell him you were feeling under the weather.” Before I hit the lights I give one last look at my reflection, and part of me wonders who the old woman is that’s staring back at me.

The rest of my night was not really what you might call restful. After all the commotion with Gill my sleep was hardly steady. So, come morning I weren’t in no mood for one of JJ’s moods.

“What do you mean under the weather?” says JJ leaning against the bar top looking as surly as ever.

“That boy was sicker than all tarnation. I told him to stay home.” I fumble with my apron strings, but with my fingers aching something awful I can barely get them knotted.

“I guess we’ll have to make do,” says JJ. “He’ll just have to clean out that ice machine next week.” Then, the man does something I rarely see him do, he hesitates. At last he picks up a rolled up newspaper and hands it to me, as if it were a coiled water snake. “Did you see the news?”

I snatch the paper from JJ’s paw, and unroll it carefully, unsure of what I will find. Maybe Gill’s little run-in with Patriot Missile made the headlines, but what I discover is not exactly what I was anticipating. “This ain’t me,” I hear myself say.

In big bold letters the paper reads, Southern Bedlam Strikes. So I keep reading, The villainess known as Southern Bedlam killed four men last night. Police linked the dead men to the Scorpio Drug Cartel, but authorities are not amused at the latest murder spree attributed to the famous assassin…

“You are looking more tired today, than usual. Late night?” There is no malice in his voice. Just feline curiosity.

“Owen was being fussy all night,” I lie. “JJ, this ain’t me, not no-more.” I slam the paper down and I notice that Friar Freeze and The Robber Ducky look up from their conversation. I give them a stare, like Lucifer himself, and suddenly they both find better things to busy themselves with. “I swear I put that life behind me a long time ago.”

“I know.” As crusty as my boss can sometimes be, he has a way of making even two words seem more precious than all the diamonds in the Carolinas. “It’s not you, but someone out there is using your old moniker, and I don’t want you going out there to do something stupid.”

“Stupid?” I say with enough fire to flash fry a catfish.

“Now, Georgia. You know what I mean. Running around like this is a young person’s game and you’re too…”

“Too what? I’m too what, JJ? Old?” I take a step toward him, the newspaper rolled dup in my hand.

“…too, smart for that,” he says holding his ground. “Everyone in this bar has or had a villainous handle, or a codename, or whatever. Some of us hate our names, and some of us were given them, but whatever the case it’s a very personal thing. It’s how we present ourselves to the world. If someone is out there using yours without permission… Well I know how that might drive someone to do something stu… unnecessary.” JJ eases himself off the countertop with a groan. “Just promise you won’t go out and try to find this person, whoever they are.”

As my boss limps away to talk with some customers down at the other end of the bar, I straighten my hair. In all the commotion some of it had come lose from the ponytail and a I smooth it back I can’t help but notice the gray strands that I come away with.

I did my best to go about my usual business, serving drinks but something seemed off. Usually, I found myself  dodging lecherous hands, claws, or whatever, but for some reason none of the usual trash even gave me a second glance. It was a Wednesday, one of our lighter days. After all, the Cerberus Super-Max don’t out-process prisoners till Thursday. Still, that’s not to say there wasn’t  enough death stares and death rays to keep a girl busy, but other than that no one seemed to take much notice of me. My afternoon I could not recall one inappropriate comment or one person’s hand I had to bust for trying to squeeze the eggs, if you know what I mean. This is not to say that I enjoyed those things, but they were always there, like fur on a dog. I suppose I had never considered the possibility that they wouldn’t be around one day.

By happy hour -half price drinks are always a problem- I was forced to remove my first client of the night.

“You had best get before I get angry.” I stare down Malus Maximus, his little helmet dented where my steel-toed high-heels connected with his head.

“How dare you speak to me in such a manner. I shall return with my legion at my back, and then…”He draws his little sword, but I’m faster. I usually am. I strike again, right square in his arrogant Roman eye.

“Darling I don’t care if you have one or one-thousand men, you hear? You ain’t got no right to call a lady that word, not in my presence. Now, if you ever want to come back to this here bar, you had best learn some manners, or did they not have those back where you came from?” I wipe my hands on my apron, if only to mask the ache in my joints. “I swear, you Italian men are all the same.”

Then I hear it, a low signing whistle and something inside me reacts, like a snake striking at a threat. My apron is still in my hands so I rip it clean off and use it like a rag to bat aside the incoming weapon. A five-pointed throwing star throwing star clatters to the pavement, sounding like a steel dinner plate hitting the floor. I have more time with the next two. I dodge to the side, while grabbing discarded weapon and throw it before I am even full on my feet. The weight feels good in my hand, the heft of old memories long left behind.

It flies, straight, like a hawk diving for a field mouse, but my shadowy opponent was ready. With one swift movement she goes and plucks it out of the air, as if it were nothing. Then she steps forward and it’s like looking in a mirror, well a mirror that is twenty years younger.

“Mighty impressive,” she says. It ain’t my old costume she’s wearing, but close enough all the same. Mine was all tight black leather and plunging neck lines, where as I can tell the girl before me is not quite as endowed as I was at her age, but no less striking. Her uniform is less revealing, a red leather jumpsuit closed up to her neck. Two dark blue bandoliers criss-cross her chest, each holding six or seven of them throwing stars. Black leather straps accent the costume, and holding a series of small weapons, daggers, darts, and even a stylized sai. She looks as dangerous as she does beautiful. A black balaclava masks her face, but her long red hair falls across both shoulders looking more like silk.

“Did you ever wonder why there are so many redheads in our line of work?” I say as I stand back up, feeling a bit too aware of the brown straw that is currently held back by a common rubber band at the back of my head.

Then I notice Malus Maximus. The Roman general sits transfixed by what he just witnessed, one hand still holding the swollen eye where I struck him. “Didn’t I tell you to get?” I say and that’s all the excuse the man needs. He disappears out the alleyway as if his very tunic were on fire.

“Well, don’t you just have a way with men?” says the girl as she walks toward me.

“It’s a gift, darling. I am sure you have had to drive off more than a few suitors in your day.” I make my voice all sugar and spice. “I mean look at you, aren’t you just pretty as a picture.”

“Oh, I could never be as stunning as you. I mean even at your age you have managed to keep your skin looking so pearly white.” She smiles under her mask. Even through the black cloth I can see that smug little mouth turning up at her words.

“Well, moisturizing is key, honey, but I’m sure you know that by now, what with all those health classes they give you in high school. You must have all the boys wanting to ask you to prom. I mean, being so flexible and all.” Then it was my turn to smile.

“Oh, I do alright, don’t you know, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to you back in the day, what with all your tremendous… advantages. Even now you still have such wonderful resources at your disposal. You’ll have to tell me what kind of elastic support you use, because it is doing wonders. It’s just a cruel fact of life that with age we all lose a bit of our perk.” I watch her hand reach into one of the pouches on her belt. For most, the gesture would have seemed as natural as a growing grass, but I haven’t lost as much of my step as she might think.

“Aren’t you just the sweetest little thing for noticing. Now, honey, whatever can I do for you? Maybe some tips on wardrobe?”

That signaled the end of the conversation. “I’m sure I’ll get along quite all right on my own,” she said and threw the smoke pellets hard to the pavement. A mighty cloud of thick grey smoke filled the alleyway like a Tennessee rain storm, but I was ready.

I tied my apron around my mouth to keep from choking even as I dodged two more throwing stars. I didn’t see them so much as hear them coming. Then she was on me. The girl was as light as she was fast, but strong too. That fancy sai stopped mere inches from my throat, before I could get her off me again. When I turned to find her, she was gone, like a ghost in swamp mist.

“I’ll admit it, darling, you got some skill,” I say to the smoke, “that don’t give you no right to be wearing that getup and calling yourself Southern Bedlam, though. That ain’t your name to use, you hear?”

I duck the roundhouse right before it connects, and I block the follow up punch that I knew was coming. “Why?” says the unseen voice of the storm. “It ain’t like you’re getting anymore use out of it? You’re out of the game, content to live your life kicking out bar flies and playing house. What right do you have to it, anymore, darling?”

I use the voice to track where she is. Speaking like that was a damn rookie mistake for an assassin. “You’re young so you don’t get it yet, but you can’t go around taking people’s identities unless you have permission. That’s just not how things are done.” I lunge like a bobcat, claws out, but what I find is nothing but more smoke and empty pavement. I realize my mistake, but too late.

Her first kick drives me to my knees. Thank the Lord she didn’t aim for the head and knock me senseless, another rookie mistake. So, I recover quick enough to catch her downward strike and I use that momentum to throw her to the ground, but she don’t stay down for long. In one swift spin she kicks out knocking me down as well. I’m usually faster, but not this time. Then she’s on me again, like yellow on corn, her sai back in hand.

“You betrayed everything you stood for,” said the girl. “It is my sworn duty to end your treachery once and for all.”

“Who in the name of all tarnation told you that load of horse manure?” I flip around and kick her off. When I find my feet again I notice that I’m bleeding like a leaky pale, but I ignore it. My lip is cracked and so are my nails, and one of those two things just makes me madder than all hell.

“Master Cletus,” says the girl and she throws two more stars from her bandolier.

I duck them and kick forward connecting with her chest, but she catches the follow up and this time uses my momentum to throw me against the brick wall of the nearby building. “I should have known that old coot was still alive.” The impact dislocates my shoulder, but I don’t scream out. If my old master was the one who taught her how to fight than I damn well know what to expect next.

So, I reverse her hold and kick again with my high heels. The girl’s knee crumples and she falls to the ground in a heap. It’s a move I learned on the streets not in some damn dojo. “You listen to me girl, that old man is crazier than a dog in heat. He’s still convinced that the South Will Rise Again. You had best forget him and quick, just like I did, because his one man war will only lead you to ruin, you hear?”

“You betrayed the cause.” The girl takes one of her knives and swings for my leg, but I was expecting that and her attack meets only my kick. I feel something give and the blade goes skittering away as the smoke begins to clear the alley.

“I never believed in Cletus’ war. The first moment I could, I left him flat on his behind and went solo. Take it from me, honey, there is a lot more money in freelance work than in dying for some long lost cause.” With the smoke clearing and the fight all but over I reach down and yank her balaclava away and then I stop.

“Annah?” I say as I look into the face of my own niece, Savannah Atlanta. “Your pa told me that you were in college. What the hell are you doing here, dressed like that, girl?”

“Pa, don’t know nothing about this.” At least the girl has the decency to look ashamed. “Master Cletus found me and trained me. I don’t belong in no fancy school. This is what I want to do. This is who I am. I wanted to be like you, Auntie Gee.”

“Oh, sugah, bless your little heart, but why would you want to be like me?”

“Your beautiful, your powerful and independent, and nobody tells you what to do.”

“Then why in the name of all that’s holy were you trying to kill me?”

“Master Cletus said it was my final test. I’m sorry. I really am.”

My anger dies like a sunflower in wintertime.” I pull myself up and sit myself down next to her. “Oh, don’t you fret about it. You ain’t the first person who ever wanted to kill me, but, honey this ain’t you.”

“Yes, it is,” she says crossing her arms. “Being Southern Bedlam is exciting. Nothing I learned in college ever taught me what I wanted to be. This is what I want, Auntie Gee. Can’t you understand that?

I see myself when I look into her eyes, an impressionable young thing who can’t stand to be tied down to nobody or nothing. It had been so long since I had been that girl, maybe I had forgot what it felt like. It was like being in love for the first time, but without none of the uncertainty or heartache. Villainy is like fire, it burns hot and bright, and it draws you in, but until you get properly burned by it, ain’t no one going to get you to listen to reason.

“Lord, help me,” I say and let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. “Listen, honey, If you’re going to be Southern Bedlam, I got a few conditions.” I put my arm around my kin.

“You’re not going to tell pa, are you?” She looks up at me and I see a baby girl who I bounced on my knee when I was not much older than her, nor dressed that much differently.

“You’re going to tell him, but when you’re good and ready. Second, you’re done with Master Cletus. That old bigot can’t do anything to touch you, not no more, not as long as you’re living under my roof.” I stand up and help Annah to her feet.

“Your roof?”

“That’s my last condition. You’re going to come live with me and Owen, at least till you find your own place here in Titan City. I want you around so I can keep an eye on you. You’re still young and new to all this. Maybe I can give you a few pointers from time to time, and help you avoid some of the mistakes I did.”

“Oh, thank you, Auntie Gee. Thank you.” Then the girl lunges for me and I almost let my old instincts kick in but I stop myself. She wraps me in a great big hug and I wince a little as my dislocated arm pops back into place.

“Also,” I say when she lets go. “I’ve decided you can keep the name. It suits you.”

“Thanks,” she says as we limp toward the door of Friday’s together, “but I was thinking about what you said. You’re right, that name is yours. So, maybe something new. What do you think of Bedlam?”

“I like it.” I open the door. “C’mon, let’s get patched up, and I’ll introduce you to my boss. He’s a good man.” I hold the door open as Annah goes in ahead of me, but I stop when I hear running.

I turn and out of the last dregs of smoke comes Gill. He’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, his seagull costume nowhere in sight. “Miss Atlanta,” he calls. “Miss Atlanta, I’m feeling better, and I wanted to say thank you for bailing me out last night.”

“Gill, you’re welcome, and how many times do I have to tell you to call me Georgia?” I can hear the jukebox playing some mournful tune inside the bar.

“Sorry,” he says. “Also, I’m here to tell JJ, like you said. I didn’t want to wait till tomorrow. I want to get it over with. After he fires me I’ll clean out my stuff and you’ll never have to see me again.” Gill starts to walk into the bar, but I stop him.

“Wait,” I say and let go of the open door. “Now listen here, because I’m only going to say this once. I realized I have no right to tell you how you should live your life. If you want to go around dressed as a giant seagull… or whatever, well who am I to make you do otherwise, and who is JJ? I know I told you that you need to tell him about what happened, and as much as I still believe that, it should be your decision. I won’t tell him, I swear. This is between you and him, and between you and yourself.

“You need to figure out what makes you happy and understand that whatever path you choose will have consequences, but I can’t make that choice for you. And, that is all I have to say on the matter, except that whatever path you choose I promise I’ll be there for you, as best I can.” Without words the boy hugs me and for the second time in so many minutes I have to worry about my injuries.

“Thank you. Thank you,” says Gill before suddenly realizing what he were doing. He jumps back like a cat from a hot roof and looks as embarrassed as anyone could be. “Are you bleeding?”

“It’s a long tale,” but before I can say more the door behind me pops back open.

“Auntie Gee,” says Annah, coming back out into the alleyway. “Are you coming inside?”

At the sight of her, I did not think it possible, but Gill turns an even dark shade of red. His mouth opens and closes like a catfish caught on a fishing line, and I smile to myself. “Gill Laridae, this is my niece, Savannah Atlanta.”

“Hi,” he squeaks.

“Annah, this is Gill. He’s also trying to be a villain.” I whisper the last part in a conspiratorial tone and immediately my niece perks up at the sight of the boy.

“Really?” she says and takes him by the arm back into the bar. “What’s your name? What kind of fighting styles do you know?” “What…” I don’t hear the rest as the door swings close behind them. For the first time that day I smile like a mother fox and realize maybe there are some benefits to getting older. After all, we all can’t stay young forever.


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

“Geez, you look like hell,” I  put out the cigarette I had been smoking on the nearby wall. The early morning sun was barely peeking through the alleyway, but its rays still managed to find the tangled mess of colorful rags and body armor. The man looked up at me, three distinct scars raked across his face. They’re old wounds, but no less shocking, much like his sadistic grin. I noticed he was sporting some fresh ones as well, a bruised eye, a few open cuts, and a welt the size of Ohio.

“Well, you of all people should know how it is, Joe. It’s going to be one of those days.” Happy Strife was his name, and the minute I unlocked the door to the bar he broke out in laughter. Tears welled up in his one blackened eye, but he didn’t seem to notice. I can only figure he had a late night run in with some costumed hero. I don’t ask. It ain’t none of my business, and it wouldn’t be the first time someone had gone a few bad rounds with a cape and been left with nowhere to go. So they come to me. They come to Friday’s.

When I switched on the lights to the bar the place went from pitch black to a comforting dingy. The old fluorescent lights hummed to life around me. One day I’m going to replace them with some of those new flashy LED’s, but for now they’re like me, past their prime but still kicking. The chairs were stacked on the tables, the floor was mopped, and the taps were all still washed from the previous night. So, I just stood there and took in my bar. It’s the only real private moment we ever get to share together, like an old married couple waking up in the morning, before the day begins.

I suppressed a groan as I walked to the bar top. My leg was bothering me bad so I leaned hard on the cane. Happy Strife followed me in, humming a nonsense tune as he found a table near the door. “First one’s on the house,” I said and I poured him a beer from the taps, but by the time I brought it over he was already passed out, head down on the table. “…one of those days,” I heard him mutter manically as I placed the drink next to him.

He was a mental patient who had an unhealthy obsession with knives, but I have to admit he was right about one thing. It was going to be one of those days. Same as it was every year.

I tried going about my normal routine, tapping a fresh keg, setting the glasses, and getting ready for the day, but I felt slow. I felt weighted down. So, when I couldn’t resist the urge anymore I finally reached into my breast pocket and found the old Polaroid. The smiling face that greeted me still makes my heart jump, even after all these years. A lively nest of red hair and two startling violet eyes stand out even through the stains and worn edges of the old photograph.

To My Guy Friday, XOXO, it read at the bottom. That was what she used to call me. God, I was so much younger back then, and so much… more.

Her name was Charlotte Magne, at least that was what they called her. I never knew if it was her real name or not and never thought to ask. She was a conqueror in every sense of the world, but also much… more. She was skilled in hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship, and Two-Card Monty. She knew everything there was to know about tactics, philosophy, and old 1940’s black and white movies. She commanded armies of loyal warriors, but she hated sleeping with the covers on her. She wanted to rule the world, but when she was sad she liked brownies with chocolate ice cream. Word on the street always had it that she was some immortal or a Greek goddess or something, but I never paid much attention to that.

To me she wasn’t none of those things. She was just Charly, and I loved her. God knows why she ever gave me the time of day. We met during our stint together in the Atrocious Eight. It was the group’s fifth or sixth incarnation, I can never remember. I had been a member of the previous group, but she was new to the cause. Villain alliances never tend to last long and this one was no exception. Charly was not what you would call a “team player,” but our goals matched up for a time, so we all swallowed our pride and worked together.

We got off to a real rocky start, me and her. She even tried to kill me once or twice, but I still remember the first time I saw her. Her hair, those piercing eyes, and a uniform that hugged every curve, modest but intoxicating. She didn’t dress in those low cut numbers that other villainesses favored. No, she was real classy. Her elite guards batted me aside like I was nothing, but even if they hadn’t hit me, I still would have hit the floor at the sight of her. I had it bad.

The Eight used to meet in this old pizza parlor on Gorgon and 9th. It had belonged to The Pizza-Man, before he lost his mind and started committing pizza themed murders. He was dead by that time, so we figured he wouldn’t mind if we crashed there. It wasn’t exactly a luxury condo, but you couldn’t beat the food. So one night I stole a bottle of wine from a nearby liquor store and invited Charly up to the roof with the promise of pepperoni and pineapple. I knew it was her favorite. We spent the time drinking and talking about movies till the sun came up. That was when I met the real her.

To others she was tough and hard, but never with me, not after that night. She had fears and doubts and hopes, but she was also more alive than anyone I had ever met before. She saw the world with a clarity I could never match. I still don’t get why she loved me back. I was just some moron dressed like a day planner, but when she inevitably betrayed the Atrocious Eight, she didn’t betray me. We both watched from the back of her escaping speed boat as the rest of our group was hauled off by the cops, while we stood there safe, our hands entwined and her violet eyes staring up at me.

Yet, nothing lasts forever. There always comes a day when everything ends, and the downside of being a former calendar-themed super-villain is that I never forget an anniversary, even when sometimes I rather wish I had.

We had taken over the Asteria Observatory. Charly had a scheme to use this force field generator to make a dome over Titan City. She figured after that it would be a simple matter for her army to overwhelm the TCPD and take over the joint. We needed the lens from the observatory’s telescope to help focus the generator, and since the dome was also going to block out the sun she even arranged so that we committed the crime on a Sunday, because she knew it was important to me. Then, everything went sideways.

When it happened, our henchmen were busy securing the place and setting up the device. I saw the smoke before I saw the flames. The force field generator had malfunctioned somehow, and when I came rushing into the telescope room, I found Charly and her personal guards doing battle with Shining Templar. I’m still not sure how that medieval moron even found us. I did what I could to help, but Templar was always a bit out of my league. Then the generator exploded and my world just went black.

I woke up a few seconds later. I was outside the main room and the entire place was engulfed in flames. I had assumed the blast had knocked me backwards through the doorway, but when I looked up Shining Templar was standing over me. He had saved my life, but I couldn’t find Charly. I screamed something, I don’t remember what. It could have been her name or it could have been complete nonsense. I do know that I went charging back toward the heart of the inferno with some fool rescue plan in mind, or least I tried.

Templar stopped me, his massive gauntlet held me back like I was nothing, but I wasn’t about to be stopped. On instinct, I grabbed a sharp piece of debris and drove it into the soft part under his armor, something Charly had taught me. He yelled in pain and let go. I turned to run but then I screamed again, this time in pain. I looked down and my leg was bent in the wrong direction with his massive armored foot pressing down on it. My bones must have been near shattered, and before I passed out the last thing I remember seeing was a burnt body. It was clutching Charly’s favorite sword in its right hand.

Twenty-eight years to the day… I ran my thumb over the cheek of the photograph and felt the worn away groove, smooth beneath my calloused hand. I knew that if I tried hard enough I might be able to feel her warm cheek again. I might be able to picture her blush at the touch and smell her in my nostrils. To My Guy Friday. XOXO.

The door to the bar opened and I turned away from it. I wasn’t crying or anything, but I was never keen to have Georgia or Edward see me when I get like that.

“Excuse me, sir.” The voice made me stop. It didn’t belong to one of my employees or even one of my customers. It was like pineapple and wine and it made me freeze where I stood.

“Excuse me, are you Mr. Friday?”

Finally, I turned back, putting the picture in my pocket. Happy Strife was still passed out on his table and there was no one else in the bar but a small woman, wrapped in a modest cardigan jacket. A messenger bag was slung over her shoulder, sporting patches from music bands I had never heard of before. The girl had a piercing through her nose and several in each ear, and her hair was short, straight, and platinum blonde, not long, curly, or red at all. Her eyes were blue, not violet, but everything else was the same. Everything else made my heart jump, and I couldn’t speak.

She smiled almost like she recognized me, but it flattened as if she was unsure about something. “You are Mr. Friday, aren’t you?”

“Charly?” I said when I found my voice again.

She shook her head. It was a slight movement, confident but not brusque. It was familiar and very foreign all at once. “Helen. My name is Helen, Mr. Friday.”

“JJ,” I said, and the moment had passed. I was starting to remember where I was. Of course it wasn’t Charly. The girl was too young, maybe even as young as Charly had been when she… the night of the fire. “What do you want?”

She seemed hurt by my words. I hadn’t meant to sound harsh, but there it was. At least she shook it off well enough. “Charlotte Troy… ehh… Magne. She was my mother.”

“Your… No, sorry kid. I don’t buy that. She died. I saw it.”

“She told me once that leaving you was the hardest thing she ever had to do. After the fire she thought it would just be easier for everyone if they believed her dead. I think she just wanted a fresh start.”

“No. She died. I know she did.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Friday. She didn’t.”

“No,” I slammed my hand hard on the bar. It came away pounding, even Happy Strife muttered something before going back to sleep. “She died.”

The girl just stood there, as if not knowing what else to say, but her look said enough. This Helen, was not lying, at least not as far as I could tell. I wanted to rail against her, but something in her look took the wind from my gut. “I went to prison for her…”

“She knew that too, and she was always real sorry about it. It was probably the thing she regretted the most. It was never her plan to leave you in there. More than once she thought about getting you out, but I guess after a while there were other things to worry about.”

My hand was still throbbing, but it was more than the pain that made me regret my outburst. My world felt like it was spinning. “You? She had a baby… Wait, am I?”

“No,” said the girl. “You’re not my father. That’s not what this is about.”

“What is it about?”

“Making amends. My mother wanted to apologize.” She was twisting her hand on her shoulder bag. It was the same sort of nervous habit as Charly.

“Then she can damn well do it herself.” I started wiping down a nearby glass, even though it was still clean.

“She’s gone… About two months ago, now.” Here eyes followed me. They seemed as clear as her mother’s even if they were the wrong color.

“She’s been alive this whole time?”

“I’m sorry.”

“It ain’t your fault, kid. None of us get a choice of who we’re born to. My old man used to slap me around depending on what day of the week it was, and now it turns out your mother was just as no-good.”

“My mother was a great woman.” Now it was her turn to get mad. She spread her stance and dropped her arms, just like Charly used to do, like she was preparing for a fight.

“You’re mother was a super-villain. She wanted to take over the world and hurt plenty of people to do it.”

“I know what my mother was.”

“There are more ways to hurt people than with swords and explosives, kid. She was also a coward. She ran from her life when she couldn’t bear it anymore. She ran from her responsibilities, the people who depended on her, and the people who loved her. She thought it better to pretend to be dead than to face them, than to face me. I would call that being no-good.”

The girl, Helen, dropped her hands and clutched her bag again. The anger died, fading away like a rainstorm in the summer, just like her mother. “You’re right. I can’t defend those actions. She should have told you the truth.” She turned to leave. “I’m sorry. It was a mistake to come.”

“Wait.” I made my voice soft, maybe for the first time since the conversation began. “Was she happy?”

Helen was almost to the door, but she turned back around. “She was. She moved to Florida… Sun City. She changed her name and got a real estate license. She had a happy life, but I think she always felt as if she was missing something. Like she had unfinished business.” The girl let out a breath, composing herself. She reached into her bag and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I need to…”

“Don’t move, my tasty doll,” said Happy Strife with a cackle. He moved faster than I thought he could. Maybe I hadn’t really noticed. Maybe I had been too distracted, but suddenly he was behind her. The bells on his costume jingled as he grabbed Helen tighter, the knife in his hand cutting a clean red mark down her cheek. “Sweet sweet blood, like finger paint on my new little dolly.”

“Don’t you touch her.” I moved faster than I had in a long time, brandishing my cane like a weapon as I raced out from behind the bar. I was too slow.

The table shook hard and shuttered under the weight as Happy Strife slammed down into it. I couldn’t be sure if the cracking I heard was the wood or a few of the bones in the maniac’s nose. He laughed in surprise and pain as Helen stood over him, a cold steel look in her eye. One of Strife’s arms was twisted behind him, possibly broken. “The dolly has a kung-fu grip,” he spat out blood and a tooth as he spoke. I made a note that I would have to have Gill wash down the table.

The knife clattered away. He tried reaching for it with his non-broken hand, but again the girl was faster. Like a trained warrior she effortlessly scooped it up and plunged it hard into the laughing man’s hand. This time his mad chuckle seemed to have more pain than glee in it. The knife dug deep into the wood, pinning him to the table. “…one of those days,” he mumbled madly before passing out.

“You have your mother’s reflexes,” I said.

“How dare he touch me.” There was still blood on her cheek from where Strife had cut her.

“Let me see that,” I said as I turned her head toward me. We were closer than I meant to get and the girl just seemed to freeze under my touch. I took my thumb and gently wiped away the blood to get a better look, but the wound was small, smaller than it should have been. Even as I watched, the shallow cut finished healing, the skin coming together like new. There wasn’t even a scar.

“How did you…” I looked down at the blood on my thumb and froze. There was something else there too. I held it up close under the flickering florescent lights so I could examine it. It was a contact lens, a blue-colored contact lens. Then, it was my turn to freeze.

She looked at me like a someone might look at an approaching train. It wasn’t fear, just shock and maybe even a bit of embarrassment. All I really saw were her eyes, wide and watery. Her left was blue and her right was now a piercing violet, like the eyes I sometimes see in my dreams.

“Charly?” I barely spoke it, barely dared to let it be heard.

That single word was enough to break whatever spell had come over her. It was enough to bring her to herself. In one swift motion she pulled out of my grip and was gone. The front door swinging slowly open, the morning light engulfing her face as she backed out the bar.

“Wait,” I started after her, but I didn’t get two steps before my damn cane broke in half and I found myself on the floor. By the time I looked back up the light was gone. The door swung shut and I was alone.

There was a folded piece of paper nearby and I grabbed it before hauling my ass back to my feet. I opened it up carefully, like one might open a coffin. There was a picture inside, not a ratty old Polaroid but a proper glossy. It showed me and Charly on the beach. I remembered the day. We had gone to meet one of her agents, but we took a few hours to enjoy the sun and the sand. It had been one of those rare moments of normalcy for both of us. Then I turned to the paper itself.

To My Guy Friday,

I don’t even know if I can send this letter. I have sat down to write it so many times. What is there really left to say between us? Maybe, I love you. I never said that very often when I had the chance. Now that I’m gone it’s all I can think to say, but I know you, Friday. You want more, and right now you’re angry and confused, and you want to stay angry and confused. That will pass. It always did with you.

I’m not dead, obviously, but I am gone. There are things about me you will never know, things you never asked about. I was always grateful for that. More than your love I knew I had your respect and that meant something. I think you always wondered why I loved you in return, and I think because you always wondered was why I loved you. I want to say thank you. I felt something for you that I had not felt for anyone in a very long time, and maybe that’s why I had to leave.

Friday, don’t hold onto the anger. You love remembering anniversaries, but grant me one request. Don’t hold on to the day it all ended. I included a picture with this letter. It’s of that day we spent in Morocco. It was a perfect day, and if you need to hold onto an anniversary, hold onto that day. I do.

Charly XOXO

I turned the picture over in my hand. There was a date written on the back in pen with a circle around it. I could almost see her hand making the marks, writing the numbers with care.

The front door swung open and I looked up expectantly, but it wasn’t her.

“Lord in tarnation, JJ. What in the name of Hell’s boondocks happened here?” My table waitress motioned to the bleeding and unconscious Happy Strife.

I folded the letter up and tucked the new glossy and the old Polaroid inside of it. Then I gently put it all back in my breast pocket. I turned and hobbled toward the bar, leaving my broken cane where it lay. “You know how it is, Georgia. It’s just another day.”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

If you think Donald Trump is a megalomaniac with grandiose ambitions for Presidential power, than you would be right. However, he is not the first man in American history to start a political frenzy over the Presidency. You may only know the name Aaron Burr from an old “Got Milk” Commercial, or simply as the guy who shot Alexander Hamilton, but there was so much more to this complicated, brilliant, and ambitious Founding Father. Unlike Donald Trump who is usually content to write his name across whatever building he happens to own, Burr proved that he would not be satisfied till his name was written across the face of an entire country.

An Origin Story
Aaron Burr was born in the great metropolis of Newark, New Jersey in 1756. His father, Aaron Burr, Sr. was the second president of the College of New Jersey, or as you might know it these days Princeton University. His mother was the daughter of John Edwards, -no not the John Edwards that talks with ghosts- the famous theologian who was a key player in the First Great Awakening. Like most comic book protagonists, Burr found himself orphaned at the age of 2 after both his parents passed away. However, that did not stop him from getting admitted to the College of New Jersey at the age of 13 and graduating with a Bachelors of the Arts at 17. He moved to Connecticut to study law, but put that aside when fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord.

Aaron Burr tried to receive an officer’s commission in Washington’s Army, but in a trend that would continue for the rest of his life, George Washington turned him down. So instead, the 19 year old Burr enlisted with General Benedict Arnold, and his Canadian Campaign. He distinguished himself during the Battle of Quebec, and General Richard Montgomery promoted Burr to the rank of Captain. Eventually, he made his way to Manhattan where he earned a place in Washington’s Staff. During the retreat from Lower Manhattan to Harlem, it was Burr’s vigilance that saved an entire brigade of troops, including an officer named Alexander Hamilton. Despite everything though, Washington notably never put in a commendation for his bravery. By some accounts, Washington never trusted Burr. Maybe he saw the budding villainy of the man or maybe he just wasn’t very fond of Aaron Burr’s ferret-like face.

Despite the public slight by Washington he did eventually make Lieutenant Colonel and served with distinction until 1779 when declining health forced him to retire from the Continental Army. He returned to his studies of the law and was admitted to the New York bar in 1782. From there he married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow of a British officer who was 10 years his senior, and moved to New York City after the British evacuated it. He had one daughter who survived into adulthood, also named Theodosia. Burr’s wife died in 1794 from stomach cancer. In his private practice the war hero was an accomplished lawyer that commanded substantial fees for his services. By all accounts he was very generous with spending that money on lavish clothing, fine furniture, and other symbols of status and wealth. So naturally, he entered politics.

An Arch Nemesis is Born
Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed in a duel with Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804, presumably after a long winded monologue about how, “With Hamilton out of the way, the world will finally kneel before Burr.” [citation needed] Yet, as famous as the duel itself has become it is only the end of the story. Burr first served in the New York Assembly before unseating General Philip Schuyler as the Senator from New York. Incidentally, Schuyler was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, and there are some accounts that it was that election which drove the first wedge driven between the friendship of Hamilton and his would be assassin.

Yes, because like any good villain, Burr and his arch rival were first friends, or at least acquaintances. They were both from the New York area, and even though they were in opposing political parties they still had a lot in common. So it was only natural that Burr and Hamilton would have been friends, at least until Burr started making some shady deals. In 1799, Burr went to Hamilton and other New York Federalists to get their support for a badly needed water company for Manhattan, but after it was approved Burr changed the charter for the water company to a bank. The more astute of you may notice that a bank has nothing to do with supplying water to a city. Burr founded the Bank of the Manhattan Company, which was later absorbed by Chase Banking which is now part of JPMorgan Chase… you know, career super-villains. Worst of all the false water company scheme delayed the construction of an actual water company for Manhattan which was suffering from a Malaria epidemic at the time… New York problems, right?

Aaron Burr ran for President twice, first in 1796 and then again in 1800. Back then the Electoral College -the group of men that vote for the President- were hand picked by the State Assemblies. After he lost in 1796, Burr quit the Senate and went back to the New York Assembly. While back in Albany, he began to make himself a key player in New York politics, even converting the infamous Tammy Society from a social club into a political machine. So when it came time for the 1800 elections, Burr had already positioned himself as a political power-broker by not only having a hand in selecting New York’s electoral delegates, but also by controlling the political aspirations of New York politicians. One of the largest of the northern states, New York, was a key State to any one’s Presidential candidacy. It was basically what Florida or Texas are today, except with less malaria.

The Plot Thickens
Because of his political influence and his successful opposition to Hamilton and the Federalists, Thomas Jefferson knew that he needed the support of Aaron Burr to win the 1800 election. So the two men struck a deal that they would run together on the same “ticket.” The idea was that their new political party, the Democratic-Republicans, would make Jefferson President and Aaron Burr Vice-President, at least that was what Jefferson believed.

In 1800, the electoral delegates were tasked with casting two votes -instead of one as they do today- because the candidates with the most votes became President and the runner-up became Vice President. However, that leaves a lot of room for confusion. You see, there was no President vote and seperate Vice-President vote. All the votes were for the Presidency, and though it cannot be substantiated by historians, it seemed pretty obvious that Burr tried double-crossing old Tommy boy. With the power of the New York electorate and with political influence in many Northern states, Aaron Burr drummed enough support so that the election became a tie between himself and Jefferson. Each man got 73 votes. Even though most people understood that Jefferson was meant to be President and Burr Vice-President the tie still had to be decided by the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives. Most Federalists hated Jefferson. So the assumption was that the House would swing the vote toward Burr, and that is exactly what almost happened.

You need to understand that Hamilton and Jefferson were famously bitter rivals dating back to the Articles of Confederation. it was like Tom and Jerry, but Hamilton still threw his political influence behind Jefferson over Burr, convincing others to vote for Jefferson. Meanwhile Burr and William Van Ness tried vehemently to turn the election in their favor. It took 36 ballots but finally the tie was broken and Jefferson was elected President and Burr was made Vice President. After that fiasco, Jefferson -understandably- never fully trusted Burr again and kept him his as far away from the Presidential office as possible, presumably because he feared Burr might one day tie him to the railroad tracks -which didn’t exist yet. It was painfully clear that Jefferson would drop Burr as his Vice President during the 1804 election, so instead Aaron Burr tried running for the Governorship of New York. There he was embarrassingly defeated again because of Hamilton. This was the what l;ed to the duel.

‘Kneel Before Burr’
There are varying accounts of the duel and much like Han and Greedo, no one can seem to agree who shot first, or if Hamilton missed on purpose or was just a lousy shot. What is clear is that after Burr became the only sitting Vice President of the United States to kill a man -that we know of- he became wanted in New York and New Jersey. The duel was fought in Weehawken, NJ because laws were less stringent about shooting people in the Garden State. Once accused Burr fled to South Carolina, because back then murder charges did not follow you across state lines, but this was not the end of Burr’s villainy.

The accounts differ, but it seems clear that Burr went full super-villain by that time and tried to carve out a little empire for himself in the American midwest/Mexico. He enlisted the help of several prominent conspirators, including General James Wilkinson, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Army, and Andrew “freaking” Jackson. Jackson even allegedly congratulated Burr on “removing Hamilton from the political arena.” The future President and $20 bill mascot, along with the Army’s Commander-in-Chief pledged support and troops for a “military expedition” that Aaron Burr was planning. The particulars get a little fuzzy, buthe basically believed that war with Spain was inevitable and that the US Federal Government could not enforce its jurisdiction past the Appalachian Mountains. Thus, from all accounts it seemed as if the former Vice President had every intention of marching an Army into Spanish America and carving out a slice for himself.

Most notably, he expressed a belief that the Mexican people were not suited for democracy, and that it would be best if they were ruled by a king. After saying that he probably winked while pointing toward himself vigorously. Emperor Burr sent then envoys into Mexico to get a feeling for the people’s acceptance of Spanish rule and to whisper “Hail Hydra” to one another as they did it. Basically, Aaron Burr was trying to do exactly what Texas did thirty years later, except with more overtones of “King Aaron” thrown into the mix. There was even talk about taking Baton Rouge and New Orleans away from the United States.

‘Curse You, Jefferson’
Eventually, word of this got back to Thomas Jefferson who understandably issued a warrant for Burr’s arrest. James Wilkinson then got cold feet and would up turning on Burr. Jackson was similarly no where to be seen when the tides started turning, and Burr was easily arrested in March of 1807. He was brought to trial in front of Chief Justice John Marshall on charges of treason, but despite extreme pressure from the White House, Marshall ruled in favor of Burr, claiming that were was not sufficient enough evidence to convict him.

After being acquitted and flat broke Burr fled to Europe where he continued to try and drum up intentional support and backing for his American Empire idea. He even tried to get a meeting with Napoleon, but the French Emperor would not see him. His only legitimate daughter, Theodosia, then died in the winter 1812-1813 aboard the schooner Patriot. She was either shipwrecked or killed by pirates, which admittedly are pretty bad-ass ways to go, but Burr was devastated by the loss. He returned to the United States -having been acquitted of that pesky murder charge- and resumed practicing law. He married a rich widow, she divorced him for blowing her money on land speculation, and he died due to complications of a stroke in 1836.

And, that is the story of one of America’s most notorious Founding Father. So, just remember, whatever you think of this year’s election at least Donald Trump hasn’t tried invading Mexico… yet…

The backdoor latches with a heavy click, reinforced steel with a tritium lining, triple locked, durable enough to hold off any villain or hero who might try getting in. My breath comes in gasps but I don’t care. I feel alive, maybe for the first time in my life. Mom and dad never understood, neither did my teachers or even the professors I now have at the college. When I came out to the city my parents said I would find friends, people like me, and that I would find my place in the world. It was probably the only thing they had ever been right about in my entire life.

I move to wipe the sweat from my face only to discover that the mask is still there. Quickly I rip it off before anyone can see. It is a crude black and white thing with wingtips on either side, but it’s only a start. When I get more money, I’ll be able to afford something better, something sexier. Maybe leather or Kevlar, maybe I’ll even try it without a mask. Yeah, I could paint my face and style my hair, white with black tips. I fumble for the small notepad I keep in my pocket so I can jot down the idea for alterations. How amazing would that look?

A tapping makes me jump, but I realize I am alone in the back room of Friday’s Bar. I move quickly to the window, or what used to be the window. Now it is just a large metal slat with double locks. I quickly undo them and slide it up to find my friend, Icarus.

The small black and white seagull is jerking his head back and forth, looking as paranoid as I suddenly feel. When he sees me he perks up, happy to see his master. I raised the bird and his brothers and sisters from eggs. I have been teaching them how to follow orders and now they are almost ready. I am almost ready. I can taste the anticipation, the bitter sweetness of power.

Soon Gill Laridae will only be a name on paper and the people of Titan City will come to know me and fear me by my true name, The Seaguller. My winged minions will spread across the city like a cancer, doing my bidding and enacting revenge against those who ever laughed or ridiculed me.

Icarus squawks as he drops a ring of keys on the windowsill. They land with a metallic clunk and I snatch them up to examine my latest prize. They look to belong to a luxury sedan, complete with one of those new electronic sensors. Idly, I again picture the poor idiot who was stupid enough to leave the keys to his expensive car just lying around. He put them down on the park bench, just for a moment as he readjusted his latte, just long enough for an unnoticed angel of villainy to come swooping down to snatch them up.

No one ever notices seagulls. They are everywhere, especially near the wharf district. Most people think they are a nuisance, flying pests with wings, but that is where they are mistaken. For it is the unseen, the unnoticed, and the ridiculed, who often have the last laugh. Seagulls are scavengers and survivors. They adapted when stronger birds of prey failed to do so and now their numbers are plentiful, while the eagle and the hawk are endangered. Yes, ignore them at your peril, Titan City, for your doom will one day come from the sky, and that day is drawing near.

“Gill, is that you, sugah?” I hear Georgia’s voice come from the other side of the swinging door. I stuff the mask, notepad and keys into my jacket, and before she comes through I shoo away Icarus, slamming the window shut behind my loyal minion. When she finally walks in all she finds is me taking off my jacket to replace it with the old and soiled apron that I have come to both love and loathe.

“I thought that was you, honey, what is all the racket going on back here?” Georgia Atlanta is as beautiful in a ratty old concert t-shirt and jeans as she ever was in the assassin’s leather she had worn in younger days. Her hair, tied up in haste, is spilling out of the rubber band she used to secure it. Her eyes are a deep blue, like the nighttime sky. I just want to sit underneath them and gaze up for the rest of my life.

“I was just… just trying to find my…” I reach for a nearby tray and drop it with an obnoxious bang. I hate being such a klutz, especially in front of her. I don’t know if I should reach down to grab it or stand there coolly as if nothing happened, so instead I freeze in a half crouching posture that just makes it look I’m waiting for a proctology exam. Stupid, Gill.

Georgia just laughs, like the light tingling of a bell in summer. The sound makes me want to laugh and hide my head all at the same time. “It’s alright, sugah. I’ll tell JJ you’re here. You just come on out when you’re nice and ready.” The door swings shut behind her and I realize my pulse is racing, even faster than it had in the park that morning. Again, I relive the moment as I sat perched above my unsuspecting victim, like a god staring down at an ant. I wish Georgia could have seen me then, I was powerful and unafraid.

I couldn’t tell her though. Maybe I never could. There was too much risk of JJ finding out, and that would ruin everything. I admire JJ, I really do, but he has grown soft in his old age. He forgot what it means to be a true villain, to be a super-villain.

The backroom of Friday’s Bar is an old kitchen. Whatever had existed before JJ bought the place used to serve food along with their drinks, but whenever anyone suggested reopening it JJ only grumbled that he was, too old to learn how to cook and there was no reason to ruin a good drink with rotten food. That was his philosophy on most things, if it ain’t broke then he saw no reason to try and fix it.

He was so stuck in his ways he could never see the potential in anything. Sometimes I wonder how he ever became a villain in the first place. At least this time his stubbornness suites my purposes.

I pull open the door to the old walk in freezer to find the box, labeled “Fresh Tomatoes,” buried under all the rest. Underneath that old corrugated lid is my own special place. First, I pull out my scrapbook, a rust color leather bound keepsake. My grandmother had given it to me many years ago thinking I would use it for card collecting or whatever it is old people expect young people to do. I found a use for it, just not the one my Nana ever expected.

Newspaper clippings and a smattering of old and new photos line every page, “Doctor Mentor Escapes From Authorities;” “The Atomic Clock Holds City in Grip of Panic;” “Mandroid Terrorizes Mayoral Elections;” “The Crimson Shark Raises Ancient Creature: Shipping Drop by 5%;” along with a hundred other keepsakes. I can’t help but rifle through the pages, my fingers knowing the way instinctively, until I find the old picture of Joe Friday. The black and white shot shows a young JJ defiantly being led away by police. Next to it is a picture of an old wanted poster for Southern Bedlam, “Wanted for questioning by the US Government on charges of treason, murder, counterfeiting, and identity theft.” Her face is younger and sterner, but no prettier than the one I see almost everyday.

Reluctantly, I close the worn cover of the book and set it aside. I quickly glance at my phone and curse my idiocy. I am late for the start of my shift. I toss the stolen car keys in a pile with a dozen or so others that I have acquired over the last few weeks and close the lid. I shut the freezer door with a thud, sealing the small space with all my prized possessions inside.

Within minutes I am out in the bar, refilling the ice, restocking beer bottles, and cleaning the tap lines. It isn’t exactly a glamorous job, but there are perks. I get to work with living legends, men and women I have admired since the first time I watched a live a standoff on the news. I can still remember it.

Sitting in the living room with my parents, it was close to my bed time. I begged my mother to let me stay up and for once she relented. It was on every news channel. The Scarlet Flacon was standing toe to toe with Holocaust, the baddest of the bad versus the strongest hero alive, in the heart of Paradigm City. News cameras and helicopters were everywhere. They caught every blow, and every hamfisted line Scarlet Falcon could spew. My parents ate it up, cheering for the moron in the red and white cape. I, on the other hand, could not tear my gaze away from his nemesis.

Holocaust was a creature of living and breathing eternal hellfire. Dark flames spewing from gleaming obsidian armor. Where Scarlet Falcon wore a ragged and limp piece of cloth on his back, Holocaust’s wore a mantle of pure death, a cloak so black it sucked in all light around it. As long as I live I will never forget that cape or its owner. He radiated power, and when he spoke in his deep and rumbling voice, the very foundations of the buildings shook around him. People cowered in fear from his burning gaze, and no one doubted him or pushed him around, even Scarlet Falcon, not for a moment.

That was when I knew what I wanted. That was when I knew what I was, what I wanted to be. Of course, Scarlet Falcon won in the end, but even in defeat Holocaust was still the better of the two. Losing did nothing to diminish his power or the respect that people showed him. Even as they struggled to arrest the barely conscious super-villain the police gave him a wide berth, showing deference  to his power.

“You, niño.” The voice makes me stop what I am doing, a full garbage bag forgotten in its pail as I turn a half circle. The bar is dead except for a few regulars, Quiz Master, Mayday Mayhem, and the Green Beret are sitting at the far end of the bar. None of them even look in my direction. No, the voice comes from someone a lot closer.

A man dressed in unmistakable reds and blacks is staring at me with intense eyes behind a dark mask. His hair is greased back, as sharp as his Latin smile.

“El CaMeano,” I say with more awe and reverence than I meant to show. I approach his table and his eyes follow me.

“What is your name, niño?” He looks as if he is staring through me, seeing something that no one else can see.

“Gill,” I say after I get past the lump in my throat.

“No, niño.” He shakes his head like a knowing father. “What is your true nombre? Your true name?”

I look around afraid of who might be watching. Georgia is talking with the Liger, while JJ and Ed are no where to be seen. Still, I hesitate.

“Niño,” says El CaMeano, drawing my attention back to the older gentleman. “You know who I am. You know my powers.” It is not a question. It never is for a mind-reader like El CaMeano. “Your name?”

“The Seaguller.” I say it soft and quickly, ashamed at myself for being ashamed of saying it.

“Again. Louder, and with pride.”

“I am… I am the Seaguller,” I say and something changes inside of me. I can feel it, and it is like something I never felt before. Something true and real. Once again, I am perched on high, gazing down at my prey on his park bench. If he knew I was there, he would cower at the thought. I could pluck his life, his happiness, like a fish from the sea, but I hold back. I restrain myself, because it is not his life I need only his respect, his fear. All those who oppose me will rue the day they ever crossed my gaze.

“It is confidence, Hombre de Las Gaviotas. Wear your name proud, no matter what else anyone may think.” He inclines his head toward the bar just as JJ hobbles from the back room. He has a box in his hands, labeled “Fresh Tomatoes.” I recognize it instantly and curse under my own breath. I had been in such a rush that I forgot to hide the box back under the stack.

I know I should have left my keepsakes in my dorm room at the college, but my roommate, Jeremy, was always snooping around looking for snacks or weed or whatever. Also campus security has been watching me like hawk ever since I almost burned down the engineering building. Apparently, the college frowns on building death rays for your senior seminar project.

“Gill,” JJ’s voice leaves no room for doubt about what he found inside the old walk-in freezer. “What is this?” Everyone in the bar stops and watches. I want to slink off, bury my head in my pillow, but I don’t. The only eyes I really feel on me are those of El CaMeano, so I raise my shoulders and walk toward JJ, his mustache ruffled in the way it gets when he is angry at a customer.

“Fresh tomatoes?” I offer, but only Quiz Master laughs at the joke. JJ is not in the mood.

“This,” JJ holds up the red leather scrapbook.

“It’s mine. It’s personal.”

“It’s garbage.” He yells and before I can stop him he throws it into the trashcan I had been moments away from emptying. “You know how I feel about this obsession of yours.”

“Who cares what…” I say it softly, trailing off at the end. JJ has this way of making me nervous like no one else I know.

“What did you say?”

“I said, who cares what you think. You’re not my father.”

“If I was I would rap you upside the head to try and knock some damn sense in you, boy.” For a moment he looks like he might just hit me but then the look passes and he relaxes his hand. “What am I going to do with you?”

“How about leave me alone.” I start to walk off, but he slams his hand down hard on the bar with a metallic thud. Stolen car keys scatter across the polished wood like water down the back of a seabird.

“And how do you explain these?” This time I am almost certain he will hit me. His normally placid face is turning red and his lip is starting to twitch.

“What is this? What are these/You little piss, you stole my keys.” Quiz Master is up from his bar stool and scoops up a set of keys with a small purple keychain in the shape of a question mark. “I looked for a week, I looked low and high/You damn little geek, so now you die.” He raises his quiz staff, the weapon expanding in his hand, but JJ is quicker.

Quiz Master goes flying off his feet as JJ’s fist connects with his face. The man stumbles over his stool and crashes unceremoniously to the ground. His cheap sports coat opens up and a few puzzle games scatter over the dirty barroom floor. He never gets a chance to get back up, because Georgia is there now, and Quiz Master quickly finds himself in a vice grip of a head lock.

“You have your keys back, Quizzy,” says JJ. “So as a responsible bartender I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be drinking and driving, but right now you better get the hell out of this bar.”

Georgia finally lets go of Quiz Master, and the man breaks away with a harrumph. “I will not be treated this way, not by you/I will bid you good day, and adieu.” Ed holds open the front door and Quiz Master marches right by, as if he didn’t even notice him.

Suddenly, everyone else in the bar has something better to do. Each goes back to sipping their drinks or looking anywhere else but at JJ. Unfortunately, I do not have that option. Now the old man’s gaze locks firmly on me, and I try not to panic.

“JJ… I… I…” Any confidence I had before is now gone.

“How many times, do I have to tell you. This is going to get you killed.” His voice is surprisingly gentle. “Gill, you can’t see where this road leads, but I do.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out my makeshift black and white mask. “I found this in you jacket.”

“You went snooping?”

“Its a good thing I did. How long has this been going on?” His fist tightens around the cloth mask as if he is trying to strangle the life out of it with his powerful hands.

I don’t know what to say. So I just stand in silence, lost somewhere between shame, anger, and fear.

“Tell me.” The heat is starting to return to his voice.

“A couple weeks.”

“A couple weeks! You have been working under my roof and moonlighting as a costumed villain on the side?”

“It’s only the mask. I only have a mask.”

“Boy, don’t you know that’s all it takes to get shot or vaporized.” He takes a visible breath before continuing. “Gill, you’re in college for heaven’s sake. You’re going to graduate next year with a degree in engineering. Your life is on the right path. Why the hell do you want to go and throw it away now?”

“What if that’s not the path for me? What if I was meant to do something more, be something more?” I don’t know how to make him understand. I don’t even know why I try so hard in the first place.

“Like what, Gill? Something more, like what?”

“Like Holocaust, or even Quiz Master, or like you…”

“Damnit, boy. Holocaust is dead. Quiz Master is a two-but loser with an inconsistent rhyme scheme, and I’m… I’m not someone you should ever try to be like. What is it going to take to get that through your thick skull.” He taps my head with his meaty finger.

“Are you going to fire me?”

“I should. I should call the police and have you arrested. Maybe that will put the fear of God or Eternal Vigilance in you.”

“You… you aren’t really going to do that, are you?” I feel weak in the knees. I can’t go to prison. My parents would kill me. My seagulls would die without me there to feed them. I would get kicked out of school. My villainous plans would unravel before they even began…

“No,” he says after a moment. I must have gone pale because he reaches over to the faucet and pours me a glass of water. “No, I’m not going to do that. You just stole some car keys. It’s not like you even stole the cars. By the way, what the hell kind of plot is that?”

“I don’t know what to do with a stolen car.” I say after finishing my water.

“That’s because your a good kid at heart. I know it. You just need to realize that too,” JJ steps back and I feel as if I can breathe again, “but there needs to be consequences to this. I’m docking your pay for the day and I’m suspending you from work for the rest of the week.”

“The rest of… of the week?” I stutter. “But I like working here.”

“I know, but I think you need a break from this place, from everything. Go home, Gill.” JJ hobbles around the bar and picks up Quiz Master’s fallen stool. “We can get along without you for a few days.”

“But where do I go? What do I do?”

“Go to the library. Go study. Use your damn brains for something other than scheming.

I don’t know what else to do. Georgia is watching me. I can’t read her expression but in her eyes I see pity. She pities me and that make me more angry than anything else. How dare she pity me. I am the… Maybe I am just Gill Laridae, college student. All I want to do is go back to my room and sleep for days. Hopefully Jeremy is not high again.

It takes a few moments to gather up my coat, but soon enough I am once again in the slanting sunlight of an autumn day in Titan City. I get to the end of the alley and let my back slide down the nearest wall. I always promise myself I won’t cry, but a few tears still leak out, and it is through my wet and watery gaze that I see him.

Icarus is sitting perched on a nearby dumpster, cooing to me. Reluctantly, I get up and walk over to my friend, and beside him I find my scrapbook. “How did you…? What did you…?” I ask the bird as if I expect him to answer me.

I run my fingers across the rough leather cover. It is still wet from discarded beer and peanut shells are stuck to one corner. I brush them off and open the book. On the first page there is a note written in a stylish handscript. The ends of each word flare off like fire burning toward the night sky.

“We all have días malos, every now and then. Never forget your true name, Hombre de Las Gaviotas. Never forget.” It was not signed, but it was obvious who the note was from. He must’ve fished the scrapbook from the trash when no one was looking.

I looked down at Icarus and smile. “Come on, we need to go shopping.”

The bird squawks a question at me. “I’m not sure, maybe leather this time, and how do you feel about capes?”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

“I don’t know,” said the big doorman. “Are you sure you’re a villain?” he squinted, his face bent down to scrutinize me.

“I am wearing a mask,” I said pointing to the black domino mask on my face, “and I have this black trench-coat and hat.”

“JJ gets mad when I let the wrong people in, and I don’t know you?” The giant muscular man leaned back and scrunched up his forehead, looking more and more like one of my students at the community college after a particularly hard question.

“Well, would a superhero be carrying one of these?” My hand plunged into the depths of my coat, as a chill shot up my arm. It was always the same sensation, but putting your appendage into a limitless pocket dimension was bound to have some side effects.

When I pulled my hand back I was clutching a raccoon by the tail. It was swinging frantically, hissing and spitting. “Damnit, how do these things always manage to get in…” The rest of my words were cut off by my scream as the creature bit me square on the wrist. I dropped the animal and it scurried off down the alley. My magic pockets allows me to find almost anything imaginable inside my coat. Unfortunately, I am never quite sure what will come out.

The man named Edward laughed. “You’re funny. Okay, you can go in.”

I clutched my wrist. It was not the first time I’d been bitten by something from my pockets and it probably wouldn’t be the last. My name is The Answer and, despite what I told the mound of muscle guarding the door, I am a superhero. I just needed to get inside Friday’s Bar if I had any hope of finding what I was looking for.

The door banged open to a dim and dingy drinking establishment. There was a faint odor of something musky. I would not have called it dark, it was better lit than some places I have been, but with all the wood paneling, small windows, and burnt green trimming Friday’s radiated a certain claustrophobic feeling. Of course, the sensation wasn’t helped by knowing that the walls were probably lined in lead, tritium, and a whole slew of other materials meant to render the place near invulnerable and undetectable by any passing hero with super sight, hearing, smelling, or even telepathy. Not that the place was exactly a secret in the superhero community, but it was also not the kind of bar any one hero stumbled into blindly, well unless you had some kind of death wish.

I coughed as a cloud of smoke wafted into my face but I couldn’t be sure if it was from a cigarette or just fumes rising off of Monsieur Blight. Pollution centered villains were always some of the most inconsiderate people, especially when they were French. A mustached man stood behind the bar filling glasses from a tap. He was talking to a guy dressed as a crocodile, whom I didn’t recognize. The bartender, on the other hand, had to be Joe Friday, a B-list villain from the old days. I had read about some of his crimes in the archived news database at the public library.

“Take a seat wherever ya find one, sugah,” said the shapely bar maid as she passed me with a tray full of beer and bubbling drinks. I realized I was standing in the middle of the room and people were starting to notice. I retreated to a table in the far corner and opened a tab with a credit card that only took an impressive two tries for me to fish from my coat pocket. It wasn’t mine but it seemed to work all the same. The beer was tasteless, but passable so I settled in for a long stakeout.

Despite it only being mid-day Friday’s was crowded. I saw a few familiar faces, Friar Freeze, Dr. Zirconium, The Marginalizer, Band Stand, Womanslaughter, as well a half-dozen or so I couldn’t name. Thankfully, I had never had any direct conflict with any of them so there was little danger of being identified. It was just one of the benefits of being a relatively unknown hero who doesn’t have his own social media following. Half-Life or Ionic Storm could never just waltz into a bar and go unnoticed. The latter especially. He had more than 1.2 million followers, but then again he had always been addicted to the limelight.

I was nursing my second drink about an hour later when the front door swung open to reveal a man made of metal and flesh, covered in a garish yellow and maroon costume. A small robot assistant floated next to him. I had to pull my hat down over my eyes and slump back into the shadows before he looked my way. Mandroid and I had a history. I once hit him with a bucket of paint during a bank robbery, and he’s never let it go.

Thankfully the man had always been more than oblivious. As he walked past, blathering on to the ball-shaped robot that hovered alongside him, he never once glanced my way. I watched as he took a bar stool and started regaling those around him with a story about the time he nearly convinced the city to replace all the police with robots, which he had created through a shell corporation.

The story was before my time, but I knew it all the same, just as I knew he was conveniently omitting the part where he spent three hours cowering in a dumpster before the police found him. I almost chimed in to remind him, but then the door opened again and in walked Quetzalcoatl. If I hadn’t already been trying to hide my face he would have spotted me. Dressed in snake skin and feathers he strolled into Friday’s surveying it with a hawk-like stare. Unlike Mandroid there was no talk or foolish bravado. He simply took a booth in the far corner and ordered a steaming drink of something I couldn’t identify.

One of the most powerful villains I had ever faced, old Quet was an expert on ancient magic, and I had the bruises to prove it. He stole an artifact from the Coeus Museum of Antiquities. I would have stopped him in the act, but instead of pulling out a rocket launcher I instead pulled out an old shoe. When I finally woke up from my daze there were police lights blaring through the window and I thought it best not be caught at the scene of a crime. So I fled.

The trail went cold until one of my contacts told me that Quet enjoyed the mage’s brew on Wednesdays at Friday’s Bar, but now that I was faced with the villain himself I wasn’t quite sure of my next move. In truth, I was beginning to question why I had come at all. What was I going to do, fight him right then and there? I was surrounded by more costumed weirdos than a Halloween party, and none of them would hesitate to put me in the ground.

Panic began to well up inside. It was only a matter of time before his bronze-aged gaze found me. I reached into my pocket, as deep as I could. Half my arm disappeared before pulling out a rubber ducky, then a can of hairspray, a flash bulb, a kitchen knife, and then finally a rubber mask. It was the kind of scary molded-head mask that you would find in a bad monster movie, but I didn’t hesitate. Taking off my hat I yanked the sweaty rubber facade over my face. It was surprisingly snug, and I could even continue to drink my beer through the small mouth hole.

No one in the bar looked at me twice. I even watched the gaze of the Mesoamerican sorcerer pass right by. I breathed a sigh of relief, or at least as much of a breath as I could exhale inside the suffocating and bad-smelling mask. The eye holes limited my vision but I could see well enough to keep my attention on Quet. He was nursing his steaming drink while examining something small in his hands. I couldn’t make it out, but I bet dollars to dinosaur fossils that it was the Coatlicue Statue.

A small headless wood carving that was made to resemble the Aztec’s mother goddess, the statue was said to hold the power to control the moon. More practically, and after some research, it seemed more plausible that the artifact actually harnessed lunar light for a variety of uses, all of which in Quetzalcoatl’s hands would be nefarious. The man had enough natural magic at his disposal, but he was always looking for more. Both as a hero and an adjunct professor of archaeology -and sometimes freshman history 101- I knew I had to stop him, but how?

After my third beer I resolved to wait till he he left Friday’s Bar and was well away from the other villains that populated it. Unfortunately, by my fourth beer I had lost my nerve again, and by my fifth beer I realized that not only was my mask beginning to chafe, but that my quarry had no intention of leaving till was it dark, till he could use the statue for whatever plot he had cooked up in his feathered-serpentine head. That meant if I waited, it could be too late. He’d be able to use the artifact.

While drinking my sixth beer, I started watching Mandroid talk up a C-list villainess called Honey Badger, and the beginnings of a plan started to come together. Quet was busy tinkering with the statue, his drink barely touched. The big guy at the door, Edward, was staring at his hands as if trying to understand how such meaty paws could ever have come to be. The southern waitress was chatting up a sharp smiling wolfman in a dark red suit. JJ, was pouring out drinks and the kid he had running around cleaning tables had disappeared out the side door. No one was paying attention to me. It was then or never.

I pictured the object I was trying to find in my mind, it doesn’t always work, but sometimes I could control what I pulled from my coat. I reached into the pocket, the tingling sensations making the hairs on my arm stand straight up. It was a long moment before I came back with a hissing, snapping snake, and for once I had the creature’s head. It could do nothing to bite me, even as I released it onto the ground. The five foot snake quietly slipped from my jacket, slithering its way across the floor.

Honey Badger was the first to see the creature, and she lost it. In her mad dash to stomp it dead Mandroid went flailing backward landing awkwardly in the lap of Jacqueline Ripper, the British hitwoman. She was not happy with the man who was suddenly looking up at her from her thighs, and she expressed that anger by doing her damn best to try and rip his appendages free from his torso.

I stood up and “accidentally,” bumped into Honey Badger as she was trying to stomp out the now frantic serpent. She tripped into the southern speaking waitress who dumped her tray onto Dr. Zirconium. Dr. Zee never being one for level headed discussion started swinging. “The snake came from that guy,” I yelled while trying to disguise my voice and pointing at Quet.

By that time the bar was quickly breaking down into disarray as three separate melees erupted around the room. Tables were overturned, beer bottles were broken, a laser blast exploded against the back wall, doing surprisingly little damage, and for some reason a few of the patrons were being pinned to the ceiling by, what I could only guess, was telekinesis or magic. I caught a glimpse of Friar Freeze trying to ice over the giant bouncer, which proved to be a mistake on his part. Amid all the confusion, I made my way to Quetzalcoatl. He was engaged in a shouting match with Band Stand, well at least Quet was shouting. The other man was blaring a trumpet at him.

My mask felt like a sauna. I don’t know how heroes who wear helmets or full face coverings could do it all day. I was barely able to see in the confusion and I wanted nothing more than to rip it off, but I resisted. Then I saw it, the Coatlicue Statue. It was just sitting on the table, forgotten in the heat of the yelling/trumpet argument that was going on not more than two feet away. All I had to do was reach out and grab it.

A hand with the surprising strength of a vice grip locked around my wrist as I started for the artifact. When it spun me around I was face to face with none other than Joe Friday himself. Despite his age and his walking cane, I worried for a moment that he was going to break my arm with his bare hands, but I was wrong. The next thing I knew he was dragging me out the side door, my back slamming against the alley wall.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, boy?” Before I could respond he ripped the mask from my head. “Do you think I am blind, dumb, or just senile?”

“I… don’t…” I felt at a loss for words. It was like I had become one of my students that had been caught cheating, and I felt just as guilty.

“It was a rhetorical question.” JJ finally let go of my wrist and hobbled back a few steps, his cane clicking on the uneven pavement. “It’s always the same. You upstart young heroes come wandering into my bar looking for the evil Dr. So-And-So or your sworn arch-nemesis or whatever, but more than not I am the one that has to pull your butts out of trouble, or scrape your remains off the wall. This isn’t some fool game, you know, and you’re not the first masked moron to try something like this. Those men and women in there will kill you if they find out who you are, absurd mask or not.”

“Wait. You run a bar for villains and you’re going to lecture me?” I said finding some of my courage.

JJ looked me dead in the eye. “That lot is full of thieves, murderers, psychopaths, and would be tinpot-dictators, but everyone needs a place where they feel accepted, where they can be themselves. Can you imagine what would happen to this city if they didn’t have this place? How much worse would things be if the men and women in there, some with powers that could level a city block, didn’t have a place where they could unwind?”

“So you’re doing a civil service?” I said rubbing my wrist.

“Hell no. I’m trying to run a business, son. Saving your sorry hide is my only good deed for the day, but didn’t it ever occur to you why my joint is allowed to stay open?” As he spoke Edward emerged from the door behind him and tossed out two men dressed in matching crisscross patterned outfits. The owner of Friday’s Bar never once looked back, he kept his gaze on me.

“I guess I never really considered it.” I put my eyes down, suddenly feeling as if the man towered over me, even though he was more than a foot shorter.

“I pay the cops to stay away. I scare the mafia off, but groups like Eternal Vigilance and other heroes usually know enough to let me run my bar in peace, because they know it does more good than harm. That little riot you started in there, could you imagine if that was happening right now in the Iron Sides district, or at the corner of Apollo and 4th? They’d be ripping up half of downtown. My bar can take it and no innocent bystander has to get hurt.”

“If you care about innocents than you would have let me get that statue back from Quetzalcoatl. He’s going to use it tonight and a lot of people are going to get hurt. I have to stop him.”

The old man’s mouth was a hard-set line. He watched me for another moment before muttering “Wait here.” With an uneven gait he disappeared back into the bar, the sound of the fray momentarily escaping the sealed environment of the bar before the door slammed shut again.

I was unsure of what to do. Part of my mind was screaming at me to run for my life. The game was up. It was the part of me that was certain that JJ was about to come back with a brute squad of villains, all more powerful than me and my magic coat by any stretch of the imagination. Still, I couldn’t move. The old man had an authority about him. A strange power to inspire and simultaneously make me feel like a five-year old boy again. So I waited, because what else could I have done?

The door swung open and JJ hobbled out. The faint odor of sulfur followed him, but the bar fight sounded like it was quieting down. “Here.” He handed over my hat and inside it was the small wooden Coatlicue Statue. “I got your Mayan whats-it.”

“Actually it’s Aztec,” I said, but trailed off as he gave me another look. “I mean, thank you. How did you get it?”

“That wizard of a snake-bird hasn’t paid his bar tab in a few weeks. I gave him two choices. He either handed over the Mayan thing… excuse me, the Aztec thing as payment, or he’d be banned from the bar. He chose the first option, they usually do.

I took the statue out of the hat along with a small paper card. “And what’s this?”

“It’s my number. The next time you plan on doing something this stupid just call first, like the other heroes do, and maybe we can avoid more unpleasantness.” He put a thumb back toward the bar just as Jacqueline Ripper came running out, blood streaming from a broken nose.

The southern waitress watched her as she ran. “Yeah you best be gettin’ gone, ya hear?”

“Sorry about that.” My eyes fell to the pavement.

JJ waved his hands as if to say forget it. “Like I said, my bar is built to take it, and Edward will have them calmed down soon enough. That’s why I pay him, but it would be best if you don’t show your face around here again, understood?”

I nodded, unsure of what to say.

Finally, JJ turned back to his bar and walked slowly toward the door as if it was just another day for him. Maybe it was. I have to admit I went in not knowing what to expect, but I don’t think I could ever have expected what I found in Joe Friday. I tucked the statue close to my body and headed out down the alley to find the first bus to the museum.

As I walked, I looked again at the small white card he had handed me before slipping it into my pocket, not my magic one, but my ordinary pants’ pocket. Something told me this was a number I was going to want to have handy.


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

The small beams of light tickle as they hit me. I laugh, but the little man just keeps pointing his gun and firing like it’s going to do something. When I reach him, that’s when the fun begins. I grab the small space weapon and I feel it crunch under my fist along with his fingers.

I let go. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I never want to hurt anyone, but I always do. It’s just part of being who I am. You get used to it, I guess, but the guy just keeps crying and screaming about his broken hand. The rest of the bar is starting to look now and the tiny man is on his knees begging me not to kill him.

I don’t do that, at least not anymore.

I reach down and pick him up by his silvery backpack and toss him through the front door of the bar. I wouldn’t want JJ getting mad for annoying his other customers. Of course, JJ never gets mad at me. He just gets disappointed, and that’s always worse.

I walk outside and the spaceman is slumped up against the wall of the building across the alley. I hadn’t meant to throw him that hard. He doesn’t look like he’s moving.

I bend down next to him and I hear the door open behind me. “Leave him, sugah. He’ll be fine.”

“He’s not moving,” I say in that lumbering way that seems too slow, even to myself.

Georgia kneels down next to me. When she leans forward to unhook the man’s space helmet, I notice I can see down the front part of her shirt. I look away. I don’t want to be rude.

“He’s only stunned,” says Georgia. She has her fingers on the man’s neck. “He’s still breathing.” She stands up. “For heaven’s sake, Edward, you got to learn to worry less about good-for-nothing-scum like Retro Rocket, here. He deserves a lot worse than this.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt him…” I say, feeling frustrated.

“Don’t give me none of that bull. You used to run for the Atello crime family. I’m sure you hurt plenty of people worse than this back in the bygone days.”

“That was a long time ago. I was just doing what I was told to do.”

“Oh, now there, there, don’t get all defensive,” she pats me on the shoulder like a child, but it does feel nice. “I only meant we’ve all done things in the past we regret. Trust me I got enough regrets to fill a grain silo the size of Arkansas. Now, come back inside, sugah.”

I look back at the spaceman.

“He’ll be fine,” she leads me back into the bar by the hand. “He just needs to sleep it off.”

Georgia was right, because when I went out later to check on him, he was gone. He must have flown off using that stupid jetpack of his. She was always right, and she was always nice to me. I like Georgia, but she didn’t seem to like that spaceman. After we went back inside the bar, she said something about how he liked small boys a bit too much. That seemed strange to me. I mean, I like boys and girls and puppies, though they tend to not like me. I guess I am kind of scary looking.

Georgia was right about something else too. I did used to hurt people, a lot. That was when they called me Two-Ton. I hate that name, but my brother gave it to me. Well, he wasn’t really my brother but we grew up together in the orphanage. We stuck together because we were both born “different.” His real name was Carlos, but most people called him Stone, on account he could turn his body to rock.

Carlos was the smart one. He watched out for me, and told me what to do. We made a group together, that we called The Heavies. We worked for a lot of people and did a lot of bad things, but Carlos always said it was for the best. “We were just earning a living,” he’d tell me, but then he up and died. So, I had to go to work for the Atello family.

Mr. Atello -he liked it when people called him Don but that wasn’t his name- said Carlos was killed by a rival crime family because he was late. At the time I didn’t know what he meant, because I was always late to get to places, and Carlos was always the one waiting on me. I’m very slow. I understood later that Mr. Atello meant Carlos had been killed because he owed some very bad people a lot of money.

So, with my brother gone I had nowhere to go. Mr. Atello gave me a job, but it wasn’t like working with Carlos. The Atelloes didn’t treat me nicely at all. They always called me names, just like the kids in the orphanage used to do. They always wanted me to hurt people too, even to kill people. I did it, but I didn’t like it. Mr. Atello’s favorite was when he had me squeeze people till they didn’t move anymore.

It was the only life I knew till I met JJ. The Atello family wanted him to pay something called protection, for his bar, but JJ refused. Mr. Atello said I needed to teach him a lesson, but it was JJ who taught me the lesson. He showed me a better way. I know it sounds kind of sappy, but it’s true. Then he offered me a job. I still have to hurt people sometimes, but usually they deserve it.

I always thought that it’s kind of funny how you get reminded of a thing and then it keeps popping up over and over again in one day. It was like the time when I was telling JJ how much I liked peanut butter and on that same day I found half a peanut butter sandwich waiting for me in the backroom. JJ called it good luck, but today it wasn’t good at all. It was bad, very bad luck.

It happened when I was outside checking people waiting to get into the bar. I have a list of people I am supposed to watch out for. Most of the time I am looking for any villains that have been banned by JJ, but sometimes I have to make sure no one is a superhero or some kind of cop. JJ says letting them in will make the customers nervous, “and when these customers get nervous that’s when things go bad,” but I’ve messed up a few times. I’m fine with admitting that.

One time I let this gumshoe in because he was dressed up like a giant honey bee with a mask. He started taking pictures for some court case, and when the other customers figured out who he was, they almost killed him. I was able to stop them, but not before they had beat him up bad. I had to carry him to the hospital and leave him in the emergency room. I felt bad about just leaving him, but JJ said it was for the best.

Now the list JJ gives me has pictures of the people I am not supposed to let in. It helps. A lot of people try to disguise themselves to look like something else, but I’m really good at recognizing faces. I hardly ever let the wrong people in these days.

One of those people I’m not supposed to let in is Antonio “The Painter,” Atello. He’s Mr. Atello’s son and he’s a certifiable psychopath. Someone once told me they call him Painter because he likes to paint walls red.

“Well if it isn’t Too-Dumb,” says Painter as he walks up to the door. The two men standing behind him in suits start laughing as if it is the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I hate that name even more than Two-Ton.

“I’m not supposed to let you in. JJ wouldn’t like it.”

“Forget that old has-been, Eddie. I’ve come to talk to you. My old man’s not feeling too well these days, you know.”

“Mr. Atello is sick?”

“Not sick enough,” says Painter. “I’m next in line to take over the family business…”

“Not if Vinnie the Octopus has anything to say about it,” says one of the men behind him.

“Would ya shut-up,” says Painter. It looks like he is going to hit the man, but instead he puts his arm around me, well as much as he can reach. “Listen, Eddie, I know you and me haven’t always been pals, but I could use a man like you in my new operation. You have a particular set of talents that I always valued. Who knows you might even become a made-man one day, if you play your cards right.”

“I work for JJ now,” I say proud of my new job, but Painter stills make me nervous. Most people call him unpredictable. Sometimes he’d be your best pal, then sometimes he’d be your worst nightmare. You never knew what mood he was going to be in.

“C’mon, it’ll be just you and me, Eddie, all the way to the top, once my old man is out of the picture. In fact, I was hoping you could help with that too. Dear old dad isn’t feeling quite himself, but the doctors say there is a chance he might recover. Now if a certain old disgruntled ex-employee were to pick this moment to exact his revenge…” he put his finger to my chest. “Such an occurrence might all but ensure my place at the top. Once I’m there, I’ll make sure you’ll be there right with me. I promise.”

“I’m done with that kind of work. I don’t hurt people like that anymore…”

“Suddenly you’re going soft on me? Who cares about the old man? Think about it, Eddie, my father’s not a very nice person. He deserves this. Then it’ll be just you and me.”

I hesitate. “I don’t know, Painter…”

“I thought I told you never to come around here.” The door to the bar swings shut and JJ is standing there looking angry. He’s using his cane today because he said the cold weather was making his leg stiffen up.

“Beat it, pops.” Painter laughs. “This is between me and my old friend, here.”

“Edward, I need your help bringing a new keg out from back. Gill broke the handcart again.” JJ looks at me as if he expects me to come inside with him.

I start to move, but Painter puts his arm in front of me. I obediently stop and put my head down. I can’t look at JJ.

“You want to spend the rest of your life working as some sort of glorified doorman in a dive bar that caters to lunatics in costumes or do you want to make something of yourself.” He rubs his fingers together. “I’m talking big cash, Eddie. Stick with me and you can afford the finer things in life.”

“There’s nothing fine about where that life leads. I’m not going to let you bring him back down this path again.”

“What’re you going to do about it, throw a calendar at me?” Painter shakes as if he’s scared, but I think he’s just pretending. Then he starts laughing at JJ. I want to say something, but I’ve never been able to stand up to Painter. He was always so scary.

“You’re a spoiled child who cares more about getting his own way then the consequences of his actions. One way or another that will catch up to you, and I won’t let you drag Edward down with you,” says JJ quietly. His eyes have this look like I’ve never seen before. It makes me feel cold inside.

“Choose your words carefully, old man. I don’t take no disrespect from anyone, especially senior citizens such as yourself. You don’t want to see what I do to guys who cross me. They say I’m crazy, you know.”

“I’ve known plenty of people like you in my day. You claim to like the mayhem, the chaos of it all, but it’s a cover. The truth is that you’d rather burn the world than face it. You’d rather kill your own father than confront him. When you come right down to it, you’re nothing but a coward.”

Painter is suddenly angry, so angry that he turns red. “Teach this has-been a lesson.”

One of Painter’s guys takes out a small club and laughs as he walks toward JJ, but he stops laughing when JJ’s cane breaks his teeth. Then even as he’s cursing, JJ uses his cane to knock him from his feet. He places the end of it on the man’s chest and presses some kind of button. Painter’s goon screams again, like he’s being shocked by electricity.

“I had this cane built special for…” The gunshot is so loud in the alley that it hurts my ears.

JJ falls to ground, and blood is starting to stain the sleeve of his flannel shirt. I move toward him to check if he is okay, but Painter’s voice stops me.

“Stay right where you are, Too-Dumb.” He’s still pointing his gun at JJ. “Actually take a few steps back.”

I don’t know what to do. I wish Georgia would come outside, she would know what to do, but she doesn’t. JJ once told me he had the walls of the bar soundproofed so no one outside would be able to hear what was going on inside. I guess it works the other way around too. No one inside heard the gun shot.

I look at Painter. Part of me want’s to rip his head from his shoulders. Instead, I step away from him and JJ. I can’t stand up to Painter. No one ever could.

“That’s a good monster,” he says. “Now here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to pay my father a visit, and afterwards I better hear that he ain’t breathing no more. I don’t care if you shoot him or hug him to death, but I want him dead, because if he ain’t…” Painter motions with his gun at JJ. “He will be. Coppice?”

“No…”

“I’m not playing.” He takes a step toward JJ and cocks the gun. “That first bullet just grazed him. I won’t miss a second time. You know I don’t miss, or at least your old friend knows I don’t miss… What was his name, Juan?”

“Carlos?”

“That’s it. He was in some heavy debt to us. Normally we’d just break a guy’s legs if he owed us that much money, but with your buddy’s powers my father thought it was just better to cut our losses and make an example out of him.”

“You killed Carlos?” I look at JJ still lying on the pavement and I think about what it felt like to lose my brother. I don’t want to lose JJ too. They say I’m slow to do most things and that includes getting angry, but not this time. I feel my fists tighten so hard that they’re shaking. Suddenly, it starts to get hard to see anything else but Painter, and I don’t feel afraid of him anymore.

I don’t think he even noticed as he keeps talking. “My first shot took your friend in the head. He never even saw me. I couldn’t give him the chance to turn into that rock form of his, now could I? Now, I’m going to do the same to your new boss, unless…”

I run at Painter and now it’s his turn to be scared. He points his gun at me and starts firing. The bullets tickle as they hit me. I ignore them. I am usually so slow, but now I move faster than even I thought I could. I grab the gun and most of Painter’s hand. I squeeze till I hear something break and he starts screaming. It’s the second time I’ve broken someone’s hand today, but this time I don’t feel so bad. I toss him against the alley wall with a yell. Part of the brick crumbles when he hits.

His last goon in the suit drops his own gun and holds up his hands. “I weren’t thinking of doing nothing,” he says as he helps up the man JJ took down. Together they run off down the alley leaving Painter where he is.

“Are you okay, JJ?” I ask as he stands up.

“It’s a scratch.” He picks up his cane. “Take your friend over there and put him in the dumpster behind Constantine’s Bakery on the corner of 8th and Helios. It’s owned by Vinnie the Octopus. I’m sure he’ll be very interested in the discovery one of his employees makes tonight when they go out back to dump the stale bagels.”

“Okay, JJ.”

“And, Edward,” he hesitates as he opens the bar door, “hurry back. I still need help with that keg.”


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

“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.


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains

Geekdom knows the face of evil. We see it everyday, whenever we pick up a comic book or turn on a video game. There is always some megalomaniac trying to conquer the world, blow up the city, or even just steal the princess and take her back to his castle for purposes we feel it best not to question. However, unlike the villains in our books, movies, and games, most people in prison have never donned a mask to lead a band of ninjas, dabbled in the dark magical arts, or have built even one weather controlling doomsday device. No, the criminals in our prisons are not Saturday morning cartoon characters. They are nothing but ordinary, run of the mill people, no matter how much we sometimes try to pretend they aren’t.

B-Man and the Masters of the Congressverse
Last week, President Barrack Obama commuted the sentence of nearly 90 non violent offenders, most of them jailed due to drug charges. The people who received the commutations were well behaved inmates who served at least 10 years of their prison sentence, and who would have received less severe punishments for their offenses under today’s laws.

The United States has about 5% of the world’s population, but almost a quarter of its incarcerated population, but then again maybe we just produce more Cobra Commanders than Uruguay? Somehow we at The NYRD doubt that is the case. According to a 2011 Boston University study the USA jails 716 people per 100,000. That is the highest rate of inmates per capita in the world, beating out St. Kitts & Nevis, Seychelles, Rwanda and Cuba. The only statistics we should be beating Rwanda and Cuba in, are: “hot dogs sold” and “Star Trek conventions held,” not prison population. In fact, the closest developed country to the US is Russia at 487 inmates per 100,000 citizens, and no offense to our Russian friends, but we cannot believe that America is producing more villains than the former Soviet Union, especially considering their current leadership.

That sad part is that the argument can be made that our current corrections system does work, as long as you ignore its rapidly growing population. So it is not usually a pressing issue on the lips of many leaders, both animated or otherwise. The amount of inmates in the US began a sharp increase in 1979. The year before Empire Strikes Back was released saw only about 314,000 people behind bars. As of last year, the year before The Force Awakens is to be released, the numbers stood at about 3.2 million people behind bars, with African Americans making up the slight majority of the incarcerated population. A little less than half of that total inmates are people charged with non violent offenses, majorly drug charges, but also burglary, larceny, fraud, and public disorder.

Coincidentally, with the exception of a few fluctuations in the 80’s crime has been on the decrease ever since. This could be attributed to a number of factors, economic, social, even technological. Video games and the Internet do a lot more to distract potential criminal behavior than most people give them credit for, but that is for another article. According to the US Disaster Center, there were only about 9.8 million crimes committed in 2013 for a US population of over 316 million. The US is safer than it has ever been, but is that due to mass incarceration? Realistically, it probably has to do with a lot of factors, but if incarceration is our answer than we have to be prepared to build more prison, and that is going to get expensive.

Estimates tend to vary, but even conservative numbers say that it costs anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 dollars per year to house an inmate, depending on the level of security needed. According to a bill proposed by Congressmen Scott and Sensenbrenner, since 1980 Congress has added an estimated 2,000 new crimes to the books and imprisonment rates has grown 518 percent. Federal spending on the prison system has increased from $970 million to more than $6.7 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation. Their SAFE Bill is trying to curtail over criminalization and reduces recidivism. A similar bill, called the Smarter Sentencing Act is also going through the Senate. They are worth checking out, because even if you believe that all criminals deserve to be behind bars, imagine what the US could do with even a fraction of that money returned. Some estimates even say it currently costs every American household roughly $500 a year. Those dollar amounts only stand to increase in coming years, because for all its benefits, it is starting to look like our system is very good at taking low level offenders and making them hardened criminals.

Teenage Addicted Repeat Offenders
President Obama’s act is a great first step, but more needs to be done to reform a failing prison system. First and foremost, Obama has been pushing that drug crimes should be treated more like a public health risk than a crime, and according to a Pew Research Study, 67% of Americans, on both sides of the isle, agree with him. In fact, more than 25 states, in both the north and south, have eased their laws on drug crimes over the past five years, but the Federal government is still trying to catch up.

Much like the war with Cobra, the “War on Drugs” has became a self perpetuating machine. Harsh penalties and long prison sentences often affect lower income families dramatically more than those in upper income brackets, even if drug use itself is fairly proportional across economic lines. Unfair incarceration has the potential to exacerbate problems in the home, often taking away bread winning husbands or wives needed to support the family, and leaving children without one or both parental influences to keep them clear of gangs and the very drugs that the government was trying to fight in the first place. Thankfully, this has lessened with the amending of some of the “three strikes” laws for many states, most notably California where more than 3,000 previously life-sentenced, non violent inmates became eligible to apply for parole. Unfortunately, prison itself has a way of institutionalizing even the nicest of non violent offenders.

In many ways our prison system is a lot like a Saturday morning cartoon. It is fairly predictable, poorly animated, and for certain people it repeats like clockwork. In fact the US prison system has become like Arkham Asylum, a revolving door where criminals are often released only to be delivered back into captivity by a man who may or may not be dressed as a bat. Recidivism has declined in recent years, because of improvements in state laws, but current studies still show that about 40% of people released from prison will be arrested again within three years of release. Though many federal and some state facilities currently offer job training and societal reintegration preparation, the push is not universal, as many of these expanded programs cost money and poorer state systems, or privately funded corporate prisons are less inclined to invest.

G.I. Jobless
Prisons have another aspect in common with our beloved cartoons, many of them were created to make money. There are now 130 private prisons who rake in a combined 3.3 billion dollars a years. For them, a decrease in the prison population means a decrease in their profit margins. That means they have a lot less incentive to not properly prepare criminals for retuning to society, and they have a slew of lobbyist in Washington to make sure their voices are heard. In 2010, the private prison firm, GEO, and its affiliates donated more than $33,500 to political action committees. the whole thing is like some plot cooked up by Skeletor in his spare time, a convoluted system of harsh punishment that more often than not fails to achieve its end goal. More to the point, much like the plots of cartoon villains, we just seem to accept it as fact. We buy into the system and just take it for what it is and never really think to look deeper.

No one is saying that these offenders should not be punished for their crime. Everyone needs a time out once in a while, but the problem with the current system is that for non violent and other first time inmates incarceration often leans too far to the side of punishment and not enough to the side of rehabilitation. The only thing the Department of Corrections is actually correcting is how to make those low level offenders into better criminals. Currently, going into prison is a lot like joining Cobra. Even if you don’t know anything about how to hold a gun that shoots blue lasers, they will teach you that and a multitude of other criminal skills. Many first time offenders pick up new criminal traits, new violent tendencies, and gang affiliations as a simple way of surviving while inside the system, and in some cases those are the only job skills they can turn to after their release.

The fault does not lie entirely with the prison system alone, but also our own perceptions of criminals in society. Many federal and private companies ask job applicants for their criminal history, even if the job is low-level and for non sensitive work. Checking off a box that says you have been in jail is often a death sentence to any ex-convict’s job prospects. So with no where to go, even if they have the job skills, many former inmates are forced to return to crime to survive. Even worse, inmates who are exonerated are often just kicked out of prison with no money and no access to the same transitional programs that guilty criminals receive upon their release. There comes a point where if you tell Bebop and Rocksteady that they cannot work in the mail room, you should not be surprised if they go back to henching for Shredder. The pay may not be great, but at least they don’t feel as if they are being judged all the time by the other members of the Foot Clan.

More than Meets the Eye
Maybe part of our problem is our fascination with villains. After all, without a great villain the heroes we know and love seem somehow diminished. Our interest in the evil and the twisted happens for many reasons. Fictional villains represent power and freedom. They act as a vessel for us to contain and face our fears. In a way they help us to confront the unknown and even give us a mechanism of release for our own anger and devilish impulses. We rarely cheer for Megatron, but in a way we encourage his evil. We want to see a real villain do evil things, if only because it challenges our heroes to be that much better.

Thus, maybe in a way we have transferred some of that psychological need to the real-life criminals in our society. We want to believe in the existence of good, so therefore we must also have to believe in the existence of evil. You do not get He-Man without Skeletor. There is no Lion-O without Mumm-ra, no Ninja Turtles without Shredder and we would argue also Krang, but that is a debate for another day. Unfortunately, real humans are never so black and white. In a way we are all a little good and a little bad.

If we treat all offenders as if they criminals, than we cannot be surprised if they one day try to kidnap a world leader and demand a ridiculous ransom, because after all, we were the ones that expected them to be villains all along.

“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.


Read all the stories about Friday’s Bar for Super-villains