If you like this story of Edward and want to read more about what happens at a bar filled with costumed criminals and masked menaces, than check out the first volume of Friday’s Bar for Supervillains, on sale now, at all local Amazon websites.

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 doing something. When I reach him, that’s when the fun begins. I grab the small space weapon and feel it crunch 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 me. 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, not anymore.

I reach down and pick him up by his silvery backpack and toss him through the door. I wouldn’t want JJ getting mad at me for annoying his 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, but 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 slow, even to me.

Georgia kneels down next to me. When she leans forward to unhook the man’s space helmet, I notice that 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 assholes like Retro Rocket here. He deserves a lot worse than this.”

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

“Oh, don’t give me none of that bull, darling. I know 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.”

“Hush now, there; don’t get all defensive.” She pats me on the shoulder. It feels nice. “I only meant we’ve all done things we regret. Trust me. I got enough regrets to fill a barn the size of Arkansas. Now come back inside, sugah.”

I look back at the spaceman.

“He’ll be fine.” She leads me by the hand. “He just needs to sleep it off.”

Georgia was right, because when I go back out later, he’s gone. He must have flown off using that stupid jetpack of his. She is always right, and she is always nice to me. I like Georgia, but she doesn’t seem to like that spaceman. After we went back inside the bar, she said something about how he likes small boys too much. That seems 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 did grow up together in the orphanage. We watched out for each other, because we were both born different. His name was Carlos, but most people called him Stone, on account he could turn his body to…well, stone.

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 are just earning a living,” he said, but then he died. So I had to go to work for the Atello family.

Mr. Atello liked it when people called him Don, but that wasn’t his name. He 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 the one that was late, and Carlos was always the one waiting on me. I’m very slow, but I understood later that Mr. Atello meant Carlos had been killed because he owed some very bad people a lot of money.

When my brother died, I had nowhere to go. Mr. Atello gave me a job, but it wasn’t like working with Carlos. The Atellos 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.

That 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 silly, but it’s true. Then he offered me a job. Now I still have to hurt people sometimes, but usually they deserve it.

Isn’t it 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 of a peanut-butter sandwich waiting for me in the back room. JJ called it good luck, but today my luck wasn’t good at all. It was bad, very bad luck.

I was outside checking people waiting to get into the bar. I have a list of people I am not allowed to let in. 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,” he says, but I’ve screwed up a few times.

One time I let this private investigator in because he was dressed up like a giant honeybee with a mask. He started taking pictures for some court case, and when the other customers figured out what he was, they almost killed him. I stopped them, but not before they’d beat him up, real bad. I had to carry him to the hospital and leave him in the emergency room. I felt sorry about just leaving him alone, 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 make themselves look like something else, but I’m really good at recognizing faces. I hardly ever let the wrong people in anymore.
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. At least that’s what JJ calls him.

“Well, if it isn’t Too-Dumb,” says Painter as he walks up to the door. The two men in suits standing behind him start laughing like it’s 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,” I say, not looking at him.

“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 him, 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 still makes me nervous. Most people call him unpredictable. Sometimes he can be your best friend, but then sometimes he can be your worst nightmare too. Someone once told me that they call him Painter because he likes to paint walls red.

“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 puts 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, and that’s a promise. Capiche?”

“I don’t know. I don’t hurt people like that anymore.”

“Suddenly you’re going soft on me? Who cares about my 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. “Well…”

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

“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 the back. Gil 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 stop and put my head down. I can’t look at JJ.

“Eddie, do 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 here. 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,” says JJ.

“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 than about the consequences of his actions,” says JJ quietly. “One way or another, that’s going to catch up to you, and I won’t let you drag Edward down with you.” His eyes have this look like I’ve never seen before. It makes me feel cold inside.

“Choose your next words very carefully, old man. I don’t take no disrespect from no one, 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 gets very angry, so angry that he turns red. “Boys, I think it’s time to 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 puts the end of his cane on the man’s chest and presses some kind of button. Painter’s friend screams like he’s being shocked by electricity.

“I had this cane built special for—”

The gunshot is so loud that it hurts my ears. JJ falls to the ground, and blood starts to turn his flannel shirt red. 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 come. JJ once told me that the walls of the bar are soundproof so no one outside can hear what’s going on inside. I guess it works the other way around too.

I look at Painter. Part of me wants to rip his head off. Instead I step back, just like he tells me to do.

“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 afterward 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—“this old man will be. Capiche?”

“No,” I say.

“I’m not playing here.” 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 knew it…what was his name? Juan?” He laughs.


“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 anymore.

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

I run at Painter, and then it’s his turn to be scared. He points his gun at me and starts firing. The bullets tickle. 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, and Painter stops moving.

His last friend 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 that JJ shocked. Together they run off down the alley, leaving Painter where he is.

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

“It’s just a scratch.” He picks up his cane. “Take your friend, and put him in the dumpster behind Constantine’s Bakery on the corner of Eighth 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.”

Written by: Adam J. Brunner
Illustrations by: Russel Roehling

If you like this story of Georgia Atlanta and want to read more about what happens at a bar filled with costumed criminals and masked menaces, than check out the first volume of Friday’s Bar for Supervillains, on sale now, at all local Amazon websites.

“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 coat is unbuttoned, and it flaps open as he leans back in his chair. “You and I could be so happy together.”

“Come now, 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 you’re just another barfly, and this month’s tab is due.”

He smiles his wicked smile, and for a moment, I get a glance at the demon underneath. One moment his hands are empty, and the next he is holding several hundred dollars in crisp green bills.

“Now, 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, just like Zagan. “You think I would dare swindle good Mr. Friday or you, my delicious pomegranate?”

He takes my hand to kiss it, but I’m faster than he thinks. In one swift jerk, I not only manage to slap some sense into him but also come back with his money square in my grip. All I need to 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 Lord Zagan, and I will not be treated—”

He’s too busy doing the old monologue to really see my fist until it lands square in his jaw. He staggers back in surprise, and that red glowing aura of his is nowhere 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 back, I see Edward perk up from his place near the door, 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 whorehouse. Now, you best get from here, before I do the same.”

“You bitch.” He rounds on me, his fist coming like he intends to do some harm. It’s a big mistake. I’ve been trained by the best, and even if Zagan is immortal, he still bleeds like the rest of 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 in summer’s heat.

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’s happened. Things often get rough in here, but I don’t much mind. Back in my day, I was one of the most feared women 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 the good old days, 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 wiping up the beer and blood from the floor as I finish clearing Zagan’s table.

“Darling, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Georgia? Last time I was Miss Atlanta, it was during my beauty-pageant days, back when I was sixteen going on thirty, and I haven’t been sixteen in…well, awhile.”

“Sure,” says Gil as he stands up from off the ground. “Whatever you say, Miss Atlanta.”

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 young’un. 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 day care to pick up Owen at quarter past.

“Gil, I got 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, as if it hasn’t been used in a long while. I have not heard it in years, but it is unmistakable all the same.

I never finish what I am about to say to Gil. I freeze midstep, 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, and I see that his once-beautiful blond hair is showing patches of gray.

“Albert,” I hear myself say. 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 remember, but I know that the wiry body does not do justice to the power this 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 the folks all about me whisper his name like crickets on a spring night.

“General Relativity,” I hear them say.

“I thought he was dead,” says one man.

“Nah, I heard he was doing time in some government max-pen,” responds another. But 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 supercriminals to walk this here planet, or any other for that matter. Yet I knew him as the man he was, Albert Isaacs. 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 a cape could tell us otherwise, though they sure as hell tried.

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 out 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 being 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 had 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 every day 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 am in trouble, comes charging out of nowhere. Normally, people steer clear of the big galoot. He’s near indestructible and weighs more than a silo 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 lying flat on the ground. The wooden planks around him begin to shatter under the pressure, and even the concrete foundation groans and cracks with the weight of it all.

“Albert,” I call frantically, “stop this! Albert, stop!” Edward can’t even breathe. Albert once explained to me that when gravity is 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 moron is passed out, but at least he’s alive. Most of the patrons decide to do the smart thing and make themselves gone. A few stand around, caught between their good sense and some morbid curiosity. It will probably be their death.

“Now wait a minute,” I hear JJ say as he hobbles out from the back. “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,” JJ says. “I know you think you’ve been wronged, but there’s 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 ceiling like balloons at the state fair.

“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 an airplane, and even though I leave my stomach where I was standing, my back lands hard against the far wall. I can see JJ similarly pinned near the dartboard. Albert just stands in the middle of it, the eye of the storm.

Next he 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 manage 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 am trained to ignore such trifles.

Then it’s over. I fall to the floor like a sack of beans. JJ and the tables 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 of his head and land next to the unconscious General Relativity.

I’m not sure how the boy got close enough to him to do it, but he just stopped one of the most feared villains of all time. Yet all he could do was stand there and try not to wet himself. If it hadn’t hurt so much to do so, I would have laughed right then and there.

I guess even tadpoles grow up eventually.

Written by: Adam J. Brunner
Illustrations by: Russel Roehling
Happy Hour

If you like this story and want to read more about what happens at a bar filled with costumed criminals and masked menaces, than check out the first volume of Friday’s Bar for Supervillains, on sale now, at all local Amazon websites.

“So the wall explodes, and there is 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,’ yada yada…you know, the typical speech. That’s when that jackass 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, but their hero is a walking Three Mile Island. If I get cancer, I am so suing his ass.”

He gets silent before mumbling something into his glass of liquor.

“How’d you get away?” I ask as I stand there, wiping down a dirty beer mug.

“Get this,” he says 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-robbing type, Mandroid.” I pour the brightly clad man another drink.

“You know how expensive it is to have robot minions? Enhanced neural processors don’t grow on trees.”

“Say, barkeeper / I’ll take that kicker / Give me your best liquor,” calls the man from the far end of the bar.

“I think you’ve had enough, Quizzy.” I hobble down to him. It’s happy hour on a cold, wintery Tuesday, and the place is packed floor to roof. I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down all day, and my body’s paying for it.

“Nonsense. I am the Quiz Master / I won’t be ordered by some drink caster.” The man gets up from his barstool and brandishes some kind of staff that extends out from his hand. His purple-and-gold sports jacket flaps off him like a cheap suit.“Drink caster? Your rhyming is making less sense than usual. You’re cut off.” I motion to Edward in the corner.The big hulking brute of a man lumbers his way toward the bar and picks up the slender, squirming drunk like a child. He carries him to the door and tosses him out into the alley without any ceremony.

In a past life, Edward was known as Two-Ton, a third-string villain in Titan City’s supercriminal 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, superstrong, 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 Doomerang started a brawl with Kid Cyanide because the kid was hitting on his girlfriend, the Cougar.

Still, for the most part, everyone remained civil. They all knew my bar as somewhere they could wind down. Really, supervillains 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 calls my name with a noticeable squeak, and I turn to find my newest employee, Gil Laridae, backing away from the bar top with a gun pointed at his chest.

“What’s the problem, Gil?” I hobble toward him.

“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” says the small, big-headed man standing on top of his barstool. His tiny, childlike hands are clutching a firearm with the steady grip of a professional killer. “This kid asked me for ID. Don’t you know who I am, kid?”

“Gil,” I say calmly, “this is Child Endangerment. He only looks like a kid. Really he’s forty-two years old.”

“I’m forty-one,” says the hit man as he puts away his gun away. “Now how about that drink?”

“Coming right up.” I motion for Gil to pour the man a beer, and to his credit, the kid snaps out of his stupor like an old pro.
It’s always a little disturbing 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 get out. I’ve 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 have to be tough to work in this industry.

I watch my table waitress, Georgia Atlanta, as she slaps some guy who looks like he is half octopus and half human. I guess he was getting too touchy-feely with her, as customers tend to do.

Georgia’s one of those people who can handle herself. She used to be a mercenary by the name of Southern Bedlam, but she gave it up when her son was born. She moved out west to Titan City just looking for someone to give her a chance at a fresh start. I know how that can be.

“What’s it like to be a villain?” asks Gil after he’s calmed down. The kid has an abnormal fascination with supervillainy, and that sort of path leads nowhere good. My hope is that I can dissuade him from it by hiring him on as my part-timer. I figure I can show him that it’s not all fun and grand larceny.

“It’s not anything you want to be a part of, kid,” I say as I start to tap a new keg. With a grunt I heft the large metallic cylinder underneath the bar. I’m not as young as I used to be. I wipe my hands down with a nearby dish towel, but when I turn around, he’s still looking at me like some wide-eyed kid expecting to see a parade.

“Listen, Gil,” I say, “you don’t want to get mixed up in this world. It never ends well. Look at Dr. Zirconium over there.” I motion to a large imposing monster sitting alone in the corner. Underneath a torn white lab coat, his skin is made of jagged crystalline material. “Dr. Zee was a Nobel Prize–winning metallurgist, but one of his experiments went horribly wrong. Sure, the accident gave him increased strength and skin almost as hard as diamonds, but it also reduced his intelligence down to that of a twelve-year-old. Supervillainy always comes with a price. It ain’t worth it.”

“What about you?” says Gil. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an old picture, and suddenly I’m staring at a memory I haven’t thought about in a long time. There I am in a black-and-white jumpsuit. I have this great big mask covering my eyes and the days of the week written all over my damn costume.

I take the picture from his hand. “God, look at this. I looked ridiculous. Look at my moustache. What was I thinking?”

“You used to be Joe Friday,” persists Gil. “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 the days of the week makes you a bit too predictable.”

“But everything turned out all right for you. You’re fine…”
I don’t usually get angry, but all the questions, along with the old photo, rile me up. “Kid, I was one of the lucky ones. Some of the guys I knew from the old days—King Carnivore, the Piper, Wrecking Cruella—they weren’t so lucky. Most of them are dead or in jail. Damn, the Emerald Hood has spent the last twenty years lost in time and space. Is that what you want to happen to you?”

“No,” he says meekly.

“I was lucky. Shining Templar only broke my leg in four places when he captured me. I spent a few years in supermax and 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. It’s a lot less hazardous to your health.”

I shove the old picture back in his trembling hands. “Watch the bar. I’m going out for a smoke.” I turn my back on the poor dumbfounded kid. His shocked face’s the last thing I see before the back door swings closed behind me.

My hand reaches for my shirt pocket and the other picture I know is concealed there, an old memory I can’t seem to let go of. The one thing the kid doesn’t get, and maybe the one thing I can never explain, is that the villain life leaves more than just busted noses or ruined knees. The worst scars are the ones you can’t see, the ones you never really get over.

I resist the call of the old Polaroid, the urge to revisit that dark and lonely well. Instead my shaking hand fumbles for a cigarette. I light it with one of the matches from my back pocket, and the first drag is a warm blanket. All the tension and anger drain away as I stand there smoking and watching the snowy gray sky.

It’s an old habit, I suppose, watching the skies. It’s something most villains learn to do early 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. I haven’t committed a crime more serious than jaywalking in over two decades, but I guess it’s still a hard habit to let go.

After all, there are times when I feel the urge, and the old excitement starts to kick up again. Friday the thirteenth is always the worst day for me, but I’ve been clean for too long to let myself fall back into bad habits. Besides, I’m too old to play the game anymore. A man has to admit his limitations, and I know mine.

Idly I stretch my leg. I ain’t a villain anymore. I’m just a bartender, and that’s good enough.

Written by: Adam J. Brunner
Illustrations by: Russel Roehling