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by Robin Reed
“Does this city really need video billboards?” Randall asked. He watched an ad for men’s cologne featuring a hip hop artist in a tuxedo turn into a cartoon zebra who starred in an upcoming animated movie.
Marcus didn’t say anything as he accelerated the stretch Hummer away from Cedars Sinai hospital. The mob of reporters and paparazzi grew small in the rear view mirror.
Randall’s brand of nerdy celebrity didn’t usually attract the parasitic organisms that fed off of show business, but news that he had been attacked and beaten brought them out in droves.
“I mean, they’re very ‘Blade Runner,’ but I hope L.A. isn’t really going to look like Deckard’s town any time soon.”
Marcus turned off of third onto San Vicente. “Two paparazzi cars behind us,” he said.
“They don’t have enough shots of me limping?” Randall said. “Better go to the condo, then.” He didn’t want press attention anywhere near the warehouse where the Knighthawk gear was kept.
Marcus drove. Randall sat uncomfortably in the passenger seat. Everything to his left sounded normal but to his right all sound seemed to be coming from a deep cave. Except the ringing that wouldn’t stop.
He still felt the impact of Buzz Kill’s fist on his ear.
The doctors weren’t sure that normal hearing would ever come back. Randall shifted his weight but it didn’t make the pain in his hip go away. He now had a metal pin in there holding him together. That was Helga, when she threw him.
The burns all over his body were Heat Wave, who really enjoyed using his power. Various other bruises, contusions, and scrapes were compliments of all of the villains.
“I’m sorry,” Marcus said. He turned onto Wilshire.
“You’re sorry? I was going to say I’m sorry. What are you sorry for?”
“I shouldn’t have let you go off alone. I’m supposed to protect you.”
“Not your fault. I went off without telling you.”
“I shoulda gone after you instead of going after the villains.”
“You saved two lives. Faster is in jail.”
Marcus still looked troubled. “I shoulda...”
“My turn. I’m sorry.”
“What the hell are you sorry for?”
“For being stupid. I’ve been saying for weeks that I was done with being a hero. I’m a father now, I have a woman I think I love...”
Marcus raised an eyebrow.
“I said think,” Randall said. “Not completely sure. Anyway, I have been saying all that but whenever I get the chance I’m off in the suit risking my life.”
“You’d been in the suit you’d be less hurt.”
“You were in the suit. How are you feeling?”
“Just bruises. A few cuts. My neck hurts when I turn my head to the left.”
“Well I’m sorry. I can’t say it to Sharra and Jerard because I can’t tell them about Knighthawk. So I’ll say it to you.”
Marcus shrugged uncomfortably.
“We did some good though. Without Tesseract, they can’t send villains anywhere they want instantly.
The gangs and drug dealers will be on their own.”
“Tess has been charged with accessory to a ton of murders. Every time he sent a villain out with that power of his, and the villain killed somebody. What the hell does ‘Tesseract’ mean?”
“I had to Google it myself. I was a kid when I read A Wrinkle in Time. Just think of it as teleporting.”
The Hummer passed onto a section of Wilshire lined with tall condo buildings. Randall’s official home was here, though he spent more time at the warehouse. Or he used to, before he adopted Jerard.
Randall once talked to an old man who said that a few decades ago you could see the ocean as you drove west on Wilshire. Now to get that view you had to buy a multi-million dollar condo at the top of one of the buildings.
“They never found out who you are?” Marcus asked.
“I told them I was a reporter. They didn’t really care, they were happy to have a punching bag.”
“Buzz Kill made a big deal about entering Knighthawk into a database. He was going to take my helmet off and take a picture.”
“How’s the cover story holding up?” Randall asked.
Marcus shrugged. “Your attack and the big villain capture were on the front page of the Times, on the same day, but no one has connected them yet.”
“We’ll have to keep an eye on that.”
“We’re here.” Marcus said.
At Wilshire and Beverly Glen Marcus turned into the curved driveway of a building, next to a sign that said “THE WILGLEN.”
“So I’m done. No more Knighthawk for me,” Randall said. “I mean it this time. But...”
“I’m hoping you’re not done.”
The door of the Hummer was opened by a valet, and Randall painfully got his feet on the brick driveway. He leaned on the ugly aluminum cane that the hospital gave him. He took a step and winced in pain.
A small form almost knocked Randall over. “Daddy!” Jerard said, hugging him around his hips. Sharra was behind the boy and she gave Randall a pack on the cheek.
“I love you too, Jerard,” Randall said. “But that hurts.”
“HEY! Get out of here!” Marcus shouted.
Randall looked up. Marcus was waving his arms and shouting at two cars that were stopped at the entrance to the driveway. Long lenses flashed in the afternoon sunlight.
The cars sped off as Marcus ran towards them.
Shots of Jerard, Randall realized. That’s what the paparazzi wanted. They wanted to make money by taking advantage of a child.
The living room of Randall’s condo didn’t feel like a home. Randall ordered all his furniture online and had the rooms installed exactly as they appeared on the website, pictures and all. Everything looked brand new. He spent so much time at work, the furniture was barely touched. It was like living in an Ikea showroom.
“May I have a word with you, Marcus?” Sharra asked. After tucking Randall into bed and making sure he took his medication, she left him with Jerard, who appeared with his favorite book and wanted Daddy to read to him.
The bodyguard never looked comfortable with himself. He rarely sat, he expected an ambush at any second. Yet when there really was one, he wasn’t there.
Marcus turned and looked at her. He didn’t speak.
“Where were you?” Sharra asked. She had gone over and over the proper way to phrase it, but ended up the most blunt.
“I was asleep at home. Randall went off without telling me.”
“That’s what he tells me too,” Sharra said. “But I have a hard time seeing a man as well known as he is going off in the middle of the night to get a taste of the old neighborhood.”
In fact, something stank to high heaven about the story. Sharra’s legal mind had no trouble poking holes in it. A craving for ribs didn’t explain anything. Randall could have sent an employee to get them. He could hire a chef to recreate them.
Plus, Marcus carried himself like he had a few aching muscles himself. She wished she could order a medical exam. She wasn’t a trial lawyer but she was sure if she could get Marcus on the stand, under oath, she could tear his story apart. She would bet money that the trip to the old neighborhood in the middle of the night was Marcus’ idea.
“Comfort food from childhood is a powerful thing,” Marcus said. “I remember those ribs too. Randall and I use to get ‘em whenever we had some cash.”
Randall’s childhood friendship with this man made Sharra uneasy. She could ignore Randall’s upbringing in the worst neighborhoods of L.A. because he was so educated, so fluent in standard English.
Marcus hanging around with his street talk and gang background made it impossible to forget where both men came from.
Has he done this before?” Sharra asked.
“He says no.”
“And the gang that attacked him? The police have no leads.”
“They’ll never find them. Po-lice don’t know sh - nothing goes on down there.”
Marcus must have sensed something about her dislike of him if he was editing his own language. It didn’t do anything to change her mind.
Sharra’s mother and father raised her to always aim higher. When she was little her grandmother told her stories of slavery passed down from her own grandmother. The family always worked hard, scrimped and saved to give the next generation more opportunity. Sharra’s parents were shop keepers in Philadelphia. They were so proud when she graduated from law school.
Her mother, Vera McLaren, had one thing to say when Sharra told her about Randall. “He’s from the streets, honey. He can’t get away from that, no matter how rich he is. He’ll drag you back down.”
Sharra was sure her mother was wrong. But here was the constant reminder, Randall’s connection to those streets. Was Marcus completely on the up and up, even now? Or was she still talking to his gang friends? Was he still moving drugs, or weapons, or money, for them? His job with a famous billionaire was a good cover.
“Is that all?” Marcus asked.
“Yes,” Sharra said. She couldn’t keep him any longer, but she would keep an eye on him.
Marcus turned and left the room.
Randall had not said “I love you” in so many words, but Sharra was sure she felt it for him. Almost sure. If this relationship was going to go any further, however, two things would have to happen.
Sharra would decorate the condo properly. And Randall would sever all ties to his old life.
It wasn’t the leg, which ached all the time no matter how much pain medication they gave him. It wasn’t the IV drip, which made his arm itch where the needle went under his skin. It wasn’t the transfusions, which weirded him out with thoughts of other peoples’ blood creeping through his veins. It wasn’t even the antibiotic-resistant disease that he caught in the hospital, though that was the reason he was still in the hospital after a whole week.
It was the BOREDOM. The books his mother brought were read and re-read. His roommate did nothing but sleep. The television in the room was a fount of tedium. The news was dead people, weather and sports. The cop shows were dead people and boring detectives. Even cartoons weren’t dead-people-free.
Anthony watched a sitcom, hoping for numbing stupidity in which everyone survived. When the cute kid befriended an old man at a rest home, he turned the TV off. Old people and hamsters always die in sitcoms.
A nap sounded good. Or a drugged stupor. Whichever came first.
The door to the room opened. Pink Poppy entered, not in her Pink Poppy outfit. She looked like a normal older lady, not one of the Neighborhood Heroes. Someone was behind her. He lifted his head to see. Was it Mireya? No. Poppy came every day, but Mireya had only been there twice.
Anthony put his head back on his pillow when he saw who it was. Mr. Superduperhero. Mr. I’m-a-better-hero-than-you. Mike. This was his first visit, and he didn’t look all that enthusiastic about it.
“Hi,” Mike said.
“Hey,” Anthony said. “Poppy’s been telling me you really tore up those, uh, bad people.”
“You mean the villains?” Mike asked.
“Ecretsay dentitiesiay, Ikemay.” Anthony glanced at the sleeping roommate.
“Oh,” Mike said. “Right. Well, I did pretty good.”
“I’ll say,” Poppy said. “With Mike on the team, our, uh, neighborhood watch group is ready for anything.”
Anthony saw Mike’s face twist a little as she said that. Mike didn’t want to be in the Neighborhood Heroes. Mike was bound for fame, fortune, movie deals and The Protectors. That was fine with Anthony. Go do your thing, Mike. We were fine in our own little way before you got here.
The reason the big hero was sticking around was Mireya.
Anthony knew he didn’t have a chance with Mireya, and he had come to terms with that. He hated to see her falling for someone who only thought about himself. She deserved better. He hoped that she would see through Mike soon. Then the big fish would leave the little pond and things could get back to normal.
“Look,” Mike said. He glanced at Poppy, who had clearly dragged him over here to say whatever he was going to say next. “I’m sorry I didn’t go with you and Poppy when you needed help. You probably wouldn’t be here if I did.”
“It’s okay,” Anthony said. It wasn’t really, but there was no point in arguing about it. He tried to think of a way to lighten the mood. “Just go to your Society to Help Heroes or whatever it’s called and ask them to pay my hospital bill.”
“I don’t really want to go back there...” Mike started, rubbing his neck in a worried way.
“I’m kidding. Who needs help? My mom will get a third job, we’ll be fine.”
“Heh.” Anthony could see that Mike didn’t really understand, and was hoping to get out of here.
Anthony let him off the hook. “I’m real tired,” he said. He tried to look too exhausted to continue the conversation.
“Okay,” Mike said. “See you around.” He eagerly left the room.
Pink Poppy followed with a “Be back tomorrow.”
Fly, Mike, fly, Anthony thought. Fly away from us like you do from everything that doesn’t make you famous. Be a star and leave us little people alone.
“Mr. Brown,” the intruder said, “I am Mr. Brown.”
Mr. Brown sat behind his desk, panic gripping him. No, they wouldn’t. It wasn’t that bad.
“I know why you’re here,” Mr. Brown said. “But I can fix it. Tell Void that I have a plan.” He could barely get his voice past the phlegm in his throat. His hands trembled.
Where was that damn gun? He had walked into this office nearly three years ago, and said the exact words that this man said. But that Mr. Brown, his predecessor, was a screw up. He deserved it. He had let The Golden Oracle reduce their activities in Los Angeles to a trickle.
He, the current Mr. Brown, made the Oracle go away, and found Tesseract, who could send villains anywhere in the city in an instant. He negotiated arrangements with all the street gangs to. back up their business. Hero activity had fallen to an all time low, and profits soared.
Mr. Brown was Void’s favorite. In conference calls, the boss often told other managers to study Mr. Brown’s record. Void knew he could recover from the recent setbacks. He wouldn’t send a new Mr. Brown yet. Not yet.
“After you got Sun Man back, you sent him away again,” the other Mr. Brown said.” The man was very thin, with receding red hair. He had a gun too, of course, under his jacket. He kept his hands ready.
“Yes, to lead us to his friends. It can still work, the house where they meet is under surveillance. We can round them up anytime.” Mr. Brown croaked. He opened his top desk drawer, trying not to let the man know he was doing it. He must have put the gun in there. He had worn it in a shoulder holster at all times, for over a year after he took over. As he gained Void’s confidence, and got tired of the thing clunking against the arm of his office chair, it seemed safe enough to put it in the drawer. It was close enough.
“Were you planning for your pet, the only Overseer we have, to help destroy our most important operation?” the other Mr. Brown said.
“Of course not,” Mr. Brown said with sweat dripping into his eyes. He knew he was in trouble when they didn’t send the monthly bonus, but he didn’t expect this. They wouldn’t do this to him. Not to HIM.
The gun had been pushed all the way to the back of the drawer, and covered with file folders. Mr. Brown had to lean forward a little to grip its handle.
“I’m telling you, Void didn’t need to send you. I have everything under control.” As he started the word “control,” Mr. Brown yanked the pistol out and up and aimed it at the red haired man standing on the other side of the room.
The other Mr. Brown was faster.
Power vs Power and all related characters are © and ™ 2007-2009 Robin Reed.