My goal was directly in front of me. For an illuminated volume it looked awfully shiny. Maybe that was the three layers of ballistic glass? It was my entry ticket to the Legion of Somewhat Evil Rascals. This was so going in my blog. My phone rang.
"Hey sweetie, what are you up to?"
"Oy vey, what am I supposed to tell the girls at book club?"
"Since when do you read? You gossip, gamble, and play Mahjong."
"Book club sounds classier. So, dinner on Sunday?"
"Sure. See you then, mom."
"Well, well, what do we have here?" asked a voice behind me. I gave a menacing squeak and dropped my phone. Apprehension do-si-doed with hopelessness as I turned around slowly. She was around my height and clad in dark blue trimmed with red. A mask that matched both her eyes and her outfit hugged the contours of her face. The mystery woman in front of me arched an immaculately shaped eyebrow. It was time to impress. I stabbed at my chest with my thumb.
"Dark Stork," I declared.
"Dark Stork. I'm the Dark Stork."
"Dark Stork," I insisted.
"OK, now you're doing it on purpose." She gave an innocent smile, a sly shrug, and promptly punched me in the face. A short while later I blinked the tears out of my eyes. She stood over me in the iconic pose of womanhood; feet together, hands on hips, and disappointment in her eyes.
"Dark Stork. Seriously?" she asked.
"The embroiderer charged by the letter."
I felt overmatched, my ego was bruised, and I was going to do whatever she decided. In that instant I had a moment of clarity: I knew what a married man felt like. Despair grabbed me by the nape of the neck and shook. My next residence was going to be jail. At least it would give me time to write the makers of Self Defense for Dummies a very sharply worded letter about the quality of their instruction. The voice of my mother thundered in my ears.
"Having your moniker stitched across your chest does not make you a criminal mastermind," she said. "I love you son, but let's face it, you can't outsmart my poodle let alone a hero."
Well, two weeks later with a pocket full of Snausages and electric clippers I proved her wrong. Well, partly wrong at least.
Blue Eyes bent over me and grabbed the front of my shirt. She bumped the broken bookcase against which I lay crumpled -- because I chose to be, not because I didn't want to get punched anymore. The part of my vision not obscured by her dark hair saw a porcelain owl wobble and fall from its perch.
The statue impacted the back of her head, sending delicately painted owly bits flying everywhere. With a grunt, Blue's eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed. Her rapidly descending forehead hit me square in the face. I'd never considered the structural strength of my nose, until it made a sound like carrots do when I break then before tossing them in with my roast.
Once my body resumed responding to my commands, I slithered out from underneath the unconscious heroine and wobbled to my feet. For the first time, I knew what victory felt like. Victory hurt. It hurt a lot. Thrill of victory my ass. Those people at the Wide World of Sports were liars. I owed them a very tersely worded letter. Movies had made broken noses look all heroic and manly. I felt betrayed.
Aside from the mind-numbing pain, I felt neither of those two things. Tears streamed down my cheeks, all the bones in my face throbbed in time with my heart, and blood flowed in a rather impressive cascade. With my nose being busy with bleeding, it was difficult to breathe. I had to suck air in through my mouth. That didn't make me feel very homo sapien.
On the plus side, I had a red goatee. That was kind of awesome.
With a grimace I pulled up my shirt and inspected the damage. How did she leave bruises so large when her fists were so tiny? I picked up my handy crowbar. No petty crook left home without one.
"What's going on here?" inquired another rather feminine voice behind me.
I gave a second manly squeak as I jumped out of my skin and spun around. My crowbar brushed the tip of the new woman's chin and she collapsed in a heap. Two minutes and two unconscious heroines; it was the best heist ever. I celebrated my achievement by finding a corner and demurely throwing up. My mother was right. I should have been an accountant.
Tall-dark-and-blue's cape tore easily into strips. I had a major case of jazz hands while I bound both women. With a heavy sigh I realized I owed my mother a thank you for those summers in the scouts. My life lacked direction and focus, but damn it, I could make s'mores and tie a mean knot.
The second hero was blonde with a light smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She wore a long sleeved cream colored turtleneck sweater that left her navel exposed. Adorning the front was a large red "W". A matching pleated skirt, with a red stripe at the hem, fell to her mid thigh. Over her face she wore a red "W" that straddled her nose and served to obscure her finer features. Who fought crime in a modified cheerleader costume? Apparently she did; kids these days. I hauled both to my getaway car.
Real villains have cool vans or flashy cars. I had an old ice cream truck. My plan was to hide in plain sight by being ridiculous. It's easier to run away when your opponent is out of breath from laughing. I heaved my burdens into the back and climbed into the cab. Once I was nestled in my seat, I broke out my thermos of chamomile tea and popped in some Schubert. Both were in attendance when I first discovered my power. I'd required them ever since to work on myself. The stuff that came out of my healed nose gave me nightmares for years to come. In the end it required a therapist to resolve.
I grabbed my backup clothes from the duffle on the floorboard. With a career success rate like mine, a change of clothes was a must. Plus, driving around covered in my own blood was sure to draw attention. Blocks later, my nerves had finally settled down when a wall of fire leapt up and barricaded the street. A woman wreathed in flames stepped through the wall and held up her hand. It seemed wise to stop.
"Step out of the vehicle," she ordered. I slipped out of the cab, leaned against it, and opened my mouth. "Make a fire or heat pun and I will end you," she growled.
My teeth clicked together so hard I chipped one. I tried to adjust my position against the cab and almost fell over. As Mistress Bonfire approached, she left footprints melted into the asphalt. How did she wear clothes in all that? Her hair and eyebrows were writhing flames. I found myself totally mesmerized by the dancing tongues that formed her hair.
"Hey buddy, I'm down here," she said as she gestured at her eyes. "Why are you out this late?"
"Just working. Ya know, just driving around doing perfectly legal stuff. You'd be surprised how many kids want a Fudgie Bar." I looked at my watch and winced. "At half past midnight." She was close enough the heat radiating from her made me perspire profusely. At least I didn't have to worry about flop sweat giving me away. She arched a yellow-red eyebrow flame.
"Show me," she ordered as she gestured to the back of my truck.
I shuffled my feet as I moved towards the rear of the truck. The voice of my grandmother haunted me. "Sweetums, you lie poorly. I can tell from here you're bluffing and I have glaucoma." I learned a second valuable lesson last Thursday: If you can't afford to lose your rent money don't play poker with Gramgram.
My smile probably looked as weak as it felt as I reached for the handle of the back door. A thump and a moan came from the inside of my truck. The Human Zippo looked angry as she motioned towards me with her arm. I dropped to my knees and bravely screamed, "Not my face! Please not my face!"
A wave of heat swept over my head. Water slammed into my back, knocked me to the ground, and pushed me partly under my truck. I heard a loud hissing noise and Miss Butane screamed. After I crawled out from underneath my rig, I rubbed the water out of my eyes. The Human Roman Candle was laying across the street in a pool of water. Yup, there was no outfit under those flames. The attack aimed at me had a struck a glancing blow to a fire hydrant. I squeezed excess water from my now fire-shortened hair. That should save me a haircut or two.
More of my mother's sage advice came to mind. "Be happy with a slap in the face when you're expecting a kick in the pants."
I grabbed more cape strips from the back of the truck. I donated a shirt and my robbery pants to the naked hero's cause. Dressing a slippery unconscious person was an exercise in frustration. To an onlooker the escapade probably looked like two clumsy people attempting to dance while being tasered. She was bound and slung over my shoulder while I considered the contents of my truck. On moving day my brother pointed out there were thirty-six stairs leading to my apartment. I was staring three trips in the face. Plus, my renter's insurance policy expired last month. Being a below average criminal mastermind made timely policy payments difficult.
I took a moment to replay the events of the Great Yankee Candle fire of '04. In the harshest way possible I learned that cheap furniture, Hai Karate, and an open flame don't mix. On the plus side, I'd learned that burn scars heal in around the time it takes to file for bankruptcy and perform a legal name change.
With a pat on the head I left my still smoldering friend on the sidewalk. I counted on her flaming up to free herself and thus destroying any physical evidence I left behind.
Blue Eyes made her trip to my place over my shoulders. By the time it was Blondie's turn I was exhausted. Why were fit women so heavy? She had to settle with being schlepped up the stairs. I needed to join a gym or eat fewer Peanut M&M's. Over the sound of my panting I heard a door open. I froze like a deer in headlights.
"For crying out loud keep it down out there," scolded Mrs. Zimt.
I was shirtless, still damp from the fire hydrant, and dragging a bound, blonde girl in a cheer outfit behind me.
"Oh, it's you Wetherbe." She eyed the girl and cocked an eyebrow. "Look, your debauchery is your own business but please, for the love of Pete, keep it down. Some of us can only turn our hearing aids down so far." In a blink she was back inside her apartment. "Oh Ethel, it was the young man from upstairs. Get this: He got a haircut and he had a girl with him. Yeah, yeah, I know. I owe you a Coke."
I could only gawk at the closed door. I chose to believe the wagered soda centered on my haircut.
Tired of being soggy, I changed into fresh, dry clothes and took a shot of liquid courage, in the form of Fresca. My next task was clear, but not something I wanted to do. After removing the license plates I rolled my truck into the river. I was less concerned about the environmental impact of my truck on the river than the impact of the river on my truck. If the city could dye the river green on St. Patrick's Day, why couldn't they dye it blue the rest of the year? When the truck spontaneously played its jingle before it sank below the waves, I have to admit I cried. Not the sobbing of a child having lost his favorite stuffed animal, I'd already moved Colonel Pickles to a safe location, but the tough yet vulnerable tears a man sheds for a departed friend.
My criminal associates had scoffed at my daring IKEA robbery. Sure I didn't steal any money and I got shot, but I did score two sweet chairs out of the deal. They were paying dividends as the two heroines were tied to them. With Vivaldi prancing in the background I bent over Blondie to re-secure her ankle, that had come lose, when she smartly kneed me in the face. While my chin rested on the seat of the chair and my nose poked her inner thigh, I waited for the world to stop spinning. I decided to pretend I didn't drool a little. Luckily, my limp body kept her pinned in place.
While bits of my childhood and my driver qualification exam flashed before my eyes I realized my awareness had broadened. I could feel Blondie. Not just the pressure of her skin against mine, I could feel her breathe, her pulse, and the nerves in her mind as they franticly fired.
My knowledge of her was complete: from the calluses on the bottom of her feet, to the small birthmark on her hip, and the scar behind her left ear. Understanding of organ forms and functions flooded me. It was all so obvious. I could see how things worked and what they did, even the womanly bits. At that moment I knew I had bored my college girl friend, terribly.
It only made sense to flex my new-found power. I fixed the stress fracture in her left leg, soothed the bruises from her trip up the stairs, and removed the pain in her jaw. With her eyes as big as saucers and her jaw tentatively moving side to side, I lugged Blondie into the other room.
I sat down in front of Blue and with a heavy sigh admitted to myself that I was lacking a plan. I also realized that, in my excitement over my prisoners, I'd forgotten to steal anything. Son of a bitch. I decided to leave that detail out of my blog.
Intelligent, blue eyes locked onto mine then flicked down towards her mouth. I was already neck deep in this, so I removed the gag. She worked her tongue around. I cringed and waited for the screaming to start.
"My name's Megan. What's yours?"
I blinked dumbly; I had not seen that coming. "Dorian," I stammered.
"Nice to meet you Dorian. It's a little cold in here would you mind closing the windows?" Her tone was reasonable and controlled.
It was June and so humid that I felt like I was breathing soup. I shrugged. What the hell, women are always cold. I used to work with one that would run a space heater in her cubicle in August. After the window issue was addressed I returned to my seat. We considered each other in silence until the room felt a little stuffy. I wondered if my fear was palpable.
"Thank you Dorian. That's much better."
"Would you like a Fresca?" It was out of my mouth before I even knew I had been thinking it. Thankfully, I was able to suppress a grimace. It was quite possibly the dumbest thing I had ever said to a woman. I was holding her captive and offering her beverages. Most likely that was not the first step in the hostage taking hand book. If I survived, I made a mental note to get a copy.
She lifted an eyebrow.
"Yeah, your hands are tied, but I could, ya know, stick some straws together." I accompanied my statement with explanatory hand gestures. That was definitely the dumbest thing I'd ever pantomimed to a woman. Check that, pantomimed to a woman that spoke the same language.
"Thank you for the offer, but no. So, if I may ask. What's your plan here?"
"I don't have one." My chance to salvage my image was already a small object in my rear view mirror. Honesty wasn't going to hurt.
"Well, you've got what you wanted. Why don't you let both of us go? Just blindfold and drop us off somewhere. No harm. No foul." I couldn't stop my cringe in time. "Oh, Sugar you didn't get the book? You're the runt of your litter aren't you? Look I'll talk to the authorities and after we stop laughing I'll put in a good word for you. They'll find a nice place where you'll be protected from yourself." I was ready to cry.
She blew a stray hair off her face. "So, can you do anything special or are you pure vanilla?"
"I can heal." I was nervous. This was the longest I'd spoken to an adult woman without having to give my credit card number.
"Would you look at my head? It hurts."
I cupped her face in my hands. As I reduced the swelling and soothed the pain, my awareness of her grew. Her body was manufacturing and releasing chemical messengers at an incredible rate. Were they pheromones?
With a cup of tea in hand, I retreated to my other room. A quick shake emptied a pillow case which promptly went over Blondie's head.
"I'm not a parakeet. I'm not going to go to sleep," she muttered.
Honestly, I didn't want her staring at me with those large, brown accusatory cheerleader eyes. For my own peace of mind her chair was turned to face away from me. I dimmed the lights and decided to break with tradition. Serious introspection required Brahms. As I sat on my floor, in the dark, I closed my eyes and saw a whole new world. I knew myself from head to toe.
My previous self-healing efforts had all the precision and technique of a kindergartner's finger painting. I set about making right what I once made wrong. At least my elbow would no longer ache when it got cold. Eventually after a playful romp through the wonderland that is my insides, I got down to brass tacks. I found Meg's little chemical presents and studied what they were doing to me. In a few minutes I had a plan, and it was all thanks to her.
On my way into the room my right foot slipped in a residual pool of water and I sprawled forward. In a frantic attempt to save myself I grabbed at Megan's chair and subsequently pulled her over. The back of my head bounced off the floor and directly into her descending forehead. My nose made a squishy sound.
She looked stunned with a subtle undercurrent of pity. Or maybe it was all pity. Once I stood up the blood began to flow. After this was over I needed to rob an Old Navy or a Ross to replace the all these clothes. Maybe a Gap. I liked Gap.
Brewing tea with one's head tilted backwards is a bit of a challenge. This time I kept my eyes closed as I leaned over the sink and fixed my nose. I do learn. The puddle of water caused me to pause. With a towel underfoot and a supporting arm a few quick swipes resolved the problem.
"I'm still here dumbass," Blondie growled from under the pillowcase.
I tossed on some Wagner, an angry sounding opera was only appropriate. Then I cupped Megan's face in my hands.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
"Trying to figure out why your forehead hates my nose so much."
She gave a derisive snort. "Hey could you do me a favor?"
"Well, I'm pretty close to my mother."
My arms crossed over my chest. I had no idea where she was going with this.
"She worries about me. I bet yours does too. Who can blame them with occupations like ours?"
I could my picture my mother standing over her phone with a tormented expression and tears forming in her eyes.
"Could you give her a call and let her know I'm OK?"
My phone was in my hand. I chocked back a sob and nodded.
"Bear with me here, her number is a little odd."
I nodded again and rubbed at my nose.
"OK. First dial nine."
I pressed the directed number and looked at her expectantly.
My finger mashed the button.
"And another one."
My finger was on the button. "Wait, where does she live? I don't have long distance." I saw her grimace before it was replaced with a calm smile. A thought clicked into place. "Ah, hell." I flung the phone at my couch.
"Look I know you're scared. You're in way over your head here. There is nothing wrong with that. Could you loosen up my wrists? My hands are numb."
My hands moved towards her. She was right. I was scared. Damn it, she was doing it again. I strengthened my resolve and focused on her. She kept talking but the words were unimportant. With little effort I found the sources of her pheromones. I took a moment to consider her brain chemistry and made some adjustments to her little helpers.
"Listen to me. You are my guest. Good guests relax and don't try to meddle with their hosts." Her body visibly relaxed. I locked my eyes onto her cerulean ones. "A good guest would even apologize for hurting a host."
"I'm sorry I broke your nose Mr. Stork."
I smiled. The best part was that she was convincing herself. I was positively giddy, most likely from exhaustion and blood loss, but giddy nonetheless. It was an odd occurrence. I tried to recall the last time I was happy while a woman was in my apartment and not wearing a pizza delivery uniform.