“Meet the creators of the new comic series Shirts vs. Skins here at 2pm! Soon to be a Saturday morning cartoon!”
“Back issues only fifty cents, this hour only!”
“Hey, honey, nice costume,” said a black-haired tall female wearing a black cat outfit, complete with a long tail, little ears, and whip.
Zero stopped in his tracks and turned to look at the cat-lady. “It’s not a costume, cat-maiden, it’s a uniform.”
“Rwauw!” she said, raising her fingers into claws and scratching at the air. “I like a man with a little vinegar in him.”
“Don’t mind him,” Buddy said, stepping between the two. “He’s had a rough morning.”
“Well, if he plays his cards right, I can make sure he has a rough night as well,” she said, winking at Zero.
“Although I’m sure he’d be delighted,” Buddy answered, “he’s probably not your type.”
“Is she a villain?” Zero whispered to Buddy as he was being pulled away.
“Who knows? With curves like those, I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her.”
“Why would you throw her, chum?”
“Of course. We shall return to investigate this situation after we complete our mission.”
“Sure, whatever. Just get away from the lady before you realize she’s trying to get you to buy something. My credit’s way past maxed out. Let’s find Talmadge and get on our way. And if there’s a coffee stand somewhere along the way, that too.”
“Come play the new Cranket and Ratch game here before it hits the stores!”
“Oooh,” Zero smiled. “Cranket and Ratch are my favorites!”
“Not now, Zero. We’ve got important business to deal with, and if we don’t get it done soon, I fear I’m going to be paying for it in more than one way.”
“Aw, come on now, chum,” Zero patted Buddy on the back. “I had my reservations upon entering as well, but I believe this place is starting to grow on me!” Zero stopped in his tracks at a booth covered in T-shirts and began giggling.
“What is it now, Zero?” Buddy asked in agitation.
Zero picked up a shirt off the table and displayed it to his companion. It says, ‘Superheroes do it in their underwear’. “Do you get it, chum?” Zero continued giggling.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Buddy shrugged. “Now can we keep going?”
“Of course,” Zero said, carefully replacing the shirt as Buddy left his side. Zero hurried to catch up. “I suppose the shirt does reinforce the stereotype that superheroes wear their under— Oh. My. God!“ Zero said as he again stopped in his tracks.
“What?” Buddy asked, looking around for the source of Zero’s enchantment. Zero ran off without a word. In the distance, Buddy saw a large sign above a table promising ‘Authentic Life-Sized Weaponry’. “Oh.”
Buddy noticed that near the table Zero had departed for was the RLSH sign he had seen when they had entered. He directed himself to the woman standing behind the table directly underneath the sign.
“…and then I used one of these during my battle against the vile…” Zero was already in deep conversation with the man behind the weapons counter. Buddy decided to allow him the entertainment and take on this part of finding Talmadge by himself.
“Very nice uniform, sir. I see you’ve taken the look of the Founding Fathers in a very modern light, while still managing to stay incredibly true to the original,” said the woman behind the table. She wore a blue polo shirt with a tiny image under the lapel of a man flying with a cape flowing behind him. She greeted Buddy with a warm smile.
“I’m sorry, The Founding Fathers?”
“Yes,” she said, gesturing behind her to the statue which towered over her. “You know, the men and women who are immortalized in the Defenders Statue. I had just assumed that since you looked so–”
“Oh, yeah, sorry, I haven’t had my coffee yet. The Founding Fathers, yep. Seems like they get overlooked too often.”
“I totally agree. I mean, we have this huge statue right here in the middle of town, and it seems like most people don’t even know it exists.”
“Yeah. . . “ Buddy tentatively agreed.
“So, are you interested in the Real Life Super Hero movement?”
“Oh, yeah,” Buddy snapped back. “I just met one of your members a couple nights ago. Was hoping you’d be able to help me find him.”
“Certainly,” she said, pulling out a sheet of paper from a file cabinet behind her. “Whom are you looking for?”
“I’m sorry, sir. Due to the nature of our movement, we don’t utilize real names in any of our official literature. Do you know which moniker he goes by when in uniform?”
“Oh yeah, sorry, should have thought of that. He goes by Bumblebee.”
“Oh, him,” she said, her demeanor suddenly changing, the smile becoming a look of consternation. “Yeah, he’s back in the exhibitor section.” She looked down at the sheet. “Table 213.”
“Okay, so, near here?”
“No,” she laughed lightly. “He’s on the other side of the building, near the video game pavilion. Just head that way,” she pointed toward the east side of the building, “and you can’t miss it. It’s pretty much the only area of the building which isn’t packed to the brim with people.”
“That way?” Buddy asked, pointing in the same direction.
“Yep, that way. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No, I think that’s it. Thanks.”
“Of course, sir. Please visit again. I’d love to show some of our senior members your take on the leader of The Founders.”
“Sure thing,” Buddy smiled. “Have a good one.”
“Do you mean to tell me,” Zero was arguing with the weapon vendor as Buddy arrived, “that you honestly believe a sword made of fire could beat any form of projectile weapon?”
“It’s not as much about the sword itself, it depends on the person wielding it. Just think, if you could somehow harness–”
“Even a blade would be better than flame, because at least you might have some chance of deflecting a bullet, but with fire–”
“Right, but by this point the world would have turned to energy weapons, meaning–”
“But why wouldn’t they just go back to bullets after they realize these fire samurai or whatever you want to call them–”
“Hey, Zero,” Buddy interjected. The two stopped and stared at him. “I hate to cut your convo short, but we’ve gotta head over to the other side of the building to find Talmadge.”
“Do you mean Talmadge Jones?” the vendor asked.
“Um, yeah,” Buddy answered.
“He’s one of my best customers. Is he here? I’d love to meet that kid face-to-face. You’d be amazed at what I’ve been able to convince him to buy.”
“Yeah, he’s here,” Buddy replied. “Way over in the exhibitor section or something like that. Come on, Zero, let’s go.”
“Before we go, chum. Do you happen to have some money you could lend me? This gentleman has a mint condition working replica of the rail gun used in–”
“I’m pretty sure Maggie would kill me if I lent you any more of the money I don’t have, pal. Let’s go.”
“Oh, alright. Mr. X,” Zero said, speaking to the weapon vendor, “I’d highly appreciate it if you could hold that rail–”
“No, Zero, just no. It ain’t happening. Come on.”
“Fine,” Zero said, dragging his feet as he followed Buddy.
“Having fun?” Buddy smirked.
“Of course, chum. I was just chatting with that vendor back there about our old exploits and although he believed me to be telling fiction, he said they reminded him of a character from a series known as Guy Flambé. I was thinking maybe we could pick some of these up. I’ve been considering this whole comic book thing lately and wondering if maybe it has something to do with–”
“Wow,” Buddy interjected. “You’re really all over this whole convention thing, aren’t you?”
“I believe there might be some clues as to how we might be able to correct the results of the Mind Wipe in these—“
“Alright, fine. After we find Talmadge, we can look to see if we can find some comics for you.”
“Perfect. Hey, do you smell that?”
“That smell from the gods. I know that smell. There’s only one woman who can produce a smell as intoxicating as that.” Zero quickened his pace, looking in every direction as he went.
“I don’t smell anything except sweat and latex–which, I have to say, is a scent which should accompany something much more pleasurable than this.”
“No, not the stench of nerd, the sweet smell of caramelized raspberries. The smell of the one and only Maggie Jackson’s Famous Raspberry Pie!” He visually spotted his target and moved faster to the goal. Buddy tried keeping up, but found his way continually blocked by folks in costume trying to move from booth to booth. When he finally reached Zero’s side, he found his friend already salivating over a freshly baked specimen of his favorite treat, attempting to garner the attention of Alexa as the rest of the line yelled at him about going to the back.
“Why is it that you seem to stop at every chance you get? At this rate, we might have been better off just waiting for Talmadge by the exit at the end of the day.”
“Don’t you see, Buddy, she made it for me. She knows of my love for her raspberry deliciousness. There was a time when she would make it every time I came home from–” Zero stopped for a moment with a wistful look on his face. “Never mind. All the same. That pie is mine!”
“Not if you don’t get to the back of the line it isn’t,” said an old woman who was anxiously awaiting Alexa to retrieve her ordered items.
“My dear madam,” Zero spoke harshly, “if you do not cease to continue your constant prattling about this damned line of yours, I will be–”
“Zero,” Buddy cut him off, “chill out already. It’s just a pie, okay?”
“Hey boys,” Alexa said, forcing a smile as she rushed to wrap a sandwich. “Looks like you made it in alright.”
“Yeah, hey, where is everybody? Wasn’t Maggie supposed to have hired on a whole bunch of people to help out? I don’t even see her.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Alexa said, handing the lady the sandwich and holding two fingers up to the man next in line who wore a costume which looked like a cross between a dog and a bear. “Turns out she didn’t get nearly enough help. And our power keeps shutting off intermittently, so everyone went off to deal with that. Now, it’s just me and Sal left.”
Buddy hadn’t noticed Sal sitting on a chair at the other end of the table. He was collecting orders and money.
“Hey Sal!” Buddy yelled to the old man. Sal looked up slowly, a look of tension on his face. “What are you doing out of the diner?”
Sal got up from his chair and ambled slowly over. “Buddy, great to see you, you big dummy. Diner’s closed since Maggie’s out here. Figured I may as well work to pay off some of my tab, you know?”
“Good man,” Buddy laughed. “That thing’s gotta be bigger than my phone number by now!”
“Hey now, it’s not that big. Plus, you know I’m good for it, just as soon as my disability check comes in.”
“Hey!” came a yell from the line. “Are you guys working or what?”
“Hold your horses, kiddo,” Sal scolded. “Give me a minute.” To Alexa he asked, “Where’s that Ryan kid gotten off to?”
“He’s dealing with the power issue, you know that.”
“Ryan’s here?” Buddy asked.
“Yeah, of course he’s here,” Alexa answered. “Maggie’s done so much for us, it’s the least we all could do. I’m kinda surprised she didn’t ask you.”
“Damn, that’s why Maggie was so mad about me saying I was supposed to help him out.”
“What the hell’s going on in here?” stormed Maggie as she appeared behind the serving area. “We’ve got a line going out the door and you guys are just sitting around chatting?”
“Sorry, Maggie,” Alexa apologized, giving Buddy a look as she returned to preparing meals. Sal returned to his post silently.
“Sorry boys, you’ll have to wait until tonight to get to chat, alright? This line’s only for people who want food, not discussion.”
“But,” Zero whimpered, “I want a slice of that delicious pie.”
“Did you guys wait in line?”
“Then no dice. Get out of here.”
A loud crashing noise came from above. Buddy looked up to see the glass which lined the ceiling come crashing down at the other end of the building. A group of men, clad in black, entered through the newly opened entrance.
“Buddy?” Maggie asked. “You know these guys?”
“Not yet, I don’t,” Buddy grinned.
“You think it’s one of those publicity stunts?” Zero asked.
“A publicity stunt that destroys half the building?” Maggie asked as more and more of the ceiling fell to the floor.
“Looks like it’s time to get into action,” Buddy laughed.
“When you get done,” Maggie began, “could you come back here and help us out? This line’s getting out of control.”
“Sure, sis,” Buddy said as he ran toward the scene in the distance. “It’s hero time!”
Go to Chapter Twelve