The offer from Damon Memphis/Dennis Murphy returned to Buddy’s mind as he walked to the bus stop. Perhaps his sister was right. There was more he could be doing to help balance the family budget. And if Murphy really was willing to pay them to do the type of stuff they were already doing, would that really be so bad? It’s not like they’re really going to be able to allow Flores to do whatever he’s doing without looking into it, right?
What really helped clinch the deal with Buddy was that Maggie had decided to take a catering job. She hated catering. The only thing she hated more were those who were fanatical about any particular fandom in popular culture..
The more Buddy thought about it, the more he realized how much sense it made. Zero had been keeping them all on a tight regimen of nightly patrols, daily patrols, training, and strength exercises. Between all of this, there was barely any time left to sleep, much less actually stay awake for a normal job. The offer from Damon would technically fall under the heading of ‘actual superhero duties’, meaning not only would it be a whole lot more fun than processing insurance claims, it might mean Zero would loosen up on all the other stuff he was having them do on a daily basis.
Although working for the man who used to be Dominion should be the stupidest idea the world had ever known, Buddy found himself coming to the conclusion that it might also be the one which made the most sense.
The bus arrived and Buddy stepped on. He fished three quarters out of his pocket to place into the money slot. He nodded at the driver, who closed the door and drove away as Buddy walked down the aisle to find a seat.
As always, Buddy tried to look no higher than a person’s knees. Making eye contact was a surefire way to ensure the trip would be filled with inane conversation with an absolute lunatic. Not that Buddy thought everyone who rode the bus was crazy, just the ones who would inevitably lock eyes with you if you made the mistake of looking anywhere near eye level.
He sat down on the first available bench and pulled out his phone to try texting Alexa once again as someone plopped down onto the seat beside him.
“Hey! It’s you!”
Buddy kept his eyes on his phone, not daring to show the person who was now next to him that he had any interest in continuing this conversation. He cautiously mumbled, “Hi.”
“Pretty crazy, huh? Running into each other like this?” he asked. Buddy noticed, out of the corner of his eye, the man’s arm moving in a circular motion, presumably in an attempt to get Buddy to make the mistake of looking up.
“Yep,” Buddy growled, continuing in his attempt to write four words on his phone.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” the man’s voice sounded sad.
“Nope,” Buddy grumbled, focusing his attention on finding the button to make one of those smiley faces, because he knew Alexa liked to see those as a way to show he wasn’t mad.
The kid dug around in his pocket and after some difficulty, fished out a pair of yellow goggles, which he placed over his eyes as he leaned forward, directly into Buddy’s line of sight. He looked up at Buddy, smiled an obnoxious smile, and then rushed to shove the goggles back into his jeans pocket. “I didn’t think the mask thing made such a difference,” he whispered.
“I’m not sure it does,” Buddy whispered back, hoping the kid hadn’t noticed that Buddy had, in fact, seen the whites of his eyes.
“So, I had meant to ask you last night. You heading out to the Con tomorrow? The RLSH is supposed to have a whole big section dedicated to the movement. I heard they were going to be taking over about a quarter of the west wing. Even supposed to have a few big exhibitions going on, including, or so I’ve heard, a parade!”
“I’m sorry,” Buddy said, finally looking up from his phone, dangerously making eye contact in the hopes that what he said next might be able to do what his lack of visual engagement had failed. “I really have no clue who you are.”
“Wow!” the man smiled larger. “I didn’t realize how much my costume hid my looks. I guess a pair of glasses really could work as a disguise, huh?”
Buddy stared blankly at the young man, disappointed that his final attempt had also managed to fail.
“I’m the,” the young man began, then leaned in and spoke in a hushed tone, “bumblebee!”
“Oh, Bumblebee!” Buddy exclaimed loudly. Bumblebee quickly brought a finger to his own lips and made a loud shushing noise, looking around rapidly in every direction to see if anyone had noticed. Buddy looked around as well, seeing that absolutely no one was paying any attention to them. They all appeared to know about the rule of avoiding eye contact at all costs.
“We’ve got to keep that on the down-low, man. My enemies could be anywhere.”
“Riiight,” Buddy responded, a smile now appearing on his face.
“So, what about it, you heading to the Con? I didn’t see you at the prep meeting this morning.”
“Oh, um, yeah, that SuperCon thing, right? Not this year, kid.”
“But it’s the RLSH event of the year. It’s the best time to network and get to meet new people for team-ups and everything. Heck, supers from all over the world will be here.”
“Yeah? You don’t say,” Buddy said quietly, not sure how to respond to such an exuberant excitement for something Buddy considered to be so far beneath him.
“I suppose you’re not too worried about networking and all that, what with you already having a team and everything, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Too many friends already.”
“I wish I had that problem.”
“Um,” Buddy muttered, not sure whether he even wanted to reassure this kid and give him the wrong idea. “I, um, don’t believe that for a second. A, er, cool guy like you? You’ve gotta be beating them off with a stick, right?”
“That’s what my mom always says!”
“Sounds like a smart lady.”
“She sure is! Anyways, since you’ve already seen me out of uniform, I guess it doesn’t do any harm to formally introduce myself. I’m Talmadge Jones.” He extended a hand to Buddy.
Buddy reluctantly took the hand. “Buddy Jackson.”
“It’s great to officially meet you Buddy. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”
“Yeah, maybe. . . “
“And seriously, you should reconsider going to the Con. It’s a lot of fun.”
“Maybe next year.”
“Well, if for some reason you do manage to find yourself there, make sure to stop by my booth and say hey. All members are supposed to be set up in the main RLSH section, but since this is my first year, I thought I’d spend a few extra bucks and get my own space in the exhibitor’s section, you know to sign autographs and whatever.”
“Sure, sure,” Buddy said, looking out the window. “Oh, looks like this is my stop.” Buddy pulled the bell cord, hearing the familiar ding come from the front of the vehicle.
“Barber Street, huh? I haven’t been down here in ages. You work here?”
“Something like that.”
“Cool. Maybe I’ll have to stop by sometime and say hello.” The bus slowed to a stop, brakes screeching to a halt. “Where do you work?”
Buddy stood and squeezed his way in front of Talmadge into the aisle. “Um, well, I guess you could say I work all over.” Buddy winked. “You know us RLH whatevers.”
“Oh, I get it.”
“I’m sure you do. See ya.” Buddy walked down the aisle to the door.
“Bye, Buddy!” Talmadge yelled after him.
Go to Chapter Five