Still on vacation/exile in Costa Rica.
My daily ritual lately has been to wake up around 11 AM, think about shaving, eat brunch with my female Canadian friend, take a swim, shower, think about shaving, walk into town to buy an American paper or go online at the internet café, then hit my favorite bar and begin drinking. I usually hook up with my female Canadian friend later in the day for dinner or more drinks or dancing or sex – sometimes all of these things. That’s pretty much been my life for the past two weeks. No rampaging robots, no muggings to stop, no police dragnets, no vengeful super-villains who want to kill me dead. None of that shit. Just… leisure.
So I’m sitting in my favorite bar, doing a crossword puzzle and working on beer #3. The bar has these big shuttered windows that are always open, looking out on a black sand beach and the Pacific. A gentle salty breeze drifts into the bar.
A gringo eases up to the bar and sits down next to me. He orders a beer from Thor (yes, that’s his name), the Norwegian expatriate bartender. There are plenty of other places to sit in the place, so that catches my attention. I look up from my puzzle, a little irritated that this guy is sitting right next to me. I’m so switched off that it doesn’t even dawn on me that this guy may be dangerous.
“How’s it going?” the gringo asks me.
I look at him. He’s got that healthy, square-jawed, corn-fed blandly handsome American thing going on – looks like an off duty fighter pilot or fireman. Mid-thirties, short, well-groomed black hair, wearing a Bermuda shirt and cargo shorts. He’s got big forearms with some kind of faded military tattoo.
“All right,” I say non-committaly. I don’t want to strike up a conversation with this guy.
“You American?” he asks.
There’s something about this guy. Then it hits me: he’s clean-shaven and his clothes are immaculate and unwrinkled. He’s not a tourist, he hasn’t been hanging out here…
I tense a little and stare at him.
The guy smiles. “Hello? You American?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Where you from? I’m from New Avalon. Name’s Steve.”
Wait a second. Maybe I’m overreacting. Steve could be gay, and he’s just chatting me up. That would explain the well-groomed thing, and the sitting too close thing.
“What can I do for you, Steve?” I ask coldly.
“Easy, friend,” Steve says. “Just making conversation. Can I buy you a beer?”
“No. Listen, Steve, I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but do me a favor and fuck off, okay? I’m working on my crossword here.”
I go back to working on my puzzle. There. If he’s hitting on me, that should get rid of him. If it doesn’t, I’ll know he’s a supervillain and I’ll bust this Corona bottle across his face.
“No reason to be an asshole about it,” Steve says.
I look up. “You still here, Steve?”
Steve takes a swig of his beer and kind of sighs. “Okay, I’ll just cut to the chase then. I’d like to ask you a few questions about Vincent Rapaport.”
Parka. He’s talking about Parka, the supervillain I killed (accidentally) in Evergreen City last month.
I switch on. My entire body tenses up, like I’m plugged into a wall socket. The buzz I was working on completely evaporates. I knew it! This guy’s a hitman, or one of The Malefactors or something!
I decide not to hit Steve with my beer bottle. If we get in a fight in here we’ll completely destroy Thor’s bar, and I kind of like the place.
Trying to stay cool, I slowly set my beer down and step away from the bar. “Okay, Steve, or whatever your name is,” I say in a low voice. “Why don’t we do this out on the beach or something?”
Steve holds up his hands in a peace gesture, smiling. “Easy, easy Connor. It’s not like that. I just want to talk.”
“Who are you? How’d you find me?” I say, my voice a little shrill with anxiety.
“Let’s not cause a scene,” Steve says and gestures to my empty stool. “Have a seat and we’ll talk about it. This isn’t anything bad; I just want to talk.”
“No, fuck that. I want some answers. Who are you and how did you find me?”
Steve smiles and nods. His demeanor is vaguely patronizing, like he’s talking to a child. “Okay. Okay, I can see how you’d be leery of talking to anybody. I should have showed up in uniform, but I didn’t want to blow your cover.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m Silver Striker.”
We look at each other for a long minute. I’m sizing him up, trying to imagine him all silvery…
“Bullshit,” I say finally. “You’re some fucking supervillain.”
“Listen, if I was, I wouldn’t walk in here and sit down next to you, I would have shot you in the back of the head from across the street. I mean, you’re sitting with your back to the door and right in front of all these big open windows. Anybody could walk in here and you wouldn’t know it. Pretty sloppy tradecraft.”
“I’m not interested in tradecraft, Steve, I’m interested in Corona,” I say. I’m reconsidering my decision not to bludgeon him with my beer bottle.
He kind of laughs. “Dr. Quark said you had an attitude…”
“Steve, I’m about two seconds away from kicking the shit out of you; I don’t know what’s so goddamn funny.”
“Settle down, son,” he says, with an edge in his voice. “You’re not kicking the shit out of anybody. I’m here to ask you some questions, and you’re going to answer them.”
Something happens to his hand. I flinch, expecting an attack. Steve’s hand sort of shimmers and glows, then turns silver. It’s like his whole hand is covered in liquid metal. His hand sparkles, then in a flash returns to regular flesh. Well, it’s either the real Silver Striker or an illusionist-type supervillain.
“Happy?” Steve says.
Warily, I ease back on to my bar stool. I’m not 100% convinced.
“If you’re really Silver Striker, you should be able to answer some questions,” I say.
“Like what?” Steve asks.
This is where my childhood as a superhero geek comes into play. When I was growing up, Silver Striker was my favorite hero. The guy’s a living legend. I had all the officially licensed comic books, the Silver Striker bed sheet set, and a kick-ass hardback Guide to Silver Striker with all kinds of trivia. I was a nerd, what can I say?
“Okay, what kind of jet did you fly when you first started as a pilot in the Air Force?”
“F-104 Starfighter,” he says. “Beautiful plane.”
“What was your call sign?”
“Quaker,” he says.
“First alien you ever fought?”
“Magedda,” he says.
“Wrong! It was The Krill!” Ha! Got him!
“Actually, Magedda was the first. We didn’t know she was an alien at the time, of course, so most people think it was The Krill. Common mistake.”
“Have you ever had sex with SuperNova?”
He flushes a little. “That’s none of your damn business.”
I’m sold. It’s Silver Striker all right.
“Shit, sorry man,” I say sheepishly. “You gotta understand, I’ve been a little jumpy lately, and you just came up and sat down…”
“No apologies necessary, Marauder,” Silver Striker says. “I should have known you’d be on edge.”
“Right, right. So how’d you find me?”
“Dr. Quark can find anyone,” Silver Striker says.
“Of course.” I’m surprised Dr. Quark would even know who I am, much less be able to find me. Then again, he is the Surgeon of Reality, he probably knows everything there is to know about me.
“So, um, what can I do for you?” I’m suddenly nervous, but for a whole different reason than a minute ago. How do I talk to him? Should I call him ‘sir’?
His face darkens a little.
“You killed Vincent Rapaport – Parka,” he says. “And I want to know why.”