Chapter 3

(in which a book launch is attended and several fellow gifted individuals are encountered)

<– Chapter 2

It’s two am when I get home. I check for bruises in the bathroom. Right on the cheek. Hurts to smile. And to touch. Time for painkillers. Something nice from my excellent painkiller stash I think. Never underestimate the stash of drug company employees. Not even the publicists.

I call Jenny to let her know I got home safe. She doesn’t pick up so I just leave a voicemail about the night’s adventures.

Jenny calls me around 10am the next day at work. I fill her in. By now I’ve determined who hit me. His name’s 100-Watt Warlock.

“That was your plan? Stand on a rooftop and start a conversation with the first superfreak who flies by?”

Well, when you put it THAT way…

“Anyway, I’ve got something to forward to you.” What is it? “A way that doesn’t involve any fighting. I’m glad you’re okay.”

I come up with an excuse for my face. I try it out on Rashid. He buys it. I’ll be a punchline for the rest of the week but the story sticks. R is all “Oh the ignominy! The youngest musketeer struck down by a mere callow skateboarding youth!”

I wasn’t struck. I tripped, I insist.

“Struck, tripped, a pratfall is a pratfall.”

I suggest that a prat is more likely to use “ignominy” in a sentence than to trip over skaters.

Back at my desk after lunch I resume googling 100-Watt Warlock. There’s not too much on him. He’s worked both sides of the game, it seems. He teamed up with The Big Six against Prehistoricus last summer, but there are three or four warrants for his arrest going back a few years. His powers list is pretty vague: he flies, he’s strong, he glows in the dark, but nothing about smacking people down at a distance.

I’m on the phone to the credit card people when Jenny’s email arrives. It’s an invitation to a book launch. Some superdude memoir/manifesto. It sounds much more civilised than a rooftop punchup. Plus also there will be free wine. I forward the invite to Rashid and finish up with the credit card replacement, then spend the rest of the day shilling cancer medication.

Said cancermed huckstering sees me visiting printing around 4.30. I keep an eye out for Tracey, she of the ex-Yaddayadda fire victim sister. No sign of her in any of the obvious places, so I leave a sticky note with my extension on her monitor.

I spend a quiet night at home surfing the web and TV. The most exciting thing I get up to is using the power to cut up my steak. Lifting things and cutting meat at a distance won’t stop bank robberies or rescue hostages, or stop me getting my arse kicked, though.

Superbook night sees R and me waiting at The Clever Name, our latest CBD favourite, for Jenny to meet us for a post-work pre-launch drink.

Have you ever read a super memoir before? I ask.

“Just Mechaman’s. Oh and a trashy one about Lady Laser. They weren’t great. You?”

We did Diary of a Patriot and What Makes Vigilantes in first year poli-sci, but I used the Spark Notes, I confess.

I spot Jenny in the doorway and head to the bar for her usual so I’ve got something to offer her when she sees my face for the first time.

“You poor thing. Is it sore?” I extend my gin hand and go for a shy smile/wince combo. She accepts my offering, takes a sip and frowns.

“You don’t think it makes him seem more manly?” asks Rashid.

“More stupid,” says Jenny.

Hey it wasn’t exactly my fault, I protest.

“You put yourself in that situation, Harry,” says Jenny.

“Yeah,” says Rashid. “You should have been watching for skaters.”

Jenny: “Skaters”?

Yeah the skaters who knocked me down.

“Oh them,” says Jenny. Guess I should have compared notes with her before we met Rashid.

The bookstore is sweaty hot. We shoulder over to the free wine. A guy in a luchadore’s mask and tuxedo stands behind the table, smiling. We shnaffle two reds each and find an unobtrusive corner of the young adult section for stargazing. There are more costumes than I expected.

Rashid & I play spot the out-of-uniform super while Jenny goes to check out the book. The ones with green skin & flaming hair are easy gets.

Jenny comes over with the book. Kudos to the designers for resisting any of the obvious visual cape/mask/logo cliches. The title, though…

“Power”? Not a modest title, is it? I say. I flip for the blurb. “Ten years ago a young man’s life was irrevocably changed. This revealing memoir documents the origins of Apex Baron and his rise to prominence among the superheroes of the Western Hemisphere.”

“‘Apex Baron’? Never heard of him,” says Rashid.

I flip for the middle-page glossies. They’re all black & whites/sepias. Army stuff mostly. He was big in the ’40s, I say. I think he’s retired now.

“Nazi-buster,” says Rashid.

Jap-buster, I say. Nazis didn’t get this far south.

Shushes as a thin blond woman doof doof doofs the mike with her hand. A big guy, early fifties, expensive charcoal suit, stands beside her.

“Thanks everyone for coming out tonight. I’m Marcy Baines, Senior Publisher at Ahemhem. I first encountered tonight’s author as a child. Ever since I was a little girl my oma would tell stories of how she met Apex Baron during the war when she was stationed in the far north. I won’t go into detail about his rescue of Oma and her fellow nurses – suffice it to say that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here now.”

She steps aside and half-turns to the dude in the suit, who now that I consider it, could actually be the right age for that anecdote. As long as he was insanely fit and healthy and maybe some kind of geriatric superfreak ex-hero guy, that is. Which he most definitely is, since as he takes the mic in hand, smiling modestly, there’s a crack and a fizzle as he snaps it in half.

He smiles with chagrin as he puts the busted mic down and apologises in a deep, mellifluous voice that needs no amplification whatsoever.

“I’ve never been comfortable speaking in public,” he says. “I’d much rather deal with death-traps or break badguys’ jaws, to be honest.” He pauses for acknowledgement of his little joke. Polite chuckles from the masked portion of the crowd, but I can sense Jenny’s disapproval.

He adjusts his glasses and glances at his notes. He looks back up at the crowd and the shopfront window explodes inward.

Continued in Chapter 4

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