“Superman has Clark Kent when he wants to kick back and just not go out to fight the bad guys. I’ve wearing this costume for so long I can’t remember what name my mother called me. It gets tiring sometimes. There are days I could use an extra hand, but who offers to carry groceries for a guy in a superhero costume? Even if the guy qualifies for his old age security.”
The old man sat in the chair in my office and glowered at me. The blue spandex might have been a good choice when he was younger and in better shape, but now it showed off the softness of his old body. Not that he was soft, that gun was real enough, and his eyes held the same steel as the gun.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked and looked at the blank page where I would normally have reams of notes.
“I need a retirement home,” the old man said, “somewhere where the bad guys can’t find me and where everyone else will leave me alone.”
“I need a name, a social security number, an address,” I said, “I understand you wanting a rest, but I can’t place a nameless stranger in a home. You have to give me something.”
He pushed himself to his feet. The sound of joints popping and cracking made me wince. His fingers were swollen, super-arthritis? Was surgery even possible on him?
“Come with me,” he said, “see for yourself. Don’t get too close and don’t get in my way.” I followed him out of my office and watched him walk along the street. Nobody paid the slightest attention to him. A flock of pigeons flew over him and left their mark on his blue costume. His shoulders sagged a little as he kept walking, though I noticed his hand brush against that gun at his side. I don’t know if he walked slowly so I could keep up, but if so he over did it. Several times I had to stop to tie my shoe or look in a window to give him the space he needed.
We turned down a ramp into a parking garage. Shouts echoed through the empty space as men in black ninja costumes jumped out to surround him. None of them saw me as I ducked between two cars and pulled out my cell phone. No signal.
My debate as to whether I should go out on the street to call for help ended when the ninjas leaped to the attack. In the movies, they’d charge one by one and allow him to defeat one before the next moved in.. This wasn’t the movies. They moved as a coordinated team to pummel the old man.
Only he didn’t move like an old man now. One opponent moved a little too fast. The man in spandex grabbed him by the throat and tossed him at those attacking from the rear. The smack of a fist hitting flesh reached my hiding place, but the hero used the arm to pull the ninja off balance and drop him with a quick jab. He spun out of the attempted headlock by another opponent and threw that man on top of the first hard enough to bounce.
One by one then ninjas joined the pile of unconscious thugs until it was taller than the old man. The last one he dispatched with a jump kick I couldn’t imagine trying, though I was sure he had thirty years on me. As I came out of my hiding place the energy left him and he puffed like I did if I walked up a hill too fast. He waved at me and I waited for him to catch his breath.
“Why didn’t you use that?” I pointed at the gun at his side.
“Do you know… how much… ammunition costs?” he said between wheezes. “Nobody pays me for this.” He walked to the back of the garage and pulled the cover off a classic muscle car. Well, it would have been a classic if it weren’t for the fifty caliber machine guns mounted on each door.
“You may as well get in.” He waved me over to the passenger side and climbed into his seat.
“Where are the seatbelts?”
“Never needed them.” He pushed a button and the engine roared to life. Tires squealed as smoke filled the garage, then he popped the brake and we took off. He weaved through the garage slowing only slightly to bump a reviving ninja back onto the pile with a rear fender. We erupted out of the garage and onto the street, where he had to slam on the brakes to fit into the bumper to bumper traffic.
“We’d be faster walking,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” the old man thumped the steering wheel and glared up at the flock of pigeons that left white gooey marks across the windshield. “Flying’s better, but everyone’s so uptight now I’m afraid they’d try to shoot me down. Got some nice pictures the first time they scrambled on me, but now it’s just a nuisance.”
He pulled off the road and sped away through an alley making one turn after another into spaces I was sure we’d never fit. Even with the extra width of the guns we didn’t leave a scratch on the wall.
“Here we are,” he said and whipped the car through an open loading door. The car rocked and creaked as the elevator lifted us up to the top floor.
We stopped and he climbed out of the car. I had to climb across the car to get out.
“Don’t hit any buttons,” he said.
The words rocket launcher peeked out from beneath my hand. I moved it away and made sure to watch what I did until I stood safe outside the car.
The penthouse was sparsely furnished, almost barren. I shivered, it might be a great hero’s lair, but I wouldn’t want to live here.
“Tea, coffee?” the old man said, “I’d offer you biscuits and jam, but jam jars are my one weakness.”
“How can a jam jar be your weakness?”
“Can’t open them,” he said, “never could.” He poured boiling water into a pot and swirled it. Then made tea.
“Was a time I didn’t mind it up here,” he said, “I needed a quiet place to get away from the rush; being a super hero is addictive. Then like any addiction it takes over and you lose yourself. Those guys with their secret identities had it right. You’ve got to step back and let it go once in a while.”
“So why not take off the mask and retire?” I watched him make tea in the window’s reflection.
“I’m not sure who’s under there any more.” He came over and handed me a cup. I sipped at it. I hate tea, but its bitterness seemed appropriate. He stared through the window at the city. From up here it looked quiet and peaceful.
“They’d find you anywhere I placed you,” I said, “Unless you take off the mask and become just another old man.”
He sipped his tea and I waited. When I finished my tea, I left him there, still looking out the window. I saw him wave once before I closed the door behind me.