Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, May, 2013.
"So what do we do now?" asked 'Mythical' Mike, rubbing his arms and shifting from one foot to the other in an attempt to keep warm in the thin spandex bodysuit he was wearing as his Silver Surfer costume. "I'm freezing here."
"You should have thought of that before you put on your girlfriend's leotard," laughed Ed the Esoteric, standing comfortably in his sweatsuit-based Captain Marvel outfit.
"Hey, at least I look good in this!" 'Mythical' Mike replied. "Even the sweats can't hide that you're the flabbiest Captain Marvel..."
"Shaddap, you guys, and lemme think," snapped Unca Lar, jamming his green fedora down on his head to keep the wind from blowing it off and shoving his hands in the pockets of his green overcoat.
They were all standing on the street corner, just out of sight of the convenience store next door. It was Halloween, and as has been the custom for many years, the attendees of the annual Adventure Comics Comics Emporium were "on patrol." It started several years ago when, right in the middle of the party, 'Titanic' Tony declared that they needed to "make the streets safe for the comics-buying public." So a half-dozen of the guys set out to "patrol the streets of our fair town."
They walked a couple of blocks down, peering into the few businesses that were still open that late, startling the women in the hair salon, and ended up at the tavern on the corner by the stoplight, where the owner, in the spirit of the exercise, offered them all a shot "for keeping the peace," after which they wandered back to the party at the store.
What started as a whim became an annual event. One year, there was a photographer nearby, and they wound up in the local paper. A copy of the article hangs on the "Wall of Fame" at the store. But this year, things were different.
It was a large group this time, comprised of the usual suspects. Unca Lar, the store owner and person responsible for the nicknames of the staff and customers, was dressed as the Green Hornet. There was 'Rampaging' Rich dressed as Spider-Man, complete with functioning web-shooters. Ed the Esoteric was Captain Marvel. Mark 'Kent' had on the same costume he wore every year, a blue suit, glasses and a fedora, and he would periodically open his shirt to show the Superman logo on the t-shirt underneath. 'Titanic' Tony dressed as Doctor Fate.
Nobody was really sure what 'Bargain Box' Bob was dressed as. It looked like he built his costume, like Ditko's Creeper did, with remnants from a costume store. He had black combat boots with green leggings, blue trunks, and a silver chain-mail tunic over what looked like a thermal underwear shirt with orange gloves and an orange bandoleer. This was topped with a bald head cap that hid all his hair, and he had painted his head and face in colored squares, looking like a round Rubik's Cube. And he had a short cape besides.
'Payday' Phil wore a store-bought Flash costume, and 'Mythical' Mike was the Silver Surfer, his face and slicked-back hair painted silver to match his bodysuit. He left his surfboard back at the shop with Just Dave, who stayed back partially to watch the store and partially because his bare-chested Hawkman costume was not designed for the late-October weather.
This colorful crew was on their usual patrol down the block, when they came to the convenience store, set way back from the street. 'Rampaging' Rich wanted to stop in to pick up a pack of cigarettes.
"C'mon, guys," he said, "it'll only take a minute."
"Those things'll kill you, you know," said 'Payday' Phil as they walked toward the store.
There was only one car parked in the poorly-lit lot in front of the store. A large black Lincoln Continental was backed into a spot right in front of the door, its trunk open. They approached the store, with 'Rampaging' Rich in the lead, when he suddenly stopped and spread his arms to stop the rest. "Wait a minute, something's wrong," he said.
"What, is your Spidey-sense tingling?" snorted Ed the Esoteric.
"No," Rich said, stepping back into the shadows and pointing. "That guy in the store has a gun." The group hustled back to the sidewalk and in front of the shop next door.
Ed the Esoteric said "Those must be the guys that I read about in the paper. They hit convenience stores or liquor stores, then disappear in the night."
"So we can just wait until they leave?" asked 'Bargain Box' Bob, peering around the corner.
"I'll run back to the shop and call the cops," 'Payday' Phil said, turning to go.
"Why you?" 'Mythical' Mike asked.
"'Cuz I'm the fastest man alive!" Phil smiled under his store-bought Flash mask, and ran back towards the shop, stumbling a bit as he went.
"Wait," said Unca Lar. "Did 'Scintillating' Scott ever make it back?"
"Crap! That's right," Ed the Esoteric said, looking around the corner. "He and Sharon were going for more beer." Everyone at the store was jealous of Scott. Not only did he have an attractive girlfriend who seemed to encourage his comic book habit, but she came with him to the store parties, even the costume-based ones. This year they were dressed as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch, and she didn't seem to mind that all eyes were on her when she walked in with that outfit. "I hope they're not still in there," he said, ominously.
From where they were standing, they could only see partway into the store. Suddenly, a scrawny guy in a cheap plastic clown mask came out and put two cases of beer in the trunk. He slammed the trunk and went back inside.
"I'll bet that's them," Unca Lar said. "I read they always take beer when they rob a place."
"But what if they take hostages?" gulped Mark 'Kent'. "What if they take Sharon?"
"We gotta slow 'em down," said Unca Lar. "Hey, 'Rampaging,' are your web shooters full?"
'Rampaging' Rich looked confused. "Yeah, but you know it's only Silly String. It's not gonna stop anyone."
"Never mind," Unca Lar said, checking his domino mask. "Come with me and stay low."
'Rampaging' Rich shrugged and followed Unca Lar. They walked along the edge of the parking lot, hoping to stay out of view of the people in the store. They stopped when they were about even with the front of the car. "When we get to the car," Unca Lar said, "load up the windshield with webs."
"What? I told you this is just Silly String. The wipers'll get rid of it."
"Never mind. Follow my lead, and try not to get any of that on this overcoat. It's rented."
They ran hunched over to the front of the car. Unca Lar reached across the hood and snapped off the windshield wipers, and 'Rampaging' Rich emptied both cans of Silly String on the windshield, making it impossible to see through. They scurried around to the other side of the building just as the two robbers opened the door and headed towards the car. The guy in the clown mask was practically dragging a tall, curvy woman in a red body suit and cape. Sharon's red wig was becoming dislodged with her struggling, showing blond hair underneath.
"C'mon, baby. Get in the car," he sneered, opening the back door and wrestling her inside. She was putting up a good fight despite the fact that the other guy had a gun. The other guy, wearing a cheap plastic devil mask got in the front seat and went to start the car.
"What the hell is this?" he said, looking though the windshield.
"I dunno," said the guy in the back seat with the girl. "Turn on the wipers, fer Chrissake."
The wipers went on, but without the blades, they just scraped across the window with a screech, drawing only a thin line in the goop.
Sharon, meanwhile, was able to rake her sparkly red fingernails underneath the mask and across the face of the guy with her in the back seat, startling him long enough for her to open the opposite door and jump out. She ran past the store and around the side of the building where Unca Lar and 'Rampaging' Rich were standing. Rich reached for her her as she passed and she stopped once she saw who it was.
The guy in the clown mask jumped out of the car after her, but Devil mask called to him, "Forget her. Help me get this crap off the windshield." He was out of the car, pulling at the goop with his hands. Clown mask got a snow scraper out of the back seat and began scraping the window.
Suddenly, a dark blue Monaco, the kind used by undercover cops, squealed into the parking lot and stopped with its front bumper touching the bumper of the Lincoln. There was a blue light flashing inside on the dash. A spotlight on the driver's side flashed on and held steady on the two robbers. "Put the gun on the hood and put your hands on the roof of the car," said a voice over a loudspeaker in the grill. Devil mask slowly put the gun on the front hood, by the windshield, and each walked to the side of the car and reached for the roof.
"Hey," 'Rampaging' Rich whispered, elbowing Unca Lar, "that's not the cops. That's 'Titanic' Tony's car!"
"Yeah, you're right," Unca Lar said. "What do those idiots think they're doing?"
By now, the two criminals were getting suspicious that no one had gotten out of the blue car yet. They each brought their hands off the roof and started to walk towards the spotlight. As Devil mask reached for his gun, the spotlight went out and the tires of the blue car squealed and it sped backwards, narrowly missing the real squad car that was pulling into the parking lot. It stopped and two policemen jumped out, guns drawn. At the same time, another squad car pulled into the lot from the side entrance. The two robbers put their hands up, Devil mask carefully placing his gun on the ground first. The cops closed in, forcing them to lay on the ground.
Unca Lar and 'Rampaging' Rich ran over to the Monaco as 'Titanic' Tony and 'Bargain Box' Bob climbed out. Bob tossed the blue-lensed flashlight that they used to simulate the police light into the back seat as Unca Lar pounded each on the back. "You two idiots could've been killed!" he laughed.
"Yeah, well we couldn't let you have all the glory," 'Titanic' Tony said. "I figured the cops'd be here soon. I was just trying to buy some time. And I told you that loudspeaker in the grill would come in handy!" He beamed.
They looked over at the store and saw Sharon help Scott through the door. His Vision makeup was smeared, and he was holding his head, but he seemed to be alright.
Unca Lar stood in the middle of the parking lot with his arms akimbo. "I think this year's patrol was a success. What say we head back to base to celebrate!"
© Matthew Bieniek, 2013.