The first thing I notice about Los Angeles is the dirt. Dirty air, dirty streets, dirty buildings, the place is just filthy. It's noon as the plane touches down at LAX. I hear even the sunsets are dirty here, spectacularly red, but dirt all the same.
Damn, I think I'm going to like it here.
Everyone notices me on the flight, but I've pretty used to collecting eyeballs over the last four months. One of the doctors told me that it was one of my powers: people can't help but notice me. I like that power. I can bench press battleships, fly like an eagle, but it's this power -- that with a single glance, people realize that I'm a bigger superstar than Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and every wrestler in the WWF combined. Man, is that ever the shits. And it's going to feel a million times better in Los Angeles than it ever was in Nebraska, where most of the stares I got came from cattle: animals and human, but mostly animal.
I'm in the middle of a crowd as we disembark -- Nike flew me first class, but I just want to remain in my chair and let people drink in my muscles and my pearly whites while they exit the craft. I've arrived. Man, have I ever arrived! That realization is one long drink of vodka and tequila to my soul.
Then, with only a few pensioners remaining aboard the plane, I lift my six-foot, three-inch frame out of my seat, smile at the stewardess, and smile at the pilots whose heads jut out of the cockpit with amazed looks on their faces. They don't know who I am -- not yet -- but that's gonna change real soon.
"Hey man, great flight," I say, eyeing the captain. He's in his mid-40s; from the remnants of his athletic physique and handsome face, I'd bet he was pretty much the best jock at his high school in his heyday, and he goes to bed bitching and moaning because those days are as dead as his sex life. Well, has-been, I tell myself, I'm gonna make your whole fucking day worthwhile. I pat him on the shoulder.
"Thanks," 'Captain Bob' blurts, and then he stares at me. "Do I know you?"
I pull out a piece of paper and write him a quick
Great job, man! I couldn't have flown any better myself!
Let me know if a supervillain ever bothers you, and I'll
toast the moron just for you.
To the best pilot in the whole United fleet.
'Bob the pilot' doesn't even try to hide the jaw-drop. I pat him on the back again, nod at the stewardess, and exit the plane. Los Angeles awaits.
I strut down the runway, singing "I'm Too Sexy" to myself, and then I decide it'd be really cool if that song started playing on all the airport loudspeakers. Suddenly, it does. It's such a bullshit thing to do, but it's worth a laugh.
There are still a few stragglers, who stop to gawk at me -- I smile and shake a few hands. They don't know who I am, but they don't care; they feel better about themselves because this farm belt kid entered their lives for a few seconds. As I enter the concourse, I see people embracing their loved ones -- and then they stop, let go of their hugs, interrupt their tear-stained reunions just to stare at me. How could I do anything except grin at that?
"You just have to be Tommy Champion." My eyes lock on a non-entity in the crowd, a corporate dweeb holding a Nike sign, and I ain't smiling. His voice is annoyingly effeminate -- he acts like he's been on the receiving end of a butt-fuck since he was a little kid -- and his suit and tie were probably bought at Ross during last year's Labor Day sale. At the very least, the fucking corporation could have done was send me someone who owned Armani. Don't they have enough starving kids working for them in Vietnamese shoe mills to afford even a half-hearted attempt at style?
"Hey, shithead!" I shout. "Supervillains! Where are the fucking supervillains?" He looks like he'll piss himself. I continue my rant. "Dammit, I was expecting at least three supervillains to show! Where's Mastadon? Where's Sandstone? What kind of a shitty welcome is this for L.A.'s newest superhero? I thought I was 'A-list.'"
Ted the stiff, or whatever this marketing cipher is called, just shakes his head and gives an artificial laugh. "They must have heard you were coming."
It's a lame, predictable joke. "Shit, this is boring." I spit, and watch as he begins to worry. I give Ted a slap on the back -- hard enough to bruise him and make him remember me in the morning, but not hard enough for even a California lawyer to have grounds to file a lawsuit -- and I just laugh at him, not with him.
He's quiet now, though he frequently turns to face me while we walk. I'm holding a single carry-on bag, draped over my shoulder like a Boy Scout carting a sleeping bag. We pass through the terminal, a long walk between legions of gawking human beings who may as well be statues -- and make our way into a waiting limousine.
"Everyone's acting like a stiff. Have they even seen a superhero in this berg?"
"Not like you, I'm sure." Ted continues the flattery routine -- my remark obviously screamed for irony, but he didn't have the guts to go for it.
"Yeah, I am definitely 'sierra hotel'." I laugh and pat him on the back. The 'No Vacancy' sign continues to flash on the guy's face. "That means 'shit hot' in air force lingo. So did you bring any company? Where's Blur?"
"Marketing felt she didn't have enough potential." I frown at the answer.
There's a woman sitting beside me as I get in. She's beautiful in a television executive sort of way: well-dressed, small breasts, a little old, but she'd probably do a great Mrs. Robinson routine. Maybe eleven o'clock, provided my evening is free. I really have a hard-on to try some of this town's wilder clubs.
"That's fucking better," I say, eyes on hers. "Which hotel am I staying at?"
"We haven't decided," the woman says in a voice that screams: 'I am an incredibly cold bitch!' at the top of her lungs. "You haven't passed the audition."
"Audition?" I say. "What kind of shit is this?"
"Corporate policy," Sycophanty says. "Don't worry, you're a shoo-in."
"If you're really as good as your tests indicate," the woman adds. "And as long as you have no obvious weaknesses"
"You don't have anything like kryptonite, do you?" Ted asks in a mousy voice. I thump him on the back again, and watch him wince.
"The only thing I'm allergic to is boredom." I say. "Is traffic always this bad?" I don't even wait for an answer. "Screw this bullshit." Suddenly, the limousine begins to lift into the air. I sit back and cup my hands."
"Stop this now." 'Madame Frigia' says in a voice that probably terrifies her entire marketing department, but has no impact on me whatsoever. Ted doesn't even say anything, since he's busy experiencing a cattle-like stupor; I decide to ignore him for the remainder of my life.
"Consider this my own very special carpool lane." I smirk.
"If you think you're impressing me, you're very wrong."
"The audition's just beginning." I smile. "You guys must think I'm just another musclehead. But I'm a lot more than that. When I'm finished -- if I ever finish -- I am going to have my own religion, because I am more fucking powerful than God. And you can take that to your congregation and shout it from the fucking mountain tops."
"Jesus Christ," Frigia snarls. "Did they bother doing a psych exam on this headcase?"
"Hey, as long as I beat up supervillains, keep the property damage down, and drink milk in public, what do you fucking care?" I retort.
She doesn't have an answer for this one, except to sigh in disgust. We don't say anything for a few minutes. I look over the city. Los Angeles at 500 feet and seventy miles an hour is an incredible sight, a dirty computer circuit that sprawls over low hills and flats, its mountains hidden by a soot lair so thick that even my superpowers can't pierce it.
"This is one big city," I insist.
She's ignoring me.
"This is one big city," I repeat.
She still ignores me. I smile, and flip the limo upside down. She finally screams.
"That's a better view." I say. "Man, this is one big city."
"I'm in control." I laugh. "That's your problem, isn't it bitch? Not that I'm going to go crazy and kill you. It's that I'm controlling the ride." I laugh. "I bet you like to be on top."
"There is no way in Hell you're ever going to work for my company," she screams.
"Sure I won't." I mock. "You guys hired Barkley. You hired Rodman. I'm a fucking saint compared to them. Besides, kids -- or the marketing departments who think they know kids -- don't go for the 'squeaky-clean'. They like a little tarnish on their he-roes. They want their he-roes to be wild. Hell, you said it yourself -- let's take Blur as an example. I hear she's a nice little girl, very community-friendly, takes her job seriously. She's the superheroine that mom wants me to bring back for Thanksgiving dinner. Of course she doesn't have 'potential.'"
"Get this limo on the ground right now!"
Frigia was trying to reassert control, but I refused to be distracted. "Translation: Blur isn't 'edgy' enough for Corporate 2K. She isn't 'hardcore' or 'extreme' or 'schway' or whatever piece of bullshit street-slang you picked up this morning. You want me all attitude and edges, and baby, you're going to get it, and you're going to love it."
We arrived at Nike about forty minutes later. Evening hits pretty quick this far south. I land in an executive parking space, popping the tires for good measure on the landing.
"Alright, let's get this over with," I say.
"Let's start with combat," Frigia says, threw grinding teeth. She might have said more, but at that moment, Ted the male marketing bitch decides to vomit over half the parking lot. Puking is the first masculine thing he's done all day.
* * * * * *
They drag me into what looks like a reinforced handball court in the basement, too small for any meaningful tactical maneuvers. The air conditioner's been cranked up too high -- not that I mind -- but you notice this sort of thing when you're bored. I do what I do when I'm bored -- I use my powers to hear through the walls, and listen to any nearby conversations.
I hear a big man's voice -- as bass as Michael Dorn's -- he's probably black. "So you don't want me just to test the kid?"
"I will pay you an extra twenty grand if you beat the crap out of this bastard." It's Frigia voice. "I want him mailed back to Lincoln in a bodycast."
"What'd he do to you?"
"The board is pretty much sold on him. And I know he's going to end up screwing up the company big time, and it'll be my ass that gets fired when it happens."
"It's been awhile since I've hurt someone."
"It doesn't matter. You're no longer on parole. And no one needs to know. He's signed a form. As long as you don't kill him, anything you do is legal."
I smile. This is going to be interesting. The door opens. Frigia stays at the door as her attack dog pushes into the room. He's an African-American in his early 30s, bald, and built so big that he probably has muscles in his shit. The sneer on his face looks genuine, not a pose, and he has enough attitude that he could make Shaft his bitch.
"Hey, nigga, how's it hanging?" I shout with a smile.
"Get him." Frigia says, closing the door behind her.
The big man removes his shirt. With his physique, it's meant as an intimidation tactic, except this time he's chosen the wrong target. The one thing I can't stand is when someone tries to out-alpha me. I take off my own shirt. Man, the guy's eyeballs are practically molesting me.
"I thought we were fighting," I grin.
"Shut the fuck up, bitch," he snarls.
"Who the fuck are you supposed to be? John Henry Superfreak? The Deltoid Defender? 'Roid Rage Man? Mike Muscleman after too much melanin?" I snap back.
"I'm 'Dangerous,'" he says in his best Michael Keaton Batman voice, smiling like the name is supposed to mean something. And it does.
I hadn't recognized him out of costume. 'Dangerous' (by the way, adjectives really suck as code-names) had been a supervillain, active in the late 80s and early 90s, riding the crime spree of the last recession before Clintonomics took over. He had been a superthug who worked as the Waxman's hired muscle; I remember seeing footage of him taking out the Washington Street bridge with a single punch. The muscles weren't just for show.
They had given me a decent opponent after all. Cool.
I strut over to him, getting nose-to-nose with him. He likes it, I can feel the intensity grow as we invade each other's personal space. "You going to train me?" I chide.
"I am going to make you my own personal train wreck," he replies.
"Whatever. By the way, I heard what you told the bitch outside."
"Too bad." He's suddenly stone-cold. "Now I got motivation to shut you up."
"Go for it." I laugh. "In fact, let's make this a little more interesting. If you do manage to send me back home in a bodycast, I'll give you the twenty-grand advance that my agent negotiated for this gig."
"Bullshit you'd do that."
"No shit, Black Thunder." I laugh. "There are plenty of lawyers in this building. They'd be glad to help you collect."
"I guess you're a fucking masochist," he spits.
"No. I'm a fucking indestructible," I reply.
"And if you win? What then?" Dangerous asks.
"I don't give a shit." I shrug, and then decide to really get in his face. "How about when I beat you, you have to kiss my blond haired, blue-eyed, lily-white Nebraska ass."
"No fucking way."
"Whatever." I take a step back. "Cue the fight music, Black Thunder. Let's thump."
Without giving me a chance to breathe, he takes a wild swing at me. I instinctively dodge, and spin away from the follow through. I move in close, grapple, grab an arm and twist it. He screams. I get some leverage and force him down onto one knee, still in agony, screaming "Mother fucka" at the top of his lungs.
Shit, I love fighting.
He takes the torque that my hold is applying and works with it, turning it into a breakdancing spin kick that attempts to crack my shin and take me off my feet. I leap over the kick, but have to let go of my hold. He rolls to his feet. He's pretty agile for a big man, but I'm better.
I get in position. He gives me a solid blow to the ribs -- there's a lovely burning sensation -- but I put everything I've got into an uppercut. It connects perfectly. Dangerous Black Manly Guy's jaw shatters. His eyes cross, and his legs won't support him anymore. He falls to the ground, a mass of limp muscle.
"Hey bitch, I think I broke it!" I shout. I wasn't expecting him to go down this quick, but it had been a really solid punch. "You got a spare?"
The door opens. There's a man in a lab coat beside Frigia, looking over the test results. Several paramedics poured into the room to inspect Black Manly. His chest is heaving, so I didn't kill him, just a lot of his brain cells.
"You son of a bitch," Frigia snarls.
"If I were you, I'd get your money back." I grin. "Now can I audition, or what?"
"Jesus Christ, you nearly killed him!"
"Imagine what I'll do to the bad guys," I say. "So when do I meet the gang?"
* * * * * *
The board meeting convenes in a big empty room with a glass table, bad modern art on the walls, and big leather chairs. It's meant to indoctrinate me into Nike and the superhero world, and it's even more boring than I imagined it'd be. Mid-level executives bickering like squabbling hens, their eyes as vacant as chickens. I'm not really listening. Fortunately, the big leather chair is well built for sleeping.
"Does anyone feel like going out for Japanese?" I ask after an hour has elapsed.
"Whatever the 'talent' wants, the 'talent' gets," a young man in his early thirties -- who looks like a dork even in his designer threads -- replies. For now, I'll call him Middle Management Man. "But we'll order in."
It's going to take forever for food to arrive. I spend the next hour looking to see how many people in the room have managed to avoid corporate castration and are willing to show their balls. Frigia is willing, for one, although her game is trying to see if she can persuade Nike into authorizing a "trial period" that would allow them to fire me if I screw up too bad, with minimal repercussions to the company. But my agent's already backed them into a corner on that one, primarily because they're giving me medical and 401K from day one, and according to some bullshit California labor law, they can't do that on probation. Frigia will probably spend the rest of the meeting in a sulk.
There's another guy -- the first guy I noticed, in fact -- wearing a T-shirt and jeans and filling them well. He looks like Tom Cruise, with the perpetual sneer and all. He doesn't say much of anything, just sits there looking bored and nonchalant. That's hard to do around me. He doesn't get to speak until about the two-hour mark.
"I've been doing research into names and costumes," he says, pulling out a picture with a big symbol like an upside down horseshoe. "We've done some focus groups on names and the consensus is that Mr. Champion should be called -- Omega."
Omega? What the fuck is Omega?
I didn't see this coming at all. Nobody mentioned they were going to change my name. My agent had insured me that I had creative control!
"Wait a fucking minute!" I shout. "I'm Tommy Champion. That's a perfect name for a superhero."
The guy leans back in his chair. "Sorry, but you're mistaken, farmboy." Frigia nearly falls out of her chair. Everyone is looking at him like he just pissed in the Pope's chalice.
"Go fuck yourself!" I shout.
"I'm sure we can all calm down and settle this amicably," Middle Management holds up his hands; his face looks like a panicked sheep.
"Wanna bet?" Frigia smiles for the first time since the meeting began.
Tom Cruise's twin leans forward with oil in his throat. "Tommy Champion sounds like a second rate men's clothing line, and Hilfiger practically has the name 'Tommy' sewn up for the youth market. You'd be lost to the demographic we're trying to reach. Plus, there's no symbol. Every top-selling superhero needs a strong visual symbol to make the biggest commercial impact. We've known this for decades."
"I don't need a fucking symbol. I'm the most powerful superhuman on the whole goddamn planet."
"It's fundamental marketing," Middle Management professes. "I mean, imagine just how bankable Avatar could be if he had an 'A' insignia to represent him."
"Fuck Avatar. I'd kick his fucking ass any fucking day of the fucking week." Middle Management looks horrified, like he's never heard the word "fuck" before.
"Maybe we should adjourn this meeting," Frigia says, going in for the kill. "Let the 'talent' calm down. We wouldn't want an 'incident' so early in his career."
Yeah, and when I'm conveniently out of the room, you'll persuade the board that I'm too unstable for Nike. Nice try, lady. I shake my head, but muster, "Fine. If I have to be Omega I'll think about it."
"And we've got some costumes for you to try on." Tom Cruise pulls several leotards out of a briefcase. "You aren't one of those people who has a problem with tights, are you farmboy?"
"Michael, please don't call the talent 'farmboy'." Middle Management tells his colleague. But the guy just smiles like a son of a bitch.
"Just give me the goddamn tights," I say, grabbing them from 'Michael.'
"There's a change room down the hall." Middle
Management insists, a little timidly.
I ignore him. They can damn well see me buck-naked. The red tights look best at first glance. I take off my clothes (and no, I don't wear boxers or briefs) and slide into them. It's a tight fit, but my physique is the reason that spandex was invented. I look great.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I think we've got a winner." Michael smiles, inspecting me with the same expression on his face that dad has when he's walking through the fields at harvest time.
"That's your opinion," Frigia mutters.
That's pretty much all that's relevant to me. Frigia manages to get them to delay my 'coming out party' for a couple of weeks -- Nike wants me to bust a few heads first, then make the grand announcement.
"We haven't seen much in the way of supervillains since Blur put the Mannequins away," Middle Management muses. The one area where he seems to excel is in knowing what was going on the local superhero scene. Of course, he knows about it in geeky, unnecessary levels of detail, and presents it in as boring a manner as possible.
"Hey, I'll find someone." I shrug. "Either that, or you can plant 'Dangerous' in a bad location, and we can have a 'misunderstanding.'"
"Stay out of black neighborhoods," Middle Management instructs me. "Race and superheroes are an ugly mix. It's a no win scenario."
Tell me something I don't know, motard.
"You do remember your community training," Frigia lectures. "Random head-busting may work for some East Coast vigilante"
"And the LAPD" Michael deadpans, feeling his oats.
" but you get into trouble with the law and we may not be able to salvage you."
"There are two good things about being able to hear through walls," I say. "First, it's admissible in a court of law. Second, it makes for a lot of really good 'probable cause' situations."
I pause, and they stare at me for a second. As if they want me to say something more. Michael breaks the silence with a laugh. "Shit. You're telling us that with your powers, you're going to be really good at bending the law and getting away with it."
I smile and point my finger at him. "Got it in one, asshole."
He smiles. "Of course, you bend the law enough times, the media will be on your ass so fast, you won't be able to get a fuck."
"That's your job." I say, ignoring the insult. "Superheroes can't fight the press. Every time we try, it's a disaster. When shit happens, you gotta bring out the spin doctors."
"I see real problems here," Frigia says.
"I don't," Michael says. "Los Angeles loves an asshole. What's one more big ego in this town?"
Frigia gives him a dirty look. It wouldn't surprise me if a mountain of shit had gone down between these two.
"I want to thank Mr. Champion for coming. It's been a very interesting meeting. We'll get you back to your hotel." He starts a round of applause, which is joined by all but one of the people in the room. The insincerity in the air is almost intoxicating.
I rise from my chair -- I'm expected to mingle and shake hands. The food has yet to arrive.
"You're out of here," Frigia spits and storms away, not giving me a moment to make a response. As if I wanted to make one.
Michael walks on over and offers me a mock handshake. "I think that went really well, don't you?"
"You're on my list," I snap.
"Shucks, farmboy, I'm speechless."
"What the fuck is your problem?" I ask.
He shrugs. "Maybe I just don't like superheroes. Or maybe I got the runs eating in a restaurant in Omaha. Or maybe you made a really bad first impression on me and you needed to be knocked off your fucking pedestal."
"You know, I could screw your life in more ways than your whole fucking marketing department can count."
Michael nods. "Yeah, you could." He pauses. "You want to go clubbing tonight?"
I pause for five seconds, not quite believing what I heard. "What did you say?"
"You heard me. You've got superhuman hearing, don't you?"
"You just spent the last half-hour screwing me over. Why the fuck would you want to go on the town with me?"
"You're new in town. You like to strut. You're
single. You're built for clubbing."
The grin on his face is screaming at me to knock his teeth down his throat. I take a deep breath.
"Sure," I finally say, not believing what I said.
* * * * * *
My hotel room is a Hyatt, which isn't exactly a shithole, but way too cookie cutter to be satisfying. The pictures on the wall really suck. I order a lot of room service.
At six-thirty, Michael comes by, and I trek down to the lobby to greet him. "How's the room?"
"It sucks. It's a prison for professional dorks."
"That's hotels for you." Michael laughs. "You recovered from the meeting?"
"Not yet." I scowl. "You asshole. What the hell is this 'Omega' shit?"
"Well, it's hard for me to explain," Michael replies, shrugging. "You see, I had a dream about two weeks ago, in which angels told me that the fate of the world depended on you being called 'Omega'."
"No shit, honest. Martin Luther King had his dream,
and I had mine."
I have to give him credit for one thing -- Michael has one of the best bullshit faces I've ever seen.
"And then they gave me superhuman wisdom and other powers and told me that I would be your guide in the terrible battles that are to come." Michael continues to push his line of bullshit. I just laugh. But he doesn't stop.
"So either your destiny is to be the champion of humanity in the upcoming apocalypse, or I was really, really pissed out of my skull."
"You sound like a really fucking bad comic book," I snap. Michael laughs and pats me on the back.
"Welcome to issue one of Fucked Up Life Comics," he says.
"Where's my gold-leaf embossed cover?"
"That was dropped to cover your twenty grand advance," Michael answers. "Goddammit, farmboy, show some gratitude."
I resist the urge to beat the shit out of him. The valet comes around with his car, a gorgeous red clothtop Jag. Wow. This isn't a car, it's a hard-on on wheels.
"We'll stop at my tailor and get you some decent threads," Michael says.
"Where are we going after that? Rooster's?" I ask, referring to a club where everyone dresses up as superheroes. It had even been featured on Sixty Minutes. But Michael just shakes his head and snorts in contempt.
"That's for poseurs and tourists. Let's go hardcore. The Jaguar Grill."
"Jaguar Grill?" I wince. "That sounds like it's one step above 'House of Dorks.'"
"You'll see." Michael's perma-grin is really starting to piss me off. He looks so much like Tom Cruise that it's fucking obscene.
We drive over to Michael's tailor; he's on call to Nike's management twenty-four hours a day, one of the fringe benefits of the job. He's pretty much fascinated by me (given my powers, that's not a surprise) and wants me to try on about twenty different outfits. Michael has to force him to concentrate on my club ensemble. It's a simple outfit; a burgundy, silk, turtleneck shirt that has a very spandex look to it, accentuated by a gold chain. The pants are brown, Italian, with a few added reinforced seams to deal with my superhuman strength (the tailor has made clothing for superheroes before). I look fucking incredible.
"Your hair's way too curly," Michael says. "Too Ryan Phillippe."
"I look shit hot, and you know it." I smile.
Michael makes a mock frown. "You look like you belong in a boy band."
"You fucking say that again, and no jury will
convict me," I threaten. Michael starts to sing something by the
Backstreet Boys, and when I turn around, he makes a mad dash for the Jaguar.
I catch up to him, but decide not to kill him. We head for the club. As we drive, Michael gives me a list of rules.
"First, the music is hip-hop, and there's a mixmaster and an MC. If you're into Nashville and VH-1, you're shit out of luck. The music is black, and not even a superhero can get away with dissing it."
"I hate country," I reply. "That's dad's music."
"Second, you're going to get hit on. By both women and men. You got a problem with that?"
"Is it a gay club?" I ask.
"Those distinctions don't mean very much around here." Michael says. I start feeling a little uncomfortable. "It's not really a gay hang-out, but 'bi-' is the hot trend right now."
"Can I hit someone if they won't accept the word 'no?'"
"Don't hit anyone," Michael advises strongly.
"Can I use my powers?"
"Depends on whether you like causing a panic. You think that surprising a large crowd of people by displaying superpowers is a good idea?" Michael shakes his head.
"I'll think of something."
"Fine. Also, discreetly check between the legs of any woman you intend to fuck. Some of the drag queens around here are so good it's scary."
I flinch at that remark. I expect Michael to laugh, but he doesn't.
"Third, expect that you're going to have sex. And you aren't fucking sheep, farmboy. Condoms are in the glove compartment."
"Doc says my immune system is disease free."
"Big fucking whoop," Michael snorts. "Finally, watch the people around you to see how they're handling the smack. Most of the shit that runs around the clubs is pretty clean, but when someone comes up with a new design that doesn't work right, it can get ugly."
"I thought that 'superheroes don't do drugs,'" I say in a voice that's something of a parody of McGruff the Crime Dog.
"Nobody fucking cares." Michael gives me a look like I'm crazy. "This is Los Angeles. As long as you do your shit in private and show up for work on time the next day, nobody wants to know. You don't have a problem with that, do you, farmboy?"
"It's kinda weird," I say. "People are expecting me to bust the heads of people who are doing drugs, not snort coke with them."
"Middle America wants that," Michael responds. "Orange County wants that. SUV driving, gas guzzling, suburban whitebread neo-virgins want that. This is a totally different world. You're not here to be a Boy Scout. You have three jobs, farmboy: beat the shit out of the bad guys, look good doing it, and don't screw up too bad. You do all three of these right, and you might make it to the top."
"Fine by me," I say.
* * * * * *
Let me say that my first impression of the Jaguar Grill isn't exactly favorable. The place is a dive, a dirty black building with a flashing neon cat, down some side street in West Hollywood, not too far from Santa Monica. Despite the music, the Jaguar Grill isn't urban; it has more of a second-rate surfpunk ambience. The parking lot is strewn with garbage, old newspapers, and discarded fast food wrappers. On the grass at the edge of the parking lot, I spot a discarded hypodermic needle.
The music's coming through the walls even without my powers. Somebody's sampled "Sledgehammer." Again. It seems like half of the rap songs I've heard have ripped off Peter Gabriel. Wish they'd do "Shock The Monkey" instead.
There's no valet parking. Michael finds a place by the back of the lot and takes up two parking spaces.
"That's just evil," I say.
"Nobody messes with the Jag," Michael replies.
We receive absolutely no shit at the door (not that I was expecting any). The place stinks of booze and cigarettes -- this is one place where California's anti-smoking ordinance is not welcome. All eyes are on me as we make our entrance.
And, once again, I'm a fucking superstar.
"A hundred bucks says you're going to get in more shit here than you've ever experienced in your entire farmboy life," Michael says.
"God, I hope so," I reply.
The mixmaster is playing a hip-hop version of the Beatles' "Baby I'm A Rich Man," a song that actually adapts well to rap, if it weren't pumped up to such a fucking volume that even my eardrums start to hurt. As far as I can see (the place is really dimly lit) there's about one hundred people in the club, about twenty of them black. Michael disappears almost immediately.
A dark-haired guy comes up to me, dancing. He's shirtless, built like a brickyard, and obviously coked to the fucking gills.
"What d'you want?" I sneer.
It was definitely the wrong question to ask. The George Michael wannabe smiles and invites me into a backroom for the sexual experience of a lifetime, using the phoniest British accent I've ever heard. I want to throw him through a window, but instead I concentrate. An invisible telekinetic field wraps around his balls and starts to crush them. He suddenly gets religious -- because he's sure saying Jesus's name real loud. Legs splayed, he staggers into a bathroom. Hopefully, that's the last I'll see of Mr. Queer Cocaine Nation for the rest of the evening.
I turn around and there's a young black girl, looking virginal and underaged, who comes over and asks to dance with her. We dance about three times before I get bored with her and look for someone else. My eyes finally lock onto a woman in her mid-20s, long brown hair, green eyes, a black slit dress, and really great looking breasts. I make eye contact and hold it for as long as possible before moving in close. Without exaggeration, I can say that we stared at each other for five minutes before I made the first move.
"I don't see a date," I say.
"Would it matter?" she says. I just smile.
"I'm Dusk." I wince and have to suppress a laugh. "Okay, I'm Rachel."
"Sure, Dusk. I'm Lucas," I answer. The lie's more satisfying.
The music is good for a beat, but that's just foreplay. We're obviously horny. She directs me into a room in the back. There's a dirty, stained-soaked mattress on the floor. I start taking off my clothes. She hands me some pills.
"They're like Ecstacy, only better," she says. "It's so new, it doesn't have a name yet."
"Baby, I am Ecstacy," I say with a swagger, but then I pretty much say everything with a swagger. I think hard, and transform into a normal human; I pretty much look the same, but I don't have quite the same aura. But the drug won't have any effect on me in my human form. Likewise, I can't have sex as a superhuman -- I'd tear my partner to pieces. Doc also said that when I'm superhuman, my sperm's different, everything in my genetic code becomes dominant, and turns everything in the egg becomes recessive, so I can only create a perfect clone of myself.
I don't want to think about how he knows that. Or why I'm thinking about this shit when there's a fucking awesome naked woman in the room who can't wait to have an orgasm with me.
So we start to make love. We both have stamina, and we both have motivation. It's the best sex of my fucking life, even before the narcotic kicks in. Her nails go into my back, getting in deep. Shit, that feels good. And the sex lasts a long time. I've heard that chimpanzee sex lasts about ten seconds -- given the time we took, I probably could have done it with a jungle full of chimps.
We're both exhausted. I resummon my powers. She notices a change in me, but probably thinks it's the drugs.
"Did I tell you that I'm a superhero?" I say, lying on the bed beside her.
"Really?" Dusk says with a giddy laugh. "Which one?"
"Avatar," I say with a laugh. She laughs back. I turn on my side and confront it. "You don't believe me. You don't fucking believe me."
"Prove it," she pushes me. I laugh.
"Get me a supervillain, and I'll prove it," I insist, lying on my back again, hands cupped behind my head like a schoolkid.
It's an invitation to climb on top of me for round two, but in her drugged state, the only logical thing for her to do is to start calling for supervillains. Of course none show up. Even if there was a villain around, they'd never have heard her -- any sound we make are being drowned out by Eminem being played at a volume that it's certain to kill every roach in the building.
"You really suck at attracting supervillains," I laugh.
"Maybe you suck as a hero."
"I do not, I'm Avatar!" I insist. "How are you going to be my Lois Lane if the supervillains don't come when you call?"
She responds by pushing me out of the bed. I hit the floor willingly, still laughing.
"Prove it, goddammit," she's getting pissed. "Fly."
"Oh man." I sigh.
"You're supposed to be Avatar. Fly! Take off!"
"Okay," I say. "I'll fly. But can you hum the Avatar theme for me when I take off? I really get off on that."
"Which one, the cartoon or the movie?" Dusk asks.
"The movie, of course."
Dusk starts humming a bad James Horner tune. I get to my feet, strike a heroic pose then lift into the air and start hovering over the bed.
"Shit!" Dusk yells. I land on the bed. "Oh shit! You are Avatar!"
"Yeah, in the oh-too-gorgeous flesh," I boast.
"You know" Dusk wonders aloud. "I thought Avatar was a lot more humble."
"It's just an act for the benefit of the press," I say. "Just like Zodiac and the Outsider do when they pretend they're not gay."
"And Paragon, he's not really a robot. He's actually a recovering schizophrenic from New Jersey. That whole supergenius thing is just an alcoholic delusion. There's really a hacker in Connecticut who's beaming all those ideas into his brain, but he thinks they're actually his, and we don't have the heart to tell him the truth"
I spout out complete bullshit for the next ten minutes. Man this is fun. Dusk, on the other hand, begins to look more than a little tired. I land on the bed. We're both horny. She's on top of me as soon as we land. I turn off the powers and oblige her.
Finally, we're exhausted. Dusk is looking a little sick. I wish there was a shower around here. I decide to just lie on the bed. I can always clean myself off by creating a sanitary field around myself, although a shower's more fun.
"So why'd you do it?" she finally asks me.
"Become a superhero."
"Well" Even in superhero form, the drugs had gotten their claws on my system. "I guess I like to fight. And take down evil."
She bursts out laughing. I look at her, really annoyed.
"What's wrong with fighting evil?"
"It's so stupid!" she insists.
"What's so stupid about fighting evil?" I'm not thinking clearly, but the parts of my brain that are working are getting really annoyed.
"What isn't?" Dusk giggles, and starts coughing.
"You just can't bullshit your way past evil." I explain, not really knowing where this speech is coming from. "When I'm calm and alone, and people aren't trying to fuck me over, I feel it. Everywhere. Evil's like a smell, it's like a field full of chicken shit. And you just can't ignore it for very long, because you go fucking nuts. There are moments when I want to take on my entire life, just piss on it and throw it out the door, and put on another fucking skin."
"So you can fight evil?" Dusk's cough is getting bad.
"If it gets rid of that smell -- and I have fun and get rich at the same time, why not?"
Dusk suddenly gags and throws up on the floor.
"Shit!" I yell.
I use my powers to eliminate the vomit, then check on my partner. Dusk is limp, unconscious, and I can't shake her awake. "Oh holy shit!"
I haven't a clue what to do -- I'm scheduled to take some paramedics courses next month -- so I quickly throw on my pants and charge back into the main room. The MC is ranting about how great the audience is, and my arrival clearly interrupts the proceedings. Not that it matters.
"Is anybody here a fucking doctor?" I shout.
There's a bit of a commotion in the lounge -- and one of the patrons comes over. An athletic guy in his early 20s, wearing a T-shirt and dress pants.
"I'm a lifeguard. Let me through," he says.
I grab his arm and pull him into the room. He immediately gets down and checks Dusk's pulse and respiration. She's not breathing. He starts doing CPR on her, occasionally looking up at me. Someone with a cell phone has already called 911. Hope they could hear him over all the noise.
"She's in cardiac arrest. If I had a defibrillator..."
I form an electrical force field around my hand. "Where do I point?"
His eyebrows raise. He points to the appropriate place on his chest. I'm hoping I don't have the voltage too high.
I spark her twice. The convulsions look both sickening and funny at the same time. Like a lot of things in life.
"What kind of shit were you taking?" The lifeguard turns toward me with the arrogant righteousness you only find in preachers, dentists, and doctors. I shrug.
"Some designer thing she had in her purse." I don't like the way he's looking at me -- she brought the smack, not me. "She said it wasn't illegal."
"Fine." Lifeguard snaps -- there's no way anyone with half a brain cell couldn't see through that bullshit. I watch, numbly, as he treats her. She's breathing again. No harm done. "I suppose you want to go now?"
"Sounds like a good idea to me. You got a problem with it?"
I look into his eyes, and he finally backs down. It's a hard sell -- this guy has some serious balls. He says nothing.
"All we did was fuck," I say. "Nothing more than fuck."
"Fine," Lifeguard says, taking a deep breath. "But let me give you one piece of advice. I don't know who you are, or what mask you hide behind, and I don't care. But you keep doing drug lab smack with strangers, and one day you're going to find a whole mess of superheroes coming down on you."
"I am a superhero!" I declare.
"Whatever," Lifeguard snorts, and he turns away to help with his patient. Dusk's still unconscious.
"This place really sucks," I declare. I finish putting back on my clothes and scout the crowd for Michael.
A few minutes later, Michael rejoins me. I grab him by the arm. "This place really sucks," I repeat. Michael just starts laughing. I push him against a wall and hold him there. He writhes like a fucking bug with a pin through it.
"Chill out, farmboy." Michael says. "We've all had bad experiences with this shit. It was just piss-poor luck that you had yours the first time out."
"What if someone talks?" I shout. "What about the cops? I don't need a fucking record, not in my line of work!"
"No one's going to talk." Michael's still struggling. "Nobody talks here, even if she had died, they'd have kept their mouth shut, at least to the police."
"Everyone is going to know!" I shout.
"Yeah, people will know. They'll know, and they'll whisper, and they'll say that Nike's new superhero is a cokehead who goes out to clubs for cheap sex and that one of his women ODed and nearly died. And then they'll share that knowledge with all their friends, and they'll feel superior to you, and they'll be fucking happy even though they're drowning in their own shit. It's how Los Angeles works."
"That's not the way I want it to work!"
"Don't sweat it," Michael says. "After a few years, you'll be ready to settle down -- that's when you come out of the closet, talk about your wild youth, your former drug habit, and how you've changed. And then Middle America will fucking forgive you, and you'll go on talk shows, and Oprah and Katie Couric will hug you, and eventually you'll become the most popular man on the planet, because everyone loves a reformed asshole."
I let Michael go. The drugs are still in my system. I feel like crying. I haven't cried in years. Michael puts his arm around my shoulder.
"You haven't even begun to fuck up your life yet, farmboy." His tone is both caring and mocking at the same time. "Los Angeles looks so bright, so big, like it's the one place in the world where you can really make your mark. But it's really just the world's biggest shithole, and it eats people's hopes like fucking candy."
I push him away. "This city is nothing." I say. "Nothing! I'm bigger than Los Fucking Angeles. I'm going to make this town my bitch!"
Michael just shakes his head. The cocksucker doesn't believe me. He thinks this place is going to pussy-whip me and send me sobbing back to Nebraska. I'll show him.
"Good for you," he says. "Let's get you back to your hotel. Tomorrow, we'll see if we can turn you into a superhero."
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