Mike held his hand up to the scanner, and leaned in so the security camera could also scan his retina. He barely paid any attention to the blue light as it flashed, temporarily stunning his vision like the flash bulb on the old camera his grandfather had given him. He sighed slightly as the door to the bar opened. Life couldn’t possibly be any more boring.

He had heard all the tales from his grandfather, who had heard them from his grandfather, who, in turn, had heard them from his grandfather about the times way back when Paragon City, indeed the world, was a dangerous, deadly place. However dark those times were, there were those braves souls willing to risk their lives to save countless innocents. The skies of Paragon City swarmed with heroes in those days, his grandfather told him, all out to make a difference.

Apparently, they had done their job too well, Mike mused. With the villain groups gone, most of the superpowered tried to take their place in society, only to find that society had subtly turned on them. Governments expected them to join their militaries; corporations wanted them as product sponsors; social lobby groups tried to get them all outlawed, implying that if the superheroes were gone, there would be no more crime that could not be handled by local law enforcement.

So, Mike was told, over the course of time, the number of heroes slowly dwindled away. Those heroes who could hide what they were managed to find a place in society, undetected. Those who stood out were quietly taken away, never to be seen or heard from again. A whole family in Mike’s apartment building had been one of them, their residence emptied of all traces of their existence. The thought gave Mike chills, but, he had been told, removal of the superpowered was the only way to make sure the city was safe.

He detested the usage of the word “safe.” There was no risk to living anymore, he thought angrily as he went around the bar straightening things up. Everyone lived their lives in safe little jobs, in their safe little offices and then returned to their safe little communities, kept safe by the Psi-Police, the War Walls, and the City Protectors. Yes, life was as sterile as one of the labs he had worked in.

Well, it’s not like we need help taking care of crime anymore, he thought to himself. After all, with the justice system finally working, the old war walls have been increased, no one would think of committing a misdemeanor, let alone something felonious.

He flipped on the switch to his neon signs, indicating his bar was open for business. His mom always worried about him working late, but he paid her little mind when the topic came up. Besides, he enjoyed the work, to him it was much more enjoyable than his old job.

A few of his regulars who had been waiting outside for him to turn the lights on shuffled in and took their usual seats at the bar. Soon the place was filled with life, laughter and music. Mike greeted them all with his routine cheerfulness, and scarcely noticed the newcomer slink his way to a corner booth.

“Hey, bud, what’re you havin’?” he asked, stepping away from the bar to get the order.

The man looked at him cautiously. He seemed to be in his late thirties; light brown hair, brown eyes, and had a beard, which to Mike seemed rather odd. One hardly ever saw men with much facial hair these days. Even his clothes seemed somewhat out of fashion, but Mike paid it no mind. A customer was a customer, he always said.

“I’ll have whatever beer’s on draft, and I’d like to be left alone.” he seemed to growl.

“Ok, sure thing.” Mike backed off, not willing to upset a stranger. He went behind the bar and poured one of the beers. Bringing it back to the mystery man, he placed it in front of him.

“You expecting anyone else?”

The man gave him another look, and there was something in his gaze that made Mike’s hair stand on end. The man seemed to be much older than he really was, and his stare was penetrating, as if he was reading into Mike’s very soul.

“No. I’ll let you know if I need anything else.”

“Uh…sure.” Mike said, and beat a hasty retreat to safety behind the bar. After a few minutes of nervous joke-telling with his regulars, he paid no further attention to the strange, bearded man. Joe, one of his regulars, was finishing up one of his many jokes.

Mike laughed along with the group, even though he caught just the punchline.

Throughout the evening, as he tended bar, he would steal an occasional glance to the corner booth. Though he could hardly see the man seated there, he could just tell the man was watching him.

“Hey, Mikey! Got any new jokes for us tonight?” Joe asked, swaying back and forth slightly from the effects of the several now-empty shot glasses in front of him.

“’Fraid not, Jose. Haven’t heard any good ones yet.”

“Ok, I got another one then.” Joe cleared his throat for effect. “The Pope, a rabbi, and the Dali Lama walk into a bar….”

After the bar had closed, Mike slowly cleaned up the place. Despite the recent surge in pressure for the government to reenact the Prohibition Amendment, business was always good. People will always want a place to gather to ease their sorrows, he thought as he approached the corner booth.

He had been reluctant all night to come anywhere near this table. The man had not budged all night, and yet Mike had not seen him leave after closing time. To his shock, the man was not there. The only evidence that the booth had been occupied at all was an empty beer mug and a folded piece of paper.

He picked up both items and went back behind the bar. He put the mug into the washer, and unfolded the paper. Inside was money for the beer, plus a tip. On the paper itself was a brief note.

Mr. Harlowe,

There is a matter of great urgency that I need to discuss with you. I’ll see you tomorrow.


Unnerved by the fact the man knew his name without ever having made any sort of introductions, formal or otherwise, Mike quickly folded the paper in half and jammed it into his pocket.

As he left the bar that evening, he couldn’t help but get the feeling that his life was about to be relieved of its boredom.
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