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