Joe’s Bar – 2am
Photoenhance by Rocinate
(Note: Click on thumbnail image for full size.)
They say a truly great picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s my thousand.
Jack Nickerson waited in the graffiti-filled shadows behind Joe’s Bar. He’d never been in that bar – it catered mostly to ex-hippies and political radicals who’d gotten too old to hang out at the university watering holes – but he knew the types who hung out here. They wore their hair long, dressed in denim and mostly worked the trades. A couple were professors. Some of them drove Harleys, others drove hybrids. Greenpeacers most of them. Irrelevant assholes in any case.
Most of them also enjoyed an occasional joint out in the back alley, which is what he was counting on.
Wendy Matthews would never do anything to hurt her ex-husband, but Jack was determined to send a message her ex’s way. He and Wendy had been dating for the last month, ever since her divorce was final, and even though Wendy said she didn’t want to get back into a relationship, Jack had fallen in love with her. He felt her pain. Pain that her asshole husband inflicted on her by making her feel unwanted. Unloved.
He would never treat her that way.
The four-foot long crowbar he held would ensure her ex never came near her again. Between a couple of broken legs and the guy’s lack of health insurance, he’d never get back on his feet, literally or financially.
Turning toward the light, he studied the picture he’d taken from the box in Wendy’s garage. It showed a man with gray hair tied in a ponytail, a thin beard, jeans and a denim shirt and wearing an Aussie-style hat.
The guy was a relic.
Dave Matthews was working on his sixth Bud of the evening while trying to explain the whys and wherefores of taking over university buildings to protest an illegal and immoral war. He’d been a student leader back in the sixties at Kent State, trying to stop the war. He’d also nearly taken one of the bullets that had been fired on the greens. Shots that had been heard around the world.
Their goal back then hadn’t been complex -- stop the war -- but it had threatened the status quo. He believed that their freedoms were being trampled by a power hungry president, Lyndon Johnson, and his hawkish cronies who were determined to expand the war in Vietnam.
That had been a very long time ago. Forty years to be exact.
Jim Coopers sat on the stool beside Dave tonight. He was a professor over at UCLA. Jim was lamenting that the Iraq war was just a bad sequel to the Vietnam War. Except nobody was in the streets protesting it this time. Where had the idealism of youth gone? It was 2007 and protesters should be everywhere. But kids today just zoned out on their iPods. There wasn’t a draft, so who cared. It was somebody else’s problem.
His argument was focused on the only person in the bar who hadn’t been part of the anti-war movement of the 60's: Dave’s friend Kara. They’d met while he was on a Greenpeace stint last winter, working on keeping a few pods of whales alive up near the Faeroe Islands -- one of the few places on Earth where whaling was still active. Kara had punched a couple of holes in each of the whaling ships. Not big enough to sink them, but enough to force the crews to race back to harbor and forget about their whaling plans.
Dave had been out in the inflatable when that happened, and he’d seen someone or something moving beneath the water, traveling far faster than any dolphin. When the swimmer went under his inflatable the second time, he saw a girl wearing a red and blue costume. That could only be one person: Superman’s cousin, the girl everyone called: Supergirl.
He waved to her when she came by the third time, giving her a cheer and a thumbs-up. Then he went racing after her, circling the whaling fleet with glee as the collision alarms clanged on the whaling ships and the crew ran around desperately, trying to plug the leaks.
By the time he got back to his cabin on the Sea Shepherd to change out of his wet clothes, she was sitting there in his chair, wet blonde hair plastered over her skull and a tiny top with an ‘S’ on it and a skirt that was little more than a hankerchief. That and a pair of red boots that made her legs look totally amazing. He grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around her. She should have been freezing.
She started asking questions about how to stop other whalers -- punching holes in their ships was a bit of overkill. There had to be a better way.
Dave had a lot of ideas, and amazingly, they hit it off. They talked until morning, discovering along the way that they shared similar views on more than just whaling: on conservation, politics, wars, global-warming… many other things too. She had a good head on her shoulders and saw what was happening on Earth from a unique perspective. Which given she wasn’t from Earth made some kind of sense.
She had an insatiable curiosity about what it had been like back in the 60’s and 70’s and she couldn’t understand why people today weren’t willing to fight for what they felt was right. A few million people in the streets could change the administration’s approach toward war and politics. A million marchers in Washington might even give the congressional Democrats enough backbone to rein in the president.
Dave wasn’t going to argue with that. He’d done his part back in the 60’s.
What he didn’t share was Kara’s taste in music – she liked punk and metal, the louder the better, and he still listened to Dylan and Cat Stevens and such. She dressed like a teenager from LA, which meant sexy and eclectic, but he liked denim and leather.
They kept in touch after he returned to LA, meeting a half dozen times at Joe's Bar. He went so far as to have a leather outfit made for her – a long, black leather jacket whose tail suggested a cape and leather pants, hip-huggers of course. She’d added a few Kryptonian touches, that famous ‘S’ for one thing, and wore a mid-riff-baring top that made it clear who her cousin was.
Dave was thrilled that she’d started wearing his leathers most of the time, although in reality, at her age and with her figure and fitness, she could get away with wearing anything she wanted.
The two of them had become good friends, despite the fact that he was born in 1947 and she looked like she’d been born in the early 90’s. But the reality was that she was closer to his age. Kara said she’d been fifteen when her cousin was born on Krypton, and he’d grown up and had been floating around Earth for a long time. The difference was that Kara had spent the decades from her mid-teens until a year ago in suspended animation, floating between the stars. She hadn’t aged a day during all that time.
She had a fake ID that said she was 21, but that wasn’t any more believable than claiming she was his age. Anyone could tell she was sixteen or seventeen. She also had the personality of a vivacious teenager, but her perceptions and introspections were those of someone far older. Maybe that was because she was Kryptonian. Or maybe some parts of her mind had continued maturing during those long years in suspended animation. Or maybe she was just really smart. Dave figured it was a bit of all three.
What was clear was that his buddies and the owner of Joe’s Bar had fallen in love with her and she’d made Joe's place her home. She didn’t really have a place to live, or so she said, despite plenty of offers to take her in. She claimed she was a creature of the skies, even the stars, and having a bit of dirt beneath her toes to call home wasn’t all that important. Especially since her world didn’t even exist anymore.
Kara, along with the rest of the regulars at Joe’s, had recently helped Dave through his messy divorce, which had turned truly ugly when his wife, Wendy, saw he and Kara hanging out together in a park. Wendy assumed the worst and what had been a difficult divorce turned impossible. Despite his protestations, Wendy assumed he was having an affair with a teenager. The gloves really came off at that point.
Rumor on the street was that Wendy had hired someone to mess him up, but Dave didn’t buy that. They’d once been wildly in love. They’d marched together in the streets in the 60’s and they’d been active in Greenpeace and a number of liberal political campaigns during the 70’s. Sex, drugs and rock and roll, with the emphasis on sex. The marriage had been damn good for the first twenty years. But then the 80’s came and Wendy focused on her business, therapeutic massage, and Dave on his framing – he worked construction in the LA area. He hung out at Joe’s every night talking politics, and Wendy started watching those ridiculous sitcoms until she fell asleep in front of the TV. They’d just gradually grown apart until they woke up one day and discovered that the only thing they shared was a house and two cats. That wasn’t enough to stay together. Not nearly enough.
Dave moved into an apartment above the bar, and Kara crashed there on his couch sometimes. He had his buddies; most of them hung out at Joe’s, all of them sharing the same radical 60’s ideology. Plus they had Kara, the girl who stood out as a blonde beacon of loveliness in a bar full of graying men. She had increasingly turned to Dave and his friends for advice and friendship, especially after her falling out with her cousin and the “meddlesome man” she called Bruce. She made the mistake one time of calling him by the name the rest of the world knew: Batman.
Dave had never been all that impressed with superheroes. Sure, they solved some problems, but their approach was more like chasing mosquitoes out of your backyard with a shotgun. The noise and smoke might work for a bit, but the mosquitoes came back and the pellet holes in the houses next door didn’t make for good neighbors.
The real fix was getting the right people into positions of leadership. People who could steer the planet in the right direction.
Superman wasn’t willing to help with that. He pledged his support to whoever was in power, even if he didn’t share their politics. He was above all that.
Which was total bullshit, Kara claimed. You can’t help people by standing on a pedestal. You have to get involved to change the world. Something Kara was willing to do – with the right guidance.
Guidance the regulars at Joe’s Bar were more than willing to provide.
The newest poster on the wall, surrounded by wrinkled yellow posters from decades before, said it all: Joe’s Bar – ground zero for an Enlightened Earth. Kara had made the poster using a picture she’d taken of Earth hanging against a starry background. She’d added whales and dolphins and people of all races and creeds dancing happily around its perimeter.
The Enlightened Earth campaign began with Kara gathering up every bit of Plutonium and enriched Uranium on Earth and stashing it on the backside of the Moon. The US and a few other governments called it “terrorism”, given that their nuclear arsenal had been destroyed in the process. Kara had weathered a lot of firepower while breaking into those missile silos and storage bunkers, but she was obviously as bulletproof as her cousin. She even survived a direct hit when someone in China rigged one of their nukes to blow once it was outside the atmosphere.
Other countries that she’d “relieved of their burden” were silent; not wanting to admit they’d even had any of that stuff.
Officially, Kara was now wanted by the FBI and Interpol and numerous intelligence agencies, not to mention a target for the military. But nobody was going to look for her in this nondescript bar full of has-beens and might-have-beens in Long Beach, California.
“You wanna get some fresh air,” Kara asked Dave, twirling her fingers to say she was looking for more than that.
Dave smiled and slipped off his stool, patting the pocket in his leather vest to make sure he had his stash. Kara didn’t get high on the pot they smoked, but she enjoyed the flavor and the ritual, and said she really liked the way it mellowed him out.
They were soon standing in front of the graffiti-covered wall behind Joe’s. It was 2am, so the alleyway was deserted. He rolled his joint and gave it to Kara to light. A flash of her heat vision worked better than his lighter.
That’s when Dave saw someone moving in the shadows behind Kara. A guy with a huge crowbar in hand. The bulge in his waistband was clearly a gun. He suddenly realized the rumors on the street were right – Wendy had gone over the edge and hired some goon to hurt him.
Jack Nickerson smiled as he recognized the ex. Even better, the girl with him looked like that teenage whore Wendy had been complaining about. Two for the price of one – he’d mess them both up.
Matthews held his ground as his young girlfriend turned to face Jack. She nudged him to the side, and Matthews moved, leaving the girl standing alone.
Fucking coward, Jack thought. But just as well. He’d take a swing at her and then Matthews would come to her defense and it would be even easier to take him down.
The blonde tilted her head to the side as she unbuttoned her coat, giving him an amused look as she arrogantly swept the left side of her coat open to reveal a top with an ‘S’ on it.
His heart froze -- he'd read about Superman's cousin or whatever. Supergirl they called her.
Then it hit him, and he almost laughed. It was just god-damned Halloween. No way was he facing the real thing. The chick was just fucking with his head.
He took a swing at her with the crow bar. Not hard enough to kill her, but enough to ruin that pretty face. That and make sure she didn’t see what he was going to do to Matthews.
Surprisingly, she leaned her head back so fast that the crow bar missed her chin by a fraction of an inch.
Jack staggered forward as he struggled to regain his balance.
"What the hell…"
He threw himself into his second swing, not holding back anything this time, only to have her catch the bar in mid-swing, the blow against her palm sounding like steel hitting steel. The bar vibrated painfully in Jack's grip as he tried to pull it away from her, but she twisted it until he had to let go to save his wrists. He staggered backward, off balance and confused.
It didn't feel like Halloween anymore. Nobody human could move that fast. And his blow should have shattered her arm.
Angry and confused, Jack pulled the old 9mm from his waistband and aimed it at her. When all else failed, go for the heat. He’d learned that growing up in the streets.
“You really don’t want to do that,” the girl said sweetly. “Point of no return.”
Jack flipped the safety off and aimed the gun at her head, looking for the fear in her eyes.
She glanced down as she started to bend his crowbar in half, the steel giving off a tortured squeal as she folded it over itself. He gasped as she bent the doubled bar in half again, the steel screaming deafeningly as she looked back up at him and smiled while slowly balling it up like a steel snowball, all the while acting as if she wasn’t even working at it. She finally tossed the wadded up bar over her shoulder to land with a dull clang.
Jack's back was against the wall now. Shit. It really was her. That Kryptonian bimbo. That's who Matthews had left his wife for?
He glanced to his side to see Matthews smiling at him, seemingly amused by it all. A surge of anger filled him, his face turning red. That asshole had hurt his Wendy. Now his little girlfriend was fucking with him. And God damn it, nobody fucked with Jack Nickerson and lived to tell about it.
The black rage that had always been his downfall took over now, his body and mind burning in adrenaline overdrive as ancient reflexes took over. He couldn't out run her. He had to fight for his survival. They were all out to get him. Just like before.
His hand grew a mind of its own as his gun steadied, the muzzle aiming at the middle of the hated ‘S’ on her chest, his murderous thoughts coalescing. His 9mm barked like a cannon in the narrow alley, the spent brass tinkling as it hit the filthy concrete.
The girl's body jerked as the shockwave ran through her, but the only sign that he’d fired on her was a faint smudge of lead in the middle of the ‘S’. She was still had that arrogant smile on her lips.
A rush of nightmarish memories from his earlier crimes washed over him. Also the horrors of prison. Things he'd grown past. Things he'd hidden from Wendy. From himself. It was all happening again.
Instead of panicking, his thoughts grew strangely focused, his body becoming as tense as a razor as even more adrenaline flushed through him. There was no way he could let this girl take him in. He already had two convictions – three strikes and you got life in California – so he had nothing to lose. Better to be dead than that.
Besides, she was just a girl. She had to have a weak spot. And all he needed to do was stun her. To gain the seconds he needed to get away.
He was in total control as he raised his gun again, aiming deliberately for her forehead and firing. The impact between her eyes barely rocked her head. Worried now, he searched for her weak spot -- she had to have one. He aimed at the delicate hollow of her neck -- and she coughed softly as it ricocheted from her windpipe. He aimed at her navel -- only to have the crushed bullet remain trapped there, looking like body art. He aimed at her eyes, but she didn't even blink as the bullets crushed against those orbs. He fired a round into her mouth, but it flattened against her teeth before she spit it back at him, nearly knocking him off his feet. Desperate to find a soft spot, he finally aimed at her breasts, only to see them dimple deeply from the impacts as they blunted the bullets to land at his feet. He just kept pulling the trigger until the slide locked open a dozen rounds later, the clip empty.
Disbelieving, he lowered his smoking gun. The girl just stood there, looking at him with that same amused look, despite the tinges of smoke rose from the dozen lead smears on her body. Yet there was no sign of blood.
“Satisfied?” she asked, acting as if nothing important had happened.
Jack’s ears were ringing so badly that he could hardly hear. He looked down at the smoking barrel of his gun, and then back up at the girl. "God damn..."
That’s when the back door of Joe’s burst open and a half dozen men ran out. Before he knew what was happening, someone had grabbed his gun and two other men had slammed him up against the far side of the alleyway.
“You guys OK?” Jim Coopers shouted as took the smoking 9mm away from Jack. He picked up the wadded-up crowbar and looked up at Kara, his eyes opening wide as he saw the lead smears all over her.
“If he put any goddamn holes in that leather outfit, I’ll fucking kill him,” Dave growled, his hands shaking as the adrenaline finally caught up to him.
“Gee… you’re worrying about my leathers and not little old me?” Kara winked at him.
“Little ‘ol you is bulletproof,” Dave replied as he walked over to check out her jacket. "My leathers aren't."
She held his hands in hers, slowing the shaking. "And here I thought they were my leathers now."
"You know what I mean."
She released his hands to start brushing the lead stains off her blue top, pausing to erotically rub a lead smear that was located directly over her left nipple. "Guess he was looking for my soft spot. Men always assume..."
Her voice trailed off as Dave reached out to brush away a lead smear on her forehead, only to find her skin was so hot it burned his fingers. He pulled out a handkerchief and kept rubbing the spot, even as he tried to ignore where her hand was. Or the fact that her breast suddenly looked as soft as a human girl’s under her touch.
When she was done, she leaned down to pick up the joint that Dave had dropped, and relit it with a burst of light from her eyes, then took a big hit before passing it on. Everyone took a hit as it made the rounds, enjoying a ritual that hadn’t changed since the heydays of the 60’s. Calming their jangling nerves.
Kara finally nodded toward the shooter, who was tied up down the alley now. “So, what do we do with dead shot over there?”
“Make him fucking disappear,” Lou Rawlings said. He was an ex-Marine who’d come back from Nam ’69 to protest the war. “He knows who you are, Kara. Where you hang out.”
She shook her head. “Can’t do that, Lou. It’s called murder.”
“He tried to kill you. An eye for an eye. As the Bible says.”
“Not the same thing. I’m unkillable. And since when do you quote scripture? Thought you didn’t believe.”
“Just common fucking sense,” Lou added.
“I won’t tell anyone about you,” Jack cried out as he overheard them. He sounded scared now. “Nobody would believe anyw…”
“Shut up!” Dave shouted angrily at Jack. He turned back to Kara, his voice lowering. “I got a better idea anyway.”
“I’m open…” she shrugged.
“You know that special rendition stuff that Bush and Cheney were doing?”
“Kidnapping to deliver suspects to a foreign government for torture? Yeah. But I’m not going there either.”
“Well, let’s just put him somewhere where he’ll live, but where nobody’ll give a shit what he has to say.”
“Doctor up some records,” Lou added as he realized where Dave was heading. “Get him committed to a mental hospital. Diagnosis of paranoid schizo. I know some people who know some people.”
“Cool…” Kara said. “He’s too dangerous to leave on the street, even if he didn’t know our secret."
“We got your back , Kara,” Lou said. “No sweat, babe.” He paused to open his arms and give her a big hug, wincing as the hot spots from the bullets warmed his chest. "And thanks for taking care of my buddy here. Don't know what I'd do without Dave."
He finally released her and turned to grab Jack to take him away, his hands bound.
“That was awkward," Dave said after everyone else wandered back inside, the excitement over. “You OK? Also OK with that?” He nodded toward Jack.
“I’m a little tired. Kind of bummed too. I could have handled that better. Not let him know who I was or something.”
“You were protecting me. Things happen really fast when shooting starts. And there’s something about that ‘S’ that draws the craziness out of those assholes.”
Kara shrugged. “I figured it would intimidate him. That's why I opened my coat. Thought it would send him running."
"It's Halloween. Witching night. Guess he figured it was just a costume."
"Halloween. Have to remember that." She sighed. "You mind if I crash with you tonight?”
“Are you kidding? The place is half yours. Such as it is.”
“Then lets go to bed.”
Dave stared at her. “What?”
Kara laughed as she wrapped her arm around him and floated up to set him down on the second floor fire escape. “Not that way. I’m not only unkillable, but this Girl of Steel thing has a few other unfortunate kinks.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.” He’d already given that subject more thought than decency deserved.
“I’ll take the couch as usual,” she said as she ducked down to go through the window into his apartment. “And no gallant protests tonight. I don’t get stiff or sore like you do, and I’ll probably be gone in a few hours anyway. Things to do. Places to fly.”
By the time Dave crawled inside, she’d taken off her long jacket and draped it over the end of the couch.
He tried not to stare, but it was damn hard. Between that tight little top and those hip-hugging leathers, not to mention all that blonde hair, she was an eyeful.
He knew it was going to be hard to get any sleep tonight, what with him in his bed and Kara in the living room, only a thin wall separating them.
He already knew she'd be appearing in his feverish dreams tonight. She’d looked so sexy as she stood there in that that leather jacket and those tight pants while those shell casings just piled up by her feet, the bullets bouncing off her skin, zinging this way and that.
He sighed, no longer sure how much longer he was going to be able to pretend.
To pretend he was just interested in being her friend.