Owen sat in one of the waiting room’s many reinforced chairs and flipped through an old Capes & Cowls magazine. It detailed the rise of one of the latest crops of heroes, fresh off their internships and making quite a splash in the world. Their costumes were crisp, their dialogue concise, their images squeaky clean. These were the kind of Heroes the world needed more of, or at least that’s the idea the reported lauded. These were the kind of wholesome, homespun, moral warriors that would take the lead in creating a new world, free of immorality.
It would have been vastly more impressive if Owen didn’t know that two of the featured four were already dead. He’d heard one was in rehab upstate, but the final member was still active. She wasn’t quite so eager or wholesome anymore, she certainly didn’t schedule in time for op-ed piece with interviewers. Now she just focused on getting the job done. That was trouble with old magazines, the media darlings rarely lived up to their initial hype, and for the ones who did, the eventual fall just became all the more catastrophic.
The door a few feet away flew open and a younger man than Owen stepped out. He wore a bright red costume with yellow trim, a matching mask, and a cape that fell to just above his calves. Own hoped this kid was a flier or a strongman, otherwise someone was going to make him regret that fluttering fashion choice. A couple of steps behind was another man, this one older, shorter, and sporting a significant paunch instead of a body rippling with muscle.
“Don’t worry about a thing, you just go on home and relax,” the smaller man assured him. “We’ll get this whole mess cleaned up and fixed before you can say Bam Piff Zow.”
The costumed man nodded his head and set off through the waiting room, his eyes lingered on Owen for a moment, a spark of recognition flickering through his eyes, then immediately being dismissed. No way, couldn’t be Him. Must be a new guy who was a fan, paying homage with the outfit. He walked through the door without another glance, this man had more worrisome things on the brain.
“Good to see you, Lenny,” Owen said, rising from the chair and towering over the smaller man. From here he could see Lenny’s prominent bald spot. A different man might have gone for a toupee, or a comb-over, or tried some radical drug to fix such vain failings. Not Lenny. He spent every day around people who that physically superior to him, if his ego were wrapped up in his looks it would have hung itself long ago.
“My stars, look at you,” Lenny muttered, taking in the massive form towering over him. He’d have sworn it was a few decades ago and this was the same fresh-faced newbie who was hot out of the HCP. Same chiseled frame, same red shirt and jeans, same dark wavy hair, same bright mask. The biggest differences were under the mask. A crooked smile that wasn’t as carefree, the stubble of working man who didn’t have time to shave, green eyes that lacked the luster and hope of a new Hero. That might have worried others in Lenny’s field, but personally he preferred his clients with the shine wiped off. They’d learned they weren’t invincible, and they made smarter choices because of that.
“Genetics is bullshit,” Lenny said at last. “I bet you don’t even have to watch what you eat.”
“Not really, no.”
“Hell, doctor has me eating whole wheat and cheese curd every day for breakfast. Do you what it takes to make that crap taste good?”
“Damned if I have a clue, I was genuinely asking. Enough jawing in the waiting room, let’s go to the office.”
It was strangely comforting how little Lenny’s office had changed since Owen left the Hero world. The tacky décor, the oversized filing cabinets, the weathered globe that turned into a bar when you swiveled it, all of it was still here. What had changed were the posters on the walls. Lenny always kept his brightest stars up, the hot tickets, so that anyone who came in knew the kind of clientele this man catered to. A few of them were even framed, these were the ones that weren’t coming down, those Lenny considered being of ‘legendary” status. Owen only knew of one framed poster Lenny had taken down, and he didn’t hold it against the smaller man one bit.
“So,” Lenny said once he was situated behind his desk, “You want to come back to The Life.”
Owen smiled, he’d forgotten the way Lenny referred to working the Hero scene. The Life. It was actually a pretty apt phrasing. Being a hero wasn’t a nine to five, it dominated every aspect of who you were. Even the parts you might wish it didn’t.
“Yeah. I do.”
Lenny ran a hand through his ever thinning hair. “Listen, Titan, you know I never held the whole fiasco against you. Shit happens, if it didn’t I’d likely be out of a job. That said, time does not heal all wounds as far as public perception is concerned.”
Heroes didn’t need agents, technically speaking, any more than a cook needs butter to create a meal that will meet a person’s nutritional requirements. Most found out quickly that having a job in the public eye led to a lot of pressure, and people like Lenny made everything flow a lot smoother. He was a confidant, a fixer, a PR specialist, and damage control all heaped into a single roly-poly package. Still, even Lenny had his limits, as Owen had learned firsthand.
“That’s okay. I know I’m not going to be walking back to a warm reception.”
“You always did have a knack for understatement,” Lenny said. “They’ll come after you hard. A lot of people took what happened really personally, and there is nothing they’d love more than a chance to tear you apart.”
“I know. Believe me Lenny, no one knows better how hated I am than me.”
“If only you were just hated. Hated I can work with, we play you as a gruff counterpart to some guy whose image can tolerate it, do a turnaround over time and presto, you’re golden again. No, you’re hated And held up as an icon by different groups. That gets people fighting, bickering really, about some deeply held beliefs. When you’ve got one man with two different images you can’t shift one without impacting the other.”
“I can deal with that.”
“Of course you can, you’re fucking Titan. But not so long ago this was enough to make you hang up the mask. Thankfully your certification never expires, but getting you relicensed for Hero work will be a bear after so long, not to mention the headaches I’ll get once the media gets ahold of it. Now, we go way back, and I like you, so that’s shit I’m willing to wade through, but only if you can convince me that I won’t do it only to see you walk off again three months later. What’s changed?”
Owen sat silently for a few moments, his giant frame pulled in on itself. “My son came to see me a few months ago.”
“Yeah. This stays quiet Lenny, dead quiet, because if you think I’m a PR shitstorm you have no idea what kind of hellhole he would open. He’s in the HCP himself now, and doing pretty good from what I hear. “
“I didn’t think the HCP took Powereds.”
“Hoe-lee-shit.” Lenny turned and popped open his bar, grabbed a glass of vodka and tossed in a few ice cubes, then motioned for his prospective client to continue.
“Anyway, he was having trouble getting his ability to the next step, so he hunted me down. I took a week, got him on the right path, then asked him to keep in touch. I’ll spare you the finer points of the conversation, but he essentially told me to go fuck myself.”
“Look, hurt feelings can run deep, especially at his age.”
“See, that’s the thing Lenny, I don’t think he was just hurt. I think he was right. Why should he want to talk to me? Why should he care? I walked out on his mother and him, reasons be damned, I still did it. I could have made more of an effort. I could have tried to stay in some part of his life. I fucked up. I let my own shit get in the way of people who need me. That’s a hard truth to face, but I did. Unfortunately, that was when it occurred to me I had only scratched the surface on people I abandoned.”
Lenny could already see where this was going. “Titan, come on, you’re strong, but there’s other Heroes out there.”
“It isn’t about that, Lenny. It’s about the fact that I could be out there, I could be helping people and making a difference, and instead I holed up in Colorado to lick my wounds. I missed out on the opportunity to be a real father, and I know I’m never going to be an A-list Hero from a popularity point of view, but I think it’s time I stopped running away. I’m a strongman. We hit and we get hit. It’s time for me the finally shake off that last one and start moving again.”
“Shit, Titan. Why couldn’t you give those kind of speeches back in the day? I could have made you freaking king of the Heroes if you talked like that.”
“So what can you do now?”
“I can make a few calls,” Lenny said slowly. “No promises, just a few calls. For an old friend. A favor, if you want it.”
Owen gave him a smile, and for an instant Lenny was staring through time at the enthusiastic kid he’d first signed so very long ago.
“I’ll take it.”