Chapter 30

               When Owen got to Lenny’s office, he was braced for a tongue-lashing. After the event sign-up, which had been mercifully quick, Owen and the team had headed back to the their home. No sooner had they walked in the door and turned on the television was Titan’s face staring back at them, answering Kip’s question eloquently, then adding the bit about ass-kicking on at the end. Owen barely had time to regret that outburst before Lenny called, calmly demanding Owen be at his office within the hour. Lenny calm was usually a bad sign. Cursing, drinking, complaining, anxiety-ridden; these were all forms of Lenny that meant he had things well-under control. Calm Lenny meant business, and all too often that business involved a serious ass-chewing.

                Owen walked through the small door to the lobby, ducking slightly to avoid smacking his head into the frame. He would have suffered no damage, but he’d have been on the hook for repairs. Titan merchandise didn’t exactly fly off the shelves anymore, so he wanted to keep his costs down. It was a good thing he was already ducked, too, because what he saw in the lobby nearly made him jerk his right back up.

                Lenny’s door was open, and inside the small man was sitting there, talking to another Hero that was already seated. Owen might not have recognized her even a week ago, despite the amount of media saturation she’d achieved, but after meeting Gale up close there was no mistaking her. Owen stepped through the empty lobby, into the office, and shut the door behind him.

                “Afternoon Lenny. Gale.” He took a seat in one of the sturdier chairs, doing his best to keep his face neutral. If she was here to call off the assessment, he didn’t want to do anything to make her change her mind.

                “Always a pleasure, Titan,” Gale replied. Judging from the flat tone of her voice, if she considered this a pleasure then Owen would have hated to see how she reacted to an inconvenience.

                “Gale here has come down to finalize the discussion of the ability assessment in person,” Lenny said, not bothering with any pleasantries. “Despite what I, and her own agent, have advised her, she is intent on going forward with this little spectacle.”

                “Up until this morning, I was seriously considering taking it off the table,” Gale replied, turning to face Owen. “That was until I saw his little interview. After that robot attack I thought maybe you really were trying to lay low and do some good, you managed to avoid charging into the spotlight like I expected. But no, the moment you get a few drops of media juice going you hand them a sound bite that you know they’ll play over and over. You’re exactly what I feared you’d be: a showboat that puts his profile over the job. Well I’m going to lower that profile, and thanks to your agent I’m going to do it with countless people watching.”

                “Gale, come on, it was one line. I was there to sign-up for a charity event and I let my tongue get away from me. You really don’t want to do this,” Owen said.

                “I’m telling you right now that I do. We’re getting this done, and it will be this week. Your agent has a list of my team’s availabilities. Find one that works, or so help me I will personally use my connections to bury you in red-tape and bullshit.”

                “What does this accomplish? Really, tell me that. If I do well, you’ve done the exact opposite of what you claim to want, and even if I shit the bed all you’ve done is prove you can take a Hero two decades your senior.”

                “When we decimate you, it will prove that your legend is all fluff. There will be far less cause for the press to care about your antics, and I expect you’ll soon shrivel up and vanish without their attention, just like you did before,” Gale stood to leave, but Owen was on his feet faster.

                “So you want to drive another Hero out of town? Remind me: which of us is the one who cares more about the media than the job?”

                “I want to rid my town of a man who has too much influence and power and not nearly enough integrity to know how to use it,” Gale stared up at him, refusing to budge even an inch. “We both know it’s just a matter of time before your fame-whoring causes you do something stupid and get innocents killed. I’m making sure that you never get the chance.”

                “And this has nothing at all to do with the prestige you think your team will get by embarrassing the legendary Titan?”

                “I won’t stand here and be insulted by such ludicrous insinuations,” Gale snapped. “Unlike you, I have people to help.” She wove her way around the large man and stormed out of the office, slamming the lobby door behind her.

                With Gale gone, Owen slowly lowered himself back into his chair and looked at Lenny, who was placid as a monk on morphine.

                “That woman is not fond of you,” Lenny said at last.

                “I think she hates me more than your ex-wife hates you,” Owen added.

                “Don’t be silly, she didn’t even take a swing at you, let alone reach for a knife. She’s nowhere near that level of loathing… yet.”

                “Damn right ‘yet.’ What the hell am I supposed to do? If I go into that assessment and throw it, then the Titan name gets even more run through the mud that it already has been. I mean, for all the shit that gets hurled about, the one thing no one can ever say is that I wasn’t a capable Hero. On the other hand, if I go in and tear her team apart, she really will hate me until the day one of us dies. I’d rather not have an arch-enemy, that’s also a Hero, so soon into my comeback.”

                “It does complicate matters,” Lenny agreed. “Just out of curiosity, you didn’t mention the chance of legitimately getting shown up in either of your assessments. Did that not even strike you as a possibility?”

                “I read up on Elemental Fury, including what they can do. So, honestly, no, it didn’t occur to me.”

                “Me either,” Lenny said. “You’re in a real pickle here, no doubt, and it’s even worse now that there’s a giant audience contractually attached to the spectacle.”

                “Thanks again for that, by the way.”

                “My pleasure,” Lenny leaned back in his chair, still exuding an endless sea of calm. “And while we’re on the subject of thanking each other for things, why don’t we have a nice long chat about that little quote you gave the reporter.”

                Owen swallowed hard and looked down at his boots. This day was just getting worse by the hour.