Chapter 38

               A rookie Hero might have been surprised by the amount of people in Brin’s Gate despite the early afternoon hour, but Owen had been around enough to know that Heroes didn’t live on set schedules like people working normal jobs. They worked as needed, slept when they could, and took time to socialize whenever they could manage to find the opportunity. To someone who worked a nine to five, the idea of having beers with friends and one in the afternoon was scandalous, but to a team coming off a twenty hour patrol shift, it was a chance to unwind.

                The bartender met Owen’s entrance with a knowing nod. Even having only come in once before, having Gale vouch for him has effectively set up Owen as a known customer, and that meant he’d be able to get real drinks and service. When he was younger he’d worried about going to the bars where Heroes congregated unmasked, after all what if someone managed to get hold of the staff and torture out information? That was when his mentor explained that these establishments tended to be owned and run by former Heroes, people who weren’t quite so easy to made talk. Even with that, there was still a certain amount of risk, but it was one most Heroes made peace with. No one could be the job full-time. He’d learned early on that if you didn’t make time for the person under the mask then both personas quickly burned away.

                Owen got a beer, dropping a few bills on the counter to pay for it. These places didn’t take cards or checks, too easy to create a paper trail of clientele. It was cash-only, though some of them let the more trusted and frequent patrons run tabs. He leaned back against the bar and scanned the establishment, taking note of each patron.

                In one corner was a group of four people leaned in and talking in hushed voices. A team, no doubt, and probably discussing some matter they should have dealt with at their base. Against the far wall was another cluster of people, this one so large it needed two tables to seat everyone. This group was laughing and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Owen guessed they were either all old friends who met up, or a group that just finished a successful team collaboration. Either way, he wasn’t likely to find anyone in there he could talk to.

                His best bet was a solo drinker, someone who wasn’t already encompassed by the shell of a conversation. At the bar were two such people, one near Owen and nursing a glass of scotch, while the other was several stools down and sipping on some light blue cocktail. Scotch was an older man, face a bit haggard and eyes a touch sunken. He was a man who’d been in the life for a long while, and it had taken its toll on him. Cocktail was male too, but he was younger, with a bit of cheer still shining through as he texted on his phone. It seemed a good bet that Scotch was here just to drink, while Cocktail was waiting for people to join him.

                Owen took his time deciding which one to approach. Scotch would be skilled and smart, not to mention open about sharing resources with a fellow Hero. The problem was, Scotch had the look of a man who’d seen too much, and wasn’t eager to get any more action than he had too. That meant he probably wasn’t proactive, more likely he just took calls from Dispatch and did his job. While Scotch was probably the better overall resource, Cocktail still had vigor and optimism. That would make him a better connection to have, in the long-term.

                “Mind if I ask what you’re drinking?” Owen said, sliding a few seats down the bar. “I don’t recall the last time I saw that shade of blue in anything non-toxic.”

                “This might still qualify as toxic, it’s got enough alcohol in it to turn me flammable,” Cocktail replied. “It’s called an Adios Mother Fucker, basically a Long Island except you add Blue Curacao, switch the Coke for Sprite, and double up on all the booze measurements.”

                “Damn, sounds like somebody named that thing well. I admire your courage putting that in your body.”

                “I’m heartier than I look,” Cocktail replied. That was probably saying quite a bit, because he looked hearty to begin with. Every Hero worked out constantly, that part of HCP training was never forgotten, but even by Hero standards Cocktail had a wide set of shoulders and well-defined arms. He struck one of them out to shake Owen’s hand. “Name is Jeremiah.”

                “Real name? You’re a trusting fellow.”

                “No, Jeremiah is my code name. Long story.”

                “Aren’t they all?” Owen chuckled. He reached over and took the younger man’s hand, giving it a gentle but firm shake. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Titan.”

                Jeremiah’s eyes went wide, but thankfully he didn’t jerk his hand away or recoil. Instead his smile deepened and he stared at Owen more carefully, clearly trying to imagine the man before him in costume. “I’d heard scuttlebutt that you were back in the life, and setting up shop in Brewster no less, but I didn’t really believe it.” They finished shaking hands and Jeremiah picked up his cocktail again. “Then again, that’s assuming you’re really him.”

                “I’d offer to lift something heavy, but I just started coming to this bar and I’d rather not piss off the owner. Besides, who would really want to fake being Titan?”

                “Someone trying to scare the crap out of villains, probably. Or trying to win respect. But I’m inclined to believe you; you definitely have the stature of Titan. Pair that with the rumors, and seems to add up nicely. Tell me something, are you really running around with a group of corpies these days? I assumed that part had to be people making shit up.”

                Owen resisted the urge to tell Jeremiah that the official term was PEERS; he needed to stay on his new friend’s good side if he wanted to start asking for favors and information so soon. “That part is completely true. They’re all good kids, doing the best they can to give back, and I’m enjoying working with them.”

                “Of course you are.” Jeremiah took a long draw from the glass of blue liquid. His voice had been somewhere between sincere and mocking, just between the two enough that it was impossible to pin down which had been intentional. “So tell me, Titan, what brings you out today?”

                “Can’t a man want a beer?”

                “Certainly, but that’s not why you’re here. You cased the room as soon as you walked in, then spent two and half minutes debating whether to approach me or the other gentleman down there. Now you’re trying to ingratiate yourself to me. Obviously you’re either after new friends, teammates, or information; I just thought I’d save us some time and cut to the quick of it.”

                Owen looked the man over once more, with newfound respect. “Telepath?”

                “Not even a little bit. Let’s just say I majored in one of the less respectable options for people in our careers.”

                Owen didn’t need any more than that: Jeremiah was a Subtlety Hero. That explained the keen observational skills. They were the ones who focused on code-cracking, information gathering, and certain unsavory activities that were necessary for Heroes, but not quite as respectable or flashy as punching out a bank-robber. May Heroes treated those who focused in Subtlety as inherently untrustworthy, at least until they’d been around long enough to see what the Subtlety Heroes brought to the table, but to Owen this was the best possible profession for his new acquaintance to have. Subtlety Heroes were all about information, and that was exactly what he’d come out looking for.

                “How about I buy you another one of those blue drinks, and you tell me what you know about robots?”