Guest Week Day #4: Jim Zoetewey

Genre Savvy

By Jim Zoetewey, writer of the Legion of Nothing (http://legionofnothing.com)

 

It all went wrong when we stepped into the bank. It shouldn’t have. Bank robberies must be among the most common comic book superheroes encounters, but since becoming real life capes three years ago, we’d never had to stop one.

So, it wasn’t as if there was any good reason to expect a bank robbery, but I suppose we should have been prepared.

Let’s take a step back.

It was spring in Grand Lake, Michigan, specifically the last week of April, the week before final exams. On Friday at a little after four, Haley and I had both handed in the last of our papers and decided to get dinner together—off campus and far from the cafeteria.

Maybe we should have been studying for exams instead, but there would be plenty of time to study over the weekend.

We’d walked downtown from Grand Lake University’s campus. GLU was near downtown already, so it was only a matter of crossing the river on the south side of campus and we were downtown—a ten minute walk at most.

We went to one of the nice parts. Think big, shining skyscrapers with mirrored glass mixed with buildings from Grand Lake, Michigan’s first boom time—the 1800s. Then it had been all about harvesting trees and all the things that could be made from them like furniture, paper, ships and houses.

Now Grand Lake’s money came from other sources. We passed law firms, banks, the local headquarters of a health insurance company, restaurants, a flower shop and a comic book store. Without Haley, I probably would have stepped inside and spent the next hour or two there.

Haley and I stopped in Heroes’ League Park, a memorial to our grandparents. A small park near the center of downtown, it had an amphitheater, trees around the edges, and a bronze plaque with a brief summary of the original Heroes’ League’s service in World War 2 and the years that followed.

We both looked at the reproduction of a photo of the League during World War 2. Her grandfather, Night Wolf stared into the distance. Ghostwoman and the Rocket, my grandparents, held hands. Only two of the original League’s members still lived, and none of our grandparents were among them.

We exchanged glances after a few moments and walked toward the trees, sitting next to each other. I put my arm around her shoulders and she leaned in, laying her head on my chest.

It felt good, leading to a number of thoughts that we couldn’t pursue in a public park.

Haley laughed. She couldn’t read minds, but some emotions are primal enough that they provoked physical responses that she probably could sense—my heart beating faster as we touched for one, and smells that I didn’t even know existed.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if I reacted more strongly than usual. With school being crazy, we’d barely seen each other all week.

She put her hand on my chest and moved it toward the bottom my t-shirt. Then, as I thought she might move her hand under my shirt, she stopped and rubbed the material between her fingers.

She raised her head to look at me. “Nick, are you wearing what I think you’re wearing?”

I’d invented a material that passed as normal clothing, but could reorganize itself into a costume with light armor.

“Yes,” I told her, moving my hand down her back. I could feel the heat of her body through the soft material of her shirt. She wasn’t wearing her costume. I’d never figured out to imitate that texture.

Lowering her voice, she said, “We’re going on a date, not patrol.”

“I know,” I said, glancing around to see if anyone was close to us. “I’m just paranoid. It seems like things go wrong on dates—”

“Not that often,” she said.

“Yeah, but when they do… I mean, remember my high school’s prom? Plus, we got attacked by faeries on the Fourth of July, and then there was the group date where we learned that Jillian was dating a supervillain? It’s just… You can dodge bullets, I can’t.”

Haley frowned. “Ok, point.”

Trying to recover the mood we’d had, I said, “You mentioned a restaurant you wanted to try. Which one?”

She grinned. “It’s not exactly a restaurant. It’s a food truck. I don’t know if you remember Zach? He used to work at one of my family’s restaurants as a cook. He started last month and he’s been getting good reviews. I thought it might be fun to try.”

I nodded. “What does he make?”

She lifted her head from my chest and looked into my eyes. “It’s a little different. He’s experimenting with fusion between Indian foods and US? The hamburgers, fries, and condiments use Indian spices. And you know chili fries? I think his are covered with curry. Oh, and he uses Indian breads instead of buns.”

She paused, looking me over. “Do you still want to try it?”

I thought about it. “Once, at least. I don’t dislike Indian food. It’s just that it burns.”

“I’m sure he serves something that doesn’t burn.” She leaned in and we kissed. Then we kissed again. It felt like forever since we’d been this close. The end of the semester was bad that way.

I wanted to pull her in, but couldn’t. It was a public place for one and that meant that she risked her identity being exposed.

Haley transformed when afraid, angry, and sometimes when making out. It wasn't as if she turned into the Incredible Hulk, but her hands and feet became claws, she grew fangs, and gained a couple inches in height. Plus, her eyes turned yellow and slit like a cat’s. It was a more subtle change than some. Loose shirts and stretchy pants handled most of it, but she lost a lot of shoes.

Walking back to campus in bare feet, combined with the mood she’d be in, would kill the date.

We kissed one more time before she pulled away. While still brown, her eyes had a yellow tint.

“We should stop,” she said, blinking and looking down, “and not just because of… you know…”

When she brought her head back up, she said, “I remembered something important. He only takes cash right now. He was going to get credit cards going before he started, but something happened and he’s still waiting.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? He’s got to be about the only guy like that out there. I guess we’ve got to go find an ATM.”

I sat up and so did she. Then Haley pointed out of the park and across the street. “There’s one. It’s even your bank.”

I followed the direction of her arm. She was right. First of Michigan had a small bank branch no more than forty feet from me. Even better, it had an ATM built into the wall to the left of the front door.

“Then I guess we’d better get money.” We got up, crossed the street, and walked up to the ATM.

Only the ATM said, “Temporarily Out of Service,” across the screen. I leaned sideways, checking through the bank’s glass door. There were people inside and the lights were on. Well, I decided, I could walk into the actual bank and told Haley as much.

The door dinged as we walked through and within seconds I’d noticed two cameras (one hanging from the far exit, the other hidden within a mirrored half-sphere above the lobby).

It wasn’t a very big branch. The tellers’ counter went to the middle of the space. After that the customer area narrowed to a hallway with wooden doors labeled “Office,” “Employees Only,” and “Restroom (Customers Only).”

There were four people in line, two in line in front of each teller. Plus a woman in a red business suit was talking with a balding man in a red business suit.

I didn’t pay the slightest attention to what they were saying though. I was too busy stepping up to the table in the middle of the front area that held deposit and withdrawal slips.

I pulled one out, noticed the pens on top of the table and picked one up, finding that it was on a short metal chain and that I couldn’t write with it unless I moved.

As I positioned myself so that I could use the pen, the balding man told the woman, “If you’ll step down the hall to the door marked ‘office,’ we can talk about your loan.”

That’s the moment when everything went pear-shaped.

“Crap,” Haley said, turning her head toward the door, and then four people burst into the bank, all of them with matching uniforms. That wasn’t good news. Matching uniforms usually meant superheroes or supervillains. In this case though, it might mean that a circus had lost its clowns.

They wore black and red checkerboard pants, jackets that were red on one side and white on the other, and black masks. All the clothes were made out of a knockoff version of bulletproof material my grandfather designed twenty years ago. So they were prepared, but not up to date.

Two of the four appeared to be regular guys. I dubbed them Clown One and Clown Two. The third guy looked like he’d stepped from the cover of a romance novel (well, except for the clothes). I named him Bro Clown. The fourth person was a blond woman who wore a white lab coat over her clown costume. Dr. Clown?

I couldn’t help but notice that she might have posed for the cover of romance novels too (or possibly Playboy)—but her eyes were wide and her pupils small, leading me to wonder what kind of drugs she was on.

Haley glanced over at me, raised an eyebrow, and said, “Seriously?” Between a best friend who read minds and a girlfriend who could tell anytime I found someone else attractive, I’d long ago realized that privacy was something that happened to other people.

Bro Clown saved me from replying when he shouted, “Everyone on the floor, we’re robbing this bank!”

Clown One and Clown Two pointed semi-automatic pistols at us. Haley and I looked at each other and lay down on the floor.

“Arms stretched out past your head,” Bro Clown said. “If I see any one of you go for your cell phone, I’m going to break your arm.”

Next to me, Haley started breathing slowly through her nose, letting the breath out from her mouth. I knew the technique. We’d learned it from my martial arts teacher. It was a good way of controlling your emotions—mostly by distracting you.

I glanced over at her. Her eyes were golden and slit like a cat’s. This was going to be great.

We were covered by cameras, so Haley couldn’t change without outing herself as a super. We couldn’t call in the rest of the team without grabbing our phones. Could I use my equipment? I mentally catalogued what I had—a bullet resistant costume that currently looked like clothes. When activated, the costume had sonic weapons, limited camouflage, and gave me a little added strength. At present, it acted as armor, but I might be able to use the sonics.

As for Haley, she still had better than human strength, speed, senses and hidden poison claws before her transformation.

The smart choice was to let them rob the bank, call in the rest of our team and let them handle it. Making an inspiring last stand for money that’s already insured made no sense at all. All we had to do was lay low and stay normal.

Haley had already figured that out or so I assumed. Her eyes were going back to normal. This was going to work.

I’ll grant you that it’s not the most inspiring or exciting plan, but while taking on supervillains in a bank full of terrified civilians makes for a great scene in a movie or on television, it’s a terrible idea. In the real world, supervillains will start shooting at you or take hostages—maybe both.

To put it as the poet Milton might have, “They also serve who only lie on the floor and wait for it to be over.”

In a low voice, the woman in the lab coat said, “Open safety deposit box 2106 and fill these men’s bags with money.”

Footsteps click-clacked down the hall.

A mystery safety deposit box? That sounded interesting. Plus, if Clown One and Clown Two were carrying bags of money, they weren’t going find pointing guns at people easy. Haley had a pretty good chance of taking them alone and with me, well, even better—providing we were willing to reveal ourselves to the world.

No. Waiting was still the better idea.

Bro Clown stood with Dr. Clown and a glance upward showed that they were holding semi-automatics. Part of me wanted to point out that guns didn’t fit with the crazy clown theme. They should be using obviously fake guns that did something unexpected but evil.

Haley was breathing normally by then—which meant that she at least wasn’t worrying about monitoring out.

All we had to do was wait them out and it would all be okay.

The balding man came back carrying a small, black box, holding it out in front of Bro Clown and Dr. Clown.

“Excellent,” she said. “We’re ahead of schedule. We’ve got one minute until the Heroes’ League shows up—if they show up—and five minutes until the police show up. They have a seventeen minute average response time.”

“I love how you love the boring shit,” Bro Clown said.

She gazed deeply into his eyes, smiling.

Great, I thought, evil love.

As Dr. Clown mentioned response times, Haley’s eyes widened and she held her mouth shut, trying not to laugh, but making a kind of snort.

I understood why. The police department was just down the block and the bank had to have a silent alarm. Assuming that Dr. Clown was some kind of mad genius because of the lab coat, her area of expertise was probably physics or chemistry. It was funny how mad genius never seemed to extend to a social science like psychology, economics or criminal justice.

I was willing to bet that the cops’ response time to this bank was much lower.

The Clowns stepped away from the tellers, their bags full of money.

“That’s what I call service,” Bro Clown said. “Nothing’s going to stop us now.”

He should have known better than to give the universe straight lines like that. Within seconds, police sirens were wailing outside and someone was shouting, “This is the police. Drop your weapons and walk out of the bank with your hands in the air!”

Muttering, “Fuck it,” Bro Clown reached downward and yanked Haley into the air as she froze. Freezing was the best case scenario since the alternative was that she’d react unthinkingly and disembowel him. Still, he held her up in the air in front of the window with one hand. That wasn’t good. How strong was he?

Haley’s self-control didn’t make me feel better when Bro Clown put the pistol to her head.

I must have made a noise because he said, “Shut up!” Then he shouted out to the police. “You see what I got? You see what I got? Come in and she dies! Now back off!”

“We’re backing up,” the cop with the megaphone said, and they backed up to the line of parked cars on the road in front of the bank. “See? We’re not pressuring you. No one’s pressuring you. We’d just like to talk.”

Bro Clown shouted, “Gimme a second,” and pulled Haley behind the section of wall between the door and the big window. Then he turned to Dr. Clown, “Now what do we do? Do you have more drugs?”

Dr. Clown tilted her head, peering at him. “Yes.”

She acted like she was on drugs, but I had a bad feeling the ones he was talking about were the kind that gave powers.

“You,” Bro Clown motioned to Clown One, “Point your gun at her where the police can see you.” Then he pointed to Clown Two and the bank’s back door. “Go check the back.”

Dr. Clown started rifling through the pockets on the inside of her lab coat. While she did that and Bro Clown watched the front door, I gave a pull on each sleeve of my t-shirt. With a pull, the sleeves extended, and to all that anyone saw, I was now wearing a long sleeved t-shirt. With one more touch, the sonic weapons reformed near my wrists.

I pulled a control pad out of the end of sleeves, hiding it inside my palms. If I knocked out the cameras, we’d have more options, and I needed to do it quickly. Haley wasn’t going to be able to hold out forever.

“Speed,” Dr. Clown held out a handful of patches in plastic wrappers. They crinkled in her hands.

Two cameras, I told myself. One hung above the lobby and tellers and the other at the end of the hall. I set the sonics to use frequencies above human hearing and to narrowcast the sound. Then I chose a set of frequencies that would work well against lenses.

Angling my left arm toward the far end of the hall, I tapped the control pad on my palm and felt the sonic warm against my forearm. Then I watched the gang out of the corner of my eye.

Even Clown Two didn’t hear anything at first, just turning back to tell Bro Clown, “There are cops back here too. We gotta hurry.”

Bro Clown barely seemed to notice, just saying, “Got it,” and turning back to Dr. Clown.

She said, “Speed won’t last long, but it will get us away from here.”

As she said it, the camera on the far end of the building made a small noise. It was hard to say whether it was a click or a crack. Clown Two looked up at it, but didn’t say anything.

I didn’t move.

Outside, the man with the megaphone said, “We know you don’t need everyone in there. How about you let a few of your hostages out as a gesture of good faith. It’ll be easier for you too. What do you think?”

I’d taken out one camera, but I’d barely had to move to do that. If I moved to point my arm at the camera in the middle of the room above me, they’d notice when they reviewed the footage.

Keeping his voice low, Bro Clown said, “Hostages out the front. We run out the back?”

Dr. Clown passed him two patches. “Yes, but we have to put them on now. Speed takes a minute to work.”

He ripped open the wrapper and stuck it to his arm. Then he shouted out the door, “We’ll give you some hostages. Wait a second!”

Then he turned to us, “All of you to the front. Don’t care if you stand by the window or the door. Just stand where they can see you, okay? Do that and nobody’s going to get hurt.”

Near me, the other customers began to get up as Clown One took a step back from Haley. He kept the gun out, but it wasn’t next to her head.

This was my chance. I got up from the floor and used the deposit/withdrawal slip table to pull myself upright, aiming both sonics at the camera at once as I did it.

The half dome of glass shattered, falling behind the tellers’ counter with the crash of breaking glass. One of the tellers gasped and Bro Clown started shouting, “Who did that? What was that?”

Dr. Clown put her hand on his shoulder saying, “Pookie! Stop it. We’ve got to get out.”

At the same time, Haley stumbled as Clown One stepped away, almost falling, steadying herself, but brushing Clown One’s shoulder with her hand.

He didn’t fire his gun at her. He just said, “Watch out,” took a step back, and grabbed a patch from Dr. Clown. As threats go, a five foot tall college freshman (freshwoman?) barely rates. I’d seen something that he hadn’t been looking for though—her poisoned dewclaw being absorbed back into her right hand.

As the patch touched his arm, he blinked—which more of a reaction than the others had shown.

Bro Clown said, “Everyone ready? I’m beginning to feel it.”

Clown Two closed his eyes, “Yeah. I feel it.”

They’d begun to walk down the hall when Clown One fell over, taken out by paralysis poison before the speed drug could kick in. I hoped they didn’t interact too badly.

Bro Clown picked up his bag of money. “We have to leave him.”

Clown Two’s face froze for a moment, but only a moment. Then he took his money bag in one hand and gun in the other.

Thinking about the police who’d get shot, I knew what I needed to do next. When they turned toward the door, I set my sonics to frequencies I knew would resonate with bone. Then I tapped the control pads, sending frequencies outside of human range down the hallway.

Haley gasped, but no one else noticed.

I didn’t see what happened after that because all three of them blurred as they went out the door. I learned later that even as Clown Two and Bro Clown took their second and third steps they knew something was wrong. By their fourth and fifth steps, bones broke throughout their legs.

Dr. Clown must not have run as quickly or maybe I missed her. Either way, her bones didn’t break. She stayed with the other two when they fell, and didn’t resist when the police cuffed her.

* * *

It was more than two hours later when we finally stepped up to Zach Patel’s food truck. Gleaming silver, it sat a block down from the bank. We’d had to go to another for cash, but that one had charged me an extra two dollars for the privilege.

That was on top of spending an hour or more with the police. We’d omitted some key details, but told most of the truth. The part that we’d skipped could be explained as the side effects of experimental drugs anyway.

By the time we got there though, any reservations I’d had about mixing Indian food with hamburgers had disappeared. It smelled amazing—the spices of India mixed with the grease of a diner.

Zach recognized Haley as we got to the head of the line. “You’re in luck,” he told her. “Credit cards finally work!”