Frank kicks away the shattered and car-flung remnants of his board, the foundation of all he could offer the world: cheap ink drawings in black and white of an ideal where heroism and simplicity reigned, where virtue stamped out the ashen gray lockstep march of life and for just a minute, an hour, a day, made you believe that it wasn’t all lost. He picks up Sal’s ink-encrusted dial. He fumbles it in his hands, sensation returning to his mangled fingers.
He sits on the bench. He’s lost two hours and eleven minutes but another will show in three minutes and nineteen seconds.
The bus pulls to the stop. The door opens. The bus squeaks. Frank’s nose fills with diesel and the weary sweat of third shifters heading home. He stuffs one of her dollar bills in the change tray, borscht and chicken rising up. He smiles at George.
–– Getcher ass siddown ain’t got all night.
The bus lurches forward. Frank stumbles. The Comic falls. Its open pages stare back at him. The Sentinel. You know they even had The Sentinel go to war? Fighting alongside the boys without powers, the ones without the benefit of a splash of alien goo, just themselves and a mission. No secret identity, those boys did right without a mask. You could see their eyes and the fire they held. Not his, his were covered by white lenses, the laziness of a company hack. Great art doesn’t listen to deadlines. Frank drew their eyeballs, every one of them, every beady little ink globule in the middle of white nothing. They stole their robot too, those lucky little hacks. He knows it. They know it. He and Sal were doing the best robots.
–– I said getcher ass siddown backdere deadbeat.
Frank gets his ass siddown backdere. He flips to The Sky Phantom and wipes bits of fried chicken from the licked corners. He chuckles at the red-crayoned inscription in the margins. He wonders if poor Private Ollie got his ass kicked. Hope your ass heals, Private, but it’s going to a better home. It’s given him a lot of good laughs these months, that inscription. He wonders what Sammy will write in it. He wonders how proud Sammy will be when he shows his kids what their granddad did.
The bus stops again. Change tinks against the metal. Frank presses his head to the cold glass. His breath fogs the window. The seat next to him squeaks. He remembers Uncle Wiggly’s lesson, how easy it was for the boy when he saw a rabbit have a tooth pulled. He’ll tell Sammy the story again and when that’s done he’ll tell him a new story.
–– Hiya Mister. I meant what I said. About the drawing. And I’m sorry about your friend. I bet he would have been a great pilot for The Sky Phantom.
Curls slides The Comic from his hands. She sits next to him. The curls cascade again. They cover the precise stitch work. Her lips are clean. Her mask is flesh-toned powder that obscures the blackening yellow and purple. Her blue eyes pierce through the hidden black ring. The red curls pop. Grease-stained fingerprints and chicken batter cup her breasts. She studies The Sentinel. Walker plummets out of the building and flies up as The Sentinel.
–– Eyes up here Mister. We’re getting off at the Charles stop. We’re going to get my necklace back, and then I promise, you’re going home. Really really. Can I ask you a question, Mister?
–– If I pushed you out of a building Mister, would you rip off your clothes and fly back to help me?
–– I don’t know. Always wondered about that. They do that a lot. Sort of what I envisioned my hero would be.
–– I’m no hero.
–– You never know. I’ll bet you could damn near do just about anything.
She bops him on the head with The Comic.