The Original Brown Streak sat staring off into space, remembering battles fought long ago. A young girl had walked by earlier. Her long black hair done up in a loose bun. It reminded him of Sandra back in Mississippi.. Good Lord, had it really been forty years? He wondered what she had been up to since she quit the business and got a real job. He kept in touch on occasion, just to let her know that if she ever got tired of being the wife of a congressman, he'd always be there waiting.
"Leroy?" a strangely familiar voice snapped the Brown Streak back to the here and now. He was back at the card table he had set up at the Third Annual Moppet Field Air Show and Superhero Convention. The late afternoon heat was beginning to die down a bit but Leroy still found himself dozing off on occasion. Leroy adjusted his glasses and focused on the face that stood before him.
"JB! How ya doin'?" Leroy broke into a huge smile as he recognized his fan. He leaned forward on his folding chair and violently shook the younger man's hand. "What brings you up to Boise?"
"I work here now." JB said, "Believe or not, you're looking at one of Boise's official guardians."
Leroy looked at JB with quite a bit of skepticism, then broke out in a full body laugh. JB smiled along with him while he reached into a pocket, removed his license and showed it to his older friend.
Leroy stopped laughing a bit, adjusted his glasses and read the permit, "When did they start giving those things out?" He took the card and brought it closer to his eyes. "Sidekick to the Grayhound."
Leroy's eyes snapped to JB. "You? You're Puppyboy?" JB gave a modest smile. "Yeah, and I found out that you guys get a heck of a discount on ticket prices."
Leroy didn't smile back, but said in all seriousness, "Boy, you know there are much less painful ways to get yourself killed, right?"
"I'm doing ok, Apparently I've got a group of.." JB paused as if interrupted. "..friends helping me out. Well, actually, I guess I've just been kind of lucky. Boise isn't like Birmingham."
Leroy handed back the card, "Yeah, that may be true, but it's still not an easy job. I've been reading up about you in the trades. Word on the street is that you've got enough to be the prime, but you're doing second banana. Smart move, lad. Let the other idiot take the brunt. Personally, I'd prefer seeing you back as a paying attendee who likes to keep an old man company."
"Well, in this case, the other idiot is by brother. It's a long story, but I still like keeping an old man company. Besides, it's better than rewriting the same damn code for yet another customer. All and all, it's not a bad living. You're doing ok, still, right? I mean, you've still got that position at Ol' Miss right?"
JB looked a bit concerned.
Leroy laughed and said, "I'm the Dean of Archeology at Howard. Been that for seven years. You been reading up on me again?"
"No, a friend was curious and wanted me to ask."
"Oh really, who?" Leroy asked.
"There's a guy I hear from every now and then. We got to talking once and I mentioned that you were an hero of mine. We got to gabbing on a bit and he asked a few questions. I figured I'd ask you the next time I saw you so he'd know."
"This friend got a name?"
"Yeah, it's Karl something or other."
Leroy mumbled the name a few times. "Karl Karl You know I used to know a guy named that a long time ago. Haven't heard from him in ages. He was the one that convinced me to set up this little business. Got me quite a franchise too. Sold it all a few years ago for enough to keep me happy for a very, very long time. Heck, I don't even have to teach anymore if I didn't want to, I just love getting out there and getting my hands dirty. The only thing I wish he hadn't done was suggest the name. 'The Brown Streak'"
"Well, it's memorable at least, and all the other names were taken."
"Son, let an old man give you a bit of advice. Never, ever, come up with an alias after a night of good whisky. Speaking of which, how about a soda? On me."
"Sure, I'll have a Diet Carffee."
The only indication that Leroy had left was the burst of air and the fact that he held a soda and a bottle of water in his hands. "I may be the original, but I'm still the fastest." Leroy said with rightly deserved pride. The exhibitor soda stand was located at the far end of the runway, just about a mile away. Leroy wasn't even breathing hard. He handed the soda to JB "That stuff will kill you, you know."
"Yeah, well so will a well placed banana peel."
Leroy winced and laughed again. "Did that Karl fellow tell you about that story?"
"No, not yet. But I plan on asking him later."
"Some day you'll have to introduce me to him. But enough about an old man, you got a girlfriend yet or are you still dating you hand?"
JB did a near perfect spit take. And looked at Leroy's broad grin. The old man raised his finger in a "Gotcha!"
"Fine, but you've never seen it when it's got that low cut red dress on." JB said with a straight face and took another sip of his drink.
Leroy let loose another ground shaking roll of laughter. "Boy, we have got to get you out more. Hey, Now that you're officially one of the insane, why don't you come to the mixer tonight. I'll make sure your name is on the list."
"Mixer? Like in High School?" JB said uncomfortably.
"What? You think we all sit around here just to watch Captain Upchuck do those supersonic summersaults? Hell no, boy, after the rubes go we sit around and b.s., dance and see whether it's true what they say about Amazonians."
JB thought to ask what they say about Amazonians, then decided that meant knowing what the answer would be.
"Tell you what. Sit tight and man the booth for a second, I'll go talk to Joe."
JB blinked and Leroy was gone. He sat watching the crowd. Out in the main field he could barely see some hero in a long faded costume display his arial acrobatic skills while a second hero in an ill fitting costume blurred along the ground, occasionally stopping, bent over to catch his breath.
A flash of brown and the overweight speed demon was reaching uncomfortably toward the back of his suit.
A small thunderclap and Leroy was back at the table. "Ok, JB you're all set. Party starts at 8, but things don't really get going for another hour or so. Oh, and if the 'Fattest, err, Fastest Man on Earth' comes looking for these. You ain't seen them. "
A pair of faded red but recently torn briefs appeared on the table. "Damn good thing I wear gloves, but now I think I may have to burn them." Leroy chuckled. "So, you gonna be there or do I have to take five minutes out of my revelry to drag you're sorry butt down here?'
JB squinted up at Leroy. "You'd do that too, wouldn't you?"
"Damn straight. Sooner I get you hitched, the sooner you get some sense properly beaten into you. Women-folk love to date heroes, but after they get married, it's a whole 'nother story."
"So that's why you stayed single?" JB responed.
Leroy just laughed.
A group of kids came by looking for autographs from the Streak. Figuring this was a good time to get going again, JB stood, thanked Leroy, and shook hands. He would be back later that night, but there a few things needed to deal with first.
JB walked back toward the main gate.
"Thanks JB, it was good to see that old goat." Karl's voice echoed.
"So why didn't you want me to tell him?" JB asked.
"Because he'd never believe you" was Karl's only reply.
Chris sat glued to the screen of the computer as it streamed past countless records. It was the worst possible way to scan for what he needed, and he knew it. He made sure he kept a logging record of the data, but still he wanted to scan it as it came in just to see if he could spot it.
He heard JB pull into the space, then the quick beep as the alarm sounded. A few hundred more records scrolled by before it struck him.
Chris tore down the back stairs and into the back alley where they parked. JB was leaning against the Maxima staring at his watch.
"Cripes, Chris, that took nearly ten seconds. Were you asleep?"
"My CAR! It's Back!!"
The silver four door looked good as new, possibly better with a deep shine. The only differences were that the windows were slightly tinted and it seemed to sit lower to the ground. Chris checked the plates, and sure enough it was his car alright.
JB continued, "The repair shop Annie suggested was right by HeroCon. Turns out Tony had the car ready a few days ahead of schedule and said that we could pick it up."
"My car!" Chris said in near glee as he studied the lines. He popped open the drivers door and slid behind the wheel. A very large number of totally unfamiliar displays blinked to life before him. JB opened the passenger door and slid into the seat.
"Oh, and he made a few minor modifications."
Chris stared at the heavily modified dash. "JB. What the heck are all these?"
"They're some of the few minor modifications. Tony gave me a quick run down but I got a copy of the manual if you like." He pulled an oppressively large binder out that had written on it "The Grayhoundmobile".
Chris winced. "Do I even want to know how much they cost?"
JB leaned back and said flatly, "Well, considering that this is a job related vehicle and that more than 90% of the use can be relegated to business, I figure you probably wouldn't mind having a few extra deductions this year."
"You've been reading my business books again, haven't you?"
"Chris? I was a contractor, remember? Of the few things I know, a biggie is how to do tax declarations. Anyway, first thing we need to do is code you to the car."
"It's not going to start calling me Michael is it?"
"No, Tony wouldn't put the cylon light in the grill."
"Ah good", Chris said hiding most of the disappointment in his voice.
"Ok, let me just enter in the primer sequence. Go ahead and grab the wheel."
a voice filled the car. "Scan complete. Identify."
JB pressed a button, "No, no, I did the same thing. Tony said we should use our identities, just say 'Correction, Grayhound'"
"Correction noted. Welcome Grayhound."
The car fired up. The engine sounded a bit different inside the car, it was throatier and had the faint whine of a turbine."
Chris slowly turned to look at his smiling brother. "You think this thing had pick up before?"
"That's it, we're going for a test drive."Chris smiled wide and slid the car into reverse. "There's a Honda out there that's in for a rude surprise."
The first thing that got JB's attention was how vastly different Moppet field looked at night. Moppet was officially decommissioned as a fulltime Air Force base during the mid nineties. Now it was pretty much just reservists, NASA and a few companies using the old gray buildings. Three hundred and fifty days out of the year, the buildings were dark and silent after dusk. Of those few non-dark, and hardly silent nights, two of them belonged to the Exhibitors and Guests of the Boise area SuperCon and Farm Supply Show.
The Farm Supply bit had trailed off in the past few years, but it stayed on the posters because it cost too much to get them reprinted.
Well, that was the official story at least. Unofficially the reason was the utter shell shocked expression some folks would get seeing a bunch of tights wearing super-retirees trying to hawk manure spreaders.
The music blared from Hanger 2, a massive building only dwarfed by the mile long quarter mile high Hanger 1. The main door was open and a stream of strobing light poured lit the area. The Hanger was located miles from quite residential neighborhoods, and they were taking full advantage of that.
A bright green streak flew out of the hanger door at a sharp angle. JB was trying to thing what hero wore green and flew like that, the slow arch and rapid decent reduced the number of heroes dramatically. The disturbing thud at the end of the arch answered the question. No hero wore green and flew like that, willingly at least. The erstwhile aviator was back on his feet and jogging back into the hanger laughing very loud.
The figure stopped and stared toward JB, then started jogging toward him. "Hey, you're my witness!" he yelled. His mask was slightly off kilter and a clump of sod was cleanly impaled on a now bent lightning bolt. JB could tell that even without superpowers, this guy would not be feeling any pain.
"Excuse me?" JB said as he helpfully tried to remove the divot.
"Yeah, Dave said that he could throw me a clean country mile, and I landed short. He owes me a beer. I can't wait to see the expression on his face when I tell him that you... Who are you anyway?"
JB extended his hand and introduced himself. "Oh, Hi, I'm Puppyboy. I'm new here."
"Glads to meecha! They call me Hammerhead, mostly because the folks that don't call me that tend to say things like 'Ow' and 'Stop that!'" Hammerhead laughed at his joke and grabbed JB's hand in a drunken vice like grip.
Karl's voice echoed through JB's head. "I'd be careful shaking hands with unknown drunk superheroes lad. Otherwise you might find out what the Stock Market felt like in 1929."
"Ah, good point." JB replied.
"Eh, Is that damn thing showing again?" Hammerhead said as he adjusted his helmet a bit.
"No, no, just remembering something." JB corrected.
"Ah, good, wouldn't want to upset the dames yet, eh? Speaking of which, let me go introduce you."
JB followed the staggering hero to the main hanger door.
Hammerhead put a hand up to his mouth and yelled, "HEY EVERYBODY, LEMME INTRODUCE YOU TO OOOFF!"
Hammerhead disappeared back into the night preceding a low flying keg.
JB's head snapped back to the main room. A rather large individual dressed in what looked like a high tech Kinte cloth yelled past JB, "HEY HAMMER! THERE'S THE BEER I OWED YOU!" A group of very drunk, somewhat disheveled looking heroes nearly passed out from laughing.
"Ooohhh-kaaaay. Rule number one, JB keeps his eyes WIDE open " JB said to himself.
"It's a good rule. The other one would be to avoid standing between to Hammerhead and Tembo when there's free beer. Glad you could make it JB."
"Hey Leroy. See, I made it. That's an interesting way to party by the way."
"Aw, Hammer'll be fine. They just like playing a bit rough. C'mon let's get to the quieter part of the gathering."
The two headed toward the far group of heroes and guests. They passed various cliques of heroes as they walked. JB caught snippets of conversations, but it was mostly the mundane party talk that one always heard at such occasions, who was wearing what, how expensive it was where they were living, the latest gossip about the invading alien horde. JB didn't know what to expect really, but he was a bit disappointed.
" so there I am, holding the slowly fusing core, I mean this thing is about three seconds from taking out most of downtown and guess what happens? Lois picks that very moment to decide to get her heel stuck or something, trip over the railing and get stuck dangling over the vat of acid. I told that woman time and time again that when I ask her to sit tight and not move, to bloody well sit tight and not move, but does she listen to me? Heck no.."
"Mac, are you telling that story again?" Leroy asked the man in the faded grey costume.
An attractive woman in a surprisingly new looking outfit and freshly painted nails answered, "Leroy, thank God you've come back, you're just in time to help us tape his mouth shut."
"Look, Lynda, if you were there, you'd agree with me. The woman is a ditz."
"Well that explains why you decided to marry her, doesn't it?" Lynda teased back.
Leroy couldn't pass up a line like that. "No, but it explains why she accepted the proposal. Folks, I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine who's recently gone insane. Lynda, Mac, meet Puppyboy. JB, meet the Fantastic Female, and Maculatas."
JB extended his hand and smiled "Pleased to meet you."
"Call me Mac, it's close enough and easier to pronounce. Besides, my press hound days are long behind me."
"That's not the only thing that's long behind you. So, Puppyboy, did you bring your sidekick?"
"My what?" JB asked.
"Grayhound or whatever he's called."
"Well, no, I mean, he's not a sidekick. He's the hero, I'm the side kick."
"Oh really," Fantastic Female said, "and what powers does he have?"
"Uhm, well, he can shoot a powerful blast of energy, but it hurts him pretty bad whenever he does it so he tries not to do it too often, unless he gets mad or forgets or something.. and, uhm.. "
"Oh, can he fly?", Lynda asked in a leading sort of way.
"Sure, well, unless he's got a head cold or the airlines are charging too much or something."
"No I mean can he fly?"
"Oh, no, he can't fly."
"Can he bend steel bars in his bare hands, or deflect bullets?"
"No, he can't do either of those either, look he's the hero because he is." JB knew better than to bring up the fact that Chris' superheroness came about because of a night of heavy drinking and the desire for a parking spot closer to his girlfriend's apartment.
"I see, now if I remember correctly, you on the other hand can fly, you have super-speed, you can punch buses out of the air, amazing roping skills, good analytical skills, and probably a few more little secrets you're holding back on us."
"Lynda, back off the boy." Leroy said in a protective voice. "Some folks are smart enough not to wanna be the biggest, baddest target out there. Just because you managed to get Clara to retire early every other sidekick needs to boot out their prime. JB and his brother make a damn fine team from what I've read so far. Let 'em be."
Lynda waved off Leroy's comments. "Fine, fine, well it's up to him if he wants to waste his opportunities."
Mac just sighed, "There you go again Lynda, look the boy seems happy with the way things are, isn't that good enough for right now?"
JB spoke up. "Look, I didn't mean to start an argument. Chris and I are just in Boise to do our jobs and keep the place safe from a lunatic named Bob. Once that's done, we'll see what happens next. Now if you'll both excuse me, there's a keg over there that's calling out my name. Leroy, do you want anything?"
"Yeah, yeah, get me a water if they have any. Hey, don't let Lynda get to you. She's just been to one too many self-improvement courses and thinks she's the expert on making everyone's lives better. G'won and mingle a bit."
"Thanks. I'll get you that water."
JB headed away from the group and toward the kegs that lined the far wall. A few folks stood around idly chatting and keeping the kegs pumped for others. JB smiled at that. Even here, these folks were thinking about helping others.
"Ah still don't believe the nerve o' that pushy cow", the unmistakable Texas twang of Becky Sue said in barely controlled fury. "I knew her Momma and she was the sweetest woman you ever did meet. And what's with that there getup anyhow. How in tarnation is she expectin' to go chasin' after some varmint in heels and a skirt like that? Heck, she looks more suited fer shoppin' in Dallas then fightin' in San Antonio. Why I bet I could lick her in a fight with both hands tied behind my back "
"I bet we could get that on pay per view." JB thought.
"What? What's Pay per View?" Becky started off on a new tirade that JB ignored. He'd gotten pretty good at being able to filter out the voices when he wanted to, and at a party like this, it was even easier. JB was sure there'd be Hell to pay later, but for now he had other things on his mind.
JB fished around inside of a large bucket of ice and pulled out something not quite like a bottle of water. "GAAHH!"
"You found it? Ah, thanks sonny." A crystalline being snatched the cylinder from JB's hand and reattached it to itself. "Oh, man it's freezing. Hey Baby want to - " The creature never finished the sentence. The young woman it (or JB guessed he) had been talking to performed a series of well placed touches that crumpled the creature to its knees with a look of stunned terror frozen on its face.
"Hmm, too bad you didn't stop a few moves ago, he would have made a nice table." JB said as he looked down at the groaning creature. The girl smiled a bit. JB continued, "Hi, my name's JB. I'd offer to shake your hand, but I have the sudden urge to go wash it right now."
"Well, you could just use the other one. My name's Shasta." the girl said as she held out her hand. JB took her on her suggestion. "That was some move. What technique was that?"
"I don't know really. I guess I'll just call it 'Bug-Off-Yu.'"
"Oh I wouldn't worry about it. Chances are it was probably a museum piece anyway."
JB gingerly shook Shasta's hand anyway. "I'm JB. Can I get you any.."
"JB?" Shasta said with a bit of a surprise, she then leapt off the table to give the stunned JB a near bone-cracking hug. "I don't believe it! This is too cool! I never even thought that one of the gang would show up here!"
Shasta was nearly bubbling. When she finally looked at JB's confused reaction, she held up a hand to her face and started giggling. I'm sorry. I'm an old hack to this show so I didn't bother with the get-up. Plus since FF didn't like my designs "
"WonderGirl!?" JB nearly shouted as the other four voices echoed in his head.
"In the flesh." Shasta struck a pose. She was dressed in trendy low cut jeans and V-neck, baby-doll T-shirt with a subtle WG logo on the front, and platform shoes, her brown hair was pulled back into a light pony tail with a few loose strands framing her face.
"Couldn't help but notice that part." JB said then covered his mouth in embarrassment. Mentally he heard Becky Sue laughing.
Shasta put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. "Let me guess, that was Lady P, wasn't it? Tell Gran'ma that she's just jealous."
Becky Sue stopped laughing. Shasta started giggling, knowing she struck a nerve. "Well, she started it, and I'm just kidding. C'mon JB. Let's get out of this stuffy joint and catch up." Shasta slid her arm beneath JB's and lead him out of the hanger.
JB's head was spinning a bit. He and wndr_grrl, err, Wonder Girl, err, Shasta had kind of hit things off over at the Superhero Sidekick's Forum. He had no idea what she looked like. The pictures he'd seen were mostly the stock news images or older promo shots of a somewhat goofy looking teen. Those shots were taken over ten years ago and a point of aggravation for Shasta.
They sat and talked most of the night, well, that and a few other things. Like taking bets how far Hammerhead would get this time. Still, 11:00 came too soon and JB had to leave to catch the last northbound train to the city. They hugged again, exchanged email addresses and promise to see each other again.
Even with out Karl's help, JB could have flown home by himself.
Ok, no Cliff hanger this time. Sorry, but there are just too many of those lately anyway.
Tune in next time for
Tracking down the artifact
Party at Bob's
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No, really, he means it this time.