To Serve The Unservable

That's the thing about capes. You get one, maybe two, together and they'll tell you awesome stories about all the things you've come to expect: colorful characters they've met. Drugs. Violence.  That one time they blasted the Zar'qon dreadnought out of orbit and the crazy shit that rained out of its holds as it free-fell the hundred miles or so down from low earth orbit, how the natives of Rwanda wore alien panties and umbrella hats for years because they were more durable and colorful than their own garb.

You get three together, however, and that's a different story. Three or more superheroes together, in one room, will mostly just gossip and bitch about their tailors and medical problems. Case in point.

The Captain is waving a drink around, so drunk he's slurring his words and forgetting his faux-Jamaican accent. I've never been sure, exactly, what his superpower is. Maybe metabolizing alcohol more slowly than anybody else in the world.

"...and that's why trademarks are important!" He gestures emphatically, sloshing some of his pungent concoction on American Lass, who swears at him sulfurously.

"The point is, Steve—" That's me. She points at me, with one finger. It's the one with the plasma cannon on it. "—The Iron Chef is stomping around the Isthmus neighborhood like he's the only super who has an uppercase I on his chest and dresses all in white. It's disrespectful."

Captain Illuminati slams his fist down on the table, making none of the silverware jump. He's incorporeal much of the time. The reason why varies depending on what mood he's in at the moment of asking: most of the time, it's one of the usual saws about particle accelerators or bored Egyptian deities looking for action. Sometimes he just shrugs, mutters something about radioactive ant farms, and then changes the subject. I always get the impression his origin story embarrasses him.

Whatever the case, he's dressed impeccably as usual: a bleached white suit with a big I on the front and a rather tasteful and old-fashioned Panama hat. I think it's what he was wearing when the accident happened. Sometimes, when he's standing in the right light, you can see that he's wearing women's underwear, but we don't talk about that in public.

He speaks, his voice hollow and thin, like it's coming from a great distance. Having no physical vocal chords apparently does that: "Madison can only support one hero with an I logo. And I was here first."

"That's why we hired you!" American Lass chips in. The Captain beams happily and takes another drink. I don't think he's going to be upright for much longer. I make a mental note to call a cab to take him back to his ship.

"We want you to, to..." The Captain falters a bit and then slams his other hand down on the table. Unfortunately, that's his hook hand and it gets wedged in the wood tabletop. He stares at it with the blank expression of a man who's unzipped his pants to take a leak in a public restroom and found a squawking parrot there instead of his penis.

Captain Illuminati interrupts as best he can with his quiet voice. "Serve him these trademark infringement papers."

American Lass's chest compartment whizzes momentarily and then clangs open. She hands me an important-looking manilla envelope.

#

I'm back in my office now, up near the lakefront. It's no big thing. I've been here for years and my downstairs neighbor has variously been a pizza place, a book store, a cash-for-gold business and a warehouse outlet for novelty gifts. I still have half a pallet of Groucho Marx glasses they left behind after Armadylan stampeded through last year trying to avoid a confrontation with Doctor Destruction. It's empty now, but I think it's been bought by a Starbucks.

I'm in a bit of a quandary.

How do you serve someone who lives in a secret base and only comes out once a month to do battle with their archnemesis? The Iron Chef could live anywhere. A secret lab beneath the lake outside my window. He could have a flying castle, like that crazy wizard from Milwaukee. His base could be on the moon, or in orbit, or five miles down in the kingdom of the mole people.

You just don't know.

I say as much to my secretary, Ray, who isn't so much an actual secretary as a college kid who's agreed to intern here and run odd-jobs for me. I call him my secretary because he usually answers the phone before I do.

"Got me, boss."

"The guy only comes out every few weeks, and then only to mix it up with his archnemesis, the Golden Archer. As far as I know, the Iron Chef doesn't even have a sidekick I could go to."

"I read he had one for a while—'the Sous Chef.'"

"That creepy French kid? I thought they deported him."

"Nah, he went back to Quebec. Said he hated the food here."

I drum my fingers on the table. Ray goes back to watching videos of cats on Vine.

"I suppose that leaves only one thing. I'll have a talk with the Golden Archer."

"Are you sure?" Ray looks about as worried as someone who only gets paid minimum wage can look worried. Which isn't to say much. He expresses his worry by pausing momentarily before clicking on a related link.

"Ha, yes. I'll corner the Archer in his lair. At least I know where that is."

"Whatever you say, boss." Click, click, click.

#

Some villains have secret lairs. Others build their headquarters in elaborate trap-laden complexes squirreled away on remote islands with skull-shaped volcanoes and jungles filled with dinosaurs and carnivorous plants. Other villains are so secretive and reclusive they could be living next door and you'd never know it.

Not so much with the Golden Archer. He runs a breakfast joint downtown, "Sunset Griddle," and advertises heavily on local radio.

There's a fine line between a hero and a villain. Hollywood would have you believe that a villain is a twisted reflection of the hero he fights, a shattered mirror image of our worst aspirations and hiddenmost fears and yearnings. In reality, it's often a matter of semantics.

In the case of the Golden Archer, it started out as a minor property dispute, I think, and it escalated from there. He's villainous in the sense that he doesn't posture much before he administers a righteous beat-down. Also, I think there's a bit of a philosophical disagreement between the two about the best way to serve eggs.

I snag a waitress and ask her where he is. She shrugs and points through the double-doors in the back. Thanking her, I head back.

The back of any restaurant is a unicycle-esque balancing act of controlled chaos. The Archer, who is in costume as he usually is, is coordinating his mostly Ecuadorian staff of tattooed ex-convicts while simultaneously trying to keep his two children from murdering each other. In spite of this, he greets me with a great deal of friendliness.

"Steve! Do me a favor and grab that tray."

"Done." I hold the tray up. One of the Archer's evil minions expertly dresses it mid-air with a hot plate of pancakes, sausage and eggs benedict, eyes it thoughtfully, and then places a glass of orange juice at the tipping point. The waitress sweeps in, lifts it out of my arms and sweeps back out the door.

"How can I help you?"

"I need to serve a trademark infringement notice to the Iron Chef."

"That stupid letter 'I' catching up with him at last, ha? I keep telling him—oy, niño, put that knife down, step away from your sister, eh?—no, I keep telling him, Captain Illuminati is getting cabreado, but that guy, does he listen? No. Good, you give him those papers."

"Can't find him, though. No address."

"Yeah, I see that. I keep trying to find his lair, he calls it his mise en place? Silly, eh?"

"That's the thing, right. Only comes out once a month to fight you. You planning on doing anything any time soon?"

"Villainy, eh?" He absent-mindedly reaches down to scoop his daughter away from the stove, where she was about to turn all the burners up. "Noooo, not so much." He pauses thoughtfully, setting her down next to a man with one eye who's dicing onions and chatting about World Cup standings with the dish boy.

"I was going to cater a brunch down at the VFW next Sunday. He might show there."

"Excellent. Give me a ring before you leave."

#

Being a lawyer isn't always a glamorous job, in spite of what you might see on television. It requires a decidedly eclectic skill set. You have to know about things they never teach you in law school. You become an expert in trivia, gain a passing knowledge of a thousand other jobs. One contract might have you digging through the financials of a mom and pop oil-change shop. Another might require you needing to know the ins and outs about breeding elephants. You get the idea.

Serving papers is a special case of fringe skills become necessary. It's one part legal procedure, one part detective work, two parts psychology and roughly six parts cardio.

I don't care who you are, what your station in life is, when you see yourself being served papers, your first instinct is going to be to run like hell. I've seen distinguished professors try to climb out windows to avoid me, politicians dive under desks and hide while furiously instructing their secretary to pretend they're in Guam for the month. There's a reason most lawyers outsource the job to young guys with a proven track record. Literally.

To his credit, the Iron Chef does none of that. He lowers his batter gun and sheathes the gigantic cleaver he usually carries, an enormous heavily-bladed affair entirely inappropriate as a signature weapon for a superhero. I'm not sure he's ever actually used it except to gesture during monologues.

Behind me, the Golden Archer smiles and begins filing his nails ostentatiously. Several of his evil minions settle down at a bingo table to watch. All around us, the brief silence which kicked up after I presented the Iron Chef with his papers fades, as centenarians begin digging into their waffles and blueberry muffins. Somebody's turned the radio to some AM station which still plays Lawrence Welk. There's a minor clatter of silverware as the Iron Chef stares down at me. He's tall, but it might be more that he's hovering six inches off the ground which, frankly, is kind of cheating.

The Golden Archer whistles aimlessly, a tuneless medley of some of the norteño songs he occasionally plays at his restaurant when he's sure it won't piss off his customers.

"Trademark infringement papers," I tell him again, patiently. "My address is at the top. Have your legal guy contact me there."

The Iron Chef looks at the envelope like I'd handed him Jimmy Hoffa's head.

Finally, he sighs and tucks it away in his apron. "If you'll excuse me, villainous fiend," he tells the Golden Archer, who nods at him. "I must be off and away to...uh, fight crime."

He stalks out. If it's possible to fly in a sulky manner, he manages it.

"I wonder what he's going to change his name to?" one of the henchmen muses.

I nod at the Golden Archer, who gives me a thumbs up as I leave.

Behind me, a heated discussion kicks up. I have a feeling they'll have a bullet-point list of possibilities for the Chef's new name by the time the day's through. Most of them are amusingly vulgar.

2 comments:

  1. This was a delight through and through. Loved all the quirks and offhanded hero banter. Nicely done!

    ReplyDelete