Chapter 5: Dress for Success
“Remember about six years ago? Some jackass dressed up in red spandex with a pair of goggles and called himself the…”
“The Masked Avenger?”
“Yeah, right, the Masked Avenger. Not the most original of names, but then again anyone who would do what that schmuck did doesn’t have too much going for him in the upstairs department, right? Anyway, he made the news because he stopped a bank robbery out in L.A. “
“Yeah, I remember hearing about that on the wire. I was overseas at the time. He kept them busy until the cops could get there or something, right?”
“Right. Unfortunately for him he also stopped three bullets with his chest and ended up eating nothing but soup and pudding for six months. Of course this was after he was charged with vigilantism and public endangerment. Apparently the judge felt sorry for him and figured his medical bills were punishment enough and let him off with a warning. I hear he’s the janitor for his old high school now. That’s really my biggest fear about this whole thing, Sam. I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of failing.”
– Excerpt from transcripts of the audio interview between Keith Green A.K.A. Justice and Sam Daylin on October 2nd, 2016.
Keith had already showered and changed clothes by the time we got to the apartment, and was still toweling off his hair as we walked in the door. “About time. What were you doing, forty the whole way?”
Jenn stuck a tongue out at him. “Not all of us can move at the speed of sound.” She gestured at the towel around his neck as she laid her purse down on the counter. “Though most of us do dry off before getting dressed.”
“Yeah, yeah. So we ready for this little pow-wow or what?”
I stayed quiet and took a seat on one of the bar stools as Jenn and Keith sat down on the sofa. I took out my trusty little recorder and hit the button as she began to tick off points.
“Okay, here’s what we know so far. One, your powers are telekinetic, like I suspected. Two, just like any muscle you’re going to have to practice and work up your endurance and concentration, especially when it comes to doing more than one thing at once.”
“Yeah, we found that out the hard way.” Keith glanced up in my direction but I didn’t detect any malice behind the look.
Jenn nodded. “Right, which brings me to my next point: I think we need to talk about your costume.”
Keith shook his head as he stood up and headed for the coffee pot. “I’m not wearing a costume. We’ve talked about this already. I refuse to look like some retard at a convention.”
Jenn draped her left arm over the back of the couch as she turned to face him. “I don’t mean a cape and spandex, but I do think we need to have some sort of body armor. Something that’ll protect you. Even with practice I don’t think it’d be safe for you to rely just on your abilities for protection. Besides, you told me you’ll need some sort of eye protection for when you’re flying anyway and I don’t think diving goggles is the fashion statement you want to make to strike fear into the hearts of criminals everywhere.”
I spoke up from my little place off to the side. “Not only that, but you’re going to want to wear something that’ll help conceal your identity. I mean, for legal reasons alone, you’re not going to want anyone to know who you are.”
Keith seemed to consider that a moment as he stirred his coffee, then nodded. “Okay, I can see what you mean. Any suggestions?”
I nodded. “I’ve got a guy I know- one of my informants. He’s something of a collector when it comes to guns and stuff like that. He’s like one of those militant rednecks you see on T.V. that’ll barricade themselves in compounds to keep out ‘the man’. The guy’s totally nuts, but mostly harmless. He may have some stuff we could look at that’d offer you some protection. Used military and police equipment, that sort of thing.”
Jenn smirked. “What happened to ‘I’m just an observer’?”
I shrugged. “There’s no story if wonder boy goes and gets killed his first time out.”
Keith held up his coffee mug like he was toasting. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Jenn got on her knees and leaned over the back of the sofa. “Speaking of which, what’s the plan? After you practice a bit and we find you a costume, what next?”
I hopped up from my stool and headed for my room. “I think I can help there, too. Just a sec.”
I emerged a minute later with a journalist’s best friend. Keith smirked and walked over to get a closer look as I laid it on the counter and plugged it in. “A police scanner. Nice.”
I grinned like a proud poppa. “A journalist’s bread and butter.”
Jenn walked over and joined us. She was biting at one of her finger nails, like she always did when she was anxious. “Isn’t monitoring the police band illegal?“
I snickered. “So’s vigilantism.”
She smirked and ran her hands along the top of the scanner, wiping away at the thin layer of dust. “Point. So what, we just listen to the police band then Keith jumps out the window and saves the day?”
Keith smiled and clapped me on the back again. “I like it. Maybe you aren’t a complete pain in the ass after all.”
I grimaced but decided to hold back the wise-assed comment I had ready to fire. Instead I said, “Well, I’m heading to bed. I’ll swing by Gimpy’s place tomorrow and see what he’s got.”
Jenn looked up quizzically, barely restraining a laugh. “Gimpy?”
I waved it away. “Don’t ask. I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
I retired to my little closet of a room and did my best to try and sleep, but memories of a past I thought was long behind me flooded my mind and made that impossible. Instead, I tossed and turned, trying to occupy my mind with other thoughts but always coming back to the same thing: Jenn.
I had known as soon as Keith mentioned her name that if I got involved I’d have to face a lot of things I’d tried to bury with time and distance. At the time it had been easy for me to write it off as something that wouldn’t be that big a deal. Then I saw her and that all went out the window.
Now it was like I was twenty-three again, before I stepped on that plane and left the best thing I’d ever known behind. Like then, this had all started out about a job, but this time I was going to make the right choice. I made a silent promise that I would do anything I could to help Keith in his mission. Not because I believed in him and what he was trying to do, but because I believed in her and what was important to her. I knew I was being given a second chance and I wasn’t going to pass it up.
It wasn’t just a job anymore. I wasn’t just an observer. I’d become a participant.
I snorted into my pillow. “Well, so much for objectivity.”
I rolled over and closed my eyes. Sleep claimed me instantly.
It took me a few weeks but I was finally able to set up a time when I could meet up with Gimpy and see about a super suit. Richard “Gimpy” Melvin lived in a trailer park out in West Memphis. He was nicknamed Gimpy because of the bum knee he’d acquired running from the cops a few years back. He’d tried to jump a fence, only to discover as he was falling down the other side that there was a ten foot drop which ended in solid concrete. Pop went the weasel.
True to the stereotypical image that living in a trailer park brings to mind, Gimpy took pride in dressing like a complete hillbilly: long, dingy hair of an unquantifiable color; scruffy beard; straw cowboy hat; wife-beater complete with unidentifiable stains that had started out in life white but was now closer to grey; blue jeans covered in tears and oil spots with the ends of the legs worn down to strings of cloth, which only accentuated the SpongeBob flip flops he wore. Yep, Gimpy was all class.
He was also well connected.
In addition to his little black market for military and police surplus, Gimpy ran one of the biggest gambling rings in the south. As such, he was a veritable fountain of information. When you hear the phrase “word on the street,” they’re talking about Gimpy. He’d been an invaluable resource for me in the past, but this trip I was there to tap into his other talents.
“Body armor, huh? Ya going back out on the front lines, or did‘ja write an article that someone honoree out there might not like? Heheeee!”
His laugh was like a donkey braying on helium. I smiled and shook my head. “No, nothing like that. I thought I’d try my hand at fiction in my spare time. I’m writing a book about a S.W.A.T. team. Thought I’d pick up some gear as research props. You know, get dressed up, see how it feels, that sort of thing. I figured you’d be the man to see.”
He slapped me hard on the back and laughed again. “Heheee! Ya got that right, buddy! Step inna my office and we’ll see if we can’t set ya up proper.”
His “office” was a dilapidated barn that sat on the back of his property. It looked that way on the outside, anyway. On the inside it was like a Best Buy for the militant redneck circuit. The walls and ceiling had been reinforced and gleamed like new, and each section was neatly labeled and displayed. I half expected to hear muzak playing gently in the background. Guns, ammo, combat gear, if Rambo wanted it, he could find it at Gimpy’s. I let out a whistle.
“Heheeee! It’s a beut, ain’t it? My pride’n’joy, right here. Now ya said you wanted S.W.A.T. gear?”
He thought for a second, stroking absently at his ragged beard until he suddenly snapped his fingers, grinned like an idiot, and pointed a grease-stained finger in a general direction. “I got jus the thang! Came in last week. Wait here and I’ll fetch it fer ya.”
He sauntered off and disappeared in the forest of hardware, and I silently prayed that the place wouldn’t get raided while I waited. About five minutes later Gimpy came back into view pushing an old shopping cart filled with stuff. He smiled at me and I tried not to stare at the gaps in his grill. “Had an ex-cop come through here last week. Dropped twenty large at the tables and came up short. Used to be Memphis S.W.A.T. but was forced to go on disability when he got his hand blown off by a midget pimp. Heheeeee!”
He pointed down at the cart. “Gave me all his old stuff fer credit. Yer welcome to whatever’s here.”
I reached down into the cart and started shifting through what I saw there. There was a jumpsuit and combat vest like you see on T.V.; a helmet complete with a full visor; combat boots; even built in comm gear. “Wow, this is great, Gimp. How much?”
“Fer you Sammy? Take it.”
I arched an eyebrow. “What?”
He shook his head. “You’ve been good to me over the years, boy. Helped me out when times were rough. Now I’m prosperin’ better than a grizzly in a fish market! Heheeee! I figger this is the least I can do fer ya. Just mention me in yer book and we’ll call it even.”
I smiled and offered him my hand, which he took. “Deal.”
Back at the apartment it was like Christmas in a militant compound as Keith and Jenn went through the box of swag I’d procured. Jenn giggled excitedly. “Wow, Sam. This is great!”
Keith grunted as he held up the tactical vest. “What’s with this on the back? Justice?”
Jenn walked over and looked. “It’s on the front too, see?”
I glanced over and shrugged. “Must’ve been the name of the cop that owned it last. Kind of an ironic name, isn’t it?”
Jenn chuckled. “Well, I’m sure I can take it off or cover it up.”
Keith stared at it for a second then shook his head. “No, it’s okay. Having a name on the back will help me to look more like a cop. I’ll be able to blend when I need to.”
I snorted. “Well, anywhere that’s gone to hell enough that S.W.A.T. gets called in, anyway.”
He nodded absently as he dug deeper into the pile. “Hey, you got the communication gear too?”
“Yep.” I reached down into my laptop bag and pulled out two tactical walkie-talkies. “Got these for me and Jenn, too. This way we can keep in contact while you’re out on missions. Gimp said we’ll just have to be careful about the frequency we use and what we say. Anyone with the right gear will be able to listen in if they find the right channel.”
Keith nodded and put the gear back down in the pile. “Right. Good thinking.”
Jenn pulled on the helmet and snapped down the visor. She looked like a little kid dressing up for Halloween. “This should work for when you’re flying!”
I laughed. “Wow, you’re really getting into this, aren’t you?”
She yanked off the helmet and had a horrendous case of hat hair. She ran her hands through it a few times in an attempt to get it under control, and was only half-successful. “Sure! This stuff is kinda cool. I mean, you see it on T.V. and in the movies all the time. It’s fun to be able to actually play around with it.”
Keith grabbed the helmet and stuck it on top of the pile, then hefted the box. “Well, I’m going to go try this stuff on. See how it fits. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Once he was gone Jenn walked over and gave me a hug. “I really appreciate you doing this. You’re being a huge help. I don’t know what he would’ve done without you.”
I pulled her back enough to where I could look her in the eye and lowered my voice to a sultry whisper. “I’m not doing it for him.”
I pulled her close and kissed her. She tried half-heartedly to pull away at first, but then she melted into my arms and started to kiss me back and it was as though time had never past. Cue sweeping music. After a few seconds we broke the embrace, breathing heavily, and she took a few steps back. “Sam, I-“
I held up a hand. “I know. I just wanted you to know how I feel. I should have let you know a long time ago.”
Just then Keith walked back out into the living room and struck a heroic pose, with both hands on his hips. Talk about being saved by the bell. “Well, how do I look?”
Jenn’s gaze lingered on mine for a second before she turned around and smiled at him. “You look great! Looks like everything really fits!”
I had to admit he did look impressive, like something straight out of an action movie, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear he was the real deal. In the last few years, due to the increase in gang violence and terrorist threats, police gear had been upgraded to improve protection and thus, the life expectancy of the officers. The outfit itself was all black, naturally, though rather than just having a bullet-proof vest all the material was made in a bullet resistant mesh. It was still relatively light-weight and had good mobility, but it’d also stop all but the most persistent debris and shrapnel and most small caliber bullets, even at close range. The vest itself was even more resistant: double reinforced so that even hollow-point bullets, commonly referred to on the streets as “cop killers,” wouldn’t penetrate. The gloves were made of a less resistant but more flexible version of the mesh, and the boots were steel tipped with an anti-slip grip on the bottom. The helmet was the most impressive, however. It was black and domed with a solid visor that not only protected the eyes but the whole face. The visor itself was mirrored, which was a bit disconcerting to anyone looking into it, which I assumed was the point. It was equipped with a H.U.D. that registered targets, helped with navigation, and, though I failed to mention it to Keith just yet, broadcasted a live data stream that was simultaneously recorded to a hard drive. Not all the innovations were for just police protection. Jenn and I would be able to see and hear everything that went on while Keith was in his masked persona.
Keith spread out his hands and did a slow turn as though he were a fashion model. His voice came out a bit distorted behind the visor. “Not bad, huh? This helmet is freakin’ sweet!”
Jenn grimaced. “It’s a little scary. You look like a bad guy from a sci-fi movie.”
Keith shrugged, but the gesture was muted a bit by the suit. “I don’t think that’s really a bad thing. Strike fear into the hearts of criminals and all that. Besides, this’ll be great for when I’m flying! It’s got a zoom function, digital readouts and targeting. Hell, I even see a little icon for gas and smoke protection!”
I nodded. “Gimpy said it has a built in filter, so it’ll give you some protection during fires or with some gasses, but it’s not a license to thrill. It’s not like you have your own oxygen supply or anything so don’t go Superman on us and think you can walk into anything and be okay. “
He waved a hand at me dismissively. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. Don’t be such a kill joy. I can’t wait to go flying with this thing on.”
Jenn threw an arm over his shoulder. “Well, you’ll get your chance tonight, flyboy. Now that you’ve got your costume we’re going to have to hit the practicing hard.”
Keith gave a little mock-salute. “Aye aye, cap’n. Hey Sammy, how am I supposed to talk to you guys with this thing?”
“Stick out your tongue. There should be a little switch you can click on and off… though I’d wait and sanitize the thing first before you try.”
Keith reached up and pulled the helmet off. “Yeah, good point.”
He glanced inside and pointed. “There it is. That’s gonna be a little weird.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
He nodded and shifted the helmet under his arm. “Well, I’m going to go take this stuff off. No sense in getting it all gunked up before tonight. You guys up for getting some pizza?”
“Fine with me. Jenn?”
She shot me a devilish smirk. “I’ve got some stuff I’ve got to do at the office, so you boys can go and have fun. Get in a little bonding time.”
I tried to keep the sarcasm from my voice. “Great. Guys night out.”
Keith didn’t look any happier. “Yeah, I’ll go get dressed.”
Jenn walked over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “It won’t be that bad. I bet you two will find out you’ve got a lot in common. It’ll be good for you.”
I reached in my pocket for a cigarette and gave her my best reassuring smile as I resisted rolling my eyes. “Yeah. Great.”