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Moving On: Chapter Five

Moving On

The awesome thing about being a spirit is that being stuck in a bathroom all day wasn’t nearly as horrible as I was expecting due to the weird way time passes for me now. It also didn’t hurt that Riley left pretty early on to go back to Becca, promising that he’d be back at sundown. I don’t care how fast the time passing thing is for ghosts; when Riley is around, time slows to a crawl.

Thanks to Michael-the-maybe-angel I had plenty to think about to keep me occupied. The basic gist I’m getting is that I need to find a way to resolve whatever crap I’m still holding on to in order to “move on” to whatever comes next. Turns out, when I decided to try and be honest with myself and really think about what that might entail, it became a pretty long list.

Mike was right, I have issues.

At the top of the list is my relationship with Jenna. She’s pretty much the last person I want to think about right now, and I could act like a complete child and just deny it until I’m forced to face it, but what’s the point? After the emotional butt kicking I received last night when Michael basically called me on all my bullshit, I realized that I spent an entire lifetime running away from stuff that made me uncomfortable or that I didn’t want to face. All that’s earned me is a one way ticket to bathroom purgatory. Mike was right, as hard as it may be to admit, it’s time I sucked it up and dealt with it. He could have been less of a jerk about it, but a spade’s a spade.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and it doesn’t mean it’s at the top of my to-do list. I didn’t become the witty, neurotic, narcissist I am overnight, and a paradigm shift certainly isn’t going to change me that quickly either. It’s going to take progression, and as the popular saying goes: admittance is the first step. The next step is coming up with a game plan.

So it looks like I’m going to have to pull a Scrooge and face my past demons. I’m hoping I’m able to learn some stuff from the more experienced ghosts that might help in that regard, as I’m sure just figuring this crap out for myself isn’t going to give me all the closure I’ll need, or they’ll need, or however the hell this is supposed to work. Being able to interact with the living will be a big help.

Knowing that confronting Jenna is probably the biggest hurdle I’m going to have to face somehow makes the whole thing seem more manageable. I know where I need to go; I can see the mountain top, so now I just have to build myself up by tackling the little stuff, the little hills, until I feel ready to face Everest. Not that there’s really a lack of “little stuff”. While the tragic death of the only relationship I was ever capable of making work for any length of time was certainly a big factor in my decision throw in the towel in the game of life, it was hardly the only one. It really did feel like the whole world was out to get me. Trust me; there be hills a-plenty for me to climb.

But before any climbing can happen I need to get out of this damn bathroom.

The little Mickey Mouse clock mounted on the wall opposite the toilet tells me it’s six in the evening, which means that any minute now I should be good to go. I’m hesitant to test that theory by way of the doorway. Unmanly as that may sound, that shit hurt. Still, I’m not getting anywhere just sitting here being scared.

I walk over to the doorway and cautiously reach out my left hand… it goes through. No donkey-kick to the chest. Free at last, free at last! Still, I can’t help but wince as I step through the doorway, half expecting to get knocked on my butt anyway as some sort of spirit world practical joke. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen. I never thought I’d be so happy to see my Ikea-furnished living room.

I’d kill for a Frappuccino right now.

Just because I’m dead and don’t need to eat anymore doesn’t mean that those human cravings have gone. Thank God I never picked up smoking; otherwise I’d really be twitchy. I take a seat on my couch, twiddling my thumbs, and silently wish I could turn on the television. I’ve spent all day being introspective and it’d be nice to have something to take my mind off of things while I wait.

“Well, looks who’s finally out of the bathroom! How ya feeling, Dave?”

I glance up to see Riley’s head staring down at me from the ceiling. His right hand appears and gives me a little wave.

I stand up, anxious to get moving. “Much better, and itching to get out of here.”

“Well alrighty! Follow me.”

The head and hand disappear back into the ceiling above me and I leap after them. I catch up to Riley outside and fly alongside him, close enough so we can hear each other over the roar of the wind. “So where are we headed?”

“You know that YMCA downtown?”

I have to think for a second. “The one they closed a few years ago?”

“That’s the one. We meet in the basement. No one is likely to bother us down there.”

“So how many other spirits are we talking?”

“Hard to say. Depends on how many people in our area died without moving on, and how many of us spirits have moved on since last night.”

Makes sense. “How big is our area?”

“Just a few miles, man, otherwise it’d be nutso. Mike has a network of little hubs spread out in every city.”

I want to whistle, but flying at high speeds isn’t exactly conducive for that kind of thing. Now that Riley has pointed it out it seems obvious, but until now I never really thought about the logistics of how something like this would run. Especially when you consider Mike is doing it in every city in the world. At least, I assume he is. I guess if I were him I’d be a little crabby too if I had to stop managing a worldwide network of the wayward dead just to talk with one asshole.

The city whips by in a blur and it only takes us a few minutes to reach the YMCA. Without preamble we dip straight into the building and head for the basement, and I feel a little beam of pride in myself for not flinching this time as we ghost through the floors and walls. As we pass I can make out several homeless people who have taken up residence in the abandoned building. One enterprising couple has pulled in an old steel drum and has lit a fire for warmth. The bright orange sparks of ash dance dangerously close to flammable debris and walls. I guess someone shut off the sprinkler system in the building, or it just doesn’t work due to lack of maintenance.

It looks as though the entire first floor of the multi-storied building has been used as a large canvas for graffiti art, and I catch a glimpse of a particularly impressive looking dragon breathing fire before we dip below into the basement. Given the hobo-fire above, I fervently hope that wasn’t an omen. If so, we may have a few new members to our little support group tomorrow.

The basement is filled with broken chairs, old gym mats, and various other bits of dilapidated equipment that no one wanted to loot or bother burning. Unfortunately, being dead hasn’t dulled my senses much, so I get to enjoy the full bouquet of stale sweat, human feces, and broken dreams that permeates the very foundation of the building.

Fun fact: ghosts still have a gag reflex. When the full impact of the smell hits me I retch, and I hear Riley chuckling behind me.

“Yeah man, that smell is something else. Believe it or not, you get used to it.”

Huelk…Thanks for the warning, buddy.”

“Hey man, we’ve got to have some fun. Think of it as a newbie rite of passage.”  

Laughter echoes all around us as ten other spirits mist into view. They’re all the same blue-white luminescent glow as Riley and I, but there is a definite difference in body type and stature among them. It’s like I’m watching the Smurfs while tripping on LSD.

I smirk at the one leading the pack, who I assume is the one who just spoke. He’s a bit taller than the others and appears to have a thin frame that matches mine. “You must be Frat Boy Smurf. Nice to meet you.”

He chuckles and offers me a hand. “I’m Robin.”

I take the hand and give it a firm shake. I’m still amazed at how that works given we’re technically incorporeal. “And these are your merry men?”

He laughs as he lets me have my hand back. “Given that a few of them are women, no. We’re living in a politically correct society now. The proper phrase is ‘merry persons.’”

“My mistake. I’m David.”

He laughs again and gestures for me to follow. “C’mon, David, the smell isn’t so bad in here.”

He leads the charge as the others fall in line behind him, and we head into a side room that I assume used to be for extra storage. It’s since been converted into a ghost’s anonymous meeting room, complete with a circle of chairs. The only thing that’s missing is a table with refreshments in the back.

Robin takes a seat and we all follow suit. “All right everyone, let’s get this party started. We’ve already been introduced to David, but David hasn’t been introduced to us, so let’s do that now. Everyone concentrate just like we’ve been practicing.”

Everyone closes their eyes and, to my astonishment, one by one the group goes from smurf-o-vision to real life. Robin looks like a younger Mr. Rodgers, complete with yellow sweater and khakis. He’s flanked by an elderly lady in a yellow flower-print dress and an overweight, middle-aged, bald guy in a plumber’s uniform. His name tag says Robert. The others in the room are a nice mix of ages, races, and gender. There’s an African American guy, mid-late twenties, in a business suit; a young Hispanic couple in matching polos and jeans; and an elderly oriental man. My heart completely breaks when my eyes come to the last three. They’re kids- two boys and a little girl. They’re maybe eight years old and are all wearing t-shirts that read “Wilmington Elementary!” with a picture of a rainbow and multicultural stick figures with smiles on their faces holding hands under it.

I get a much-needed laugh when I get to Riley. In fact, I almost fall out of my chair because I’m laughing so hard. Riley is sporting dirty-blonde dreads, hemp khakis, and a “Jesus Saves After Every Level” t-shirt. He is a walking, talking cliché, and I love him for it.

“Dude, what is it?”

When I can manage to speak between gasps for air I manage, “I bet myself that you’d have dreads;” which sends me into a new fit of giggles that I just can’t stop. Then the kids join in and a few moments later everyone is having a good belly laugh, even Riley.

Eventually I try to apologize through wheezing breaths, but Riley just laughs along with the rest of us and pats me on the back. “It’s all good, man. I know I got style.”

When everyone sobers Robin nods at me. “Now it’s your turn, David. Close your eyes and think about who you are. Try and picture yourself in your mind as though you’re looking in a mirror.”

I tend to make jokes and be sarcastic when I’m nervous. It’s a defense mechanism and sometimes it makes me come off as kind of a douchebag, especially when the people I’m around are being serious or sincere.  That’s what happening now, with everyone’s eyes on me, but I fight the urge to make a comment and I do as he instructed.

I try to think of what I saw the last time I looked at myself in the mirror. It was yesterday morning, just before I took the razor to my wrists in my bathroom. I was about to get in the shower and prepare myself for another day at an office full of people I hate and who despise me right back…

I reach for the shaving cream on the counter and my hand pauses there, hovering just over where my Gillette razor is resting in its little holster. That’s when the idea hits me: What am I doing? Why am I even bothering? I hate my life. I hate my job. The one good thing I had, that had made me feel at least a little content, walked out on me, and I don’t blame her one bit.

I am a pathetic, unhappy man who is far too smart for his own good and has never made anything of himself with it. I’ve wasted my time. I’ve wasted my life. I’ve never really been happy. Why not just let it all go? What do I really have to live for?

I look up at the mirror. I stare into eyes like two chips of ice. They’re sad eyes, almost dead. I’m already almost dead.

Time to finish the job.

I flip the razor holster over to where the spare razors are held. I pull one out and look at it. No, this’ll be a pain in the ass to use. It won’t work. I open my drawer and I shove stuff around. I know it’s in here somewhere…there. I pull out an old straight razor. It used to be my grandfather’s. My father had given it to me on my sixteenth birthday. He’d told me I was a man now and it was time to start acting like one. He made me shave with it and I cut the hell out of myself that first time. He just laughed at me. He laughed as I bled and cried…

I open the razor and stare at the blade. It glints in the fluorescent light of my bathroom, mesmerizing me. I’d never realized just how beautiful the thing was. I feel a hunger growing inside me. My eyes are drawn down from the blade to my wrists. It’s like a siren’s call, and I know I’m doing the right thing.

The blade bites, red runs. I quickly switch hands while I still have feeling and do the other side. The blade falls from hands unable to hold it any longer. My knees go weak and drop me to the cold linoleum floor. I feel sticky warmth where the blood is pooling around my body, and I start to drift as my life drains away. The last thing I see before the darkness takes me are three men, all in shadow, smiling down at me with predatory grins…

Main Archive Page   Chapter 6 ->

Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013

All rights reserved

All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Filed under Moving On, Ongoing Serials

Announcement: The “Holy Crap, We Need Exposure” Sale! All Digital Books $0.99!

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Yes that’s right! We need to get our name out there! Starting Monday (4/15/13) through Sunday (4/21/13) all digital copies of our books will be $0.99! So for all you procrastinators out there (and judging by our books sales, that means most of you) now is the perfect time to try out a book or three…or four. Please help spread the word! Tell your friends! Tell your enemies! Tell that weird guy giving you the stink-eye on the metro! This sale will last for this week only!

Don’t forget, those who purchase Just Super have a chance to participate in our Just Super Sweepstakes! Entries are due by May 3rd!

You can read descriptions, preview chapters, and find links for all of our books here.

Don’t own a Kindle? No problem! The Kindle App is a free download for all smartphones, tablets, and computers (PC and Apple).

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Filed under Clay Colt, Down With The Thickness, Just Super, Novels, The Chosen: Rebirthing

Another Just Super Preview Chapter

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Hello everyone. Just thought I’d give you a late Easter treat with another preview chapter from my new novel Just Super, now available for Kindle or in paperback. Hope you enjoy it!

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?”

*Laughter*

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?”

“Why not?”

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?”

I nodded.

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.”

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