Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 
The Family Business
by David Schock

I step out the driver's side door of my 1952 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and hand the keys, along with a twenty dollar tip, to a pimple faced seventeen year old valet parking lot jockey.

As I hand him the keys and the money I tell him, "Took me ten years to restore that car back to it's show room condition and I expect to get it back the same way son."

He finally closes his open mouth and tells me, "Yes sir."

I ask him, " What's wrong kid? Never seen a classic Caddy before?"

I made sure to turn and walk away before he could answer. Besides, it wasn't the car he was staring at but me. I have that effect on most folks. I'm six feet six inches tall and weigh three hundred and seventy five pounds of solid muscle.

My legs are only twenty nine inches long and my arms are unusually long. In fact they are quite a bit longer than my legs. And as for my neck, I don't really have anything one could call a neck.

To be completely honest, what I resemble most is a gorilla in a very expensive dinner jacket. The doorman opens the door for me, and as I enter, the heads of everyone present turn to look in my direction.

At this point of my life I'm used to the stares and the whispered remarks. No, I should take that back. I'm not used to it - never have, never will be. I just deal with it better now than I did as a kid.

It still hurts, but what can a fella do. Even if he is one of the worlds so called super villains the media is always harping on.

What a stupid word. Super villain. You think they would have a better name for someone born with the meta gene and who is willing to use it to try and earn a living.

The three dollar phony French waiter looks me over and gives me his best plastic smile. I all ready know what he thinks of me. It's written all over his face. He sees a over grown lout stuffed into an expensive tuxedo.

He opens his mouth and asks me in a well rehearsed French accent if I have a reservation.

Immediately I knew the closest this bum ever got to France was Coney Island. He dropped his L's twice as he talked. A sure sign of a Brooklyn accent. More likely than not he learned his French accent by watching old Charles Boyer movies on the late show.

I don't have a reservation of course, never pays in my line of work to let anyone know where or when you will be at any given moment. Never know what costume do-gooder, or worse, a rival out to make a name for themselves might be looking for you. Then there is always the local authorities.

I tell him the name is Smith. I know it shows a lack of imagination on my part, but what the hell, it's one alias that is easy to remember. He tells me he has no reservation under that name. Why doesn't he try telling me something I don't already know?

I knew this was to be expected and simply tell him, "The reservation for two was made by my friends the Franklin brothers."

He knows the score and escorts me to the table set up for two near the kitchen. I slip him the two crisp C notes into his palm and sit down. The table was much to close to the kitchen to be fashionable. I know he is trying his best to keep me out of sight from his snobby other patrons, but I don't care.

I like the privacy, and at least this way my food will be hot. I tell the poor man's Pepe La Pew that a young lady will be joining me by the name of Jones. Not her real name of course, but she even has more of a reason to be careful than I do. At least while she is in this state.

He gives me a smug smile and for a moment I have a almost irresistible urge to knock his teeth out. But since I'm not wanted in this state, I see no point of leaving town with a arrest warrant chasing after me. So I am able to resist the temptation.

I don't have to long to wait. A tall lovely young red head glides into the room escorted by the cut-rate francophile. As I watch her walk towards me I see her smile in my direction.

She only sees the Godfather that she played with as a little girl. Who taught her her fractions and bought her a puppy.

In turn I see the little girl I bounced on my knee and the life that should have been mine. But then she might have turned out looking like me, and that would have been too heavy a burden for any young girl to carry.

Most important of all, I see her mother in her face and form. She looks the way her mother once did. Before the arrests and the marriage to the girl's bastard of a father and the beatings that came along with that marriage.

I stand up and smile as she throws her arms around me and kisses my cheek. She gives me a big smile along with the hug. She never cared about the way I looked. She only can see the man who bought her ice cream, made her laugh, and helped with her homework.

She looks up at me and says, "I missed you Poppa…." She always called me Poppa because I was her Godfather. I put my finger to her lips cutting her off before she could speak my name in public.

"No names, you never know who or what may be listening," I tell her.

We take our seats and I tell her, " Lets see if I can remember the meal you had for your sixteenth birthday."

I call for a waiter and one comes right over. He hands me a menu, but I hand it right back as I say, " For the fish course we will have Oyster Rockefeller and poached salmon. Followed by lime sorbet to clean the pallet. For the main course, rack of lamb, Caesar salad, asparagus in cream sauce, and a double portion of mashed potatoes."

She laughed out loud just the way I remember her mother used to do a long time ago. She laughed because I could still remember her childhood love of mashed potatoes.

I then added, "And finally for dessert, cherries jubilee. We will also have some caviar. Make it beluga while we are waiting."

The waiter said, "Very well sir," and seemed impressed with my choice of the menu. Before he left, I asked him to send over the wine steward.

As he left I turned to my Goddaughter and asked, " How is your mother?"

She told me, "Fine last I saw of her."

"Which was?" I asked

"Two or three days ago," she answered.

"Don't you mean two or three months?" I asked in return.

She stared down at the table because I caught her in a lie. I could see her ears turn red the same way they did when she was a ten year old and I caught her in a fib.

I reached across the table and lifted her head up to look into her sweet face. Want to tell me your side of the story?" I asked.

"Mom thinks I'm still nine years old instead of nineteen," she explained to me. "She still thinks of me as her baby. Well I'm not, I'm nineteen, a woman who not only knows the facts of life, but knows how to put those facts into practice."

"It's not about that, " I tell her. "We both would have preferred if you had waited. Still, that side of a young woman's life is both normal and expected. But that is not the real reason that you haven't been home lately is it?" I asked.

When she didn't answer, I answered for her.

"You have been pulling some high risk capers haven't you?" I asked.

"How did you know?" she asked in return.

I told her. "At this moment in time you have two outstanding arrest warrants out on you. There used to be three, but I managed to get one dropped. It took one hundred grand to do it, but I did it. The other two are more serious and more expensive. They will cost half a million and a boat load of favors that some very important people owe me to get them dismissed."

"I didn't ask you for help," she protested.

"No you didn't, you don't have to. I'm your Godfather and I helped raise you, and that's all the reason I need," I told her.

She was about to answer but was cut off when the wine steward came. He handed me the wine list with a bored expression mixed with contempt.

I said, "With the fish course we will have a bottle of Chardonnay from the south of France 1966. For the main course a Bordeaux from the St. Emilion region, 1964 was a excellent vintage. And for desert…" I looked down the list and asked, " Do you have any thing from the Cedar Mountain winery in a 1996 cabernet? An inexpensive wine, but very good. The Botrytis cinerea mold was excellent that year for the late harvest, and it produced grapes of an extraordinary sweetness."

Almost immediately his treatment of me changed as he said, "It's a pleasure to be able to serve someone who knows the difference between an expensive label and a great wine."

When he left she said, "I didn't know you were an expert on wine."

"You'd be surprised what you can pick up in the prison library if you have the time and the money, " I said.

When the steward left for our wine I asked, " Can you at least explain to me why you're behaving like this and breaking your mother's heart at the same time?"

"For the same reason you and mom did it" she answered.

"And that would be?" I asked.

"For the money of course. What other reason could there be?" she asked.

"Bull," I told her. "Your mom has plenty of cash. I should know, I'm the one who helped her steal it."

She looks at me with those big eyes, and all I see is the innocent little twelve year old girl showing off her new party dress.

She then ruins the memory by saying, " I'm sick and tired of living off mom. I want my own money and my own place."

But that's not all I tell her. "You just don't need the cash," I said. "You need the thrill, the rush you get when ever you pull a job. Duck the law or duke it out with someone in a clown costume. You're hooked on the action just the way your mother was."

"As if you weren't," she said to me accusingly.

I laughed in turn and said, "It's true enough. I too love the rush. There is no better feeling then when a plan comes together. But with me the job came first. With your mother and now I suspect with you as well. The rush is the most important thing of all. Both of you are adrenaline junkies."

"Is that the reason she married my father?" she asked.

"Your mother was always attracted to danger," I told her.

"Is that the reason you two never married?" she asked.

I looked into her earnest face and said, "To your mother I was her partner, her buddy, her chum - even her pal. Never her lover. That part of her life she gave to your father."

"But you still loved her, didn't you?" she asked.

"You want to know what I feel for your mother? Lets just say that I wished you could have been my daughter," I answered.

She smiled sweetly and said, "I wish I was your daughter too."

I laughed to change the mood and said, "You wouldn't have turned out so pretty."

She took my catcher's mitt of a hand into her own and said, "Maybe I wouldn't have turned out so pretty. But I would have been a lot happier."

Now it was my turn to blush, and that was something that hadn't happened in a very long time.

Casually I ask her, " Have you heard from your father recently?"

"No, thank God," she tells me. "He's doing that thirty year stretch in the federal vault for meta-human cons on Stryker's Island in Metropolis Harbor. I never could understand why mom put up with the abuse all of those years. The beatings were the worst part, but I could never figure out why she never told any one."

"Your mother always was a very proud woman," I told her. "Maybe she thought she could take care of herself instead of asking for help."

"Even with my mom's meta human speed and agility she was no match for my father's brute strength," she explained. "It was only after he started taking out his failures on me did mom try and get us away from him."

"It was right around that time that both your parents did that eighteen month stretch at Blackgate prison," I reminded her.

"I was fourteen years old and I lived with you until mom got out of prison," she reminded me. "It was a wonderful time in my life."

"Mine too," I said. "It was fun living the life of an honest, straight arrow citizen. I didn't pull one job the whole time you stayed with me."

"Did you miss the action?" she asked me.

"No!" I said. "I got all the excitement I needed just watching you discover the world around you."

"When mom got out we started moving around from city to city trying to stay two steps a head of my father," she explained. "Until the day he finally caught up with us. That was the worst day of all," she told me. "I thought he was going to kill her."

"He almost did," I reminded her.

She looks at me with those big eyes as she tells me, " It was soon after that the cops found my father all broken up in an alley down by the waterfront. His arms and legs were broken and his rib cage smashed in. He wound up in a full body cast for six months. The cops who found him said, 'If we didn't know better, he looks like Superman used him for a squeeze toy.' They were the same cops who found all that loot from a dozen different robberies stuffed into his pockets. That's why as a three time loser he is doing the thirty year stretch on Stryker's."

When she had finished I said, "Like I told you before, pumpkin, some of those masked vigilantes have been known to play a little rough."

She stares straight into my eyes as she tells me, " Well I always wanted to thank who ever did do it. But I never had the chance, until now."

"Have you discovered the name of the fiend who did the deed," I asked?

She just looks up and gives me a warm knowing smile as she tells me," I do now."

Nothing more on that subject was discussed the rest of the evening.

It was over the lamb that she asked, " When are you going to start the lecture?"

"What lecture?" I asked.

"You know the one," she tells me. "The one you arranged with mom to tell me what a ungrateful daughter I am. That it's too dangerous. That I am throwing my life away."

"Every thing you said is true," I tell her. "But that is not the reason I wanted to see you and talk things over."

"Then why am I here?" she asked.

I give her a sad smile and tell her, " You have finally convinced your mother that nothing she or I will say will change your mind. Therefore, if you are bound and determined to enter into this lifestyle and go into the family business, there should be someone to tell you the rules and see to it you start off on the right foot."

"What does that all mean?" she asked.

"What it means," I tell her. "Is that your mother wants you to become my apprentice in your new life of crime."

She looks at me kind of funny. The same way she used to look as a child when I made up some outrageous story to entertain her with at bed time.

"What do you mean by apprentice?" she asked me.

"Maybe apprentice isn't the right term. Consider me more like your guidance councilor," I explain. "Only in this case, instead of telling you how to plan for college, I will be giving you a post graduate course in the fine points of crime and the dangers that come with that life."

She smiles and tell me, " If I wanted a mother hen, I would move back in with mom."

"It's not a question of being mothered," I tell her. "Or even taking orders. But you do need to know the rules."

"Rules? We have rules?" she asked in disbelief.

"Of course we do," I said. "We're not one of those psychos that the Batman keeps locking up in Arkham."

"First rule," I tell her. "…is we don't kill. We're thieves, not murderers. Second rule: we keep clear of civilians, except to rob them. Which brings us to rule number four: we steal only from the rich."

She interrupts me by asking, "Like Robin Hood?"

"Yes," I tell her. "Except when we steal from the rich, we get to keep what ever we take."

I then add, " We steal only from the rich because that way we don't take the food from someone's mouth. And besides, the rich are the ones with all the money. They have insurance up the yingyang, and insurance companies are the biggest crooks of all"

"What happened to rule number three?" she asked.

"That's a very important rule," I tell her. "Especially if you get caught while you're practicing rule number four."

"Rule number three is get yourself a good lawyer and make sure you always have enough cash stashed away to pay him or her. One more thing about lawyers: never lie to your lawyer. No matter how guilty you are."

She tells me, "There is always legal aide."

"There is always prison too," I answer her.

"What about partners," she wanted to know?

"Tricky," I tell her. "If you can find one you can depend on, like I did with your mother, it can be wonderful. But stay away from the nut jobs like the Joker and the rest of the crazies."

"How about working for some one?"

"Who do you have in mind?" I ask.

"Lex Luthor's office offered me a small fortune to break into Waynetech and steal some blueprints."

"Waynetech. That means Gotham, and Gotham means the Batman," I tell her. "If you know what's good for you, stay out of Gotham."

"Why?" she wants to know, "The Batman is only human, and I have all of mom's speed and agility plus I inherited my father's increased strength."

"Just how strong are you now?" I ask.

She answers, " As far as I can tell, between two and three times that of a normal human male."

"Impressive," I tell her.

She puts her elbow up on the table as if to arm wrestle and asks me, "Wanna see?"

"In the middle of a five star restaurant? " I ask. I see the look of disappointment and embarrassment in her face, so I tell her, " We'll just save that for later."

I see her begin to smile once again as she said, "I'm not afraid of him, his partners, or any body else in that town."

I try to explain to her the facts of life, "A lot of tough talking meta humans thought just the way you do. Now they find themselves in Blackgate prison if they're lucky. Arkham if they're not."

"Do you have any other jobs for Luthor lined up? "I ask.

"He also wanted me to break in to S.T.A.R. Labs," she said.

"In Metropolis? We all know who looks after that town, don't we?" I remind her. "Keep clear of Lex Luthor. The Joker is a psychotic sociopath, and Luthor is a sociopath in a tailored suit."

"What about Gateway City?" she asked me.

I lose my temper and shout, "Wonder Woman! Are you out of your mind?" I ask.

I find it difficult to regain my composure as my foolish goddaughter says, " It might be fun to see how tough she really is or how good I am."

"Forget it," I tell her. "You're no match for the Amazon. She is second only to the big blue boy himself, and on top of it she is a trained warrior. You pick a fight with her and you might be the one who finds herself in a body cast. Besides, the two of them are supposed to have a thing for each other. So even if you do get lucky, or worst still, accidentally do something to hurt her, guess who will be coming after you?"

She thinks for a moment then tells me," I guess I do have a lot to learn."

"And that's why your mother wants you with me and you to be my apprentice," I reply.

We were finishing the last of the dessert wine with the cherries jubilee when I ask her, "The money means next to nothing to you doesn't it?"

"Maybe, but money is always nice to have," she replies.

"With you it will always be the excitement, and that is never wise in our line of work. If you don't believe me," I tell her, "then ask your mother."

She is very quiet now, trying to process all that she had taken in so far when suddenly I ask her, " This may seem like a crazy question, but have you ever given any thought to working the other side of the street?"

"What ever do you mean?" she asked me.

I tell her, " It's simple enough. Did you ever think of becoming one of the people dedicated to removing scum like me and your mother from society?

"Scum?" she says the word as a question. A look of pain crosses her face as if she had been struck.

"Yes, scum," I tell her. "After all is said and done, after you strip away the facade of money and style and all the excuses we tell ourselves, the only thing that is left is the fact that what we are IS SCUM! If you are entering into our world, that is the first lesson you must learn and accept."

"But you and Mama never did any of those terrib…"

I cut her off and tell her, " That's because the both of us are high class scum, but nevertheless still scum."

She looks at me, and I can see from her expression that she is hurt. They say the truth can set you free. But the truth can also be very painful.

I try to explain to her, "Life on the right side of the law is even more exciting than the life we live and alot more dangerous. Neither is it as financially rewarding as our criminal life style."

I then add, " After all, when was the last time you saw the Martin Manhunter or the Flash having dinner in a place like this? But they do have their own rewards, like the respect and the admiration of the public. And the simple pleasure and feeling of joy they get knowing that they helped some stranger instead of preying on them."

I could tell by her expression she was becoming interested, so I told her one last truth, "Whatever side of the street you choose, you must realize that there is a good chance you can end up dead. That would break both our hearts, your mother's and mine. But we would both find some small measure of comfort in the knowledge that you died in a good cause while trying to make this sad world a little better place, instead of dying for a pocket full of cash and a cheap thrill."

She looks up at me and says," I will have to think on it."

In turn I tell her, "You're a woman…full grown now. No one has the right to ask you to do any more than that."

I hand her the check for the Caddy and tell her to pick it up outside in the valet parking while I settle up in here.

She gets all excited and asks me, "You're going to let me drive your baby?"

"Seems only fair," I tell her. "You have been helping me work on it since you were nine."

She stands up, and with a smile and a bounce in her step she heads for the parking lot. I pay my bill and pray that my timing is right as I leave generous tips with every one. From the waiter to the wine steward all the way down to the bus boy clearing the table.

I'm in the lobby when I see the mugging across the street. Some big brute of a street punk is manhandling an old woman, trying to snatch her purse. She won't let go of the strap, so he knocks her down and starts to kick her as she lays in front of the wooden construction fence.

I see my goddaughter leap from bus top to truck top to get across the street in an attempt to save the old woman. She bounces off a lamp pole and lands feet first into the chest of the punk, knocking him into the temporary fencing.

He hits his head against the fence and slowly slides down and lands in a heap on the sidewalk.

My goddaughter turns and kneels by the side of the old woman, trying to be a comfort to her.

She never sees the punk get up with a knife in his hand. Fortunately, I do. I was already across the street when he came up behind the both of them.

He raised the knife, but never managed to bring it down as I caught his wrist. Lifting him over my head, I throw him some thirty feet over the fence and into the construction site…where he landed with a crash.

She stands up and I can see the same fire in the eyes her mother once had. She turns to run back to the restaurant but I'm quick enough to stop her.

"Where do you think your going?" I ask her.

"To call the police and an ambulance," she answers.

I tell her they're already on the way.

The old women looks up and tells my goddaughter, " Thank you for saving me."

In turn, she looks down and tells her, "It was a pleasure ma'am."

I break up the moment by telling her, "You did your job, now get your pretty little butt out of here."

She began to protest, wanting to stay and help the old woman, but I told her, "Remember you still have two arrest warrants outstanding and the police are on the way. The state line is twenty miles away and your Mother's house is only five miles past that. I want you to jump into the caddy and head there. I will take a cab and meet you there later."

She tried one last protest but a swift smack on her bottom with the palm of my over size hand cut her off short.

I gave her a fatherly scowl and ordered her, " Now YOU GET!"

She began to pout just as she did as a little girl as she rubbed her bottom. The pout soon changed to a smile as she gave me a big kiss on the cheek and ran across the street, using all of her meta human agility to dodge the heavy traffic.

She reached the other side of the street and snatched the car keys from an astonished parking valet. With a last flip she landed in the front seat of the convertible. She got a ovation from the restaurant patrons as they clapped and cheered for her. Then with a quick wave of her hand and a big smile, she put the big car into gear and peeled out the driveway and down the road to home and safety.

As I watched the taillights of the caddy fade into the distance, I knelt down by the side of the stricken woman, who reached up and pulled my head down and gave me a big kiss full on the lips.

"Think it worked?" she asked.

"We can only hope," I tell her.

She jumps to her feet and starts to pull off the rubber latex mask she was wearing. Soon a young face emerged from beneath the old one. She was still peeling the layers of rubber padding that was covering her slim athletic form when a dark blur came flying feet first over the fence and hit me in the chest knocking me down.

As I looked up from the ground I shout, "What was that for?"

"That was for tossing me over the fence and into a cement mixer," he answered.

I was getting back to my feet I asked him, "What's the matter Bats? Can't the Dark Knight take a few bumps in a worthy cause?"

I look at his face for some hint but under all that make up he's as big a mystery as ever. I offer him my hand, and after a moment or two of hesitation he took it.

After we shook hands he said to me, "We're even now. Next time I see you, you're going down."

"You got to catch me first," I tell him. "And besides, I'm retiring."

I thought I saw the faintest of smiles but I could be wrong. While I was wondering, Batman said, "I hope your plan works."

"It's what her mother and I both hope for. She now knows what it feels like to be a hero and to hear the cheer of the public, and if that can keep her from making the same mistakes we did, it will all be worthwhile."

When I finished talking I turned and kissed the hand of my lady friend and said, "It's always good to be working with you, Selina."

"Same here," she answered back.

I turn once again to Batman to ask him a question but he had all ready slipped away.

Selina tells me, "He's always doing that to people, it's part of the reputation."

I ask, "Can I drop you anywhere?"

"No thanks," she says. "I really have to get moving. Your goddaughter isn't the only one with her name on arrest warrants."

After a peck on my cheek, she leapt on top of the fence and was soon swallowed up into the night.

I walked across the street and back to the restaurant. The doorman asked if I wanted a cab. I told him I would prefer a limo. After all, except for talking on the phone, I hadn't seen or spoke in person to my goddaughter's mother for almost two years and I needed to make a good impression.

After all, maybe this time all three of us could have a happy ending.


All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 2000 by David Schock.
 
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