Glass and Shadows
by Mathew D. Rhys
Planet Krypton in Metropolis.
Built by Blue and Gold Industries nearly two years ago, it has quickly risen to surpass Chunky Cheddar's as the city's favorite family eatery. As many readers may know, it is a theme restaurant, and the theme is superheroes. The current favorite entrées include the Emerald Artichoke Burger, the Wonder-Platter, the Fastest-Shake-Alive, and the ever-popular Man of Beef steak. A recent large seller with the college crowd was the Chunk, an 18 oz. burger topped with cream cheese, chili and sauerkraut.
A dark haired man in a dark trench coat walks in the front door. He gives a careful, scanning glance across the establishment, over the kitsch and the color. A woman in a "Power Girl" costume walks up to him with a restaurant smile.
"Will there be others joining you or are you dining alone today?"
"Well, actually, I'm here to see Dwayne Geyer. Is he is in today?"
"I'm not really sure. I mean, you know how he is, right? Tell you what. Why don't you follow me back to the kitchen?"
They walk through the crowded and bustling dining room. The heat from dishes and the crowded seats rises to his eyes. Businessmen talk of mergers and profits and big fish. Wives and mothers complain to each other about how their husbands never have time for them. Children cry and whine and giggle and belch, being scolded for all these things.
"Power Girl" leads the man through a set of aluminum double-doors. Steam and sizzle assault their senses. The woman walks up to a short, thick, young man washing dishes. "Hey, Reggie, is Dwayne in today?"
"I don't know, but there's a levitating chef's hat over there," Reggie says, thumbing over his shoulder. "It's been over there all day, but it sure doesn't talk much."
"You are such a dick, Reggie," the woman says as she brushes past him. She walks over to the stove where, just as Reggie had said, a chef's hat seems to float about six feet above the ground and moves about vigorously. Beneath the hat, the air is mildly distorted, like the air above a barbeque grill or a hot, desert blacktop. On the stove, a wok and its contents gyrate, seemingly of their own volition. "Dwayne, this gentleman has come to see you."
The hat turns. "Nick, how the heck are you doing?" a disembodied voice says.
"I'm well, Dwayne. Do you get off soon?" the dark man asks.
"In about ten minutes, Nick. You can hang out in the lounge, if you want."
"Sure, that sounds fine."
"Helene, could you take Nick by the lounge."
"Sure, Dwayne. I was about to take break anyway."
"Thanks, Helene. See you in a bit, Nick."
And with that, Helene turns and leads Nick out of the kitchen through a side door. They walk down a hallway, and into the employee lounge. It's a well-lit room with maroon padded booths. Nick sits down in the bench nearest the door. Helene walks over to the vending machines. She looks back to Nick. "Do you want anything? Zesti or Doc Seven?"
"No thanks. I'm good."
Helene drops her change into the machine and extracts her beverage. She then walks over to the seat across from Nick. "So, Nick, is it?" she asks.
"That it is."
"Where are you from, Nick?"
"So what do you do there?"
Nick leans forwards and says, "I can't say."
Helene sits back, mildly shocked. "Um, well. How long have known Dwayne?"
"A while. About two years."
"Was that before or after- you know."
"His 'accident'? It was after."
"So is he invisible all the time?"
"No. No, he's not. Just in the light. He can will stuff invisible too, but he says it's pretty hard. So how long have you known him?"
"Oh, about nine months, I think. Dwayne started a little after I did." Helene takes a drink of her Zesti and looks up into Nick's face. "You know, it's good to see Dwayne has friends. He never talks much around here, and he catches a lot of flack for, you know, being invisible. He's always really polite and works really hard. I don't know, but I think he's really nice. Well, look, it's been nice talking, but I have got to get back to work. Tell Dwayne 'Hi' when you see him, okay?"
Nick responds yes as Helene walks out in that hurried waitress fashion. Nick sits alone and silent for a few minutes before the sound of footsteps reaches his ears, and the chef's hat floats above the threshold. Nick stands. His long coat rustles as he steps toward the hat and grabs an invisible, outstretched hand. "Dwayne, how the hell have you been?"
"Great, Nick, just great. Hey, is it dark outside yet?"
"No, not yet."
"Good. I haven't had the time to do laundry, and I ran out of clean clothes on Tuesday," Dwayne comments as they enter the hall. Nick is silent and Dwayne looks at him, his hat flopping to the side. "It's a joke, Nick," he says. "You know, I'm invisible and--"
"I know it's a joke, Dwayne, but I can see you. I know you're not really naked, but come on, how do you respond to something like that?"
Nick and Dwayne walk down the hall to a door. Dwayne turns the knob and the door opens into an alley, the setting sun shooting glistening beams through the clotheslines and fire escapes. Dwayne folds his hat and it vanishes within an invisible pocket. "Okay, so I don't have the most refined wit, but most people won't even talk to an invisible guy. You're the only real friend I've got."
"Sorry to hear that." Nick stares at the ground. He looks back up at Dwayne. "What about your college friends? You sure used to talk about them a lot."
"Just reminiscing, really. Most of them quit speaking with me when I started working for Chem-Max. I really don't understand how, but I always ended up with the artsy, hippie crowd in college. When Chem-Max hired me for their accounting division, well, my friends' political beliefs turned my desperate need for a job into some kind sort of sell-out betrayal. Hell, my girlfriend even dumped me."
The men have long since left the alley and joined the mass humanity in this post-modern city. Across the street, teenage boys--in clothes too large--point and laugh at Nick, thinking he speaks to himself.
"But, you know, I don't have it so bad. I have a good job and a blind dog that likes me. How's your life been?"
"Well enough. The Feds found my powers during last year's physical."
"Wow. So did you get in trouble?"
"No, they can't reprimand me for being attacked by an alien parasite. But I was asked to leave the Bureau."
"They fired you?" Dwayne asks, shocked.
"Not fired, transferred." Nick grabs Dwayne's shoulder. "Look, let's step in here," he says, motioning to a dark coffee house.
Nick walks in first, and, as Dwayne follows, his body materializes in the lower light of the coffee shop. Nick walks to the back of the building and sits at a secluded table. Dwayne joins him as a waiter takes their orders. The waiter glances oddly at Dwayne's welding goggles. Once the drinks arrive, Nick asks, "So why did you hang up the whole superhero bit?"
"I never really wanted to be a superhero, Nick. You know that. For crying out loud, 'Geist, the Twilight Man'? What was I thinking? I just thought I had nowhere else to turn. There weren't a lot of want ads that listed 'College degree and transparency a plus'," Dwayne chuckles. "When I heard about the Blood Pack try-outs I figured, what the hell, I've got to eat. But the funding fell out pretty quick. I was back to looking for work when I was called in by the Justice League Task Force. I was even learning how to make myself visible again. Boy, did I start thinking I was mister cool superhero."
"You weren't bad. I remember the first time we met."
"Oh yeah. We were both trying to collar that Mahoney gun ring in Central City. I was sneaking into that warehouse in the middle of the day all invisible and whatnot. You were there, too, crouching in the shadows in the same condition. About that time 'the Twilight Man' decided to stick his arm into a shadow and right into your face. And, of course there out of direct sunlight, it was visible." Dwayne rolls his eyes back. "You gasped and Johnny Mahoney's boy Rizzo looked over and spotted this half-an-arm floating there and of course decided to start shooting at it. I'll bet all the pros have stuff like that happen to 'em. I can just see Batman in that situation."
"You're too hard on yourself, Dwayne. Argus and Geist were quite a team. We put a lot of bad-guys away."
"Yeah, until my 'disappearance'."
Nick nervously plays with his coffee cup, staring at the table. He looks up at Dwayne and says, "Dwayne, I wish I could tell you this was just a social trip."
"What are you talking about, man?" Dwayne replies, slightly shocked.
"Remember how I told you I was transferred? It was to the DEO."
"No. No way, man." Dwayne jumps to his feet and steps back toward the door.
Nick stands and faces Dwayne. "Just hear me out, okay?" he says.
"Are you here alone?" Dwayne says under his breath. He reaches his hand beneath his coat as he says, "If you're not, I swear I'll set off the white phosphor in my pocket and disappear forever!"
Measured and quiet, Nick says, "Calm down, Dwayne. If I wasn't alone you'd be 'tranqed' and shipped by now. Now come sit down." Both Dwayne and Nick take their seats. Dwayne is visibly nervous and upset, and Nick tries to put him at ease. "I was sent to recruit you. The heads think you have what is takes to be a great field agent, and your powers are perfect for surveillance."
"You know what they did to me, don't you?"
"Reynolds and his people had no authoriza--"
"Do you think that makes any difference to me? Do you, Nick? They kidnapped me from my own bed. Then they threw me into that van and hauled me to one of those 'orphanages'. And they did this to me." Dwayne opens his shirt. Nick sits up, shocked by the scar-- eight inches long and a half-inch wide down the middle of Dwayne's chest. From his sternum up the scar tissue diverges into two paths, each trailing up one side of his neck and converging beneath the hair on his neck. "And I have a near-matching scar along my spine. Do you know why the crazy &#^@er did this? So I couldn't turn my powers off. I'm totally invisible all day long. I can't get a normal job, not even during tax season. Nobody wants to hire a transparent accountant. This one guy straight-out told me he couldn't trust somebody he couldn't see. And you are not going to believe this; he was the business manager for a Bible publishing company. I'm treated like some kind of freak."
Dwayne rests his head in his hands. "I can't even go to the movies, man. I went once. I sat next to a family and was having a great time until the little girl started shrieking. During a daytime scene, the light from the screen made my face vanish. When the girl's mom looked over to her daughter she saw me and screamed too, and all hell broke loose." Dwayne sits up and stare deep into Nick's shadowy eyes. "Now you, Nick *#$%ing Kelley, my only friend. You come here to ask me to join the organization that destroyed my life. No thanks, man. No thanks."
"I'm sorry, Dwayne. I didn't know it would be this hard on you. I thought it might, but I didn't know. Truth is, I pulled a lot of strings to make this assignment happen. It was either me coming to ask you or a tactical team coming to 'make an acquisition'."
Dwayne turns away in disgust. "Worse than those damn parasites," he says with a snarl. Nick reaches into his coat and pulls out a roll of cash. Dwayne notices a hundred on the outside. "What is that?"
"Thirty-five hundred in unmarked, non-sequential bills. Our metahuman agents are paid very well. You could call this a signing bonus." Nick holds his hand up to stop Dwayne's rebuttal. "Dwayne, I'm not going to set the dogs after you, but you will be running. Take this money, use the flare, and hit me over the head with that flower pot."
"But, if they know about your powers, then they know you can see me."
"I can't see you from behind, Dwayne. Now, do it!"
"I can buy you twelve hours."
Dwayne looks down as he reaches for the flare.
"Dwayne," Nick says suddenly, "if you can make the time, you might want to talk to Helene. I think she'd like to talk to you."
A flash of white phosphorus and the crash of breaking ceramic fill the small shop. The tall, dark man lays sprawled on the carpet, a limp mass; and an invisible man tearily, silently walks out the door and into anonymity. Tomorrow, Dwayne Geyer will not show up for work. People will laugh that he never did. But wherever he will be, one man hopes he will be happy.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by Mathew D. Rhys
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