Thursday, April 9, 2009

Meet Mark -- Part 3 -- "Golden Mask" -- A THEME THURSDAY Entry!

This introductory segment is for my regular readers who are about to encounter Meet Mark in media res, as well as those "Theme Thursday" followers who've never seen my blog before.

As author of this blog, I recently decided to ignore not one, but two of this site's unfinished projects and take some time off. Then, before I officially "returned," as it were, I threw an informal challenge at my readers and asked them to help me choose my next topic. Should I resume by finishing one -- or the other -- of the two unfinished stories? Should I come up with something entirely new, on my own? Or should I do something that would not only be entirely new, but also based on a reader's suggestion?

The response was somewhat... lackluster, shall we say? But as a line from an old joke goes (more or less), "if I take a load of hay out to the field and only one cow comes to be fed, I feed her."

(Umm... I really wasn't trying to call my faithful readers "cows" just then, I truly wasn't! I only meant that I was going to cater to those few who did bother to vote.)

Unfortunately, there were approximately as many suggestions as there were voters -- not including a couple of "suspicious" votes toward the end of this not-so-serious process -- so rather than play tie-breaker myself, I decided instead to make everyone a winner... and Meet Mark is the result!

One last thing: A single voter had suggested that I get involved with the "Theme Thursday" Blogger-bloggers, so I was faced with the additional fun task of making Part 3 -- and only Part 3 -- an egg-related post!

Let's see how I do!

Previously: We began our tale in the waiting room of a temporary employment agency, where we met Mark Arthur (a self-proclaimed psychic) and John MacArthur ("Jack Mac" to his friends, or so he insists). Jack is a lifelong fan of comic books, and as for Mark? Well, in addition to being a psychic, Mark claims that he was once --
almost -- a real-life superhero.

* * * * *

Mark and Jack now stood in the parking lot of the temp agency they'd left somewhat sheepishly. They made an odd-looking pair. Jack was a bit beefy, with a dark VanDyke beard and a shaved head, while Mark was almost too good-looking for a man, with his clean-shaven face and his short, straight, blonde hair.

"Okay, now what?" asked Jack. "You're the fortune-teller."

"Don't be a wiseguy. I told you, I can't turn it on and off like a faucet."

"Maybe you could have learned to control it if you'd taken the time to train yourself."

"Oh, really? What makes you think I never did try, Jack?"

"Maybe I'm psychic!" Mark didn't reply. "So, am I right or wrong? I mean, did you ever try to control it?"

"Not really." Mark admitted. "I... I didn't think I could."

"What a waste. And you're how old? Forty-five?"

Mark decided to change this uncomfortable subject. "Where are we going to go? I'm not going to stand around in this parking lot all day."

"Well, then, can I buy you a drink, sailor?" Jack asked, teasingly. Mark's eyes narrowed. "Hey, hey! Don't get like that. That was a joke. You know, the old cliché, plus you did say you almost went into the Navy... "

"Yeah, yeah! I got the joke. Geez!"

"Besides, I don't drink, anyway."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. Why, somethin' wrong with that?"

Mark shook his head. "No! In fact... neither do I."

"Well, okay then. Why don't we both get in our cars, and you can follow me home so I can introduce you to my lovely wife and my five-year-old son."

Mark recalled what he'd said earlier when telling Jack about how his psychic abilities worked; Mark had idly mentioned Jack's having a wife... and a five-year-old son. "Oh, my... You really have a five-year-old son? I wasn't... "

"Calm down, Mark, I'm just messin' with you."

"Jerk," Mark said under his breath, purposely loud enough for Jack to hear it.

Jack grinned. "I do have a son, but he's fourteen. And his older sister -- the mother of my granddaughter -- is nineteen."

The conversation seemed exhausted at this point, so the two men got into their respective cars and made the twelve-mile journey to Jack's spacious apartment.

It wasn't until nearly two hours later that Jack and Mark were able to resume their discussion. By then, Mark had met Jack's wife, children, and granddaughter, had shared supper with them, and had watched with amusement as the teenagers had argued over whose turn it was to get "stuck with the dishes." Mark's amusement was caused by the fact that the argument in question was merely to settle which one of the two had to load the automatic dishwasher.

Mark followed Jack to a room at the end of a short hallway. Opening the door, Jack cheerfully announced, "And here's where the menfolk retire to the library for brandy and cigars! Only you and me don't drink brandy, and neither of us smokes... "

Mark felt a slight chill. This room's thermostat seemed to be set a bit lower than those in the rest of the large apartment. "Not that I'd let anyone smoke in here, anyway... " Jack continued.

As he entered the room, Mark spun around very slowly. It was indeed a library of sorts, but one that consisted of wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-ceiling, glassed-in bookshelves filled mostly with comic books and magazines, each in their own protective bags. There were some "real" books as well, mostly paperbacks, and some ancient-looking, leather-bound hardcover volumes.

"Wow," said Mark softly. And he meant it. Jack smiled to acknowledge the oh-so-brief but heart-felt compliment.

Although Mark couldn't put his finger on exactly how Jack seemed different suddenly, there definitely was a difference in Jack, possibly because now, and only now, he was truly in his element.

Mark surveyed the room visually. There were several free-standing lamps in the room, and a small desk with a high-backed wooden chair. There were only two other chairs in the library. These were lushly-upholstered chairs positioned relatively close together in the center of the room. Jack sat in one, and motioned for Mark to be seated in the other.

"Now," began Jack, "Finish your story. And I won't interrupt... much."

That's Entertainment, in the 1980s!

Mark inhaled, then exhaled, trying to recall where he'd left off in his narrative.

"After having bought the ingredients for a hearty breakfast, I spotted the 'We buy comics' sign in the window of That's Entertainment. I was actually kind of surprised that a hobby shop like this -- I mean, what else would you call it? -- was open on a Sunday. This was the mid-eighties, after all, and there were still a lot of problems with the so-called 'blue laws... ' "

"Mark, you're doin' it again... "

"Sorry! Anyway, the door was unlocked, and in I went.

"It was fairly crowded, I thought, not that I would have known what an average-sized crowd would actually be for that kind of store, and on a Sunday morning. There were shelves lining the walls with new comics, and several banquet tables holding dozens of boxes of back-issue comics... But then again, I don't suppose I need to describe the place to you."

Jack shook his head. "No. You don't."

"There was only one guy working there, in his late twenties, I guessed. Chubby guy, with brown hair and a beard."

"Hm. Mid-1980s... Kinda tall, with a long beard? Named Steve?"

"No. Medium height, close-cropped beard."

Jack nodded. "David."

"Yeah, that's it! Dave."

"No, David." Mark looked at Jack strangely. "Sorry. Go on."

"This guy Dave -- or David, whatever -- was talking to the people as he rang them up, and talking to a couple of guys who were checking out the record albums, and talking to... Actually, he talked a lot. To everybody. But he was funny. Even after some of the people had made their purchases, they hung around for a while, like they were enjoying the show.

"He even talked to me, just to ask if he could help me with anything. He good-naturedly told me that I looked lost, and I had to laugh at that, and say that I was, in a way. He told me that if I could figure out whatever I did want, to ask him.

"Then he turned to this other guy -- David had come out from behind the register by now -- and said basically the same thing to him. The other guy didn't even acknowledge him. He was in his own little world. I thought he looked kind of strung out, actually. His forehead was sweating.

"Then it hit me. I got a clear image of the strung-out freak waving a knife in David's face. I couldn't very well say anything, not really, but I promised myself I wasn't going to leave that store while Freaky Guy was still there."

Jack leaned forward in his chair. "You could have said somethin', couldn't you?"

"Like what? 'I think this guy's going to try to rob you?' How would you have replied?" Jack shrugged, and sat back. "I thought so.

"The crowd was thinning out somewhat. By this point it was only myself, David, Freaky Guy, and three other people. Two of the three left, and I finally spoke up.

"I'd gone in there with a crazy idea: What if I tried to become a superhero like Batman or Superman? It could actually work! I figured I'd combine my mental abilities with my own athleticism. I mean, I work out, even to this day, and I lift weights, you know...

"Anyway, I was standing in That's Entertainment, envisioning the costume of this unnamed superhero that I could actually become. I'm no fashion designer, certainly, so I figured something loose-fitting in a basic black from head to toe, with matching boots, and gloves... It would give me almost a camouflage effect at night. So no big brass buttons, nor any bright chest insignia. And I wanted nothing impractical like a cape, or anything else that would stick out and be easy to grab... Just one flashy quality about it: a mask that would look like it was made from solid gold. It would look... I don't know... pure somehow?

"But I had to make sure that there wasn't already a hero with whatever name I came up with. I'd feel pretty stupid if I started my crime-fighting career by getting sued by some comic company. So I started telling this guy David that I was looking for any comics featuring a hero named... and I paused. He looked at me in anticipation, with kind of a smirk on his face, and the name 'Golden Mask' just popped into my head.

"When I asked if they had any comics featuring a character named Golden Mask, I thought he was going to be sick. I mean really, physically ill. He looked me right in the eye and said 'Is this some kind of joke? Where the hell did you get that name? No one knows about Golden Mask!'

"I realized it had just come to me, not unlike my little premonitions, but this was evidently more like telepathy... or maybe more like something else I can't even put a name to... because, as David told me, he had come up with that name first.

"He started rattling off a bunch of little facts. He said that a couple of years earlier, he'd been talking with the owner of this place... "

"Paul Howley," interjected Jack.

"Yeah. They'd been talking about publishing a 'real' comic book, based in Worcester. David went home and came up with a character -- a so-called 'costumed athlete,' no one with real powers -- named Golden Mask. A guy based right there in Worcester. A simple uniform, all black, except for a gold-colored mask -- I think he made a remark about a 'shining example' or a 'shining inspiration' -- which gave the character his name.

"Not long after, David showed up at the store again and started telling Paul Howley about the character he was developing. He didn't even get to say the name before Paul said something to the effect of, 'Oh, I already have a character. Insect Man!' "

Jack burst out laughing. "Worcester's own superhero," he said, rolling up his left sleeve. There was another tattoo.

Mark smiled. "I assume that that is Insect Man?"

"Uh-huh. Traced from a sketch by Gene Colan. You prob'ly don't know who he is either, huh?"

"Sorry, no." Mark continued.

"Did David tell you he wrote an amateur comic featuring Paul's Insect Man?"

"No. We didn't get that far in the conversation."

"He blew up the space shuttle."

"What?"

"Months before the Challenger exploded, David wrote an Insect Man story where some villain blew up a space shuttle. Who knows? Maybe David was the psychic! Maybe he read your mind, and came up with Golden Mask!"

Mark was almost irritated. "You're 'messing' with me again, aren't you?"

"Mm-hmm."

"If I may continue... ! After Paul had said that the so-called 'Worcester comic' was going to be The Adventures of Insect Man, or whatever... nobody ever got to hear about David's Golden Mask character. Not until I came along, and... and now, David rightfully wanted to know how I knew about it."

"You didn't tell him, didja? I mean, about you bein' psychic?"

"Never had the chance, Jack! There were only three people left in the store by that point: David, myself, and the all-but-forgotten Freaky Guy! And Freaky Guy, who was standing at the register, decided that he wanted immediate service. He yelled something about wanting to cash out, so David excused himself and walked to the register...

"And that's when Freaky Guy pulled out the knife I'd already 'seen' ten or twenty minutes earlier. He actually yelled 'This is a stick-up!' like something out of a bad movie.

"David just looked at him and said, 'This is a joke, right?' kind of like he'd said to me a few minutes earlier.

"Freaky Guy screamed that it was not a joke, and that David had better hand over all the money in the cash register.

"I was only a few feet away from the two of them, but I didn't dare try to get closer. Not yet, anyway."

Jack was literally on the edge of his seat. "This is great! But didn't you get any visions about how this all might end?"

"Oh, hell, no!" said Mark, cheerfully. "That would have been far too convenient! Anyway, by this time, David had taken a few steps back from the counter, and had picked up a closed umbrella from somewhere. The freak yelled something about David being too stupid to be scared. David looked at him and very calmly said something to the effect of how he wasn't scared because the guy only had a knife, and not a gun, and although an umbrella wasn't much of a weapon, it gave David a longer reach than the freak had. Then David pointed at me and said that Freaky Guy was already out-numbered by one person, unless someone else came in to increase the odds against Freaky Guy!

"I was kind of impressed, really. If David was scared, he wasn't showing it. And the freak was getting rattled. He was either high, or more likely, dope-sick. He looked at me, then back at David. 'What if I go for him?' he said. 'You gonna take a chance with the life of one of your customers?'

"David burst out laughing at that one. 'You're kidding, right? You see the size of his arms, dude? He'll kick your ass!' Without looking away from the would-be robber, David reached under the counter, for the telephone. 'Okay, this is over now. I'm calling the police, so you need to leave.' "

"Neat," said Jack. "Then what?"

"Still waving the knife around, this Looney-Tunes... "

"Looney-Tunes?" echoed Jack.

Mark shrugged. "I got tired of calling him Freaky Guy... Anyway, he kept waving the knife around, but he took a few steps away from me and pulled a cigarette lighter out of his pocket with his other hand. He flicked it to light it, and held it a few inches above a box of expensive back issue comics. He said if he didn't get the money, he'd set the whole place on fire. Plastic bags, old paper... Big threat, right?

"David didn't seem to think so. 'Maybe if those books were soaked with frigging gasoline... ' Then David looked directly at me. 'And maybe if that lighter wasn't a Bic... '

"A Bic disposable, I thought. Of course. I moved several steps forward and punched the sweaty idiot right in the face. He dropped the lighter; as soon as he let it go, naturally, it went out! So much for torching the comics."

"What a dork!" exclaimed Jack.

Mark nodded. "Lamest robbery attempt I've ever seen."

"So then what happened?"

"The freak bolted for the door. I wasn't expecting him to do that -- don't say it! -- and he got by me. I heard David swear, and I told him, 'Call the cops! I'll either stop him or slow him down!' "

"Did you really think you'd be fast enough to catch him?"

"I didn't have to be! I grabbed my bag of breakfast goodies and charged out of the comic shop. I yelled at the top of my lungs for the junkie to stop. He didn't, of course, but he was stupid enough to twist around so he could see me, running several feet behind him. And that's when the first egg hit him. Hard."

"The first... egg?"

"You bet. An egg. And I had a whole dozen to throw at him. That first one caught him right in the side of the face, and he let out one hell of a scream."

"A scream? What a candy-ass!"

"Hey, have you ever been hit with a high-velocity egg? Or a high-velocity anything, for that matter?"

"Well... "

"Look, Jack, I was in my prime. And I'd been a ball-player for almost my entire life. If you got hit with something I pitched at you, you'd know it!" Jack shook his head, half from disbelief, and yet, half with admiration, as well. "I kept after him, running a few steps, then stopping completely to wind up and throw another... I caught him in the back of the head with one or two, and two or three times in the face because he was dumb enough to keep looking back -- first time I've ever seen anyone do that outside of a movie or a TV show -- and I landed a few real stingers on the back of his neck... He finally collapsed in a gooey heap on the over-grown lawn in front of a closed-up restaurant. "

"Wow. Did the cops ever show up?"

"Yeah. Heh. They sure did... " Mark shook his head, ruefully. "And they arrested both of us."

* * * * *

Next: The wrap-up... and a hint of things to come. See you on -- or before -- Monday!

11 comments:

  1. There is something about the term "high-velocity egg" that is making me laugh like a hyena...

    Well-done, Silverado! (You call me a cow again. I deck you with my hoof. A simple deal.)

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  2. Oh, I can't call you a cow, but you can call you a hyena? No fair!

    And I'll really get all the official and unofficial votes taken care of by the end of Part 4, I promise. Did you notice I not only worked in a few baseball references for Redbeard, but I also worked in "Bob's your uncle" for you, kinda/sorta?

    And I hope you like these characters. You know my First Rule of Writing: "Never throw anything away."

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  3. Hey David, nice li'l story arc. love the old pic of That'sE! I think it's a church now...no wait..it's closed up again...no wait...it's a Starbuck's( ha, made you look ). And "High Velocity Egg", total riot. I was expecting Chicken Man to pop up!

    Welcome to Theme Thursday. Now go read VE's post...I quadruple dog dare ya!!!

    And see you Saturday( that reminds me, I gotta get to the bank )!

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  4. I have to run a couple of hours' worth of errands, then I'll be hitting as many "T.T." sites as I can! I'm devoting my afternoon to it!

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  5. Wait'll you get to Half-moose with a Twist's bloggo (I recommend reading the past postings ). Anon!

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  6. A tour de force for Theme Thursday. Good one, Cary. See you next week

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  7. Nice job of including my "vote" in your new, interesting story! Thanks!

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  8. I've been at TT's all day, I am still trying to get to them all and it is now Friday and I started on Wednesday (my time zone). Hope your afternoon was fun.

    Took a while to get to the egg, but I did it. If I had thrown them they would have never hit the guy. On one of the TT's Marianna talks about the Roman's throwing soft boiled eggs and it not hurting. Well I guess they never heard of this guy throwing them. Ouch.

    Thank you for joining us. I like the name. Great story.

    God bless.

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  9. I should be commenting on your writing but I can't get past your profile photo of Cary Grant whom I adore. I'll be back!

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  10. You silver tongued Lothario you!

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  11. Here it is Sunday evening and I'm still trying to get through all the TTs. Thank you for joining us we have really grown in numbers since we started eleven weeks ago.

    Interesting story by the way.

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