by Martin Maenza
The small city of Iryna on the western coast of Greece primarily supported itself by the shipping trade. Items like olive oil and cotton left the docks daily, bound for the larger cities and the world beyond the Mediterranean Sea.
For the men who worked along the docks, it was hard but honest labor. One man in particular, an American dressed in dark slacks and a light blue shirt, found the work invigorating, or at the very least different from what he’d been doing prior to this. For him, it was chance to start over in a new place, with people who knew only what he told them of his past. It was a chance to start fresh again.
The day’s sun was at its pinnacle, and the temperature was rising. The American ceased his hauling of a large crate, set it down on one side, and rolled up his sleeves. First the right, then the left. Beneath the shirt’s material was an assortment of tattoos of all kinds. Traditional weapons like axes, knives, guns, and maces adorned his arms. Interspersed between those were nautical items like ropes, anchors, and chains, as well as other odd images. Abel Tarrant certainly lived up to his more infamous moniker of the Tattooed Man.
As he rested for a moment, he looked out to the boat slips down the way. There he noticed a gorgeous young woman with long dark hair wearing a sharply cut two-piece bikini. She had just been helped into an expensive-looking speedboat by a young man with wavy brown hair. The young man laughed at the beauty’s words. The engine on the boat started, and the boat sped out into the waters of the sea.
Abel felt a slight twinge of jealousy. “Must be nice to be young, rich, and carefree,” he said to himself. “Nothing but smooth sailing ahead of you.” He shook his head in slight disgust, hoisted back the dolly, and continued to move the crate toward the ship’s gangplank.
After finishing his day of work, Abel Tarrant took a stool at the bar in the nearby taverna. Since his rented room was sparsely decorated, this was the one place where he could view a bit of television. He hadn’t picked up a lot of Greek conversation yet, but he found that he could at least get some comfort from the pictures on the screen. It helped him pass the time while he enjoyed his beer.
On the screen, the cable news channel just started a story that gave the man some amusement. “Well, well,” he said to himself, “it looks to me like another of Scudder’s schemes crashed upon the rocks.” The news showed shots from San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Sydney — the three cities where members of the Injustice Gang had been defeated by the Teen Titans and Superman. (*) The villains were in handcuffs. “I’m so glad I chose to miss the boat on that one. Every time I got mixed up with that group over the years, it’s always ended up with us in the brig.” He took a long, satisfying drink from his beer bottle. “No more of that. From now on, I’m on a one-man voyage.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman and the Teen Titans: Times Past, 1984: Times of the Titans, Chapter 2: 1982]
He watched the news a few moments more, until boredom set in. He spun a half-turn on his stool to see what the rest of the room was doing. Just at that moment, a tall young woman with long dark hair entered the dockside bar. “Well, ahoy there, cutie,” he said to himself. She wore a white halter top with a wrap-around skirt. Both complemented her smooth olive skin. “Where have I seen you before?”
The young woman looked around the room and walked over to some of men playing pool. She began to speak to them in Greek.
Abel nodded his head negatively. “So much for me sweet-talking that beauty,” he said, turning back to the bar. “What a shame, too. That’s one vessel I’d certainly want to board.” He tapped his empty bottle on the bar to get the bartender’s attention. When the man finally came over and acknowledged the tapping, Abel said, “I’ll have another of these.” He jiggled the empty bottle.
A long tapered hand with polished nails gently grabbed his hand, putting the bottle back to the bar. Abel turned and saw that it was the young woman he had been eyeing only moments ago. She looked the man in the eyes, smiled, and spoke to the bartender in Greek. The bartender nodded, fetched a bottle from behind the counter and two glasses, poured a clear liquid into them, and placed the glasses before the woman.
The woman smiled at Abel again, slid one of the glasses in front of him, and said in English, “Perhaps you should try one of the local customs, yes?” She took her finger and gently traced one of the tattoos on his arm.
For the first time in ages, Abel felt totally relaxed. It felt good to talk to someone new, and not just about shipping or work. It helped a lot as well that the woman was incredibly gorgeous. “I was in the navy for a while when I was younger, traveled to various ports of call,” he said. “After that, I moved around a lot, doing jobs here and there.”
What he said was pretty much the truth. He only left out the details that the “jobs” had been robberies and other schemes as the infamous Tattooed Man. There was no sense in torpedoing his chances with the woman due to his past activities.
The young woman stared at him intently with her warm brown eyes. She hung on his every word, almost mesmerized. She took a good, long drink of what the bartender poured. “Is that where you got these?” she asked, once more stroking the pictures that adorned his right arm. “In the navy?”
The man blushed as he felt slight goosebumps. “No,” he muttered. “These are all my own work. Do you like them?”
The woman smiled and nodded. “Ah, I had a feeling about you. Beneath the rugged exterior lies something deeper.” Abel’s eyes started to widen. “You have the soul of an artist.”
He relaxed. He had not touched his drink yet and was a bit thirsty from all the talking. He downed it quickly and almost regretted it. The liquid was very strong alcohol with a unique flavor. He made a weird sound with his throat before swallowing.
The woman giggled. “Ouzo has a taste that is acquired. Perhaps you will be around long enough to appreciate it.” She batted her long lashes at him; he wasn’t sure if the warmth he felt was from the drink or from the young woman’s flirtatious advances.
“So, tell me a bit about yourself, Lydia,” Abel Tarrant requested.
Lydia Anastasios smiled and began to speak. “Not much to tell, really,” she said. “I am twenty years old and a student at the university. I have lived just outside of the city for most of my life, helping out on the family farm.”
“What do you plan to do after school?” he asked.
“I would like to get away from here, to see the world some,” she said without hesitation. “Perhaps even see America.” She glanced at his arm again. “Who knows? Perhaps I will even get a tattoo. Yours certainly fascinate me.”
The couple talked for a long time. Lydia seemed to genuinely enjoy Abel’s company. He most definitely had become smitten with her instantly.
Over the next week and a half, the two spent their evenings together. She introduced him to the finer points of Greek cuisine and culture. He regaled her with tales from his past, with a bit of spin to them in order to downplay the illegal aspects of his history. They would take moonlit walks along the shore, and Lydia would spend the night at his rented room. Because she was on break from school, she stayed with him often. He had a spare key made for her, so that she could come and go as she pleased while he was working.
One afternoon, Abel got off from work and was walking down to the taverna to meet Lydia. As he approached the boating slips, he heard the sound of raised voices arguing in Greek. One voice in particular he recognized very quickly.
A young man with wavy brown hair wearing a crisply pressed shirt and shorts was gesturing at Lydia. To whatever he was saying, she shook her head no. The man slapped her on the cheek hard. “You bastard!” Abel exploded as he ran down the docks. While Lydia covered her face, the man hopped into his awaiting speedboat, gunned the engine, and sped off out into the harbor.
Abel reached to touch a tattoo on his forearm but hesitated. “No, not here. Not now.” Instead, he ran to the crying woman’s side. “Lydia, are you all right?” he asked. “Who was that bilge rat, and why did he strike you?”
Lydia took a moment for her tears to stop. She wiped them away with her hand and sunk into Abel’s awaiting arms. “His name is Nikos Petropoulos,” she began to explain. “I know him from the university. We saw each other once or twice.” She looked up and saw concern on the man’s face.
“But no longer!” Lydia said quickly. “I want to be with you, not him. In fact, I told him so when he invited me out to his yacht for dinner this evening. That’s when he got angry. Nikos said, ‘Why do you want to be with the common American laborer? I can offer you the finer things, a life of luxury. What can he give you that I cannot?’ And I told him that there was more to life than wealth and expensive things. I told him that I was falling in love with you.” She looked into his eyes. “I do love you, Abel.”
The man’s lips parted, and he hesitated just a brief moment. “I — I love you, too, Lydia,” he said. She pressed closer to him, her lips meeting his in a deep, long kiss.
A few hours later, when the night had descended upon the area, Abel Tarrant had told Lydia he had something to see to. While she wasn’t sure why he was being mysterious, he was able to assure her that it was a surprise and would help them plan for a future together.
Standing alone at the boat slips, Abel glanced out at the water. “Time to take care of some business at sea,” he said to himself. Where anyone else would have needed to steal one of the many expensive boats tied here, Abel simply touched the picture of a boat on the back of his left arm.
The picture sprang to life and expanded as it fell to the water. In a moment, it was a solid, functioning speedboat. Abel hopped into the vehicle, started the motor, and set course for a certain yacht.
Abel recognized the speedboat tied up to the first yacht he came across. “That has to be rich boy’s,” he concluded. He pulled his own boat up to the side and hoisted himself up to the ladder along the side. As he climbed up a bit, his own boat faded.
“First, let’s send that to the drink.” He touched a tattoo of a knife, giving him something to cut the tie-line that kept Nikos’ speedboat secure. Then he touched the tattoo of a huge anvil, and the large, heavy black object materialized. It dropped straight down and punched through the floor of the speedboat. Water gushed up, and in a few moments the small craft sank out of sight. “Now let’s see what I can plunder.”
The Tattooed Man hoisted himself over the rail and crouched down in the shadows. From the far end of the deck, he could hear two voices laughing, one male and one female. It also sounded like the jets of a hot tub. Guess pretty boy is popular and didn’t have problems getting another date, he thought to himself. At least I’ll be able to work without interruption. He made his way to the stairs that led to the lower deck.
Poking his head around, Abel immediately bypassed the bathroom and galley. The recreational area had all the comforts of home — television, stereo, and a full-stocked bar. Gotta be a safe around here someplace, he thought to himself. Rich folks always have those. He checked behind the sofa and under the material that draped the tables. Hmm, perhaps in the bedroom.
He entered the last room and began to search. He pushed aside the clothes that had been discarded on the floor — a man’s shirt and pants and a woman’s minidress — and looked under the bed. Not even a dust bunny. He went over to the dresser and snatched up the wallet, jewelry, and gold watch, putting them into the sack he had attached to his belt. He quickly checked the drawers for anything of value as well.
There was a mirror behind the bed; Abel hopped up onto the bed and lifted it down. “X marks the spot,” he said as he saw the wall safe. He looked over his arm and considered using plastique. “Nope, too noisy.” He flipped his arm over and located a picture of a hand drill. “Perfect.”