by Martin Maenza
A year earlier, just off the strip in Las Vegas:
“Agnes, come on,” a man said, tapping his foot impatiently on the floor. He was of average height and build with a slight gut. He was in his early forties with thinning blonde hair, and he wore a blue polo shirt with khaki pants. He glanced at his watch. “We’ll be late.”
“Oh, hush, Carl,” said a woman as she rummaged through the shelves. She was a bit shorter and much more stockier. A colorful patterned dress did little to flatter her round figure; she wore it mostly because the reds and oranges complimented her curly red locks. “You’re always rushing me!”
She propped up her sunglasses on top of her head and proceeded to look at the stuff on the shelves. The pawn shop was full of a number of items — from jewelry and purses, to baubles and knickknacks. Agnes Browning seemed determined to locate something to buy. “I don’t know what your rush is, anyway,” she said without interrupting her hunting task. “The weather is probably crummy back at home, anyway. It always rains there.”
Carl Browning huffed and leaned up against the front counter. He knew that, once his wife of nearly twenty years set her mind out to shop, not even a herd of wild elephants would move her from the place until she was satisfied. In truth, they had a little time left to kill before their flight, but he’d had enough of Las Vegas to last him a while. Unlike his wife who had stuck to the slots, he had not been very profitable in shooting craps and spinning the roulette wheel.
An older man with graying hair behind the counter turned to Carl. “She sure likes to shop,” the shopkeeper noted. “Bet she’s got some good taste.”
Carl rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
The man behind the counter said, “So, where you from?”
“Seattle,” Carl said as he glanced at his watch. “And hopefully we’ll be heading back home like we planned.” He said these last five words in a much louder, emphasized voice, their intent to spur the woman along.
Agnes merely made a gesture with her hand and kept looking about.
“You get out to Vegas often?” the shopkeeper asked, continuing the small talk. In truth, business was slow at this time of the day. He hoped maybe he could figure more out about the man and woman to try to guide some sales.
“No, not really,” Carl said, shaking his head. “I’m not a big gambler myself. The wife likes it, though. And she likes the shows.”
“Ah,” the other man said. “Shows, eh? Maybe she’d be interested in…”
“Oooh,” Agnes let out a squeal. “Carl, look at this!” She hurried up to the front of the pawn shop with an object in her hand. It was metallic with a golden color with three sides to it, and between eight to ten inches in total length.
Carl squinted. “What is it?” he asked as he looked at the triangular item.
“I don’t know for sure,” Agnes said as she held it up and inspected it from many angles. “It sure is pretty, though.” She turned to the shopkeeper. “Sir, how much for this… this… thing?”
“Well, little lady,” the man behind the counter said as he shifted his work mode. “I could probably give you a whole spiel about this item, but you look like a wonderful woman and could easily see through any story.” Agnes started to blush at the compliment.
“Truth is, some guy came in off the street a while back with that and practically begged me to buy it off of him. I admit, the man was kind of shabby-looking and may have been a bit loony, to boot. He acted as if he heard voices. Probably suffering from the D.T.s or something. So, I felt sorry for the guy and paid him for the item. The man no doubt spent the cash on booze.”
The woman eyed the item as the store owner told his story. “How much for it?” Agnes asked when he was done.
“I figured that has to be gold-plating on it, so that kind of makes it worth something,” the store man said. “I was going to sell it for sixty, but for you — forty-five.”
“‘Forty-five’?” Carl asked. “Oh, honey, I don’t know…”
“Hush, Carl,” Agnes said. “I have some winnings, and I want a souvenir from the trip.” She opened up her large purse and began to fish out her bucket of winnings to pay the man. “This’ll look nice on the wall or something — a good conversation piece.”
A year later, in September, 1987, in a similar establishment a few states away, was the shop called Relics and Remembrances, located on the corner of Marv Street and Carmine Avenue. A young black man in his early twenties sat behind the counter reading the morning newspaper as light music played in the background. The bell above the door jangled, and Hero Cruz looked up over the paper’s edge to see who had just entered the shop.
“How was lunch, Randy?” the young man asked.
“Fine.” The pudgy white man with red hair crossed his shop and headed for the counter. “Show tunes?” he asked with his head cocked toward the boom box on the shelf behind them.
“Cabaret,” Hero pointed out with a smile. “Don’t you start talkin’ about Liza and Joel, now, or I might have to get physical with you.”
“Back off, H.C.,” Randy Kilmer said jokingly. “I’m not complainin’ or anything. I was just curious, is all.”
Hero looked at his boss kind of funny. “What’s this? You sick or something?” He threw his hand to the man’s forehead, then pulled it away. “No fever. Maybe it’s a full moon coming or something.”
“Knock it off, funny man,” Randy said. “And get this stuff off my counter.”
Hero started to fold up the paper. “Yes, sir, boss-man, sir,” he said mockingly. “Anything else I can do for you, sir?”
Randy laughed. The young man was entertaining to have around the shop. “No, that’ll do,” he said, settling in behind the counter. “Say, what was so engrossing in the paper, anyway?”
“Oh, nothing, really,” Hero said coyly. “Just catching up on the local news and such.” The young man watched as Randy turned and went about his business. He frowned slightly, having wanted to talk about something further, but his boss wasn’t biting.
After a few moments of arranging items, Hero tipped his head back. “So, what do you think about Seattle’s new hero?” Hero asked.
“We got us a hero?” Randy said absently. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“He’s appeared a couple times over the last few weeks,” Hero remarked, though he knew all too well the full details of each and every appearance, mostly things like foiling robberies and helping folks out of jams and the like. After all, thanks to the little dial-like amulet he kept hanging from a chain about his neck underneath his clothes, the young black man found he could become a super-powered alter-ego merely by dialing the letters H, E, R, and O.
“Really?” Randy said. “A couple times? Sounds like this guy needs some kind of press agent, then, or somethin’.”
Press agent, Hero thought with a nod. Hmmm.
“Of course,” Randy continued, not noticing his employee, “anytime a hero shows up in a town, it seems like a lot of trouble follows soon after. Look at places like New York, Gotham, and Metropolis. Heck, even San Francisco’s gotten its share of action ever since that Titans West team started up there in the past year. I’m not sure we need stuff like that here.”
Hero considered Randy’s words. Hadn’t thought of that, he mused silently to himself.
Hero Cruz was still thinking about that when he returned to his apartment a few hours later. The sounds of two meowing cats greeted him as he stepped inside.
“Sampson, Aristotle,” the young man said as the two felines, one gray and one black, began to take turns rubbing up against his legs as he walked toward the kitchen. “Is that all I am to you guys — a food service?” He started to reach up to open the counter where he kept the cat food when he noticed a light blinking on his answering machine.
Hero brought down the bag, poured some cat food in each bowl, and put the bag back on the counter. Then, with a single finger, he pressed the play button on the machine. The tape rewound a bit, then started back with the single message.
“Hi, honey,” an older woman’s voice said on the other end. “Just wanted to leave you a reminder message about dinner, in case you got busy. Your father and I will be expecting you around six-thirty. See you then. Love you.”
“Dinner!” Hero said, slapping his hand to his forehead. “I almost forgot!” He glanced at the clock and noted the time. “Aarrgh.” He rushed into the bedroom, pulling his jersey off over his head as he went. He barely had time to freshen up and change in order to make the train commute out to his parents’ home in the suburbs.
Hero opened up the front door and stepped into the foyer. “Mom, Dad, I’m here!” he announced, and glanced at the large grandfather clock to the left. “And with time to spare, too,” he said softly to himself. The young man took off his jacket and was about to hang it up when his father appeared in the archway that led to the dining room.
“There you are, boy,” said Bill Cruz, a tall man in his late forties. He had short, curly black hair and a mustache, and was dressed in dark slacks and a neatly pressed white dress shirt. “Your mother was worried that you’d forgotten.”
“Nah, I didn’t forget,” Hero lied as he took a hanger from the closet and hung his coat. As he closed the door, he took a sniff. “Mmm… smells good.”
“It should be,” Bill said. “She’s been slaving in the kitchen for hours. She kept shooing me out every time I snuck in for a little sample.” The father and son started to walk toward the dining room. “You can help me finish setting the table.”
Hero took the plates as his father removed them from the china cabinet. “So, when do we eat?” he asked as started to set the dishes out between the already placed silverware and napkins.
“I didn’t ask,” Bill replied as he brought down a serving platter. “I figured, if I bothered her with too many questions, she’d send me to my room without dinner.” He laughed.
Hero laughed, too. Then he stopped for a second and rubbed his slightly bearded chin. “Uh, Dad, how come we’re setting four places? You guys expecting someone else?”
Bill was about to open his mouth to say something, when a shorter woman with straight black hair and glasses poked her head into the room. “Is that my baby I hear?” Hera Cruz exclaimed. “Since when don’t you come kiss your momma when you get home?”
“Sorry, Mom,” Hero said, moving over to her and giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“That’s better,” the woman replied. “Now, let me get a good look at you.” She made her son turn about so she could check out his clothing — a blue polo shirt and navy pants.
Just then, the front doorbell rang.
“Bill, can you get that, please?” Hera said. As her husband nodded and headed off, she licked her left thumb for a moment and applied it firmly to her son’s cheek. “Hold still, baby. You’ve got a smudge.”
“Mom!” the young man exclaimed.
“Don’t you fuss at me now,” she said. “I just want you to look your best.”
My best, Hero thought. For who?
His mother ushered him out of the dining room just as his father was hanging up someone’s coat. “Hero, I’d like you to meet someone,” Hera said with a beaming smile. “This is Enrique Lopez.”
The newcomer was a tall man in his mid-to-late twenties with dark features. His hair was dark and wavy, with a few lighter highlighted streaks to it. He was dressed in a pale yellow shirt with auburn slacks and a matching leather vest. “A pleasure to meet you,” he said in a slight Hispanic accent.
Hero took his extended hand and shook it. “Same here,” he said, being polite.