by Martin Maenza
Darkness had fallen over the city of Seattle. High above the downtown area on a rooftop penthouse with a beautiful view of the Space Needle, a shimmering portal appeared among the landscaped bushes and trees. A figure stepped from the portal, a man in his early forties with thinning blond hair. He was muscular, dressed in black with gloves. He did not, however, move from the protective cover as the portal behind him faded out.
Instead, he raised up a golden, triangle-shaped device and pointed it toward the main portion of the building. The device glowed and shot forth beams of energy that targeted a couple of security cameras. Scratch one set of electronic eyes, he thought to himself with a slight chuckle.
He paused for a moment to ensure the coast was clear. Then he stepped confidently from the brush. And thanks to Weston for his arrogance. The man needs to learn not to brag about his security where others can pick up the information. For a few weeks now he had been trailing his intended victim, watching and observing. Experience had taught him to make sure that every angle was covered.
The man in black walked down the cobblestone path past a small fountain where water flowed out of wood nymph’s mouth and down to a manmade stream that ran about before the water was pumped back into the fountain again. Gotta give Weston some credit, though, he thought to himself. The man certainly has set himself up nicely here. All the more reason to rob him!
From the French doors that opened out to the patio garden, the man could see that the rest of the place was darkened. That didn’t surprise the thief, either. He had done his homework and knew the millionaire banking investor was out of town. On a cruise to the Bahamas with a woman half his age, the thief thought. Not a bad idea. But she’s probably after him for his money, so they deserve each other.
He held the triangular device up to the security pad near the door. The device glowed and began to interface with the security system. There were various tones; the man paused and waited.
Then the light on the keypad went from red to green. “Bingo,” the man said softly to himself. “In like Flynn.” With no fear of setting off any further alarms, he reached for the handle of the doors and threw them open, gaining entrance to the lush dwelling inside.
The man slipped on a pair of goggles, ones that would allow him to see a bit better in the darkness. The room itself had high ceilings with recessed lighting. The main room was carpeted, and there was a step down into the living space. The furniture was large and expensive-looking, done up in a more modern style. An expensive stereo system and entertainment center were on the far wall.
The man shook his head. “New money, obviously. No appreciation for the classics.”
He made his way across the room to one of the walls. He slipped the triangular device into a special holder on his belt, then used two hands to lift a large painting, an abstract design of color and strokes, off the wall. This revealed a safe behind it. “Right where it should be,” he said to himself.
He twitched his lips as he eyed the safe. “Standard tumbler design,” he mused. “No doubt top of the line. Would take a while to crack, no doubt.” He reached for his tool again. “Lucky for me, I’ve got another way in!”
Stepping back, he pointed his triangular device at the safe. A burst of energy shot forth from one of the ends and began to melt the steel safe door like a hot knife through butter. After a few moments, the lock mechanism was destroyed, allowing the thief to open the door with ease.
“Now, for my prize!” The safe was full of items: cash, bonds, securities, and some jewels. The thief put away his weapon again so that he could quickly fill a few small black sacks with the contents of the safe. “This beats butting heads with costumed heroes any day. A few big hauls like this, and I’ll be ready to finance some more elaborate schemes!”
When he was finished clearing out the safe, he tied off the bags, attached them to his belt, and started for the doorway.
There was the sound of a boom just outside the building.
“Rain?” he mused to himself. “Was it supposed to…?” He hardly finished his thought as a large, hulking figure swooped with great velocity into the penthouse through the open doors and tackled him solidly.
The man tumbled to the ground with the large figure atop him. He was able to turn his head to see that it was some kind of creature in gray, metallic armor. Its hands were massive, its face green with snarling, jagged teeth, and eyes glowing red behind openings in its helmet.
“A Parademon!” Carl Browning exclaimed as he reached for his Angler to defend himself.
A few minutes earlier, twenty-five stories below and across the way at Le Petite Bistro, two young men sat at one of the tables out front sipping hot beverages. One was a black man in his early twenties with broad shoulders dressed in jeans and a polo shirt. His hair was short and curly, shaved up the sides with a gold earring in his right lobe. He had a slight mustache and beard. The other man was a few years older, his skin a bit lighter in color. His hair was dark and wavy with a few lighter highlighted streaks. He was dressed in a light turtleneck sweater and neatly pressed slacks.
“I’m glad you decided to meet me,” said Hero Cruz, the black man. “I wanted to apologize, for the other week.”
Enrique Lopez put down his cup of coffee. “I must admit, I was curious about why you left the dinner at your parent’s house,” the Hispanic man said, folding his hands. “I hope it was nothing I said or did.”
“No, no,” Hero said, shaking his head. “Nothing like that. It was, well… something suddenly came up.”
“‘Something suddenly came up’?” Enrique asked.
“Yeah, something suddenly came up.”
Enrique pondered for a moment. “This sounds like a bit out of… oh, what was the name of that television show?”
Hero got his drift. “No, no, not like that,” he said. “I didn’t mean it as an excuse to get out of dinner. Believe me, the last person I’d take dating tips from is Marcia Brady.”
Enrique smiled, connecting the reference. He laughed a bit. “Right, right. Marcia Bracy. ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.'”
Hero laughed, too. Some things surprisingly tended to cross cultural boundaries. “Yeah, exactly,” he said, taking a sip of his coffee. “See, it was all just kind of awkward. It caught me off-guard. My mom and her trying to set me up with you.”
Enrique frowned. “Oh, I see.”
Hero realized what he said. “No, not awkward between you and me.” He gestured with his hand back and forth between them. “You seem like a really nice guy. What I meant was, it was awkward with my mom doing the matchmaking.”
Enrique’s frown disappeared. “Oh, I see!” This time he was on the same wavelength as Hero. “Your mother didn’t tell you I was coming to dinner?”
“No, she didn’t,” Hero said. “Though I should have expected something like that. She’s always trying to do things under the guise of looking out for my best interests.”
“She cares a lot about you,” Enrique said. “She talks about you every time she comes into the shop.”
Hero nodded. “Yeah, I guess I should feel good that she’s proud of me. She and my dad are both pretty accepting, all in all. They don’t hassle me too much about school, and help me cover the rent so I can live on my own. They don’t think my working at Relics and Remembrances is a good use of my free time, but that’s just my thing.”
There was the sound of a slight boom in the evening sky. Both men glanced up. “Was it supposed to rain?” Hero asked.
“I don’t think so,” Enrique said, taking another sip of his coffee. After putting the cup down, he reached across the table and gently touched Hero’s hand. “You know, you should consider yourself very lucky. Not everyone has such accepting parents.”
Hero could hear a bit of somberness creeping into Enrique’s tone. The way he said that, with the look on his face, Hero could tell there was a lot behind that, a lot of pain and emotion. Should he ask? Did Enrique want him to?
“Sounds like you speak from experience,” Hero finally said after a long, quiet moment.
Enrique nodded softly. “My last partner,” he said. “His family, they were ashamed of him. That made things very difficult for him, very hard to embrace his feelings. He felt confused, torn. He wanted so much to live up to his family’s expectations. And they made their disappointment with him very clear.” Enrique sighed slightly. “It made things difficult between us as well, and eventually led to our breaking up.”
“I’m sorry,” Hero said sympathetically.
“Thanks,” Enrique said. “In part, that is why I was looking forward to getting to know you. From what your mother told me, you seemed to be a very confident, well-rounded man. So sure of yourself. Very grounded.”
Hero felt a bit embarrassed. “Well, I don’t know if I’m all that…”
Enrique patted his hand. “Be proud of that.” He smiled. “It is a very attracti–”
Something suddenly came crashing down hard on a light blue sedan parked across the street; whatever it was slammed into the roof of it with great velocity. A loud crunch could be heard as the metal roof of the car collapsed by the sheer weight and speed of fallen form.
Both men, and many of the other patrons, were startled by this.
Hero jumped up from his seat. “What the–?!”
Enrique spilled his coffee, and some of the dark liquid rolled off the tablecloth and onto his pants. “Oh!” It wasn’t the heat so much that bothered him about this; the drink had cooled over time as they talked.
More sounds, including an inhuman growling, came from the vehicle as the metal was pounded and torn back. A grotesque winged figure climbed out of the wreckage, shaking its head as if a bit disoriented by its surroundings.
“Oh, my God!”
“What is that?”
The Parademon turned at the sounds of the shouting people inside the bistro’s fenced-in area. It squinted its eyes and hissed loudly as it struck a threatening pose. “Human gnats! Cower in fear!” That caused more screams of panic from the patrons.