by Martin Maenza
On the first Saturday evening of October, in the back corner of an intimate Italian restaurant in downtown San Francisco, a balding man in his late thirties with wisps of black hair about his temples and the back of his head sat waiting for his dinner companion to return to the table. The man tapped his fingers on the red-and-white-checkered tablecloth with a precise beat as if counting out the time he had been left alone.
Finally, a stunning young woman with long blonde hair and a short black dress returned to the table and sat down. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “Wine goes right through me.”
“No problem,” David Clinton replied. He glanced across the table at the woman and smiled. “Say, Doc, did I tell you that you look fantastic tonight?”
“At least three times before they served our main course,” the woman replied. “And, please, call me Harleen.” She took a sip of the wine, which had been refilled since she got up to use the ladies’ room. “I must say you’re looking rather dapper yourself.”
David Clinton smiled. “Thanks,” he said. “It’s a new suit. Picked it up recently.”
“Come into some cash recently, or was it one you took right off the rack?” Harleen Quinzel joked.
David Clinton laughed along with her, but only to be polite. He knew that the woman across from him was well aware of his other identity as the costumed criminal Chronos. In fact, Dr. Quinzel served on the support staff of the criminal organization he joined a couple of months earlier — the Secret Society of Super-Villains. He was still trying to figure the attractive woman out, as well as attempting to be a bit more personal with the woman. He was pleased when she had accepted his invitation to dinner the other day.
“No, I paid for it,” the man said, adjusting the cuffs on his suit jacket. “Had it tailor made.”
Harleen noticed the glint on his left wrist underneath his shirt cuff. “Is that a Rolex?” she asked.
Clinton shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “It’s one of my own. Mine run better than those Swiss ones any day.”
“I see,” the woman said, noticing the pride in the man’s face. She knew from her observations that the guy had an ego. She hoped it wouldn’t be too hard to steer the conversation into the direction she wanted. “Doesn’t hurt to be prepared, either, eh?”
“Prepared?” David said. “For…?”
“Running into old enemies, seizing opportunities, the like.”
David leaned back in his chair a bit. He liked how this woman thought. “Yeah, definitely.”
Harleen leaned a bit closer, her face more full of the glow of the candlelight. They had made small talk about the weather and such as they ate. She was now ready to move into the real reason she had accepted his dinner invitation in the first place — to find out what made the man tick. “Tell me, David,” she said, “how’d you get into your… line of work?”
“Oh, you don’t want to hear about that,” he said.
“No,” Harleen said, reaching across the table and gently putting her hand on his. She saw the reaction in his face — a bit of surprise, but a pleasant one. She smiled. “I would like to hear it. Please.” She batted her eyelashes a bit and put out her lower lip slightly. This was a technique that never failed her with men. She knew how to get what she wanted.
“Well…” David said with a bit of color in his cheek. “It was the early 1970s, and I had been serving some time for petty larceny. I was young then and a bit reckless, and managed to get caught by the police.”
“Was that the first time you had committed robbery?” Harleen asked.
“No,” David said. “I was a lot younger the first time around.”
“Tell me about that,” Harleen said. Her experience in the field of psychology taught her to delve deep.
David Clinton leaned forward, lowered his voice a bit, and started to tell his tale.
I grew up in a small town about thirty miles outside of Boston. My father was a factory worker in the city. My mother worked at a local diner and took in laundry, too, for some extra spending money. Me, I just tried to keep out of trouble in school, which was hard enough.
About the time I turned thirteen, my father was killed while on the job. Mr. Kirk, his boss, came by the house and told us in person about the accident. Dad had slipped on a catwalk and fell into a metal-pressing machine. Mr. Kirk left out the gruesome details, but I read about them in the news a few days later. My mom cried for weeks.
The company tried to compensate us for our loss with some money, but it was hardly enough for us to get by for more than six months or so. Pretty soon, Mom had to put aside her grief, and got back into things. She had to work even harder now that she was the sole breadwinner of the family. Me, I took some part-time jobs before and after school, too, to try and help. It was hard. I wanted to drop out of school to work full-time. Mom wouldn’t hear of it.
We managed to get by, but I couldn’t help but wonder how.
One day, when I was putting some clothes away in Mom’s room, I found out how.
As a kid growing up, I remember how she had kept something special in her top dresser drawer. Every now and again, she’d open the drawer and take out a little wooden box with velvet lining. We’d sit down on the edge of the bed, and she’d tell me the stories about her great-grandfather who worked on the railroads.
When he retired, he was given a gold pocket watch for his many years of service. He passed it down to his son, who passed it down to Mom. And one day, she would tell me, she would pass it down to me.
Well, when I looked in the drawer that day, I found out the box and the watch were gone. So was Mom’s wedding ring and the few pieces of nice jewelry that she had gotten over the years. Where the box used to be I found a stub of paper: Wilson’s Pawn Shop.
I knew how much it had to kill her to sell that watch and the other stuff. It was one of the only things she had left to remind her of her grandfather, and here she had gone to pawn it off so we could make ends meet.
That made me angry!
I put the ticket back in the drawer and said nothing of it to her.
Over the next couple nights, I came up with an idea to get the watch and the jewelry back.
I slipped out one night late and pedaled my bike across town. I figured I could get the job done and be back in plenty of time before the papers came to be delivered. I located the shop from the address on the ticket and hid my bike in some nearby bushes.
With some tools I’d brought with me, I was able to pry open one of the side windows and slipped inside the shop. The place was dark, and I fumbled around a bit, bumping into counters and the like.
Luckily, I’d thought ahead and came into the shop the day before to case the place. I used that visit to get a lay of the shop and an idea where the watch and other stuff would be kept. I also wanted to make sure it was still there, and it was. I made up some lame excuse that I was looking for old baseball cards.
I bumped into a lamp on the way over to the watch case and sent the brass stand crashing to the floor. It was pretty loud. I figured I’d better not waste any more time!
I started to work off the lock on the display case when I heard some jangling of keys.
I never realized until that exact moment that Wilson must live right over the shop!
Without thinking, I smashed the tools into the top of the case, breaking the glass. I reached in and grabbed for the watch, picking it up and a few others. I also cut my hand on the glass! I ignored the pain and the bleeding; all I could think of was that I had to get out of there!
I made for the window just as Wilson burst into the shop.
“He never saw me take off into the night,” David Clinton said.
Harleen was surprised by this. It wasn’t at all what she expected from the man. “Did you give the watch back to your mother?”
“I thought about it,” David said, “but then I realized I couldn’t. She had gone and sold it, despite her pride. I didn’t know how she would take it if I told her I had discovered what she had done and went to retrieve it myself. So, I kept great-grandpa’s watch and sold off the rest of the items.”
“I see.” The woman took another sip of wine. “So, you kept at those types of activities as you got older to help make ends meet?” Harleen asked.
“Pretty much,” David said. “I tried going to trade school to pick up some skills. I was pretty good at taking things apart and rebuilding them. My teachers said I had a natural aptitude for stuff like that. But the lure of easy money was strong. Eventually, though, I got caught and ended up serving some time.”
“So, how did you decide to take that all to a new level?” she inquired.
David Clinton realized quickly that she was speaking of going at things as a costumed criminal. “Oh, that,” he said. “Well, as I said, I had a lot of time on my hands to do some thinking, and concluded that part of my problem was in the area of planning. I noticed that things around me tended to go off without a hitch when they were planned out and executed in a timely, precise manner. I guess that’s kind of where I got the idea for my theme, if you will.”
“So you took your name for the Greek word for time and adopted a new identity?” Harleen asked, though she already knew this much from her research on the man.
“Yeah, pretty much,” David said. “But it wasn’t long before my activities garnered some attention…”