Thursday, October 4, 2012

Short Story: "The Only Sensible Course of Action"

It’s one of these hip restaurants downtown that, around 7 or 8, dims the lights, sets out candles and serves appetizers and wine by the glass attracting the late 20’s early 30’s courting crowd.  They flock in, always couples, have a few drinks, look at the “funky” art on the walls, speak in hushed tones, form and break relationships. Every now and then the café will bring a jazz singer in though tonight it is just Norah coming through the small computer speakers in the back.
At a table for two sits a tallish, thin man, dark haired, glass of white wine before him. He has on khaki slacks, a striped button down and wears thin rimmed glasses that seem slightly age inappropriate. It is obvious that he was fidgety once, in his younger years, though now grown into himself he seems at ease, calmer, more composed. He is the kind of man that you can, with one look, safely assume has never used heroin or viewed sexually explicit websites, except perhaps once, on accident.  He has been here for some time, sipping the glass every few minutes, watching the door, shifting his weight ever so slightly every time a woman walks in. Though so far it has not been ‘her’. He checks his watch, gazes at the art, discreetly holds a hand over his mouth, breathes out and smells it, considers eating a mint, wonders if he should start flossing, becomes lost in thoughts of oral hygiene for a notable amount of time.
The door opens, he shifts, it is a woman in a dark skirt. Pretty but plain, plain but pretty. She scans the room, makes eye contact with him for a moment, continues scanning then returns her eyes to him. He stands up, tentatively approaches her.
“Cindy?” he asks
 “Yeah, hi. Stan?” she smiles, they shake hands.
“I have a table back here and…”
“Oh I’m sorry I hope you haven’t been waiting long!”
“No. No, not at all.” A lie. They sit down, the waitress comes by, Cindy orders a beer which, juxtaposed with his gewürztraminer, brings up long repressed fears of effeminacy in Stan. He attempts to subdue these with the silent mental affirmations he has been learning in therapy. These are only partially successful. He says “You look really nice!”
“Thanks! You too. Wow Mirah described you perfectly, she’s told me so much about you!”
“Nothing too bad I hope!” They are following the script perfectly, lines gleaned unconsciously from dozens of rom-coms and endless hours of prime time television. The obviously forced enthusiasm, a cover for discomfort, is lost on both of them. They each tell themselves that they are having a good time.
“So, tell me,” he starts “what do you do?”
“Oh I’m at vet school right now,”
“Wow, I love animals. That must be pretty tough huh?”
“Yeah, it was a miracle I even made it out tonight considering how busy I’ve been but after how Mirah described you I blocked off my schedule and…” she extends her hands level with her head and produces an exaggerated shrug, thinking this a ‘cute’ gesture. “Here I am! I have a year left and after I’m out I think I’ll join a clinic around here. After a few years I’d like to start my own clinic, maybe in a rural area.
“Wow. That’s great. Thats really great” They both swig from their respective drinks, surveying the room, avoiding eye contact.
“Oh! And so what do you do?” She leans in towards him, elbows on the table.
“Umm…I work over in Springfield at a Nemesis Solutions firm.” He says this with a bit of hushed embarrassment the final syllable rising in tone as if asking a question. She squints at him.
“Sorry, a…what?”
“A uh…” he chuckles “A Nemesis Solutions firm. It’s like the people who fight superheroes…”
“Like in comic books?” The incredulity pours out of her as a torrent. An edge of condescension runs through her words.
“Hah, that’s what everybody says but no, I mean, we are where they get the idea from but it’s sort of not really like that. It’s actually kind of unfair to us really, gives a bad impression of the whole industry.” He is uncomfortable. This makes him uncomfortable, he always hates explaining this and hasn’t yet learned how to do it well. “I mean it’s a niche business but a business like any other, we’re actually sort of in a boom right now. Actually.” He looks at his hands which are writhing within each other madly and without his blessings.
“So…You are an evil super villain?” She draws the words out, considers ending the date here. Just getting it over with, going home and crying. Holding her cat.
“No! Nonononono, it’s strictly a desk job. No I mostly file government paperwork. 10(d)(3)’s and ARFA’s. I’m pretty far removed from the violent stuff, really. ”
“Government paperwork? Isn’t what you’re doing illegal?”
“No, well once it was but after the ‘National Accreditation and Regulation of Destructive Superpersons’ act which was passed in ’91 it is a legal, if heavily regulated industry. Like tobacco or guns. We pay a lot of taxes but as long as you keep it within the government you’re good to go.” Her disbelief is slowly fading into guarded interest causing a reciprocal relaxation in Stan.
“Yeah so I file a lot of action plans. Forms which say, like “We are going to release genetically altered monkey-spiders at ‘such and such’ bank at ‘such and such’ a time” or like Superhero notification forms or whatever…”
“Wait! Wait wait wait. So you are telling me that the good guys know about this stuff before it even happens?”
“Oh yeah. Of course. That’s how they can stop it every time. Otherwise it would be a criminal act. Which it isn’t. It’s all business. It’s all very heavily regulated. It’s not so much about the destruction and stuff, it’s more about the show, the conflict. Hardly anyone even uses real guns or even punches that hard anymore. Honestly these lackeys take the lightest hits with more pathos than Italian soccer players.”
“So would I know any of the ‘super villains’ you work for?”
“I doubt it. They’re pretty small time folks, no big names. Let’s see last week I did some work for The Stinkbug and before that it was Cringe Man.”
“Annnd, how exactly did you get into this…this line of work?”
“I mean I was pretty lax in school, didn’t try very hard. Graduated from State with a business degree but my grades were pretty low, and I didn’t have any experience so I couldn’t get hired any where decent. I pretty much just kicked around my home town for a few years. Then a family friend who had just retired from the field suggested it. I took a few classes at a technical school and – and I mean these firms are always hiring too – and boom, I’m making 35K a year.”
“So what are they like? The supervillains? Do you ever get to meet them?”
“Rarely. But you hear stories. Everyone assumes that they are evil all the time but it’s hardly true. A lot of them are just huge divas, like ‘Brrrring me my “flamingo cane”’ or ‘Shine my Vomitmobile!’”. It’s like ‘I’m busy filling out these forms guy. I’m not your lackey’ And in spite of all the money they haul in a lot of them are pretty stingy too. This one guy, some upstart, asked me to fill out eleven X-4’s in a week and then cut my contract in half afterwards because of some technicality. Some of them are pretty nice though: you get these people that really love it, really love what they do. Have a real passion for the work, the people and the atmosphere. I love being around them. Like The Dangler. Oh man, he has a vision. What a great guy.”
“So there is a lot of money in this?”
“Oh I mean not really. With all the regulation now it’s hardly the cash cow of the good old days. Health benefits are pretty good though. Like if I accidentally get caught in a fight and like, lose a hand? I’m good. I’m set. Forever. Like all surgery paid for and five million bucks, no questions.  Cause these people don’t want to deal with lawsuits. Could you see The Mazer in a court room? I gues the only downside is that  there isn’t a whole lot of room to move up. The demand for higher ups is pretty minimal and it’s pretty competitive so I’m not sure how long I’ll stay in it.”
 The rest of the date went well, Stan thought. They discussed their families, Cindy’s college volleyball career and a few other pleasant things. Later that week however, when Stan tried to schedule another date his calls went unanswered. For two weeks he left increasingly desperate messages but to no avail. Finally, fed up, while filling out an H-22(a) he googled Cindy’s address and surreptitiously entered it in column 26 of the form. Two days later during a small skirmish a small stray missile found its way down Cindy’s chimney, vaporizing her and her cat as she sat curled reading a novel by Danielle Steele.  Stan’s influence on the event was lost in a sea of carbon copies and government bureaucracy and anyways it was, of course, the only sensible course of action

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