“What’s taking them so long?” Fern asked C.K., still sitting in the chairs next to the unconscious guards. “It’s already been 10 minutes.”
C.K.’s fingers were at work instantly, and he made a sour face. “Frigidier’s holding hostages at the Central Art Museum.”
“What?” Blackout hustled over from his spot leaning against the reception desk, where he was making passes at the nurse.
“He’s threatening to turn all of the patrons into real, live ice sculptures.”
“How cliche is that?” Blackout joked.
A cool breeze drafted in from the open front doors. Mr. Cristo had been taken back to his room with Fern’s approval after his incident, and the nurse who had gone with him to the bathroom stood impatiently behind the counter, tired from entertaining Blackout’s solicitations.
Fern wasn’t even angry. He should have known the media would pick up an established super villain like Frigidier over their amateur villain alliance. He didn’t think Frigidier would pick a Tuesday lunch hour for his escapades, though.
“What can we do about that, C.K.?” he asked calmly.
“I don’t suppose we can just, you know, leave…” ventured Blackout in a low tone, casting a glance around. Everyone kind of looked a bit bored, now. The first thrill of the heist was gone, and the nurses were all worrying about their beepers more than they were about their safety.
Fern ignored Blackout and waited for C.K.’s response.
“I can see if I can redirect a few cameras to our side of the city with false traffic reports,” he shrugged. “We’d have to be pretty flashy to make them drop their Frigidier coverage, though.”
“Is there any chance of us getting a hero out here by that time?” Fern pressed.
“I could make a banner or something,” jumped Blackout. “Get some red paint, a scary phrase, you know—something like, “Watch this Hospice turn into Hell!!” He was nodding now with his hands spread out in the air to approximate the word spacing.
C.K. and Fern glanced at each other and continued their conversation without him.
“We could get lucky if they come this way because of traffic, too.” C.K. said. “Every hero can’t fly, and they’ll want to get there before it’s all over. We might catch one in the market for another Hero Op.”
Fern picked up his head and looked at Blackout, now, “Do we have access to a roof here?”
“Fuck if I know.”
“Then go ask someone and make yourself useful!” raged Fern, eyes glowering.
“Fine,” Blackout replied, holding his palms in the air. “Don’t get your tinders in a crinkle, Jesus.” Then he drifted back over the reception desk, where the perturbed nurse was staring at her beeper, again.
“How long are you guys gonna be here, because we have work to do,” she stated.
“Hey, now,” said Blackout, still looking offended, “we wanna get out of here, too. Tell me, though. Do ya’ll got a rooftop area? We kinda need one.”
“‘Kinda need one?’” she repeated, exhausted, before simply continuing. “There is a rooftop area, yes. But it has high fences and is mostly used to air drying bedding.”
“Ay, they say they got a rooftop area,” he shouted over to Fern and C.K.
Fern shouted back, “Then ask how to get to it!”
“So, how do we get to this rooftop area?”
The nurse couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “You take the elevator up to the fourth floor, then walk up the stairs to the roof. It’s locked, though.”
Blackout walked back to Fern and C.K. and reported the news.
“She said it’s locked.”
“Oh, no,” responded Fern with utmost sarcasm. “A locked door. We better get the key…” He stood up and went to the elevator to the right of the reception desk, slamming the faded button harder than he needed to. He didn’t care about the heist or the hostages, anymore. He wanted to beat the shit out of a hero and get the fuck out of this hospice before anything else could go wrong. Frigidier’s hostages now made their hostage situation look amateurish and bullshit in comparison. Holding two heists at the same time was like having two birthday parties on the same night in the same group of friends. Someone was gonna get shafted, and it wasn’t Frigidier, that’s for damn sure. The media loved that motherfucker. The news was like a highlight reel of his best heists. There were all sorts of panels for analyzing his motives, trying to figure out his next move. Specialists were called in for psychoanalysis and remote mental evaluations. Frigidier was super villain gold. The only way they could compete with that was fireworks. Maybe the news would pick them up on a 10 o’clock, after the main stories were finished. The elevator made a pleasant beep. Fern, C.K., and Blackout crowded inside, single file. Oh, Fern was going to give them fireworks, that’s for sure.
When they got to the fourth floor, everything was perfectly normal. There was no panic. The information of the heist either hadn’t gotten this far, yet, or people were simply going about their business as usual, undaunted. A nurse station was situated in front of them, but it was mostly absent, save for one nurse quietly eating his lunch in the back. He looked up when he saw the three.
“Visiting hours resume at one o’clock,” he said, wiping his mouth and standing up.
They all ignored him, looked around for the stairs.
“Excuse me,” he said and came around the counter to see them. “You’ll have to wait—”
“Don’t start,” Blackout interrupted, hopping in front of Fern. “He’s already in a bad mood.” He put a hand on the nurse’s face while brushing past his fainting body.
They continued to the stairs. Fern burned through the handle immediately, and a rush of cool air invited them to the midday sun. The sky was completely clear. Only a few thin, low clouds sprinkled the horizon through the downtown skyline. Drying lines ran from one end of the roof to the other, connected to the 6-foot fences on all sides. Fern made quick work of those, too, then moved to the center of the roof.
“We’ll just be over here…” Blackout said, grabbing C.K.’s arm and dragging him behind the concrete opening for the door.
Fern inhaled deeply through his nose, held his face to the sun with his eyes closed, and opened his arms, palms to the sky. In an instant, there was a large flash of flame pouring into the open air. C.K. and Blackout covered their eyes, hid their faces behind the concrete. When they peeked back around the corner, what they saw turned their jaws slack. The flames molded into a column as wide as Fern’s arms, waves rippling through it as it stretched higher and higher into the air. The heat emanating from Fern was intense. All of the concrete within 10 feet of Fern was glowing red. You could barely make out his figure through the distortion from the heat waves.
C.K. whispered to Blackout, “I think this will probably get somebody’s attention.”
“Is it me,” he began. “Or does it kind of look like a giant…”
C.K. was silent for a second, the reflection from the red flames playing across his face. “Yeah…” he replied. “I guess it does a little bit, huh?”
Right then they heard tires squealing on the pavement below the hospice. They both ran to the fence and looked down at the street. A large, unmarked, white van was sitting on the curb, now, black tire streaks behind it. They waited to see who was going to emerge and “save the day.”
They were disappointed.
The door opened to reveal an extra-curly afro, tattered, white lab coat, and a protruding stomach.
“Fern’s not gonna like this, is he?” asked C.K.
Blackout turned to look back over his shoulder. Fern was still on high flame, no sign of stopping. “Maybe he’s got a really cool super power??” hopefully ventured Blackout.
They watched him run to the back of his van and pull out a large backpack he hefted onto his frame with great struggle. After that he closed the door and started inside. But not before tripping over the placemat at the entrance to the hospice, sending him careening into the sliding doors with a loud crash.
“Yo,Fern!” screamed Blackout. “I think we got a hero coming up. You can stop with the giant, fiery, penis-column thing now.”
Fern allowed the flames to fall slower and slower from the sky until they settled gently on his palms. He exhaled a cloud of smoke. “It wasn’t a penis, asshole,” he said, eyes focused now on Blackout.
“It may have looked a tiny bit like a penis…” C.K. stated gently as he held his index finger and thumb slightly apart.
“Who is it, then?”
“Some new guy,” said Blackout.
“Does he look powerful?”
C.K. and Blackout looked at each other.
“I don’t want you to be disappointed,” Blackout said.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover, I guess,” C.K. said.
“I’m gonna put the fire column back up.”
“Come on, Fern,” Blackout negotiated. “Let’s see what this guy is about.”
Fern shook his head with his eyes closed. They all turned their attention to the doorway, waiting. After a couple of minutes, they heard steps, and the door burst open.
It was all Fern and Blackout could do to keep from laughing openly. The portly man in front of them looked like the lamest scientist of all time. The white coat he had was obviously in need of a serious dry-cleaning, and his khaki pants had all kinds of odd-colored stains on them. His afro was drooping, a few strands stuck to his forehead with sweat. It looked like he was already exhausted from the single flight of stairs. Plus, he had a purple backpack on. A backpack. No super hero wears a goddamn backpack.
He pointed a thick finger in Fern’s direction, who was now flanked by Blackout and C.K. “Are you the guys who made the huge, fire dick just now?”
“It was a fire column!” flared Fern. “Why does everybody think it looked like a penis!”
“It looked like a penis, man,” came Blackout.
The stranger nodded. “You weren’t trying to make a dick out of fire? That’s sure what it looked like.”
“Right?” Blackout agreed. “We tried to tell him that, but he wouldn’t listen to us. What else is new, though.”
“Who are you?” Fern cut in.
C.K. had his tablet recording, in case they needed to do some further analysis later.
“Me?” A rhetorical question. He stood to the side, one hand on the strap of his purple backpack, the other sticking a thumb into his chest. “Call me Al-Chemy.”
“Fucking Christ,” Fern lamented.
Blackout snickered. “Go ahead and put the fire penis back up, man.”
“What??” Al-Chemy asked, honestly. “What’s wrong with Al-Chemy?”
“Look, Al,” Fern said. “We’re waiting for a real super hero.” His voice sounded more condescending with each syllable. “So go back downstairs and we won’t kill you.”
Al-Chemy gave them a very sharp smile, reached around to unzip the pocket on the side of his backpack, and produced a corked, glass vile containing a bright, yellow, bubbling liquid, which he then threw to the ground in front of him. A heavy smoke arose from the spot on the ground.
Fern, C.K., and Blackout instantly jumped back. The smoke began eating away at the concrete with large bubbles and crept closer. Fern lit his hands and tried to blow the smoke back, but it didn’t work. The cloud continued to move in their direction.
“I think I deserve a bit more of your time,” Al-Chemy said on the other side of the amber cloud. “If you don’t mind, that is.”
“Stand back, guys,” Fern commanded. “I think our friend here may be more fun than we gave him credit for.” This time it was Fern who cracked a grin.
Finally, someone who knew what they were doing.