Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Supervillain Supply Shop: Short Fiction

Supervillain Supply Shop
Chris Costello

Dora didn’t recognize him when he walked into the store. Not at first. She only knew he was someone important because Madame Furie said so in her earpiece. “Code yellow.” Madame said, cutting the connection before Dora could ask her what the hell that meant. It wasn’t Code Blue, so the guy wasn’t a cop. They got a lot of officers in at the end of the month, when cops were trying to fill their quotas, and it was far too early for that. Nor was it the one for robot armies. That was Code Steel.

No, this was Code Yellow, which she didn’t remember. She slouched against the wall behind the counter, wracking her brain. They had a manual with all this stuff in it, but she never bothered to carry it with her. This was technically a fireable offense, but they were shorthanded right now, so nobody was going to do anything about it.

And then it hit her. “Holy crap,” she said to herself. “It’s Power Star.”

Power Star, the Cape of Capes. Dora fought the urge to swing around and stare at him. Instead, she glanced at the monitors under the counter. Her boss kept hidden cameras everywhere, which made it easier to get an unobtrusive view. Sure enough: Power Star. Once you were looking, he was recognizable even in a tracksuit and baseball cap. The chiseled jaw, the broad shoulders straining the cheap fabric that encased them. She thought she saw a bit of his spandex costume peeking out from under his collar, but she couldn’t be sure.

Was he the first superhero to walk into the Supervillain Supply Depot? Probably not if they had a code to go with him. He was certainly the first to do it on Dora’s watch, but she had only worked there six months. She waited to be told what to do, though she was pretty sure she already knew the answer. Flip the more dangerous displays, slide the secret panels open, the way you would if he was a cop. But he wasn’t a cop.

She tried to remember if he had a secret identity. If so, would he be willing to blow his cover? If she shouted ‘help,’ would he rip off the tracksuit or duck into the bathroom to change? She pictured him saving someone in the tracksuit, like an off-duty police officer.

Not that she would shout. He only had two months until graduation from Sidekick Academy, and the one thing she’d learned was that sidekicks tended to get kidnapped on a fairly regular basis. It was to be expected. “Try getting out yourself.” Her instructor had said. “You might get lucky. Otherwise, sit tight and do your best to not get killed.” She decided to follow that advice right now. It’d been her own idea to apply for a job here. Get to know the villains on their own turf, so maybe they’d be more forgiving when they encountered her again in the field. Why wouldn’t that rule extend to heroes as well?

Power Star didn’t seem to be in any hurry. He scanned the shelves absently, as if browsing. First, the books, where his fingers brushed past Hiring and Inspiring Lab Assistants, Monologuing for Dummies, and My Year As a Disembodied Brain In a Jar. At the magazine rack, he thumbed through a copy of Hench Life, and then put it back on the wrong stack, with Better Lairs and Dungeons.

Then he walked towards the back shelves, pulling his cap down over his eyes and shoving his hands in his pockets. Dora saw him glance over at her, and she wondered if he really had X-ray vision. Could he see beneath her uniform?
If he could, he’d see her own spandex bodysuit, only on for practice. Hers was still plain. There was no point in decorating when she didn’t know who she’d be sidekicking for after graduation. He would also see her earpiece and know that she could call Madame Furie in an instant. Maybe he was wondering why he hadn’t done that already. He caught her staring back at her and acted as though the stain on the floor was the most interesting thing in the world.

“A little help here?”

She snapped her head upwards, startled to see Chimera standing in front of her. Two of his heads sneered. The third smiled, which was much more disturbing.

She sighed, tearing her eyes away from Power Star. “The usual?”

He nodded all three of his heads at once, and she pulled the Rent-a-Minion book from under the counter.

“You know these things are online nowadays, right?” She asked, emboldened by the unusual visitor. Chimera came in every week, like clockwork. This store had customers that were actually clockwork, and even they didn’t come in as regularly as he did.

One of his heads looked up from the book. “Some of the best minions are the most old-fashioned. They don’t waste time on social media.”

He turned all his attention back to the book. She decided not to ask why he needed to come in so often if he hired the best ones.

Dora looked back down at the monitors. She picked Power Star up again in the apothecary aisle. He had something in his hand now, and he kept glancing around. It took her a minute to figure out he was waiting for Chimera to leave.

"Misters--Mr. Chimera, would you like to take the book home with you? You can bring it back next week."

"What are you doing?" hissed Madame Furie in her ear. "That's a violation."

Dora knew she had overstepped her bounds. She'd have to explain later that nobody except Chimera had used the book in the six months she had worked at the store.

All three heads smiled at her. "I'd love that. Thank you. I'll make sure to spare you and your family when I attack the city next."

"Thank you. Have a great day." She watched him leave the store. The lion's tail sticking out through the back of his raincoat gave her a jaunty salute as he departed.

At last, Power Star approached her counter. 

"Did you find everything you were looking for?" She was supposed to ask this of everyone. She didn't want another warning.

"Um, yeah." He looked away, like he didn't want to make eye contact.

She reached for the single item he had placed on the counter and tried to hide her surprise. Salve-O. The As-Seen-on-TV cure-all for supervillains caught in their own itch rays and other similar maladies. She didn't see any sign of rash on his hands or face. Maybe it wasn't for him? Or maybe the rash was elsewhere; spandex did get a little sweaty. She couldn't wait until wicking technology caught up with costuming.

"Do you have a customer loyalty card? You can save ten percent today on that itch, uh, I mean, your purchase."

He gave her a look that bored straight through her.

"I'll just put an application in your bag in case you change your mind." Dora tried to keep to her script. "Would you like a bag? They're five cents."

He pulled a compact reusable bag from his tracksuit jacket's pocket.

"Thanks for doing your part for the planet," she ad-libbed. Not one supervillain had ever brought a bag of their own, so she didn't remember the pre-planned response.

"Doing your part for the planet?" Madame Furie clearly wasn't impressed. Whoops.

"Would you like to be added to our mailing list? We send weekly coupons."

He shifted from foot to foot, visibly impatient now. "No, thank you. I'm, uh, not in town often."

He paid with cash, grabbed his bag, and strode for the door.

"You forgot your change!" she called after him.

"Keep it," he said over his shoulder.

Two warnings already. She shouldn't risk saying anything else. But when would she have an opportunity again?

"Wait, Mr. Star! My roommate has a great holistic remedy for jock--"

He kept moving.

"Dora!" Madame Furie nearly busted her eardrum. She knew: customers don't want to be known when buying personal items. They don't want to know you, but mostly they don't want you to know them.

"I'm a big fan of your work!"

"Dora, you're fired," Madame Furie whispered in her ear, calm now. Too calm.

Dora sighed and disengaged the earpiece, then headed out the door before Madame Furie made it out of the back office. She couldn't remember what the severance package here was like, but she had a feeling it wouldn't be good for her health. They probably wouldn't give her a recommendation now, either.

She ditched the store uniform as she ran. If she hurried, she might catch Power Star before he took off. Maybe he knew if Heroes-R-Us was hiring. Or better yet, maybe he needed an intern.

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