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The Hero Experience - Chapter 18

 
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 26, 2015 5:29 pm    Post subject: The Hero Experience - Chapter 18 Reply with quote



Chapter 18

Flash, the fastest man alive, came around the Rocky Mountains and headed across the Great Plains at Mach 2. The shock wave of his passing blasted the cactus to smithereens. His legs were a misty blur as they propelled him so fast he only skipped across the ground, making contact with it every two or three miles, floating twenty feet above the desert sand between skips.



Flash’s keen eyes spied obstacles twenty miles ahead, and his instant reflexes allowed him to easily weave a safe course across the desert and out into the heartland states. He slowed his bullet velocity to prevent property damage, avoiding cities and towns, making wide detours to keep his course away from the haunts of man.

Rivers, lakes, and streams caused no delay for the Scarlet Speedster because his zooming feet sent him skipping across the liquid surface like a flat rock thrown across calm water.

On the other hand . . .

My own zooming feet — slightly less blurred — brought me into the home stretch of the running track we had beaten into the grass around the cow pasture. I was just beginning to think I would actually win this informal race when Carl and Stan inched past me, locked in a death struggle for first place. Stan’s maniacal energy triumphed over Carl’s determined spirit, and the scarlet-headed speedster won the race by a nose.

“Hot dang, we’re good!” said Stan as Doug and I came pounding up to the finish line, gasping for breath. We were all half dead from the grueling run, but only because we had maintained a brisk pace for the whole two miles.

Doug was gasping for breath as he sat down in the tall grass, but he glanced up at me and gave me a look of approval. “You’re getting pretty good at this,” he said between gasps.

I pulled my sweat-dampened t-shirt off and used it to mop my face. Panting just as hard as Doug, I said, “It feels so good . . . when I quit.”

Carl was surveying my skinny frame as I stood there bare from the waist up. “Hey, Jones, I think the exercises are working. I can tell a difference.”

I looked at him for a moment, wondering if he was kidding. Nope, he was serious. So I said, “Okay, what’s the difference?”

Carl smiled as he said, “Fewer ribs are showing. And your chest is actually bigger than your waist.”

I struck a pose and squared my shoulders, trying to puff out my chest while I clenched my fists at my side. “I think maybe heroism agrees with me.”

And, by Krypton, it did. The Superman Syndrome was having a noticeable effect. When I looked in a mirror the last few days, I didn’t just see mild-mannered Brad Jones any more. I also saw the heroic Captain of the Bowmen. It was a rather intoxicating experience.

Carl stood up and did a few stretching exercises that reminded us he’d been at this longer than we had, then he said, “Let’s get in a little target practice.”

Weapons drill: three of us walk along carrying our bows while a fourth man stands to one side. The fourth man picks a random moment to shout, “Pull right!” and the rest of us separate fast, load sluggers, and cover the right flank.

Then we resume walking until the fourth man shouts “Pull left!” or “Pull front!”

We practiced this over and over until it was a reflex. Just two quick words from one of us and we were ready for an attacking enemy from any direction.

Time Trials: one man stands ready with his bow while another man times him. When the timer shouts “go,” the man with the bow fires every slugger in his clip as fast he can. After each group of sluggers has been fired, the shooter receives advice from the rest of the group on ways to better his time.

Superhero practice. A natural high.
__________________________________________

Ann Dixon. Another natural high. I was turning into a junkie. Heroism and heroines. Ann and I had dinner together that night at a Denny's, and we were supposed to go to a movie afterward, but we talked and laughed and forgot about the time.



Who needs a movie when the Emerald City lies just inside the green eyes of my lady, Ann? One deep look into those eyes and I was off to see the Wizard.

“You’re doing it again,” she said softly as we sipped our after-dinner sodas, ignoring the impatient waiter who wanted us to tip him and leave.

“Doing what?”

“Making me giddy with those probing looks.”

“Giddy?

“Very giddy, yes. And girlish. I feel this urge to blush.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be. I enjoy it. There’s something very manly about a look that produces blushes and girlishness.”

Boy, did I like the sound of that. We were sitting at a large corner booth, but we huddled together as if a dozen people were crowded in with us.

“School starts in just a few weeks,” said Ann.

“Don’t talk about unpleasant things right after dinner.”

“I wonder if we’ll have any classes together.”

That was a brand new thought that changed my thinking. “Hmmm. Suddenly I’m not dreading school so much.”

She gave my arm a little squeeze as she smiled at me from eight little inches away, as measured from nose to nose.

“I can take a light class load this year and still graduate,” she said casually.

Just as casually, I said, “I can take a light class load and graduate in 1970.”

She didn't laugh. In fact, she looked annoyed. “You sell yourself short, Jones. With a little applied effort, you could make straight A’s.”

“Behind every great man — ”

“Don’t be glib! Promise me you’ll use that fine brain of yours for something other than keeping your skull from sounding hollow.” She tapped my forehead, and I expected it to rustle with the sound of dry hay, like the Scarecrow.

I started to sing. “If I only had a brain — ”

“Hush!” she startled me with her abruptness. “Brad, you need to take yourself more seriously. A person’s limitations are largely self-imposed.”

Her sudden philosophical statement stopped me dead in my tracks. It had the ring of cosmic truth. I mumbled a brief reply.

“You’re probably right.”

“And you joke around to cover for it,” she added with growing heat.

I was still wiggling around trying to say something appropriate. “I guess a guy does what he thinks he can succeed at.”

She pounced on that remark like a cat on a small mouse. “So start expecting success at other things!”

“Yeah. I guess I should.” I felt like I was hopping around barefooted on hot pavement, trying to talk my way off of it. But she had a vision for my future which demanded a lofty goal and total commitment. She wasn't willing to settle for mediocrity, and she wasn't going to allow me to do so either.

She paused for a moment and seemed to consciously cool herself down. I was more than a little awed by the apparent intensity of her feelings.

“You take criticism well,” she said finally.

“Thank you.”

“And you’re a good listener.”

I grinned and said, “Now that’s something I’ve never been accused of before."

Suddenly Ann became conspiratorial. “Uh-oh. Don’t look now, but the waiter is acting like he’s about to yell fire to get us to leave.”

“Let’s leave. The service here is lousy anyway.”

“Sure,” said Ann. “He hasn’t refilled our glasses more than five or six times.”

“At most!”

“If he’s gonna be stingy, we’ll take our business elsewhere.”

“Right.”

We rose, paid the bill, and departed the restaurant with great dignity. We had left a reasonable tip, but if the waiter was hoping for something calculated on an hourly rate, the tip was twenty bucks short. As I opened the door of my carriage for Her Highness, I said, “Where to, my lady?”

“Oooh . . . “ she said with studied unconcern. “Just . . . anywhere.”

Aha. Oh, just anywhere meant she was in the mood for a little spoonin’ in the moonlight. It didn’t take me long to find a suitable place for us to park, far from the hustle and bustle of the crass world around us. The rest of the evening cannot be described in mere words, except to say that if kisses were like wine I’d soon have to start attending AA meetings. Since the lady was a lady, some of my more carnal urges were not given free reign.

When I finally took Ann home, the silvery full moon made the floating clouds look like chrome steel mountains flying slowly across an indigo sky. Our good night kiss left me dangerously close to circuitry overload. I wanted to enjoy a leisurely drive home, but the two quarts of Pepsi I’d consumed made it necessary to rush the trip. Other than that, it was a perfect evening.


____________________________________________

The next day was a Saturday, and as every mother’s son knows, Saturdays are magic. I picked up Ann at 11:30 a.m., and we headed for our noon rendezvous with her father at the Atlanta Police Department. Ann had arranged for her father to show us around the place. It had seemed like a great idea when she first suggested it, and I had agreed immediately. How could I say no to the chance to spend a few hours with the fair Ann and score a few points with her father?

Later, a few troubling thoughts made me realize I hadn’t thought this idea through. After all, the Bowmen had been seen up close by a police officer at the accident scene (Wilkerson), an officer with whom I had actually spoken. Suppose I ran into him and he recognized me. It also occurred to me that Matt Daniels from the newspaper might just be hanging around police headquarters to get information for a story he was writing. He’d heard my voice on the phone numerous times, and he might recognize it if Ann’s father introduced us to the Journal-Constitution reporter in the course of the tour.

Then I remembered that Ann said the tour idea had been her father’s. Suppose he suspected I was one of the Bowmen and had set this clever trap to lure me into police headquarters, where the aforementioned individuals would all be waiting to make a positive ID of the Bowmen’s notorious leader. My friendly little visit to police headquarters could turn into a very long stay.

But when I awoke on Saturday morning and saw the bright summer sunshine bathing the landscape, I told myself repeatedly that my fears were ludicrous and paranoid. By the time Ann and I walked up to the front desk of the APD at noon, my knees were hardly knocking at all. Ann’s father was summoned by the desk sergeant, and I glanced around, looking for Officer Wilkerson. Suddenly I was convinced that if he should stroll past and see me he would smile, point — and yell, “Grab him!”

“Hello, Brad,” said a voice. Startled out of my paranoid delusions, I whirled around to stare at Mr. Dixon for a moment before I forced a smile and shook the hand he was holding out to me.

“Ready for the tour?” he said, smiling broadly. Crazy little voices in my head told me that sharks showed their teeth just before they bit.

“Yes, sir,” I stammered.

“Where to first?” he asked us.

“What are our choices?” said Ann.

“Well, let’s see. Why don’t I take you through the place as if you were suspects being booked for a crime?”

“Alleged crime,” said the desk sergeant with dry sarcasm.

“Right. Then I could show you how we check on a suspect’s prior record and all that stuff.”

My forced smile turned into a wax mask held in place with wet chewing gum. My heart was beating out the rhythm of a Cuban tune by Ricky Ricardo, and I had a strong urge to do the tango right out the front door before somebody politely suggested I try on a pair of shiny new handcuffs just to see how they fit.

Walking stiff-legged like a condemned man on his way to that crude wooden chair with all the wires attached, I held Ann’s hand as we followed her father down a long hallway that led deeper into the building. I told myself that we weren’t going to stroll past any large wanted posters showing the Bowmen.

Relax, Brad. Your secret identity is safe.

“Okay, here’s where we fingerprint the suspects.”

The room was divided by a long table that had inkpads and little dishes of goop for cleaning the ink off the hands of dangerous criminals who were brought here. A policeman was leading a middle-aged man in soiled coveralls out of the room through a door in the far end. The man held a paper towel, rubbing his goop-smeared fingers clean.

There, but for the grace of God, go I . . .

“Who’ve you got for me, Arthur?” said a matronly policewoman sitting at a bench behind a wire-covered window near the door.

“A couple of dangerous suspects, Ellen,” said Mr. Dixon, walking over to the window. She grinned and slid two crisp white forms across the counter. Then she gave me an evil-eyed look and spoke in a gruff voice like a cop from an old movie. “Print ‘em, Dixon. We’ll check for priors.”

Mr. Dixon was grinning, too. “Good idea. Come on, Brad.”

Uh-oh. This seemed to be fun for everybody but me.

Mr. Dixon led me over to a long table while Ann just grinned and grinned, happy as a lark. Her father took hold of my fingers and pressed one onto the inkpad, then he rolled it expertly onto the paper while he lectured us on the complexities of the human hand. One by one, he filled the appropriate boxes with the appropriate prints while I kept thinking of the arrows we’d left behind for the police to lift prints from. How many was it? Thirty? Forty?



Okay, maybe just four — but all the police needed was one print and I’d be making license plates at the state penitentiary, working right next to scar-faced guys with nicknames like Crusher and One-Eye.

I was certain that Ellen the Evil-Eyed Policewoman was just kidding when she said they would run the prints to check for priors . . . wasn’t she?

Surely she wouldn’t really do that . . . would she?

Ann had said the police had a case file on the Bowmen — which would include any fingerprints they had lifted from sluggers we’d left behind.

I used the goop to clean my fingertips while Ann was subjected to the same messy ceremony. Mr. Dixon was enjoying himself. He filled out the forms with our names, ages, height, weight, hair color, and eye color, then he handed them to Ellen, The Mistress of Prints. The form included a box for aliases right below the place where the real name should go. I could just see Mr. Dixon writing the word “Captain" in that box the next time I was in here doing all this for real.



Ellen studied the forms to be sure they were completed properly, then she suppressed a smile as she said, “Take ‘em to a detention cell while I check to see if they’re wanted for anything.”

Everybody laughed at this fine joke, although I suspected my color was just a few shades above bone white. I was already developing a prison pallor.

Mr. Dixon took us though a side door and down a short hallway. The architecture began to favor a metallic theme. Steel doors. Barred gates. There were buzzers to request entry, a guard to look us over, an electric lock that made a rattlesnake sound when it released.

There were more cells than I expected — even though my expectations were based on old prison movies from the 1940s with long lines of barred cubicles several stories high, and James Cagney in one of them, carefully planning his escape.



“Okay, you two. Inside — and don’t give us any trouble.” Mr. Dixon waved us into one of the empty concrete boxes. He was struggling to keep a straight face like a bad stand-up comic who liked his own jokes a lot more than his audience did. But Ann was her father’s biggest fan (the duty of all loving daughters), and she stuck her thumbs under her belt and tried not to giggle as she sauntered into the cell like John Garfield, all tough and cool.



I was doing Dane Clark — quiet, nervous, sweating like crazy, and chewing imaginary gum because the script said he had to. This was really getting to me. When the barred door slid shut with a sound like a blacksmith’s hammer flattening a tortured horseshoe, I could feel the walls around me . . . closing in.

Mr. Dixon wore a smile as he looked through the bars and wagged his finger at us. Sternly, he said, “Now, you two sit in there and think about the crimes you’ve committed. I’ll be back a little while.”

And he left. Just like that.

“Well, Lefty,” Ann said as she sat down on the steel-framed bed. “We might as well make ourselves comfortable. It’s gonna be a long twenty years.”

I was standing at the bars, clutching one in each hand, looking at the empty hallway down which Mr. Dixon had vanished. Ann’s joking manner changed as she looked at me. Her tone turned serious.

“Hey . . . what’s wrong. You don’t look so good.”

I said the first thing that came to me. “Jail-a-phobia. I’m allergic to bars. They tend to make me break out. Get it?” My smile was forced and unconvincing. But the joke wasn’t too bad.

Ann giggled. “You’ll never break out of here, Jones.”

“Oh crap, please don’t say that!” Her remark produced some very unpleasant mental images. Any second now I was going to start screaming for the guard. My voice was shaking when I said, “Get the warden. Tell him I’ll talk. I’m ready to spill the beans.” I was babbling nervously, trying to be funny to cover an approaching nervous breakdown that would require straight jackets, electro-shock therapy, and prescription drugs that would make me droll in mixed company.

Ann still thought I was making jokes. “The proper term is ‘sing’. You’re ready to sing,”

“You bet,” I said, yanking experimentally on the bars. They were absolutely unmoving. Bad sign. I babbled on. “I’ll sing. Do, re, mi. I’ll even take requests. Name that tune, folks.” I pressed my face against the bars to see further down the corridor, hoping to see Mr. Dixon returning, perhaps with a reprieve from the governor.

I glanced over at Ann. She wore a puzzled look. I tried to smile, then I said, “What song would you like to hear, ma’am?”

Ann smiled, even though she was still wondering what was going on. “Sing one of your favorites.”

The answer was obvious, a hit song I’d heard absolutely to death on the radio last year, taken from a popular movie about a lion cub raised by a married couple who then set it free in Africa so it could gobble up poor zebras and gazelles to its hearts content like all its wild brethren.

I took a deep breath and launched into the song.

“Boooorn Free! As free as the wiiiind blows . . . "

Ann exploded with laughter and fell sideways onto the bunk, hugging her belly, guffawing in a very unladylike manner, but looking mighty nice just the same. I was well on my way to setting a new prison record: stir crazy in less than six minutes.

The man in the grimy coveralls in the cell across from us rose from his bunk and stood at the bars, peering at me with bloodshot eyes. I stopped singing and just stood there waiting for him to tell me to shut my stinkin’ yap or he and the rest of the inmates would work me over in the exercise yard when we all got out of isolation. He swayed visibly as he stood there holding the bars for support. He spoke quietly in a gritty voice that had just the right conspiratorial tone for our surroundings.

“Hey, kid. Whattaya in for?”

Ann had just gotten control of herself and was struggling with recurring giggles when the man’s perfect prison dialog forced one explosive snort from her and she was off again. She lay on the bunk while she laughed so hard that no sound came out. The whole situation was already so weird and surrealistic that this new element pushed me right into the land of Somebody Wake Me Because This Must be a Dream.

I gave the man the same look Norman Bates wore when the police put that psycho in jail for dressing like his dead mother and stabbing people with large kitchen utensils. Speaking in a soft and eerie voice, I heard myself say, “I’m the Captain . . . of the Bowmen.”

I sounded so insane I was suddenly scared to be locked in the same cell with myself!

The man in the other cell didn’t react for a moment, but then his eyebrows crawled up his forehead until he looked like a caricature of a surprised drunk.

“Really? I mean . . . no kiddin’?”

I held his gaze with a perfect poker face for a long moment without a blink in sight, then I said quietly, “Do I look like I’m kiddin'?”

He watched my face for a bleary-eyed five seconds, then he said, “Okay . . . but . . . where’s the rest of your team? Did they get away?”

I looked down at the concrete floor between our cells and let the question hang in the air like the odor of a run-over skunk in the middle of the road. Finally, I answered in a bitter whisper. “They were all killed. Big shoot-out. Damn those dirty coppers . . . “

I looked up and saw him swallow as he gazed at me with wide, sympathetic eyes. Finally he said, “Jeez . . . that’s tough, pal.”

I glared at the man with a face made of stone and a loud ringing in my ears that I was pretty sure shouldn’t be there. I spoke in a voice filled with despair. “Hey, we all knew it could happen. It goes with the job, right?”

We held each other’s gaze for a long moment. Then the man nodded slowly, his eyes filled with the sadness of his own life and the sadness he imagined in mine.

I was startled out of my strange trance when Mr. Dixon walked up and waved to the guard down the hall. The electric lock snapped open, and he rolled back the steel-barred door. As we left, the bleary-eyed man watched me with an expression of both sympathy and awe. I squared my shoulders and walked tall without looking back. I had no idea what he was thinking at that moment.

When we walked out of police headquarters, I was grinning from ear to ear. Boy, it was good to be out of the Big House. Smell that air, yes siree.

“What is so funny?” Mr. Dixon asked for the third time. Ann was wiping tears from her eyes, still laughing as she answered her father by simply thumbing back in my direction. I just smiled and tried to resist the urge to bolt for freedom before the police lab could match the prints I’d foolishly given them with those on the arrows we’d left behind all over town.

Mr. Dixon led us to the records section where he worked, and I realized for the first time just how dry and routine this aspect of police work really was. Mr. Dixon’s lecture was enthusiastic in a dignified sort of way, but the subject matter was boring beyond belief. I geared my face into a reasonable smile and concentrated on keeping my eyes focused. Ann’s father showed us the torturous process by which the ten jillion bits of information connected with each case were filed, linked together, and used to solve crimes.

I resisted to urge to oh-so-casually ask to see the case file on the Bowmen. I was afraid Ann and her father would glance at the written description of Captain — then glance at me — then back at the description — and then back slowly away while Mr. Dixon pulled an official police whistle from his pocket and sounded the alarm.

The highlight of the records section occurred when we were introduced to Mrs. Karen Digiovanni, one of the clerks. She was about sixty years old, medium wide, heavily wrinkled, and wearing a frilly summer dress that was draped over her short bulky frame like a cloud hugging Pike’s Peak. And yet her light blue eyes were eternally sixteen and her cackling laugh had an energy that denied her years. She smiled gleefully as we were introduced, and she squeezed my arm with bruising affection. She looked at me like I was the answer to every young girl’s prayers and she asked me a question that turned my face as red as the ripest radish in the Jolly Green Giant’s garden.

“Are you going to marry this pretty girl, Brad, and become a cop?”

All I could manage to do was shuffle and blush while Ann and her father laughed at my expense.

“Do you think he could handle the job, Mrs. Digiovanni?” said Ann, looking at me with sparkling green eyes that obviously had a definite preference for the answer.

Mrs. Digiovanni peered up at me with an intensity that made me want to squirm and wiggle. Her expression was suddenly serious, searching, and filled with a weird cosmic ability to see things that other people couldn't. She cocked her head to one side and pursed a pair of lips that had thrilled young men in decades past. Then she said softly, “I think so, Ann. There’s something about him. He’s got moxie. I can tell.”

I looked down at the little woman and felt a kinship that reached across the years separating us. For a brief moment, I was old and she was young, and neither of our ages mattered in the least. In a soft whisper I said, “I think you’ve got moxie too, Mrs. Digiovanni.”

The corners of her wrinkled mouth lifted into a smile that still had the power to mesmerize young hearts, and she whispered back, “It takes one to know one, sweetheart.”

We left the police station at about three o’clock and went to the Kafe Kobenhavn in the lobby of the Regency Hyatt House, which had just opened a few weeks earlier. It was an amazing piece of architecture. The interior of the hotel was one big rectangular piece of open space, which featured inner balconies for each floor of the hotel. A massive pillar located against one side held five elevators that rose from the lobby to the highest floor, each elevator looking like a glass bullet that glided soundlessly up and down, stopping at the various floors, conveying their passengers safely to their destinations in silent, scenic splendor.



Walking in through the front doors of the Regency Hyatt House and looking up at all this spacious splendor was like stepping through a time tunnel and leaving the middle of the twentieth century behind. You strolled into the twenty-first century and stared up in slack-jawed amazement at what mankind’s destiny will be.







Sitting in the Kafe Kobenhavn on the floor of the lobby, Ann and I gazed at our surroundings and knew exactly what the future should look like. It should look exactly like this — everywhere in the world, no exceptions.

“I love it here,” Ann said dreamily, watching the glass elevators move smoothly up and down the twenty-two story column on one side of the lobby. High above us, the translucent plexiglass ceiling glowed with sunlight filtered down through small skylights on the roof.



We could see people standing at the rails on various levels, looking down at the spacious lobby floor. I waved at a young couple ten floors above us, but they didn’t respond. To them, I was just a friendly ant at a distant picnic, having coffee and pie.



“I think my father likes you,” Ann said in the same dreamy voice she used a moment ago. She was resting her head on the back of her seat, gazing up at the stunning architecture.

I considered the remark — especially the “I think” part. Then I said, “You’re not sure?”

She was still looking upward, her face a portrait of contentment and admiration. Without changing her angelic expression, she said, “With Dad, it’s hard to tell.”

“What makes you think he might like me?”

“For one thing, he’s making an effort to get to know you. Like volunteering to give us the tour today.”

I remembered my paranoid thoughts about that earlier. They seemed ridiculous now. Or maybe they didn’t. I couldn’t be sure — probably because I was paranoid.

“I really enjoyed it.”

“Mrs. Digiovanni likes you, too.”

“I’ll bet your father asked her to flirt with me just to see if I was fickle.”

“She got married about six months ago.”

“At her age? Good lord.”

“Yep. Her fourth husband. She’s actually Irish. Now she tells Dad that she’s Irish-Italian, the most hot blooded race in the world.”

“Maybe I should give her a call.”

“Only if you’re ready to take on Mister Digiovanni.”

We spent an hour gazing at the future of mankind, then we reluctantly left. The ride home involved a lot of laughing and joking, punctuated periodically by a goose in the ribs. I suddenly realized how much like Carl and Cindy we were acting. Lots of in-jokes and plenty of giggling at silly remarks. We were in a world all our own, a closed environment, bordered by the intangible barrier of our affectionate self-involvement. The outside world couldn’t penetrate that barrier. It was just a background that provided occasional sights, sounds, and sensations that we could share and discuss.

Ann had achieved a rather remarkable status in my life. She had become a friend, in every sense of the word — despite the fact that she labored under the disadvantage of being a devastatingly beautiful young lady. I was becoming increasingly relaxed and comfortable with her, the way I was with Carl, Stan, and Doug. I felt blissfully free to share my thoughts, my feelings, and my dreams with her. It was the first time I’d ever had this kind of relationship with a girl, and it was much more intoxicating than the beer that had made Stan and I so loopy.

“Ann?” I said suddenly during a lapse in the conversation.

“What, partner?”

As I stared at the road ahead, I could see her face in my peripheral vision, her green eyes glittering with mesmerizing force. I swallowed a lump in my throat and composed a confession that would give Ann that one bit of information that Superman had always kept from Lois Lane: his secret identity.

I was going to tell Ann about the Bowmen.

“What’s wrong?” Ann said, frowning at my expression and wondering why my mood had suddenly turned so serious. The first word of my revelation caught in my throat as I tried to speak. I pictured myself trying to explain the risks we had taken and the trouble we had caused for the men and women of the Atlanta Police. I tried to imagine myself justifying what I was about to do to Carl, Stan, and Doug. It would take some very careful explaining to make them believe that we could trust Ann.

“Brad, what’s wrong?” Ann could tell that something important was about to happen, but she didn’t like the look on my face. She had never seen me look as serious and concerned as I looked at that moment.

I wondered just what Ann would think of our whole lunatic project. We had endangered our lives for this crazy idea — the dream that we could be heroes in the eyes of the public. Would Ann realize how much it meant to the four of us to be genuine masked crime fighters in the truest sense of the word?

She might. She was Ann.

I sat there caught firmly on the horns of a dilemma, wondering what to do, wanting to do one thing, but strongly tempted to take the safe road and do the other.

Ann didn’t like this long silence from the boy she was accustomed to sharing every random thought with, and she suddenly took an aggressive stance with the situation — even though she softened it with a bit of humor. She pinched my arm hard enough to make me jump and yelp like a kicked puppy, then she spoke in a voice that told me she was serious, even though her words seemed to do otherwise.

“Out with it, Jones! Sing, or I’ll sick the guards on ya!”

“Okay,” I said finally. I took a deep breath and said what I had to say. It wasn’t what I had intended to say, and it wasn’t what Ann expected to hear. But it broke the tension and got me off the hook. I took a deep breath and let it out as loud as I could.

“Booooorn Free! As free as the wind bloooows . . . "

And homeward bound we rolled, laughing at the blue sky and marveling at the summer day. We were drunk on Saturday magic, high on summer love, and shot clean through with wild electric youth!

Shazam!

___________________________________________



_________________
____________
Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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