Jenny closes the door behind the last guest to leave -- Maggie, an old coworker from years ago who has been a loyal attendee of her plays and a huge supporter of every under-five and commercial she has spent the past seven years slogging through. Her emails and little postcards of encouragement have been a fantastic psychic boost to Jen, but at 3AM the only thought on our minds is to get her out of our apartment, pronto. The rest of the guests left within an hour or so of Dogsitters ending (a few folks showed up late, but we were able to hold the show until everyone was settled, thanks to the magic of TiVo), and Jason retired to the guest room around 1AM. Another thirty minutes or so of Maggie's gushing might have been a nice ego-boosting cap to the evening, but almost two more hours of it was just numbing.
Jenny leans against the door and sighs deeply. She giggles a little bit, and a huge smile splits across her face. Her eyes are closed, her hair is tousled from too many hugs and a couple of glasses of wine beyond her normal limit. She looks like an angel, and suddenly I'm overwhelmed. Watching her on the gigantic TV, and with all of her adoring friends, and here, now -- it's too much for me. I grab her up into my arms (one of the advantages of being a big guy with a tiny 5-foot-tall wife is that the "grabbing her up" gesture is extra-dramatic), and kiss her hard on the mouth. Exhausted, she melts into my arms, and I hear myself say, "I'm so proud of you."
I think I feel her crying against my neck as I carry her to the bedroom, but when I put her down on the bed, her eyes are wide and bright -- a little wet, but no tears have spilled onto her face. Her lips are still turned upward into a sweet, shy smile as I lift her dress over her shoulders, and run my hands down her back.
"I think everybody liked it," she whispers in my ear.
"They loved it," I reply. "You were amazing."
She giggles again. "Okay," she says.
"Okay," I smile. Then I kiss her, and we fold into each other.
After we're done, Jen falls quickly asleep. I gently lift her arm off my chest and slide the covers back up over her. She immediately pushes them off and rolls over, hanging one leg off the side of the bed. She's an unruly and incredibly deep sleeper -- the wine and sex just compound this issue. I pull the covers over her again. This time she leaves them on.
I get up and go to the closet. Gently I pop open the false panel in the back, making as little noise as possible, and I take out the newly modified suit. I sit on the edge of the bed and slide it on. I can immediately feel the difference -- it feels at once lighter and more flexible, just as Jason said. But I'm not really focusing on the suit. Instead, I'm thinking about the party. I keep seeing all the faces -- Maggie and Jason and Dave and Karen and Robert and Susan and Kelly and Sara and all the rest -- beaming, laughing, glancing sideways at Jenny to make certain she saw their appreciation, their adoration. The look on Karen's face when Jen came onscreen the first time, the applause in the room when she said her first line. The nudge Robert gave me. The moment when I got Nick another beer, and he said, with a wink, "thanks, TV star's husband." Everyone laughed. I put on my thick socks and then my boots.
I kiss Jenny on the forehead. She smiles, but does not wake. On my way through the kitchen I pop a granola bar into a belt pouch, along with my house keys. I go out onto the balcony and glance at the other apartments -- all the windows are dark, the occupants asleep or elsewhere. I double check to make certain no one's watching, then I leap from the balcony and zoom up into the night sky. I point myself southwest. Tonight I'm cruising Crenshaw. My shoulders feel taut, twitchy. The suit is light and fluid and my head feels strangely empty. I feel loose. It'll be twenty minutes before I get there. I wonder if I should have brought my iPod, but decide I'm enjoying the sound of the wind rushing past my ears, and the far off noise of the late-night cars.
I know the neighborhood around the Crenshaw super-Wal*Mart pretty well -- it's where I go when I'm feeling squirrelly and want a little bit of a tussle. It's full of small-time drug deals, rag-tag starter gangs mixed with peripheral elements from the larger gangs. Once I get there, it takes me about fifteen minutes to find a drug deal going south. It's in an alley next to a corner on which I bust a few kids every couple of months. A young, skinny black kid is curled-up on the ground, while another is kicking him repeatedly with his retro Jordans. The kicker's fist is full of twenties. At either end of the alley, two others are watching for the cops, and another crack-head stands beside one group, pretending not to see anything, just waiting for his chance to cop. Of the five dealers, one is a girl, the kid with the Dodgers cap and the one in the gigantic polo shirt are clearly under fifteen, and the slightly older one with the thin mustache has a gun bulging in his sock. I streak down from the sky and barrel into the kicker, flinging him hard against the cinder block wall. His fist lets go of the cash as he hits the wall, and it floats in the air. As the kid on the ground starts to get up to run, I reach to my belt to thumb my LAPD pager. I flip open the cover, but before I can push the button, I hear a sharp crack.
A garbage bag beside me explodes with a rancid puff as I whip my head around. Typically, when I come blazing in from the sky, the lookouts run away while I secure the money or the package. Instead, I see all four running toward me from both ends of the alley. The kid with the gun in his sock is struggling to get it out. The girl already has her gun out. I didn't see her gun coming in -- she must have had it in her hand already, behind her back. It's a .45 automatic. She squeezes off two more shots. I dip my shoulder to avoid the first. It slides past me, and clips the hip of mustache kid who's still digging in his sock. He screams and flops to the ground. The second slams into my leg. There's a soft "thump" as it impacts with the carbon gel which has suddenly hardened like steel on the front of my thigh. My leg shoots out from underneath me and I pitch forward, but I can already tell it didn't penetrate. Jason's new armor works. Cool. He'll be ecstatic.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Dodger reaching for Mustache's gun, which has worked loose from his sock and is bouncing away across the pavement. Polo Shirt has pulled a knife from somewhere in his gigantic jeans. I stop my fall with my left hand, and dig my toe into the broken asphalt. I leap forward, covering fifteen yards in half a second, spinning around another shot from the .45, and swat the gun out of the girl's hand. I feel a crunch as her wrist shatters. She shrieks and collapses. Polo Shirt swings his knife wildly. I don't even bother to parry, I just let the suit take it so I can twist around and get a look back down the alley. Both the druggies are racing away, but Dodger has Mustache's gun in his hand. Jordan, who is slumped against the wall, is moving his hand around under some trash bags. I snap my head back around to avoid Polo's knife as it slices the air near my left ear, and I see a door open at the far end of the alley, where Polo and the girl were positioned. I hear the gunshots before I see them -- two more, both older, one with a .45 and the other with a .38. They're firing randomly -- nothing comes anywhere near me, but Polo screams. He's hit -- I can't tell where.
I leap into the air, twisting to avoid two more shots from .45 and one from .38. .38 gets my foot in his gut. He gets off another shot into the air before his diaphragm collapses and he falls back into the doorway. .45 fires again. I duck and spin and kick the door shut. I slam my back into it so no more surprises can emerge, and I kick 45's forearm. It breaks cleanly and the gun flies away.
I glance up and see Polo limping toward me again, blood trailing from a hole in his shoe. The girl is crawling across the pavement, reaching for her gun with her one good hand. What is going on? Who are these crazy kids? I start to yell, "what are you doing?" when I hear a loud roar. My eyes dart sideways and I see Jordan, crouched where he fell, a shotgun in his hands, the flare still blazing from the barrel. I cover my face with my shoulder as the buckshot slams into my side. I feel a weird rippling sensation as the suit compensates to deflect the scattered pellets hitting me from my shoulder to my waist. A pellet rips across my brow. I'm thrown against a dumpster. A shotgun? How could I not have seen a shotgun?
Blood trickles into my left eye. My left arm feels heavy, like a piece of wood. I assume Jason's polymer has done it's work and I'm not actually hit, but the impact of the shotgun at that close range has made my arm more or less useless for the moment. The shotgun blast appears to have startled Polo as well -- he's stopped running, and is staring back toward Jordan's gun. I grab a trash bag from beside the dumpster with my good right hand and fling it at him. It hits him squarely in the chest and he goes over.
As Jordan pumps the shotgun, Dodger runs toward me and starts to fire Mustache's gun wildly. First shot goes somewhere out into the night. His second digs into the door beside me. I launch myself into the air again, avoiding a third shot, and land right in front of him. "What the fuck are you kids doing?" I shout as my right cross tosses him aside. Past him, I see Jordan's shotgun aimed squarely at me. I leap into the air again as it fires, ripping through the spot where half a second before I'd stood, and catching the girl square in the back as she struggles back to her feet with her gun in her left hand. In an instant she turns from a teenage girl into a misty halo of blood and bone.
"No!" I scream, lamely. I turn back to Jordan, whose eyes are wide, staring at the girl like he's broken out of some trance. I land beside him and knock the shotgun from his hands with my left arm, which is filled with pins and needles as the feeling begins to come back and blood rushes to fill the bruises. My right fist finds his stomach, and he doubles-over. My left fist slams into the side of his head, and he sprawls to the pavement. "She was a girl," I hear myself say, not even knowing why or what I mean. I hit him again with my right, and again, and then with my left. I'm yelling something -- I don't even know what. His nose explodes and my face is covered with a fine mist of blood. I keep hitting him.
I stop when I hear the crunch of a boot on the pavement behind me. I whirl into a crouch. The guy that burst through the door with his .45 is standing there, his one arm cocked at an unnatural angle, his gun in the other fist, pointed straight at me. I can hear Jordan's ragged, bubbly breathing. .45's eyes are distant, unfocused. His pupils are huge. The gun is maybe six feet from me, pointed straight at my face. He starts to pull the trigger. Out of pure instinct, I lift my hands in front of me. I feel the rush of heat and adrenaline as my hands explode with blue light. The gun melts, and the shooter flies backward, his smoldering arms and one leg following him. I feel my heart sputter and slow. My vision blurs. In the distance, I hear a police siren. I fall to one knee. This is why I almost never use my energy discharge. I pitch forward and, as the blackness rushes up on me, I realize I forgot to thumb the police beeper.
"Fucking TV star's husband," I mumble, and then I'm gone.