I suck on my Jamba Juice straw and squint into the bright midday sunlight. Work landed me in Thousand Oaks this morning at around 10AM, and I haven't found the energy yet to head back to the city.
I lift the flap on my man-bag and check my cellphone battery. It's low, but it'll last another few hours (or one or two calls). The bag itself is one of the ultra-collapsible kind -- when it's not full of stuff, it can be folded down to the size of a small billfold. Right now it is full -- cellphone, my uniform, and a fair-sized stack of twenties -- maybe $500, all told. I haven't counted it yet -- it went into my pocket after the apprehension, and I don't wanna be conspicuous about it. I'll look at it when I get home. If it's as much as I hope, I'll be able to stop worrying about rent this month. Of course, then I have to start worrying that someone will notice it is missing.
My straw starts to make the sucking, slurping sound that is the universal indicator of an empty cup. I sit on the bench for a few minutes, looking at the cup, and then I check my watch: it's just after noon. I could get back to my apartment in about 10 minutes, give or take, if I run, but it takes a lot out of me. Flying will take me at least 30 minutes -- more since I have to change back into the uniform somewhere in case someone sees me. A lot of folks are surprised to find that I can run faster than I fly (a little over 200 miles per hour vs. a top speed of 65 or 70 in the air, maybe 80 if I really push), but that's actually the case for most of the powered that I know who can do both. Something about flying, I guess, is just so basically wrong, given our anatomy.
Still, flying (at a moderate speed) is a lot less work and, even though I don't have to change if I run (at that speed, people won't get much of a look at me as I pass), I do have to stick to the freeway, and the gawkers will no doubt cause another traffic issue for which I'll be blamed. And I promised myself I wouldn't do that anymore unless there was an emergency. So, flying it is.
Now I have to find someplace to change.
The Jamba doesn't have a bathroom, but the Togo's next door does. Plus, the Togo's has a back door right beside the restrooms, out which I can zip when I'm done, and (hopefully) no one will notice. As I walk back into the air conditioning, I wonder if I'll ever be big enough to ditch the secret identity for real. it's such a pain in the ass -- don't even get me started. Though, for every Reed Richards, who has great success with his public and private personas overlapping, you get a handful of Matt Murdocks or Tony Starks where exposure just turns their lives to shit, so maybe the trouble is worth it.
I head into the handicapped stall and slip out of my jeans. The t-shirt stays on -- it fits well enough under the uniform, and, frankly, the suit is a little sweaty from chasing that asshole bank robber this morning, and I don't want to wear it against my bare skin. I slide into my suit, roll my jeans and slip the cash, my wallet, the jeans and the now-empty man-bag into the small backpack unit on the uniform. The cellphone goes into the utility belt. The uniform is damp under the arms and all down the back, and is already soaking through my t-shirt. Fortunately my boots are simple enough to wear with my day-clothes, so I don't have to lug around extra shoes. I slip my mask on over my head, and then peer through the crack between the stall door and its frame. One of the employees is washing his hands meticulously -- I make a mental note to order my sandwich from him next time I'm up here. When he leaves, I wait a few seconds, listening to make certain no one else is in the room. Then I open the stall door and zip to just behind the bathroom door. I open it a hair, just enough so that I can see that no one is looking my way, and I zoom out that door and out the back door as fast as I can move. I'm pretty confident no one sees me and, once I'm a block or so away, I leap into the air.
Flying is the simplest thing I do now, but it was really bizarre, at first, especially the navigation. When you are earthbound you get a sort of map of the city in your brain that relies on freeways and major streets and grids more than actual scale and geography. Seeing L.A. from the air, just a few hundred to a thousand feet up, was a big eye-opener. I know where everything is now, but I was really surprised, in those first days, to see that (for instance) when you leave the 101 east to take the 134 to the 5, you actually keep going mostly straight, while it's the 101 that curves south. In my car, I never felt that. Anyway, Thousand Oaks is pretty much 30 miles straight west of Burbank, where I live, so there isn't much navigating to do. I mostly just get high enough so that people don't notice me up there, and then follow the 101 all the way home. There isn't much exertion involved and, apart from the occasional supremely startled bird, there's no traffic.
So I spend the 30 minutes or so of flying time alone with my thoughts. I think a little about the book I'm trying to write, and about the audition Jennie has today (have to remember to call her when I get home -- the cellphone gets pretty much no reception up here), and about that (what I hope is) $500 in my pocket. But mostly I just zone out and let the powers take over. By the time I get home (after landing a little ways up the hill behind my apartment, changing clothes in some bushes and walking through the brush to my back door), I've forgotten about the heist that morning, so when I turn on the TV and see the shot of me picking up the early 1980's Chevette and shaking that dude out of it, I'm a little startled. But it's a good startled, so I sit down on the ratty couch and watch as Marc Brown says that it's "another job well done by L.A.s only resident superhero, Providence." As I empty the man-bag onto the couch, Chief Bratton (a good guy, whatever the reports might suggest) comes on. He thanks me for my contribution, and reminds Marc that, even with me around, L.A. is a big city and I have to sleep sometime, so we need to focus on that additional funding for the LAPD. Then it's back to whatever soap opera was interrupted.
I count the cash: it's actually only $420, still a little shy of rent. I put it in the box on top of the fridge as I head to our tiny laundry room. I throw the uniform in with the other two already in the washer, add some detergent, jeans, t-shirts, underwear and some of Jen's dark button-downs and the pretty black bra I like, and turn it on. I go back to the couch and quickly doze off in front of the TV, forgetting to call Jennie to see how her audition went.