I’m working late, again, trying to wrap up a puff piece so I could get back to a better story in the morning. I manage to corral an intern, Carl, to help me review some recordings of the interviews. The second set of eyes really pays off with this one so I can get my write up done before two in the morning.
“Why are we still working on this at eleven, Jack?”
“Carl, this may not be due until tomorrow, but if I don’t have to do it tomorrow, I can get back on a beat and find a story worth actually writing.”
Lazy ass kid, he’s trying to slack off when he should be looking to build a career.
“This isn’t a valuable story,” he persists.
I look into his round face and give him the stare of a man that could give negative shits about something if it were possible. “Kid, this is a softball, an easy run for a struggling paper. People love to hear this nostalgic bullshit about has-been heroes and where are they now rock stars.”
Carl cued up the next tape, “but if it sells papers, isn’t it worthwhile?”
“Sure, to investors, advertisers, board members, all of those whiney assholes that sign our, excuse me, my paychecks. Doesn’t matter for shit or shinola to me though. I’d rather get back out there and weed out the corruption, bring down bribed judges and politicians, expose social injustice. Isn’t that the reason we got into journalism in the first place? What are you doing here, if not looking for that?”
Carl grimaced, “My uncle’s the editor of the style section and I wanted to become a restaurant critic.”
I sighed and realized I should have guessed Carl’s doughy features were suited to reviewing food he shoveled down his thick gullet.
I turned a new sheet on my notepad, “what’s this tape got?”
“Footage of the Flash at work,” replied Carl. “Seems like it’s a split of the two GoPro cameras you hooked up at the sandwich shop. Why do we have all of this footage again?”
“I couldn’t interview the Flash himself, he’s washed up as far as heroes go. I interviewed some of his handlers, the government brass that signs off on his activities, etc. But to actually give a good image of who he lives, how he lives and paint the picture that the readers of The Metro Standard should get, I needed to actually observe him.”
“Why record him though,” Carl asked as we watched the video of the beginning of the lunch rush.
“You’ll see right now.”
We watched the video run, we saw a steady stream of customers lining up. They would yell an order at the masked man behind the counter and the sandwich would be ready and bagged in less than ten seconds. After five minutes of tape, we could see the Flash had made stacks of sandwiches and people were now waiting on the automated cashier computer to pay for their order.
“That’s crazy; they must be serving hundreds of people in that shop on a daily basis.”
“Thousands actually,” I replied. “The government in conjunction with a heroes support network popped this sandwich shop in the middle of Central City a year or two after his breakdown. It’s been operating in the black since day one and other shops like Subway and Jimmy John’s want it shut down because it hurts their business. What can they say though? ‘We need to stop the Flash!’ You think Subway wants to look like a corporate supervillain?”
“Especially not after the Jared fiasco,” Carl shot back. I nodded and chuckled at the jab.
“What happened to him?”
“Cumulative effects, you remember how he got to be the Flash, right?”
Carl shakes his head and I sigh. “I can’t remember the specifics of everything, but he got into some accident involving experimental chemicals and being struck by lightning at the same time. Somehow the lightning caused some reaction with the chemicals, bonded at a cellular level or what have you and boom, he’s got superhuman speed.”
“No kidding,” Carl says slack-jawed.
“Anyway, he started acting all funny a few years back. It started with him not remembering some publicity appearances, but as long as he kept saving people they let some mall openings slide. Then one night, he’s helping clear an apartment building, three-alarm call. He thought he got the whole building cleared and started signing autographs in the crowd. Someone heard some shouting, they realized he missed a unit and it was around back that the ladders couldn’t reach. He was about to go back in when the building collapsed. Eighteen floors, right in the middle was a family trapped on ten. They found the charred bodies a few days later in the middle of all the rubble. Mom and dad were holding tight to their three-year-old boy and nine-month-old daughter.”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Carl whispers staring off.
“Yep, he had a mental break after that. The docs and scientists poked around at him. Turns out any electricity was causing more reaction with the chemical bonding at a cellular level. So any friction he created running around was actually causing miniature electrical discharges. Those little discharges were bit by bit changing him. They hypothesize it was destroying his mind, like a form of accelerated autism, combine that with the PTSD of that fire and being a hero in general, then you get the Flash we have today: a shell of a man that makes a sandwich fast and that’s about it.”
“Is he still causing himself damage making sandwiches?”
I shook my head stiffly, trying not to lose focus on the screen. “Nah, the shoes and floor keep it discharged now.”
Carl hit the remote suddenly. “Did you see that? Slow it down and watch him again.”
I did, we replayed a club sandwich being made, I didn’t catch it, and so we looked again. Thank God these cameras record at over 200 frames per second. We slow it down to a snail pace, and that finally shows Flash making a sandwich at normal speed. Plain as day, right there in the mayo on top of the cheese, a big old pecker.
We went through every sandwich order that had mayo, mustard or other sauce on the tape. It’s the same on every sandwich: dick, dick, dick and more dicks. They all got dicks. We even catch him look at the camera while drawing one dick and he winked at us.
“Son of a bitch, Carl.”