The holidays are a busy time. People are shopping and wrapping. Others are cooking. There are plans afoot, including malicious ones. Oh, sure, there are always other heroes and other villains around pulling jobs. I’d talk about them, but this would be a boring account if I spent all my time discussing other people. If they want their stories on World Domination in Retrospect, they should defeat me in a duel and decapitate me.
There can be only pun!
Everyone has their holiday deals going on right now, and you know what? Me too! I needed some money, you see, so I put a few on my super secret hidden website. Thousandaire drownings. Hundred-dollar hangings. I even instituted a penny pincher promotion so people with less than a dollar could hire me to annoy someone.
Like this job I pulled for $150. Not much to it at all. I didn’t even have to kill the person. I just had to show up at the funeral, make a scene, and tell people what my employer really thought about the dearly departed. In this case, “dearly” applied to the departed as a past-tense verb, rather than as a noun. Or, to put it slightly less subtly, he didn’t like the bitch.
So that’s why I attended the Fifth Street Seventh Day First Church of the Holy Trinity, also known as a church with way too many numbers in its name. If they wanted people to count so much when they named it, they should have built the thing over on Sesame Street.
So there I was, not at Sesame Street and not giving people the Big Bird. Instead, I shuffled up to a coffin in a church, pretending to sniffle and cry. I stood out, a bit, actually. This woman’s death hadn’t affected many people as strongly as I pretended it affected me.
I wore my armor again. Before I left, Tricia actually asked me about that. Anyone who studied supers noted a tendency for those who wear power armor to stay in it a lot. I threw her a bone and said something quotable.
I told her that having powers makes people feel less vulnerable, so they wear less armor or concealment. That’s what the power is for. That’s why so many heroic costumes are skimpy and form-fitting. That little mask is all they need to be great. If someone has on power armor, that is their mask. They know they’re still weak inside, and they need to hide it behind armor that actually makes them worth something for once. And if they aren’t in the armor, someone else could take it and become someone special instead. Because nobody is anything without the mask.
The psychoanalysts will have a fucking hard-on for years if she puts that to print. They’ll barely be able to keep their mouths closed long enough to suck on their cigars.
But enough about phallic objects in mouths. I was talking about the funeral.
Yep, I went up there to view the casket and I just have to say…one of those morticians trained at hooker school. I couldn’t confirm that, but I’ve seen tomatoes paler than that. I even leaned over to the person just ahead of me and asked, “Did she want to be buried looking like Santa Claus, or is that just a seasonal bonus?”
The mourner messed up their face in a scowl and quickly retreated. Like I needed her opinion. If I want an opinion, I’ll go out and make my own! And it’ll have my brains and Venus’s eyes!
Note to self: delete that last sentence before I send this off. Replace it with some line about tiny chocolates. People like tiny chocolates. They get to pretend they are giants eating something delicious. Quake with fear, tiny cocoa mortals!
I stumbled over from the casket to the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen…I can hold it back no longer. I have a few words to say on this solumn occasion. Like everyone else here, I knew and loved Tommy there…”
Amidst the eye-rolling and shocked looks in the line, someone whispered, “Tami,” to me.
“Tami, there. I knew Tami. She didn’t like to be called Tommy except by those who knew her best. So if you didn’t get to call her Tommy, then I guess she didn’t like you.”
The crowd seated in the pews murmured, mostly in disagreement. At least one person near the front turned to the people seated behind him to tell them, “That’s right, she always let me call her Tommy.”
I held up a fist. “Now, little Tami here, she lived a long life. Just look in that box! She had a good run. Seventy years.”
“Fifty-six!” someone yelled out to me.
“That’s right,” I said, pointing off to the back as if I knew who said something. “She lived life so fully, it was like she had seventy good years in a mere fifty-six. And she looked it. I think maybe the one thing she never got around to doing was pursuing her dream of becoming a drag queen. Well, with the help of the funeral home, she finally has.” I pretended to tear up at this point and dabbed at my eyes with a napkin.
“Why did you leave us, Tami?!” I cried out to the heavens, raising my hands to sky. “Oh lord, if the good die young, then why did you wait so long to take her! She had so much to live for. Like the booze. Or that guy Francisco, and all the other mechanics in his car shop. After four measly years of caring for her stroke-ridden father, the man who raised her, she hadn’t even taken him to his first speech therapy appointment! How could you take that from her? Why would you?”
I lowered my head, looking down at the podium. “Well, maybe god needed another angel in heaven. Or the devil needed someone else to poke people with pitchforks. I know it may have upset some of you that Tami there quit her last job because it was too much work…and that she then went six years without any income except that provided by her late husband’s life insurance and her father’s Social Security check…but we should really try to remember her for all the good she did in this world.”
I bowed my head as if for a moment of silence, then immediately looked back up, “Alright, done remembering. Quick, wasn’t it?”
I looked up and projected a smile onto my face, “Remember that time when she called that black guy that name? And that time she said she wanted slavery back? Good times, good times.” I walked over to the woman and spread black paint all over her face, then set her up. Combined with the excess of lipstick, she looked like something out of the 50s.
Indignant murmurs spread through the crowd. “You’re right, everyone, that was wrong of me. Here, let’s cover this up.” I tugged a pillowcase over her face, leaving her covered in white cloth that ended in a point above her head. “There, that’s more acceptable for her, I’m sure.”
By now, some in the crowd understood where this whole thing was going. A few looked amused, most indifferent, and others appeared outraged and almost as red as the woman used to be. I saw one curly-haired fellow in an oil-stained denim jacket pull out a beer and start passing others along to his friends nearby.
“And she was so motivated to keep her son from becoming lazy that she forced him not to look for a job. She went the extra mile and had him work for free maintaining her lawn and house for her instead of finding actual employment. She didn’t let him rest on his laurels, either. Oh no. If he cooked for her dad, she called him lazy. When he had two jobs…well then she doubled down and called him lazy some more. Let me tell you folks, there are people in straitjackets less committed than this woman!”
“Still, when you leave here tonight, don’t think about the woman who ignored her nephew to stay in bed and smoke. Don’t think about the lady who used her husband’s life insurance money to party on the beach with friends. Don’t recall only the times when she left her infirm father, a man with no ability to speak or read, alone in the middle of a bar with only his blood pressure medication and a beer. Tommy wouldn’t like that. You should learn from the lesson of her life. Go out and be more than just a converter of oxygen to carbon dioxide. Be a parent. Care for someone. Let this woman laying here be a lesson to you all: the good die young, but the bad live forever in our memory.”
It got awkward after that. I hoped for cheering. I got something more awkward. Even when you call someone out on their bullshit, people still don’t want to speak ill of the dead. So I did what I’m good at. I improvised. I walked over to the casket, threw open the lower portion, and reached down. That drew gasps, as did me sitting Tami up and using my hand inside her to move her head. “Now, Tami and I would like to thank y’all for coming out, isn’t that right, Tami?”
Instead of having her answer, I whipped out the sax and pressed one of the two buttons with a cloud design on it. This fired a few grenades out that landed in the midst of the unsettled crowd. I just couldn’t remember if it was harmless smoke, laughing gas, or tear gas. Then they started laughing until they cried. Right, forgot I combined those two. Not literally.
That’d be dangerous…wait, why didn’t I combine those two again?
Well, everyone in attendance fled after that, making the whole night an absolute failure for solemn occasions. With them gone, I pulled my hand out of the corpse, brushed my hands off, and grabbed my sax. Hitting the other cloud button, I disappeared in a puff of smoke.
I know what y’all are thinking, but I didn’t start filming my own Cheech and Chong movie then. No, I used the smoke to slip into stealth mode and sneak my way out to the roof. As I’d tried to explain to Tricia over the past couple days, Venus knew that I was out. And I knew that Venus knew that I was out because Tricia had found that EMP rod of Venus that she left behind when defanging my rockets. And Venus knew that I knew that she knew that I was out because she realized the rod was missing. Now, I knew that she knew that I knew that she knew that I was out, but did she know that I knew that she knew that I knew that she knew I was out?
Tricia couldn’t follow that real well. At least Carl had the good sense to nod his head and smile. Smart man, that Carl. He has a good head nodding on his shoulders.
I then had to explain to them that in order to find out how much I knew, Venus needed some way to keep tabs on me. That meant she had me followed somehow.
I found out how on the roof of the church when I saw a teen boy in green and yellow tights with light blue dots on it. He slowly juggled a pair of glowing balls while watching the street below. Then he muttered a curse and turned to jog around the outside of the building, looking down for entrances and exits. Looking for me.
“Found me!” I shouted at the same time I pushed him over the side. He yelled out, expecting to plunge to certain anal pain. He also yelled out because of the certain anal pain that stopped him. “Hope you don’t mind that this glove has been in someone else’s rectum tonight. Did I say rectum? If they weren’t dead, would have darn near killed ‘em!”
I patted my knee and let out a fake laugh at that one. You know, “Ha ha ha!”
The hero, always the sort to be contrary, insisted on doing things in reverse. “Ah, ah, ah!”
Now everyone out there on Reader Earth can go out and tell their loved ones that they learned that screaming is laughter in reverse. Maybe follow it up with a blank stare through the person. Especially if you’re at a holiday gathering you don’t want to be at.
Now this kid, who I recognized as Ball Boy from the Master Academy, hadn’t yet learned to master his panic in dangerous situations. Or his bladder control. Good thing he was hanging with his head below the rest of his body, because gravity taught him a valuable lesson about how water flows.
I pulled him up and gave him a light nudge in the face to shut him up. Just a quick slap with my boot. “Alright, now shut up. I’m going to tell you this once, and I’m going to tell you this hard, bucko. You. Me. Venus. A few people of my choosing. Perhaps a couple more of yours. Anyway, let’s cut some of the suspicion, right? So I’m a murderer, so Venus is an asshole, boohoo. We all have to eat. I know, Venus probably ruined your Christmas. Told you to stake me out, all that. Nothing for you but cold leftovers from the big dinner. That may be fine for you, but I’m hungry. So, we do the reasonable thing and drop the entire conflict for a few days.”
Of course Ball Boy agreed. I didn’t have him by the balls, but I gave him a vested interest in me allowing him to live. I also told him a time and a place. Later, a note appeared taped to the door of my lair. Venus’s RSVP to the Psycho Holiday Gathering in the affirmative.
See? Some people don’t mind having the ham over for dinner after all.