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night I ever put on the costume. The first scumbag I nabbed going into a liquor store with an automatic rifle. The first rape I prevented. The first runaway tractor trailer I stopped. None of those things could have prepared me to face my first super villain. The Marauder. The Green God. Mr. Insane. The Rat King. Kid Krater. All insane, all with super powers just as benevolent as your favorite comic book superstar, all bent on killing me and taking out half of the city with them. And I stopped them all. For thirty-four years I battled super powered scientists and insane billionaires as well as normal gang bangers with guns and knives and out of control drunkards and perverts and cat burglars and even neighborhood bullies. All to keep my city safe for its citizens. All in vain. Every action I have taken has evoked an equal reaction from every villain in the city. Instead of perpetrating their crimes, the bank robbers now set traps to kill me at the scene of the crime. Serial killers and homicidal maniacs now become obsessed with using innocents as ‘bait’ to get me where they want me. Super villains will try anything to defeat me. The result of all of this attention from the bad guy community has never been successful at anything except causing more damage and hurting civilians. And it’s all my fault. I pulled myself up to the top of a fire escape ladder and surveyed the skyline, my red cape catching the breeze and fluttering gracefully behind me like Old Glory, the city’s flashing lights the proverbial bombs bursting in air to show its full impressive span. My chest was tightly wrapped underneath my Kevlar plated blue and white crest. The solid but comfortable material covered my entire body, from the top of my neck to the bottom of my torso and to each of my extremities. My blue cotton mask was pulled completely over the top of my head to keep my identity secret. My red boots thudded on the steel rooftops. I peaked over the ledge, concealed by darkness, and glanced at the police cars, emergency rescue vehicles and news vans below. People were shouting, a megaphone was blaring, cameras were flashing and sirens were ringing. I ignored them all and crept across the roof of Rogersberg’s First National Bank until I could see through the skylights well enough to look down into the building. Inside, William Moore’s short, pudgy body stood crammed inside black and purple spandex. An elegant black cape draped over his shoulders and a tall, oaken staff adorned with jewels was held in his right hand. Adjacent to him was the bank’s security team, all seated and bound together against the wall. There were four of them, total, and none of them would still be armed; their weapons were most likely in William’s possession. Besides the security guards, eight others were bound as hostages. These eight were innocents. There was a ninth innocent, but this one wasn’t a hostage. Not in the sense that the first eight were, or even the security guards. This one was walking around casually,
seemingly unafraid. Fortunately, I recognized him. He was Rogersberg’s most popular photojournalist, Peter Clark. Peter had a video camera. The police speculated that this was a publicity stunt by William. That was probably why they were in no rush to commit men to a rescue or counter-hostage operation. They didn’t think anyone would be hurt. I knew better. A week ago I had apprehended William. He was wearing this exact same outfit. I confronted him while he attempted to rob a jewelry store during the night. I had beaten him, badly, and left him for the police to find. Somehow, he fled before they arrived. He had worn a black and purple mask, one similar to a medieval court jester’s, and was calling himself ‘The Bard’. Even from behind his mask, he couldn’t hide from me. I recognized his snobbish attitude and fluent eloquence and met him at his home later the next day. He had called me a sell out, a Fascist, telling me that I did the dirty work of the machinations of our bureaucracy. I was, as he had put it, but a simple cog in the gears of an oppressive and controlling government war machine. A government that did not bother with how its citizens lived and died, nor did they care how they suffered, or even that they did indeed suffer. Its only concern was how each and every one of them would be harnessed as valuable and yet limited resources, resources that would be managed as inhumanely as flour in a bakery by a man living hundreds of miles away who had never seen them. I told him I worked for only myself, serving no machine but all of humanity. I was their protector, at least the protector of those citizens in Rogersberg. I had told him that I was protecting him from his own greed, which would cripple and eventually kill him. I was doing him a favor when I stopped him from robbing that jewelry store. That’s what I told him. Earlier tonight, my friend Wayne Olsen at RPD had called me and informed me of the hostage situation going down at the Rogersberg First National Bank. The twenty-four hour bank was deemed “unrobbable” by the mayor of Rogersberg. With a team of topnotch security guards on duty at all times plus its state of the art camera system and lockdown mode, the Bank seemed like an impenetrable fortress looming in the center of the town square. These never tend to be super villain proof. Upon taking control of the Bank, after subduing the security guards and civilians stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, William initiated lock down mode at the Bank, sealing all doors and windows, except for the emergency fire escape in the in the skylight, with the same solid steel used for its four outside walls. Wayne told me that William had kidnapped Peter earlier in the day, and with no incident. The two arrived at the Bank together that night, and William used him to unfold the next part of his plan. Using the Bank’s communications array and Peter’s camera, William had sent a message to City Hall that he would begin to kill his hostages if he did not get an audience with the Champion of Rogersberg. I was on the roof of the Bank staring down through the skylight in five minutes. I knew William wanted more words with me, another confrontation. He was just like any other super villain I had beaten and I had beaten a lot of them. He wanted to kill me, more- he wanted to publicly embarrass me, to make a statement, to use me as an
example. All he wanted was me, not the innocent hostages or security guards or police or rescue people or Peter Clark the photojournalist. I knew that William’s ultimate goal wasn’t to kill anybody, but I also knew that he was aware that the hurting of anyone innocent would draw me there. I crashed through the emergency fire exit installed in the skylight and my body passed through its serrated portal, clawing and scratching at my sides as I passed through it, and then I was on the floor inside the bank, standing fifteen feet from William. “It’s about time, so-called Champion of Rogersberg. You say you are its peoples protector,” he said this to me, but he faced the camera of Peter Clark, standing a few feet to my left. Peter was all that stood between the hostages and I. My first priority was their release. “But how have you protected those who have been taken from us and shipped overseas to die for Imperialism? How have you protected the dying children in our hospitals? How have you protected the homeless and the misfortunate?” He was a master manipulator, well spoken and soft sounding. He was a natural public speaker, excellent in the art of persuasion and motivation. He was notoriously connected with several activist marches and protests in his younger years as their primary coordinator. His language was his weapon, and I was vulnerable. My years of military training and combat experience failed me when it came to the art of conversation. I have, however, accumulated some wisdom while masquerading as a masked hero these past thirty-four years. I reflected upon the people he mentioned, citizens of Rogersberg who would be dead or dying. As highly rated as I had been by the majority of Rogersberg at saving lives, I could do nothing for them. They would still be dead and dying. “I save those who can be saved” was what I said. What else could I say? I’m not a doctor. I’m not a politician. Just an old soldier in a mask and cape fighting criminals and helping old ladies out of burning buildings. “We never asked you to be our Savior! I suppose you think of yourself as Rogersberg’s Jesus Christ. You arrogant son of a bitch.” He spat in my direction. “No. I- I do what is right, what is needed to help those who cannot help themselves. Release the hostages and we can talk further.” “I will do no such thing. They will watch their Savior suffer as they themselves have suffered and will know that no one can help them but themselves. It is futile to rely on anyone else to alleviate our human pains.” He spoke and his voice sounded angry, loud, rash and not with his usual poetic sensitivity. The sympathy regularly demanded when he spoke was no longer present. “Or our government. The center of our problems is that which supposedly protects us.” “I do not affiliate myself with any government. I am just one man, not an agent of anything larger.” “Ha! You are the very symbol of our government, the ever-present and omnipotent Knight In Shining Armor. And just as all empires are doomed to fall, so shall the United States of America. Just as all great heroes fail, so shall you receive a tragic ending fitting of your stature.” I clenched my fists. I gritted my teeth. He was making me out to be the bad guy and it was all on camera. I could not end this without first defeating The Bard in a battle of wits. All these past thirty-four years that I have been fighting super villains and drug
addicts and drunk drivers and child molesters and muggers I have always been able to punch my way out of any situation. Now I had to outsmart one of the most intelligent men I knew. William and I graduated from Penn State together, a year before we were both drafted to fight in Vietnam. William was a liberal arts major, a writer, and I was a history major. I had no career in mind, so the army seemed like an opportunity. William had gotten a position at a prestigious poetry and arts magazine and had objected leaving it to go to war. Because of all the people dying, William was trained to be a medic. I became infantry. After our tours, William forgot about writing and went to medical school to become a medical researcher for the US Government. I spent some time at a few different jobs before eventually becoming what I am today. Behind my mask, William had no idea that I was his old friend. This anonymity would make it that much more difficult to get through to him, but there were too many people around for me to remove it, and if my enemies found out I was an old man it would cause too much trouble for the citizens of Rogersberg. “What do I have to do with the fall of empires?” I asked him. I racked my brains for some clever quip to get him fired up and aggressive. A fist fight I could win in seconds, a war of words would take longer. The longer I took, the more danger these people could potentially be in. I did not think, even for a second, that The Bard had not booby trapped the Bank upon arrival. William wouldn’t hurt them, but the second a man puts a mask and cape on and ventures outside, he becomes someone else. They lose their sanity upon losing themselves. William was now The Bard. He was smart, and knew I would divert my attention to the rescue of the hostages. “When I crush you, I’ll show the government that I am not afraid. I’ll show the government I can crush them. I’ll show them that they should be afraid of me, of us people, of the power of words and wisdom and rational thought. I’ll show them that it matters not who writes the laws of a people as long as I can write its songs. And this, my friend, is my epic, my opus: The Fall of Rogersberg’s Champion, The Corrupted Hero! “I represent art and imagination and nature and self reliance! You represent power, and power’s overwhelming ability to infinitely corrupt human nature. But tonight, I will show the world that true power lies in the hands of the powerless masses. We who are uncorrupted by the machinations of hierarchy and politics. We who still possess the true human spirit. Tonight,” he yelled, his voice rising above the sirens outside. He now brandished his jeweled staff in both hands. A twelve inch blade was released from either end and The Bard now held a double-sided spear, apparently ready for battle. I couldn’t be happier. “Tonight, you Shake the Spear!” he cried as he lunged forward with his weapon pointed at my heart. I smiled and grabbed the blade with my right hand, pushing it away from me. The steel wool in my gloves clung to the blade, securing my grip and protecting me from the iron tooth of The Bard’s spear. His momentum kept him rushing towards me. Our chests collided, the staff stuck somewhere between our two bodies. Our eyes met, his full of anger and despair, mine only focused on him. He gritted his teeth and hot breath flooded into my eyes and nose and mouth and he put all of his weight in his shoulder and pushed
into my upper chest and I grabbed the back of his head and pulled my knee up to his face and broke his nose immediately. He fell backward with a quick flop and I suddenly felt like a kid again and I was trying to catch the biggest fucking frog I’ve ever seen. Then he tried to get up, but slipped on his own blood; it had puddled under his head. I grabbed him and pulled him to his feet, but his disparity forced his hands to my throat and attempted to cease my breathing. Before he had his grip around my neck my fingers were underneath his and I was stronger than him and I pulled his hands away from my neck and bent them backwards until he screamed and then I pulled him by his arms and threw him across the room. He hit a wall and bounced down to the ground, broken and defeated, like so many villains have laid before me these past thirty-four years. I caught my breath. Innocents. I breathed in. Hostages. I breathed out. Security guards. I breathed in. Peter Clark the photojournalist. I breathed out. I turned to the security guards against the far wall. “Which one of you is in charge?” “I am,” said one of them. I went over to him and ripped the rope from around his hands and legs and binding him to the rest. “Who are you?” he said. “Why are you doing this?” “Untie them,” I said, motioning to the other security guards. As he did this, he said, “Take off your mask and drop any weapons you may be holding.” Just because I have no super powers the police won’t accept me as a super hero or even as a good guy. I try my best. I’m sorry I’m not fucking Superman. I motioned to the hostages. “Get them out of here.” They did this, and they turned their backs. When they turned back around I was gone. Back on the roof with my thoughts, I watched police and paramedics go into the building and security guards and hostages come out of it. I watched Peter Clark take pictures and film the clean up with his camera. I watched news reporters interview the hostages and the security guards and the bank executives and the chief of police. And then I watched the paramedics wheel William Moore out of the bank. And then I watched them drive William Moore away in an ambulance. And then I left. I visited William the next day in his hospital room while his two plainly clothed guards took a heavily sedated nap. He stared at the crest on my chest and my mask and my cape and he did not hate me. He did not have enough hope left to hate anymore. “I did this for your own good. Your time in a federal penitentiary can get you the analytical help you need and the rehabilitation you’ll be glad to have. Capitalist greed is the American Way you wanted to destroy, wasn’t it? What’s with the lust for money?” I asked. “You don’t know anything! You couldn’t know, you would never have known, and certainly can’t understand! The American system has deserted me after all I have done for it and I all I wanted was what I needed! A fair fucken chance! You couldn’t possibly understand,” he said.
“You had enough to live as lavishly as anyone in Rogersberg. You had a beautiful wife and kids and you drove the nicest cars. What did you need to rob the bank or the jewelry store for? You had a high paying government job! What did you need The Bard for?” I asked him. He was intrigued. “So you’re not as dumb as you make yourself out to be. You do do your research.” I took off my mask. He studied my face and then recognized me. “Steve!” he said, shocked. “You… You have become my worst enemy when once you have been my friend. You do not know what you have done. You do not know what you have done, my friend.” “William, what happened to you?” I asked him. “What happened to me? What about what happened to you? It’s because of your family, isn’t it, Steve?” My wife and children were killed in a car crash by a drunk driver thirty-four years ago. “But why do you wear the colors of the American Flag on your costume?” he asked me. “I…” I looked at myself. “I in no way intended to represent the government. I simply wanted to look like, I don’t know. A good guy I guess. I wanted people to see me and not be scared by me. I wanted the bad guys to see me and know that I would stop them and that people would be safe.” “They do like you, you know. You are Their Champion, The Champion of Rogersberg. But I am The Bard, and I will kill you. I swear to God I will kill you,” he said as he started to cry. I thought to move closer but didn’t. “Its… Its Louise. She’s… sick,” he started to say. He wiped his eyes and looked up at me. “She has cancer. An operable tumor on the inside of her brain. But the medical insurance I get through work? It’s federal health insurance. They won’t pay for the surgery because they don’t recommend it. It’s “an experimental surgery” they told us. And she will die if I don’t pay for her surgery. She is going to die, Steve. And you killed her.” I looked at him for a minute or two, and then I took off my costume and put it back inside my brief case and put on my pants and jacket. “William, I have accumulated money from busted criminals that I use to fund my private crusade. I can use this money to pay for Louise’s surgery. She won’t even know it’s from me, William. I can put it where I know she’ll find it and she will think it’s from you.” He stared at me hard. Slowly, he smiled and said, “Put it in the backyard, in the garden near her azaleas. She will go there; she always does when she is sad.” I turned to leave but he said, “Steve,” and I stopped and looked back at him. I didn’t turn my whole body to face him, only my head. He said, “I have not given up on writing altogether, Steve. I will write about your valor and bravery while I am in prison.” Outside of the hospital, I browsed the newspaper stand on the opposite street corner. One of the headlines caught my eye: COMMANDO MAN FOILS ‘THE BARD’S’ HOSTAGE PLOT, EVADES POLICE