Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Signal

We pull into the motel parking lot just as the storm begins rolling into the city. Over the flickering sign that says Vacancy, I watch dark clouds illuminated by lightning within as the world around me rumbles. It hasn’t started raining yet, but it's on its way. The breeze coming through the rolled-down window smells like some ancient sea.

Dane says, “You know who really sucks? Green Arrow. I mean, here’s this guy surrounded by fucking Superman and Flash and Wonder Woman and the green Martian guy with basically the same powers as Superman...”

I say, “Martian Manhunter.”

He says, “Yeah, him. I mean, you’ve got all these people with the powers of fucking Greek gods and shit, and then you’ve got a dude decked out all in green with his cute little hat and a goddamn bow and arrow. He doesn’t have any special powers or anything. Even his girlfriend in the fishnets has the sonic scream thing. But this guy, he’s got nothing.”

I say, “What about Batman?”

Dane flashes me a look as he flicks his cigarette ashes through the crack in the car window.

“What about him?”

I light up a cigarette of my own and say, “Well, Batman doesn’t have any powers. He’s no better off than the Green Arrow. Superman could flick his fucking pinky finger and shatter his skull. He’s just a guy in a suit.”

“Yeah, but it’s a cool fucking suit. I mean, if you had the choice to go to a Halloween party dressed as Batman or Green Arrow, which one are you going to choose? Batman’s suit looks all menacing and shit. Green Arrow looks like a fucking faggot. Plus Batman’s a detective. What’s Green Arrow? A flaming liberal? There’s no comparison.”

I take a drag and say, “But he’s still just a guy in a suit. And don’t you think wearing that cape would get in the way in a real fight? At least Green Arrow won’t get his ass stuck in a revolving door.”

Dane says, “Dude, we’re talking about fucking comic books here. None of that shit applies in the real world. In the real world, the government would’ve either killed superheroes for being freaks of nature or they would have kept them a big secret and used them in special ops. You can’t apply real world shit to comics.”

I say, “Then why can’t someone wear a green suit and be a bad ass with a bow and arrow?”

Dane says, “Because it’s gay. This is a world full of super-powered villains, not fucking Sherwood Forest. What are you, a fucking Green Arrow fan?”

I say, “Nah. I always liked Hawkeye better. At least he pissed off Captain America all the time.”

Dane says, “Yeah, too bad he’s dead.”

“Nobody ever stays dead in Marvel comics except Captain Marvel and he died of cancer.”

Dane says, “And Bucky.”

“Fuck Bucky.”

We’re sitting in the usual spot in the parking lot waiting for someone to signal us with the lights. We’ve been coming to the Egyptian Motel for a couple of months now. Everyone’s favorite drug dealer, Eddie the Eel always gets a different room each day because he’s paranoid. I mean, he’s a drug dealer. In his line of work, it pays to be paranoid.

If you aren’t paranoid, you’re fucking stupid.

I don’t know how long we’ve been talking but it seems like it's been longer than usual. The Eel is a greedy bastard and he never makes us wait long. I like that about him. Most drug dealers dick around with you, just making you squirm like a fucking worm on a fishhook. But not the Eel. He’s quick and efficient. Everything always goes smooth as silk.

I finish my cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. In low volume on the radio a deejay is talking about thunderstorm warnings, so I turn the station. I fucking hate bad news.

Dane lights another cigarette and looks over at me, “Think he’s in there taking a shit or something.”

“Was just wondering that myself,” I say lighting another one of my own. I reach into the backseat floorboard and pull a beer out of the cooler. I pop it open and throw back half of the beer in a few gulps.

Dane says, “Thirsty?”

I say, “Nervous. You know I’m always paranoid.”

“Who isn’t in this business? It’s a shame everything good is fucking illegal, isn’t it?”

“What about comic books?”

“Dude, have you ever gotten laid because of comic books? If comics got you laid they’d probably make them illegal, too.”

“Guess you’re right,” I concede and finish off my beer.

In room number twelve a light flicks on and off quickly two times. This is pretty unusual because the signal is three times. Eddie the Eel’s always been adamant about that. Both of us wait for the light to go off and on again, but the light stays on.

“Do you remember what two times means?” Dane asks me taking another drag off his cigarette and blowing smoke out of his nose.

“I didn’t know there was a two.”

“Back when we first met Eddie. He told us that three times meant come to the room and two times meant something else.”

“Maybe it means he’s high and forgot to do it three times. I don’t remember him saying anything about two times. Let’s just go to the room, man. I’m ready to get stoned.”

I start to get out of the car and Dane grabs my arm.

“Wait a minute, man. I don’t like this.”

“Dude, nothing is fucked here.”

Dane flashes me a look as he flicks his cigarette out the window. “Don’t start quoting Lebowski, asshole. You know that annoys me.”

“That’s what I live for. Annoying you. Listen, man, let’s just go get the drugs and get the fuck out of here before it starts raining. There’s no two times signal. Eddie’s just high or something.”

“Fuck it. You’re right. I mean, what would fucking Captain America do? He wouldn’t sit out here in the car wondering about being cautious. He’d just go charging in.”

“Number one, Captain America wouldn’t be buying weed and, number two, he has an indestructible shield.”

“Don’t get all logical on me, man. Let’s just go get the pound and get the fuck out of here.”

We roll up the windows on the Chevelle and get out of the car. I light another cigarette and Dane follows suit. Normally, we’d probably be more cautious, but with the storm and the fact we’d been out of weed for a couple of days and people had been bugging the shit out of us, we wanted to get this done.

We walk up to the door of room number twelve and Dane knocks. We wait about a minute and no one answers. Now this is really fucking weird. The Eel never turns away money. Ever. Not unless he thinks you're a cop.

I whisper, “The fuck is going on here?”

Dane whispers back, “How the hell should I know? Think I should try the knob?”

“What and get shot in the gut by a paranoid drug dealer when you come walking into his motel room? Go right ahead.”

Dane tries the door. “It’s unlocked.”

“Captain fucking America, right?”

Dane opens the door and his face freezes. I see a bunch of people in the room that look like cops. The first thing I do is bolt, but I notice cops are coming out of the adjacent rooms. We’re so fucked. I think about making a run for the car, but looking back I see that they’ve already grabbed Dane and he has the keys, so I change direction and head for the woods across the street. I hear people screaming for me to stop and what sounds like a gunshot, but maybe it’s just thunder. Cops don’t shoot unarmed men in the back, do they?

Everything’s happening so fucking fast. I feel something heavy hit in me in the back and the next thing I know I’m eating loose gravel and some big guy is trying to wrestle with me on the ground. I manage to kick him in the guts, but by that time two more guys are on me and my face is planted in sharp little rocks.

Something told me that tonight was going to be a shitty night.

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