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Baker's Dozen – Chapter 08

Written by argonaut :: [Tuesday, 02 September 2014 09:27] Last updated by :: [Friday, 14 August 2015 22:07]

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BAKER’S DOZEN

by Argonaut


 

CHAPTER 8

Kenny and Malcolm were dozing in the back seat; Bobby had the front all to himself. A map of the convention center was spread out under the steering wheel, along witha schedule of events and a packet of registration materials. Bobby was flipping through his pocket notebook, double-checking the list of events he was planning to attend.

He slipped the notebook back into his shirt pocket. The grey fog they’d been riding through for the last half-hour was still swirling past the car’s windows. He tried to peer down through the fog, but it was too thick. He checked the time on his phone: 7:40. They should be arriving soon.

Sure enough, a minute later they began descending through the clouds. The city lay thousands of feet below, like an image on Google Earth. Bobby’s stomach began fluttering. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath, reminding himself that he was perfectly safe.

He turned around and shook Malcolm’s shoulder. “Wake up, guys. We’re almost there.”

They could make out streets and rooftops now as they descended toward an enormous parking lot, dotted with cars, surrounding a cluster of rectangular buildings. Bobby began folding the map and gathering the registration materals. The car slowed to a gentle stop about six feet above the parking lot, then began tipping backward. The rear tires touched the asphalt with a gentle bump. As the front of the car swung down, Darcy Malloy’s grinning face came into view above the hood.

The boys got out of the car, stretching their cramped muscles, while Darcy adjusted the red sash on her costume. “Thanks for the lift,” said Bobby.

“Hey, no problem. Why drive when you can fly?”

“So are you coming in?” asked Malcolm.

Darcy shook her head. “I wish I could, but I’ve got to get back to Middleton. My shift starts at 8:00.” Darcy and Megan were helping to rebuild the school cafeteria. “But the crew only puts in half a day on Saturday, so we can meet up for lunch. Then we can hang out until the judging of the costumes, and then I’ll fly you guys back home. Sound good?”

The boys nodded.

“Okay, then. I’ll meet you in the food court a little after twelve. See you then.” But just as Darcy was about to fly off, Bobby spoke up.

“Say, Darcy,” he said. “Can I ask you somerhing?”

“Sure.”

I was just wondering -- do you like being super?”

Darcy seemed surprised by the question. “Well, yeah. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I try not to flaunt it, like Megan, but yeah -- gettng super-powers was like winning the lottery or something.”

Bobby nodded. He’d read about lottery winners who had a hard time adjusting to their sudden wealth and even came to regret their good fortune, but he kept the thought to himself.

“Yes, but do you ever miss being -- you know, a regular teenager … going to school and hanging with your friends and stuff like that?”

“Awww,” said Darcy. She put out her arms and drew the boys in close for a group hug. “Sure, I miss you guys, but hey -- we get to hang out today, here at the Comicon, right?” She gave them another squeeze, then stepped back. “I gotta go now, but I’ll see you all later, okay?”

But before she could launch herself into the air, a sudden shout made them turn.

“Hey!”

A pudgy, balding, unshaven man in a faded Batman T-shirt -- a dead ringer for Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons -- had gotten out of his car and stood staring at Darcy. “Great costume!” he called out.

“Thanks!” said Darcy. “I made it myself.” And swinging her arms over her head, she rocketed up and disappeared into the clouds.

As Bobby and his friends hurried to join the line that was already stretching out into the parking lot, Comic Book Guy stood gaping up at the sky..

* * * * * * * *

Twenty minutes later, having made their way past the registration tables, the boys stepped into the convention hall. They’d arranged to split up until it was time to meet Darcy for lunch.

The hall was already a beehive of activity. High overhead, on a scaffold suspended from the ceiling, some workers were hanging a banner with the Comicon logo. Music and announcements blared from loudspeakers, mixing with the excited chatter of the crowd; the floor was a maze of tables and booths where artists were putting up samples of their work and vendors were arranging their wares. People jostled one another as they moved from table to table, maps and flyers in hand.

And of course, there were girls.

Petite girls, statuesque girls, blondes, brunettes, redheads, girls in street clothes and -- best of all -- girls in costume. There were Supergirls and Wonder Women, White Queens and Black Widows, Zatannas in fishnet stockings and Red Sonjas in chain-mail bikinis. As far as Bobby was concerned, this was the best part of the Comicon. He scanned the crowd, camera phone in hand, ready to take a picture of any particularly photogenic cosplayer who caught his eye.

His head swiveled slowly as a long-legged Supergirl strolled by in a low-cut blue blouse and high-cut red shorts. He stared after her until she disappeared in the crowd. Zowie! And to think that he could give her super-powers just by touching the card under his shirt and saying five words …

Regretfully, he turned away. He wasn’t about to use his card on a total stranger, no matter how hot she was.

He was standing by a vendor’s booth. A man behind the table was checking some papers on a clipboard, but he looked up and nodded at Bobby. “I’m still setting up, but feel free to look around. If there’s anything I can help you with, just let me know.”

Bobby nodded and picked up a flyer from the table. LODESTAR -- SETTING A NEW COURSE FOR COMICS! He recognized the name of a newly-launched independent publisher. Itwas also the title of the company’s flagship comic, chronicling the adventures of Lindsay Lark -- a small-town girl working for a big-city newspaper, trying to juggle her career and her social life with the demands of being the world’s mightiest super-heroine.

The flyer quoted an on-line review: “Lodestar blends the free-wheeling fun of Silver Age comics with the sensibility of a modern-day sitcom … A breath of fresh air in today’s comics market.”

There was a box of bagged and boarded comics at one end of the table. Bobby began flipping through them, but without much interest. He already had the six issues of Lodestar that had been published so far …

With sudden excitement he pulled a comic from the box. It was issue #1 -- the rare variant with the Terry Dodson cover. Bobby stared longingly at the stunning image of Lodestar zig-zagging playfully through a swarm of asteroids. Then his face fell as he glanced at the price on the sticker. He was about to put the comic back in the box when …

“Hi,” said a voice beside him. “Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”

Turning, Bobby did a double-take. It was as if Lodestar had materialized from the cover of the comic book. Facing him was a woman in her early twenties, a couple of inches shorter than Bobby, with short brown hair framing a cute face and pale blue eyes that regarded him shrewdly from behind a pair of glasses.

She was wearing a replica of Lodestar’s costume: a close-fitting blue jersey with short sleeves -- a demure blue miniskirt -- blue buccaneer boots and a short white cape. The sleeves, skirt and cape were trimmed in orange, and an orange star blazed beneath the right shoulder.

“Wow,” said Bobby. “I like your costume.”

“Thanks. I had it custom-made. A little pricey for my budget, but worth it -- don’t you think?”

“Can I get a picture?” asked Bobby.

“Sure.” Grinning, she struck a heroic pose -- hands on hips, shoulders back, chin raised -- while Bobby held up his phone and took her picture.

I’m Lindsay Carr,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “I’m a reporter for the Evansville Courier, and I’m covering this for the entertainment section.”

“Hi,” said Bobby, shaking her hand. “I’m Bobby Baker.”

“Nice to meet you, Bobby. Where are you from?”

“Middleton.”

Lindsay’s eyes grew wide. “Wow. That’s where the supers come from, right? Cindy Corliss and the others? Do you know any of them?”

“Sure. They used to go to my school. Darcy Malloy is a friend of mine. She’ll be here later.”

That is so cool. Isn’t it strange how they all live in the same town? Is there something in the water, or what? What do you think?”

Bobby shrugged. “I’ve heard lots of theories.”

Me, too.” A wistful look came over Lindsay’s face. “Whatever made those girls super, I sure wish it would happen to me. I mean, Evansville is only about twenty miles from Middleton, so why not?” She smiled ruefully. “But no such luck. I guess I’ll have to settle for being a mild-mannered reporter.”

“So you’d like to be super?” Bobby tried to keep his voice casual, though he was eager to hear her go on.

Lindsay blushed. “Oh, yes. Ever since I was a kid, reading my older brother’s comic books. I loved Supergirl, Ms. Marvel, Wonder Woman … I used to daydream about being strong and invincible like them, using my powers to save people in danger. I even went trick-or-treating as Mary Marvel on Halloween. She was my favorite.” She smiled sheepishly. “I can’t tell you how many times I said “Shazam!” in hopes that I’d turn into Lindsay Marvel, but --”

She took the comic book from Bobby’s hands. “This reminds me of those old comics -- back when comics were supposed to be fun, you know?” Bobby nodded. “And I love that her name is Lindsay and she works for a newspaper, just like me.”

“She even looks like you.”

Well, I’m not that hot, but thanks.” She handed the comic back to Bobby. “Listen to me. I’m supposed to be interviewing you, but here I am, doing all the talking.”

Bobby put the comic back in the box. “So what did you want to ask me?”

But before Lindsay could reply, a sudden commotion swept through the crowd. People were craning their necks, pointing toward the ceiling. Crying out in alarm. “Get a ladder.” “Call 9-1-1.” “Those poor men.”

Bobby looked up. The scaffold he’d seen earlier, up by the ceiling, was tilted downward at a steep angle and swinging wildly back and forth. One of the workers was dangling from the cord on his safety harness; another was lying face down on the scaffold, clutching it for dear life, while a third was hanging from the scaffold’s railing, his legs thrashing helplessly fifty feet above the floor.

Lindsay was looking up, too. Bobby could see the alarm in her eyes. She said she wanted super-powers so she could save people in danger …

Slipping his fingers between the buttons on his shirt, keeping his eyes on Lindsay, he touched the card and murmured: “I wish she was super!”

Once again, the world seemed to be moving in slow-motion. He saw Lindsay pull off her glasses with a sweep of her arm; he saw her lips move as she said something he couldn’t hear; and then …

Two strands of energy rose from the floor at Lindsay’s feet, entwining themselves around her legs and moving up along her torso. She stood with her back arched and her arms outflung, eyes closed, lips parted, in eager surrender to the energy pouring into her body. There was a faint crackle of electricity, a whiff of ozone …

Next moment, a streak of blue and orange shot upward from the spot where she’d been standing.

Bobby raised his eyes toward the ceiling. Lindsay was descending, slowly and gracefully, with two of the men tucked under her arms; the third was hanging behind her with his arms wrapped tightly around her neck. The onlookers below surged back to give them room, then pressed forward again, cheering, applauding, as Lindsay alighted. Bobby was at the back, standing on tiptoe, but he couldn’t see past the people crowding round her.

He turned away. The man at the booth was propping a large sign on the table. He caught Bobby’s eye and grinned. “Never a dull moment at a Comicon, huh?”

I guess,” said Bobby. He was staring at the sign -- a studio portrait of Lodestar below the caption “MEET THE STAR OF THE YEAR’S MOST TALKED-ABOUT COMIC!”

The man glanced at his watch. “She won’t start signing photos for another half-hour,” he said. “But in the meantime you can take a look at a couple of our new titles.”

“Thanks,” said Bobby. “I’ll be back.”

Bobby was wandering down the aisle, mulling over what had happened, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

He turned around. “Lindsay?” He blinked. “You look -- different.”

Lindsay grinned. “I know, right?”

Bobby stepped back for a better look. The petite cosplayer had turned into a statuesque bombshell -- six feet tall, he guessed, give or take an inch, as his eyes took in the shapely contours of her legs, the graceful swell of her torso, the shiny chestnut hair that cascaded along her shoulders. Her face, too, was subtly different -- the lips a bit fuller, the cheekbones a trifle higher, the eyes a deeper shade of blue …

Bobby blushed as his eyes met hers. He looked away quickly. Had she caught him checking her out?But if Lindsay had noticed, she didn’t seem to mind.

“So you saw me change,” she said. Bobby nodded. “I knew I was taking a risk, transforming in public like that, but I figured everyone would be looking up at the ceiling.” She put a finger to her lips. “Just keep it to yourself, okay?”

Sure,” said Bobby. “Your secret is safe with me.” He winced. That was such a … comic-booky thing to say.

Lindsay smiled. “Besides, who’d ever believe that a little geek like Lindsay Carr is secretly the super-charged Lodestar?”

“Yeah,” said Bobby. “I’m surprised you even bother with the glasses.”

“Actually, I need the glasses when I’m Lindsay. I’m blind as a bat without them. Listen, I’m sorry I had to run off on you back there.”

“No need to apologize,” said Bobby, somewhat taken aback. “You had to save those guys.”

“Yes -- and now I have to send in the story, and then I’ve got to sit behind a table for an hour signing headshots. No rest for the weary. Anyway, I really enjoyed talking with you, Bobby. You’re a good listener. Girls like that.” She reached into a pouch on the inside of her cape. “Here, this is for you.”

She held out the bagged and boarded copy of Lodestar #1 with the Terry Dodson cover. Bobby’s eyes grew wide as he took it from her hand. “Oh, wow. Thanks.”

You’re welcome. I guess that interview’s off, but maybe I can take a rain check?” Bobby nodded. “Great! By the way, I took the liberty of signing that for you.” She held a hand up to her ear, thumb and pinkie extended. Call me! She mouthed, winking, before she turned and disappeared into the crowd.

Bobby took another look at the comic. There, in the lower right corner, Lodestar had signed her nom de guerre in a loopy cursive script -- and below it she’d jotted a telephone number.

Bobby headed for the escalator to the food court. He’d buy a smoothie or a frozen yogurt, then find a table where he could sit down and think about the questions whirling through his mind. So Lindsay could turn her powers off and on? None of the others could do that -- as far as he knew -- but it fit in with a theory he’d come up with …

He put a pin in that train of thought. Something else had occurred to him: For once, he’d used a wish and nothing had gone wrong -- no super-catfight, no property damage … Lindsay had super-powers, just as she’d always wanted, and she’d saved those guys’ lives … Maybe I’m getting the hang of this wishing thing, he thought. And he still had six wishes left …

Bobby was smiling as he stepped off the escalator and headed for a Fro-Yo counter. Maybe his luck was starting to turn around …

* * * * * * * *

A tall crew-cut man was standing by a wall, out of the way of the crowd. He was wearing what looked like the uniform of a mall security guard and he was speaking into a headset.

“Costello here.”

“Go ahead, Pete,” said a voice in his ear.

“We had a little excitement a couple of minutes ago. Some workers nearly fell from the ceiling. But that Lone Star babe came flying to the rescue.”

It’s Lodestar. L-o-d-e.”

“Whatever. But get this. That Baker kid was talking with her just as she went into action.”

“You don’t say. What were they talking about?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t close enough to hear.”

There might be nothing to it. The kid’s into comic books, so it’s not surprising he’d be there. But I’ll tell the boss lady. Let her figure it out. Anything else?”

“Nope.”

“All right, then. Enjoy the geekfest. Over and out.”

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