The Cabbie's First Case
“You called him an ugly, immortal son of a bitch?” Roland asked.
Max shifted the phone from one ear to the other, holding it with his shoulder so that his hands were free to wash dishes. “Yeah. First thing that came to mind. Seemed to shake him up, though.”
There was a pause, and then Roland asked, “what exactly is a bitch?”
Max nearly dropped the dish. “Uh, what?”
“A bitch. I have heard this word used as an insult, usually directed against females, but I am not sure how or why it is offensive.”
“Well, it refers to a female dog.”
“Interesting. But are dogs not considered loyal, handsome animals? Are they not one of the first ones domesticated by humans?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Then why would it be an insult to compare a woman to an animal that is almost universally adored?”
Max considered this. “To be honest, I don’t really know.”
“Interesting. Just a cultural norm, then.” Roland sounded bemused.
“But, the topic at hand was the battle.”
Max walked into work on Friday, cap once again pulled low. He punched his time card, and headed rather hurriedly for his car, when one of the mechanics looked up and yelled, “Tom wants to see you, Berretti.”
Max sighed, and looked toward Tom’s office. Clutching the piece of paper in his pocket, he marched forward. Passing the TV, he nodded to Luke and Frank, drinking coffee. Luke was chatting about the game, while Frank nodded, only replying occasionally and laconically. The Gateway Heroes had been knocked out of the playoffs a couple of days ago, so they were in an evil mood, but they nodded back to him. Really, they were just trying to avoid talking about the fever that had hit yesterday and laid out half of their co-workers.
“You catch the game?” Luke asked.
“Shame.” Frank said, and all nodded solemnly.
“Going in to see Tom?” Luke asked.
“’Luck.” Frank said, and all nodded again. Max turned around and opened the office door, seeing that Tom was holding a document in one big meaty paw while reading it with his comically small, round glasses. Tom grunted and waved to a seat, and he put the document down as Max sat.
“So, Berretti,” Max began, “took a pretty long lunch break yesterday.”
“Uh, yeah, see, I got a note from the doctor. It was a medical emergency.”
Max took the note out of his pocket and held it out with timid triumph. Tom leaned back and studied it, looked up at Max, and studied it again. He put it on his desk, leaned forward, put his elbows on his desk and steepled his fingers. Then he took off his glasses and leaned back again. He met Max’s eyes.
“I see that Doc Lazz was the doctor who treated you.”
“Note says that you caught that super-fever that killed a bunch of people yesterday. The stuff that that demon-king or whatever was putting in bottles of brandy.”
“Yeah, it was pretty bad.”
“Yeah?” Tom was boring into his eyes. “What was it like?”
“What was what like?”
“Having the fever.”
“Well, um, it was like having a fever where your skin feels really hot, but being drunk at the sam time.”
“Uh huh.” Tom replied. He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose “So, Doc Lazz is a super-hero doctor or whatever, right Max?”
“Well, I guess she is, sure, but she treats normal patients, but she’s an expert in really weird stuff, and…”
“Yeah yeah,” Tom waved his hand dismissively, and Max fell silent. Tom finally broke eye contact, and looked contemplatively at a snow-globe sitting on his desk that his daughter had given him at Christmas a few years ago. He shook it, putting it back down and watching the flakes shoot around. “You know, Max, I diverted about half of our drivers to go and help emergency services take people to the hospital. All of the drivers that I sent are currently at home, recovering, and they’d been using hazmat suits that the city was handing out. Had I known that it was so, what’s the word, contagious, I wouldn’t have sent anyone. But they volunteered, they’re all getting better, and it was good publicity. But the only reason that everything turned out okay is that someone stopped that demon who was poisoning all that liquor.”
Max was speechless.
“It’s strange that you caught this fever, but you’re here, right now, while all the other drivers who caught it are at home. Just have a good immune system?”
“I, uh, also got treated pretty fast.”
“Uh huh. How old are you?”
“I turned twenty three a couple of months ago.”
Tom shook his head, a sympathetic expression on his face, “Jeez, Max, you’re just a kid.” Max opened his mouth to protest, but though better of it when Tom waved his hand again. Tom sighed, picked up the snow-globe and shook it again. “You know, I saw the news release of that new Super, The Cabbie, who was talking to a reporter about what had happened. Weird that a guy would name himself The Cabbie. I wonder how that guy got inspired to run around in a costume, risking his life to fight crime? The only cab driver that I’ve heard of around here who did anything like that was you, that one time. It’s also weird that when someone is talking through a helmet it sounds almost exactly like them when they’re talking over a phone”
Max said nothing. Tom looked at his desk.
“When I was twenty three, Max, I thought I was going to live forever. Did some stupid stuff, got older, got wiser, settled down. But I got older, you see what I’m saying?” Max really didn’t, and it must have showed in his expression when Tom looked up, because he continued. “Kid, if you give me a call to say that you’re going to need to take a long lunch break, that’s okay, you don’t need to bother getting Doc Lazz to give you a doctor’s note. You’re a good kid with a good heart, and I know that you’re doing good things. Just be careful, alright? It’s a dangerous world with dangerous people.”
Max swallowed on a dry throat.
Tom put on his glasses again and picked up the document he’d been reading before. “Alright, Berretti, good to have this talk. Now get out there and make some bacon, alright?”
“Yeah, okay.” Max stood and left, his head spinning a bit. Frank was gone, and only Luke sat in front of the TV, sipping coffee and watching a yellow-suited super-hero talking with a reporter.
“This new Super Hero is neat, huh?” Luke said, looking up as Max came up. “The Cabbie. Good to have a guy out there giving us working stiffs a good name.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet,” Max replied, “but I better get back to my shift.”
“Yep.” Luke replied, and sipped at his coffee as Max headed for his car.
“Right!” Max said, stacking another dish in the drying rack. “The fight. At that point, that Star guy came in and ripped the demon lord apart with his mind powers. I was pretty glad, cause I might have gotten really messed up if he hadn’t. Everyone else in that warehouse pretty much took off at that point, and I went after them after seeing that Star and Reflex were okay, but they were gone.”
“If the enemy fled, you pursued and were not ambushed, it means that you were victorious.”
“I guess so.” Max said it without much conviction. He was finished with the dishes, and unplugged the sink. The water circled the drain.
“Is there something wrong, Max?”
“A lot of people died.” Max said, walking to the living room and slouching in his favourite chair. “A lot of people died, and I wasn’t able to save them.”
“Do not dare blame yourself!” The sudden savagery in Roland’s voice caused Max to sit up. When Roland continued, he was calm again. “It isn’t your fault that those people died. The demon whose fault it was got torn to pieces by Midday Star. What you did was noble, and heroic, and courageous, and Reflex was right to tell you that they could not have done what they did without you.”
“You think so?”
“You tell me that you used your infra-vision to discern which people were infected. You investigated, and figured out who and what was spreading the fever, through a combination of quick thinking, intelligence and bravery. You not only met my expectations of what you could do, but you have exceeded them even in this short time. I’m extremely proud.”
Max smiled. “Thanks.”
“I and Gateway City thank you. But I should go. I will talk to you another time, Max.”
“Sure, Roland, bye.”
Max went to his bedroom, and looked at the wall above his desk. Pinned to the wall was a story whose headline read, “Super-Fever Stopped by Super-Heroes!” He and Reflex were both featured in a picture that accompanied the article. Max grinned. He’d just bought a box of pins, and was looking forward to using every single one.