He woke knowing that he had just drowned in the North Sea in full armor. He couldn’t pull it off before sinking. Half naked in the darkness, he had kicked and pushed. But had he really been swimming upwards? He couldn’t tell.
Gasping for air, his mouth filled with water.
Bolting awake, at first not realizing where he was, he took a breath.
“Sorry. Bad dream.”
“One of the drowning ones. The North Sea this time.”
She sat up and laid a hand on his shoulder.
“It could have been worse. It didn’t really happen. I’ve seen worse in real life,” he said. The sheets and blankets lay on his lap. He suddenly became conscious of how cold it was.
“I know,” she said.
“I haven’t been in any kind of action since the end of the war, but I’m still dreaming about it,” he said. “I don’t plan to get back into it, but I’ve been making what downstairs? Some kind of bunker. I don’t think all of it’s even on our property any more. It’s partly under the park.”
He leaned back against the headboard of the bed.
“I told you about what Chuck and Giles are doing. I’m going to finish off the suit, help Chuck out, and then maybe it’ll be over.”
Romy said, “It doesn’t have to be over. You don’t really like your job. You’ve said yourself that you were at least making things that mattered during the war. Maybe there’s a way to make a living off of being the Rocket.”
“Well,” he said, “maybe there is, but I can’t think of one unless it’s advertising. I could be the Rocket, sponsored by Camel.”
“I’d try for Lucky Strikes,” she said.
“Thinking they’ll pay their share in cartons?”
“I can hope,” she said. “But I’m not joking about this. It seems like there are more people in costume all the time. Man-machine here in town. The Marvelous X over in Lansing. Someone has to invent their devices. You’re already doing it for Captain Commando and you did it all the time during the war.”
“He’s an old friend, and anyway, he breaks them practically the second they touch his hand.”
“Then you’ll have repeat business,” she said.
“It’s a good dream,” he said. “I just don’t see myself as much of a businessman. The best thing I can do is find a better job. Consulting isn’t stable.”
“It’s better than being bored.”
“I’d rather be bored than unemployed.”
The alarm rang. He fumbled till found it on the end table and shut it off. He reached over the alarm clock and turned on the lamp. She’d already pulled the covers back over herself.
Well, he thought, another day helping General Motors conquer the world.
* * *
He stopped by Cannon’s Hardware on the way home.
The snow wasn’t any better than the night before, but at least it had been plowed. Sand lay on a hardened layer of flattened snow that covered the streets. The temperature was too low for salt to melt anything.
He parked in front of the store in the street. The hardware store stood in a line of stores in two story buildings from the 1880’s, one of Grand Lake’s boom times. Neon lights spelled out “Cannon” on a sign that ran down from the roof to just above the first story. Kay’s Sewing stood just to the right. He would have to stop there too. Romy had asked him to pick up material.
He hadn’t even known she could sew.
He crossed the sidewalk. Cannon’s kept it shoveled all the way to the concrete. By this time in the winter, most other businesses seemed to end up with a layer of snow that didn’t seem worth removing somewhere around their stores.
He approved. If they kept the store like their sidewalk, he might stop here more often.
He walked in, pulled out his list and started going through the store. Half an hour later, he had almost everything he needed.
Pushing the cart up to the counter, he passed his list over to the cashier, a tall, blond teenager. Putting down a notebook, the boy looked it over and said, “We’ll have to special order most of this. We don’t keep this kind of welding supplies in stock.”
“And this,” the boy said, pointing far down the list, “isn’t really for residential use anyway. We try to focus on homeowner needs. We can special order it for you, but I’ve never seen it on the shelves, sir.”
“As long as I get it by next week, it doesn’t matter.”
The boy pulled out a couple forms and some catalogs from under the counter. “I’ll have to fill these out a second.”
“That’s no problem.”
Joe looked over the counter while the kid wrote information out of the catalog onto the form. The notebook lay open next to the catalog. The headline of the newspaper clipping pasted to the page said, “Rocket Moves to Pacific Theater.”
The picture showed him flying over the ocean toward an aircraft carrier.
Next to the article, someone had drawn his armor, labeling the parts, and making another purely speculative drawing about what might be under the surface. The handwriting and the drawing were both clean and precise.
The guesses, Joe thought, weren’t bad.
“The Rocket’s been gone for a while now,” Joe said.
The kid looked up from the second form.
“Oh, I know, but he was great. He was from Grand Lake. Did you know that?” The kid flipped to the first page of the notebook which showed a yellowed clipping of the picture from some long lost article. It showed him running downtown in the first Rocket suit. He hadn’t even added the rocket pack yet at that point. He couldn’t have been much older than this kid when he did it either.
“I’d heard,” Joe said. “Do you have pictures of the rest of them? He wasn’t the only guy in that unit.”
“No. Just the Rocket. The rest of the guys always seemed to be sneaking around. With the Rocket you’ve got a guy who’s not afraid of a full on fight.”
“I don’t think any of them were afraid of a fight, but tactically, the Rocket was the best choice. In war, you use people where they fit.”
“But you never saw them taking on tanks.” The kid was actually getting red in the face.
Joe could actually think of times they had.
“Not in the paper,” he said. “So am I all set?”
The kid didn’t say anything for a second, but then said, “Yep. Do you need me to help carry it out to the car?”
“I’ll be fine.”