March, 1984—No doubt about it, Larry thought, the kitchen sink’s plugged. Worse, he didn’t have a snake that would fit through the little holes in the goddamn drain.
Both sides of the sink were filled nearly to the top with water. Annoying. And their drains shared the same pipe—which would make it just a little more difficult.
He decided to start with the plunger anyway. If he got nowhere he could still open up the pipes. It’d probably be what he’d do in the end anyway. He thought about that, and considered grabbing a wrench and cutting out a step. Then he reconsidered. He’d try the plunger first, and maybe it would work.
The stupid plunger.
An hour later, he found himself putting a bucket under the sink. As he picked up the wrench to start on the pipes, the dogs started barking.
He decided he’d better get out there before the dogs scared the visitor off, or, depending on who the visitor was, maybe he’d let them.
Leaving the wrench on the counter, he walked over the yellow and brown linoleum flooring, and into the living room. Looking it over, he hoped his visitor wasn’t anyone he wanted to impress. He’d left a pile of newspapers on the dark, brown, vinyl couch, and put a carburetor on top of them.
He’d deal with that later.
Opening the door, he stepped out onto the wooden landing outside his white mobile home. Even in his flannel shirt, it wasn’t warm outside. He wondered if it would make forty degrees that day, but didn’t wonder long because he’d recognized the car. Both Dobermans were barking next to the green Cadillac’s driver’s side door.
“Sid! Nancy! Down!”
The dogs didn’t listen, continuing to bark at the car.
The dogs looked at him. He fished in his pockets and found the dog treats, and they walked toward him. “Sit,” he said again, and this time they actually did. He gave each of them a treat, and then grabbed their collars.
When he grabbed Sid’s collar, Joe opened the door. Joe stepped out onto the dirt driveway, looking healthy for a man in his sixties—grey-haired, and wrinkled, but not hesitant.
The dogs turned around, and started barking again. Larry didn’t let go. “Come on, you know him. Quiet, dammit.”
Joe walked toward them, leaving bootprints in the slush. “I like the new place.”
“I feel like I just moved in. Hell, I feel like I’m the only one here.”
Joe smiled, and slowly, deliberately, looked from his left to his right. “You are.”
To the left of the driveway was an old, red barn, but behind it and surrounding everything else were farmers’ fields. Pale, crumpled stalks of corn stuck partially out of the snow. There were no other houses in sight.
The dogs had stopped barking, and Larry let them go. They both started sniffing Joe’s legs.
“Well, come on in. I’m sure we don’t want to talk out here.” Larry led him in. The dogs followed.
Joe took off his winter coat, and sat down on the couch next to the carburetor.
Larry sat down in the recliner.
Joe took his eyes away from the carburetor to look at Larry. “It’s working out?”
Larry nodded. “Better than working at the plant ever did. I got a bunch of sponsors. They’re happy to pay a few thousand to put their logo on the Rhino suit. I look like a Nascar driver. It’s hilarious. You want to see? I’ve dug a bunker under the barn.”
Joe shook his head. “I’ve seen you on TV.” He paused, and then said, “I’m here on business.”
Larry nodded, and said, “Let me guess, you’re coming back out of retirement?”
Joe smiled, but only briefly. “No. Not a chance. I like waking up in the morning knowing that someone will be facing the Lords of Destruction, and that it’s not me. Nope, I’m not coming back, but some League business needs to be handled. I’m passing it off to you.”
Larry brushed some hair out of his face. He knew he should have put it into a ponytail.
“League business? So what’s it about? It’s not aliens again because it wouldn’t just be you—the Feds would be on the phone.”
“No,” Joe glanced over at the carburetor again. “It’s not another Faerie incursion. No zombie plague. The vaccinations took care of that. No Russians. They’re too busy cleaning up after Andropov’s death. So, we’re in good shape when it comes to big threats. I’m here to talk about small ones. You remember Armory?”
“Right. The guy who tried to pack every weapon he could into his suit? Worked with the Midwest Defenders a couple times?”
Joe nodded. “You remember how he handled joints?”
Larry’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, kind of multi-layered and weird. What about it?”
“On TV I saw Chicago Hawk fighting a couple powersuits with the same joint design.”
“No kidding. Do you know that it’s him?”
“No way of knowing, but they had a lot of hidden weapons.”
“Shit. Is that a new thing or was he bad the whole time?”
Joe shrugged. “No way of knowing without talking to him, and that’s where you come in. I got a call from the Feds. It turns out similar armor’s been seen in the Metafight Games. They’re sending in a guy to investigate, and they wanted some help.”
“Who are they sending in?”
“Some guy named Lim. It sounds like it might be his first mission without supervision. Try not to break him.”