What follows is the beginning of a short arc about the founding of the original Heroes League. We’ll get to start off meeting characters that are all dead by the time the present day storyline starts — Nick’s grandparents (Joe and Romy), Red Lightning, and the original Night Wolf in his day job as the manager of a pizzeria.
Sorry it didn’t get up earlier. Starting a new story is hard — all new characters and a new plot, not to mention my tendency to start reading about the 1950’s and then get distracted by the research.
Even the snow in the parking lot passed his ankles. Joe Vander Sloot stepped out of the Chevy, shut the door, and walked across the almost empty lot to “Chuck’s Pizza.”
Giles’ black Jaguar put the “almost” next to the “empty.”
Joe shook his head. Only someone with the Hardwicks’ money could put a car like that through a Michigan winter. Joe stopped next to it, brushed snow off the window, and, out of curiosity checked which side the steering wheel was on. Despite being a made in Britain, the steering wheel turned out to be on the left. Joe wondered if they’d redesigned it for the US market or whether Giles had had his customized.
After a few moments more, he walked away from the car. Ignoring the “Closed” sign in the window, he opened the door and walked inside.
Just as small on the inside as it appeared outside, “Chuck’s Pizza” held four booths and a couple tables. To the right, Joe could see the kitchen on the other side of the counter. To the left, Giles and Chuck sat at the booth on the middle of the far side.
They were the only people in the restaurant.
Giles wore a pinstriped suit and looked heavier than Joe remembered. Chuck still looked small, but a muscular sort of small. He wore an grease stained apron over his clothes.
Unzipping his coat, Joe walked toward the table.
“Joe,” Chuck said. “It’s been an age. How are you? How’s the wife?”
“Hi Chuck. Romy’s fine. We’re both fine.” He sat down next to Giles.
Holding out his hand, Giles said, “Hi-di-ho.”
Joe shook it. “Giles, I saw your car.”
“You like it? The salesman told me they’re popular in Hollywood these days. Humphrey Bogart’s got one.”
“I like it.” Joe said.
Chuck leaned in, “I still don’t believe it. You and her? She was on the other side.”
Joe shrugged. “The war’s over, Chuck. It’s been over for eight years and it wasn’t personal.”
“War’s over, yeah, but I don’t think there’s a one of us she didn’t take a shot at. Besides, you took up with her while it was still going.”
“She came over to our side while it was still going.”
“She was a spy. You couldn’t know what she had in mind.”
“I’ve told you before — Isaac did. He passed her.”
“Isaac made mistakes too. Remember the –”
Giles held up his his hands. “Boys. Boys! Why rehash that old argument? Children born when it was relevant are now entering the third grade. Let’s talk about why we’re here. Chuck?”
“Hey,” Chuck said, “sorry about that. Seeing you guys again puts me back a few years. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“It’s alright,” Joe said. “So, why are we here?”
“It’s my father in law. He got involved with the Chicago Outfit. You know, the mob. Remember how ‘Leonardo’s’ used to be a speakeasy? They got him liquor during Prohibition. He got extra food during rationing. Now he wants out, and as the guy who’s going to take over after he retires, I agree. I don’t want to be connected to those guys.”
Joe nodded. “I wouldn’t either. What did you plan to do?”
Chuck said, “Well, I thought I’d get a few of us together and put the fear of God in them. You know, what I’m doing in the neighborhood. Just bigger.”
* * *
Two hours later, Joe sat in the sub-basement he’d excavated below his house. Nearly one hundred feet below the surface, all gray concrete, and filled with tools and machines, it wouldn’t win awards for interior design.
Joe didn’t know why he’d done it. A secret workroom had seemed like a good idea when he came back from the war. If nothing else it worked as a fallout shelter. Of course, that hadn’t been the real reason. Originally he’d intended to start up as the Rocket again — just like he had been before the war.
Some guy calling himself Man-machine had appeared while he was overseas. He ran around town in a huge suit of powered armor.
Joe didn’t think that Grand Lake needed two armored protectors, and by the end of the war he had fewer illusions about what fighting meant.
He’d decided to concentrate on his job. Being an engineer for an auto parts factory didn’t inspire him, but it paid the bills.
He inspected the armor where it stood in the corner. He had the suit he’d left three quarters finished when he went to war. Dull, gray superstructure, and the layered artificial muscles, it waited for action.
He’d left the version of the Rocket suit he created during the war with the army.
He sat on a stool and thought. If he did help Chuck, he’d have to finish it first. He had a few ideas he’d never gotten to try during the war and a few improvements.
Half an hour passed and he sat motionless, flipping from one possibility to another in his mind.
Romy floated through the ceiling, cigarette still in hand. Her feet appeared first, followed by the hem of her skirt and finally the rest of her body.
Joe didn’t even look up.
She tapped the ashes into a metal bowl, eyed the suit, and in an amused tone said, “So, are you going to tell me what you’re planning, or will I have to torture you first?”