(Author’s Note: Please be aware that this story deals with adult themes and situations. Reader discretion is advised.)
It was an uncommonly gorgeous spring day in Major City. Birds were singing, the sky was cloudless, and all seemed right in the world. Except, that is, at a tiny table in the fashionable Chez Café. Why? That was where an uncomfortable silence had fallen over the lunch between Shelly Ericson and Roxanne Prize.
Understand that Shelly and Roxanne were hardly enemies. But they weren't really friends, either. Shelly was the partner and bodyguard of Paul Mann, a.k.a. the superhero Captain Satellite. Roxanne was a founding member of the superhero group the Invincible Alliance under the name “Firegirl.” It was not unusual for them to find their paths crossing.
Complicating matters between the two, however, were their personal relationships. Shelly was Paul Mann’s girlfriend. Roxanne was his ex-girlfriend, and their break-up had been the result of Roxanne betraying his trust. Though Paul and Roxanne had made peace with one another in the intervening years, Shelly wasn’t so sure she cared for this woman who had hurt her man.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Roxanne’s part. She knew that even sincere contrition couldn’t erase the past, and so she strived to earn Shelly’s respect, and perhaps even her friendship. That was easier said than done, because Shelly’s image of Roxanne had been shaped well before they had ever met.
The lunches were supposed to be a step in the right direction. It had been Roxanne’s suggestion that they meet once every couple of weeks just to have lunch and talk. Her hope was that, as they got to know one another, they would bond over their unique lifestyles. Shelly had grudgingly accepted the offer—mostly in an attempt to be civil. Only problem was, this was the fourth lunch they had shared, and the conversation had dried up.
“So, what do you like?” Roxanne blurted out, instantly regretting her choices of words.
“What do I like?” Shelly repeated as she sipped Kooba Cola from elegant glass stemware. “What are you talking about?”
“I mean…I don’t know, hobbies, interests, stuff like that,” Roxanne fumbled as she tried to recover. “You don’t spend all your free time beating up bad guys, do you?”
Shelly rolled her eyes. “I guess you could say I’m into sharp things.”
“Sharp…things?” Roxanne asked somewhat nervously.
“Yeah,” Shelly said almost lovingly as she toyed with her dinner knife. “Blades, shuriken, things like that. I’ve been collecting them since I was a girl.”
More silence. Roxanne didn’t know how to respond. She wasn’t even sure if Shelly was joking or serious. For her part, Shelly returned to idly picking at the remnants of her meal, completely unaware that anything was amiss but desperately hoping the ordeal of this lunch would soon be over.
Shelly and Roxanne soon got their wish for something to come along to break the tension. However, it wasn’t what they would have had in mind. Though neither was enjoying themselves, they didn’t really want an explosion to go off in the streets outside their restaurant.
“What the hell?” Roxanne shouted as the force rocked her out of her chair.
“Manon, what’s going on out there?” Shelly called to Chez Café’s owner Manon Etienne as the female French expatriate peered out the window.
“Zut alors, Miss Ericson!” Manon exclaimed. “There are men in blue uniforms attacking the jewelry store across the street!”
Shelly looked over at Roxanne. “Sounds like Third World. You got your business clothes on you?”
“Always,” Roxanne answered as she headed for a spot to change.
“Meet me outside!” Shelly yelled as she pulled out the money to cover the check and beat a hasty exit through the front door.
Shelly had assessed the situation correctly. It was indeed a squadron of Third World agents converging on the upscale jewelry store directly across from Chez Café. One of the helmeted hoodlums spotted Shelly as she sprinted toward them, and recognized her from a previous encounter.
“Haw haw!” he chortled. “Look, it’s Captain Satellite’s girlfriend! Your boyfriend isn’t here to save you now, girlie!”
“You really have no clue, do you?” Shelly replied as she high-kicked the Third Worlder directly in the face with her cowgirl boot, ending his day rather early as he blacked out from the hit.
His comrades weren’t so complacent. Two of them trained their rifles on Shelly in a matter of seconds. Her eyes darted from one to the other as she worked out how best to escape.
It turned out her problem was solved for her as twin fireballs streaked past and sent the villains scrambling. A familiar red and purple-clad lady raced up and knocked the pair out by cracking their skulls together.
“Thanks, Firegirl,” Shelly said half-heartedly as the two surveyed the remaining nine Third World agents in their midst.
“No sweat!” Firegirl responded. “In fact, looks like I’m in the lead now!”
“Whatever,” Shelly snapped condescendingly. “You think you’re real hot stuff when you have someone watching your back, like those four playmates of yours.”
Firegirl felt her cheeks redden at the insult leveled at her and her allies in the Invincible Alliance. She had bent over backwards to be nice to Shelly, and this was the thanks she got? Oh, she’d get her back. She knew just the way.
“Fine then!” Firegirl piped up as Third World agents closed in on them. “We’ll have a bet over who catches the most bad guys!”
Shelly smirked. “You’re on. If I win, you have to pay the bill for the next six months for these lunches of yours!”
“And if I win,” Firegirl responded mischievously, “I get to spend a hot night with you!”
At that moment, Firegirl wished she had a camera to capture the expression on Shelly’s face. Priceless! Shelly grunted an acknowledgment as she wailed away at the opponents who had no idea of their infighting.
Firegirl punched at a couple of Third World agents herself, but she had no illusions that she was in Shelly’s class as a fighter. That was the whole point. She wouldn’t have made such a ridiculous wager if she had thought she had any chance of winning. Shelly had such a traditional worldview that it was the perfect way to tweak her. After it was all over, they could have a good laugh about it.
As the fight wore on, Firegirl’s prediction seemed to be coming true. She was holding her own, but she’d only managed to subdue a single Third World goon since the two she’d dispatched earlier. Meanwhile, Shelly was tearing into the enemy agents like a woman possessed. As she watched Shelly pummel one hapless villain repeatedly in the stomach and then drive his face into the sidewalk, Firegirl got the feeling that Third World was being victimized by some misdirected anger. Oh well, it was their own fault.
The score was 5-3 when a trio of Third World agents got the bright idea to gang up on Firegirl and jumped her from behind. As she struggled to free herself, Firegirl let forth a burst of flame that ignited the uniforms of her attackers. As Shelly pistol-whipped one last enemy with his own gun, Firegirl took out three in one go as they frantically tried to roll out their flames.
And that was where things stood as the fight died down. The Third World agents were all alive and intact, but neatly stacked into respective piles. The final tally was 6-6. Stalemate.
Firegirl hadn’t really expected it to be that close, but felt an odd sense of satisfaction over the result. Oh yeah, she had done it! She had collared just as many hoods as Shelly Ericson! She wouldn’t even have to pay for Shelly’s lunches!
So engrossed was Firegirl in her triumph via deadlock that she didn’t notice a seemingly innocent passer-by getting far closer than was prudent. As he walked up behind her, his pace quickened, and the glint of a knife appeared.
“Firegirl, behind you!” Shelly screamed as the attacker lunged for his prey.
Firegirl dodged the attempt on her life and wrestled the knife from her assailant. She heated it up until it deformed into a useless hunk of metal as she held the struggling man at bay.
“You stopped this operation, but Third World shall endure!” the man proclaimed. “Three for victory!”
“Keep telling yourself that!” Firegirl rejoined as she laid what had apparently been the assault team’s sleeper agent low. He fell into her pile of villainy.
It didn’t occur to Firegirl exactly what had just happened until she looked over at Shelly and was greeted by a blank, disbelieving stare. What was her problem? That clown hadn’t hurt her, and they had tied in their…
Firegirl glanced down at her pile and it dawned on her. The sleeper agent had attacked her, and she had to finish him off. That meant there had really been thirteen Third World agents on the scene, not twelve. She had personally handled seven of them.
She had won.
But…but…but that wasn’t how it was supposed to go! It had just been a harmless bet that she couldn’t win! She was just being sarcastic! She hadn’t really wanted…
“Shelly, I was only kidding,” a mortified Firegirl pleaded with her lunch companion. “You don’t have to follow through on this. I promise.”
“Be at the mansion by 7,” is all Shelly said as she turned and walked away, leaving Firegirl to deal with both the authorities and the dread that she had gotten herself into a colossal mess.