LNH: Easily-Discovered Man #57

EDMLite robrogers72 at gmail.com
Thu May 7 19:29:02 PDT 2020

    Doused with microwave radiation, Theodore Wong gained the ability to glow and be detected at great distances by anyone with a Geiger counter.  Forced to retire, Wong has left former sidekick Lite to continue his battle against the forces of corruption, chaos and common sense, and to carry on the legacy of the fabulous EASILY-DISCOVERED MAN.
    The following takes place sometime after issue #8 of the Legion of Net.Heroes mini-series "Beige Countdown."

-----Previously on "The Adventures of Easily-Discovered Man"-----------

     On the hunt for the killer of the nefarious WAFFLE QUEEN, Easily-Discovered Man Lite travels to the villain's hometown of Mount Roosevelt, Ohio.  There, he and former girlfriend Penelope Laine uncover a hidden laboratory filled with futuristic equipment and guarded by zombies -- one of whom is an undead ringer for Lite's closest friend, the super-hero known as SUBSTITUTE LAD.

     After returning to Net.ropolis, Lite receives a savage beating from former enemy and sometime ally, the villainous LONDONBROIL.  He receives a rescue from the mysterious RAVENCROFT and some valuable advice from Professor Wong, who suggests the clues needed to solve mystery of the Waffle Queen’s death -- and to resolve what quite frankly turned into a much longer storyline than any of us were expecting -- may lie buried in Lite’s own repressed memories. 

     Before doing our best to emancipate Lite from mental slavery, however, it seems worth to point out that because this story takes  place as part of a long-since concluded cross-over (the one known  as Beige Countdown, which later became Beige Midnight, which… oh,  go ahead and read the Wiki) its events are set in the year 2007.   What might our characters be doing if they lived in the current golden age of peace and prosperity that is 2020?  Let’s pause for just a moment to answer that question...   

          --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM-- 

     “It’s our fault,” Cynical Lass sobbed.  “All of it.”

     “Which crisis are you talking about?  Global warming?  COVID-19? _The Rise of Skywalker_?” I asked.  “If there’s one thing that being a member of the Millennial Generation… or is it Gen-Z?  I’m never quite sure… has taught me, it’s that whatever’s wrong with the world, I’m probably part of the reason for it.”

     “That,” Cynical Lass snapped, gesturing toward the television.  On its screen, an orange, bloblike figure with a lifelike tangle of blondish hair perched atop its head screamed and gesticulated toward a crowd of reporters, all of whom looked alternately horrified, embarrassed, or confused.

     “The President?  I’m not taking the blame for that.  And neither should you, unless… you didn’t vote for it, did you?  Wait, you’re British.  You people don’t elect your leaders -- you just punish them by putting them on the cover of tabloid newspapers, right?”

     “I’m not even going to begin explaining the Parliamentary system of government to you,” Cynical Lass snapped.  “And I’m not talking about the Ame.rec.ans who voted that thing into power.  Or the Russians who helped them.  I’m talking about us.  Super-heroes.  We’re responsible for this.”

     “We are?” I asked.  “Is this one of those things where somebody was time traveling and stomped all over a bunch of butterflies?  I thought we had an insurance policy for that.”

     “It’s not because of something we did,” Cynical Lass said.  “It’s because of what we are.  A super-hero is someone who believes whatever extraordinary power he was born with, or was given by the universe, is reason enough for him to bypass the law, the criminal justice system, the government or any sense of shared public morality in pursuit of whatever self-righteous cause he thinks is important.  Take that way of thinking to its logical extreme, and you’re left with the current occupant of the White House.”

     “Yeah, but none of us would do or say any of the things he… says or does,” I said.  “We certainly wouldn’t wear our hair like that. If that really is hair.”

     “Are you sure?” Cynical Lass said, fixing me with the kind of stare she usually reserved for people who shout “Oh no you didn’t” in movie theaters.  “Since the very first super-hero appeared, what have any of us been doing -- in movies, in comics, on television and in life -- but pushing the argument that it’s better to put your trust in one supremely powerful individual than in any form of collective public action?  And whenever anyone tries to call us out for doing something wrong, we always say it’s because of interference by super-villains.  Or secret societies.  Or aliens.”

     “Or evil dopplegangers from another dimension,” I said.  “Man, those guys really suck.”

     “So when someone comes along saying he’s here to save us -- and that everything bad is the result of evil, interfering outsiders, whom we could get rid of if we would just let him build a wall… he’s just operating according to the rules we laid down,” Cynical Lass said.  “It’s amazing that it took the Ame.rec.an people this long to elect a dictator.”

     “Now, hang on,” I said.  “I’ll agree with you that the Ame.rec.an people have been responsible for some of the worst inventions in human history.  Nuclear weapons.  High-fructose corn syrup.  Seasons five through 10 of _Friends_.  But I’m not just going to sit here and let you lump super-heroes in with those mistakes… or that bleach-guzzling sociopath,” I said, waving my hand toward the television.  “And you know why?”

     “Because the concept of the Amer.rec.an super-hero is really just a distillation of the knight-errant, the wuxia or the samurai?”

     “Because anybody who’s ever read a comic book knows that being a super-hero isn’t about being powerful.  It’s about using that power to help other people.  Putting them first,” I said.  “The reason we all wear masks is to make the point that anybody who had the powers we have could and should and probably would be doing the things we’re doing.  It’s never about us.  And that makes us the opposite of the current President.”

     “I might point out,” Cynical Lass said, “that up until the current pandemic, you’d never actually worn a mask.”

     “I’ve never had any powers, either,” I said.  “But I have a pretty good idea what I’d do with them if I did.”

     “Restoring the world’s faith in heroes?” Cynical Lass asked, with the first smile I’d seen her flash all day.  “Or would you actually want to make Ame.rec.a great again?”

     “Nah.  That trick never works,” I said.  “Besides, heroes never worry about being great.  They’re too busy doing good.”

     We now present episode #57 of "The Adventures of Easily-
Discovered Man," "The Eldrich and the Shoemaker."  Please maintain a safe social distance of at least six feet from the text at all times. 

         --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM-- 

     I hate magicians.  Not just the really powerful, Harry Potter-type ones with the power to turn someone into a newt or a frog if they feel like it.  (I’ve always wondered why wizards seem to be so fixated on amphibians, but I suppose the world could always use fewer princes and more frogs).  Even the balloon-twisting, bad joke-making, pull-a-string-of-colored-handkerchiefs magicians who are supposed to be there to entertain you are really just there to fool you.  It’s why they call them magic “tricks.”  

     And sure, some people like to be fooled.  Some people pay hundreds of dollars to sit in an auditorium and applaud when some joker in a tuxedo points out to them how awful they are at paying attention.  Not me.

     Never me.

     So I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the prospect of venturing into “Le Chaussure,” the beat-down looking shoe store on the east side of Net.ropolis owned by Trevor Blount.  I had a pretty good idea that Blount could tell me why I had traveled back in time to when the Waffle Queen was my age, and why I couldn’t remember any of it.  I had a pretty good idea that Blount could lead me to the person who killed the Waffle Queen, and that he also knew what had happened to Luke and Emily Jones, the Teens in Trenchcoats who’d been missing for months.  And I was almost positive that someone with Blount’s knowledge and experience could do something about the hole in my sneakers that had been driving me crazy for weeks.

     But whatever else he was, Blount was a magician.  The first time we’d met [way back in Easily-Discovered Man #28 -- Footnote Girl] he’d convinced Easily-Discovered Man, Cynical Lass and me to go up against Pointless Death Man and an army of zombie cheerleaders, which was a lot more like a near-death experience and a lot less like a campy ’80s horror film than it sounds.  At least I thought that was the first time we’d met.  It’s possible that some version of him had encountered the Professor and myself in the past, and that he was the reason neither of us could remember having been in Ohio decades ago.  Magicians never reveal their secrets, after all, even when the secrets they’re protecting aren’t theirs to protect.

     Still, I had a couple of advantages going into this encounter with Trevor Blount.  One was that I wasn’t the same person I’d been the first (or second, or who knows how many other times?  How do time travelers deal with this stuff?) we’d met.  Back then, I’d been a naive, inexperienced 16-year-old who’d just started working as Easily-Discovered Man’s sidekick.  Since then, I’d spent two years facing down the worst the universe had to offer.  I’d stopped Dr. Killfile.  I’d thwarted the Brotherhood of Net.Villains.  I was pretty sure I’d had something to do with keeping the Church of the Fourth Wall from doing whatever it was it wanted to do -- I was never really clear on what that was.  Hell, I’d passed Algebra 2.  And I’d even gotten a raise.  I was damn sure going to earn it now.

     The other advantage I had was tucked into the pocket of my hooded sweatshirt.  It was something I really wasn’t supposed to have; something I’d kept hidden ever since I’d borrowed it from the evidence locker of Legion of Net.Heroes headquarters just before I’d been kicked off the team, and it would have given Easily-Discovered Man several heart attacks if he knew I had it.  But the Prof wasn’t Easily-Discovered Man any more, which meant that I wasn’t Easily-Discovered Man Lite any more, which meant that the rules about what you were and weren’t supposed to do in a given situation were sort of ambiguous.  Especially when going up against a dangerous magician who’d been around since the dawn of time and probably knew I was coming.

     The bells jingling as I opened the door probably helped.

     “Hector Lopez,” Blount said, looking up from a catalogue of expensive shoes. Everything in the tiny shop, which was about half the size of the Prof’s classroom at Dave Thomas Deluxe University, had to do with shoes. The whole place smelled like old leather and that stuff they spray into bowling shoes to crowd out the aroma of sweat and desperation.  Even the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were crammed with volumes about shoe design and shoemakers and footwear fashion, with the exception of a single book about gardening.

       “I’ve been expecting you,” the wizard said.

     “Yeah?” I said.  “Well, I’ve been expecting you!”

     As entrances go, it wasn’t my best.

     “I should think so,” Blount said, looking far less intimidated than I’d hoped.  “This is my place of business, after all.”

     “You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here,” I said, placing my hands on the back of the chair in front of me so that I would be in the perfect position to stare him down whenever he looked up from his catalogue.  

     “Not at all,” Blount said, turning the page.  “I knew what you were here for before you ever came through that door.”

     “Right,” I said.  “You probably have some crystal ball stashed away somewhere.  Or one of those magic birdbaths you stick your head into so that you can see what’s going on someplace else.  How do those things work, anyway?”

     “I couldn’t say,” Blount said.  “I’ve always found it preferable to keep my sorcery separate from my head-washing.  No, Hector, I needed merely to look through my window to see you coming, and to note the abominable condition of your footwear.  Are those even the right size?”

     “There’s nothing wrong with my Chuck Taylors,” I said.  “Actually, that’s not true.  I’ve been wearing these things so long that I’ve forgotten what my feet even look like.  I had to replace the laces with zip ties, and my arches have less support than a gun control bill in the Kentucky legislature.  But that’s not why I’m here.”

     “I see,” Blount said.  It must have been my imagination, but he seemed to be glancing at an entirely different collection of shoes than the one he had been paging through seconds before.  “I suppose you’ve come to ask about the Waffle Queen, then.”

     “I’ll ask the questions here!” I said.

     “That wasn’t a question,” Blount said, finally putting his catalogue down.  “Merely a statement.  Everyone knows that the former Easily-Discovered Man Lite has been inquiring into the murder of Constance Schlubb, the entrepreneur and super-villain known as the Waffle Queen.  It’s in all the papers,” he said, lifting what had almost certainly been a catalogue just an eyeblink ago but now was just as certainly the morning edition of the Net.ropolis _Observer_.  “The question is, why?”

     “Why would someone have killed the Waffle Queen?  Apart from her trying to take over the city several times?  And attempting to rig the presidential election -- which, granted, a lot of people have done lately.  But she was sort of ahead of the curve…”

     “Why would you be investigating her death?” Blount interrupted.  “You’re not a police officer.  You aren’t even a member of the Legion of Net.Heroes any more, according to the press,” he said, tapping the newspaper for emphasis.  “In fact, from what I have read, you’re being hunted yourself by a crime lord named Mynabird.  So why, when you ought to be hiding away where no one would ever think to look for you, are you here in Net.ropolis trying to solve the killing of your greatest adversary?”

     I shrugged.  “I made a promise?”

     “To whom?” the magician asked.  “The tough who beat you up this morning?  The professor who no longer employs your services?  Your friend Aurora, who’s been accused of the crime?”

     I shot Blount what I hoped was an accusatory stare.  “You know where Aurora Jones is hiding, don’t you?” I asked.  “She came to you, along with her cousins, Luke and Emily, and you gave them a place to hide.”

     “Luke Jones wrote me a letter once.  A thoughtful lad,” Blount said.  “A bit melodramatic, but thoughtful.”

     “Tell me where he is,” I said.  

     Blount smiled, a small, sad, gray smile.  “I told you this was my place of business,” he said.  “So let’s come to terms.  You tell me why it’s so important to you to find the Waffle Queen’s killer, and I’ll tell you what I know about the wandering Joneses.  Do we have a deal?”

     “Why would you care about my motivation?” 

     The magician waved a hand toward my feet.  “Look at the backs of those trainers,” he said.  “Worn down.  Sagging.  Like a broken-down old nag.  You’re one of those people who can’t be bothered to loosen the laces of your shoes when you remove them at night.  In fact, you don’t even untie them -- you just slide your feet out the back and kick the poor things into a corner.  It’s no wonder your laces are broken.  Everything about the way you treat your shoes identifies you as a slovenly, lazy, undisciplined adolescent lacking in both method and ambition.  And yet you have clearly foregone sleep, food, or any concern for your own safety for the sake of an investigation into a death that does not concern you.  Why?  I am genuinely curious.”


     “Think carefully before you answer,” he said.

     I sighed.  “It’s because it’s the sort of thing Easily-Discovered Man would do.”

     “Ah,” Blount said, rising from his desk..  “But Professor Wong is no longer…”

     “I didn’t say Professor Wong,” I snapped.  “I said Easily-Discovered Man.”

     Blount paused, just for a moment, and then returned to what he had been doing, which was pouring the water from a tall electric kettle into an iron teapot.   “So you did,” he said.  “You’ll pardon me for saying so, of course, but having known the gentleman in question -- though not quite so well as you, of course -- you will permit me to say that his inquiry into the death of Mrs. Schlubb would seem less likely to bring the matter to a close, and more likely to do just the opposite.”

     This was, to the extent that I had a plan, drifting rather far from it.  “I didn’t come here to talk about Easily-Discovered Man,” I said.

     “Of course you didn’t,” Trevor Blount said, setting the teapot in the center of a silver tray that was otherwise filled with the sorts of things one might expect to find on a tea tray: absurdly small sandwiches, cups, a tiny pitcher filled with milk.  I hadn’t noticed any of those things when I had come in, or even a place where they might have come from.  “You clearly do not wish to talk about your former employer, any more than you intend to join me in a spot of tea.  And yet you haven’t eaten anything substantial for… three?  Four days?”

     “Do vending machine circus peanuts count?” I asked.

     “Science has yet to render a verdict on that score,” Blount said, pouring the tea, “but I am inclined to say no.”

     “Four days,” I said.  “You’re trying to get me off the subject.”

     “Am I?” Blount said, placing two or three of the ridiculously tiny sandwiches on a saucer.  “You have come here, Mr. Lopez, because your entirely unnecessary investigation has come to a standstill, and therefore you hope I will provide you with information that will illuminate you, which is indeed what I am attempting to do.  Because, however, you believe you already have an idea of what I am going to say to you, you appear to be going out of your way to object to anything that contradicts that idea.  Are you lactose intolerant?”

     “Lactose?  No, I… Why do you…?”

     “I was going to ask how you take your tea,” Blount said, pouring a splash of milk into a small black mug without a handle, “but then I realized it would be very much like asking an Australian shepherd whether it liked Mozart.  The dog, I mean.  There, now.  Why do you think Easily-Discovered Man would want you to find the Waffle Queen’s killer?”

     “Wait… did you just say Mozart was a dog?”

     “When we first met,” Blount said, returning to his desk, “I wondered what it was that drew you and Easily-Discovered Man to each other.  I thought perhaps you hoped to turn a profit from his idealism, or that he was counting on you to serve as his Watson, burnishing his reputation through exaggerated accounts of his activities. But maybe it was simpler than that.  Maybe the old man needed someone to listen to him, and you, for all your ability, needed someone to tell you what to do with what up until then must have seemed a meaningless existence.”

     “These sandwiches are really pretty good,” I said.  “You set a good table, Trevor.  Can I call you Trevor?  I’m pretty sure I just did.  You make great snacks, and from what I can see you put together a damn fine set of shoes.  But you don’t understand people.  You sure as hell don’t get the point of Easily-Discovered Man.”

     “It would be fair, if perhaps cruel, to say that the majority of the known universe does not see the point of Easily-Discovered Man,” Blount said.

     “See?  Right there?  Proves you don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, stuffing another thumbnail-sized sandwich into my mouth.  “But how could you?  You were born in ancient Egypt or something, into a world of gods with incredible powers who did whatever the hell they wanted, and ordinary people who prayed night and day for the gods to just leave them alone so they could live their ordinary boring lives. God, it must have been like living in Minecraft.”

     “And you believe,” Blount said, raising his teacup, “that the world has changed significantly since then?”

     “Kind of?” I said.  “I mean, we no longer believe our kings and gods are the same people, for one thing.  Our kings are the people in power who go around screwing everything up, and our gods are the people with powers that we hope and pray will fix everything that’s screwed up for us so that we can live our ordinary boring lives.  But yeah, there’s a certain degree of continuity there.  You get people like Mrs. Schlubb -- did you know she was also my guidance counselor? -- telling people like me to make the most we can out of our lives.  But after you get to a certain age you realize she’s not saying that someone like me is ever going to end up in the White House, any more than someone like me is going to wake up one morning and be able to fly or bench press city buses.  You learn that the best thing you can do is to find a niche in life that keeps you well out of the way of the people who either want to run the world or change it.”

     “That isn’t the worst advice in the world,” Blount said.

     “It isn’t even advice.  It’s just a statement about the way things are.  Or were,” I said.  “Because the moment the Prof put on this mask,” I said, pulling the glowing green cowl from the back pocket of my jeans and waving it at Blount as though I thought he needed a handkerchief, “everything changed.  Here’s this guy who isn’t born with any super powers.  He’s not rich.  He’s smart, yeah, but he isn’t a genius; he isn’t the son of a god or an alien or someone chosen by fate to do great things.  He was chosen by fate to teach physics, and to be a husband and a dad, I guess.  But he decided he was going to be a super-hero.  He put himself on a level with the gods.  And after that it didn’t matter how many bad guys he brought to justice, or how many times he saved the world, because what really mattered was he showed people the world doesn’t just belong to those with powers, or with power.  You make the decision you’re going to be a hero, and even the gods themselves will stand aside and get out of your way, for a change.”

     Slow, derisive applause echoed from Blount’s side of the room.

     “So...what?” the shoemaker asked.  “You want to find the Waffle Queen’s killer to show the world that an 18-year-old boy with no obvious skills or abilities can be as much a hero as Captain Continuity?”

     “No,” I said.  “I’m going to find the Waffle Queen’s killer because from the time I met Easily-Discovered Man, it stopped being okay for me to leave the things that were really important for someone else to do.”

     “Well.  Good luck with that,” Blount said, taking a long sip of his tea.

     “Where’s Aurora Jones?” I asked.  “And Luke and Emily?”

     “Ah yes,” Blount said.  “Do give Ravencroft my best, won’t you?  Luke did in fact come to me asking if I would keep his cousin Aurora safe after she was framed for murder.  It seems he didn’t share your belief in the ability of extraordinary people to inspire good in others, and I quite agreed with him.”

     “So where are they?” I asked.

     “Mmm,” he said, taking another sip.  “I sent them to another plane of existence.  Not my usual thing, of course, but one has to be willing to step outside of one’s comfort zone from time to time when the need requires.  They’re quite safe there.  Raising cabbages, I believe. Very Diocletian.” 

     “I need to talk to Aurora,” I said.  “Tell me how I can do that.”

     Blount shook his head, placing his teacup back on the saucer.  “I said I’d tell you where the Joneses were.  I didn’t say I’d look them up for you.  There’s nothing they can do to help you, and you’d only be putting them in danger.”

     I stood up, putting my own cup down on Blount’s desk.  “Then coming here was a complete waste of my time.”

     “If you like,” Blount said.  “You do seem to be rather good at that.”

     “I went through all of this, and you wouldn’t even… wait.  What was it you said just a minute ago?”

     “About cabbages?”

     “You said you wouldn’t look them up for me,” I said, turning my back on the magician and surveying his bookshelves.  “As if they were a book.  And you talked about stepping outside your comfort zone…”

     “Figure of speech,” Blount said, as I searched through shelves stacked with titles such as _The Odd Cobblers of Nob Hill_ and _Finding Your Sole Mate: Love In a Size 9 ½._  “They do still teach those in the public schools, don’t they?  Or did that get discarded, along with things such as fashion sense, respect for your elders and the logarithmic tables?”  

     “Here it is,” I said, dragging _Gardening at Night_ from the shelves and dropping it on to Blount’s desk.  “Raising cabbages, huh?”

     “This isn’t a lending library,” Blount began, but by then I had already opened the book.  There, standing in what looked like an exceptionally-vivid illustration of an English country garden and dressed in overalls and black rubber brogans were Luke, Emily and Aurora Jones, shading their eyes from the sun and looking -- for the most part -- astonished to see me.

     “Lite?” Luke asked.  “Easily-Discovered Man Lite?”

     “Told ‘ya,” Aurora said.  Emily rolled her eyes and passed her cousin a twenty-dollar bill. 

     “I appreciate the effort it must have taken you to find us, Lite,” Luke said.  “But I’m pretty sure my author isn’t interested in doing any crossovers right now.”

     “And I appreciate the many opportunities you’ve given me to make jokes about the three of you in a cabbage patch,” I said, trying to tell myself that having a conversation with three tiny illustrated versions of my friends in an enchanted gardening book was perfectly normal behavior.  “But I’m not just here to trade witty banter.  Ravencroft sent me to find you.”

     This brought a flurry of responses from the gardeners, with Luke’s animated “Really?” nearly drowning out Emily’s “Gods and goddesses, here we go again” and Aurora’s “Since when have you had any witty banter to trade?”

     “She said you would know where to find her,” I said.  “And that the world was a less interesting place without you in it.”

     “She should write for Hallmark,” Emily said.  “Did Princess Crowfeet also tell you where we could…”

     “That,” said Blount, snapping the book shut, “is quite enough of that.”

     “Hey,” I said.  “I was just getting to the good part.”

     “Tell me,” the magician said, drawing the book backward from my outstretched hands, “would your theoretical Easily-Discovered Man casually put the lives of his friends in danger in order to prove a point?  To solve a mystery no one in particular wants solved?  I’ll answer for you: of course he would.  That’s what super-heroes do: they blunder on, blindly oblivious to any consequences of their own self-righteousness.  It’s why I have never trusted them.”

     “Let’s talk about trust,” I said, digging the photograph of myself, Easily-Discovered Man, Substitute Lad and a teenaged Waffle Queen out of my wallet and slapping it down on top of the book. “It wasn’t a super-hero who made me forget ever having been in that picture.”

     “My...gods…” Trevor Blount gasped.  “Then... it’s true.  You never have worn anything other than a T-shirt and jeans in your life, have you?”

     He sent the picture back towards me with a dismissive flick of his wrist.  “I wouldn’t want to remember being in that photograph either, if I were you.”

     I shook the picture in his face.  “How was it that the Prof and I just happened to be in Mount Roosevelt, Ohio, a town so far in the middle of nowhere that its residents think binge-watching Netflix means ordering a stack of DVDs by mail -- the same place that you would later bring us to find your lost wraith -- two decades before I was even born?”

     Blount shrugged.  “Astonishingly bad GPS directions?”

     “Something happened in that small town,” I said.  “Something that turned this girl” -- I waved the photograph again -- into a megalomaniacal super-villain.  Something that would eventually get her killed.  And I was there.  The only reason I can’t remember is that someone tampered with my memory.  And the most likely candidate is standing on the other side of that desk.”

     The trenchcoater yawned, shifting the gardening book to one hand so that he could pick up his cup of tea.  “Have you ever thought of starting a conspiracy web site?” he asked.  “I hear they’re terribly popular these days.  You might even find yourself invited to the White House.”

     “Fine,” I said.  My hand shot forward, drawing my spatula from my back pocket and flipping the gardening book loose from Trevor Blount’s grasp.  I caught the book with my other hand.  “If you won’t help me, I’ll ask Luke to use the Ring of Simplification on my memory.”

     “There is no way your mind could possibly become any simpler than it already is,” Blount growled, reaching for the book.  I rapped his knuckles with the spatula.

     “Do you even know what it feels like to open up repressed memories?” Blount said, rubbing one hand with the other.  “You'd be watching a series of events unfold -- horrible, unspeakably awful events -- with you right in the middle of them, but utterly powerless to change the course of history, however much you might want to.  It would feel like the 2016 presidential election all over again.”

     I stared the sorceror down.  “I can take it,” I said.  “I sat through a triple bill of Ben Affleck’s _Daredevil,_ Nicolas Cage’s _Ghost Rider_ and Keanu Reeves’ _Constantine_.”

     “Yes, but that’s hardly…”


     “Even so, you can’t compare…”

     “On F/X,” I said.  “With all the commercials.”

     “Perhaps you are made of stronger stuff than I imagined, Hector Lopez,” Blount said.  “But I warn you.  Once the process begins, there is no stopping.  No going back.  And no refunds.”

     “What are you charging?” I asked.

     “That bottle you’re carrying in your anorak should suffice.”

     I reached into the pocket of my hoodie, took out the thin bottle of amber-colored liquid and placed it on his desk.  “How long have you known?”

     “That you were carrying Syrup of Suggestion?  Please.  Who do you think came up with the recipe?  Once you’ve worked with nepenthe, you never forget the smell,” Blount said, picking up the bottle and holding it up to the light.  “Would you have used it?  Slipped it into my tea, when I wasn’t looking, and then ordered me to do what you want?  It might have worked, you know.  You’ve got the hands for it -- that was a nice trick with the spatula.”

     “I don’t know,” I admitted.

     “Remember that,” Blount said.  “Because this” he tapped the bottle with a fingernail “is a river.  Once you cross it, there’s no going back.  And everybody comes to one of these, sooner or later.  Connie Schlubb did.  So did her killer.  So will you.  I crossed mine a long time ago. It’s why I spend so much time trying to keep kids like Luke Jones from going over, and why I try to have compassion for those who do, and for those who are getting too damn close.”

     I swallowed.

     “We won’t see each other again, Hector Lopez.  Not in this lifetime, anyway.  So give more of a care to your immortal soul than you do to your shoes.  Quit slouching.  Close your eyes.  And count backwards from ten.”

     “Ten?  Why…?”

     “Thank goodness you have chosen to give consciousness your full-throated embrace once more, Lite!” said a deep and remarkably familiar voice.  “For while we were successful in evading the destruction of the Pocket Bureaucracy, it would appear we have yet to return to the delights of our dedicated demesne, Net.ropolis, and that, like hapless surfers betossed upon the waves of the space-time continuum, we may even be displaced in time!”

     I opened my eyes.  “Professor Wong?”

     “Sssssh,” the Prof said, holding one finger up to his glowing lips.  “For while ‘tis true in my private identity I may perhaps boast the academic title you suggest, once I have donned this cape and cowl I become that which strikes profound discomfort in the bowels of evildoers everywhere… he who carries hope to the hopeless like the burning taste of brandy in the cask of a Saint Bernard…. that phosphorescent paladin of the powerless, the poor, and the put-upon known to champions, criminals and citizens alike as…”

     “Easily-Discovered Man!” I said.

     The Prof sighed.  “I really was hoping to be able to finish the line,” he said. 


     --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM--     

     NEXT ISSUE: The crime-crimping duo of Easily-Discovered Man
and Lite is back -- in flashback form, anyway -- thus proving once again that nothing on the Internet is ever created nor destroyed, but merely catalogued by Google.  Can Lite at last solve the mystery of who killed the Waffle Queen?  And can he endure the soul-shattering psychic pain of re-living his sophomore year of high school?  Find out in the episode three out of four dentists suggest we call “People Who Live in Glass Houses.”

     CHARACTERS: Footnote Girl is (c) Saxon Brenton. Luke and Emily Jones and Ravencroft are © Ben Rawluk. Mynabird is (c) Arthur Spitzer and the author.   All other characters are
(c) the author.  More information about these and other Legion of Net.Heroes characters is available at: http://www.lnhq.info/wiki/MainPage.

     SPECIAL THANKS: To Arthur and Scott for an amazing RACC-Con-’19 (note: NOT a virus); to Perry and Graham for giving me the time to do this and to Apocalypso for continued inspiration.

     --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM--

     “ ‘I wouldn’t ask too much of her,’ I ventured.  ‘You can’t repeat the past.’
     ‘Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously.  ‘Why of course you can!’ ”
                             F. Scott Fitzgerald, _The Great Gatsby_

     --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM--   

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