Retcon Punch, Episode 03: Baby’s In BlackOct 20
We close at 8 on Wednesdays, but it’s inevitably 8:30 before we get the last customer out the door. Fortunately, it’s the more sane and hospitable customers who tend to show up late in the day, as they are the ones who have day jobs and can’t run out at 11 a.m. in the middle of the week to buy funnybooks. So there’s almost a small glow between Tara and I as the weekly Day Of New Comics comes to a close; even though I still have a bit of back issue inventory to process before I can go home, I’m not in the worst mood. I shut off the lights in the front and work by the dim glow of a TV playing a VHS tape of some old Captain America cartoons.
A few minutes after Tara heads home, the phone rings.
“This is Visa calling.”
FUCK. How did they get my work number? Why didn’t I check caller ID?
“Um…hi.” The lame joke throws her off her game, but just for a second. “Mr. Eisenhower, we’re showing that your current payment is overdue by a few days. I just wanted to make sure everything is okay?”
Yeah, everything’s okay, except that I’m absolutely penniless right now. That’ll happen when you regularly deduct hundreds of dollars from your own paycheck to purchase comic books, toys, and DVDs.
In fact, as Visa is telling me about their convenient payment plans, I’m looking at the stack of twenty or so comics I’ve squirreled into a pile next to the register over the course of the day. My face is flushing red as I remember that I still have to buy a plane ticket for my mom’s birthday next month, and pay the plumber for that emergency visit he made three weeks ago, and get caught up on my student loans.
“Mr. Eisenhower, I can process a payment for you right now if you like.”
“Uh&KRRRK&you’re breaking up&KRRIRRRK&I’m on&KKKRR&tunnel&KRIRIRRIK&tomorrow&”
I hang up the phone, amazed that trick still works. At least, it works to end phone calls with Visa people; it does absolutely nothing for my credit rating. In fact, I’m pretty sure it makes things worse.
As the phone hits the receiver, I hear a banging on the back door. Not a “Hey, let me in” type banging. More of a “Hey, let me jimmy this crowbar into the doorjamb here so I can pry this fucker open” banging. I know this from watching too many episodes of The Rockford Files.
The banging intensifies as I quietly flip off the TV. I crouch like a cat burglar in a cartoon, and I walk slowly toward the closed door into the back room. A louder bang indicates that the mystery invader has made their way through the store’s back entrance. Beneath the shut door appears the sickly yellow glow of the back room’s ancient fluorescent lights.
I make the dumbest of many dumb choices presented to me by my dimwit brain; I slowly creak the door open.
Then the loose doorknob snaps off in my hand, and the door is splayed open, and I teeter on my legs, almost falling on my ass. Standing before me is Sid’s latest fling, a black hoodie ineffectually laced tight around her chin. She looks like she’s going to bolt, but she doesn’t; she sits down in the nearest folding chair.
“Fuck me,” she says.
A few moments pass.
“I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen next here,” I admit.
“Do you have any alcohol?”
“I keep beer in the minifridge.”
“I’ll take two.”
I twist the caps off two Miller Lites and set them on the table. She theatrically winces as she looks at the label, then she shotguns the first one. Twenty seconds easy, if that. The second one she nurses.
“Do…do you need a key? I can ask Sid to…”
“Dude, where do you park?”
“I didn’t see anyone in the lot. Lights looked out. I thought I was clear.”
“On Wednesdays, I park across the street. It gets busy.”
“I saw. You were hopping today.”
“You put up a fake comic for the one I took.”
“So you caught me. What are you going to do?”
This is unusual.
This whole time, she’s been sitting in essentially the same position, slurping beer in an uncomfortably loud way, breathing heavily from the exertion of beating the door down. Her legs are akimbo, if that’s the right word; she’s leaning back and alternately staring at the ceiling and staring at me.
“What should I do? Tattle on my boss’ girlfriend?”
“I guess not.”
I take the seat across from her; I push aside a small stack of old Wizard magazines so I can put my elbow down and rest my head on my hand.
“Sid’s an asshole, isn’t he,” she says.
“He’s my boss, so…”
“He’s an asshole. I know it. I’m gonna take care of that, but first…”
Now she sits up and puts her head down on her arms onto the table, like a kid in school taking a nap on her desk. She looks up at me. Her eyes are brown.
“I owe my ex-boyfriend twenty thousand dollars.”
“Wow. Well, he’s your ex, but I’m sure you can work something out, right?”
“He’s a loan shark. He’ll break me.”
“I’ve got a buyer for this shit; I just need the Batman thing in the safe.”
“Sid says he has some old Batman comic in that safe over there.”
I’ve worked at Superb Comics for ten years; I’ve spent more time in this place than most of the cockroaches. I’ve never heard about an “old Batman comic” in the safe…
…except that one time a couple years back, when I was working late to prep for Free Comic Book Day, and Sid came over on his way to a show, and he was drunk, and he started bragging about all the cool old shit he bought with his dumb pop ska money, and how he had “one special thing, brah, for a rainy day. I keep the Caped Crusader in the safe.” He had repeated that last line about fifteen hundred times before he left.
The safe in question had been in the building for at least thirty years. The old guy who owned the nail salon next door said there used to be a credit union in the space. It’s not a great safe, one of those old monstrous things.
“What were you going to use to get into the safe tonight?” I ask. “Your charm and good looks?”
She does this cockeyed grin for a second and in spite of myself my guts get a little melty. But just a little. She’s Sid’s girlfriend, so she’s lame enough to date Sid, and she just broke into my place of business to ostensibly pry open a safe with a crow bar and a black hoodie. I quickly freeze my guts up again.
“I was hoping to scope it out.”
“Wait, how did you get in here to steal the Fantastic Four comic if you needed a crowbar to get the door open tonight?”
“That weird mom lady forgot to lock the door yesterday, dude.”
“I think you’re going to need a blowtorch to get through that thing, and probably a few hours in the clear, so someone decent to work lookout…”
“Wow, you’re kinda good at this. I suck at it. I just got caught.”
“I’ve seen too many heist flicks. This is easy.”
“You want in?”
My head starts racing; I’ve never been offered the opportunity to participate in a crime before. I’ve never even committed a crime before. Of course, I think about the almost-too-convenient call from Visa of a few moments ago, and realize that if we split the profits from a Fantastic Four 1 and a Batman 1, we could both handily pay off our debts and have a bit more left over for whatever. It might be months or years before Sid realized they were missing. I’d have to quit this place but I hate Sid anyway so that might not be such a bad idea?
She is giving me this look. It’s like evil bemusement. I don’t know how to describe it; I’m doing a shitty job.
“I’ll think about it.”
“I’m Veronica,” she says. She finishes her beer with one gulp.