Our ninth issue is thirty-six pages of very short shorts, illustrations, and a truly strange comic strip which confuses and delights us. As with previous issues, it sports a silkscreen cover, hand-stitched thread binding, and smells vaguely of citrus. It’s available now for four bucks.
The Bank of America Plaza glowed like a fifty-five floor cigarette in the humid Atlanta dusk. Outside of the entrance, Kevin Ikeman set his briefcase on the sidewalk and wiped the sweat dripping from his nose. This call was his first in two months. During that time, he had taken to moping in his boxer-briefs and texting his ex-lovers who had married men whose importance had outlasted his own. Kathleen had married an important lawyer for Paramount and sent Kevin the occasional picture message of her pedicured toes sun-drenched on a yacht traversing the Pacific. Nikki had moved to Fairfax County, Virginia with Christian Christ (pronounced Chrĭst) whose money had no apparent origin and no apparent bounds. Last Christmas, their annual card included a lengthy anecdote about how Christmas was pronounced with a short “i” largely because the Christ family patriarchy’s historical significance. She provided no further explanation of their historical significance, though Kevin pictured a long line of Christ men in the basement of a secular temple surrounded by candlelight, kneeling at an altar, and chanting in Latin through ceremonial boar-head masks. She had also included a parenthetical remark explaining that Fairfax County was the third wealthiest county in Virginia. Fifth in the nation! Yowza!, the aside concluded. After reading the letter, Kevin had imagined delivering a right hook to Christian’s grotesquely cleft chin, crumbling him to his travertine floor. The bitter reminders of Kevin’s romantic decline flashed in his mind as Leonard the security guard placed a fat hand on his chest and told him he wasn’t allowed in the Plaza.
“I was called twenty minutes ago to come save — ” Kevin reached in his sport coat and read out of his memo pad. ” — one Francine Kir-chewski — Kir-chinski?”
“Kevin,” Leonard said, “you know you can’t come in.”
“Leonard, I just got a phone call from the fiftieth floor. There’s a woman being held against her will.”
“You know they tell me these things, and I can’t let you in, Kevin. I’m sorry. It’s my job.”
“I’m not going to make a scene — I’ll just get in and get out, and then Francine K’s saved, and we can all go on our way.”
The security guard nodded toward the blue spandex suit arm hanging out of Kevin’s briefcase. “You can’t change in here, Kevin. I’m sorry, but don’t you think it’s time to hang it up?”
“I wasn’t going to change, Leonard. I just left it in there from the last time.”
“Everything’s fine. Take the night off, Kevin.”
Kevin thought how easily he could wrangle Leonard, lock him in a closet, and punch a hole in the top of the door for ventilation. Then he could float up the elevator shaft, rip open the steel penthouse doors and detain the offenders until the authorities came to clear the scene. Francine, like the others, might be a bit bedraggled but no more worse for wear, and her hair, which Kevin pictured to be wavy and ginger, would fall to one side of her face and drape across her freckled clavicle, and maybe she would shed a tear of relief — a post-anxiety cleanse — and he could meet her on the elevator tomorrow without his blue spandex bodysuit. He would stand comfortably next to her with the knowledge that he saved her years of grief, possibly death, and ask her, if she would be so generous, if he could take her for a cold sweet tea and a Monte Cristo sandwich, which they could later walk off in the park. They would watch the swans coil their necks around each other in familial bliss.
He would not wrangle Leonard, however, for he could not commit the evil deeds he’d fought for decades to curtail. Locking Leonard in a closet wouldn’t do Leonard’s portly wife, Mimi, and behaviorally challenged daughter, Kimi, any favors. Not to mention Mimi had sent him the loveliest Christmas card last year, which detailed Kimi’s struggles through a manslaughter charge and brief stint in juvenile detention. Also included in the card had been a family picture of the three of them clad in Christmas sweaters in front of their television. Kimi’s pea green hair appeared radioactive backlit by C.O.P.S., but her teeth gleamed straight and white, and her eyes stared with the clarity of an older soul. Kevin still kept the picture on his refrigerator.
He offered his hand to Leonard. “Sorry for the bother. Tell Mimi and Kimi I say hello.”
“Will do, Kev. It’s nothing personal.”
“Don’t worry about it. Take care, Leonard.”
Kevin walked around the side of the building and ascended slowly toward the glowing peak of the Plaza. He no longer had reason to keep his identity a secret. He watched his reflection bend in and out of the windowpanes. His tweed sport coat itched the back of his neck. A gust of wind lifted the camel fedora from his head and sent it sailing into the busy intersection below. If it wouldn’t have endangered the citizens in traffic, he’d have sent his sport coat billowing behind.
Outside of the fifteenth floor, he recalled Kathleen handcuffed and gagged with a rag writhing in the corner of a burning warehouse. From a balcony above her echoed an evil laugh. A flaming rafter collapsed just in front of her bound legs. Kevin could not remember the name of the villain, just the look in Kathleen’s emerald eyes after he had flung the smoldering rafter across the warehouse and lifted her to safety. He had set her on top of a nearby building and ungagged her, and she had kissed him hard and cried. “Who are you?” she had asked, and for the first time, Kevin introduced himself as Kevin. A year later they were engaged. Two months after that, he flew up to the Paramount lawyer’s penthouse, who he suspected she was sleeping with, and he found her eyes closed and back arched in unbridled bliss with two other women and the partners of the Smith, Smyth and Schmidt Law firm.
Outside of the twenty-first floor, he admitted to himself that his hairline was receding.
Outside of the twenty-seventh floor, he recalled Nikki hanging by her ankles from the Fifth Street Bridge just above oncoming traffic, her face purple and swollen with blood. She screamed for help from the fraying rope that held her, her thick brunette hair waving in the wind. Just as the rope was ready to unwind, he had snatched her from an imminent and gruesome death. Nikki had kissed him, too, but lighter, like she had pictured the moment many times before. Though they were never engaged, Nikki leaving him for Christian Christ stuck with him even longer than Kathleen’s affair. She had seemed so certain she wanted the safety of his strength over anything else. She had told him she wanted to stay friends and that she would never forget what he did for her, but emphasized that she owed him nothing. He was not entitled to her love. She never asked him, specifically, to save her.
He never asked to be born like this, he thought as he continued his ascension.
Outside the thirty-fifth floor, he admitted he’d grown chubby and didn’t carry it well.
He briefly hovered in front of the plastic tarps protecting the renovation on the thirty-seventh floor, where two months previous he was flung through the window out into the dark night by a wealthy tech entrepreneur whose titanium suit still didn’t match the strength with which Kevin had been born. The battle had been long and destructive, but he had defeated the entrepreneur and carried the entrepreneur’s captive lover to safety. That was the way of it now — no ticking time bombs or sprays of gunfire or sleeping gas, no henchmen waiting around corners or behind elevator doors, no ransoms made on the children or wives of powerful families, no plots for massive wealth in unmarked bills. Villainy was the thirst of those who wanted to hold what could never be held.
A crowd gawked below him. The sun poured below the horizon. Sirens grew below. A helicopter whirred in the distance.
When he arrived outside the fiftieth floor, he cupped his hands beside his eyes, peered through the windows, and began his search for Francine. In a walnut-paneled office on a leather sofa, he found a woman in baggy leopard-print pajamas scooping cottage cheese out of its container with Doritos. Nobody sat at the desk across from her. She stared at the evening news, which played live helicopter footage of Kevin floating outside her window. Kevin turned and looked behind him at the helicopter veering to capture a shot of his face. When he looked back to the Plaza, the woman stood before him, her right hand pressed on the other side of the window. Their eyes met, and he again pulled his memo pad and a pen out of his sport coat.
“Francine?” he wrote.
The woman grabbed a cube of post-its and a pen from the desk. “That’s me,” she wrote.
Kevin thought she looked a little bored, but calm and comfortable, nonetheless. He wrote, “Are you okay?”
“I’m lonely,” she wrote, her face flushed with guilt.
Kevin glanced at her sizeable wedding ring. “I’m sorry,” he wrote. “Why did you call me?”
Francine wrote something down and scribbled it out. Below the scratched out words, she wrote the truth: “I just needed to know you would come.”
Behind her, the office door opened and a man in a suit stared wide-eyed at Kevin. The man formed the words “get away from there” with his lips, then went to the desk and dialed 9-1-1.
“Thank you,” Francine wrote. Below that she wrote, “Sorry ☹.” She looked down. The man in the suit grabbed her wrist, and she yanked it out of his hand. Kevin could hear her muffled voice through the window as she told him not to touch her.
Kevin floated backward and rammed the fiftieth floor window over and over, even after Francine and her well-dressed captor were long gone. She would find the right lawyers, he thought, people who knew how to free her, and for the first time, his pulse slowed, and he grew tired.
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