It was a hot blustery day in Los Angeles. The air felt toxic, the streets filled with kids too exhausted by the temperature to run and play and many of the locals were huddling in the shade or in air-conditioned homes. No one looked up to the sky except to pray for rain clouds. The news media in town was requesting the citizens try to conserve water in the heat, but it was likely very few was conserving anything. People were calling it the highest temperatures in over twenty years. The air was so dry it scorched every breath Ben Stone made, and the burning sky in the bright blue sky was scorching the top of his brown curly head. In this heat, Ben had already cleaned his glasses of his sweat four times, and he was needing to do it again. A student from Whitney High, he might have spent the day lounging in his father's swimming pool; after all, that's what it was there for, but after two weeks, his shapely blonde girlfriend, Alison, wanted to go do something. She was bored. She was tired. She was hungry. With less than a hundred dollars in his bank account, he finally gave in and got his best friend, Norman Osmond, to go on a double date.
Ben's Monte Carlo was scorching hot. The door handles were blistering to the touch, and the interior was a microwave oven. In her shorts, Alison screeched at the sensation of the hot blistering seats frying the back of her Norman and Gwen got in the back seats, the misery in the back seat spewed forward in a cacophony of comments and observations.
"My God!" Gwen squealed in pain. "Turn on the AC! I'm baking in here!"
"It is on." Ben was backing down the driveway. "It just takes a few minutes. You ought to feel this steering wheel. I feel as if it just took a pound of flesh off my hands!" He checked for traffic before pulling out on to Los Ciuda.
"Don't worry about it, buddy." Norman patted his shoulder and sat back with Gwen by his side. "So, where are we eating?
"Ick!" Alison cringed at the thought.
"Well, we better decide..." Ben stopped at the end of the block and checked both ways before crossing. "I'm not driving around as we try to decide."
"How about hamburgers?" Norman suggested.
"No!" The girls screamed in unison. "We want real food. Not take out." Gwen added.
"Seafood?" Ben suggested.
"Ick..." Allison cringed once again.
"What about Mallory's? They have a nice buffet." Gwen made her choice.
"It closed down." Norman revealed.
"No way!" Gwen was shocked. "Why? I loved that place."
"Health inspector." Allison spoke up as she looked over the back seat. The AC was cooling the car pretty well by now. "What about that Italian place over near the ice cream place. It has spaghetti and steak."
"Sounds good to me." Norman leaned back with sweat still permeating his forehead.
"I could eat some Italian." Ben brushed his curly brown hair back as he turned on to South Adams and headed north for the restaurant district. Through the rear view mirror, he looked back at Norman in the back seat, both nervous over the price of this meal. This outing was going to cost them a collective fifty to sixty dollars altogether, a hefty sum for two guys who worked in the kitchen at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in town. Hopefully, they could make it up on the tips they got from guests. Unfortunately, he was still in the mood for tacos as he cruised past the Taqueria Hut in the parking lot at the Ralph's Supermarket on Adams. He had only been in Vincenzo's once by himself, and that cost him almost twenty bucks on his own, but still, the place had great steaks and the spaghetti was fantastic. Pulling into the parking lot, he took the spot of a white van pulling off the property and turned off his engine. The girls were talking about the place's salad bar, and Norman was looking forward to a nice steak done rare with a side of spaghetti. One last look at his wallet, he decided to bite the bullet and take the hit. After all, the place did do great spaghetti. He and the others were half way up the walkway to the entry when gunshots started ringing out and they quickly hit the ground. Ben tried to cover Alison, but Norman and Gwen were already racing back to the car.
"Ralph, kid, where are you?..." A voice came from behind the famed salad bar. "I'm pinned down here. I need you."
"I'm on my way..." Over on Cahengua, Ralph Hinkley tossed his clothes into the back of his wife's white Volkswagen, closed the door and took several running steps, jumping over the line of bushes at the sidewalk and riding the sudden propulsion into the air. Over the years, his take-off gotten much better but his landings still needed much work, but once he was shooting through the air fifty feet off the ground and just a slight red blip in the peripheral view of half of town, he couldn't stop his mind from straying. What the hell was a thirty-five year old man with a beautiful brunette wife expecting their first child doing still wearing this crazy red suit with a black cape and flying over town to get shot at by a group of wannabe mobsters trying to get their own candidate into the California State assembly? He had never asked those extra-terrestrials for the suit, nor did he ask to be forever linked to Bill Maxwell, a Conservative agent of the FBI and former Army Sergeant with three tours in Korea and the South Pacific. The aliens must have been influenced by decades of comic book culture when they designed it; guessing it was typical Earth culture for costumed crime-fighters. With Ralph's help, Bill had gone from a mediocre agent in the government to one of the agency's best men. Shooting through the air past the Ralph's Supermarket and the Lobster Hut, he aimed for Vincenzo's front plated glass window and crashed through it. Once inside, he vaulted quickly to his feet and protected his face as bullets bounced off the extra-terrestrial material off the scissor-like emblem on his chest. The bullets bouncing off him felt like the plastic projectiles his son Kevin once fired on him from a toy rifle in his youth. Proving himself impervious to their weapons, he tossed one guy through the salad bar and over Bill's head. He pounded the other guy off the wall, sending him across five tables and one couple hiding under the table during their dinner. Looking around, he found the other two guys missing.
"Great kid!" Bill had his handcuffs out. "Just get those other guys, they went out the back way."
"I'll get them." Ralph raced after them through the kitchen. The sound of police sirens was coming closer. Behind him, Bill placed his knee into the back of one of his shooters as he cuffed the Italian mobster to a table.
"Uh, you know..." Bill tried to make conversation with the guy. "If I was you, I would forget what you just saw unless you want to end up in the Romper Room with the jackets that tie in the back!"
Running from the back of the restaurant, Ralph had a fleeting glimpse of a black 1985 Lincoln Continental squealing its tires out of the alleyway and out on to Adams Boulevard. A brief look around, he took his pre-flight run once again, lifting into the air off the last step. The approach was always unsteady, the feeling of having no control was temporary, but once he was in flight, the anxiety of being immune to gravity was over, and all he had to do was control the compulsion the suit created. He could control his aerodynamics with his arms in front of him, but the steering was more difficult. Nevertheless, he had learned a lot through trial and error. He had been irresponsible with not one but two alien guidebooks, but he had learned enough to avoid getting caught in electrical lines, rolling over the top of a high rise apartment building or colliding with stop lights. Reaching a height he could see the city laid out around him, he spotted the Lincoln Continental and aimed for it like a torpedo falling out of the air.
If this was a comic book, would he be called the Torpedo? How about the Messenger considered how many times he pretended to be a bike messenger while wearing the suit in public? If his name was to be based on how many times he posed as something in public, it would have to be Kid's Birthday Entertainer.
Coming down in the Cahengua housing development, Ralph tried to drop down on his feet without his propulsion knocking him over. It didn't always work, but this time he merely staggered on his feet, braced himself and as the driver tried running him over, the car's grill stopped on the suit and the rest of the car wrapped around Ralph standing still. He didn't feel a thing, but the driver and the passenger kept moving, crashing through the windshield, over the hood and past Ralph... tumbling another twenty feet past him through the stoplight. Turning around, Ralph strolled unhurt to the driver and knelt down by him.
"What? You didn't see the stop sign?" He told him. Shaking his head, Ralph noticed a few locals coming from their homes after hearing the crash and pulled the small receiver from his sleeve. "Bill, I got the other two." He talked into it. "They're at Cahuenga and Loma, but I can't stay. I'm late for a funeral!"
"Great, kid." Bill was getting into his latest car from the Bureau, a 1979 Honda Accord, the eleventh car in his career. "I turned over our latest catch to the local fuzz, and I'm on my way."
Another run and jump, and Ralph was airborne once more, but this time he wasn't fearing gangsters, spies, corrupt businessmen or drug dealers. He had to face his wife... An incredibly beautiful brunette lawyer most recently working for Hofstadter and Associates. Born Pamela Elizabeth Davidson, she hailed from Deer Lick, Minnesota where her father ran a hardware store with her mother before becoming mayor. Her movie star looks were a facade for the brilliance of her mind and intellect. She specialized in corporate law, but she also handled divorces, property disputes and on request criminal felony cases, but her biggest embarrassment was all the events and meetings Ralph missed as he helped Bill chase down drug traffickers and government extremists.
"Pam..." Ralph's friend, Richard Sweeting, leaned into her while checking her watch. "He's supposed to be giving the eulogy."
Several of the people in attendance heard a cacophony of trash cans getting struck and scattered outside the back of the hotel gathering hall. Pamela's regal blue eyes looked to the direction of the sound and started rising with her hand to her pregnant abdomen.
"He should be here any minute now." She announced out loud. "Let me see if I can find him." Her eyes glanced around one more time, and her feet carried her forward from the small hall of the Edmonds Hotel where Ralph's friends and old classmates waited to eulogize their fallen teacher. Clad in a long black dress for the occasion, she strolled from the small hall opening up on a large lobby. Couples were checking in, businessmen were strolling through, guests were relaxing in the sitting area under a grand chandelier surround by a double stairway to the second floor. She looked around once at the numerous faces, but then something made her look left, and she found Ralph trying to slip inside through a nearly unseen employee entrance. He was clad in jeans with a sweatshirt and worn-out brown sport coat he was fussing with as he looked nervously around the room, and then over to his wife.
"Ralph..." She began. "You cannot give a eulogy like that. You look like you're going to get lunch at Burger World."
"Well, I didn't really have much of a choice." He pointed out. "There was not a lot to pick from in Lost and Found. Unless you want me to fly all the way home, put on my dark suit and fly back with it."
"Ralph, I seriously don't..."
"Excuse me, Mr. Hinkley..." A lovely young lady with long dark hair and blue eyes wearing white blouse with dark slacks had strolled up with a set of clothes on a hanger over her shoulder. "Hello, there..." She shook Ralph's hand with a big beaming grin. "I'm Monica Hanley with the hotel. A messenger dropped these clothes off for you. He said you'd need them."
"Ralph..." Pamela lightly stroked his shoulder. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!"
"You can change in the men's room over there." Miss Hanley directed him to the men's room off the nearby hall.
"Thank you very much." Ralph took the suit off her shoulder and rushed to change. Pamela had a breath of relief then motioned to the young lady.
"Miss Hanley, you've been a great help." She paused with a strange notion in her mind. Something about the young girl looked familiar. "Do we know each other from somewhere? You look familiar..."
"Maybe in another life." Monica shined briefly and wandered off across the lobby distracted by other responsibilities. Pamela stood a few seconds more trying to place her face then passed on trying to place her. Thinking it would come to her later, she returned to the small banquet hall where mourners and guests were still mulling around aimlessly by the small snack table and engaging in small talk. Richard was almost immediately coming up to her to let her know they couldn't keep the room for any longer than they were allowed. Ray Buck was in attendance from Whitney High School. Although a grade below Ralph, Richard and Jimmy Samms, he had attended Union High School with many of the other guests. Laura Wedekind looked up to Pamela as Ralph was quickly striding into the room, still adjusting his collar as mourners glanced up to him. Some of them came to meet him, either to thank him for doing the eulogy to to question his lateness. A brief look to his wife, and the blonde topped special ed teacher stopped to meet with Laura and give his condolences to her.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry I'm late... But you should have seen the accident I passed on Cahuenga and Loma." He was feeling up his pockets looking for his speech. This wasn't his suit from the house. The words he had prepared weren't available; if Bill or whoever had picked up this dark suit for him, they must have got it from a men's clothing shop. He passed his gaze over the few stragglers taking their seats then over to his late teacher's widow, his wife, Andrea, and two grown children, Carly and Abby Wedekind. Pamela watched from across the rows of chairs in the second row as Ralph poured himself some water from the table in the room and took it with him to the podium at the head of the room.
"Today, we're here to honor a man who was a huge part in our lives." He tried winging his eulogy as best as he could remember it. "Lawrence Wedekind..." Ralph looked up to the man's urn on a short column just a few feet from a photograph of the man from younger days, a seventy-five old man with scant snowy hair and smiling eyes with a huge beaming face. He could have been anyone's grandfather. Those brown eyes of his were partially hidden by his dark framed glasses. A huge laughing grin beamed across his face. It was Laura's favorite photo... a cropped image from an old fishing trip some twelve years before. He looked as if he was enjoying a good joke.
"He was more than just a teacher... a father... a deacon of the church. He was a huge part of our lives. He touched our hearts in so many ways. He was like a dad to me. He was like dad to many of us. I think I became a teacher because of him. We loved him because..." Ralph paused lightly to look over the faces to try and tell if they were following him. "He cared about people. He liked to lift people up to be the best we could be, and by knowing him, I think we're all more better off to have had him in our lives." He grinned slightly recalling how Mr. Wedekind laughed upon hearing he'd become a teacher.
"I will always remember his laugh." Ralph's mind was briefly back in high school. "He had a loud hearty laugh we all knew well. He always liked a good joke. He always talked about his dad in history class losing a leg in Normandy... And then he'd pause and asked us to keep an eye out for it."
A few chuckles came from the room. Mrs. Wedekind lifted her head from grieving to smile a little bit and recall a memory.
"I guess we all have our favorite memories of him." Ralph continued. "I recall trying to tell him why I missed turning in my report on the Battle of the Bulge. I told him my dog Sparky had ate it. He said when the dog passed it, I should bring it in and he'd pass me."
Ralph heard a few more chuckles again.
"He wouldn't want us mourning." He continued with his eulogy on his mentor. "He'd remind us that he left a part of himself with each of us. We still have our memories of him. In some way, he will never leave us. We will recall his laughter, his generosity, his zest for living... his humanity and liberal spirit."
Ralph looked up to the photo once more.
"I deserved more than a "C" on that report." Ralph mused to a few more chuckles in the room. He suppressed his small grin and became solemn once more. "Let us not grieve for our loss. Let us celebrate... for having had him in our lives." He paused to take a quick sip from the glass he had brought with him.
"Let us all take a silent moment to remember how he touched us." Ralph added and stepped back in withdrawn silence to pray by himself. Everyone else had followed in the same movement distant from the sounds of the hotel beyond the doors. Pamela held her head low as did Richard and Ray. Laura had squeezed her daughter Carly closer and Abby felt her boyfriend Louis draw her closer to add support. Larry's brother Bernard held his head low in lament as did Charles Grayson, Bruce Allen and Dean King, three deacons from the Wedekind's church. Beyond Ralph, Richard, Jimmy and Ray, seven more of Mr. Wedekind's students were lined up behind Pamela along with Jerry Gardner, Larry's next door neighbor and frequent canasta partner with his wife, Alice. There was over seventeen people in attendance besides Mr. Bennett, the hotel concierge waiting to see how much they would be using the room. Amidst the many faces, Jimmy raised his face to the small brass urn on the pedestal and gazed traumatically as he struggled with demons from another time and place.