I need something new to obsess over so I can cleanse my mental palate of the book I just finished. That would be Supertown, U.S.A., something that’s been around so long, I’m actually embarrassed it hasn’t been long, long done.
Our story so far: 14-year old Wally Crenshaw lives in Crumbly-by-the-Sea, New Jersey, a seaside town to which you can’t get from wherever you might happen to be. Wally wants nothing more than to become one of the superheroes that inhabit his world; he wears a costume under his clothes in case he ever runs into an opportunity to have a secret origin of his own. Charlie Harris, aka The Knave, a non-super-powered hero (a la Batman), has come to take up residence in Crumbly in the house his aunt left him, wanting nothing more than to forget about being a costumed hero—it hurt and he wasn’t very good at it—and he figured the best way to start is by disappearing into out-of-the-way Crumbly. But when he opens the door to his new home, his ex-comrade from the Justice Brigade, William W. Williams, Jr., the obsessive, half-crazy and dimwitted Mr. Justice is waiting there to drag him back to civilization and his responsibilities as a hero. Charlie tells him to go screw, leaving them at a stalemate. It being late in the day, Mr. Justice asks if he can spend the night. Meanwhile, Wally is positive something to do with superheroes is going on inside that house. He's just entirely wrong about what that something is…
© Paul Kupperberg
Charlie Harris stepped out onto the back porch of his late aunt’s house. Correction. Onto the back porch of his house. He owned it, free and clear. He put his coffee mug down on the railing, which promptly collapsed under the weight.
“Guess it needs a little work, though,” he murmured.
Well, what if it did? He was retired from the supers biz. Now he could be plain old Charlie Harris, free lance writer on the supers for the National Mask and other publications...and with a newly signed, fairly sweet contract for a series of books about those ex-colleagues remaining in the supers biz. He had all the time in the world to patch up the old place.
Even with Mr. Justice camped out on the sofa in the parlor, finishing up the last of half a dozen frozen dinners Charlie had picked up earlier along with a few other dining necessities from the grocery store on Main Street, Charlie was feeling strangely at peace. He thought it was strange because Charlie couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this way. As a kid, he was always butting heads with his father. As a grown up, he was constantly worried about somebody uncovering his secret identity, or about the next fight he was going to get into and hurt by. On top of that, there was the continual aggravation of trying to have a real life when you never knew what death-defying adventure you would have to take off on with the Brigade, usually in the middle of a date, or while he was supposed to be working. How tough was it to meet a magazine deadline when you were fighting mole men at the center of the Earth the day your article was due? It was a miracle he kept getting assignments — although, the inside scoops he got being (secretly!) a member of the supers community probably made up for his lack of punctuality.
But that was his old life. Gentleman writer, resident of quaint Crumbly-by-the-Sea, that was the new.
“Charlie!” Mr. Justice called from inside.
Charlie sighed and closed his eyes. “Yes, Willie?”
“Did you get anything for dessert?”
Tomorrow morning, he told himself. He’ll be gone in the morning...! And, out loud, he said, in a tone of voice usually reserved for conversations with six-year olds, “Who wants cupcakes and milk?”
Mr. Justice said, “Oh, boy!”
* * *
Wally Crenshaw, Benny Sachem, and Brenda Cunningham gathered at the north end of Kane Street, watching the dirty gray car parked down the street.
“See,” Wally said. “The Accelerator’s car is still here.”
“Wow,” Benny said with a snicker, “it’s the actual Acceleratormobile!”
Brenda poked Benny in the ribs with her elbow, “Cut it out, Benny. How do you know it’s not?”
Benny glanced at his girlfriend, then at Wally. “Am I the only one here who hasn’t gone, like, insane?”
“Probably,” Wally said. He took the folded wanted poster from the pocket of his shorts and held it out to Benny. “But all I want to do is see if the guy in this picture’s the same as the guy who belongs to that car.”
Benny opened the poster and looked at it. Brenda peeked over his shoulder. “New York license plates, gray car.”
“Two for two,” said Wally.
“Unless it just happens to be a gray car from New York,” said Benny.
“Work with us here, Benny,” Brenda said.
Wally started to walk down the quiet street. “Come on,” he whispered to his friends.
“Where?” Benny asked.
“That’s not working with us, Sachem,” Brenda said and yanked on Benny’s arm to get him moving.
“C’mon, Brenda,” Benny pleaded. “Don’t tell me you believe any of this stuff.”
Brenda shrugged and said, softly so Wally couldn’t hear, “No, I don’t. But Wally does. And if it’s important to him, then as his friends it’s important we believe with him. Okay?”
Benny nodded. “Okay. But I still get to make fun of him. If I don’t make fun of him, he’ll think I’m putting him on.”
Even as he walked a half dozen paces ahead of his friends, Wally was formulating a plan of action. They couldn’t just walk up and ring the doorbell. If it was the Accelerator and he was hiding out here in town, he might...well, accelerate them. They needed a distraction, something to draw whoever was in that house outside where Wally could get a good look at him. He wished he had some firecrackers on him. Setting off a string of firecrackers on the front porch would sure get him out in a hurry. Or a siren! Boy, a nice loud siren would sure do the trick.
“So, got a plan, Whiz Kid?” Brenda asked.
Wally shook his head. “Not unless you’ve got a siren in your pocket.”
Benny rolled his eyes. “Oh, brother,” he said, and ignored Brenda’s withering look.
“We just need to get a look at the guy,” Wally muttered.
The slow walking trio had come up alongside the dirt splattered gray car at the curb outside the old Wicker house. Brenda glanced at it, tapping her chin thoughtfully. “We could,” she said, slowly, “just knock on the door.”
“We could,” Wally said, his eyes practically bugging out of his head, “if we wanted to get all accelerated!”
“He’s not going to accelerate some kid,” Brenda said. “Whatever that is,” and went skipping up the sidewalk and then turned up the front walk to 254 Kane Street.
“Brenda!” Wally hissed.
“Don’t!” Benny called.
Brenda ignored them both, pausing only briefly to look back and throw them a sweet smile just before she rapped her knuckles on the weather beaten front door. Wally and Benny, in a sudden fit of not knowing what to do with themselves, almost collided with one another three times before charging around to the street side of the gray car and ducking down in hiding just as the front door swung open.
Charlie Harris, the chocolate frosting from a cupcake on his face, looked at Brenda and smiled. “Hello,” he said.
“Hi, mister,” she said. “I saw your car out there and wanted to know if you wanted it washed. Only five dollars.”
Charlie glanced at the car, wondering why there were the tops of two heads bobbing around behind it. “Sorry, kid,” he said. “It’s not my car. Belongs to someone visiting me.”
“Does he want it washed?”
“I doubt it,” Charlie said. “Sorry. But, hey, you want a cupcake? I’ve got plenty.”
Brenda said, “I don’t think so, thank you. So, could you ask your friend?”
Charlie took a bite from his cupcake. “What’s your name?”
“Brenda,” she said, then quickly added, “My dad’s the sheriff.”
He smiled, and watched the two heads hiding behind Willie’s car as he said, “And a fine, dedicated lawman he is, I’m sure. My name’s Charlie Harris. I just moved to town.”
Brenda tried to peek around Charlie and catch a glimpse of his houseguest as she said, “Did your friend drive you here?”
“No,” Charlie said. “Well, look, it’s been nice meeting you. I’ll see you and your friends around, okay?”
“Sure,” she said, slowly, shifting her feet so she could get a better view inside the house. “So, welcome to Crumbly, I guess.”
Charlie made to close the door, but Brenda held her ground. She smiled sweetly and waved her fingers in farewell, but wouldn’t budge. Charlie was forced to close the door, gently, in her face. “Weird kids in this town,” he said with a sad shake of his head.