If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:
- Read Chapter One here
- Read Chapter Two here
- Read Chapter Three here
- Read Chapter Four here
- Read Chapter Five here
- Read Chapter Six here
- Read Chapter Seven here
- Read Chapter Eight here
- Read Chapter Nine here
- Read Chapter Ten here
- Read Chapter Eleven here
- Read Chapter Twelve here
- Read Chapter Thirteen here
- Read Chapter Fourteen here
- Read Chapter Fifteen here
- Read Chapter Sixteen here
- Read Chapter Seventeen here
- Read Chapter Eighteen here
- Read Chapter Nineteen here
One in a Million – Chapter 20
Jerry cracked open the triangular gridwall display that was wrapped around the metal pole in the middle of the store, and squeezed himself free. The last four hours had been agony, but now, in the dark, with only the errant clattering of the air conditioners to break the silence, his plan unfurled before him, a thing of beauty. It had worked!
“Okay, guys, the coast is clear,” he hissed.
Sebastian rolled out from under the back issue bins. Stevie popped up from behind the adult comic display rack, a large hollow magazine shelf spirited away from some closed drugstore twenty years ago. He was coughing, spitting, and dusting himself off. Phong stood up from behind the trading card counter.
They all made their way to the wall of vintage comics display. There was some amazing stuff on the narrow shelves adorning the wall: Silver Age Marvel Comics, DC comics, a few golden age books, some EC horror and crime comics, expensive Dell and Gold Key comics, and more. Each comic was sealed in a clear Mylar envelope or a Lucite slab that explained its grade and condition. Protection from the elements, grubby fingers, you name it.
In the glass case separating the general public from the shelves was more comics, and behind the counter were additional boxes. These weren’t as valuable as the comics on the wall. Twenty-five to fifty dollars, instead of the one hundred bucks or more for the wall stock. Each box held 150 comics. Seven boxes lined the back counter, not including what was visible. Plus, there were more wall stock comics in the back. All valuable.
All precious. And now, all theirs.
“Let’s loot this place,” Jerry said.
The four men split up, each on a different mission. Jerry made a sweep of the store, looking for vintage toys, expensive statues, anything with a price higher than fifty dollars. He started at the Star Wars display, grabbing a mint-in-box Slave 1 space ship. Current street value, about three hundred bucks. I may have to keep that for myself, as a trophy, Jerry thought. Sebastian started singing “Take the Money and Run,” even though they were supposed to be quiet. He vaulted the counter and began dismantling the neat rows of comics, stacking them up on the counter in haphazard piles. Stevie started folding comic boxes together, so they could carry everything out neatly. Phong went back to the office and snagged the spare door key. He also dialed a number on his phone, that of his brother, Ke.
Three years older, more worldly and wise, Ke was Phong’s ticket into the Vietnamese gang that operated out of their restaurant. All he had to do was tip them off. The gang members would intercept them, pick up the books, and Phong and Ke would get a finder’s fee for the score. Fuck Jerry Markham and his spring roll ordering ass. He was small time. Phong was going to quit Tech Warehouse and go to work for his brother. It all started with this score, right here.
“Hello?” said Ke.
Phong spoke rapidly in Vietnamese and hung up.
Mike Bretz learned the hard way that you can’t solve every problem with magic. Only some of them. A really good example of that would be his last appearance at MagicCon. Being one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world, and the sole possessor of the seven lucky voodoo dolls of power, he had slowly, incrementally, glacier-ly come to realize that magic is all about the imposition of will. And in the case of Mike’s particular flavor of magic, subtle was sometimes much better. The direct route, he learned, was akin to swatting houseflies with a hand grenade.
So, when he heard that Comix Comix Comix had a complete run of back issues of Green Guy, including the spin-offs and mini-series, he rushed over and was immediately confronted by that stocky kid that he got into that little tussle with over, ironically, the same Green Guy comics. Apparently, the guy, whose name was D.J., was the store manager. Their confrontation had ended with D.J. observing Mike liquefy a rival sorcerer before teleporting away. It was not Mike’s finest moment.
D.J. had turned to greet him, frowned in recognition, and then Mike blasted him with a quick memory wipe charm and they had a long, friendly conversation about Green Guy.
Bretz left Comix Cubed that day, having completed his run of Green Guy books, including the hard-to-find number two issue of the mini-series West Coast Green Guy. It was a collection he’d been building since he was ten years old. And he more or less did it without magic. Well, not directly, in any case.
As a result, Mike Bretz became a regular at D.J.’s store. They had a lot in common, comic book-wise, and he came to appreciate several things inherent in the relationship. First off, it felt better to do some things on your own, like finish a comic book collection that he’d started before he became so fuck-all powerful. It scratched a primal itch. Second, he’d forgotten, living and working amongst the community of Neighbors, what it was like to talk to someone who didn’t eye you with distrust, fear, envy, or loathing. To D.J. he was just “Mike B,” the guy who, like him, hated Stanley Weissman, and thought Alan Moore was a bloody genius. Sure, they were talking about comics and comic creators, but for both of them, it was one of the most normal interactions they had in their lives.
Mike Bretz was in the crowd on the day of the Jane Callow signing, Saturday being his usual stop-in. He noticed D.J.’s fluster, and watched, smiling, as he suddenly took on a James Bond kind of smoothness when the women in question showed up. He even got copies of Jane Callow’s books signed. He thought that Jane might have recognized him, but he couldn’t be sure. In any case, he also saw a short, pimply Asian kid duck down behind an abandoned display case. It didn’t take him long to spot three other kids, hiding in near-plain sight. But clearly D.J. and the staff weren’t paying attention. So, having nothing better to do, Mike paid for his comics and indulged in another skill he’d picked up on his road to maturity: he went out to his convertible, turned invisible, and waited.
It took a couple of hours, but that was okay: Mike had comics to read. The new issue of I, Zombie was out, and he read it with the kind of secret yearning that one feels from their first crush. He could date a zombie, he decided. Well, maybe not fuck her, but he’d definitely kiss her. Once. Maybe. She was awfully cute.
These philosophic concerns entertained him until he saw the flashlight beams cut through the darkness of the store. Now it made sense. Mike got out of his car, still invisible, and walked across the street.
For Justin Tripp, the best thing D.J. McGuiness ever did was to finally move all of his shit out of the back store room. To call the back of Comix Comix Comix a “room” and imply that there was more than one was a gross misnomer. There was actually a large area, divided up into a kind of break room/work room for the staff, Justin’s office, and the storage area by the cunning use of shelves and crates.
These freestanding shelves were stacked to capacity with comics, boxes containing comics, books about comics, and boxes containing things having to do with comics, like clear comic bags and comic backing boards. They were propped up against freestanding shelves facing the opposite direction, similarly loaded for bear. The employee work space and Justin’s office faced one another along a mutual hallway made of shelves. A third area, perpendicular to the offices, is where the back issues, old displays, buys that no one has had a chance to go through yet, broken display cases, some old pallets, and a massage table from the store’s former occupants, all lived. The only clear path, prior to D.J.’s moving out, was a straight line to the back door, a metal, ungainly thing that led to the alley and the dumpster.
This door had an alarm system attached to it. It was the only door in the building that did. Justin took a look at the cavernous hole left by D.J.’s boxes and decided that it was high time he stopped sleeping in his office. He hauled his futon out of his dingy work space, laid it flat, brushed off the chip crumbs and paper wrappers, and took a nap. The futon pad was way better than the shitty mattress at his rat trap apartment. So, over the next few weeks, Justin adjusted his office space and the back warehouse to give himself a home away from his home away from home. This was important, as Justin had a fairly strict regimen of drugs and alcohol to cling to, and this regimen frequently involved falling down in a stupor. Now he had a real bed at the comic shop, just staggering distance away, that he could flop on. And by the careful rearrangement of all the shit in the back, his little drug warren was invisible unless one knew to take a right at the old massage table. Between the bathroom, the mini-fridge in his office, and now his bed, Justin couldn’t have been any happier.
Only on this particular day, there were sounds coming from out front that woke him up. Groggy, hung-over, he could hear something going on in his store. What day was it? His watch told him it was Saturday, and moreover, this time of the day, it should be dead. He tottered out of his nest, down the hall, and cracked the door separating the front of the store from the back. People were everywhere. Son of a bitch!
“D.J. what the hell have you done?” he muttered. He ambled back to his office and after a few minutes of staring blankly at everything (“this doesn’t even look like my office anymore”), he spied a flier taped over the computer monitor. He grabbed it, read it, tore it up and swore. An in-store! And D.J. didn’t even bother to clear it with him, first! Son-of-a-bitch! Heads were going to roll, you can bet on that. But before Justin could work up the brain power to compose a proper bitching, he had biological needs to tend to. He was starving.
Inside his mini-fridge was a six pack of Pearl beer, a small baggie containing the last of his weed, a can of bean dip, a half a bag of Fritos, and a brick of cheddar cheese. No utensils, of course. He’d forgotten to write that down on the weekly supply run list. Fine. Whatever. He cradled everything in his arms and went back to his den. Over the years, Justin had learned the hard way not to go crashing through the store whenever people were present. It just made things worse. So, like it or not, starving or not, he would have to wait until closing time.
Justin smoked his pot in a bong fashioned out of a Mego Captain America action figure, and then he turned on his miniscreen DVD player. He had all five Planet of the Apes movies, plus the cartoon series and the television show, and he was going to watch them in order and eat his meager fare until all of these fuckers left his store and he could go get a pizza.