Saturday, January 12, 2013

Instrument Failure

His body had been breaking down for years.  It was simply a matter of finally acknowledging that fact, and it was only happening now because he could no longer ignore it.

Two nights ago, Sid had slipped on a rung chasing the Interceptor up a fire escape.  Not only did his mark escape, but Sid had fallen all the way to the floor of the alley below, cracking two ribs and badly spraining the wrist that had failed to brace his landing.  In his earliest days, Sid might have blamed the cape, but it was long since he even registered that he still wore one.  This was all second nature to him, first nature even.  He only called himself Sid because to the greater world he had become the identity he had assumed and gradually allowed to take over his whole life.  To everyone else, he was the Shootist, the only vigilante talented enough with guns that it didn’t matter how he dressed so long as he always, and he always did, came out on top of a duel.  He could afford a little fancy.

The only challenge still remaining was himself, as it had always been, but now it was growing worse.  When he started out Sid had learned how to let it all coalesce, all the elements of his training and methodology come together as a finely honed instrument of justice.  He had never perfected it, but the advantage Sid had was that he’d realized perfection wasn’t necessary, only a mastery of his ambitions, something everyone needed to succeed, no matter their interests.  The problem was that age had robbed him of the ability to keep it all working.

In his prime Sid would never have done something as embarrassing as slip on a fire escape.  It would have been unthinkable.  It happened because he was no longer bouncing back from injury like he used to.  A busted knee could no longer be ignored, and that was exactly what had caused him to tumble that night.  It gave out on him without warning, and the next thing he knew the space between the Interceptor and himself grew more rapid than he could imagine, and it didn’t dawn on him that it was because he was falling until he hit the pavement with an audible thud, just missing some trashcans and crates parked behind a diner he had just visited as a patron three weeks earlier.

There was no sense even thinking to continue the pursuit of the Interceptor.  That reprobate was long gone, probably hadn’t even stopped to gawk.  Sid had dragged himself ten feet before his retainer helped him to his feet, and inside the waiting van.  They drove off into the night, and Sid was grateful that Charlie remained silent for the whole of the ride home.

For two days he brooded, keeping the costume on, draping the cape around him, perhaps trying to hide, except Charlie regularly disturbed him with trays of snacks, some bourbon, and medical supplies.  Some time ago Charlie had managed the resolve to ask why he was still needed, if Sid went to the trouble of pretending he could manage on his own.  It was the old question of service, and yet had still taken him by surprise.  Charlie had always been faithful.  Well, perhaps Sid had taken him for granted on occasion.  He had believed he could afford to, that it was almost a privilege, both for himself and Charlie, this odd arrangement, the fanciful notions of a billionaire who thought he could fight crime and still come home to a hot meal waiting for him.  He never asked for much.  It was supposed to be assumed.

He thought back to his upbringing, the more innocent days of youth, studying at university and playing tennis, marveling at his own incredible reflexes, talent that could have taken him far if competition weren’t discouraged among the commoners.  His world had been insulated.  He would sometimes ask his parents why it was necessary to have a security detail with him even when he went to the mall.  They indulged him too much, they said.  It was for his own protection.  One day he wondered if there was something he could do to rebel against this system.  He decided to put on a mask and show off the many meaningless skills he’d been groomed into since boyhood.  Sometimes he would even patrol on a horse.

He never thought of himself as pretentious.  It never occurred to Sid that if anyone found out that he would be engulfed in scandal for the remainder of his life.  He didn’t think of protecting his identity so much as assuming a new one.

Now all that was crumbling down around him.  Who ever suspected that superheroes grow old?  He looked hard at one of his pistols, its ivory handle mocking the encroaching darkness.  What would it taste like in his mouth?  Would it taste like blood?  For decades there had been a rush of blood in his head.  Perhaps it had impaired his judgment. 

His body had been a tool, the only instrument he had ever learned to play, and now it was failing him.  What else could Sid do now but repudiate it?

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