Continued from Part Seven
Two weeks later, Jesse Miller’s terry cloth bathrobe hung loose as he stood on his recently stained deck, staring at the stone wall surrounding his massive property in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
He pulled a 9mm revolver from his pocket. Not as effective as the Sword’s blade, but far less suspicious. Jesse walked down into the freshly watered grass. When he was a boy, he always loved to walk in the grass barefoot on a day like this. Of course, famous publishers didn’t walk barefoot in the grass.
And why not? Jesse looked down at his Birkenstock sandals. If a man can’t do as he pleases in his own backyard, what good is a quarter of a billion dollars, anyway?
He removed his sandals and walked through the grass. The lush greenness mixed with that ever-pleasing moisture as he savored every step. Were it another day, he might run in his newfound freedom and revert to being a boy for five minutes. Then again, on another day, he wouldn’t have allowed himself the undignified indulgence.
He put his Birkenstocks back on and climbed the steps that led up to the top of the wall. Near the top, he peeked over to make sure no assassins lurked. Security seemed to be doing its job. No one had breached security in years.
He climbed onto the six-foot-wide platform atop the wall and turned to face his home. Four and a half years ago, an Al Qaeda firebomb had reduced it to ashes.
Mr. Bin Laden and his friends hadn’t taken kindly to the Sword’s adventures against Al Qaeda, nor to the Sword Comic Books chronicling those stories, along with stories of other heroes battling terrorists. Rebuilding stronger than ever before and launching a new series on real heroes from the War on Terror sent the appropriate message.
He looked over the side of the wall. A fresh spot of paint stood out. Anti-war fanatics decided the Sword was far too pro-military. It started with protest letters to The Sword Comics denouncing the Sword as a tool of the Administration.
Jesse laughed. They’d wanted him to write comics about aliens from outer space, super-powered psychopaths, small-time hoods, and even fictional foreign enemies. And insisted he definitely not talk about those actually planning to destroy the country. That was far too radical for them. Well, to heck with them and their idiotic games.
Protest letters didn’t excite some folks, so they decided on offensive graffiti threatening to rape his wife. Thus, necessitating the coat of paint and the change in security contractors.
A soft feminine hand massaged his neck. Jesse turned, his eyes feasting on his wife’s purple velvet robe and sheer pink dressing gown. “Good morning, love. How’s the baby?”
“Asleep,” Sariah said. “I wondered where you went.”
“How glad I am that Al Qaeda bombed the first place I had here.”
Sariah raised a carefully-plucked eyebrow. “Glad? Why are you glad?”
“Because, if they hadn’t, we would never have gotten together.”
Sariah blinked twice.
“If it hadn’t been for what Al Qaeda did here, I would’ve never told you the truth.”
How many years had he wasted playing that dumb superhero game where he hid his secret identity from the woman he loved, in order to protect her? As the game always seemed to work out, it just drove Sariah further away. Nearly lost her in real life, too. Ironically, to a rival illustrator who no longer worked for him.
Sariah smiled. “It’s definitely a good thing you ‘fessed up. I thought you were ‘both’ afraid of commitment.”
“Of course I was. Afraid of not being there for you, afraid of not living up to expectations. Afraid of days like this.”
Jesse reached into his robe’s pocket and removed an e-mail from Dark Mystic. “A gathering of the world’s greatest rogues is occurring in Jamaica. Al-Zafarad’s there.”
“Dead, or at least I thought so. We don’t know what they’re up to, but given the criminal minds at work, it’s monstrous. Dark Mystic has called a global alert. Everyone is expected into Philadelphia tonight. After that we’re flying to Jamaica.”
Sariah stared at the ocean, swallowed hard, and turned to Jesse. “You’ve always made it back. You’ll do it again.”
Jesse bit his lip. She didn’t need to know how much harder a wife and child made the mission. He wrapped his arms around Sariah. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
She’d be taken care of.
Stop psyching yourself out, Miller. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Listen to your John Rawlings motivational CDs and focus on positive thinking. Bad thoughts will doom the mission. Got to keep those away.
He kissed Sariah on the forehead. Thank goodness for MP3 players. Nobody ever knew what he was listening to other than Revelator, and Revelator was the last person to throw stones. A good policy when your door was glass.