Barry couldn’t make the barbecue. He was off fighting mole people or fish people or something. Nobody was certain. That was the disadvantage of being so powerful. He was always one supersonic flight away from an emergency. On good days, he could even teleport.
Unless a giant robot attack happened in my neck of the woods, there wasn’t much I could do about a volcano halfway across the globe. It relieved me of the responsibility, and there were days I was grateful for that. But without Barry, I was stuck with Henry and Eugene, and none of us got along that well. We could count on each other in the middle of an emergency, but in our everyday life, there wasn’t much common ground.
I’d only gone to the barbecue because Dementra had said she’d be there, but then civil war broke out on Galadron and the warrior queen had needed to go quell an uprising. Or begin one. Her text hadn’t been clear.
I’d hoped in vain that the rain would cancel the event, but Eugene kept a patch of blue sky over our heads as rain fell everywhere else in the city. I sat at the picnic table, drinking a beer, listening to Henry school Eugene on the fundamental nature of barbecue.
“Barbecue is a cooking process where indirect heat is applied to meat over time. This is grilling, which is not the same thing.”
“Uh hmm,” said Eugene as he flipped the burgers. “Fascinating.”
Like every superteam, we’d developed our own little language and codes. Most of it was job related, but we had other in-jokes and phrases. Labeling something Henry said as “fascinating” was the equivalent of saying “Nobody gives a shit.” It’d taken him four months to figure that out. Now that he had, it was somehow even more satisfying to say.
“I’m just saying if the invitation promises barbecue, it should be barbecue.”
“Yeah, great. So how do you want your burger?”
“Medium,” said Henry, “but you’re going to end up giving me well done. Also, you’re going to be short of hot dog buns.”
“You could’ve warned me,” said Eugene.
“Sorry. Space/time continuum and all that.” Henry grabbed a beer from the cooler and walked away.
Eugene said to me, “Funny how space/time continuum doesn’t have jack to say about him buying winning lottery tickets.”
“You’re just mad because he won’t share the winning numbers with you,” I said.
“Not entirely untrue.” Eugene pressed down on the burger until it was nice and charred. He handed the burger to his wife Susan to give to Henry.
His kids played on their swing set. While Eugene and I had never clicked, I admired some things about him. He managed to have a family, which wasn’t always easy in this career.
“Where’s your Plus One?” he asked as he added the hot dogs to the grill.
“My sister’s out of town.”
He said, “That’s not what I meant.”
“Who has time to date?” I replied. “If Barry, the world’s most powerful mortal, can’t make a marriage work, what chance do I have?”
“You should try a dating site.”
“No offense, Eugene, but you’re not a guy I go to for dating advice. Didn’t Susan just fall into your lap? We can’t all be lucky enough to meet our future spouse when a bridge collapses.”
“Yeah, I got lucky,” he said. “What about Robert? Last I heard, he was really into you.”
“He’s a supervillain.”
“He was a supervillain. He’s reformed now.”
“He nearly killed me.”
“Didn’t you kill him?”
“That was his clone.”
“So you’re even.”
He handed me a hot dog. I dropped some relish and ketchup on it.
“Nobody’s perfect,” he said. “Susan snores like a freight train during allergy season.”
“You poor man. How do you go on?”
“All I know is Robert is a pretty cool guy. He’s rich, handsome, funny. Rules a small country. Remember that last visit we had to Apocalyptistan? That one where he was building the global mind control ray? Man, those beaches were beautiful.”
“He’s a madman.”
“Former madman. It’s been years since he’s done anything even remotely villainous. I hear he’s in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Nobody’s perfect, but he’s pretty damn close.”
Eugene sat across from me.
“I’ll be honest. M and Susan are starting to worry about you.”
“You and Susan?”
“She’s my wife. We talk. She thinks you’re unhappy.”
“Well, if Susan thinks so . . . .”
“You’re mostly the job now. You need something else.”
“Like a boyfriend? How progressive of you.”
“No, not like a boyfriend. Like something. Anything. All you do is punch robots and go home. If it wasn’t for Dementra, you’d have no life outside of work.”
“Do you want to end up like that guy?”
He nodded toward Henry, who sat chewing his overcooked burger with a scowl on his face. No one liked him. He was only on the team because his ability to predict the future made everything easier for the rest of us.
“Barry, Dementra, and I have a pool on when he finally goes villain,” said Eugene. “Want in?”
I slipped Eugene a hundred bucks on six months.
“I’m not saying you need to get laid or anything,” said Eugene. “I’m just saying we all need something else to keep us going. I have Susan and the kids. Dementra has whatever the hell she does on Galadron. Who knows? Barry has his model trains.”
“I like fishing,” I said.
“Great. Go fishing. Take your time. Enjoy yourself.”
He went back to the grill. I walked to the other side of the yard, dialed my phone.
“Hello, Janine,” said the unmistakable baritone voice of the Regent King of Apocalyptistan. “To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?”