TUESDAY: Death of a Superman

BY FRANCES TATE

Copyright is held by the author.

Obituary

“Harry Kline, locally known as Superman due to the dirty blue —”

Sports writer Ross Bailey stopped typing. Frowned at the tremor playing through his hands and abandoned the laptop. There was a bottle of red in the kitchen he’d been saving for some undisclosed memorable moment. It saving him had a certain symmetry to it.

The kitchen light was too bright. He screwed his eyelids down to the bare minimum hunting for a glass, the corkscrew. He poured with quivering aim, knocked back the acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon, barely registering it and refilled.

It had happened so fast. And he’d spent every second on his knees.

One moment he was groping blindly for his ID, then a woman screamed, and shots echoed in the underground acoustic cathedral of the car park. The big man falling softly like a snowflake. His unshaven cheek pressed against the cold concrete, eyes staring at Ross as though trying to tell him something —

Ross emptied the glass. Hands steadier. His brain eased out of shock and into replay.

Now he could see what had affected him so much. Not that he was used to people dying in front of him. But this wasn’t about death. This was about life, and he had to get every nuance down before the wine claimed it.

The lanyard snaked from his grip and he’d inadvertently kicked the laminated ID under the car. Now he’d have to crawl under the SUV to retrieve it. It could be worse. It could be under a Maserati, the claustrophobic thought placated him.

That’s when the executive price-tagged black patent Jimmy Choo high-heels exited the lift, clack-clacking in the enclosed space. Either bad memories or self-fulfilling prophecy put the taser in her hand before the door opened, because it spun across the floor as the brand-new, unsporting Vans ambushed her. She’d screamed.

“Let her go, man.” The large man in the royal blue hoodie had a soft, but authoritative voice. And silent feet; no logos; no sound.

Jammed under the Escalade, Ross couldn’t see what happened next — but he heard it. Two shots. Then a shiny black handbag hit the concrete. Broke open on impact, disgorged things that skittered and rolled towards him. A long hiss of compressed gas propellent and a long string of shrieks and abuse followed it. As the clean new trainers staggered backwards, slender knees, and a small bejewelled hand scrabbled over the painted white line. Polished nails flashed in the harsh lighting, grabbing and then firing the taser.

Man downed. She dropped the taser, scrabbled through the debris field.

Ross stroked her phone towards her like a puck on ice. Cautiously got to his feet.

***

The dead man’s name was Harry, he’d found out later. The expression on Harry’s face was something Ross would never forget; one of such peace, despite two bullets in his chest. The stained royal blue sweatshirt soaking up dark blood. Half the Superman symbol drowned.

Harry had been a soldier. Like hundreds of others, he had PTSD. He’d been the gentle giant who lived in the alley for as long as Ross had worked in the building.

It hadn’t been suicide by mugger. Harry made the decision to exchange his life for Lisa Myers’ — he hadn’t known her name or anything about her beyond she needed help. Help he was willing to give.

He’d died a soldier’s death, successfully defending others. Not a showy hero who got others killed, but the genuine article. Almost unwitnessed. Unacknowledged. Ross could fix that.

He deleted the opening, inadequate line. Tremor-free and confident, he began again.

“Corporal Harold ‘Harry’ Kline, affectionately known as Superman . . .”

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