Arthur sucked thoughtfully on his few remaining teeth and poked a fork in the
direction of his two breakfast companions. “That’s what’s wrong with the world, now.
No more heroes.” Arthur’s point was typically non-sequitur but delivered in a matter-of-fact
George and Eddie raised their heads, complete with frowning faces. The three
old men were huddled into a plastic booth. Overhead, fluorescent light flickered, the
lingering smell of overcooked sunflower oil and a tinny radio played the same new
songs they’d never heard. It was warm in the café. Outside, the frosty air crept up
the large windows, creating little corners of condensation.
“What’s that got to do with the price of baked beans?” George asked, looking
down morosely at his plate. The remains of the full English breakfast had been
slightly too burned, slightly too greasy and never enough. The third man, Eddie,
watched the conversation unfold in silence, drinking tea from the chipped and
“It’s a fact,” Arthur said, confidently. “I remember the newspaper headlines.
They called them a ‘public nuisance’. Destroying buildings with lasers and weather
and robot dogs. It was 1973 when they got banned. That’s when all the papers ran
that headline. No more heroes.” Arthur shook his head, disappointed at the folly of
man. “And now baked beans are £1.20 a tin.”
George’s confused face cleared now, nodding sagely, back to a subject he knew
well. “£1.20. It’s theft. Things were better back then, you know?”
Eddie chased the last couple of beans around the plate and prodded the
remaining piece of grisly sausage he decided to leave.
After the rumination on the lack of superheroes and the price of baked beans
had come to a satisfactorily dismal conclusion, the three stood, replacing flat caps
and heavy scarfs and well-worn coats. The bill was paid with pension money, Eddie
discreetly topping up the little pile of coins when it came up short.
The three men walked together at a speed approaching an amble. At the end
of the high street they parted with a vague nod to one another. As though they were
only the merest acquaintances who happened to breakfast together four times a
week. Life had a routine in retirement. Breakfast at the Spoon and Fork Café, then a
wander down the high street. Maybe a look in at the post office. If the government
hadn’t shut it down yet. Then back home to the missus. There was always a shelf to
put up, or the garden wanted weeding, or the car engine was having trouble again.
The good telly didn’t start until three o’clock anyway.
Eddie walked in the opposite direction; his hands buried in his pockets to hide
the mild shake which had been creeping up on him. His route home always went
through the park so he could admire the flowerbeds. But nothing was growing at this
time of year. A layer of frost spread across the grass like a gossamer sheet. But earlier
in the year, there had been cornflowers in thick blue clumps along the riverbanks.
Despite the chill in the air, children were still playing. Each one of them bulky
with coats, hats and gloves with only the merest gap in the fabric for excited eyes
and red noses, like mobile marshmallows. A dog was yapping somewhere. Stressed
mothers carrying bags of Christmas shopping, hurrying to the carpark. The usual
murmur of village life.
But today, there was a shout across the field. A panicked shout.
There was a young man sprinting away from an elderly woman who was on
the floor. The man was holding a bag which was unlikely to be his, unless he had a
softer, flowery side that wasn’t otherwise apparent. The woman seemed to be in a
state, shouting after the man. Onlookers were only just starting to realise, in that
slow way crowds of people do. Some were pulling out phones. A woman ran over to
help the old lady up.
Eddie stooped down to the flowerbed, wincing as something in his back
clicked, but his shaking fingers managed to brush, then grab a rock. It took another
age of winces to straighten. The mugger was almost at the gate. Eddie blinked. He
pulled his arm back and threw.
The stone travelled through the air at a speed that made the eyes water.
Eddie was already following the trail back out of the park when the rock
collided with the mugger’s head and he collapsed in a heap.
Ten minutes later, Eddie was pushing open his front door. The two-bedroom house
on the top of the hill was small and snug. Snugger than it needed to be thanks to the
weight of framed photographs and the huge shag pile rugs on every floor.
A voice came from the kitchen as he hung up his coat. “Eddie? Eddie, is that
“Are you back?”
“Aye, I’m back.”
The framed photos which covered every wall dotted around thirty to forty years
of life. The wedding, the kids and now grandkids. The various newspaper articles and
photographs with Prime Ministers and other world leaders. Eddie barely saw them
anymore, walking past the monument of passing years into the small kitchen.
Stella was sitting at the round wooden table. She was wearing a heavy shawl
today and the heating was cranked up to a sunny day in Egypt, but Eddie didn’t
complain. “Are you as cold as ice?” Eddie asked with a small smile. He avoided
Stella’s answering look.
“One day, mister, you’ll get tired of that joke. How were the lads?” she asked.
“Well enough.” Eddie scratched the back of his head, walking across the
kitchen. He took out the patterned mugs, filled the kettle and glanced through the
window into the garden. Too cold to do anything out there today. “I stopped a mugger
in the park.”
“That’s nice, dear.”
“Eighty meters, straight across the park with a stone. Got him in the head.
Haven’t thrown like that since I took out Doctor Evil. You remember that?”
“You’ll do your back out again if you’re not careful.”
“Do you remember? In London.”
“It wasn’t Doctor Evil. It was the Hive Mind.”
Eddie frowned. “I thought it was Doctor Evil.”
“When you threw the lamppost across the Thames to knock out the death
“It was the Hive Mind.”
Eddie shrugged. Stella had the better memory for these things. It had been a
good throw, either way. And today had felt just as good. A small stone, eighty meters
straight to the head without killing them. Still got it, Eddie thought proudly. Who’s
an old man now?
The kettle clicked.
As he passed the counter, he switched on the radio. The soft sounds of
Christmas music filled the warm kitchen. “How was your morning?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing special.”
Eddie sat and pushed the mug over with a wince as the tea slouched. Stella
saw the shake but said nothing. She was writing Christmas cards in small, spidery
writing. There was a pile of stamped envelopes at her elbow and yet still more to
write. Even as their oldest friends… well, most didn’t need a Christmas card
anymore. But even as they lost the old guard, their kids had even more kids and the
list of Christmas cards only seemed to grow.
“Terry’s kid just had twins,” Stella said. “I said we’d go to the christening in
“Oh Eddie, you know. The Dynamo.”
Eddie smiled. Now he remembered. “Terry! How is he?”
“His daughter had twins. I said we’d go to the christening.”
“And Mary sent a card. She and Hamish are still in Devon, but they’re having
a bit of a time. Their grandson’s developed pyrokinesis and keeps setting fire to his
bedroom. I said we’d visit them in Easter.”
The soft music from the radio stopped as a local news bulletin came on.
“This is Rise 105.2, County Meadows local radio. This morning at ten past
nine, there was an attempted robbery at the Mutual Bank on Chester Avenue. Two
masked men threatened staff and customers with guns. However, their escape was
foiled when a sudden snap chill froze the engine of their getaway vehicle and sealed
them into their own car. The car is apparently still frozen in place outside the bank
and the police have cordoned off the area.”
Eddie turned to Stella, who was studiously still writing. “Nothing special this
She looked up at him with her big, blue eyes which were only magnified by
her new spectacle prescription. As cornflower blue as the day they’d met when he’d
rescued her from Doctor Evil. Well, that was his version of the story. Stella, or rather,
the Black Ice Vixen, would tell you that it was, in fact, she who’d saved Captain
Strongarm that day.
“No more heroes, remember?” Stella said.
Eddie smiled. “You’re mine.”
“Oh, shut up.”
(c) Melanie Roussel