Saturday, July 10, 2004

20. Dick

The next 15 minutes were almost indescribably tense. I ruled out calling 911, because I couldn't figure out how I would explain the presence of an unconscious guy in a costume on the floor of my living room. For a brief second I thought about calling a friend with medical akills, until I remembered I don't know any. I was pretty sure I had a first-aid book somewhere in the apartment, but finding it would be a major feat.

Fortunately, while I was pacing around, opening up pages of the phone book and then snapping it shut, he came to. I didn't see him pull himself off the floor and onto the couch; by the time I heard him and turned around, he was in the process of removing his cape and gauntlets.

Next to come off was the top half of his costume, which he deftly lifted over his cowl. Under normal circumstances this sight would have been a dream come true--and as I write this now I can vividly picture his hairy, sculpted chest--but in the moment all I could concentrate on was the network of fresh and ancient scrapes and bruises crisscrossing his flesh like some horrific boardgame.

"Rough night?" I asked, as he sorted through the equipment in his first-aid kit as if it were second nature.

"Two thugs, a block away from here," he said without looking up. There was considerably more energy in his voice now. "You really should consider moving," he added.

"I thought you only went after your ... playmates," I said. "The ones you mentioned in your letter."

"Normally they take up most of my time," he replied, "but I saw these two about to mug a young woman, and I had to stop them. Thought the mere sight of me would be enough to frighten them away, but they put up a real fight. Usually the costume does half the work, but this pair must have been high on crack. One of them pulled a knife; the other was wearing sap gloves. I took quite a beating."

"I got the impression you liked that," I said. Judging from the look on his face and the ensuing silence, Batman didn't seem to think that was very funny. And by the condition he was in, I could see that none of this was exactly fun and games for him.

"Do me a favor," he said after a moment. "I can feel a scratch three inches below my left shoulderblade on my back. Clean the wound and dress it for me, please." It sounded distinctly like he was giving me an order.

"Yes, SIR," I responded with as much sarcasm as I could summon. Nancy Nurse is not a role I've ever been asked to assume before, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna start now, no matter who's playing doctor.

The cut looked awful, and I did my best to treat it. He didn't flinch when I worked a dab of antibacterial ointment over it. Nor did he say thanks.

"You need rest," I told him. "Can I drive you home?"

"Out of the question," he snapped. After a pause to reconsider his words, he made a stab at toning them down: "Too dangerous. Can't risk your safety. I'll sleep here instead."

Hot damn, I thought, envisioning myself side by side with the masked man all night long. But before I could help him to the bedroom, it dawned on me that he was being literal; he'd already draped his large frame over the couch, his cape serving as combination pillow and blanket.

"Wake me up at 4:30," he practically barked, adding, after another characteristic silence, "A.M."

Your wish is my command, bitch, I wanted to reply, but I held my tongue. "Can I get you anything?" I asked.

"Water," he said.

"Just what I like: a cheap date," I cracked. He glared at me with a look that spoke volumes as I headed to the kitchen faucet. Maybe I'd read him wrong all along; maybe there really wasn't anything on his mind but this demented "job" of his, fighting bad guys online and off.

He was sound asleep before I even had the lights turned off. I walked over to the couch and gazed at the battered, shirtless madman for a good five minutes longer, studying his closed eyelashes through the eyeholes in his mask, fantasizing about his dry, pink lips, and brushing my hand over the crotch of my pants.

I set the alarm for a few hours later and tried hard to sleep. Impossible. Every sound on the street outside, every shudder of the refrigerator and every trembling in the pipes all seemed amplified a hundred times as I lay in my bed, tossing and turning.

Or maybe I wasn't as alert as I thought, because when the alarm went off at last and I returned to the living room to awaken my guest, he was already gone. In the empty space he had so recently occupied on the couch was another handwritten note, this one far shorter than the last: