Chapter 1

I was a part time technician's helper at General Biochemical Research, Inc. As you can tell from my job description, my employment was rather tenuous, and I dared not piss off any of the supervisors, which, in my case, included the full time technicians.

I had no specific job, but functioned as a "gofer;" that is, I went for whatever my current supervisor needed or wanted. That included everything from coffee to the most exotic and far-out chemical or biological thing-a-ma-bob. That's how my adventure started.

My current supervisor, Dr. Anthony, sent me to his special refrigerated storage room to pick up something with a god-awful long sequence of identifying letters and numbers. I had no idea what it was, and truthfully, I didn't really care. As far as I was concerned it was just another "step-and-fetch" job. We were working in a lab that was normally used by a different principal researcher, so Dr. Anthony's storage area was on a different floor.

He was in a hurry for me to pick up whatever it was he wanted, so he gave me the key to the executive elevator to speed my trip. I had never been on that elevator, since it was reserved for the highest ranking of the researchers. Anyway, I walked as fast as I could to get to the elevator because I was fascinated with the thought of a new adventure. Man, was I disappointed! The thing just turned out to be a small elevator.

Well, I got into the elevator and went up the two floors to Dr. Anthony's storage area. I picked up the package he wanted, which was a carrier made from a metal grid and contained 13 small vials. Each one was labeled with that same serial number, so there was no possibility of making a mistake. I hurried back to the elevator and punched in the floor number to return to Dr. Anthony and the lab.

Things started out normally in that the elevator started down, as I expected it to. However, just moments after I got on there was the most unnerving screech of metal on metal and the elevator began to accelerate. It fell about 2½ floors before the safety mechanism reacted to bring the elevator to a jarring halt.

I have no idea how fast the elevator was moving when it was brought to a halt, but there was no question that I was in freefall during that time. Naturally, as soon as the elevator stopped falling, the metal grid was jerked from my hands and fell to the floor. Every one of the 13 small vials shattered upon impact with the floor. Of course I fell to the floor at the same time. The liquid in the vials immediately formed a thick mist which I was unable to avoid breathing into my lungs. As I said, I had no idea what was in those vials, but something in them caused me to pass out and stay that way for some time.

Security in the building was excellent, and everything that happened within the elevator had been recorded by a security camera. Had I been conscious and aware of that, I would have been very relieved because it would have been obvious to even that SOB, Dr. Anthony, that the accident was not my fault.

I was rescued as quickly as possible by workers wearing appropriate HAZMAT outfits, and I was rushed to the hospital. I was unconscious for two days and then held in the hospital for three more days just to make sure that I would have no grounds for suing GBR. I was checked from stem to stern for any sign of harmful effects from breathing whatever was in those vials. My blood was checked multiple times each day, and so much was drawn that I began to wonder if I'd have any left by the time they got through.

They couldn't find anything wrong so I was eventually released from the hospital. Dr. Anthony was so pissed off at me that he contrived to get me fired, even though I had nothing to do with causing the accident. It seemed that he was upset because he was working with something called recombinant DNA and gene splicing, and I had caused him to lose about six months of work when all of those vials got broken. Dr. Anthony was chasing that most valued goal in the realm of pure science: a Nobel Prize. He was sure that it was all my fault that the elevator fell, and he was losing months of time on his project.

I didn't feel too bad about the whole thing, since GBR did give me a generous severance allowance and paid all of my medical bills. I was sick of working among those stuffed shirts, anyway, so I was happy with being able to get out of there with a lot of their money in my pocket. Of course, I had to find a new job, but my prospects were pretty dismal in this town. Therefore, I figured I had better move on, and I thought I'd like to give Chicago a try.

Yes, I am a penny pincher, though I would not call myself a miser. During my time at GBR, I had been living in a homeless shelter in order to keep my expenses to an absolute minimum. I had left home on my 18th birthday and had taken the first job that I could find; namely, the one at GBR. I had been there for two years, and had not expected to stay there much longer in any case.

I had never attended college, even a community college, and had simply been pretty much of a slacker since I graduated from high school. I was a first-class automotive mechanic, and had worked at that job for two years until I turned 18. My father said that I had the ambition of an earthworm, and I had to admit that there was some truth to this statement. I wound up working at GBR simply because I was running out of money before I could find a job as an automobile mechanic.

It only took me about 15 minutes to pack everything I owned in the world's cheapest suitcase. I walk the half-mile to the bus station and bought a ticket for Chicago. I was living in central Indiana, so it was going to be a short trip.

I got to Chicago in the middle of the night and made my way to the nearest homeless shelter. They were right pissed off that I showed up so late, but somebody had a conscience and let me have a bed for the night.

The next morning, I visited the state employment agency to inquire about the possibility of getting a job as an automobile mechanic. I was shot down immediately because I was not certified as a mechanic nor could I show any paperwork asserting that I had been trained to work on a specific vehicle brand. Okay, I was going to have to do this the hard way.

There was a newspaper in the lobby of the employment agency, and the section of newspaper with the help wanted ads was still there. I looked through and found several independent shops that were looking for mechanics. The employment agency did let me use their telephone to call several of the shops that were nearby. Two of them sounded promising, so I got instructions on how to reach the first one by bus and walking.

This place needed more than just a mechanic! It was a dump, and I don't know how they were ever able to get any business. Anyway, I mentally threw up my hands and went to visit the other shop that had sounded promising.

By the time I got there, it was mid afternoon and everybody was taking a coffee break. I walked into the shop part of the operation and saw that the place was full of cars and vans being repaired. The shop floor was as neat and clean as one could ever hope that an automobile repair place could ever be. I walked up to the group of men who were drinking their coffee and asked if they could point out the boss to me. I had talked to him on the phone so I had his name at least.

I was directed to the office, and there I met a most bodacious young lady. It turned out that she was the daughter of the owner and manager of the shop, and she took care of the scheduling and ordering for the business. Her name was Janice Williams, and I introduced myself as James Brinkley, though I said I did prefer to be called "Jimmy." Janice smiled, and I almost melted into the floor! She called her father from his office, and he came out to talk to me.

We went into the shop where he could use some of his current work as examples while he asked me questions. I confessed that I had never been trained on using the electronic diagnosis systems, but I didn't see why I couldn't learn. We talked for about half an hour, and Mr. Williams (call me "Bill") finally offered me the job. He said that I would start out at minimum wage, since I had so much to learn and a lot of my time is going to be spent as a gofer. However, he did promise that I would get a raise as soon as I proved myself. That seemed fair to me so I took him up.

Bill did recommend that I get out of that homeless shelter and move into a boarding house he knew about that was officially billed as a bed and breakfast place, but mostly served as a boarding house for working stiffs like me. I thanked him for the suggestion and headed around to the boarding house to check in. The place was very nice, and the operator, Mrs. Helen Jones, seemed very pleasant and glad to have another regular resident. I got moved in immediately, and the first thing I did was take a shower and generally get cleaned up. I finished in time for supper, and the food was excellent, so it looked like I was fixed for a while, at least.

The next morning, very conveniently, happened to be the first of the month, so I was able to start work without having to worry about juggling dates on the paperwork. I showed up for work at 7:30 AM, and that was a pleasant surprise for Bill when he got there. Starting time was scheduled for 8:00 AM, and I was the first one to show up. Bill told me that there was no advantage to showing up half an hour early; all he was interested in was that I was there and ready for work by the official starting time of 8:00 AM.

That made me happy because I figured I'd made a good impression. On the other hand, I didn't want to get there too early so that I pissed off the other guys. I figured from now on to show up at about 7:50 AM.

I spent that first day meeting everybody and learning where everything was stored. I even had my first customer contact when I rotated the tires on a lady's car. It was no big deal, but I did feel like I was contributing to the operation of the shop, and that made me feel pretty good.

The morning coffee break was a time of joking and telling tall tales. There was also some effort to test me by asking what I would do with such and such a situation on a car. The questions were all simple enough that I had no trouble answering them, but I was able to prove that I knew what I was doing when I gave my answers. That made the other mechanics feel a lot better because there was always the chance that I could cause them grief by screwing up. The consensus was that I knew enough to stay out of trouble, and that's what they were interested in at this stage.

By the end of the week, I had the trust of Bill and the other mechanics to the point that I was given several repair jobs that did require the services of a better than average mechanic. I finished that work with no criticisms, so I was just accepted as "one of the mechanics" by the end of the week. Of course, I was not going to get any of the sensitive jobs, yet, but I certainly had proved that I could handle the routine stuff.

Okay, I confess that I took every possible opportunity to come into contact with Janice. Neither she nor Bill complained about this, so I figured that I was not doing something that was totally incorrect. As long as it wasn't frowned upon, I was going to spend every moment I could talking to Janice. By the end of the week, I got the impression that she was looking forward to my little visits and was disappointed when there was too long a time between visits.

Everything went fine for my first two weeks at "Williams Auto Repair," and I was looking forward to my first paycheck. I wasn't running low on funds, yet, but it would be nice to have some income, instead of nothing but outgo. I still had most of my settlement from GBR, so I wasn't hurting, but it was the principle of the thing.

Janice was handing out the checks, and I was last on the list, since I was the junior on the seniority list. I had been working all day to screw up my courage to speak to Janice, so I was ready when she came to me. "Janice, I know that we haven't known each other very long, but I wondered if you would be willing to go out to supper with me and, maybe, to a movie on Saturday night. I'll even let you pick the movie. I will warn you, though, that I don't have a car, so we will be walking or taking public transportation."

Janice looked kind of stunned, and I just knew that she was going to turn me down! "Oh, Jimmy, I'd love to go out with you! Let me get a few more bits of paperwork cleared out of the way, and then we can talk about the details."

Well, I waited about half an hour before Janice was ready to talk. She had spent some time in the office with Bill, so I assumed that she was clearing it with him. Eventually, she showed up and said, "Jimmy, I have an idea. I don't have a car, either, so I have an alternative suggestion for our date. I talked it over with Dad, and he came up with the suggestion that you come to our house for dinner. After that, he will lend us his car for a few hours. How does that sound?"

Hell, I couldn't hope for a better deal. The most I expected from our first date was a little hand-holding and maybe a goodnight kiss on the cheek. This would save me the cost of a dinner, and the only expense would be replacing the gas that we used. "Janice, that sounds great! When should I show up?"

Because I would have to use the bus to get there, she suggested that I show up about 6:30-7:00 o'clock. That was going to make a movie a practical impossibility, so I was going to save even more money! Besides, all I really wanted to do was have a couple of hours to talk to Janice to make sure that she liked me as much as I hoped she did.

In a way, Saturday was a miserable day. We worked half a day on Saturday, so my morning was occupied, but Saturday afternoon seemed to drag along and last at least a month! However, that did give me time to shower and shave again before I went out clothes shopping. I picked up some dressier casual clothes, and I was shocked at how expensive they were in the Chicago area, compared to what I was used to. Oh, well, I could hang them in the closet and wear them again before they had to be cleaned. I could always go back to jeans and a tee-shirt if Janice didn't like me.

I showed up Saturday evening at 6:35 and cursed that wasted five minutes at the bus stop. However, I was on my best behavior when I rang the doorbell. The Williams family lived in one of those "boxcar" houses that Chicago is famous for. The style carries that name because it is on a "generous" 20-foot wide lot. The house was two-story, and was about 15 feet wide and about 60 feet deep. It was not a small house, but it was shaped oddly from what I was familiar with. I was shocked when I saw it, but I was not stupid enough to comment.

The living room, dining room, and kitchen, along with a simple toilet and wash basin were on the first floor. Bedrooms and the full bathroom were on the second floor. This was plenty big enough for the three people in the current Williams family. Jerry, the elder sibling, was away somewhere in the Navy. I finally figured out that he was a SEAL, so I was not going to get any details about him.

Mrs. Williams met me at the door. She explained that Janice was working in the kitchen on the last details of the dinner. Mrs. Williams was not what I expected: she was the spitting image of Janice, but looking 20 years older. Bill looked more like the typical man with the beginning of a beer-belly and losing his hair. He met me in the living room where he had been watching the Cubs lose again on TV. He was drinking a beer to console himself, and he offered me one. I declined, saying that I did not want to spoil my dinner. Mary Williams gave her husband a hard look when I said that, and he quickly finished his beer. Bill made some comment about the woeful fate of the Cubs, and I remarked that it would be hard to expect more when they were playing in the heat of Texas. That did make him feel a little better.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Superhero / Science Fiction /