Friday, October 26, 2012

A World Without Heroes: Chapters 4, 5, 6 & 7!


            June 1975.  10:30 a.m.

            A few large buses and trucks dotted the rear parking lot of Cobo Hall Arena.  Men in grungy jeans and sweatshirts ran back and forth, checking supplies, carrying equipment into the arena, and making sure everything was in order for the show later that evening.  As they continued with their business, a shiny, but somewhat battle-scarred, old bus rattled onto the lot and pulled into an empty slot.  It sat silently for several minutes, the engine ticking, as if the bus was a bomb set to go off.  Even so, none of the men working took notice of it.
            Slowly, the door of the bus opened.  A person leaned his head out and his brown eyes peered around.  After a quick search, the person stuck his head back into the bus and all was quiet again.
            The silence was broken when a man wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a K-mart football jersey hopped out of the bus, and landed on one knee.  His brown, slightly graying hair was parted down the middle and feathered back, hanging just past the edge of his collar.  He sported several days’ growth of beard, which would be shaved before the show that night.  He stayed there on one knee, smiling, then burst into song:
            “Detroit, Detroit.
            It’s a wonderful town.
            The traffic is awful,
            The smog gets around.
            Detroit, Detroit . . .
            It’s a wonderful town!  Yeah!”
            He punctuated his performance by throwing his arms out and his head back, waiting for the crowd’s mad applause.  Another figure climbed out of the bus with ease as the song was completed.
            “Yeah, Peter.  Don't call us, we’ll call you.”
            Peter put his arms down and looked back at the emerging figure.  Peter jumped to his feet.
            “Ha!  You say that now, Gene, but wait ‘til it’s number one on ‘Your Hit Parade!’”
            “Right.”  Gene folded his arms and leaned against the bus next to the doorframe.  He was wearing black leather pants, a blood-red satin shirt, and shiny black platform shoes.  His shaggy, brown hair cascaded over his shoulders and framed his sharp features.
            Another man stumbled out of the bus, rubbing his eyes behind the black sunglasses on his face.  His long, curly mane of black hair moved gently in the breeze as he pushed past Gene.  He wore tight, new, flared blue jeans and a low-cut T-shirt, accented by a pair of high-heeled, brown and red Frye boots.  As he walked away from the bus, he removed the shades and stared at the arena for a moment.
            “Where are we?”  He called back to Gene and Peter without turning.
            “Detroit, Paulie.  Detroit.”  Peter grinned, knowing exactly how Paul would react.
            “D-detroit?”  Paul asked, hoping he heard Peter incorrectly.
            “Yeah!  Detroit.  You know, land of the free --”
            “Home of the brave.”  Gene quickly picked up on Peter’s lead.
            “I thought they were in Atlanta now,” Peter moved up to Gene in order to continue their inane conversation.  Both ignored the moans coming from Paul.
            “Detroit?”  He asked weakly.  “No, God, please. . .not Detroit. . . .”
            Gene finally noticed his friend’s obvious distress.  “Don’t worry, Detroit is a great place to play.  This town really goes out of its way for a band.  They’ve done it for us in the past.”
            “Yeah?”  Paul joined the other two at the bus.  “It better be like that here and everywhere else from now on.  We haven’t been going anywhere since the last album came out.  I mean, it’s great to be touring America, but how much longer can we last on Bill’s American Express card?”
            “I know,” Gene raised a hand in absent-minded defense.  The three men were quiet for a moment, then Peter brightened and looked at the others.
            “Hey!  We’re here to rehearse.  Let’s cut the gloom and get on with it.”
            “Right,” Gene said with more enthusiasm than he actually felt at that point.
            With an affirmative shake of Paul’s head, the three began walking towards the arena’s entrance.  They were halfway to the entrance, when Paul suddenly stopped. 
            “Wait a minute,” he said.  “Where’s Ace?”

            Oblivious to the fact that he was the only one left on the bus, Ace sat immersed in a book, his lanky frame stretched out across two of the naugalhyde seats.  He wore black slacks and mismatched tennis shoes, with a blue shirt, which he had the long sleeves rolled up to the elbows.  His long mop of brown hair fell over his eyes, so he had to punch it back behind his ears.
            He didn’t notice the man who entered the bus and worked his way up the aisle.  When the stranger reached Ace, he stood for several minutes, waiting for the guitarist to acknowledge his presence.
            Time passed.  Finally the man cleared his throat.  Still no response.
            “Excuse me.  Mr. Frehley?”
            “Hmm?  Err, what?”  Ace, startled, looked up to see an old man with white hair  and a beard.  The man wore sunglasses and a trenchcoat that was open, showing the man’s Bermuda shorts and a “Keep On Truckin’” T-shirt.  To Ace, the man looked like a man working his way up to being a flasher.
            The man held out a small package in his right hand.
            “Mr. Ace Frehley,” he said, “within this package is a power that is destined for you.  A power that is from the earth itself and from beyond the farthest star.  A power that will make you more than just an ordinary man.  You will have the destiny of Mankind in your hands.”
            “Oh, really?”  Ace smiled.  He did not know who this person was, but the flasher’s words were fascinating.
            “Ace Frehley, here is a power that can save or destroy the human race.  Will you take this gift in the name of Humanity?”
            Ace’s smile widened.  “Yeah.  Great!”
            The strange man handed the package to Ace, who took it and began to remove the wrapping.  As he removed some of the wrapping, the object inside the package began to glow faintly.  He looked up questioningly at the old man.
            “Do not worry, it is supposed to do that.”
            Ace accepted the man’s word with a shrug of his shoulders.  As he finished uncovering the gift the glow slowly faded.
            “Keep it with you at all times, for now this Talisman’s powers are a part of your being.”
            Ace pulled at the chain that held the object in the package and inspected it in the lights of the bus. 
            “Wow.  A lighting bolt!  This will look great with the costume.  Thanks -- “
            Ace looked up to see that the strange man was gone.  After a quick look around the bus, he sat back down, looking at the Talisman again.
            “Hey, Ace!”
            Ace saw Paul standing impatiently at the front of the bus.
            “Come on, man.  We’ve got a soundcheck to do.”
            “Okay.  I’ll be right there.”
            Ace got out of his seat as Paul went back outside the bus.  When he reached the door, he stopped, giving the Talisman one last glance.  Smiling he shoved the little lightning bolt into his pocket, then went to join the others.

            The soundcheck was finished in enough time for the four band member to actually spend sometime on their own before the show that night.  Ace decided to struggle through some more of the book he had with him, so his option was strictly the hotel.  As to the others, it was decided that they could hit the town for a few hours as long as they all got back to Cobo Hall in time to get ready for the concert.  With a wave from Ace over his shoulder as he headed towards the hotel’s bar, the others went on their way.
            About an hour later, Paul had managed to locate a small record shop and was busying himself by checking out albums in the bargain racks.  The shop was a part of a small chain of record stores in the Detroit area and looked just like a million other stores to Paul.  Full of promotional posters; a sign at the front door warning shoplifters of prosecution; a dusty showcase off to one side, crammed with smoking paraphernalia, jewelry and other head shop items; A beat-up life-size standee of Olivia Newton-John in one corner with a roach-clip taped to her hand and Groucho glasses drawn on her face; a beat-up old cash register on the showcase; and, finally, a beat-up old hippie behind the cash register, reading a book on Karl Marx and looking rather bored with the world.
            The sameness of the place to a dozen others like it Paul had been to was comforting in a way that Paul could not describe.  After being on the road and in odd places all of the time, at least the record stores had not changed yet.  It was still a slice of home for him and he welcomed the chance to go to the stores whenever he had the opportunity.
            Giving up on the bargain bins, Paul had started shuffling through some of the newer soul albums when he suddenly got the feeling he was being watched.  He considered turning around as he hesitated flicking through the albums, then thought better of it.
            As the seconds went by, the feeling persisted.  With each pass of an album in his hands, the tension grew in his mind that someone was studying him.  Finally, he spun around, expecting to see no one.
            Instead he saw an old man with white hair and a beard, wearing sunglasses and a trenchcoat.  Paul backed up in surprised and bumped into the record bin.  The man lifted up his right hand and produced a small package for Paul to contemplate.
            “Paul Stanley,” the man said in a rather loud voice.
            Paul bristled.  His thoughts raced to the idea that someone in public had recognized him without his makeup, his trademark.  He braced himself for the geezer in front of him to produce a camera and he now wished that he had taken John Harte’s suggestion on having a security person go with him on his walk.
            “Look, mister,” Paul said evenly.  “I don’t know who you are, but all I’m trying to do is look at some records.  If you --”
            “Paul Stanley,” the old man interrupted without acknowledging that Paul had even spoken to him.  “Within this package is a power that is destined for you.  A power that comes from the depths of all souls.  A power that will make you more than just an ordinary man.”
            Paul rolled his eyes.  Great, he thought to himself, a real loony knows who I am.
            The man continued.  “Paul Stanley, here is a power that can save or destroy the human race.  Will you take this gift in the name of Humanity?”
            The old man held the package out to Paul, who just stood there.  It was obvious to Paul that the guy was insane and he might be dangerous if set off.  Still, he was not thrilled with the idea of playing along by taking the package.  For all he knew, it could have been a setup for a drug bust, like ones he had heard about happening to other bands over the years.
            “What is it?”  Paul asked, looking warily at the package.
            “As I have stated, a power that can --”
            “Yeah, okay.”  Paul cut the man off so he would not have to listen to the ridiculous spiel a second time.  Figuring the man now to be simply a harmless nut, Paul held out his hand.  “All right, I’ll take it.”
            The old man handed the gift to Paul.  Paul grabbed hold of the package easily is his left hand and dropped his hand to his side as soon as he had it.  He took no notice of the soft glow emanating from the package.
            A moment passed as the two looked at each other.  Paul shifted his weight from his right foot to his left.  Sighing, he put his right hand into a fist and placed it on his hip.
            “Okay, I’ve got it.  Now can I go back to what I was doing?”  A weary tone appeared in Paul’s voice.
            A look of shock quickly come and went across the old man’s face.  Indignation appeared next as the man spoke.  “Yes.  But remember, the Talisman’s powers are now a part or you.”
            Paul again rolled his eyes and returned to the records, hoping that the man would go away.  He glanced down at the package, which felt warmer than when he had first taken it.
            The strangeness of both the package and of the man’s behavior piqued Paul’s curiosity, and he soon found himself opening the wrapping on the package.  Looking inside, he found a small piece of jewelry -- a silver star with an eye imprinted in its center.
            “Well,” Paul mumbled to himself, “what do you know?  It is a talisman.”  He glanced up to see if the old man was still in the store to thank him, but he had disappeared.
            Paul wandered up to the counter where the clerk sat.
            “Excuse me,” he asked.
            The clerk looked disinterestedly at Paul.
            “Did you just see an old man wearing Bermuda shorts and a smoking jacket go out of here?”
            “Huh?”  The blank look on the clerk’s face told Paul all he needed to know.
            “Never mind.”
            Paul went back to the records, shoving the Talisman into his pocket.

            Peter pushed open the door of the McDonald’s and walked out into the sunlight.  He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his shirt and slipped them on, blocking out the brightness which came with a brief break in the clouds above.
            As he strolled whistling along the sidewalk, his eyes were caught by a drum-kit displayed in a music store window and he stopped to admire it.  Suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck rose, as though warning him of something behind him.  He twisted around quickly to see why his instincts had been aroused.
            There, behind him, was an old man with white hair and a beard.  The man held a package in his hands, which were cupped in front of him.
            “Hey!”  Peter said cheerfully.  “Man, you nearly scared me out of my skin there.”
            “Peter Criss?”
            “Yep, that’s me.  Say, how can you be wearing the heavy jacket on a day like today?  Much be pretty hot.”
            “Yes.  It is, as a matter of fact,” the old man smiled for the first time that day.  “Would you excuse me as I take it off?”
            “Uh, sure. . . go ahead.  As long as you’re wearing something under it, y’know.”  Peter grinned sheepishly as he wondered why he was having such a polite conversation with the strange man in front of him.
            The old man set the package on the ledge of the store window and began pulling off his coat.  Peter looked down at the small bundle and was strangely compelled to pick it up.  He turned the package over in his hands, gazing at it familiarly.
            It began to glow.
            Startled, Peter quickly put it back on the ledge, hoping the man had not seen him.  Looking up at his reflection in the window, he saw that the old man had already folded his coat in his arms and was staring at Peter.
            “Oh,” Peter stuttered, feeling embarrassed.  “Sorry about that.  I don’t know what came over me.  It’s, well, you know. . . I guess, curiosity killing the. . . .”
            Peter coughed.
            The old man smiled again.  “Don’t worry about it, my friend.  As a matter of fact, it is a gift for you.”
            “Oh, really?”  Peter asked.  He looked at the package and then the old man again.  “What is it?”
            The old man sighed heavily.  “Do you really want to hear the whole speech about it?”
            “Well, if you had something planned. . . .”
            The man took a deep breath, reached over and picked up the package for Peter to look at while he spoke.
            “Peter Criss, within this is a power that is destined for you.  A power that is almost animalistic in its origin.  A power that will make you more than just an ordinary man.”
            “Uh-huh,” Peter said slowly, trying to comprehend the whole thing.
            “Peter Criss, here is a power that can save or destroy the human race.  Will you take this gift in the name of Humanity?”
            Peter hesitated.  After all, no one just comes out and gives you presents, he thought to himself.  Then again, they had been starting to get things from fans recently, and; as Peter continued thinking it over; you never knew who would turn up to be a fan.
            “Aw, it’s a small gift.  Sure!”
            The package was handed to Peter.
            “Be sure to keep it with you at all times, for now this Talisman’s powers are a part of your being.”
            The old man turned and walked away, leaving Peter alone on the sidewalk.
            “Thanks,” Peter called after him.  “Hope you enjoy the show!”
            Peter opened the package and looked at the small, silver, stylized lion’s head inside.
            “Ugh.  Ugly looking thing. . . oh, well.”
            Peter checked to see if the man was still in sight, but he was gone.  Talisman in hand, Peter resumed his journey back to the hotel.

            Gene had been trying to hail a cab for fifteen minutes with absolutely no results and for good reasons.  Rush hour had just begun and every taxi in Detroit was either occupied or on its way to get someone.  Since he was already running late, he considered calling the hotel and having one of the band’s crew members pick him up, but he did not see a phone anywhere nearby.  As he was about to give up and begin another search for a phone, a big, yellow, beat-up taxi pulled over to the curb and stopped.
            Gene yanked open the door and leaped into the backseat.  “Cobo Hall Arena, back entrance,” he snapped, then leaned back in the seat, letting out a long breath.
            “Gene Simmons,” the driver said.
            “What?  How did you know my name?”  Gene asked in surprise.
            For the first time, Gene noticed the cabbie.  He was an old man with white hair and a beard, his frame covered by a trenchcoat.
            “That does not matter for the moment,” answered the driver.  “Do you see the package next to you on the seat?”
            Gene saw it.  “Yes.”
            “Within it is a power that is destined for you.  A power which feeds upon the blackness and horrors in the hidden core of all men’s souls.  Once a man has seen the blackness, they can control it.”
            “Oh, yeah?”  Gene asked, staring bemusedly at the back of the old man’s head.  He did not know why the man was pulling such a stunt, but he liked his style.  “Tell me, what would I be able to do with those powers?”
            “That is something you must learn for yourself, if you accept the Talisman within the package.”
            “I don’t know,” Gene said, picking up the package for the first time.  It started to glow in his hands.
            “Hey, nice special effects.  I’d swear there was really something powerful in here.”
            “There is.  It is something that can save or destroy the human race.  Will you accept this gift in the name of Humanity?”
            “Of course,” Gene said, playing along.
            He opened the package and pulled out a small red box.  Lifting the lid he found four holding compartments built into the gleaming metal of the box.  Of the four compartments, three were empty, but one held within it a small metal amulet.  Gene pulled it out to study it.
            “Wow,” Gene exclaimed.  “It’s really detailed, and it’s a gargoyle too.  Just my style.  You must’ve put a lot of work into this.”
            “Keep it with you at all times, for now the Talisman’s powers are a part of your being.”
            “Oh, yeah?”  Gene was almost giddy by the role-playing the old man was performing for his amusement.  “When will I be able to use these powers?”
            “We shall see.  Here is your destination.”
            “What do --” Gene started to ask the old man another question, but noticed that the cab had stopped and was right outside the arena’s backstage door.  There were several people milling around the entrance, all getting ready for the show.  Gene stared at them for a moment, then turned his attention back to the driver.
            “Um, how much do I owe you?”
            “Forget it.  It’s on the house.  Just remember to never lose sight of the Talisman, nor the box you hold.  Each are important in the coming scheme of things.”
            “Oh.  Thanks!  For the Talisman and for that story.  It’s been great.”
            Gene slid across the backseat and stepped out into the hot, muggy night air.  He gave the man a small wave, turned and made his way through the crowd.
            Morpheus watched Gene disappear into the arena.  A small smile crept across his face, then disappeared as he drove away from the building.
            “Good luck, my sons.  There is a great darkness approaching that only you will be able to stop.”
            Morpheus frowned as he and the cab vanished from the road.
            Gene entered the dressing room, where Peter was already pulling off his T-shirt and wrapping a towel around his shoulders to protect himself from make-up smears.  In front of one of the lighted mirrors was Paul, his hair tied back, the outline of a star roughly sketched on his face.
            Gene walked to a disorganized corner of the room, where he dug out his leotards and make-up.  He placed them on a table and began undressing.  As he pulled off his trousers, the little gargoyle’s head fell out of his pocket and clattered to the floor.  He picked it up and looked at it.
“Hey, you guys.  The weirdest thing just happened to me . . . .” 

            Having finished his story, Gene looked at Paul and Peter.
            They stared at Gene, transfixed.
            Gene laughed.  “Well?  I mean, isn’t that a weird thing to happen?  In Detroit of all places?”
            “This guy you met . . . .Did he have a beard and white hair?  Looked kinda like a bum?”  Paul asked quietly.
            “Uh. . . yeah.”  Gene’s smile was quickly replaced by a puzzled frown.
            Peter chimed in.  “And was he wearing sunglasses, Bermuda shorts and a trenchcoat?”
            “Well, I don’t know about the shorts, but, yeah, he was wearing a trenchcoat, now that you mentioned it.  Pretty odd for a day like today.”
            Paul jumped in next.  “I don’t know about Peter, but I ran into the same jerk today.  Kept bugging me and gave me the same garbage about a great ‘talisman’ that he wanted to give me.  He gave me this and split before I had the chance to do anything.”  Paul pulled the silver star from his pocket and tossed it onto the table.
            “I met up with him too,” Peter said, rummaging through a pile of clothes dumped in a chair off to one side of the table.  “He seemed like a pretty cool guy, a little weird.  He gave me the same sort of mumbo-jumbo, and this.”
            He held up his Talisman.  Gene walked over to him, compared his gargoyle with the lion’s head, then looked at the star on the table.
            “Weird.  I wonder if Ace knows anything.”
            “Speaking of Ace,” Paul said, looking up at the clock, which hung at an odd angle on the wall,  “he’s late again.”
            A loud crash came from outside the door.  Peter, Paul and Gene looked at each other knowingly, as another resounding crash was heard even closer to the room.  A large grin crinkled Peter’s face.
            “Why, that must be Ace now.”  Peter walked over to a make-up table and started smearing Stein’s clown-white over his boyish features.  Gene and Paul both rolled their eyes and followed suit.
            The door to the room swung open and Ace entered, looking worriedly over his shoulder.
            “Sorry about that,” he shouted back into the hall.  “I didn’t see that standing there.  Hope I didn’t break anything.”  He closed the door and leaned against it, taking a deep breath.  Noticing that the other three were staring at him, he pushed himself off the door and began talking at top-speed, wildly gesturing.
            “Hi, guys.  Listen, sorry I’m late, but, you see, I was at the hotel, taking a nap, and suddenly I woke up and there was a beautiful woman at the bedside with a drink and her hands and --”
            The others, who had been watching this little scene with interest, groaned in chorus and turned back to their mirrors.  Ace hesitated in his story, then was silent.  Standing there stupidly, Ace put his hands into his pant pockets and brushed against the Talisman that he had put in his pocket earlier that day.  Pulling it out and gazing at it, he smiled to himself and tried to change the subject.
            “You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the arena. . . .”
            He yukked it up at his own joke he was forming in his head.  The other three ignored him, but he pressed on.
            “You see, this old guy --”
            “-- With white hair and a beard --” Paul interjected.
            “-- Who was wearing sunglasses, Bermuda shorts and a trenchcoat --” Peter continued.
             Gene jumped right in.  “-- Gave you a great Talisman --”
            “-- Which gives you all sorts of powers --”
            “-- And also clears up your skin, right?”
            “It does?”  Ace asked, looking at the Talisman in his hand.  “I mean, right!  How did you guys. . . ?”
            “Oh, happens all the time.  Right, Peter?”  Gene said, etching a pair of black bat wings onto his face.
            “Right.  This man goes around and give presents to all the good little rock-n-rollers of the world.”
            “C’mon, guys.  How did you know about this?”
            Gene looked up at the bewildered Ace.  “We met up with him too.   Or, rather, he  met up with us.  At various times and places, he gave us each a package and a story about how the Talisman inside would ‘build your body twelve different ways.’”
             “That’s what the guy said to me too,” Ace said as he smiled at Gene’s joke.  “It was like he was depending on me to take it, or else something terrible would happen.”
            “Yeah.”  Gene tossed his Talisman onto the table.  “Have to admit, the guy put on a pretty good show.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was telling the truth.”
            “Ah, well,” Paul shrugged, wishing the others would stop talking about the strange old man and his ‘gifts.’  “Chalk up another one for the memoirs.  Right, guys?”
            No one answered him.  Instead, the others stood around the table and stared at the Talismans lying there.  Finally, Gene looked up.
            “I think we’d better get ready for the show,” he whispered.
            Peter and Ace looked up from the table; Gene’s words slowly registering in their heads.  Sitting down at his mirror, Peter drew the final touches on his whiskers with thick black greasepaint.  Ace tossed his Talisman with the others, then walked to a corner of the room, stripping off his T-shirt.  Picking up his leotards and boots, he moved over to Gene, who was filling in the batwings over his eyes.
            “Say,” Ace said while studying his reflection in the mirror, “you don’t suppose the old guy was telling the truth, do you?”
            “I don’t know.”  Gene saw the Talismans on the table in his mirror’s reflection.   After a moment, he turned back to Ace.  “Maybe you could try turning them on.”
            “Yeah!”  Peter agreed.  “The guy said the powers within them are a part of us now.”
            “I’ll try anything once,” Ace said, snatching his Talisman off the table.  He pointed it to the ceiling, arms above his head.  “Shazam!”
            Nothing happened.  He lowered his arms and examined the strange object closely.
            “Nope, that didn’t work.  Maybe there’s someplace here for batteries. . . or  a hidden switch that makes it shoot a death-ray of some sort.  Maybe even a laser!  Yeah!” 
            Ace smiled and pointed the lightning-bolt at Paul, who was ignoring the whole conversation.  “Zap!  No, that didn’t seem to work either.  Oh, well.”
            Ace placed the Talisman back on the table and sat down.  Gene glanced over at him.
            “Didn’t work, huh?”
            “Nope.”  Ace hurriedly smeared some white make-up on his cheeks.  “I think it’s just a candy-bar with creamy rich filling.”
            Time passed as the four musicians got themselves ready for the show.  The door of the dressing room swung open and a man walked into the room.  He was a big man; not fat, but built like a bulldozer.  His thick brown hair and Fu Manchu moustache gave him an aura of danger, but anyone who knew him was aware of hidden depths.  Standing in the doorway, hands on hips, he addressed the band members.
            “Alright, you guys.  You’re on in five minutes.  The crowd looks good, so there shouldn’t be any trouble, unless you start it.  Okay?”
            They all nodded in response.
            “Thanks, John,” Paul said, getting up from his seat and making the final adjustments on his costume.  “We’ll be right out.”  John stepped back through the door and closed it behind him.
            The others stood up and started to leave.  As they passed the table, Gene stopped and looked at his Talisman.  He felt a twinge of guilt, as if leaving it behind would make it feel bad. 
            “Are you guys going to take your Talismans?”  Gene asked.  Suddenly, he picked up the gargoyle and crammed it into the folds of his costume.  Even through he felt foolish, he could not resist.
            Peter and Ace saw Gene’s action.  Ace grabbed the lightning-bolt and sighed.
            “Yeah.  Maybe if I play my guitar to it, it’ll do something.”
            Peter picked up his own Talisman.  “If everyone else is taking ‘em, I might as well.  It’s still an ugly little thing, though.”
            “Oh, I don’t know, Curly.  I think it looks just like you.”
            Peter gave Ace a dirty look, then all three turned to Paul, who stood with a bemused smile on his face.  He knew exactly what the others were thinking.
            “Aw, c’mon, guys.  You don’t really believe what that old jerk said, do you?  The guy was obviously nuts.  There’s no way you can convince me a stupid piece of jewelry can give you ‘powers.’”
            Paul said the word “powers” with such distaste that Gene immediately felt foolish once again.
            “Okay, okay.  Come on, let’s go.”
            Paul held the door open as Gene, Ace and Peter filed out of the room.  John waited for them outside.
            As he was about to leave, Paul turned back and stared at the Talisman still left on the table.  It seemed to glow for just an instant, which startled Paul.  Thinking it might have been the lighting in the room, Paul walked over to the table, touching the little star lightly.  A warm sensation shot through his arm and into his chest.  He gasped.
            “No,” he whispered slowly.  “I’m just letting this whole thing get to me.”
            John stuck his head into the doorway.  “Hey!  Are you coming or not?”
            Paul jumped.
            “Ye-eah.  Just forgot something.”
            Grabbing the Talisman, Paul ran out the door and followed John and the others to the stage.

*      *      *

            Okay, Gene thought to himself, here it comes.  The moment we’ve all been waiting for.  The smoke rises and the metals clash as the Demon circles the stage.  The audience is terrified as he lumbers toward them.  They feel the horror, they smell the blood, and they know the fear.  And, then . . . it’s a firehouse!
            Stomping heavily to one side of the stage, Gene gripped the torch firmly in one hand.  His mouth was ready and the flammable fluid needed.
            As the roar of the crowd and the scream of the sirens filled Gene’s head, he felt the excitement pulsing in his chest.  Turning his back to the crowd, he glanced quickly at the other men on stage.  Facing front once again, he leered at the kids in the first row for a moment, then raised his torch up high into the air.
            As he concentrated, the thoughts ran through his head.  Now watch the Demon shoot fire twenty feet into the air!  He lost his concentration after that particular piece of hyperbole went through his head and if he could have, he would have laughed.
            No, he was only kidding himself if he could go for that kind of distance with his fire-spitting act.  He felt great, he admonished himself, but not that great.  Just give this a short spurt tonight, no world records.
            He waited.  The chords from the song reverberated through the hall and the sirens flashed behind him.  He lifted his face to the flames and opened his jaws wide.
            A burst of fire shot forty feet into the air.
            The whole auditorium lit up as Gene stared in awe at what he had done.
            “What the --” Gene said out loud, forgetting the fluid he had in his mouth, which spilled on to his raised arm.  He turned back to his left and saw that Paul and Ace were facing away from him and playing.  They had not noticed anything unusual as they had seen Gene spit fire a million times in the past and knew what to expect. 
            Peter, on the other hand, had seen the incident face-front.  When Gene caught Peter’s eyes, Gene knew.  A look of shock was on Peter’s face, and as Gene grinned at him in a look of accomplishment, Peter’s face turned from surprise to an ashen look of terror.  Gene’s flash of teeth quickly ended as he had noticed something warm in his raised hand.  He twisted back around to see the torch --
            --Had slipped in his hand.  He was now holding on to the top of the lit torch and stood for a moment unable to comprehend that his right hand was now immersed within the flames; and due to the flammables on his arm, the flash of red heat began to trickle up his sleeve.  The roar of the crowd was over-extending itself as the fire continued, but Gene could not hear it.  All that was in his mind was the fire.  He moved his head forward to study the flames better, as an animal would its prey.
            All in his mind was fire.
            Suddenly, a blanket went over Gene’s arm and the lights went out.  Being pulled roughly to the side of the stage, Gene cooperated without any hesitation, as if putting out the fire had drained his spirit.  Slowly, Gene started picking out words from the individual that was patting his arm and hand in broad movement.
            “Holy mother of. . .what the hell is wrong with you Simmons!”  John Harte said as he tugged at Gene’s arm.  “You know better than that.”
            “. . . what. . . What did you say?”  Gene said dreamingly as he drifted back into focus.
            “You could’ve taken your arm off with that stuff.”  John was hardly paying attention to Gene’s comments as he pulled the blanket away to look at the damage that he knew would be there.
            There was a pause between the two as John continued to inspect Gene’s arm and hand.  As he did so, Gene’s mind came back into focus as he himself wondered how badly he had burnt himself.  And why he had he had not felt anything when it occurred.  He had heard how shock could drive pain away in times of great stress, but this much pain?
            John flipped Gene’s arm over and over, then without a word, pulled Gene over to a light hanging over the mixing board off to one side of the stage. 
            Gene grew tired of the suspense.  “Well?”
            “I don’t know how you did it, Gene.  I really don’t.”
            Gene’s face grew grim.  “How bad is it?”
            “Bad?”  John almost laughed, as he looked Gene in the eyes.  “Somehow you managed to pull off that little stunt with even burning the hairs off the back of your hand.”
            “Take a look for yourself.”
             Gene bent down to see better in the light.  He saw the charred remains of the sleeve to his costume, and the perfectly smooth skin underneath.  He repeated the same movements that John had done just moments before, not believing that he had not burnt himself in some fashion.
            “Uh. . . .” 
            The spotlights lit up on the stage as Paul began to talk to the crowd.  As Paul had exited for a bit off to stage right, he had no idea that anything was up with John and Gene on the opposite side of the stage.
            John heard Paul start his rap and shouted to Gene.  “Can you go on?  Are you okay?”
            “Yeah,” Gene responded, not really sure if he was lying.  “Sure.”
            He walked towards the stage, still looking at his arm and hand.  Suddenly, a delighted grin came over his face.  He grew back into character as the spotlight hit him and he entered the stage.
            And the band played on.


            The show had gone over better than expected, and excitement filled the air as people streamed through the arena’s exits.  From everyone’s ecstatic reactions it was clear that KISS had not only won over the crowd that night, but also had probably played the best they had ever done.  As though a new power had been added to the already amazing band.
            The band members felt the energy as well, and raced through the corridors of the backstage area with abandon, only stopping once they had reached the dressing room and had slammed the door behind them.  Once inside the room, the four collapsed into chairs, elated and exhausted.
            “Hey, Gene,” Peter shouted between large gulps of water from a glass on his dressing table.  “That fire-breathing tonight was unreal!  I thought you were toast for sure!”
            Ace was curious, as he rose from his chair to busy himself with the change out of costume.  “What happened?  Did you set your hair on fire again?”
            “No,” Peter jumped in before Gene could reply.  “I saw him shoot about the biggest fireball out of his mouth that I had ever seen.  Must have been sixty feet in the air or something.  Man, it lit up the whole place!  Then I thought for sure your costume was on fire for a second, man.”  He pointed to Gene.
            “It was.”  Gene said happily.  “Look at this.”
            He held up the sleeve of his costume to show what remained of the sleeve.  Both Ace and Peter moved in for a closer inspection.
            Ace turned back to his table.  “That what happens when you use all that Lysol on that leather.”
            Both Gene and Peter laughed at Ace’s comment.  Paul, however, was not in a good mood as he saw the costume.
            “Gene, man,” Paul shook his head, “don’t you know we don’t have enough money as it is?  How are we going to get that repaired in time for the next show?  Man, you’ve got to be more careful.”
            Silence fell over the room after Paul’s lecture.  The others began working on getting out of their costumes as Paul started removing his makeup, using the mirror at his table for guidance.
            Gene cleared his throat.  “Actually, Peter brings up a good point.  I, er, I think I had help.”
            “What,” Paul said, with the emphasis on the word what, “do you mean?”
            “I mean,” Gene said, leaping up and pacing as if he were a sleuth about to reveal the butler’s guilt, “I’m positive I breathed at least thirty feet into the air tonight, maybe even forty.  I don’t know.  Now, we all know that’s pretty much impossible. . . .  But what really got me was what happened after that.  I did catch my costume on fire.  In fact, my whole hand was on fire for a second.  But now?  Nothing.  Nothing is wrong with my hand or arm, even though my costume went up like the Human Torch.  See?  Pretty weird, right?”
            He was presenting his arm to the others as they listened.
            “Um. . . yeah,”  Peter said, not sure if Gene was joking or just crazy.
            Ace was trying to understand Gene’s story.  “And because this is something you don’t do very often, you think it might be connected with the only other weird thing that’s happened today.  Right?”
            Relief flooded through Gene as he saw that the story was coming across -- to Ace, no less.  “Yes.”
            “So, you think the old man’s Talisman somehow intensified your Demon stage persona into a real character?”  Paul asked, knowing exactly what was going through Gene’s head.
            “What a load of crap.”  Paul continued to work on taking off his makeup.  By this time, only the star remained on his face.
            Gene’s smile faded fast.  “What do you mean by that?”
            Paul smirked.  “You expect me to believe that this fruitcake gave us some kind of ‘super’ powers?”
            “Sure.  Why not?  I’ve been in a lot of situations were someone handed me something that gave me super-powers.”  Ace inquired, standing with Gene.  Although he stood there defiantly with Gene, the joke Ace had made left Gene wishing that Ace would not help out.
            “Have you guys lost your minds?  Just because we dress this way doesn’t mean we ARE this way.  You just lucked out, Gene.  Right, Peter?”
            Peter stood up and moved over to Ace and Gene.  “Well. . .to tell you the truth, I’m beginning to think there is something to all this Talisman stuff.”
            Paul threw the towel he had in his hands hard onto the table.  He stalked over to the side of the room, his back to the others, and began pulling off his costume.  He had not finished taking the remainder of his makeup off, but he wanted to distance himself none the less.
            “That’s fine, then.  If you want to play Super-Jerk, go ahead.”
            “Man,” Gene said in frustration.  “You just can’t believe that there might be something going on here.  That there might be something more to the world than what you see, do you?”
            “Oh, yeah.”  Paul was pulling on his pants and tightening the belt as he shook his head.  “Like God came down and gave the poor rock n’ rollers a miracle.  Glad Jesus is not a Black Oak Arkansas fan.”
            “But, Paul --” Ace started.
            “Enough is enough!”  Paul snapped, turning to face the three.  “You’re acting like we’re in a comic book, and we’re not!”
            Paul spun back around and continued dressing.  There was silence in the room until Peter looked back at Gene.
            “Do you think you could do it again?”
            Gene kept staring at Paul’s back, little registering Peter’s question.  “Oh, I don’t know.”
            “Wait a minute!”  Ace rushed over to a pile of clothes and fished around in the pockets of a pair of jeans.  He ran back to Gene with a BIC lighter.  “Okay, let’s see what happens.”
            “Come on, guys.  Cool it.”  Paul lowered his head and stared at the floor.
            “No.  Let’s see if he can do it!”  Ace flicked the lighter in front of Gene’s nose.  It did not light.
            “Cool it. . . .  It won’t work.”  No one noticed the glow encircling Paul’s eye as he spoke.
            “Yes it will,” Gene retorted.  The metallic ring in his voice made Peter nervous.  Ace continued to flick the dead lighter in Gene’s face.
            “I SAID, COOL IT!”
            Paul twisted around, his right eye glowing golden.  A bright bolt of light shot out from his eye and hit Gene squarely on the chest, sending him flying back to smash into the brick wall behind him.  Bricks from the wall and part of the ceiling went flying in all directions.
            “Yeeooww!”  Peter yelped as he leaped twenty feet in the air.  He landed, on all fours, on top of a row of lockers.
            “Yipes!”  Ace screwed his hand into a hitchhiker’s gesture and disappeared with a distinctive “POP” sound just as several dozen bricks crashed into the wall he had been standing in front of.
            Peter, Paul and Gene remained motionless, shocked by the realization of what they had done.
            “Gene. . . .”  Paul stared at the hole in the wall.  “I didn’t know, man.”
            Throwing the door to the dressing room open, John entered the room.  He placed his hands on his hips and looked at the mess around him.  “Alright!  What’s going on?”
            Nobody answered.  Peter hopped down from his perch and scampered over to John.
            “Sorry, we were just having a little fun and it sort of got out of control.  Right, guys?”
            “Yeah,” Gene snorted as he pushed himself out of the rubble.  “They don’t make dressing rooms like they used to.”
            Paul smiled slightly at Gene’s joke, then spoke to John.  “Nothing’s broken . . . er . . . besides the wall.  They’ll never notice.”
            The security guard stared at Gene and Paul like a mother whose two kids had just broken her favorite vase.  He shook his head and glanced at Peter, who stood sweetly smiling, all innocence.
            “Geez.  Okay, okay.  But try to control yourselves.”  He left, mumbling to himself.  “Here I thought I was head of security for a rock and roll band, when actually I’m a kindergarten teacher.”
            At the sound of the closing door, Peter let out a sigh of relief.  “Wow!  Did you see that?  It was great!  I must have jumped fifty feet!  Well, okay, about thirty feet, but still!  Wow!  And you shot some laser-beam out of your eye, and you hit the wall really hard . . . and . . . wow!”
            Ignoring the hyperactive Peter, Gene walked over to Paul, who had placed himself back at the dressing table and was hurriedly taking the final portion of make-up off.
            “You see,” Gene said quietly, “there is something happening to us.  The old man gave us powers.  We’ve been playing roles, and now they’re real.  He gave us something that could be important to the whole world.  Can you see it now?  We’re not just four guys in make-up anymore.  We’ve become . . . super-heroes.”
            “Ah, look,” Paul wiped the last piece of make-up from his eye and reached for his shirt.  “This is getting real strange.  I mean, one minute I’m just an ordinary guy and the next, I’m shooting lasers from my eyes.”  He pulled on the shirt and began buttoning it.  “I’m not sure what you, or they, or whoever, want me to do with this ‘great’ gift, but why give it to me?  I don’t want to shoot rays from my eyes.  There’s no fun in that.”
            Paul pulled on his boots and headed for the door.  Peter reached out and touched Paul gently on the arm as he walked past.
            “Where are you going?”
            “I just need some time alone.  Okay?”
            Peter withdrew his hand and watched Paul leave.  As the door slammed shut, Gene motioned as if to go after him, but Peter held his hand up.
            “Let him go.  He needs to think about this.  We all do.”
            “Yeah.  You’re right.”  Gene sank into the chair vacated by Paul a few moments earlier and stared into the mirror.  “Let’s find Ace and talk this over.”
            “Okay by me,” Peter shrugged.  “Where did he go, anyway?”
            Gene’s cool faltered slightly.  This thing had just started and everything was falling apart, he felt.  He closed his eyes for a moment.
            “Where was he the last time you saw him?”
            “I’m not sure.  It was right before Paul hit you, though.  After that, I was too busy trying to save my own skin to notice.”
            They both turned to the pile of bricks that now stood where Ace once was.
            “Do you think -- ?”
            “Naw.  It’s too small for a body to be in there.  But where could he --”
            “Hi, guys!”
            Gene and Peter swung around.  There stood Ace, still in full make-up and costume, his hands on his hips and a gigantic grin on his face.
            “I just flew in from Limbo and, boy, are my arms tired!”  He laughed maniacally at his own joke, raised his right hand, thumb extended, and disappeared.
            POP!  “Hey!”  POP!  “Curlies!”  POP!  “This is –“   POP!  “-- Great!”   POP!
            Peter tried to follow Ace’s erratic pattern around the room, but Gene had given up on the third POP.  He rolled his eyes heavenward, then lowered his head onto the table in hopelessness.
            POP!  POP!  POP!  POP!  POP!  POP!  POP! POP!
            Gene sighed heavily.
            “Peter?”  He asked weakly.
            “Yes!”  Peter answered, still concentrating on his friend’s antics.
            “Try to latch onto Ace next time he pops in.  Then maybe we can talk about this sensibly.”
            “Yeah.  Sure.”
            “I’ll be here, staring at the table.”
            POP!  POP!  POP!  POP!  POP!

            Paul moved quickly through the corridors of the arena, heading for one of the rear exits.  John was there, leaning against the doorjamb.  As Paul passed him without even a glance in his direction, John followed him into the starry night.
            “Where are you going?”  John asked, running a few steps to catch up to Paul.
            “Walking,” Paul replied without breaking stride.
            John stopped, however.  “Walking?  In Detroit?  At night?”
            Paul kept going.  John hurried after him.
            “Right,” he said, falling in step with Paul.  “I’m coming with you.”
            “What?”  Now it was Paul’s turn to stop.  “John, you don’t have to play ‘mommy.’  I can take care of myself.”
            “Nobody goes for a walk at this time of night, unless they’re looking for trouble.  Now, if you want to walk in the daytime, fine.  But now?  No way.  Not while I’m in charge of your safety.  That’s what I’m getting paid for.”  John stared at Paul sternly, then a small smile appeared on his dangerous-looking features.  “Now look what you’ve done.  I’m starting to sound like a typical ‘bodyguard.’”
            Paul laughed.  “Okay, okay.”   He resumed his walking with John by his side.
            The two men were silent as they passed through the deserted streets.  They turned down a dark side street that led directly to the hotel’s parking area.  John tensed; his eyes darting from left to right.
            “What’s wrong?”  Paul inquired, wondering about John’s strange behavior.
            “Just looking around.  You never can be too sure.”
            “Oh, don’t worry.  It’d be corny for someone to jump out and attack us this close to the hotel.  I’ve seen it in too many movies.  Anyway, I’m a star.  Nobody touches a star, unless you’re asking for it.  Right, John?”
            Paul heard a soft thud form behind him.  He turned to see three men in leather jackets standing over John’s motionless body.  One was holding John off the ground by his collar, clutching a lead pipe in one hand.  On his right stood a tall, muscular man with a beard and dirty jeans.  He carried a switchblade.  The last of the group was a young, over-weight man in sunglasses, with a length of chain grasped firmly in both hands.  Paul’s eyes widened.
            “You should’ve listened to Mr. Muscles. . . ‘star,’” the man holding John announced with a sneer.
            “John!”  Paul rushed towards his fallen friend, but skidded to a halt when the fat man whipped the chain out at Paul’s head.  He noticed a small stream of blood trickling down John’s forehead and knelt next to him.  The three thugs smiled.  As if giving a silent command, the apparent leader nodded and raised his pipe.  The fat man laughed wickedly and pulled the chain taut in his grip as he leered down at their next victim.
            Paul’s muscles tensed.  He felt a strange sensation cross his face, as if a piece of cloth was moving swiftly under his skin and over to his right eye.  As the sensation stopped, the pupil in his right eye began to glow as it had earlier that night.  Already, he could recognize the change coursing through his body.  He felt the Talisman silently pulsing in his pocket. 
            The feeling made him glad and sickened him at the same time.
            He shot his head up, just as the fat man pounced on him.  Grabbing the man’s shoulders, Paul kicked out and rolled back, throwing his adversary over his head.  The man landed flat on his back, his skull cracking against the ground.  He did not move again.
            Paul sprang to his feet, posing proudly near the body of his former opponent.  The thug’s cohorts stared at him, dumbfounded.
            The man holding the switchblade soon turned his surprise into anger, and he pointed a dirty finger at Paul.
            “Hey, candy-ass,” he shouted.  “Nobody touches a Blue Hawk, ‘less they wanna die!”  He ran forward, his knife glinting in the distant street lamp’s light.
            Paul expertly somersaulted away through the air, stopping next to a nearby abandoned building.
            “Geez, did you guys just escape from a production of ‘West Side Story?’”  Paul mumbled.
            The man jerked to a stop over his friend’s motionless body.  He strained his neck around, trying to locate his strange enemy.  Finally, he focused on a pair of flowing eyes in the shadows.  He held his knife aloft as he ran blindly towards Paul.
            Paul waited until the man was within just a couple of feet away from him, then stepped out of the way as the bearded man crashed headfirst into the brick wall.  The man’s body slumped against the obstacle and slid down into the garbage that littered the alleyway.  Paul turned to face the last thug.
            The gang’s leader was now just ten feet away from Paul.  His face was calm as he met the musician’s eyes.  They looked at each other for several seconds, the distant roar of traffic being the only sound.
            “So, you think you’ve got some fancy moves, ‘star,’” the man said finally.  “Well, I’ve got some moves of my own to show you.”  The man reached behind his back and pulled out a small gun.  He held it out and up such that it sparkled in the reflection of the streetlamp.
            Paul’s body slumped in disbelief, as his anger rose.  “Hey, man, you saw what I can do!  Isn’t that enough?  Isn’t my power good enough for you?  Why pick on me?  I don’t want to be some sort of ‘superhero.’  I don’t want these bloody powers!  Why don’t you leave me alone!” 
            Paul was shouting at the man now, but he knew as the words left his lips that he was really talking to himself.  Suddenly, he knew why his new powers bothered him so much.  He hated himself for it.
            He fought back tears as he continued.  “Now, are you gonna stop being a waste of space, or not?”
            “I don’t know what your problem is, freak, but you hurt two of the Blue Hawks.  You’ve got a heavy lesson coming.”  The man held the gun out, pointing it at Paul.
            Paul grimaced, his fists clenched at his sides.  He felt his mind exploding as his body tensed.  His right eye suddenly burst forth a golden light that surrounded the man with its brightness.
            The gun clattered noisily to the ground as the man tried to shield his eyes from the glare.  He attempted to speak, but no sound came from his lips.
            “Yeah,” Paul heard himself say.  “We all know how you feel about me, but how do you feel about yourself?”
            The man stood in the light, his face filled instantaneously with sorrow.
            “How does it feel to live in this city?  This nothingness that surrounds you?  How does it feel to know that your life isn’t worth anything to anybody?”
            The man shuddered in the glow and tears filled his eyes.
            “You had something once, didn’t you?  You had a chance, but it’s gone.  Now you know that you can never have it again.  Right?”
            The man fell to his knees, his arms limp.  Only his head remained upright, as if the glow that encircled him trapped his awareness and focused it directly on to the image of Paul in the distance.
            “Yes.”  The man tried to whisper his agreement, and although the word was not said, it rang clearly in Paul’s mind.
            With the word, Paul’s grew conscious of his powers once again.  “God,” he said to himself, “what am I doing?”
            Paul stayed silent as the light steadily shone from his eye.  Repressing a shudder, he spoke to the man again.
            “. . .but everything will be alright.  Only if you rest.  The world is making you very tired.  If you sleep, you’ll feel better.  The world won’t pull you down. . . .”
            The man curled up into a fetal position and closed his eyes.  Paul stared at him, with sympathy, as he kept talking.
            “Yes.  Very tired.  Sleep.”
            The light faded as the thug on the pavement began to snore.  He smiled as he slept.  Paul smiled as well.  He felt his body relax, and the pulse of the Talisman began to fade.
            Hearing a low moan behind him, Paul turned to see John, clumsily trying to stand.  He rushed over and helped the injured man to his feet.
            “What?”  John asked weakly, trying to focus.  “What happened?”
            “You slipped and fell as we were walking along.  Hit your head.  Knocked yourself out for a few minutes.”  Paul pulled John, who was quickly regaining his strength, toward the hotel.
            “Wait a minute.  I seem to recall getting hit with something.”
            “Yeah.  The ground.  C’mon.”
            John finally noticed the three men lying on the ground.  He stared at Paul, who was smiling.
            “Who are those guys?”
            “Just some bums, I think.  C’mon.  Let’s get to the hotel and have somebody look at your head.  That’s some cut you’ve got.”
            Without another word between the two, they walked towards the hotel lights.



            Paul had taken John to the hotel’s physician, who checked his wound and; seeing the no concussion was evident; told John to get some sleep.  After making sure that John went straight to bed, Paul had gone to his room and flicked on the lights.
            The sight was depressing: a typical hotel room with a bed, two chairs, a desk, and a small black and white television set.  Off to one side of the entrance was a tiny bathroom.  Putting the “do not disturb” sign on the door, Paul picked his way through the clutter left from earlier that day and turned on the television.  Finding that all the stations were either off the air or with poor reception, Paul turned the set off and fell back onto the bed.
            Although he felt exhausted from the events of that night, his heart was pounding in his chest and his eyes were wide.  Pulling the Talisman from his pocket, he studied it, turning it over and over in his hands.  It did not pulse or glow as it had done earlier, for now it was just a simple ornament.  Blowing a lung-full of air out, Paul placed the Talisman on the bedside table.
            Staring at the ceiling, he though about all the things that had happened that day and night.  Turning on his side, his eyes wandered over the clutter of the room until they came to rest on a small pile of comics Gene had left in the room earlier that day.  Paul sat up and reached over, sifting through the comics.
            He had no idea why.  He had never been that crazy about the things, even as a kid.  Still, he needed something to pass the time.
            Finally, he came across one with the title, THOR, printed on the cover.  It was a series that Gene always mentioned when discussing comics.  Paul had never really listened to him, but he figured it wouldn’t hurt him to give it a try.
            He picked up the book and lay back, propping his head up with a pillow.  The cover depicted a caped crusader, with long golden hair and a giant hammer, fighting off a hoard of ugly monsters on a rainbow bridge.  Paul laughed quietly.
            “Might give me some tips,” he muttered as he began to read.

            It was morning, and Gene sat waiting patiently in the lobby for Peter, who was supposed to meet him for breakfast.  Paul came out of the elevator, a folded piece of paper in his hands.  He spotted Gene.
            “Hi,” Paul said as he approached.  “How did things go after I left last night?”
            “Fine,” Gene answered, not meeting his gaze.
            “I guess you guys did a lot of talking about last night.”
            “What did you decide?”
            For the first time that morning, Gene looked at Paul.  “We decided to see what happens.  We don’t know why we were chosen for this, or what we are supposed to do with these powers in the long run.  As a matter of fact, we’re not sure what the full spectrum of our powers is.”
            “Any idea what you can do, so far?”
            At this question, Gene began to get excited as he relayed the information.  “Well, besides my being able to do things with fire, I’ve got some sort of super-strength.  You could tell that by the way I hit that wall and was able to get up with no problems.  Peter seems to have the proportional strength of a cat.  Like he was bitten by a radioactive feline and became the Amazing Catman!”
            Paul starred quizzically at Gene, not understanding the joke.  Gene frowned.
            “Never mind.  Anyway, all we can figure out about Ace is that he has teleportation abilities.  It’s a bit unnerving too.  He might be able to do more, but we couldn’t get him to stop teleporting long enough to find out.”
            “That’s good.  That’s good.”  Paul looked down at the floor.  “I found out I have some sort of hypnotic control over people with that eye-ray I have.  I think I have some super-strength too.”
            Gene started to laugh.
            “I’ve just noticed how stupid this all sounds,” he said as Paul raised his head.  His laughter stopped when he noticed Paul’s somber expression.  “What have you decided?”
            “I don’t know if I want to be able to bend steel in my bare hands, but . . . if you guys are going to try this out . . . count me in.  For the moment.”
            “Great!”  Gene smiled.  “I knew you’d come around.  We might never have to use these powers, but . . . . ”
            “Right.”  Paul agreed to what Gene had said.  He also agreed with what Gene had intended to say, yet was almost afraid to say.
            Gene glanced down at the paper in Paul’s hand.  “What’s that?”
            “Oh, nothing really,” Paul answered, handing the paper to Gene.
            Gene unfolded it and began to read.  Then, he looked up with one eyebrow arched questioningly.
            “God of thunder?”
            “It’s just a rough draft.  It might turn into ‘God of Kleenex’ by the time I’m through with it.”  Paul smirked.
            As Gene tried to think of a good comeback, Peter and Ace entered the lobby and snuck up behind him.
            “Hello, Curly!”  Ace said at the top of his lungs.
            Startled, Gene turned to see his two band-mates.
            “Peter!”  Where have you been?  I’ve been waiting for almost half an hour.”
            “Sorry, sorry.”  Peter raised his hands in an apologetic gesture.  “I was delayed by my associate here.”  He pointed at Ace.
            “Oh, sure.  Blame it on me.”
            Ace opened his mouth to retaliate, but Peter was not waiting for a reply.  He instead focused his attention on Paul.
            “Did you get a chance to think things over, Paul?”
            “Yes, and like I was just telling Gene, I’m willing to try if you are.”
            “Alright!  The greatest superhero team in the universe -- The All-Curly Squadron!”
            Everyone ignored Ace’s outburst.
            “By the way,” Peter pulled a letter from his back pocket, “this came this morning by registered mail.”
            Ace interrupted.   “As opposed to registered nurse.”
            Slowly, the three others turned to star at Ace. Gene sneered.  Ace, deciding it was not worth it, became silent.  After a sturdy glare at Ace, Peter continued.
            “Looks like things are starting to pick up already.  This guy says he has heard us and thinks we’re really something special.  He says we've got plenty of potential and power.”
            “If only he knew,” Gene sighed.
            “Anyway, it says here:” Peter skimmed over the letter, giving the basic gist of it.  “‘. . . wish to meet with you . . . considering promotional subjects . . . help you become a bigger success than you are with Casablanca . . .’  On and on.”  He looked at the others.  “Well, what do you think?”
            “We might as well see the man,” Paul answered.  “Who knows?  Maybe he can help us out of this slump.”
            “Fine,” said Gene.  “But how ‘bout we get something to eat?  Now!  I’m starved.”
            “Right, Curly.”
            The four of them left the hotel and started up the street, looking for a restaurant.  Gene looked over at Peter as they walked.
            “What this guy’s name, anyway?”
            “That’s the best part, Gene.  I’ve heard of this guy.  It’s Blackwell.  The big record guy!  He’s had nothing but hits for the past year or so.”
            “I wonder if he can do anything for us?”  Ace said.
            As they walked, the sky darkened, as if to rain.

Notes on Chapters 4 – 5:
As anyone who has followed the band’s real history knows, what we’ve got here in these and subsequent chapters is the “happy-happy” version of what happened to KISS through the years.  The idea, as I’m sure anyone can guess, was to show the band getting their super-powers just as they began rising in popularity, with Detroit ’75 being a perfect place to start. 
It was the first chance to really get into playing with the “characters” of Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace in the novel.  Oddly enough, I don’t recall ever having any problems finding their “voices” for the story – maybe it came from reading enough interviews with them that I could imagine their reactions more easily than if I were creating new characters myself.  In retrospect, with years now of studying the band’s history, I probably would have written Peter a bit darker than the happy-go-lucky guy you see here, but at least back in ’83 this was still the image most of us had of him and Ace.
With the conclusion of Chapter 7, we're now caught up with everything from the first issue of Strange Ways #1!  Next week, we'll dig into the chapters from the second issue of the fanzine, plus catch up a bit with some of Larry Blake's drawings for the novel.

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