Read a New ‘Deli Counter of Justice’ Story by Paul Smith


For the week of St. Patrick’s Day, The Deli Counter of Justice will only be $0.99 for the Kindle! Click here to get the book. We’ll also be releasing three FREE short (very short) stories set in New Caliburn, all of them St. Paddy’s-themed. Eric Sipple already got you wasted with “St. Paddy’s Day.”

Now we have a new story by Paul Smith, featuring Aegis, whom you may remember as Piecemaker’s former sidekick Crashtest from Paul’s anthology contribution “…A Hero Only One.” Enjoy!

Apparently, magic whiskey smells like mud and Froot Loops. Robbie hadn’t tasted it yet. His older brother claimed he’d bartered with an old wizard up in Harren Mast for the whiskey, implying he’d paid some terrible mystical price for it. Robbie suspected he’d actually gotten it on the Internet. In any case, Dean said it would give them powers. Dean had always wanted to be a superhero. So, magic whiskey.

For his part, Robbie had always wanted to be Dean. So…magic whiskey.

At fourteen, eight years younger than his brother, he was always eager to tag along with him and his friends whenever they’d let him. He was the butt of their jokes, subject to endless pranks. But he knew he could prove to them that he was more than just the sidekick.

So Robbie weaved his way through the third annual Rowdy on the Row St. Patrick’s Day Street Festival, the press of green-clad revelers drunk on booze or music or other “magic elixirs” of their own. He settled into the crowd in front of one of the stages, a local Celtic punk band currently playing a bagpipe concoction of “Jump Around.” Prying the cheap silver flask out of his pocket, he unscrewed the cap. The pungent odor hit him even through the miasma of beer and cigarettes. He’d only tried alcohol once, when Dean’s girlfriend had shared a bottle of crème de menthe with him. His stomach rolled in protest at the memory. He raised the flask and tested the feel of it against his lips. What if he couldn’t swallow it? Would that keep the magic from working? Would he only get part of a power? Would he get some kind of vomit-based power? Oh god.

The tempo of the chaos around Robbie changed. A pair of guys, exchanging drunken blows and obscenities, crashed into him, knocking the vial of magic potion from his hand. It tumbled across the asphalt, regurgitating its contents into the gutter. In frustration, Robbie turned and shoved the nearest of the two, a bleary-eyed twenty-something in a New Caliburn Cavaliers jersey. The man spun around with a wild haymaker. Robbie closed his eyes and winced, bracing for the blow.

But it never came. Robbie opened his eyes and saw that he, jersey boy, and his sparring partner all had faint silver auras around them. A shining figure was drifting down out of the night sky, wearing a costume clearly meant to evoke a suit of armor. He touched down and went about separating the two drunks. The party around them went on unabated (this was New Caliburn, after all). He reached out a hand to help Robbie to his feet. He seemed familiar somehow, and Robbie wondered if Dean had drunk some of the whiskey and already transformed. The hero gave him a pat on the shoulder before moving back to the crowd to break up other half-hearted brawls that had sprung up by osmosis.

The glow the hero had given him faded, the flask his brother had given him was empty, and Robbie just wanted to go home. He headed back down the Row, a hip-hop version of “Oh Danny Boy” from somewhere reminding him that, magic whiskey or no, he’d kind of like to throw up now. He made his way down an alley lined with service entrances for various shops. He crouched beside a dumpster, and when he was finished, he leaned his forehead against the cool metal of a door labeled simply Cook’s.

“Some party, huh?” The knight in shining faux armor floated down into the alley.

Robbie looked at him and sighed. “You’re not Dean, are you? You’re that Crashtest guy. I saw you on TV.”

“Aegis, actually, but yeah. Nice to meet you…?”

“Robbie,” he answered.

“I saw you back there, by the stage. You didn’t look like you were having fun.”

Robbie couldn’t really think of anything to say, so he just said, “It was loud.”

Aegis laughed. “Yes, it was,” he said. “Still is, actually. Will be all night long, I’m afraid. Not really my scene, usually.” He regarded Robbie for a moment. “Doesn’t seem like yours either.”

When Robbie didn’t respond, Aegis continued. “Who’s Dean?”

“My brother.” Robbie turned and walked several steps back down the alley. “Ugh, I hate it. It’s just, he’s never invited me out with them before. I mean, not without me begging him. And his friends are kind of dicks, but…well, Dean is too, I guess, most times. But this time it was about supers, and–” He shot a quick glance at the man in the cape. “Not you, I mean…well, anyways, I thought this time, since that’s something we’re both interested in, maybe he wouldn’t be a dick. Y’know?”

Aegis watched the young man pace as he spoke but made no move to follow. “So, you like superheroes, huh? Who’s your favorite?”

Robbie turned back and looked at him. It was weird, talking to an actual superhero about this. But then again, it was an actual superhero. Talking to him. About this. With a mix of excitement and embarrassment, he said, “Well, it probably used to be Eminence when I was a kid. But everybody grew out of that, right? And then for a long time it was Piecemaker.”

“Mine too,” the hero said with a laugh.

“Oh, yeah, right,” Robbie laughed nervously. “But lately I think it’s probably Alice. I think she should lead her own team. She’s awesome,” he said, perhaps a bit lovestruck.

This time Aegis’ laugh was big and loud, and burst out of him. “Yes. Yes, she is, you’re absolutely right. I’ll tell you what. It just so happens I know Alice a little bit. How would you like to meet her? I could put in a good word for you, maybe be your wing man?” He winked. Robbie blushed. “Let me give you a lift home, and tomorrow we’ll see what we can do. How’s that?”

“That…yes. Yeah! Of course. Awesome! I mean, uh, yes please.” He thought about hugging the hero, or maybe a high five would be better. Instead, he danced awkwardly from one foot to the other for a second. “So do you have a car? Or like a superbike or something?” Robbie racked his brain, but couldn’t remember hearing about Aegis having any kind of vehicle. Since he dressed like some kind of knight, maybe he had a horse?

“Not exactly,” said the hero as he lifted back into the air. He extended one hand out to Robbie, while the other swept up into the sky like an invitation. “C’mon. This is better than a superbike.” Robbie suddenly felt a flutter in his stomach, and he thought he was going to be sick again. But the fluttering spread out into his limbs, and up into his chest. The backs of his legs began to itch, and the soles of his feet. Aegis rose even higher, and Robbie pictured himself rising as well. And so he did.

And it was much better than muddy Froot Loops.

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