The Confectioneer – Part 1

AUTHOR’S NOTE: There are a few reasons why this tale exists. First, back when I was writing and illustrating super-hero comics, I sketched out a lot of character designs. A bunch of them ended up not being used in stories, mainly because there’s only so many hours in a day and the series was already rather crowded from a cast perspective. But I really liked a few of the unused characters and wanted to do something with them, however small. I also wanted to do something with a winter holiday theme…

IF WE’RE BEING COMPLETELY HONEST, I gotta to tell ya that I didn’t like the odds. In fact, the odds sucked. Not that I hadn’t championed in the face of certain defeat before. I ain’t one to brag, but I’ve had my share of triumphs like anyone else worthy of wearing a mask. But if we’re being completely honest, no one wants to be on the wrong side of an unmatched fight. Still, there I was, on Main Street in my city–Combustible–dressed as Ol’ Saint Nick, with The Dry Cleaner and Cordu-Roy (aka The Corduroy Man) each wanting a piece of me.

Had they known they were attacking The Confectioneer, number six on The Combustible Daily’s “Ten Best Crime Fighters” list, they probably wouldn’t have been attacking with kid gloves. But like I said, as far as they knew, they were taking on Kris Kringle, the Captain of Christmas who would sooner drink spiked punch than throw a punch. I guess even lowlife super-villains have a soft sport in their hearts during the holiday season.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It began just two weeks ago. Super-villain activity in Combustible was at an all-time low. My nightly patrols had become about as exciting a cup of all-purpose flour. Most super criminals were either incarcerated or had fled to smaller cities that lacked any super-hero presence. Combustible didn’t have much going for it, but it did have a substantial number of masked crime fighters keeping its streets safe. But even though crimes being committed by masked menaces had declined drastically, commonplace theft had been on the upswing.

Recently, a series of crimes had piqued my interest. You’ve all heard the seasonal bell ringing of the Salvation Army each December. Turns out, criminals also have ears. A nasty duo of low lives had begun stealing the collection pots in a fashion that was neither holly nor jolly. During the first few days in December, the criminals–who were described by witnesses as Caucasian males around eighteen years of age–had struck on six separate occasions. The cops had no substantial leads, and weren’t overly concerned with petty crime. Most of the city’s boys in blue were trying to track down the thieves who’d recently stolen a rare coin from the Hildebrandt Museum–estimated value $2.5 million. Someone had to look out for the little guy. I decided to be that someone.

Monday through Friday, from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM, I stood outside the Pickleman’s Department Store on Gallery Street in full Santa regalia, ringing a bell and thanking passersby who tossed coins into a weathered collection bucket. I gotta be honest–it was exhausting work. I never realized how much effort it takes to stand still hours on end, but I hoped that sooner or later the thieves might target me. I even kept a few feet away from the collection pot, hoping it might make me an easy mark. Didn’t bother wearing my Confectioneer uniform beneath the Santa suit; seemed necessary. Apprehending a couple of teenage felons? Easy peasy. Not that I wanted to spend the entire month of December standing outside a department store. I had a life, holiday shopping to complete, and manuscripts that were beginning to pile up on my desk like layers of snow.

As the month crept along, it appeared that the young thugs had gone into retirement, which was fine with me. Between December tenth and twenty-third, not a single volunteer’s collection urn was hit. Gotta admit that by Christmas Eve, I was ready to hang up my red suit and do a bit of last-minute gift buying when a tired-looking, modestly dressed man turned onto Gallery and staggered along in my general direction.

He stumbled through the crowded, snow-covered sidewalk, knocking pedestrians aside with no regard for their safety. Finally, he stepped toward the collection urn, his body teetering and his head reeling from side to side. I couldn’t tell if he’d bathed in whiskey or was using it in lieu of cologne. But he looked as blitzed as Blitzen. He reached into the pocket of a tattered overcoat and tossed a handful of change into the urn. I looked briefly into his eyes. So blue and familiar. I swear they were the bluest eyes I’d ever seen in my life.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, and continued along.

“Happy holidays,” I replied, watching curiously as he lurched away.

“Wouldn’t be Christmas without a drunkie or two,” Max, the 53-year-old shoe polisher whose stand was adjacent the Pickleman’s entrance, noted.

“Takes all kinds,” I said.

“Got that right,” he replied, returning to the task of shining a pair of scuffed penny loafers.

Snow began to fall. The blue-eyed wino was long gone and the sidewalks swarmed with last-minute shoppers. I knew that I needed to join them shortly, lest my hide be skinned on Christmas morning by an enraged wife and two disappointed kids.

I heard them before I actually saw them. They approached from the west surrounded by smoke and steam that caused nearby passersby to drop to the ground unconscious.

“Who wants extra starch?” a familiar voice bellowed menacingly, a spray bottle in hand. I sucked in a breath of clean air and held it tight, well aware of the paralyzing effects of the fluid contained within the bottle. Max was less fortunate and was out cold in seconds. The toxic chemicals were a trademark of the arch criminal known as The Dry Cleaner. The street thinned out fast as the crowd fled. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion.

I continued to hold my breath as, seconds later, a loud, irritating reverberation filled air. The noise grew in intensity and momentarily wrecked my equilibrium. It was the sound of Cordu-Roy. Through a bizarre surgical experiment years earlier, Roy Cord had had his skin replaced with corduroy material. The results had been extraordinary. His walk–the swish-swish-swish movements–were unbearable to the human ear. The costumed villains approached me and me alone. This was about to get ugly.

NEXT: Our story concludes.

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