Jim wasn't sure who had it worst, himself or the weathermen; today's forecast was hot and humid with a possibility of flurries. Yeah, things were unpredictable in Port Alexander after all, who would ever believe that just weeks ago he was centuries in the past fighting a druid. Nevertheless, the rain kept coming down and Jim was hoping that it would keep other job seekers indoors. "Here I am," Jim thought to himself as a tinge of self pity edged into his thoughts, "with all these powers but I don't even have a job!" Mrs. Finnegan, his landlady, was a patient woman and ever so kind but even she had limits - she had mothered him from the beginning. Jim hated it but he knew that he needed Mrs Finnegan on his side especially since his money was running low. Having run from the gang he was living on the last of his ill gotten gains, but now that he had used up the last of his cash he was desperate for work. "I never thought finding a honest job would be so difficult," Jim said smiling for a moment at the thought of him looking for a 'real' job. He was late on his rent again and needed to get a work soon, or risk bringing out her Irish temper -"even a mothers patience has limits," Jim thought soberly. Maybe today things would be different, he hoped.
Jumping a puddle, Jim ducked under the awning of a newsstand and decided to pick up a paper. He'd start with the classified ads, and maybe pick up a packing of chewing gum just in case he got an interview. The blind man behind the counter exchanged pleasantries and lamented the upcoming Dutchmen's season without Locomotive Jones, the linebacker killed by that drunk driver. Jim paid the man and assured him that Alexander Crosby would rebuild after the tragedy.
In the background Jim heard the familiar tune of an old Depeche Mode song - it reminded him of England and, unbidden, the only firm image of his father came to mind. Not wanting to get caught wasting time daydreaming, he dismissed the image but for the first time in many years felt that the bitter edge of guilt lift as he realised that finally he was doing something with his life his father could be proud of -if only he knew.
Braving the rain, Jim yanked the help wanted ads from the paper and used the rest to hold over his head as he made it to a doorway to look for his first prospect.
Lets see Hairdressing assistant needed - "Oh, great. That would be all I need sitting with my fingers in ladies hair washing all day. No way lets see what else is there. "Dish washer - nope! Car park attendant - I don't think so. Jo Jo the clown is looking for a assistant clown. Position for trainee - good pay, lots of fun - mandatory, must enjoy working with kids and not be allergic to shaving cream or face paint. I don't think so. Man! Is there nothing worth doing here?" At this point, Jim lamented again his misspent youth and the choices he made in order to keep alive at the fifth street school he was reintroduced to, when his mother returned to America after his father's death.
As the sun broke through the clouds, Jim was ready to give up. All day he had been convinced that a life of crime may be the only option some people had, but he knew that ,that was just frustration talking. There was never an excuse to destroy lives and hurt people, he knew that; that is why he wanted to make a difference and help people and now with his powers he had a chance to turn the tables. But after today, he could smell the eviction notice and shuddered at the thought of Mrs. Finnegan unleashing her red-headed fury upon him. Even she was not going to be a taken for a ride.
Jim looked up, he had been walking around in a funk for an hour now. Depression had a way of leading people on trips they had never intended and self-pity had booked him a ticket to the front door of the Wander-No-More house. He had read about this place in the papers, and he knew the Wanderer, sort of. Maybe the Wanderer was in? So what if he was? Flex the superhero had a job, Jim the regular guy would still be unemployed. What would the Protectors think then? We love your devotion, but you can't find a job? Talk about joke of the superhero world. Jim wondered if superheroes had comic strips about regular people in their super newspapers, and could see them laughing at him.
Suddenly he was snapped out of his daydream when the door opened and he found himself pushing the bell. A black man dressed in PAPD sweats opened the door, sweat was on his brow and Jim guessed him to be in his late 50s. "Yes?" he asked, as Jim, his natural caution around police making him nervous, stammered before introducing himself and asking for the Wanderer.
The man eyed Jim suspiciously with that kind of visual analysis that a veteran policeman can give that makes you want to confess to crimes you never even knew about. "Son, he doesn't live here," the man offered kindly. "Why don't you come in and join me in a cup of coffee." Jim hesitated for a moment life had not dealt him many good hands and survival had meant staying in with the in crowd. Even if the in crowd was a bunch of crooks. Overcoming that naturally gained aversion to all things police took all his inner strength but he was determined to give a new life a try. Jim forced himself to exhale and was pleasantly relieved at the sense of relief he felt together with a long lost sense of comfort around the man as he stepped inside.
For the next 45 minutes Sgt. Peterson and Jim talked, it was easy to talk to "Sarge" and Jim could see what made him such a good cop. He was good at drawing out information, and was a definite asset to the Wander-No-More house as administrator in his retirement. Jim could not let himself relax too much - he did not want to implement himself but he hated having to tell this honest and sincere man a lie. "Tell you what, I don't do the hiring around here but I'll put in a good word for you with the housemother. She's tough as nails and scares me sometimes, but she knows her stuff." The veteran of the force stood and offered a hand to Jim who took it enthusiastically and shook with hopes to a future.
As Jim stepped outside the air was clearer but a heat was warming everything up and making it humid again. But right now Jim felt on top of the world he had a long way to go but he felt as if he might be on the first step. Life' s lesson told him not to expect to much and Jim could not allow himself to get to excited after all disappointment was a killer if you loaded up with to much. But even so maybe this is the path to a new life and a new purpose a way to prove myself and do something good with my life - to finally be one of the good guys.
* * * *Jim flexed his aching shoulder. A wide smile could not be held back any longer from creeping across his face as he thought over the irony of the last couple of days. It felt good to laugh, and despite the soreness of hard work, it felt good to ache. Helping Sarge unload the truck of produce broke down some of the uneasiness Jim felt for the former police officer. That was something in itself - he had learned to distrust police from those early days back in Port Alexander. He saw the payoffs and thought that every man just had to look out for himself. A young bright and not too strong 15 year old teenager with a slight English accent does not go down well in the Parts. He soon learnt the hard way to look out for himself, as he had seen many a corrupt police officer do back in those early days after he and his mother had returned to America.
As Jim stood up to admire what was meant to be a five minute quick fix job but had turned into something far grander. He felt good to do the job but to do it in a way that Sarge could see his trust was not misplaced. A pang of guilt smote him but he pushed it aside, if only he had, had such a chance with Mum. "One step at a time, Jim," he said to himself speaking out loud for the comfort it gave him as inside he knew he must come to a decision about seeing his mother again. As he put the finishing touches on the baby gate in the play room, Jim marvelled at how the last few days had come together.
It was two days after Jim had stumbled upon the Wander-No-More house. Taking the steps two by two, Jim had almost knocked over Mrs. Finnegan on his way down to the street after he received the phone call. With a sincere look of gratitude Jim kissed her on the way out, startling her so much she clean forgot to ask for the rent. Sarge had gotten him an interview in less than an hour and Jim was determined not to be late.
On the way over he slowed down and he went through what he would say in his mind. He did not really know what he could offer but he did feel that sincerity and enthusiasm can often make up for what he lacked in experience or skill. He was willing enough, and desperate - not that he wanted to let on - to try anything, truth be told. As he neared the house he again checked his tie and tried to straighten out the final creases in his best jacket. He hoped the musty smell that seemed to permeate his room had not transferred to his clothes too much. It had been some time since Jim had used clothes since his natural powers afforded him the opportunity to change his appearance and clothing at will. But this was one occasion in which he could not trust his nerve he did not want to think the wrong thing at the wrong time and find his clothes taking on a the bright redness of embarrassment or discomfort he might feel in the interview, especially if he walked in with what had appeared to be a neat grey suit.
Arriving at the Wander-No-More house, Jim pushed the bell and Sarge's scowling face appeared, quickly turning into a smile. "Record time, I'm impressed," he said, adding, "if that keeps up you'll have my job." A big arm draped across Jim's shoulders as Sarge gave him some advice and it proved to be incredibly valuable. "She's mean, nasty, and don't take crap from no one, not even me," warned Sarge. "If I wasn't still authorised to carry a revolver I'd be scared to death of her," he added with a smile. Jim could feel himself hyperventilating from the nerves and Sarge sensed it too. He grabbed Jim by the shoulders and turned him to look eye-to-eye, "But she's also the most loyal friend you will ever have. Be yourself."
The door opened, Jim remembered it as if it was yesterday, and inside sat a tiny white haired woman who looked like a grandmother. Jim did a double take as Sarge introduced her as Granny Maude, striking him momentarily speechless and blinking hard to clear his focus. Granny broke the silence, "Does he speak English? He's a citizen ain't he? Don't be bringing me any illegal workers, I run a tight ship here!" The little old woman began wagging a finger at Sarge who surprisingly backed up under her tirade. Jim came to the rescue as he got over his initial shock and politely as he could said, "Yes ma'am. I speak English."
She stopped in mid rant, staring at him over the rims of her glasses and shot a look back toward Sarge. "He's polite, respectful, and quiet. Find him something to do around here." Sarge replied in the affirmative and turned to walk away. Jim felt a hand on his shoulder pulling him backwards as Sarge whispered in his ear, "You're hired, come on." Shocked, Jim staggered out under the guidance of Sarge, but before he exited the room Granny Maude called out to him, "Hey, don't disappoint me. I like Sarge and it would break my heart if I couldn't trust him anymore." Jim turned back to the old lady and looked her in the eye hoping to say something that would reassure her of her faith in Sarge. Phrases floated by but Jim felt unsure as to what the appropriate thing to say was. He gave in and simply nodded then turned hoping she caught his meaning. Jim knew he had been given a second chance one he had always felt he deserved after the mistakes and many wrong turns he found he had taken in his relatively short life. "I really hope this is for real this time," he thought as the Sarge took him off.
That was then and here he was now. Yup, five minutes of sheer terror had led Jim to his first legitimate job. Sarge put his name and reputation on the line and Jim never thought a cop would do that for him. The baby gate clicked shut and Jim got back to his feet admiring his handiwork. "Beautiful," said a familiar voice behind him. Turning, he saw Sarge across the room and smiled. "Want to give me hand carrying this old couch up to 342? If you're planning on working here you better start fixing up your room."
Shocked, Jim shook his head wondering if he heard correctly. "Do you speak English?" joked Sarge with a laugh, "Granny wants a man on the premises to handle any problems. I recommended you. Let's get your place fixed up." Jim looked at Sarge he could hardly believe that way that these people were treating him - he felt feelings he had not felt in a long time. But with it came fear he had been hurt by the loss of family one time and with a shock he realised that he would fight dame hard for this surrogate family now. Smiling again Jim looked Sarge in the eye and said with a huge cheeky grin, "So do I need to ask permission to have a house warming party?"