Richard Martino 
Richard Martino pulled his jacket over his head.
Around him, people scurried under the makeshift scaffolding to avoid the rain –– their ragtag newspaper umbrellas disintegrating in their hands –– but not Rich. He was feeling a little sore today; no reason to agitate his leg any more than he had to. No need to rush.
Still, Rich didn’t exactly love getting drenched, or roaming around the streets of New York so late. But he forgot to grab milk earlier, when he was out grocery shopping; an innocent mistake… if it hadn’t been for the third time this August. Richard trudged through a large puddle; he could’ve –– right now –– been settling into a cozy chair with a beer to watch the Yanks take on the Sox. But instead, he found himself marching the seven poorly lit blocks back to the store, forcing himself through the rain. If this was the only way to break the pattern, then that’s what he would do. So be it.
Rich hoped he hadn’t forgotten anything else… though, how he would know he was forgetting something until he remembered that he forgot it…
RICHARD MARTINO: Oh, forget it.
Rich decided he wasn’t gonna go there, wasn’t gonna waste the energy fretting over the things he didn’t know he didn’t know –– he’d do just as well trying to count the raindrops.
So no, there was nothing else, it was just the milk… right?
The last time Rich took a physical, his doctor quipped that he was the healthiest sixty-year-old they’d ever treated — the punchline being that Rich was actually one-hundred and twelve. Even so, he’d taken more hits to the head over the years than he could, well, remember; his memory was bound to go at some point, wasn’t it?
Maybe now was just that time.
The rain eased up, so Richard pulled down his jacket and readjusted his flat cap before stepping into the crosswalk ––
Horn and brakes screeched in an infernal harmony; a taxi was trying to swerve out of Richard’s path. The road was too wet, though –– it was no use. The car was coming straight for him. Richard braced for impact, planting his leg –– his bad leg –– into the street, and held out both arms. He grabbed the taxi by the bumper and hood as it hit and lifted, groaning a bit as he braced the car against his chest, bringing it to a stop.
Then he put it down, gentle as a teacup.
This was a bad habit of Richard’s –– getting lost in thought and idling right into the road. He never worried about getting too hurt, and as a result, this sort of thing happened all the time. Rich’d tried not to leave too many dents in the hood, but there was a healthy handprint just below the medallion. This was going to be worse on the driver than on him –– now they’d have to deal with getting the car fixed and it’d be a whole ordeal.
There were some honest-to-God bloodsuckers Rich would rather deal with than his insurance company.
TAXI DRIVER: Holy shit.
The driver shot out of the taxi and slammed the door. This didn’t seem like his first time dealing with an idiot pedestrian… Might’ve been the first time the pedestrian manhandled his two-ton cab, though.
RICHARD MARTINO: I’m sorry about ––
TAXI DRIVER: I don’t believe it.
RICHARD MARTINO: Son, I can pay to fix ––
TAXI DRIVER: You’re… you’re The Wonder!
There was nothing –– not the coat nor the hat or the pouring rain –– that could keep Rich from having the most recognizable face in the world. He nodded.
TAXI DRIVER: I almost ran over Richard Martino!
RICHARD MARTINO: … Yeah, listen, if you give me your information, I can call my insurance about the dents ––
TAXI DRIVER: Are you kidding me? After all you’ve done for us?! This one’s on me.
RICHARD MARTINO: No, son, really ––
TAXI DRIVER: Gen-u-ine dents made by The Wonder on my cab? I’m not even gonna take ‘em out!
The cabbie beamed, pressing his hand into the spot where Richard had gripped; despite the rain, this guy was as sunny as could be. Just standing around was causing Richard’s leg to ache, though, and the heavy rain started to pick up again; he tried to wrap things up. Once more he offered to get the car fixed, but again the driver refused –– all the he wanted was a handshake. Richard obliged and wished him well before continuing on his way.
TAXI DRIVER: Yo, thanks for kickin’ the shit outta them Valhallatrons today!
RICHARD MARTINO: You’re welcome.
There was a lot of kicking involved, actually –– hence the aching leg –– but it was no big deal. Loose Valhallatrons in the city? Just another Wednesday in New York. Encounters like this were also pretty standard; he’d consider himself lucky if he only got stopped a dozen times a day. Most times it was great, other times less so. But more than anything else, people just wanted to say hello, and Richard decided long ago that there was nothing wrong with that.
After all, this was his city, and these were his people.
Rich walked another two blocks before he arrived –– finally –– at Santiago’s Deli. He rung out his hat before he stepped inside, wiping his feet on the welcome mat.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: What happened to you? Forget your umbrella or something?
Santiago’s daughter, Jimena, was behind the counter. She liked to crack wise with him.
RICHARD MARTINO: No, I, uh –– just the milk.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: Figures, ya old man. You know where to find it!
Richard set his sights on the buzzy refrigerators, ready to get his second round of grocery shopping over with. There was a crowd gathered near the front of the store, getting shelter from the rain. A small pack of undergrads, out for a late night snack, began to murmur…
CROWD: Is that him? // Could it be? // THE Wonder? // Look, look, look! // Dude! No way!
They started whipping out their phones, snapping photos.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: Leave the man alone, will ya?
Jimena stepped out from behind the counter and looked ready to take on the whole lot. The Santiagos appreciated being Richard’s local grocers, and got fiercely defensive whenever anyone interrupted his shopping experience (which was always). But Richard also knew how to handle a crowd; he had, quite literally, a century’s worth of experience.
RICHARD MARTINO: S’all right. How’s this? I’ll take a picture with the first person who can grab me a gallon of whole milk, OK? Aaaaaaaaaand –– GO!
Half the crowd sprinted off, tripping and elbowing each other all the way to the dairy section while the other half spectated. Everyone was getting into it… Everyone except one boy staring aimlessly out the storefront window, sporting a Mets cap.
Richard knew he couldn’t entertain everyone, and Mets fans least off all. Hell, it seemed like half his street encounters involved taking their flak. But that was usually just some good-natured ribbing, all in good fun.
Which is why it was strange now… There was something about this boy, something ––
A girl slammed a gallon of milk on the counter in front of him, narrowly beating out her friend.
RICHARD MARTINO: And we have a winner! All right, here we go.
Rich bent down to take a selfie with the girl, rummaging up a smile. She thanked him and ran back to the crowd to show off her photo, the other contestants drudging back to the dairy aisle in defeat. Jimena slipped back behind the register as Richard reached into his coat for his wallet.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: Sorry ‘bout that, Mr. Martino. Every damn time.
RICHARD MARTINO: And every time it’s fine.
As Jimena began to ring him up, Richard’s eye caught on the wall of comics behind her; he hadn’t noticed it earlier: the younger, buffer version of himself staring back.
RICHARD MARTINO: That a new issue?
JIMENA SANTIAGO: Oh, yeah!
She turned and took it off the shelf, laying it on the counter for him. Rich thumbed through it.
RICHARD MARTINO: Finally up to The Buzzard, huh?
Richard hadn’t been too keen on the idea of a publisher retelling his life story in an official capacity –– he didn’t think his story was over yet, for one thing, and Lord knows he didn’t need the dump truck of money they offered him, either. But he figured, if “The Adventures of Wonder!” put some writers and artists to work, it was a good thing. So be it.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: How off are they this time?
RICHARD MARTINO: You know how they dramatize these things…
He stopped on an arbitrary page, showing a gruesome Buzzard –– much more so than he’d ever actually been. The Buzzard was just some clown named Karl with a real flair for dramatics. He never wore a slick, metallic suit; just a t-shirt and some wings he’d thrown together with his mother’s sewing machine. Richard chuckled to himself.
RICHARD MARTINO: They make us look too glamorous.
At least they always got one thing right; Rich turned the page, and his smile faded.
There she was: Catherine.
The artists always got those freckles just perfect. Just as Rich remembered them. There was one, bigger and darker than the rest, high on her right cheek. When they were young, Rich would tease her about it, saying it made her easy to pick out across a room or in a crowd. Of course, it wasn’t long before Rich realized he’d just been keeping up an act, a cover for the fact that he was simply ensorcelled, her charm so… punctuated.
Tomorrow, it’d be ten years to the day since she’d disappeared. Without word or reason, she just… left. Out of the blue. Gone. Soon after, Rich announced his semi-retirement from crime fighting. He spewed out a litany of tenable excuses, claiming derring-do to be a young man’s game, that the new millennium belonged in the hands of those far more courageous than he… But those weren’t the real reasons; there was a void inside him now. Richard didn’t want to admit it, that maybe this was the why he was having such an off month.
In ten years, it only ever got an inch easier –– whenever he saw her face. He could forget the milk and everything else, but those freckles… There was no way he’d ever forget her freckles.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: You oughta write them a letter. Gotta imagine you’d have some pull.
RICHARD MARTINO: I’m getting too old to be bothered by this sort of thing.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: Getting too old? Y’OK.
RICHARD MARTINO: Watch it, kiddo.
Richard handed over some cash, and Jimena bagged up the milk. She peered over his shoulder, at the shoppers still sneaking pictures.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: You ever get… tired of it? Ever wish you could just walk in here as Old Man Martino and not as The Wonder?
Richard shrugged. The world would only ever know The Wonder –– all the marvelous heroics, the super strength, the big ⟨W⟩ plastered across his chest… Those were locked in amber, forever.
But Richard Martino? He’d grown old, started to forget things. Not a lot, not important things, but… enough. Like the milk. The Wonder could never have that, a fading memory. Or a broken heart…
Richard took the bag.
RICHARD MARTINO: I’ll see you next week, kid.
JIMENA SANTIAGO: Not unless you forgot anything else! And sorry. Again.
Jimena spoke loud enough for the other customers to hear. Richard turned back to the crowd, putting on his signature smile.
RICHARD MARTINO: For what? All these wonderful –– ?
–– BANG! The bullet ripped through the milk and into Rich’s stomach. He looked up; the boy in the hat was shaking like a leaf, pointing a gun at him.
RICHARD MARTINO: Son –– !
The boy unleashed another shot then another and another. Richard took a step towards him, but his leg gave out, slipping on the milk. As he fell, the room erupted into a cacophony of shouts and footfalls racing for the exit.
The kid stepped closer and stood over him, his eyes wide, looking without seeing. He emptied the magazine into Richard’s chest, then tossed the gun and dashed out.
Richard lay in a gooey mixture of blood and milk. He felt a bullet warm in his heart. His body was failing, and not even The Wonder’s strength could save him this time. Not without his suit. Not at his age.
This was it –– this was how he goes.
Richard’s eyes welled up. This was all so absurd –– the blood pumping out of his chest, Jimena ducked behind the counter, pleading into her phone for help… Rich lived his life expecting to go out in some big, blaze of glory; he never prepared for this, to die at the hands of one of his own in some dusty bodega.
He would never settle things with ––
The comic had fallen off the counter. Rich wanted one last look at her –– then he could go. He turned over; there was pain now, real pain like he’d never truly felt before. He dragged himself across the floor, leaving pink swirls in his wake. He only had a few moments left.
Richard’s outstretched hand reached the comic. He pulled it close and flipped through the pages, as many as he could at a time. Just needed to get to Catherine, when they teamed up together… Catherine and Rich… Against the Buzzard… Catherine and Rich… One last time… Catherine and…
Rich just didn’t have any strength left. The comic was opened to a spread with the Buzzard flying over him.
THE BUZZARD: READY TO MEET YOUR MAKER, WUNDA-BOY??! MwAHahahAhAha!
Rich sighed. His memory would have to do. So be it.
He laid back, closed his eyes, and died.