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“This is where the clues lead us,” Broots said softly.
“But a comic book convention?” she asked, pointing to the banner hanging over the entrance to the Novi Expo Center. The banner read, ‘Motor City Comicon Convention 2002.’
“Sorry,” Broots mumbled softly.
Sydney noticed that his friend looked a bit out of sorts: pale, sweating, listless. “Broots, are you okay?” he asked. Broots shrugged. In a fatherly gesture, he reached over and put his hand on Broots’ forehead. “You’re burning up.”
“I’m fine,” Broots said unconvincingly.
“You’re ill,” Sydney replied. He finally realized why Broots was so quiet on the flight from Blue Cove. “Go to your room and rest. Miss Parker and I will take care of this.”
Broots looked hopeful, but he glanced over at Parker’s stern expression, and almost shrank in on himself. “That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll be -”
“Broots, go to your room,” Parker interrupted harshly. “Or I’ll give you something far worse than a fever to worry about.”
The tech almost smiled, despite his illness, as he slowly walked to the waiting car by the curb. As the car drove off, Broots leaned back in the seat, every muscle in his body aching. Parker and Sydney watched the car disappear before walking into the entrance. They both stopped short.
The entire floor area had been turned into what Parker would describe as a science fiction freak show. Booths were set up where vendors - mainly balding, overweight, and dressed in horrible shirts - were selling comics, statues, and all kinds of unusual things. Other booths contained actors from different science fiction shows and movies signing autographs for people. Most people were dressed normally, but the rest were dressed in costumes ranging from characters of Star Trek to characters from the X-Men, including the horrible, brightly-colored spandex. A man walked by wearing a Wolverine costume, his hairy gut exposed. Parker shuddered.
“Let’s get this over with,” she said to Sydney. “Now, where are we supposed to go?”
Sydney held up the comic - the breadcrumb that Jarod had sent to the Centre. The cover was in dark shades of blue, gray, and black, with a dark-haired man on the front - Jarod. He was running from a group of shadows behind him. The shadows were outlined, and it was clear that the shadows were Parker, Sydney, Broots, Lyle, and Raines. There was another figure flying above the comic version of Jarod, completely covered in a bodysuit of spandex s. It was white, save for the upper part of her chest, shoulders, neck and head, where the spandex was blue and dotted with stars. Two atomic swirls were surrounding her hands and beams of light were shooting from her hands toward the shadows. Even though the face was completely covered, save for two white eyeholes, the shape and figure of the body, especially the accent of the chest region and the slender, long legs showed that the costumed figure was a woman. Bold letters across the top of the cover read ‘The Pretender.’ On the bottom, in smaller letters were the words ‘Catch him if you can.’ A small J was in the bottom right corner. In the bottom left hand corner was a white box with bold letters that read ‘Special Guest: Captain Universe, keeper of the Enigma Force.’
“I think we supposed to find her,” Sydney replied, pointing to the costumed woman. “Captain Universe.”
The two walked up and down the aisles of booths, looking around for anything that vaguely looked like the clue Jarod left them. But they saw nothing but comic books and costumed characters. The reached the other end of the convention area about fifteen minutes later and finally saw what they were looking for. A small booth was set up at the end. It was quaint, compared to some of the others around it, but there was a large white sign over it reading ‘Captain Universe Comics’ in bold, black letters. A fairly good sized group of people was gathered around the booth. Sydney and Parker walked over, and watched as the group, made up of geeky-looking boys in the teens and twenties, clutched comic books, and shirts, drooling. Parker tried to shove her way to the front, but she was met by an unmoving force.
“Hey, wait your turn, lady!” a pimply-faced teenager with plaid pants, horn-rimmed glasses, and a mismatched shirt said in a nasally voice.
Parker glared down at him. “Why I ought to -” She was pulled back by Sydney before she could finish her sentence.
“Parker, just be patient.” Parker sighed loudly, but she waited with Sydney as the group continued to stand around the booth. Finally, they left, and Parker and Sydney walked up. The booth’s table had Captain Universe comic books laid out in plastic bags, some were in air tight, clear containers. There were also sketches being sold, as well as black t-shirts in different sizes with the Captain Universe on the front.
A young woman in her mid-twenties sitting at the table, looked up as Parker and Sydney approached. She was dressed in a black t-shirt like the ones she was selling, jeans, and black Converse All-Stars. Her blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and blue eyes peered at them through a pair of thin-framed glasses. She was also wearing a name badge that read ‘Jackie Galvin, creator of Captain Universe.’
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“We’re looking for this man,” Parker said, holding up a photo of Jarod.
“Jarod Marvel?” Jackie asked. “Very nice guy. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d even be here.”
“He saved your life?” Sydney asked.
“Actually, he saved my business,” Jackie answered. “I didn’t have much money to market my stuff,” she nodded her head at her wares “but Jarod helped me get the money I needed, and now I’m selling things like hotcakes.” She put her hands on the table. “Can I interest you in anything? A t-shirt or a sketch?”
“No, thanks,” Parker forced a smile. “Did Jarod leave anything here? A red notebook, perhaps?”
“No, no red notebook,” she replied. “You sure you don’t want to buy anything? A comic book maybe? Jarod drew, inked, and colored Issue #11: The Centre of Confusion.” She held up a comic book with Captain Marvel and Jarod on the cover. In the middle were cartoon drawings of Lyle and Raines. Both of them were tied to chairs with ropes, each rope being held by either Captain Universe or Jarod.
“How much?” Parker asked.
“It’s a very rare issue,” Jackie answered. “Hundred bucks.”
“No way,” Parker sneered.
Jackie shrugged, putting the comic in a lock box. “Suit yourself.”
“Parker,” Sydney said softly. “We need that book.”
“I’m not paying a hundred bucks for a comic book,” Parker hissed quietly.
Sydney smiled at Jackie as he pulled out his wallet. He handed five twenty-dollar bills to the young woman, who took the book out of the lock box and handed it to Sydney. “Thank you.” She smiled. “Have a nice day.” She turned her attention to other customers waiting nearby.
Parker just glared at her for a few moments before snatching the comic book from Sydney. She started flipping through it as Sydney watched, trying not to smile.
- - - -
Broots barely made it to his bed before he crashed. He didn’t even bother taking his shoes off, he was so tired. He groaned, his muscles aching, as he curled on his side. He knew he shouldn’t have gone with Parker and Sydney to Detroit, but he wasn’t feeling this bad when they left. Right now, though, all he cared about was being in his bed, under his covers. He took a ragged breath as he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
An undeterminable time passed before Broots heard the music. He groaned as he slowly opened his eyes. His vision was blurred, but he saw something moving at the foot of his bed. He blinked and squinted, his vision clearing, and his eyes went wide in horror.
Raines was standing at the foot of the bed, his oxygen in his tank like always. However, he was dressed in a leopard speedo, black socks and his shoes. He was also wearing a pair of rectangular glasses, and dancing to the music, which Broots recognized as ‘P Funk.’ Broots couldn’t believe it; it was Mr. Wiggles again!
“I wants to get funks-ed up!” Mr. Wiggles said, dancing around. “Dance with me, Brootsie!”
“N-n-n-n-no!” Broots said, edging away from the dancing man. He didn’t watch where he was moving, and he fell off the bed in a mass of tangled sheets and pillows. He looked up as Mr. Wiggles walked over and looked at him.
“Dance with me, Brootsie!” he said. “Make my funk the P Funk!” He edged closer to Broots, leaning over as the other man backed away.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Broots screamed at the top of his lungs.
- - - -
Broots shot out of bed, gasping and looking around. He was alone in the hotel room, and everything was as it was when he came in earlier. Still, Broots was on edge, shaking. He slowly sat back on the bed and clutched a pillow to his chest, rocking back and forth slowly.
Hours later, Parker and Sydney came in to check on him after finding nothing else on Jarod. Broots was still in the same position. The other two were concerned at first, thinking the fever and illness had taken its toll on his mental capacity, but when Sydney checked his vitals, they were all normal. Finding nothing wrong, they left to go to their separate rooms.
“What do you make of that, Syd?” Parker asked in the hallway.
“I don’t know,” Sydney replied. “It would seem as though something has frightened the illness out of him, but there was nothing in the room to indicate that anyone else had been in the room.”
“Nightmare?” Parker asked.
“Possibly, though I’ve never heard of a nightmare scaring anyone into being healed like that so quickly.” He shrugged. “But he seems to be fine. I’ll check on him later, just to be safe.”
Parker watched Sydney enter his room. As he shut the door, she thought about what he said, wondering if it was true about a dream scaring Broots into being well again. She smiled slowly as she opened the door to her room, wondering what Broots could have dreamt about that would scare him that much. She made a mental note to ask him about it later.