Several hours later Josh leapt awake. He was being stabbed in the side by a pointy object. The last stab made him veer upright, almost bumping into the face looming over him.
It took a few seconds for Josh to figure out the reason for his sour back. Blinking, he realized he must've fallen asleep at some point, as he was currently positioned on his side on the plastic bench, knees pulled up to his chest.
The unfamiliar face belonged to an angry cop in uniform. His glare almost rivalled the secretary's from earlier.
'Who the fuck are you?' the man said.
Josh was properly seated in a flash. 'Joshua Portman, I write for The Scoop. Is there any chance I could talk to superintendent Peterson?'
The angry cop slowly ran a finger over the tuft of hair above his upper lip. He turned around, hollering to no one in particular: 'Any of you seen Peterson?'
There came a series of half-hearted replies, most of them muttered and incomprehensible. A guy in the corner started screaming nonsense.
The cop turned back to Josh, smirking. 'No one', he said. 'Now get the fuck out.'
Josh was chased out of the station, clutching his bag and camera case protectively.
During his short nap the sky had begun to darken. The evening air was obscured by thick clouds of pollution. There were no stars in his city, unless you drove way east, all the way to the coast.
Josh drug his feet on the way home, not wanting to find his mother still in front of the television. He suspected she could smell the degree of fruitlessness his day had been, a sneer always ready on her tongue. Josh hadn't gathered a single useful fact on the kidnapping case. He hadn't even gotten to meet the superintendent.
Josh passed a tiny newsagent's, metal grating covering the display window. He knew his boss wouldn't let him leave in one piece if he dared walk into the office empty-handed. However, for some reason he seemed to have David Boswell on his side. The manager had shown his support in directing Josh to a high-ranking officer, trusting him with the case. Boswell was immensely popular among the staff for a reason: he was kind, easy-going and competent enough to fix his subordinates' mistakes. Josh deeply trusted the man. In spite of today's disappointment, if Boswell gave him another chance, he'd seize it with all his might.
As Joshua was about to do an imaginary fist pump, a grey car with tinted windows came speeding around the corner. It came to a halt in front of an empty gas station across the street.
The sun had gone down, the night sky was thick with the smell of gas and smoke, and when three men hopped out of the back seat and the car rushed away with screeching tires, Joshua realized it was about time he called the cops.
He reached for his phone, watching the men enter the station from the corner of his eye. The glass doors shut automatically. They disappeared behind a few shelves.
After thirty seconds of frantic rummaging through all of his pockets, Joshua came to the conclusion his phone wasn't there. He cursed, looking around the empty street. There was no one around. Blinds were staying conspicuously shut.
Out of direct options, Josh ran up to the station with his head down. He crouched beside a window. The burglars were making a scene inside, yelling and throwing things around. As he pressed his face against the double glass, he spotted the two clerks, a young man and woman.
The man was being held against the counter, gun pointed at his head by a tall, masked individual. He was forced to enter the code to the cash register, hands trembling and snot mingling with the tears on his chin. He was chanting something, burbling little pleas for mercy, and the guy holding the gun was getting impatient.
The other two were busying themselves with the girl. She was being chased around the shop, crying out as one of the men pushed her into a candy rack. It toppled over, bright green, red and yellow spilling over the floor. They attempted to tear off her shirt. Their laughter could be heard all the way outside.
Josh felt sick to his stomach. He grabbed his work camera in a measly attempt to gather evidence, fumbling with the buttons. He realized he was shaking. He had no weapon, no means to defend himself or the others. Should he run and cry for help? Would it already be too late?
Just as desperation filled his throat, choking him up - nearly making him gag on angry tears - something dark flashed before his eyes.
Josh's breath hitched.
To Josh all time stood still. It was vibrating around him, making it impossible to think. Everything went red, hot and cold, flooding his brain and humming in his ears.
Next thing he knew, the window he'd been leaning against a second earlier cracked and burst to pieces. The blast of the cracking glass seemed to rip his eardrums apart. Shards rained over him, making him cry out and duck out of the way. Then a loud thud scared him into jerking his head back up. It was a series of frantic movements, as Joshua was too shocked to act on anything but instinct. Josh felt his head move against his will. His gaze travelled slowly downwards…
The impact had made a smacking noise, limbs sprawled in a weird tangle on the concrete. There were splatters of blood where the head lay. Josh stared, petrified, thinking he'd seen his first dead body, until the man started moving again. He crawled around like a fish on dry land, groaning and sobbing. As the burglar's fearful gaze went up to the shattered window, pupils dilated like helpless prey, Joshua could do nothing but follow that gaze all the way into the shop.
Fearless was tall. He was standing with his back to Josh, heaving a second thug off of the floor with one hand, forming a fist with the other. His long dark coat fluttered around his knees as he hurled the guy to the side and planted a fist in his jaw. Josh could see teeth and blood flying as the man flew head first into a stack of aluminum cans, making them clatter to the tiles. The guy howled as he was kicked in the stomach, eyes nearly spilling out of their sockets.
Josh choked on a breath as the third man appeared, swiftly approaching his hero from behind. Fearless lifted his fist a second time and the third guy lunged forward, holding a knife in his outstretched hand. The bright shine of the lamp overhead glinted off the blade.
When the weapon was only inches away from his hero's masked face and Josh had opened his mouth in a soundless scream, Fearless suddenly turned, ducking effortlessly. He let the guy regain his balance, nonchalantly stepping aside as if to make him savour the extent of his own recklessness.
Josh's eyes trailed over the black scarf covering Fearless' neck and ears and the hero's thin white mask; pale and oval-shaped, with two small holes for eyes and a horizontal line where the mouth should be. Josh gasped, stuttered, and nearly cut himself on what was left of the window.
Mere seconds later, Fearless tilted his leg in one swift motion, striking the third burglar's collarbone with a fast kick. If there hadn't been a brick wall in the way, Josh was convinced the man would've been thrown out on the street. Super speed, super strength and the ability to kick someone halfway through a wall. He was wobbling on his legs by the time Fearless had straightened up and wiped the dirt off of his long, dark coat.
The hero bent down as if to pick something up. Joshua had almost lost sight of the two employees clutching each other behind the register, as he realized Fearless was holding out the girl's ripped uniform. When neither of them moved, he simply threw it on the counter.
Fearless turned around, coat swaying, and it was superhero comic book ecstasy. It made Josh's knees shake, his lips tingle and his whole body burn. He would've given everything to take a step closer, but he was being blocked by a wall and a dangerous glass fence and to be honest, he didn't trust himself to move right then.
Fearless yanked the door open roughly, banging it against the wall. In that one slow moment of clarity, as all was about to slip between his fingers, Josh thought: This is it. This is what I want to be part of.
Sirens sounded close by. Before he could suck in another shaky breath, Fearless was gone, footsteps resounding in the silence that followed.
The male clerk moved, then, staggering as he tried to reach the phone. The girl grabbed her ripped-up uniform and pressed it tightly against her chest, sobbing quietly. Josh hadn't moved a foot. He was trembling, still. It was excitement that filled him, piling up inside his limbs; childish excitement together with a feverish but firm determination.
He'd been a part of this moment. He'd witnessed it, seen his hero fight. He'd been part of Fearless' justice.
As the shock finally wore off, taking the numbness away, giving him back his arms and legs, Joshua noticed he was holding something. He slowly directed his gaze down at his stiff, cold hands and the camera they were clutching. The seconds on the brightly lit screen were still running.
Blinking at the sight of the small red light shining back at him, Joshua realized, to his own amazement, that he might've just unconsciously taped the biggest moment of his life.