Background Artist

Background Artist

By Lt. Rick Hunter'

First thing in the morning, Mr. Johnson knew that it would be a rough day.

It started at 6:30, when a giant rumble came from somewhere across the street from his modest single-level suburban house. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, glancing out the window as he prepared his morning coffee, and caught a glimpse of two helicopters, one blue and the other jet-black, passing just overhead in a dogfight. Once they had safely passed over the suburbs a rocket streaked out from the blue chopper, and the black one burst into flames, spinning out and falling rapidly toward the river. Satisfied with the apparent outcome, Mr. Johnson turned his back to the window and began to search for a good tie.

As he was driving into the city on the way to the office, a plainclothes cop came up to his car and brandished his badge at the window, asking if he could commandeer a ride. Mr. Johnson answered that the car was a piece of junk anyway, gave it to the policeman, and hailed a taxi as he watched his newly washed and waxed vehicle get involved in a high-speed chase. He knew that he probably wouldn't see it again.

He'd stopped off at a convenience store on the way to work to pick up a bag of chips, but it was being held up. Thus, he'd simply turned back around and walked the rest of the way to his office, the fifth building down the street, muttering all the while that he could barely shop in the city without putting his life in danger.

He was the boss of a small cadre of account workers at Metro Incorporated. He had to admit it was a fairly good job, even if most of his employees were numbskulls who hated his guts. He had his own office, and as he perused the Spangler Report, he had to say that the day was finally looking up. Even the managers weren't constantly bugging him, though as usual they still were quite clueless as to the needs of the department.

Suddenly, the phone rang. He answered it, and was greeted with a clipped, English-accented voice.

"Good morning, James. I assume that by now you've noticed that the X80 microchip is missing. You know the power of the X80, and therefore what we can do with it. Now, if you want your precious microchip back..."

"Uh, sorry, but there's no James here. You've got the wrong number." Mr. Johnson replied, a bit amused.

"Huh?" asked the voice, losing its threatening edge and beginning to sound more like someone with a bad cold. "Is this 555-5449?"

"No," Mr. Johnson said, "This is 555-5446."

"Sorry" said the voice, then hung up. Mr. Johnson had to admit that it was an easy mistake to make. He decided, completely randomly, to take a quick break now that the phone call had broken his stride.

As he tuned the television to the news in the break room, he caught the tail end of a special report about the mysterious explosion in the industrial district the evening before. It had turned out that the Envirodyne Corporation had been running an illegal robotic-weapons division on the side: he'd suspected just as much, for he'd often gotten some bad vibes from that place. Fortunately, a newly employed lower level type had gotten an attack of conscience and blown the whistle on the place- only to be trapped within the building's lab along with his reporter girlfriend and 53 irate androids by the machinations of the CEO. They'd wound up fighting their way out and escaping the maelstrom before the corporation could fake an accidental explosion to cover up the underground laboratory and its products.

Heywood, a fellow boss of another division at Metro Corp and friend of Mr. Johnson, was in the break room also, munching on some donuts.

"And the score is Corporations three, Good Guys nine!" Heywood recounted. There'd been quite a spate of evil corporations turning up lately, but thankfully there had always been a few good guys around to blow the cover. He was proud to be part of a very legitimate corporation's staff, although the three points that Heywood recalled had been the known number of times that innocent corporations such as theirs had been mistakenly infiltrated by rogue cops. Those guys just didn't play by the rules, but he had to admit that they were right most of the time

Mr. Johnson sighed. He suddenly felt tired, tired of everything.

"I think I need a vacation." he said out loud.

"What, getting a little stir-crazy?" Heywood asked.

"Let's meet at The Diner for lunch, okay?" Mr. Johnson said, leaving the break room. He threw himself into the paperwork until noon came around, then practically jogged over to The Diner, a favorite hangout of himself and his friends. Heywood was waiting for him, thumbing through all the screaming headlines of a newspaper.

They both got club sandwiches- Heywood with fries and a soda, Johnson with chips and coffee to drink.

"This is good stuff." Heywood said, gesturing toward the label on his soda bottle. It said Jones' in bold letters.

"Soda sticks to my teeth, Heywood."

"Suit yourself. What's your problem, anyway?"

A pause.


"What's wrong? I don't know what's really bothering me." Mr. Johnson confessed to his colleague. "I ask myself if this" he gestured widely at the world around them, "...is all there is. But I don't dare think about it too much, you know?"

"Mmm-hmm?"

"I mean, what if this is it? What will be my big thing, what real legacy do I have? The Spangler account won't matter in fifty years. I feel like when I'm gone, I'll be gone."

"Um, maybe you should see a shrink about this." Heywood said, treading carefully. "That's pretty depressing crap you're spouting."

"Heywood," Johnson said, his mind suddenly working rapidly. "You know how in this world, there are many types of people, right? There are the heroes, who really accomplish things: the men of action, the scientists who find the cures for diseases, the astronauts. Then there are the interesting people: the friendly, sociable guys with connections and fascinating love lives; you know, like Ed in the business department. Then, there's the crowd. The crowd exists to take up space, to let us all know that there's a difference of types- they're not important, and they're just bit players in the life. All that's important is that they are there. They exist to fill the gaps."

"While I'll admit that your idea is sorta true, what about it?" Heywood asked, "Can't ya just be satisfied with what you've got?"

"I know it's not healthy to ask big questions like why am I here?', but it's really starting to bug me" Mr. Johnson sighed, stirring his coffee.

"Besides, it's not like you have to save the world to count as a person. Men of Action all they have is a life of insecurity and unwanted trouble!" Heywood declared.

"I just I wish I knew what my purpose in this world was, you know? Maybe if I was sure what my job here is, I'd be satisfied." Mr. Johnson said, his head in his hands, staring down into his coffee cup.

"Well," replied Heywood casually, slipping into his Bogart impression and letting a single french fry dangle from his mouth like a cigarette, "You know how names always seem to fit a guy's personality? That fella who saved that building full of workers from terrorists the other day- his name was Ken Steele. Now that's a good hero's name, you know? Maybe your name is the clue to what your purpose is."

"I guess it's possible. I mean, your name is Heywood and you're an intellectual type, just like I would guess bit of a smart-ass, though."

"Hey, I'll have you know that I was named after an astronaut."

"Yeah, he was probably the better-than-thou type, too." Mr. Johnson retorted.

"Actually, I think you're right"

"Yeah, but for me? For starters, look at my last name: it's completely average, and much too unwieldy. It doesn't roll of your tongue like Steele'."

The check was on the table now. Heywood picked it up.

"I guess it's up to you to say, man- you're the one that cares about it." Heywood said, with an air of disinterested finality. "But who knows, I may not be right about this at all. Some heroes can have really stupid names, you know. There was this cop guy who took out that big gang war last year, and he was nicknamed Tequila' or somethin' like that. To tell the truth, I was just guessing to get ya off my back."

"I've never had a nickname, at least not something that I'd want to save the world with. There was Booger Face' when I was in elementary school"

"Yeah," Heywood chuckled. "I think I came up with that..."

Mr. Johnson sighed. "I guess I'm just forever doomed to be a man in the background. Maybe my whole purpose is to exist as your friend, or an overbearing boss to my subordinates at work. Maybe I'm just kidding myself, and my whole purpose is to provide some more mass to this city's population. If I'm lucky, I'll be the victim of a mass-murderer or something. Maybe I'll show you a picture of my wife and kids so that it'll be ironic if I die unexpectedly."

"That's fine." Heywood grinned. "Only one problem- you've got no wife or kids."

"Well, that's one possibility down the drain. See ya later, Heywood." Mr. Johnson said, smiling back, though he still didn't feel any better.

He didn't speak at all as he walked the way back to work. He did, however, have a lot of thinking to do.

Maybe, he thought as he entered the elevator on the way up to his office, taking his place next to an attractive blonde woman in a red dress, just maybe I'll become someone significant, after all. Even though I don't know how yet

"Mr. Johnson?" she asked.

"Uh, yes, that's me" he replied uneasily, hoping deep within his heart that she was actually a Russian spy.

"Oh, nice to meet you! I was here for a job interview. You know, the open secretarial duties in your department." she said, perkily.

He relaxed. She was pretty cute, even if she seemed a little too air-headed to be a spy.

"Well, I'm sure" he began, but was interrupted as the elevator made a low rumble and shut off completely, frozen in it's place between the ninth and tenth floor.

"Oh! Oh no!" she cried, "We're trapped!"

"Now, don't worry..." he began, already thinking about how he could open up the top of the elevator and climb up the service ladder, bravely getting help. But then he stopped, and remembered that he wasn't too fond of heights.

"I guess we'll have to wait for them to realize what's wrong." she said, resignedly. She stretched her arms over her head for a moment. "We should make ourselves comfortable, it'll probably be a while."

My life's not so bad, I guess, Mr. Johnson thought to himself as they both took seats on the floor. There must be some purpose in this world for a man like me, a man named Superfly Johnson all that remains is for me to find it

No sooner had he thought this, than the blonde moaned suddenly, "Ooh, my back is killing me. I could really use a massage!" He noticed with some shock that her skirt had begun to seriously ride up on her thigh. Was she wearing lace?

Mr. Superfly Johnson shrugged, moved behind her, and began to rub her shoulders. He almost didn't notice the funky seventies-ish music that had started to come from nowhere in particular, but when he did, his outlook on life suddenly became much more optimistic.