Adventure Fantasy Friendship

“One concussion grenade in your hand.”

“Concussion grenade received, Brad.”

“Red Mask, sir. Remember, no civilian names?”

Pausing, the wind up here, feeling colder to The Osprey than to….Brad. Blowing through his hair, but not The Osprey’s since he wears that cowl all of the time. That faded, worn out trademark cowl that kept his cape anchored. No accounting for taste. “Oh. Yes, you’re right, young apprentice. Now, let’s go get those hoodlums!”

Red Mask/Brad rolled his eyes again.

Old heroes never die. They just forget who the current villains are.

Me? I’m Brad Winestead. I was a student at NYU when I got mugged by a disgruntled student that hated my grades and the fact that an attractive female student had slipped her contact info to me after class that morning. Apparently, The Osprey had been patrolling the area and stopped the assailant from beating me completely to death. He totally avoided every punch attempt, every kick was countered with an even harder kick until he got the assailant down long enough to tie him up and told me to inform the local police. Knowing the administrations’ dislike of local law enforcement, I called campus police instead. I explained that I did that to keep the peace between the city. He paused for a moment, not liking his “orders” countered, but he nodded.“Keeping peace between all citizens is everyone’s duty. Good job!” He said before leaping up to a box in the alley where the magical, marvelous scene played out. 

“Wait!” I heard it too.

“Yes, good citizen?” Yeah, that old line meant something back then. To me and others my age that knew of the stories of The Osprey. The well-built, winged crusader saving little old ladies, presidents, helping put out fires, stopping burglars in their tracks. In his brown, red and yellow latex costume and subdued, but awesome looking cape, cowl and mask to match, he certainly looked like the legend we all knew him to be. 

“How….how long does..how long would it take to. To be your….sidekick?”

He smiled broadly at that. Before he could laugh, “I took some martial arts, I’m good with math, and with some training I know that I could be in good enough shape to be your backup, sir!”

Instead of a laugh, he formed his mouth into a quizzical gesture, head cocked to one side. Somewhat like his namesake. “A noble gesture. An offering of service. You are a rare one, good citizen. I had not thought of an assistant since…” He couldn’t bring himself to mention the previous Red Mask. The Osprey went into a temporary retirement after he was killed. Captured by mafia hit man, defying The Osprey’s orders to stay put until a strategy was formed, he was beat to a broken, bloody pulp, found in a trash dumpster with a note pinned to his torn, tattered costume. He desperately wanted to strangle the captured murderers, but he cited “The legal system of this great country of ours shall prove greater than anyone’s feelings of vengeance!” before he finished his testimonies and vanished. 

“It’s hard to lose someone, sir. I know.” My mother had been a victim of a robbery when I was in middle school. She just happened to be up late one night and took the burglars by surprise and was rewarded with shots to the head and abdomen. By the time she was discovered, the criminals had escaped with all of grandma’s silverware and the rings on mom’s fingers. In a rage, dad blamed The Osprey for encouraging “this element” and told me to never mention His name in that house again. My Osprey comics were confiscated and burned for kindling for the post-funeral backyard cookout. 

“I’ll work hard, sir. I’ll do whatever you tell me, no question.”

“Your kindness is noted, citizen. I shall….consider that. Thank you for your contribution to a better society! Away!” There was no real disappearing act. He just moved really fast and had great tools to make it look like his cape was flying him away.

After some semesters of the same major, the same inquiries from dad as to my successful future and my lackluster social calendar, I heard a noise in the alley behind my dorm. Old school metal garbage cans smashing into each other, cats screaming and running. Then, the shots and men arguing loudly and running, and what sounded like punches and grunts. As the quiet descended, I ventured a look outside as best I could. There, in his bent-over glory, was The Osprey, giving his best effort to walk upright back to…wherever his hiding place was. I ran down the single flight of stairs to the alley and found him still attempting to go somewhere. He was bleeding. There were some men scattered around, sprawled out in the alley, so the blood loss was not in vain. “Osprey! Here! You need help!” He waved me off.

“No, no, helpful citizen. I must…..must….a..way.” he collapsed into my arms. Thinking as quick and best as I could, I dragged him into the lobby of my dorm. No one was around, thankfully. I laid him down on the ratty, seen-better-days couch and looked for the bullet could be. No shot wound, but a couple of what looked like stab wounds. That’s where the blood was coming from. An alarming amount. He started pointing at his famous utility belt with that winged glove. “Frists…first…aid…kit. Here. Here. Do you know…aid…citizen?”

“Yes, I do.” Mom was a nurse’s aid for a long time so she made sure I knew basic first aid and CPR. At the time when I started this reminiscing, it came in handy when one of us got into this same situation again. I managed to patch him up as much as I could and got him a bottle of water from the drink machine that never worked, so it didn’t cost me anything. After I was certain the stitches would hold, he looked at me through that cowl, “Arlen Warrenfeld, in your debt.” and offered me a gloved hand. The stitches and the ibuprofen and the water seemed to be helping him recoup.

“Brad Trefoil, sir.”

“No. Not a sir. Just Osprey. If you’re certain we’re alone and no one is around, Arlen is fine. I accept the handshake. “We’ll talk, citizen Bradley.” He got up and stumbled around, but started getting around well. “First, come with me to the lab.”


“It’s what your fellow citizens call my lair. A quaint name, but it will do.” We got to an inauspicious black car. Not the typical sleek, shiny comic-book muscle car in the movies or tv shows, but very basic. Like….my first car in high school, but instead of rust and faded red, this was a matte black. On purpose. 

“Stealth black.”

Our hero turned toward me, broad grin and a gloved finger pointing at me, then to his cowl-covered nose. He then paused. “Stealth Black.” Repeating it, the same finger that he showed me that I “got it” rubbed at his bruised jaw, then thought better of it with a muted “oww”. “Stealth Black. That’s exactly how we designed her…good name, citizen.”

“I told you that you can call me….”

“I know. But, nothing is absolutely official yet.”

My own head turned in confusion, I continued to follow him as far as he seemed to let me. “Passenger side, please. You’re not ready yet to drive.”

All of my comic book reading days were coming back to me.

“Get in, my student. Everything you need to know is in the lair.”

With an enthusiastic leap into the seat next to the legend, we drove down winding paths, tree limbs brushing us. Mud, dirt, and then concrete before the waterfall washed away all traces and into the Lair of The Osprey. I couldn’t help but laugh when I got out of the Stealth. Looking over all His trophies. The massive computer and other changes of costume and equipment for the utility belt. I turned back to look at the Hero who took me in, seeing his secret lair when I remembered how badly he was still injured, as he stumbled a step toward the chair at a desk. I ran around, grabbed one arm. Despite his resistance, I managed to help walk him to a place to lay down, so I can check on his wounds, and my first aid work. He popped a few stitches, but otherwise, he was fine. I readjusted and reset the bandages and strings.

“Orville can show you to your room. I believe my nights’ work is done. Thank you…Brad.”

The weeks, months following were grueling and tough. He put me through the most intense physical training that I had ever received. I thought of Coach Brannigan in high school and thought that he would have collapsed and died after a week of this. I lasted for months. Many bruises, scars, and a couple of years and a few arguments later, he handed me a familiar costume and red mask. “Go ahead, Brad. Put it on.” I didn’t hesitate. I grabbed it, ran for the bathroom and changed as quickly as I could. Arlen’s pleased state of mind showed as he looked me over. “Perfect. Fits you just perfect.”

More months, years went by. Swinging from ropes attached to the Osprey Wings, his fancy super-name for foldable grappling hooks.

Legends came and went around The Osprey and the return of The Red Mask. We cleaned up the city, the surrounding regions as well. Saved kids, elderly people, elected officials, movie stars and just everyday, ordinary good citizens from burning buildings, robberies and muggings and sometimes, just being at the right place at the right time.

Time and attention came and went. A decade passed….then two. I noticed a change on my partner’s demeanor. He was irritable in the mornings. He couldn’t work out as long as he once did, making up excuses about needing to keep me on my toes and in as great a shape as he was. Meantime, on leaps and climbs over roofs and building walls, I heard unrelated creaks and snaps.

The above mentioned mistakes came around. His stubbornness grew worse along with his memory and his reflexes. Nothing major and I still knew enough first aid to patch myself up. Still, I’m his partner and he is mine. 

“Wait, Osprey. They’re up to something.” I said in a loud whisper to his cowled ear. His hearing was suffering as well, but we decided to blame that on the cowls that we made though it was exactly the same fabric as before. We landed from our ropes to the edge of a rooftop ledge overlooking a gang of no-goods. All of us were looking out over the Governor’s mansion. 

“Indeed! Good work. Let’s break up that gang of hooligans before they attempt…”

I put a gloved hand up. “What if we find out what they’re up to first? That way, we can bring a definite charge against them instead of just loitering.”

“Hmm. Of course. Something I should have thought of. What can you make of this gathering?”

I leant in close as I could and used the sound enhancer from my utility belt. I made the trademark Mask a darker red so I could do more stealth in our missions instead of just leaping around in bright colors at night.

I heard “....Governor's mansion, go bye bye!” with some nasty giggling, and “....what have we got on the clock, 15 minutes? 10? 15 ought to give us enough time to get outta here…” I caught sight of what they were hovering over. A remote fuse for a bomb. Oh, my. This was going to be big. I relayed what I saw and heard to Osprey. He nodded, thinking, looking around as if planning. He still had the concussion bomb in his hand that he was about to hand to me. I took it and put it up in my belt. “How about this? I’ll swing in and take some of them out and then you can leap in and finish the job while I start disarming the bomb timer. Then, I’ll call the police to evacuate the mansion.”

“That is an agreeable plan.” He nodded, and sounded relieved. I was, as well. 

I took out my Osprey Wing and shot it to the back of one of the criminals’ heads. “Oops”, I could always tell him later. It didn’t kill, just hurt. It also did the job, hooking the Wing to the edge of the roof as he went down, dropping the beer he was holding. Alcohol. No wonder they’re criminals. After sliding down a rope, barely dodging a knife, I grabbed what I thought was the lead mastermind behind this operation and backed him to the wall. “Override code! Now!”

He was panting and smiled with a tooth missing.“9 minutes left, bird-brain” before he coughed. I punched him out cold and let him drop to the concrete. 

Osprey was already there taking out tools from his own belt. Concentrating, experimenting, tinkering. One wire at a time, one switch here and another there. I crouched down next to him. Maybe if his reflexes suffered worse, he should just. let The Red Mask do the heavy lifting like I just did. I felt more like his partner now than in recent years. It had felt like I was babysitting and having to watch his back more than vice versa. I was happy to see him do this. He was great at it, I had to admit. This operation seemed to be going very well. Then, I saw the glint of steel.

Throwing a spare Osprey wing at the awakening thug, he sent that shining weapon to us, too quick for me to stop him. I jumped as the heartless future jail-bird tried to stagger away, then I cuffed him.

I heard the moan.

I ran back to the scene of my partners’ slumped over body, cape drooping down….red spot on his back. I assessed the damage even through the shock, turned him face up and saw the large serrated edge knife stuck into his abdomen and a larger red spot around it. It would do no good to just pull it out. The Osprey’s breathing became ragged, uneven as he squirmed, his body trying to understand what had just happened. My somewhat medical mind went over possibilities, options and then Arlen’s masked/cowled face looked up at me. Blood started down his mouth. 

“Did….did we save the Governor, old friend?” He clasped my gloved hand in his.

I had thought to check to see if he finished the job and stopped the bomb. I glanced over as I squeezed back, to comfort my mentor, my teacher and friend. He got interrupted before he could cut one more wire, so I reached over and….*snip*. The digital display froze and went blank. I set the cutters down and looked back at my partner’s eyes through his cowl again.

“You did it, Osprey! You saved us all once again. Every good citizen here owes you a debt of gratitude that….”

He waved a gloved hand at me, a few spots of blood on it. It took an effort to keep from welling up, knowing what may likely happen. “No. We don’t do our job for the accolades. We roam the night, catch our prey and….” he coughed.

“....and return the offenders to justice.” I finished what he drilled into my head on beginning my training. He nodded and squeezed my hand as tight as he could. 

One hand reached up to his trademark mask and he began peeling it off. He struggled, the flowing blood, inside and outside, making the legend weaker. I offered to help him and he shook his head. Letting me know this is something that MUST be done by himself. Detaching it from his cape, he handed it to me, pressing it into my hand.

“The quest for justice must….go….on. The Osprey will see it….see it….”

His breathing grew more intensely labored, uncovered eyes growing wide. His last breath rattling out a noise that sounded like “...done…”

I checked for a pulse. As I suspected, none. The police sirens wailed in the background, approaching. Working quickly, I dragged my old friend’s body onto my cape after I detached it and laid out on the concrete. Taking out cleaning sprays from his belt and mine, I worked furiously to get rid of as much of his blood as I could, to clean up this crime scene so it would not be traced back to him. Or to me. The sirens got closer. I hefted up a legend in a makeshift backpack and slung him over my shoulder, hopping rooftops as best as I could. Working with the grief and the extra weight, I finally found a hiding space. I realized that I had stuck the mask and cowl in my belt. Exhausted and mentally and emotionally drained, I carried him on to the car and then to the lair. 

I spent money and time acquiring timber for a funeral pyre and gave him a warriors’ funeral at the beach down from the mansion we shared. I made sure he was buried in full dress uniform. Only then, I allowed tears down my cheek as I stood there, mask in my hand, still damp with sweat from the mission. 

Instead of my usual Red Mask uniform, I had put on an extra Osprey outfit, cape and loaded utility belt. I took some deep breaths, and slipped the cowl and mask on, gave my old friend a salute. 

“Until the time comes for the end of MY mission, Arlen. The war goes on.”

April 28, 2023 02:31

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