After a week of appearances, many of them for national television, The First was going to perform in his home city of Seattle. Thom had made plans. It was a Saturday, and his schedule was free. He had purposely worked long hours all that week, distracting himself from thinking about all he had seen and hoped. He also was trying to get ahead on money. He had the feeling he would need it.
When he finally got home, he read until he fell asleep, exhausted. He stuck to books that didn’t even so much as hint at magic. Murder mysteries, especially the ones that tended towards the forensic side of things. A good scientific read.
Despite these efforts, he really couldn’t get his mind off Saturday’s Seattle trip. He found himself reading the same paragraphs over and over again.
Two days before the trip, he was looking for another murder mystery when he came across a picture of his ex-wife. Given the erratic nature of his earnings, especially since the museum, he had never been gladder than now that she had fallen in love and married a few months ago.
Or so he told himself. But that didn’t keep him from looking at her picture for a long, long time before slipping it back between the two books where it had been stuck.
Is this all my mind trying to distract me from Helen? he thought.
Saturday morning, he got up early and got ready for the long drive. He backed his Volvo S80 out of the garage and, after removing a ladder from the roof, drove his plumbing van in and locked the garage door closed.
Thom had been the only plumber he’d ever known who didn’t own a pickup truck for off-duty driving. Maybe it had been the feeling he got while driving trucks of being like a bird on a perch, or maybe it had been the muscle cars he’d had as a teenager. Maybe it had been the reports he’d seen as an impressionable youth about how pickups didn’t have to meet most of the safety requirements that cars did.
But in his more honest moments, he remembered Helen, and the day they got this car, and the late-term trip to the hospital soon after that ended up tearing their marriage apart. He had never understood Helen’s reaction to their loss, or why she could put any of the blame on him, or on them.
Even going early, he knew he had to have a plan. Seattle was traffic-snarled even under the best of circumstances: caught between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and with many hills, there just weren’t enough places to put highways and other important major streets.
The area around Seattle Center was likely to be a parking nightmare. He’d already decided to park downtown and take the short monorail ride to the park. He was looking forward to the monorail ride; it would give him a commanding view of the crowds on the way in.
When he got there, he looked and looked for anything unusual. But there was nothing but the crowd. He’d been there for a few concerts and special events, but had never seen it like this. It was a wall of humanity—and it was still a couple of hours before the flight.
The closest thing he could recall was a trip he took to Washington, D.C. on July fourth in the mid-eighties. Over a million people packed the Mall area to see a free concert and yell patriotic slogans. It was as though the entire population of an entire state had decided to go to D.C. and do an imitation of a Tokyo subway.
Thom couldn’t be sure of the numbers, but it had to rival even that crazy summer day. The crowd seemed to be in a good mood, and the air was buzzing with talk between strangers about what they were going to see.
Thom looked through the crowd, but saw nothing unusual, and nothing glowing. He couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Then he reminded himself that he was being silly, and did his best to wait for the show.
When it came, the whole audience gasped. Andy Naramore, who must have been secreted away inside the Space Needle, stepped off the platform and plunged towards the earth, tumbling softly. Then, about halfway down, his trajectory changed, and soon he was moving flat straight out over the crowd. Andy’s control of his powers had improved, and he was able to spread his weight over such an area that any one person barely felt a change as he went overhead. Everyone in the audience whom he flew over afterwards said they had never felt such anything as amazing as when they were supporting a fraction of The First’s weight when he zipped over their heads.
To go higher, Andy still needed a small bare area to focus on that was free of onlookers. He had had one prepared near the base of the Needle, and after flying over most of the crowd, he zoomed there and upward. He soared up over the platform, then moved towards the tip of the Needle itself. When he grabbed it and spun himself around it with one hand, the crowd roared.
Thom stared, fascinated. From the moment Andy had stopped falling and started flying, he had glowed orange-red. The glow remained until The First had finished his show and gone back inside the Space Needle. When he had landed on the platform area and started walking, the glow had vanished.
Thom was there long after most of the other people had left to go home.