“Let’s stop at that place up ahead; it looks like a good place to eat.”
“How can you tell from back there?”
“Look at all the trucks in the parking lot! Nobody knows where to eat like a truck driver.”
“Ahh, that’s an old wives’ tale!”
“Are you calling Sue an old wife?”
“Funny, Ralph, but I mean it! That truck driver thing is an urban myth! Traveling salesmen are the ones.”
“You’re wrong, Ollie! It’s truck drivers, not traveling salesmen!”
“Oh, yeah? Well, Hal’s been both; let’s let him decide!”
“Oh, no! Don’t draw me into this!”
Wally West sat farther back against the upholstery of the backseat, listening to the banter between the longtime friends. He was reminded of his youth and the times when his maternal uncle and aunt would come over for the holidays. He had been the only child there, his uncle and aunt being childless; he would sit apart from the grownups, listening to them talk and laugh, and feeling very excluded. That was how he felt now.
“What do you think, Wally? Are you hungry?” asked Ralph Dibny, who also sat in the backseat. Wally looked at Ralph, the one Justice Leaguer he had known longer than any of the other current members. It gave him a bit of pause, seeing Ralph and not recognizing his face. Hal Jordan, Ollie Queen, and Ralph Dibny were on their yearly guy trip, a vacation they took together to get away from it all. Because the Elongated Man did not maintain a secret identity, he used his powers to mold his face into something different from his usual features, so as not to be recognized.
“Hungry? Yeah, I guess,” Wally said, noncommittally. “I could eat.”
“Okay, I’m pulling off,” Ollie said, swinging the car into the diner parking lot. “I hope the chili’s good.”
Hal snorted. “Your idea of good chili is somewhere between toxic waste and paint remover,” he teased his friend.
“What’s your point?” Ollie asked.
Wally felt more and more uncomfortable as the banter continued. This was the first year that the men had made their annual vacation without his Uncle Barry. The first Flash had valiantly given his life during the earth-shattering struggle known as the Crisis on Infinite Earths. (*) Ralph had convinced Hal and Ollie to let Wally, who had succeeded his uncle as the Flash, join them on their vacation. Wally had thought it a mistake from the outset; he was now growing more and more convinced of that.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Flash of the Lightning,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (November, 1985).]
“Not a very wide selection,” Hal said, frowning as he studied the menu.
“You’re too used to that Southern California experience,” Ollie said. “You need to loosen up.”
“Ollie, the last batch of your chili I tried loosened me up quite enough, thank you,” Hal said. “I think I’ll have a grilled cheese with tomato.”
“Philistine,” Ollie snorted. “This looks good. Four-alarm chili cheeseburger! With choice of cheese fries or onion rings.”
“Listen carefully, gentlemen,” Ralph said. “You can almost hear Ollie’s arteries begging for mercy.”
“Ha-flaming-ha, Ralph,” Ollie said. “And I suppose you’re having the garden salad?”
“As a matter of fact, no,” Ralph said. “The caesar salad.”
Ollie snorted. “Never get married,” he commented.
Wally kept his eyes on his menu. He wondered why he didn’t join in the banter. If it had been Dick, Roy, and Garth at the table, he’d have been trading barbs with Roy faster than Ollie and Hal were. So what was the problem?
These weren’t Dick, Roy and Garth — that was the problem. These were the men who had taught them how to be heroes.
“Hey, watch it!” a gruff voice snarled. The four Justice Leaguers looked to the counter. They saw a bearded giant of a man staring fiercely at a much smaller man who had just spilled a glass of cola.
“I-I’m sorry!” the smaller guy stammered, obviously terrified.
“You hear that, guys?” the giant roared. “He’s sorry! Spilled his sissy-drink on me, and he’s sorry!” The large man grabbed a handful of the smaller man’s shirt. “Maybe we should see just how sorry you are!”
“Let it go, Ollie,” Hal muttered under his breath. But it was too late; Ollie was already out of his seat, his chair hitting the floor behind him.
“Hey, Grizzly Adams,” Ollie called. “Why don’t you pick on somebody my size?”
The gruff giant turned to look at Ollie. A slow grin spread across his face; he clenched and unclenched his fist. Ollie grinned, too.
“Happens every vacation,” Ralph commented.
The fight ignited like a forest fire in dry woods. Ollie let the bearded giant throw the first punch; he didn’t throw many more. But the giant had friends among the diner’s patrons, and soon a full-fledged brawl was underway.
Hal, Ralph, and Wally remained at their table. Wally was on the edge of his seat, anxious to do something. Hal and Ralph just sat back and watched.
“Think we can get through Ohio by dusk?” Hal asked.
“No reason why not,” Ralph said. “Barring car trouble, of course.”
“Of course,” Hal agreed.
“Are we just going to sit here?” Wally demanded. “Ollie’s in trouble!”
“Is he?” Hal asked. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Hadn’t noticed? Hal, there are seven guys fighting him!”
“That hardly seems fair, does it, Hal?” Ralph asked.
“Not at all,” Hal said. “Ollie should only use one hand, or something.”
Gaping at the nonchalance of Hal and Ralph, Wally turned back to watch the fight. True, Ollie was holding his own. He kept spinning on his heels, turning this way and that, so no one could catch him from behind. Ollie and his combatants had a clear fighting arena; the rest of the diner had cleared off to let them fight. After the first handful of roustabouts had come to the giant’s aid, no more had joined after seeing Ollie handle himself.
Wally watched with growing admiration until suddenly someone got a grip on Ollie from behind. The archer must have been tiring, for he had not been fast enough to escape the arm locked around his throat. Wally gasped when he saw a big bruiser in front of the helpless Ollie break a bottle on the diner counter and approach Ollie with the razor-sharp edge.
“No!” Wally cried. In a sudden blur, the bottle was plucked from the bruiser’s hand.
“What the–?” the man gaped. “What happened?”
“The bottle just — vanished!” the ape holding Ollie stammered. “I mean, it was in his hand, and then — it wasn’t!”
In his surprise, the man’s grip on Ollie loosened. Ollie took the opportunity to ram his elbow into the man’s solar plexus. The man doubled up in agony, and Ollie followed through with a roundhouse right. The others recovered from their surprise, but not quickly enough. In a heartbeat they were all on the diner floor, unconscious.
Ollie stood among his victims, breathing hard. He looked up and caught Wally’s glance. Wally smiled at him, as if to say, “Don’t thank me, it was nothing.” Ollie’s look, however, was one of quiet, contained rage.
“Outside,” Ollie said gruffly. “Now.”
Uncomprehendingly, Wally followed Ollie outside into the parking lot. Ollie waited for the young speedster by the car. Wally reached his longtime friend and opened his mouth to speak, but Ollie spoke first.
“Junior, did anyone ever tell you your super-speed ends at the neck? You just don’t think fast, do you?” Ollie growled.
Wally was aghast. “But — but I saved you! That guy with the bottle–”
“Kid,” Ollie snarled, “I’ve faced alien death rays and magical spells and giant hourglasses filled with quicksand! You didn’t think I could handle a broken bottle?” Before Wally could answer, Ollie stuck his finger right in the young man’s chest. “We don’t use our powers out of costume, you got that? Some of us still have secret identities we’re trying to protect! If you can’t grasp that, maybe you don’t belong on this trip! Hell, maybe you don’t belong in the League!”
Wally stood there, trembling with building emotion. Finally he let it out in a shout.
“Well, maybe I don’t!” he cried. “Maybe I’m an embarrassment to the whole team, and you’re the only one with enough guts to tell me! Well, tell me right now, Ollie! Tell me you want me off the team, and I’ll quit right now!”
Ollie and Wally stood there, silently staring at each other, for a few moments. Finally Ollie turned away. “Ahh, nuts!” Ollie growled. As he turned away, he saw Hal and Ralph walking toward them, carrying brown bags.
“Anyone for lunch on the road?” Ralph asked.