Fanboy: Finster Rides Again!!

 By DarkMark

NOTE: Fanboy was created and is owned by the two nicest guys in comics, Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones.  Buy at least one copy of everything they put out.  Trust me on this one.  This is not meant to encroach on their copyrights and no money is being made from this fict.  I mean, even less money is being made from this than on Groo, for Pete's sake.

Okay.  Let's begin.

 ****

Um, hi there.

This is Finster speaking, or at least writing.  Maybe you've seen my FANBOY series, which will do until I can convince some publisher to hire me as an artist.  Maybe, just maybe, you've read the story of my encounter with the Old Codger.  If you haven't, let me just tell you that he's an over-40 guy who buys comic books, and once we were locked together overnight in the comics store in which I work after school.  If I can survive that, I can survive anything.  Even the Crossing.

The Codger comes in sometimes when he can manage it and buys old comics.  Plus he gets the new stuff he keeps up with...Astro City, Alan Moore's ABC titles, the Avengers.  I tried to tell him about Warren Ellis and he thought I was talking about a jazz musician.  He's nice, but he has his limits.

Anyway, there I was in the shop, just about closing time, putting up all the juicy titles on the wall that you have to be careful to stand in front of when the little kids come in, and he came in.  Mostly he's upbeat when he comes in.  This time, the ends of his mouth were collecting gravel.

"So what's wrong?" I asked.

He looked up.  It seemed to take an effort.  "They've murdered my webpage, Finster."

I looked away from a TRIPLE IMPACT cover.  "How do you do that, sir?  I thought a webpage, by def, was non-living."

The Codger leaned his elbows on the glass cover of the counter, right over copies of the triple-gold Impact / Valiant crossover, DUDMATE.  "The free server I was on declared I was in violation of copyright.  The first thing I knew about it was when I tried to log in this morning. It said I violated terms of service, and I couldn't get in.  My webpages were gone.  Deleted."

"Deleted?  You mean your stories of Kara, and Batman and the Outsiders, and...Watchmen, and..."  I was apoplectic.  Trying to remember all the characters he's written fict about will do that to you.  "...They're gone?" I finished.

He nodded.  "Not gone from my hard drive.  I've still got copies.  But gone from the Net.  I feel really bad, Finster.  If this was a bar, I'd be ordering doubles right now."

"How's about a Batman graphic novel by Gary Groth and David Mazzuchelli?"

"Please!"

"Sorry.  Just trying to help."

The old guy sighed.  "It's not just me.  A bunch of sites went down.  Over a hundred, almost two hundred.  Maybe more than that, but who's counting?"

"Why did they do it?"  Despite myself, I was beginning to be curious.  The "despite myself" comes in because, when this stuff happens, I usually end up in trouble before too many more pages.

"Legally, we're in violation of copyright," he said.  "We're putting up our stories and art of these characters without authorization.  Even though we post copyright notices and disclaimers, even though we're careful not to make any dough off it, they can get in hot water for hosting us.  So they chose not to host us."

"Didn't they...didn't they care about what you were doing?"

"They didn't even give us a hint.  We went to bed one night with creations we'd loved and devoted many hours to, over the last few years.  We got up and found ourselves locked out.  Our stories and art weren't on the Net anymore.  And people liked to read them, or look at them."

I spread my hands on the counter.  "Wow.  Were you doing anything bad with them?"

"Depends on what you define as ‘bad'.  If you mean pornographic or ultra-violent, no.  At least, not for me.  It meant a lot to me, Finster.  I'm a failed comic book scripter, and this was my chance to get hold of those characters and do them the way I'd always wanted to."

"I think I can understand," I said.  Heck, wasn't I an aspiring comic book artist.  "Still, if it used copyrighted characters, I gotta admit they do have the right.  If the copyright owner complains, that is."

"That's the point.  The owners, to our knowledge, didn't complain.  They usually don't even take notice of us, unless somebody tries to reprint their stories without permission.  The rumor is that the server just got antsy, maybe because of the Napster thing, I don't know, and put a search thing in action and killed the sites."

I thought about it.  "That's bad," I declared, declaratively.

"Yes, Finster, but imminently legal.  Fanfic is in kind of a gray area.  On one hand, the owners can claim we're violating their copyright.  On the other, some courts have held that we have the right to do so, as long as we don't charge money or do any damage to the characters' money-making capacity.  As if!"

I thought some more.  "And I liked your stories about Supergirl.  The Batman one wasn't bad, either.  But when are you gonna finish Captain Marvel?  Or Warbird?  Or the Flash?  Or..."

"I'd like to say ‘later', Finster, but I don't know.  Maybe I could look for another server.  But I don't have any guarantee the same thing wouldn't happen again."

"Hey, Finster, what're you doing out there?"  The voice, modulated by various levels of foodstuffs, belonged to my boss, Leo Grudge.  This signalled that he was midway through one sub sandwich and about to gather strength for an assault on the next.  Unless he just did two at a time.

"Uh, nothing, sir.  I'm just talking to a customer," I said, bravely.

"A paying customer?"

I looked at the Codger.  "The latest issue of THE SPIRIT: THE NEW ADVENTURES isn't out till next week."

"That's okay, Finster.  I don't want to take you away from your work.  So long."

"Wait!  Wait, sir!  Can you maybe, uh, tell me the name of the server people that did you wrong?"

He told me.  I recognized the name.  Their home office was in our city.

Convienient.  Too convienient.

"I'll see you later," said the Codger.  "Maybe."

Then he left, through the door that once trapped us together with a laser-beam alarm system.  I began to think about what he'd told me.  Even I knew about the Internet, and about websites, and how just about anybody with a computer could put one up...and just about everybody had.

I went back to the back to grab a boxful of Dazzle Comics and chanced to look at my sketchbook.  For a moment, impulsively, I paged through it.  I'd drawn pictures of Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and some female characters who, unfortunately, couldn't end their names with "man".  Even an illo of Sgt. Rock fighting the Iron Major.

All of them were in violation of somebody's copyright.

But didn't I have the right to draw them, if I wanted to learn how to be a comic book artist?  Didn't I have the right to practice, and show my work around, and try to get somewhere with it?  Heck, couldn't I even make my own webpage, and scan these things in?

I paused, when I considered that I actually wanted to advance my career, not retard it.  Better save it for when I had more expertise.

But if they could come for the Codger's stories, stuff he'd spent so much time and love on, for free, couldn't they conceivably come for my drawings?  Probably not.  But still...

...Darn it, there was principle involved.

The problem was that there was also principal involved, and they had a lot more of it than I did.  I was relatively broke.  Even my relatives who weren't broke didn't have enough money to help me fight somebody like the big server company.

Later I got a call from Sandy, my girlfriend.  She wanted an expensive date.  I had the greatest upscale pizza parlor in mind.  She agreed.  On my way out after work, I took along some books I'd bought that day.  As sub sandwiches cubed are to Mr. Grudge, so comic books are to me.  I am Elric and they are my Stormbringer.  Deprived of them, I turn weak (well, weaker, anyway) and have not the strength to even get to gym class.

One of them I'd gotten into recently was the Topps Zorro series by Don McGregor.  I saw THE MASK OF ZORRO with Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas and thought it was cool, so I raided the store's stash for some issues of the comic, saw that neato cover by Julie Bell of Zorro kissing Lady Rawhide, found out she had a few mini-series of her own, and despaired of ever getting enough cash to cover it all.  So I just settled for the Zorros for now.

I remembered Bob Kane had thought of Zorro when he created Batman.  He'd even been a member of a kid gang who called themselves the Zorros.

I remembered Frank Miller had the Batman's parents shot (well, actually, he didn't shoot them, it was that Joe Chill guy) while they were coming out of a theater that showed a Zorro movie.

I also remembered that, if I kept on remembering, Sandy was gonna kill me for being late.

 -F-

So there we were in Mama Mussolini's Pizza Dominion, noshing down on their Big Sandal Sicilian Mobster 42-flavor pizza, the ones which get brought to you by guys dressed up in hats and pin-stripe suits that bulge where a shoulder holster ought to be.  (Actually, they just have pagers there.)  Sandy was paging through the Zorro issue with the Julie Bell Zorro / Lady Rawhide kiss cover.  I fear I am corrupting her.  "Nice cover," she said.

"Uh huh," I answered, trying to work down through the 18th level to the pizza crust.

"Except women didn't dress like that back then," Sandy noted.  "If they had, they'd have been tied to posts and whipped.  And don't let that give you any ideas!"

"Oh, no, Sandy, certainly not.  But that costume...you wouldn't consider..."

"NO."

"Okay, okay, just asking."

"I'm also wondering why they're spending all their time talking in this issue, when Zorro's got this metal shaft through his leg and he's obviously in pain, and they ought to be trying to get it out instead of making out."

"Uh huh.  Technical problem."

"Technical problem?"  She put the book down and looked at me.  "Finster, when you step on a grass burr, how long does it take you to get the idea to get it out of your foot?"

"Oh, usually 1.5 seconds.  I have to take at least that long beforehand to scream."

"Exactly."  Sandy, resplendent in her school jacket, blouse, skirt, and Thom McAns, fixed me with a look that would have rocked Sara Pezzini back on her heels.  "So how can you expect me to believe they wouldn't get that metal rod out of Zorro's leg first, stop the bleeding, and then do their talking or whatever they had to do afterward?"

I was down to level 5, Pineapple Pepperoni.  "Hey, it's comic books," I said.

"Exactly," she said.  "Even non-super-powered characters in these books have the super-power to not feel pain when they get screwdriver shafts stuck through their leg.  I'm beginning to be worried about you, Finster."

"Just beginning?"

"Sorry.  Renewing my worrying.  But, y'know..."  She looked thoughtful.  "I do kinda like Lady Rawhide.  Even though her wearing a costume like that in the 1700's is dumber than the metal rod business."

"Sandy," I said.  "Comic books are about heroism.  It's like Spider-Man lifting that big, locomotive-sized mass of metal off his back in SPIDER-MAN #33, or Iron Man carrying on fighting even though his chest plate's giving out for the 4805th time, or Jonah Hex getting stuffed.  Well, maybe leave the last one out, although I've gotta admit he was heroically stuffed."

"There's a line there that I wouldn't jump on even off of the high board."

"Thanks.  But Zorro's being heroic, ignoring the pain.  If he can do that, he can stand up to the forces of evil and fight for the oppressed.  The little guys.  The ones being run down by the corrupt establishment.  The governors, the people in power."

"And if he keeps doing that with a metal rod in his leg, he'll get gangrene and die, Finster."

"He gets the rod out!"

"Good.  Does Lady Rawhide get any more clothes?"

"Only in her civilian identity."

Sandy sighed.  "Now I know how superheroines change costume.  They just take off their dresses, put on a mask, and fight crime in their underwear."

"Yeah, well..." I finally thought I'd reached the crust, but it only turned out to be densely-packed black olives.  "The comic may be set in the 1700's, Sandy, but it's got to sell to an audience in the 2000's."

"Must be trying for the body-piercing crowd."

"Okay, okay, enough of Zorro, already."  I sighed.  I put the remaining three layers and the alleged crust of pizza back on my plate.  "Just enough."

She looked up.  "Finster? What's wrong?"

Apropos of nothing I told her about the Old Codger and what he'd told me this afternoon.  She looked at me with astonishment.  "But that's a freedom of speech thing," she said.

"Maybe it is.  But I learned something about freedom of speech when I sold that kid the adult comic book, Sandy: it is what the courts say it is.  Not what you think it is."

"If they can do that to those websites on a basis like that, can't they take down any website they want on any other basis?  Political, even?"

"I don't know," I admitted.  "But it's scary to think so."

"Finster, maybe you have to be a hero again!"

"What?"  I sloshed tea down the front of the Flash emblem on my T-shirt.  "Sandy, I'm not gonna go to court and hope for a Dr. Zensie to save me anymore.  Lightning doesn't strike twice, unless you stand in front of Barry Allen's chemical shelf."

"But don't you see?  You can protest.  You can help draw attention to the plight of these guys who lost their sites.  I mean...you can't just sit back here and do nothing."

"I'm not doing nothing, Sandy.  I'm eating pizza.  And those guys only listen if you have a lawyer the size of F. Lee Bailey along with you."

"You don't know that's true."

"It isn't my site!  If the Codger wants to protest, why doesn't he do it?"

"Maybe he needs somebody to show him the way," she said.  "Or maybe you should do it because he's your friend."

Sandy got up. "Take me home, Finster."

"Sandy..."

She looked at me accusingly, with both hands on her hips, or at least the pleated skirt that covered them.  "I thought you believed in heroes."

"I do.  But usually, when they're on paper."

She stomped out, knocking over a waitress who had several pitchers of tea on a tray.  She blamed me for her getting wet and caffeinated, too.

 -F-

So what was a guy to do, in this situation?

Go home, go up to his room, and practice drawing.

I tried to get into my drawing of Sheena and the Warlord facing off against Onslaught, but it just seemed too boring.  Instead, I flipped over to a blank page, let my pencil have its free will, and wondered what would come out.

It looked like a guy with a mask.  A guy with a hat and a mask.

A guy on a horse.

I never could draw horses worth a darn, but somehow, this horse looked almost as good as Comet.  I bent over the drawing pad, trying to get the whip in the guy's hand just right, trying to throw myself into my work...

"‘Ay, muchacho."

A voice.  A voice from behind me.

I looked up.  I was in a Spanish pueblo.  Or at least outside of it, I think.  I was in California.  Pre-Beach Boys California.  There were Spanish guys all around, and most of them (gulp) were toting rifles and pistols and even sombreros.

I noticed that I had on a sombrero.  And there was a gunbelt at my waist.  But I still had my drawing pad.

I finally got around to turning to look behind me at the guy who had spoken.  It was the guy I had been drawing, or attempting to.  He was big.  He was powerful.  He looked bolder than Douglas Fairbanks, Guy Williams, and Antonio Banderas put together.  He was smiling.  Smiling at me.

"A noble likeness, mi amigo," said Zorro.  "But put your paper away.  Tonight, we ride."

"We...ride?"  I could manage the cayuses on a merry-go-round, just barely.

"Indeed, my friend."  Zorro swept his black cape back over his shoulder.  I could see the guns in his holsters.  If anybody this side of the Shadow was packing bigger heat than that, I didn't know about it.  "The corrupt governor of this province is sending men to shut down a newspaper critical of his administration and of the local ball team.  This requires our presence to see that his effort fails."

"They had newspapers back in the 17th Century?"

"You have not heard of Senor Ben Franklin?"

"Uh, has he been born yet?"

"Only a technicality.  Saddle your horse, friend Finster.  Tonight, we defend the press.  Tonight, Zorro is the First Amendment!"

A cry went up from the guys in the courtyard.  "Viva la First Amendment!"

I stood there, jaw half-open, realizing the First Amendment hadn't even been created yet.  Then again, neither had I.

Technicalities.

"Which, uh, which one is my horse?"

"That one."  Zorro pointed towards a chestnut-colored specimen who looked to have three-quarters of the power of Silver.

"He's already got a saddle on," I pointed out.

"You think I would let you delay us half an hour while trying to figure out how to put on a saddle?  Go!"

"Yes, SIR!"  I grabbed the horn of the pommel of the whatever of the saddle and tried to swing myself up.  I tried to swing myself up again.  And again.

"Try putting your foot in the stirrup," pointed out Zorro.

"Oh," I said.  So I put my foot in the stirrup, grabbed the horn again, and tried to swing myself up.

The horse put its head around and nudged me into the saddle.  "Thank you," I said.  It snorted in return.

Zorro was already on his great black mount, rearing it up to a height of however high tall horses get when they pop a wheelie, and cracked his whip three times in the air.  "With me, caballeros...ride!" he cried.

Then he took off in a cloud of dust, with a clear column of air through which his men followed, and my horse put it in third gear and took off after them.  I grabbed his neck and hung on for dear life, and whatever else I hadn't lost already.

From an unknown source, I could hear a version of one of the few classical pieces I could recognize: the William Tell Overture.

Zorro looked back at me.  "That is not my theme song," he said.

"Sorry," I replied.  "It's the only one I know."

We arrived on the scene just as a bunch of soldiers had taken the owner of the newspaper, his wife and family, and the guy in charge of sports news out and were about to hang them all from a custom-built mass hanging tree that must have taken three days to build.  Zorro's coruplent nemesis, Sergeant Gonzales, was there.  So was the printing press which had been used to print the newspaper, The Oppressed Peon Daily.  Don't ask me how I knew the title, I just did.

"Before we send you to your maker, compadres," Gonzales was saying, "we will allow you to witness what the governor has ordered concerning your troublesome machinery.  Hidalgo, now!"

A big guy with the muscles of Mr. T and Hulk Hogan amalgated stepped up to the press, grabbed a sledgehammer, and hefted it.

"We are too far," cursed Zorro.  "If only we had a few more seconds--"

At that, my horse decided to get into the act.

It stopped on a dime (probably not a Roosevelt one, though it might be another technicality), reared up on its back legs, giving me a great view of what it was like to be perpendicular to the ground, then went on its forelegs again, and threw me like a catapult.

I think I was screaming something but I really couldn't testify to what it was.  All I know is that, after the arc of my flight, I saw something slim and wooden before me and grabbed out with both hands to snag it.  I did, and I went around it for several revolutions, like Daredevil around a flagpole.

Whatever this fantasy was, I was glad I didn't seem to be carrying half-digested pizza in my stomach.

The big guy looked up, puzzled, still holding the end of his weapon.  "How did that get on the other end of my sledgehammer?"

I let go, landed on him, and we came down in a heap.

Sergeant Gonzales was apoplectic, a disease that usually affects Zorro villains.  "Hang them!   And shoot them!  Do not make me clarify which ‘them' I refer to!"

But Zorro, still thundering ahead on his horse, unleashed his whip.  I saw it unravel with a whicker.

And unravel.

And unravel.

The thing unravelled a good thirty-five feet, contacted the ropes hanging from the wooden bar above the newspaper staff, and sliced through the hempen strands even as an incongruous-looking hunchbacked guy in an executioner's mask threw a lever and caused all of the executees to fall through a big trap door harmlessly.

Gonzales threw down his hat, stomped it, and clenched his fists.  "Oh, darn!" he swore.

By that time, Zorro and his men, and even me, were upon them.  The caballeros drew their guns and shot the guns out of the hands of the Spanish troops.  Then they drew their swords, cried "Engarde!" as one, and waited for the troopers to draw their own weapons.  A couple of caballeros passed out extras to the publisher, the editor, the wife, the two kids, and the sports writer, giving one to the last-named most reluctantly.

Then, with a tremendous clanging of steel on steel, it began.

The good guys duelled the bad guys all over the courtyard.  They fought in the street.  They fought on top of the newspaper office.  They fought inside the newspaper office, hurling ink in each other's eyes.  A couple of them duelled on top of the wooden beam that supported the severed nooses.  And Zorro and Gonzales duelled on top of the press itself.  That's hard to do, but trust me, they did it.

About that time I heard a growling behind me.  I looked.  It was the big guy with the sledgehammer.

"You, homely one!" he snarled, hefting the mallet.  "You will provide red ink for your own wanted poster!"

I figured the most valiant thing to do at the time was run, so I did.

He chased me around the printing press several times, making swipes that missed so close that I could feel the breeze, like a stunt kick from Bruce Lee.  Sooner or later, he would connect.  Sooner or later, we might even distract Zorro from his battle with Gonzales.  I didn't know which would be the bigger tragedy, but I had vested interest in the former.

On one of the passes, I noticed my horse, on the periphery.  "Horse!" I called, hoping it was as smart as Trigger and Secretariat combined.

The horse galloped up and, when the time was right, let me get past, then lay down just in front of my pursuer.  He tripped over it, lost his sledge, and went flying.  The flight went for a good twenty feet, and he changed course once, which sent him face first into a nearby horse trough with a tremendous WHUMP.

He raised his face above the side just once, looking much the worse for whump.  "Santa Maria.  Why must there always be one such scene in these stories?"  Then he sunk back again.

Zorro had been distracted by the sight, and grinned at it.  But as his gaze swung around again, he saw that Gonzales had the point of his sword at Zorro's throat.  "Now, Senor Fox!" sneered Gonzales, his eyes alight with terrible revenge.  "Now, you pay for having carved your accursed ‘Z' on my forehead no less than eighty-seven times!  Ayaaaa!"

Calmly, Zorro said, "Eighty-eight times, my friend."

Gonzales looked curious.  "This is not possible.  I have kept close count, senor, and I can assure you, the number is only eighty-seven."

That was when I picked up the sledge, used all my fanboyish might, and gave the printing press a big whack on the side with it.

The whole thing quivered like a struck gong, and Gonzales quivered with it, going "Oh, oh, ohhhhh!"

Zorro, whose sea legs were obviously the best in his era, merely smiled, brought his own sword up, and knocked Gonzales's wobbly blade into the dust.  Then he brought up his boot, planted it in the sergeant's chest, and sent him off the press and into the dirt.  He was lying face-up.

In an instant, the Curse of Capistrano himself stood over him, sword still in hand.  "Now, my friend, you have learned the power of the press."

Gonzales gazed up in horror.  "No, Senor Zorro!  Please!  It...it is not even healed from the last time, confound it!"

I was there.  I saw it.  The thin blade whisking out across the forehead--whisk! Whisk!  Whisk--and the great letter Z, carved in red on Sergeant Gonzales's brow.

The bad guy wept.  "Do you know what you cost me in plastic surgery?"

Zorro allowed himself a grim smile.  "As I said, Sergeant Gonzales...eighty-eight."

 -F-

Riding back from the battle, I was surprised that I felt a little more easy with the horse.  Then again, I knew it was smarter than I was about such things, and there was less to worry about.  Zorro rode beside me.  "Well, what do you think, muchacho?"

I shook my head.  "I think I'm glad I don't have to do this on a regular basis, Senor Zorro.  I break too easily!"

He smiled.  "Ah, but not so easily as to be of no help against the big one with the hammer when he threatened the press.  Or to be of no help to me, when Gonzales had his sword at my throat."

"That was a last desperate chance.  Heroes always get out of them."

"But sometimes, Finster, without other heroes to help them, there is no last desperate chance."

I chewed on that one for awhile.  "So, is the point of this fantasy me being a hero again?  The press and all that, is it supposed to be a stand-in for the web?"

"What is this ‘web'?  Have you spiders in your sombrero?"

"Uh, I don't think so."  I ran the reins through my hands, wondering if Richard Boone had felt like this when he was playing Paladin.  "Where I come from, a friend of mine had something like a newspaper...well, not exactly.  But it was taken away from him."

Zorro's eyes blazed. "Then we will ride to where he is, and get it back!"

"I don't think you can, Zorro," I said.  "It's not in your, uh, your jurisdiction."

"But you can reach it, amigo?"

I glanced at him.  He was giving me the most serious look I'd ever seen in my life, including those times I had to face the principal for drawing in class.

"Uh, that is, I could, but..."

"Then you must do so," said Zorro. "If your friend has been done a great wrong, does he not deserve your hand to set it right?"

"Well, maybe, but...I'm not exactly a hero, Senor Zorro."

"And who is?"  He smiled.  "When I take my mask away, I play the part of a fop, a dandy, a man too lily-livered even to properly court a woman, certainly not a one to take horse and defend the oppressed.  When I put it on, I play the part of Zorro, the Fox, the Curse of Capistrano, upon whom the people depend.  Tell me, which part is really me?"

This had to be a trick question.  "Both of them, I guess.  Am I right?"

"Exactly!  Do you think being a hero, my friend, is merely a matter of clashing swords and carving letters on foreheads?  No, my friend.  If it were only that, then heroism would be as empty as an envelope without a letter.  We do what we must to defend.  To defend the rights of ourselves, and of other people.  Sometimes, one needs a sword and mask to do that.  Most other times..."  He shrugged.  "Perhaps one only requires a heart."

"Oh, man," I breathed. "I think I know where this fantasy is leading."

"Do you?  Do you indeed, my friend?"

"Yeah.  I guess I do."

"Then you are fortunate.  You know what must be done.  The burden is upon you, my caballero.  Be a hero.  Be a hero."

I started to speak to him, but I couldn't quite get that far.

He was no longer beside me.  There was no noise of chinking metal on saddles, no horses hooves trampling the dirt, no smell of the outdoors, no night sky lit by a huge full moon.

There was just me, in my room, under a lamp, with a fully-drawn version of Zorro.  He was smiling.

"Oh, man," I said.  "Do you know what you've gotten me into?"

 -F-

Let's allow a caption to speed us past the intervening events of the next day.

[The next day, at the offices of a certain free server company...]

Thank you.

I had managed to call in sick at work, caught a cab to the area of downtown where the server company had their offices, and told the receptionist that I had an important message for her boss.  She informed me that a lot of people had, and gave me a number and told me to sit down.

I held the number for a long moment, turned towards the seats wherein 8 people were already sitting, and asked myself the important question.

What would Zorro do?

With that, I threw myself past the secretary's desk, banged open the door of the Big Boss's office, and came face-to-desk with him.  The guy was large, but short.  He was balding. He had a mustache. Other than that, he did not look like Sergeant Gonzales.

"Well," he said, amiably enough.  "What can I help you with, my friend?"

"Sir, um, my name is Finster," I began.  "And, well, that's always been my name." He nodded, sympathetically.  "I haven't come up here because of myself.  I've come up here because of a friend.  And he..."

"And he has a website that we recently took down," said the Big Boss.  "I know, I know.  My sympathies.  But we had to do it."

"You didn't have to!  It was--"

"It was a site in violation of copyright," the Boss patiently went on.  "They're already fighting the Battle of Napster in court.  We don't plan to get involved in such costly shenanigans, Mr. Finster.  It's much easier for us to just delete the sites, and go.  There are many other sites which don't violate our terms of service."

"But doesn't that depend on how you define those terms of service?"  I was scrabbling for legalese.  "How are they harming the copyright owners, if they don't intend to violate copyright?"

"The owners own the properties, Mr. Finster.  Most of those people haven't gotten authorization. Would you allow someone to come in your house, borrow your computer without your permission, and then give it back, saying that he was just taking it for awhile?"

"Well, no, but..."

"Well, then?"

"Sir, I believe, I believe that's a false analogy.  I'm an aspiring artist, sir.  I intend to draw comic books someday.  Now, when I draw a picture of Superman, I'm not impinging on DC Comics's copyright, am I?"

"Oh, yes you are!"  He smiled, with a slight edge to it.  "Ask any lawyer."

"Well, I may be.  All right, I am.  But the point is, they don't care, as long as it's just for practice and I'm not making any money at it.  Even if I put it up on a website and don't try to sell it, just give it away..."

"Even then, the copyright owners can shut you down, Mr. Finster.  I've taken a few law courses before getting this job.  I know."

"But they haven't petitioned you!"

"No.  But they might.  I'm sorry, Mr. Finster.  This interview is ended.  Now, if you'll excuse me..."

I was desperate.  "Look.  You can't just take away these people's dreams, their stories, their art, their work.  It's an important part of their life.  It's like...maybe like their children, I don't know.  You're taking away their expression, taking away something they love.  That's not right, sir.  I don't care what you say, it just isn't right."

"Mr. Finster.  Ever heard the expression, ‘Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one'?  I own this one, Mr. Finster.  Now.  Go, or I'll have you thrown out."

I looked at him. He wasn't joking.  I didn't have a sword, and I wouldn't know how to use one if I did have it.

I visualized Zorro in my mind and all I could think to say to him was, Sorry, guy.

I began to trudge to the door, taking small steps.  The guy had already turned away from me.  I didn't know what to do.  I'd tried, but I wasn't anywhere near being a caballero.

The door banged open again, and a short, red-haired girl hustled through.  She was of junior high or high school age, and she did not look pleased.

"Daddy!" she said.  "What are you doing, going around taking everybody's sites down?"

"Um, Esmerelda, I don't want to talk about it in front of this person.  At any rate, I don't have time to talk about it at all, now.  Later on?  Please?"

His daughter banged her fist on his desk.  "No.  Right now!  You're going to make a call, Daddy, and tell your gremlins to get all those sites back up at once!"

He stood, and glowered. "Esmerelda, this has gone far enough.  Now if you don't want to lose the use of your Ferrari for the next two weeks, I suggest you quiet down."

"Oh, really?" she snapped.  "How's about if I call up the papers and tell ‘em that one of the sites you took down was your daughter's own Pauly Shore tribute site?"

Pauly Shore?

Pauly Shore???

The guy looked like he'd been hit with a contract renegotiation.  "You wouldn't," he said.

She smiled wickedly and nodded.

A long second later, the guy punched a button on his intercom.  "Site maintenance," a voice said.

"Get all the deleted sites back online.  Now.  Tell ‘em it was just, I don't know, some kinda bug or something we were testing."

"All the sites? But, sir..."

"NOW."

"Yes, sir."

I slipped out of the door.  Every good caballero knows when the time comes to retreat.

 -F-

Within a couple of days, everybody had their sites back.  The Old Codger had his up, too, even though he'd transferred his files to a new server and a new site.  He was so happy anyway he bought $87.75 worth of comics.  I'm assuming the Pauly Shore site was restored, too, though I'm not going anywhere near there.

Sandy made up with me after she learned a few of the details.  I explained the rest to her over a victory sundae at the local Braum's place.  In between bites of her double chocolate folded mocha meltdown, she covered my hand with hers.  "I knew you had it in you, Finster.  Reading all those comic books must have had enough of an effect on you."

I shook my head.  "Yeah, but not enough.  I didn't pull the thing off.  It was somebody else who made the save, Sandy."

"So what?  You tried, Finster, and that's the important thing. And that's maybe why I love you."

"You what?"

I looked up.

I didn't see Sandy sitting in front of me.

In her place, spooning up a bit of ice cream, I saw the most gorgeous redhead believable, in a red mask and a skimpy red outfit you'd probably have to send off to some leather works to get custom-made.  And she did fill it to perfection.

The spoon dropped from my hands.

"Do not reproach yourself unduly, mi caballero," said Lady Rawhide. "Sometimes, as Zorro will tell you--these things require a woman's touch."  She smiled.  "And I do believe she loves you."

She leaned over and kissed my forehead.

When I could move my head enough, I saw her being helped out of the booth by a familiar guy in a black outfit, mask, hat, and cape.  He didn't say anything, but he did lift his sword in a salute.  And he smiled.  They walked to the door, which he held open for her, and walked through it.

Then they were gone.

I looked back.  Sandy was looking at me curiously.  "Finster?  Something wrong with my makeup?"

I asked myself the all-important question again, and then told her, "Nothing I cannot fix, senorita."  Then I leaned over and kissed her.  After the first second, she didn't try to pull away.  She tasted of double chocolate folded mocha meltdown.

And I could swear that I smelled the scent of rawhide.

 ******

Any resemblance to crises living or dead, on the net or off it, certainly must be a figment of the reader's imagination.  Finster, Sandy, and Mr. Grudge were created by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones and are property of Horse Feathers, Inc. and Sergio Aragones.   Zorro was created by Johnston McCulley and Lady Rawhide was created by Don McGregor.  Both are property of Zorro Properties, Inc.  The Old Codger is all mine.

This one's for Mark, Sergio, and Don, two of whom are friends of mine and the third of whom is a friendly acquaintance, and for all those who endured the recent loss and restoration.

And as Stan Lee might have put it, if he had written Fanboy back in 1965 instead of Spider-Man, "Isn't there a little bit of Finster in all of us?"

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