I wanted to be alone. Just call me Greta Garbo. Or was it Bridget Bardot? I’ve never gotten all those early movie stars straight.
In the not so distant past, I might have gone to League HQ and spent an hour fiddling with Grandpa’s tools or going through League memorabilia. League HQ had changed utterly in the past two weeks. Instead of being the nearly deserted place where Grandpa showed me how the Rocket suit worked and sometimes told stories, it had become a place where at any given moment any of us might show up.
I wasn’t sure I liked that.
Tonight, for example, Daniel and Vaughn were going on patrol and Travis was still using it as a study hall.
Were I to walk in, people would want to know about my progress with getting the vehicles ready and whether Isaac had yet gotten back to me on the contact list.
And since there wasn’t any progress on either front, I decided not to show my face.
So, I walked, kicked a few leaf piles, imagined ways of improving the jetpack’s fuel efficiency, and generally kept to myself.
My parents’ house stands in a section of town developed in the mid-sixties on what was then the edge of town. It’s still a nice area, but it’s not that far from older and slightly rougher neighborhoods. Their reputation might just be racism in that they’re more black than white, but there’s no denying the people are poorer and the houses cheaper. Whatever the case, I’d never had any trouble there.
I saw a few other people out, including Terrence and Darius, a couple kids I recognized. Passing each other on the sidewalk, we all said, “hi,” something we never bothered to do in school. Then they went on their way and I mine.
This was fine. I really wasn’t in the mood to talk. Of course, the fact that I wasn’t in the mood to talk didn’t mean that people weren’t in the mood to talk to me.
My cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but took the call.
“Hi Nick.” It was Haley, Travis’ younger sister.
“Are you in trouble?” I couldn’t think of any other reason she might call me.
“What? No. I just thought I’d call and see how you were doing after, you know… everything.”
“Which everything?” I said. “Do you mean ‘talked with the Mayor’ everything or ‘fought Man-machine’ everything?”
“Everything, everything,” she said, “But mostly Man-machine.”
“I’m feeling kind of guilty,” I said, though I hadn’t realized it till then. I’d just won a fight with an old man who was having a heart attack at the time. Beyond that, I’d seen Chris Cannon, Man-machine’s grandson at school yesterday. He still looked lost.
So I told her about going to the Cannons’ house, seeing Chris, and the wall of photos in the basement. “I know I didn’t make him do it, but going in there… It felt like I’d killed him.”
“But you didn’t. He tried to kill you. He blew up people’s cars just to get your attention. And filling a wall of pictures of your grandfather and his family? That’s just weird. He should be feeling guilty.”
I lingered under a streetlight at a corner, checked for cars, and crossed, deciding that I probably ought to go home.
“True, I guess,” I said, deciding to change the subject a bit. “How are you doing after um... everything?”
“I had fun,” she said. “I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid having people notice what I can do, but in a costume I don’t have to pretend at all. I can climb walls—“
“And throw cars,” I said.
“I felt a little guilty about the car,” she said. “I like Prius’s. I should have thrown an SUV, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to throw it far enough.”
“What’s so funny?”
“It just occurred to me that I’m having a conversation about which cars are best for throwing.”
“That’s what I mean,” she said, “we really could have a conversation about throwing cars and it wouldn’t be weird at all.”
“I think it’d still be a little weird,” I said.
We talked more while I walked home. The walk wasn’t bad—just step after step down the sidewalk in the dark.
I got a call and a voicemail while I was talking to her, but I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t take the call.
“So does gymnastics start soon?”
“I don’t know,” she said, ”I’m not doing it this year.”
“Why?” I said, “You were really good last year. Didn’t South High almost win State?”
“We did, but... Do you remember Jackie Thomas?”
I did. Jackie Thomas was the state wrestling champion two years ago, or, at least he was until he saved some kid from being hit by a truck. He saw it bearing down on a four year old boy who had wandered into the road. Instead of grabbing the child, he’d picked up the four-ton truck, dug his feet into the road, and held the front end in the air till the child got out of the way.
He was hailed as a hero at first, but within a week things changed. The association that regulates high school sports stripped him of his title. The media argued about whether he was a cheater. His protests that he didn’t know he was that strong fell on deaf ears.
I don’t know what happened to him in the end. I think I read that his family left Detroit, but I don’t know where they moved.
“I can see your point,” I said.
We hung up a couple blocks from my house, a full twenty minutes before eleven. I had time enough to make my curfew and get my voicemail.
The message was from Isaac Lim, our FBI contact. “I’ve got your contact list checked out. I’ve sent it back with notes. You’ll find it interesting.”
I shut the phone and put it back in my pocket. “Interesting” wasn’t a promising word.
Well, at least talking with Haley had gone better than I’d expected. Of course, the fact that she'd called me at all was pretty odd.
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Bio: Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series. Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. Jim didn't attain his goal of never leaving school, but did prolong his stay as long as possible. He majored in religion and sociology at Hope College, gaining enough credits to obtain minors in ancient civilizations and creative writing—had he thought to submit applications to the relevant departments. He attended Western Theological Seminary for two years. He followed that up by getting a masters degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. Once out of school, he took up the most logical occupation for someone with his educational background: web developer and technical support. Simultaneously, he finished all but three credits of a masters in Information Systems, a degree that's actually relevant to his field. He's still not done. In the meantime, he's been writing stories about superheroes and posting them online at http://legionofnothing.com. He's still not sure whether that was a good idea, but continues to do it anyway. He's also not sure why he's writing this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.