“You bet. We’ll pass on whatever shows up,” Vaughn said. “Right, guys?” He looked over the rest of us.
I thought about replying. It seemed like a good idea, but maybe not immediately. I had time. Then I thought about it a little more.
Me: We might be a little too calm.
Daniel: Crap. I was concentrating too hard on resisting him. You’re right.
Travis blinked a couple times and replied, “Sure.”
Rachel caught Daniel’s eye and raised an eyebrow.
Rachel: I felt like I’d swallowed a bottle of Benadryl.
Cassie: Daniel, that was you?
Marcus: Professor X would have handled this a lot better.
“Good. I’ll be waiting for it.” Justice Fiend bunched up his legs, and leaped into the air, flying away. The smaller guy in a red and white costume followed him. He held a small camera to his face. He’d been filming the entire time.
“A camera? Who was that guy?” Cassie watched them disappear behind the row of old buildings.
Vaughn said, “I don’t remember his name, but Justice Fiend hired some guy to film pretty near everything he does. He’s trying to make a comeback.”
“Oh, that’s great.” Jaclyn stared in the direction Justice Fiend had taken.
“I’m not defending him,” Vaughn said.
“Defending him from what?” Cassie asked.
Jaclyn sighed and looked at Vaughn. “You tell her.”
“OK,” Vaughn said. “You remember how he was big in the 90’s? He was making a lot of money in endorsements and appeared in some commercials? You know how that ended, right?”
“No,” Cassie said.
We were all listening by then.
“I think he made a joke that even he was afraid to ride on the subway in New York City, and then he dug the hole deeper when he tried to explain it. It wasn’t like he ever said the N-word or anything, but it could be taken that way. I don’t know. I was maybe ten when it all happened.”
Jaclyn turned to Marcus. “Do you remember Grandpa talking about it?”
Marcus shook his head. “No. I don’t remember anything like that.”
Jaclyn didn’t say anything for a second. “Grandpa went to an event at the Hall of Fame. I don’t know who was being inducted, but the Mentalist went with him, and maybe the Rocket?”
Daniel nodded. “Yeah, that was before Grandpa’s dementia got bad. The Rocket didn’t go along.”
Rachel said, “I remember that. Grandma had just died from cancer, and he wasn’t in the mood.”
Jaclyn continued, “Grandpa went up to him to talk about what he’d said, and Justice Fiend blew him off. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I think they ended up shouting at each other.”
Vaughn nodded. “Some reporter saw the whole thing, and it appeared all over. He lost all his endorsements after that. I didn’t hear much about him until a couple years ago.”
“We’d better go to the jet,” I said.
I’d recognized the older, red Ford Explorer that had parked just past the police cars as the car of one of the Grand Lake Sentinel’s reporters.
Travis, following my gaze to the car, nodded. “Good idea. Everybody, move it.”
As we walked to the jet, Haley turned to Vaughn. “How do you know so much about Justice Fiend? I’d never heard of him.”
Vaughn looked embarrassed — at least on the part of his face that wasn’t covered by a mask.
“He was one of my favorite heroes when I was a little kid. I don’t know why. He just seemed cool. Him and bunch of those guys like Vengeance who came up in the 90’s. You weren’t sure whether they were a hero or a villain, but they were cool, you know?
“You know what’s funny? He was a lot nicer than I expected. I bet a lot of his fans think he sold out.”
* * *
I didn’t get to talk to Chris Cannon until after school the next day. We ended up standing outside the school on the steps.
We’d made it into May, and the day felt like summer. The morning had been a little cool, but by noon I wished that I’d worn a short sleeve shirt, and that the school’s dress code allowed shorts.
The sound of the track team shouting carried in the air. I wondered what they were doing, but not enough to walk around the side of the school to check. They were probably stretching or doing push-ups anyway.
“I’m thinking I should practice with my suit,” Chris said in a low voice.
People had stopped coming out of the school, and most of the cars had left the parking lot.
“I thought you just wanted to play with it.”
“That was before Justice Fiend came to town. Did you read up on that guy? Back in the 90’s, he didn’t just take people in, he killed them. He didn’t go to jail for it because they were all total psychos, but you know how he became famous? He fought some team of supervillains called the Maniacs, the guys who used to have the ball. You know who’s got the ball now? Me.”
“Actually, you do. You’ve got to get rid of that thing. Roll it into the lake or something. You don’t want him to find it in your Grandpa’s garage.”
“I really ought to get it back to you.”
“Nick, I don’t really care about that right now. Whoever’s got it stands a good chance of being turned into paste.”
“How about this: I could contact the Heroes League, and turn it over to them, and then we’re both out of it. Once Justice Fiend’s gone, I’m pretty sure that they’ll even find a way to get it back to you.”
“Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re out of it,” Chris said. “With a guy like Justice Fiend, I don’t think for a second that I’m out of it, but, do it. It’s my fault you’re in this mess.”
That’s where we left it. He dropped me off at home, and I headed upstairs to check my email on my laptop. I didn’t have any email worth mentioning on my own account, but the Rocket’s email had a message from Isaac Lim.
Last night, Jack and Christine Maniac had been sighted in Chicago.