Mateo pulled on his helmet, letting his hat fall down his back, held on by a blue leather string. He grinned at me. “You always have a choice.”
I put my leg over my motorcycle’s seat and grabbed my own helmet, feeling the electric hum of the engine. “True, but some choices aren’t the kind you can say no to if you want to live with yourself later.”
Nodding, Mateo tapped the spot on the floor that moved the platform up to the first floor. Above us, the section above us opened and in a few seconds, we were at ground level. The metal door slid open and we rode out, stopping on the dirt driveway in front of the Motor City Heroes’ headquarters, and then into traffic. Though a four-lane road, there weren’t many cars. A semi rumbled down the road ahead of us and only two cars followed behind us, both of them so far away I could only guess at their color.
I intended to ask someone why they’d never paved the driveway someday, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Working Man, the group’s leader, could be a little prickly, and being shouted at for asking a question didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t care that much about the answer.
It would be overstating it to say he hated the Heroes’ League, but I didn’t feel like he liked the current version. I didn’t know it for sure, but he spent enough time ranting about the Stapledon program and all the legacies whose parents and grandparents traded in on their heroics for cash that I didn’t feel the need to clear things up.
“V4,” Mateo said, “we’re going to turn right at the next corner. The house will be the only one on the right side of the block. If you’re in doubt, look for the flashing lights.”
“Am I taking this one alone?” Guessing what was coming, I readied my hand on the right handlebar.
“Nope, but I might beat you there,” and then he shot forward down the street, engine roaring.
There were bad points to being in a section of Detroit that had lost so many people that the blocks had more empty lots than houses, but the bright side was that if you were young, had a motorcycle capable of going several hundred miles per hour, and the ability to handle it, you could race down the street with no risk of hitting anyone.
We’d been doing it a lot.
I had the more powerful bike, but thanks to the mask, Mateo’s reflexes were off the charts. He beat me most of the time.
I twisted the throttle and the bike shot forward, almost catching him, but not quite. We were close to the corner and he’d already begun to slow down. I still had to, and he didn’t slow down as much.
He was a quarter of the way down the block as I finished turning the corner. After that, it was all straight. My bike accelerated faster and so I wasn’t too far behind as the ambulance, police cars, and a dingy, grayish-white, single-story house came into view.
We both slowed down and he only pulled into the driveway a little before me. I couldn’t help but note that the victim’s driveway was cracked, but still paved.
Officer Harshaw, a forty-something, dark-skinned woman stood outside. I’d seen her a few times over the summer but hadn’t talked with her. “V4, Blue Mask,” she gestured for us to come closer. “Before you go inside, you should know that the victim’s been dead for at least a day. It does not smell good in there. So if you need to throw up for that or any other reason, there’s a bucket on the porch outside the door. Try not to have a problem inside, okay?”
Mateo and I looked at each other and he smiled at her. “We’ll do our best.”
She shook her head. “Don’t do your best. Make it to the bucket. It’s already bad enough in there. Don’t make it worse.”
Then she started walking, waving for us to follow her up the porch, passing a white plastic bucket that sat next to the screen door. Mateo and I stepped onto the porch, she turned to me.
“V4, how is V8 doing? It seems like we haven’t seen her much at all since you appeared.” She stopped and turned to look at me as she opened the door.
I met her gaze. “V8 is fine. She’s still around. We’re working together on a bunch of things. It’s just that my being around freed her up to work on some things for the group that she hadn’t been able to get to. I’m helping her with some of them and taking a lot of her shifts.”
“Good to hear.” She turned away and stepped through the front door.
It felt a little different being “V4,” sidekick of V8, than being the Rocket. For one, I wore a costume with blocks of red and navy blue, designed to resemble leather racing suits. The colors matched V8’s. For another, I didn’t have either the mobs of selfie hunters or the instant credibility of the Rocket suit while wearing it.
I didn’t mind losing the selfie hunters, but when I needed civilians to listen to me, I missed the Rocket suit.
“V4” was a creation of necessity. Working Man made it clear to me before I even left Grand Lake that I would be welcome, but the Rocket wouldn’t. “I know who your enemies are and I don’t want any part of them. We’re just a small team. We don’t need problems with the Nine.”
So I was V4 and as V4, I walked into the house’s front room. At that moment I knew one thing for sure.
Officer Harshaw was right about the smell.