Rivalry: Part 9

“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.

Daniel: Sorry.
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.
Daniel: Sorry.


“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.”

He paused.

“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.

19 thoughts on “Rivalry: Part 9”

  1. I see Chris is definitely being a good guy here. However, the border between heroes and villains is largely in the PR, and there’s a definite risk of Chris being shoved to the wrong side if/when there’s a conflict with JF (and JF’s private paparazzi).
    Nick should really just come clean to avoid things slipping in bad directions.

  2. @G.S. Williams: Lol! Good one. Guess it takes one to like one….

    About JF, I feel like he might’ve gotten a bad rap. My mind immediately jumped to the former Braves relief pitcher John Rocker (Jim, is JF’s tirade a parallel for the Rocker incident?)

    When Rocker got in hot water, he pointed out that just because he made a racist statement that doesn’t make him racist; anymore than a guy hitting one home-run would be labelled a home-run hitter.

    The media loves to pounce on things and take it way out of context. It isn’t fair.

  3. I got the idea from John Rocker’s comments. I tend to think a world with superheroes would be less different from ours than one might think in some ways.

    My general belief is that we’ve all probably got an unquestioned racist assumption or two hanging around. The real measure of things is people’s actions across their lifetime.

    Actually, I wrote about racism once on my seldom updated, normal blog.

    Gavin: It felt right for Vaughn to like that sort of hero. I’m not sure why.

    Mazzon: Good points. We’ll see what actually happens.

  4. I love your regular shout-outs to cmoics in our world, you’ve got the whole Gold, Silver and Dark Age things characterised in your ‘real’ heroes, but you have comic-book heroes like Spidey and the X-men, too. May I ask, are these comic book heroes real in your world, or just in comics, and if so, why does a world with real heroes need to make up fictional ones?

  5. As I’m imagining things, the Marvel and DC universes both exist in comic books only. This is for a couple reasons.

    First, because I like the universe to be as close to ours as possible, and popular culture would be a lot different without them. It allows me to have real superheroes compare themselves to fictional ones (which is fun and potentially funny).

    Second, because I don’t want the risk of somehow being sued for using other people’s copyrighted stuff.

    Would people really have superhero comics if they really had superheroes? I don’t know. We’ve got real cops and yet we have cop shows. We’ve got real FBI/CIA agents, but we have TV shows about them anyway.

    So why not?

  6. I guess so, but I think the reason we have cop shows is that police in real life really aren’t that interesting, but they make a nice format for weekly television, like hospital shows.

    I guess if a lot of the stuff that heroes do is secret, maybe there’d be a need for comics, but I kind of got the impression that what with SuperTV and SuperRadio and Double V the superhero world was publicly accessible, and surely it would be at least as awesome as anything comics people could come up with.

    I love your pop-cultures references, though, they’re great for identifying your characters as real people. Keep ’em coming.

  7. Hey Jim, nice touch with Vaughn being embarrassed about his hero-worship (no pun intended) of the anti-heroes of the 90’s. It goes a long way to show how much he’s trying to step away from his former self. Nick’s Dad must be a pretty good shrink.


  8. I think that part of the need for ‘fake’ superheros in a world that has real ones is the secret identity problem.
    Generally, the ‘real heros’ don’t let the public know who they are, so some of the most interesting parts of the story are lost.
    The Rocket is awesome, but I doubt we’d find him near as compelling without the context we get from the view inside the helmet.

  9. At least Chris was worried about Nick, or just the heat that the Ball brings with it and doesn’t want anyone hurt.

    I doubt that it will go that easy though, the Fiend will want to see the ball and maybe claim it. I just hope he can’t scan it for history and figure out who was in it last.

  10. Something that impresses me about your writing, Jim, is that you’re a very deliberate, efficient writer.

    What I mean by that is you create specific things, whether it’s characterization, plot elements, or even scenery. But you do it with almost as few words as possible, you don’t “Tolkien” a scene down to the bark on a tree.

    Vaughn has a personality type with a lot of traits, the leather-jacket bad boy who has a good heart, wanting to redeem his family’s villainous past. Whether Justice Fiend and Vengeance, or the Punisher and Wolverine, the anti-heroes would appeal to him. But that’s an impression of Vaughn that leaks through your writing.

    Since it’s all from Nick’s perspective, and he’s not a psychologial profiler character, it’s pretty amazing all that leaks out about Vaughn despite Nick’s narration, which doesn’t concentrate a lot on other people.

  11. I have to second G.S’s astute observation.

    Jim has told us worlds about the heroes and villains with nothing more than a well-placed quip.

    Sometimes, their LACK of a response reveals who these people are as much as what they do say.

  12. Gavin/Bill: Thanks for the compliments.

    For better or for worse, my writing skews toward the Hemingway/Zelazny/Raymond Chandler end of the spectrum.

    That’s partly intentional because I think (based on usability studies about how people read online) that the web doesn’t lend itself to long paragraphs and in depth description. It’s partly unintentional in that I suspect I’d write that way anyhow (just a little less so).

  13. The internet culture is one of instant gratification and short attention spans. I dare say Jane Austen would never have made it online – tl;dr is just comes so easily.

  14. I foresee a future conversation between Nick and Chris Cannon going something to the effect of: “Chris, I have something I need to tell you about myself” “You mean that you’re the Rocket?” “????! But, how…” “I’ve been helping my Grandpa in his workshop for a couple years, before he got hauled off by the Feds. Why else did you think I asked you for help with the running suit?”

    Am I close?

  15. @PyschloneRanger: I don’t know if you are, but HOT DAMN that would be a kickass theory!!

    But…..I think we’ve got to be careful about these tendencies to guess the story’s plot. Jim might well have been planning to go that route, which you (inadvertently) might’ve thrown a monkey-wrench in.

  16. Point taken. I will, in future, refrain from publishing my speculations.

    Still; can’t wait to see how this turns out…

  17. Don’t worry about it. I don’t change stories on the basis of speculation.

    I don’t much respond to speculation in the comments though, since I don’t want to blow any surprises.

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