With that, the meeting was over—mostly anyway. It’s not as we jumped up from our seats and ran to our bikes. As Mateo stood up, he asked, “Is our highest priority finding them for now? I’m asking because there’s going to be a wait before Athletica, you, or V8 can get here if we press the panic button.
“You know as well as I do that sometimes the situation will move too quickly for us to locate them and bring in help. We’ll have to save someone immediately or they’re done for. Do you want me to call Unity in if we need backup?”
Working Man frowned. “You can call in Unity, but unless it’s a life or death situation, don’t fight. You’re not going to get much help out of Unity tonight. We’re expecting people in powered armor and mercs with powers to be working with Syndicate L. We don’t know how many, but maybe more than 20. We might be calling in for backup and that means that we might find ourselves calling in V8, Athletica, and maybe even the two of you. We’ve even notified the Michigan Heroes’ Alliance to have people on standby. That’s how big this is. So don’t do anything big. We should be able to handle Syndicate L with what we’ve got, but if not, you might find that there isn’t any backup.”
Even though I knew better, I couldn’t help but say, “Accelerando could be here in less than a minute and we could get anyone else from the Heroes’ League in less than fifteen minutes if we handled it right. The League’s a member of the Michigan Heroes’ Alliance, so we could even send people to help Unity, freeing local people up to help us.”
Working Man leaned in, towering over me, but close enough that I caught a hint of alcohol. “Absolutely fucking not! We don’t need to be fighting evil space horses, weird-ass giant heads, dinosaurs from alternate damn dimension, or superpowered Roman soldiers. Keep your people out of it. Do what you do for your team—find out where the bad guys are. Don’t think you have to solve the problem. Don’t run in.”
“Don’t be a hero,” I said.
“That’s right,” he said. “Don’t be a goddamn hero.”
Out of the corner of my Holly’s lips quivered as if she were trying to keep a laugh inside. Our eyes met and she covered her mouth with her hand and turned away.
“Got it,” I said, and followed Mateo out, bumping into the filing cabinet again as I took a step toward the door. We didn’t talk as we walked down the hall to the garage where we put on our helmets and got on our bikes.
As Mateo pushed the kickstand back, he said, “The bit about not being a hero was either ballsy or passive-aggressive. Maybe both.”
My motorcycle didn’t have a kickstand. It balanced perfectly whether or not I was there. “I don’t know what made me think to do it, except that he was almost saying it without help, so I didn’t have to do much.”
Through Mateo’s helmet, I could see him grin. “He’s always been wound a little too tight and sometimes he’s way too stubborn about certain things—not bringing in the Heroes’ League is one of them. I can’t argue with his reasons. As a group, we’re not ready to take on the Nine and I know I don’t want to be kidnapped to lure you into a trap. Still, he’s good at this. He knows Detroit and he’s got a heart for this work. With any luck, he may someday notice that other people are telling jokes.”
We rode the elevator up and drove toward Farmington.
“I could smell alcohol on him,” I said through the comm.
Mateo’s sigh was audible. “I noticed that too. His metabolism makes a difference. I’ve never seen him act drunk at work or make a mistake that I could trace to drinking, but I know. I worry about it too. I’ve brought it up with him. I didn’t get much of anywhere, but I told him that it worried me.”
I didn’t say anything for a little while. I didn’t know what to say. In the months that I’d been there, Working Man hadn’t ever been noticeably impaired or made any mistakes either. At the same time, it seemed obvious that something bad could happen someday—especially given what we did.
After riding down the highway for twenty minutes, my next words were, “Well, it looks like we’re here.”
Farmington looked more like a neighborhood in Grand Lake or the suburbs around it than the neighborhood of Detroit where the Motor City Heroes’ tower was located. It was a place of mowed lawns, Victorian buildings, chain stores, and signs letting you know that there was such a thing as the “Farmington Downtown Development Authority.”
It felt different from the near-abandoned blocks ten miles away.
Cars moved down the streets at a slower pace, but it wasn’t long before we pulled up in front of the house Athletica mentioned. It was a bungalow that had been converted into a business located across the parking lot from a church.
We pulled into the church parking lot, parking our bikes next to the house. Mateo looked at the house, his eyes following it from the porch in the front toward the back.
“I’m seeing signs of the same presence we saw in the parking garage and it looks like it’s not alone.”