“Gah! Fuck you! You’re going to burn in hell for that!”
Wilbur cackled mischievously as he shrunk the field with lightning. He had just come back from a board meeting – for some inexplicable reason, they had become infatuated with Fritz’s toaster – and decided to pass the next few hours with Mario Kart. He crushed the CPU on the way to second place, but Nisa still ended up crossing the finish line first.
“Hey, I just took Waluigi out for you, you could be a little grateful,” Wilbur remarked before making a tsk tsk noise.
“Yeah, you’re still an asswipe.” She was trying not to laugh.
“Such colorful language! This must be where Jessica gets it from.”
“She’s a grown woman, she’s responsible for herself.”
Wilbur was so focused on launching from the start line perfectly that when someone knocked on his penthouse door, he leapt from the seat. “Jesus!”
Nisa herself jumped a little at that.
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I don’t like loud noises.”
She let her eyes flicker over to the door, so Wilbur hurried over and answered. Fritz was there with a very large box. He didn’t bother asking permission to come in, nudging Wilbur aside and placing it by the window.
“Hi Willie! Here’s your stupid bulletproof clothes. There’s five sets in there, so they should last you a good while. Do your best not to get blood on them.” He straightened out and wiped his hands off. “Where’s my raise?”
“Put your hand out.” Fritz did so, and Wilbur slapped his hand. Fritz punched his shoulder. “You’re fired.”
“Woohoo, severance pay!” Fritz noticed Nisa sitting on the couch and gave her a wave. “Hi Nisa! Are you getting this one to behave?”
“I don’t think there’s a big enough carrot in the world to do that,” she called out.
“So.” Fritz wiped his eyebrows. “When are you going out next?”
“Uh.” Truth be told, he’d almost forgotten about the task he’d been given Fritz the past several days. “I – don’t know. Honestly… Wasn’t sure if I was going to.”
Fritz looked both deflated and relieved. “So you mean I did all that for nothing?”
“I’ll pay you a commission, honest! It’s just. The whole Skinnyman debacle is not what I was expecting.”
“Well I don’t know what you were expecting,” Fritz mumbled.
Mouse got up off the couch and approached them. “Hey. You’re not blaming yourself for Ryan, are you?”
“What?” Wilbur shook his head. “No. He would have shot them up anyways as soon as he found his sister.”
“Good. Those sick bastards deserved what they got anyways.”
Maybe. But Wilbur didn’t feel it was anyone but a juror’s right to decide that. “Let’s just hope he’s skipped town and that’s the end of that.”
Fritz shook his head. “If anyone should be blaming themself, it’s me. How did I not see the signs? I knew he was on edge, but going full Rambo? The cops rightfully put my ass through the wringer.”
“The whole hero thing is a mess,” Wilbur said, taking one of the seats at his kitchen island. “I don’t know. Maybe you were right. Maybe I haven’t been the same since mom and dad died. I should have just stayed at the benefit and taken my lumps.”
“And you should have called me while in Europe.” Fritz looked like he was trying to smile, but the sudden bleak mood put an end to that.
Nisa wasn’t having any of it. “Oh come on! You kept Jessica from getting beaten by the mob. You saved Jeff and everyone else in that warehouse. You kneecapped the Vitellis. Were able to get those test subjects from the factory put out of their misery. Shortcircuit has only been in the city for what, two weeks, and he’s already made a difference. If you want to give him up, you need to make that choice on your own, but don’t feel pressured by not having done enough, because that’s a crock of shit.”
Wilbur glanced over at Fritz, certainly expecting him to say something. Instead he just shrugged. “Don’t look at me, I just work here.”
“I guess it did feel pretty good to rescue those people.” He leaned back in the seat. “Jeff said something about registering a hero team with the city. I can’t do this alone, not long term. But maybe, if I set a proper example, more will follow.” A period of silence followed, and Wilbur between his friends, tapping his thighs. “Yep. You guys are Shortcircuit’s support. Isn’t this great?”
Fritz began to pilfer through the fridge. “Yay. Woohoo. I need a drink.”
“I just want to see you happy, Wilbur.” Nisa paused to think. “You really wanna cripple the Italians?”
“Hey, that’s racist.” Wilbur got out of his seat. “Kidding. What’s up?”
“The Cortez Cartel operates out of Braun Construction out in the Devil’s Handbasket. Word is they mix drug bags with concrete powder and such and deliver them from there. Sure, the Mexicans can take the loss of one operation, but the Vitelli branch of the Mafia is on its last legs. They may well decide it’s too costly to do business in Blackburn anymore.”
“Sounds good to me.” He pulled a knife from a kitchen drawer and began cutting up Fritz’s box. “I like my head on my shoulders, so I’ll hang back and gather evidence for BPD or the DEA or whoever. Jeff told me to be a good boy after all.”
Nisa nodded. “Good luck and stay safe.”
“I second that!” Fritz called out. “Ugh, so much beer in here. Tasteless…”
“I’ve got to call Jessica,” Nisa continued. “Then,” she gestured towards the TV. “I’m gonna keep breaking your heart.”
When Wilbur headed out that night, he was feeling a rush of confidence. The first outings of his budding hero career had been rough, sure, but Nisa was right. He had helped a lot of people already, and without losing life or limb. If he kept his nose clean and kept getting criminals off the street, he’d bring the hero scene to Blackburn in no time.
The Devil’s Handbasket had in past times a reputation as a blue-collar Irish neighborhood. It still was, in part, but the neighborhood had seen a large influx of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in the late 90s and early 2000s, along with other groups in smaller numbers. Just like the Irish, a law-abiding majority brought with them a seedier underbelly.
No seedy underbelly of any stripe seemed to be out in the open, though. Just groups of friends, drifters and old ladies with their dogs. Even they seemed to be out in less force than usual.
“Hey Mr. Circuit!” A man was standing further along the sidewalk with his cell phone out. “Can I take a quick pic with ya?”
“Well, I’m actually on a secret mission right now, but I can make your day real quick.”
“Sweet!” He slide into the selfie’s frame and threw an arm around Wilbur. “Quick, strike a pose.”
Wilbur froze up. What was he supposed to do! He’d only been doing this a few weeks, he didn’t have a signature move. The photograph caught him pinching his chin in thought.
“Alright, contemplative. My kids are gonna love this.”
“Hey, are you from around here? This neighborhood I mean,” Wilbur asked.
“Do you know where Braun Construction is exactly?”
“Um.” The man turned and pointed down the street. “Keep going down until you get to the insection, make a left down Palmer Street, it’ll should be on that street, can’t remember if it’s left or right.”
Wilbur nodded. “Works.” He gave a salute. “Thanks, citizen.”
Braun Construction had a pleasant looking office space facing the street. As Wilbur trailed the fence around to the rear, however, it became apparent the facade was flimsy. A group of men were speaking frantically in Spanish. They hadn’t seen him, but something was bothering them nonetheless.
“<-shore up defenses->”
“<-do you think he’s still out?>
“<-not scared of that motherfucker->
Were they talking about him? All he’d done was walk down the street! Nonetheless, he wasn’t going to ask them. The area was flat and open, with only some wooden stacks and trucks to hide behind. Any direct confrontation would likely end with him becoming swiss cheese. Using a truck on the opposite side of the fence as cover, he began to film the group. They were gathered around a delivery van, pairs of them emptying large white bags. Just one audible mention of drugs and he’d give the cops probable cause for a search warrant. Even the Italians weren’t this sloppy.
A siren went flying by, an occurrence so common in Blackburn it didn’t even register until a second, then a third, then a fourth and fifth. Now starting to feel uneasy, Wilbur checked the news. He read the top headline and nearly dropped his phone.
“You gotta be shitting me…”