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Authors: Jack D. Ferraiolo

Sidekicks (9 page)

BOOK: Sidekicks
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Phantom Trent keeps looking over at me as he drives. When he's acting like Trent but still dressed like Phantom Justice, I call him Phantom Trent … never to his face, only in my head.

“I'm fine.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Do I want to talk about it. Do I want to talk about my complete and utter failure to protect the single most important aspect of my job—the one thing above all others that I need to keep secret, and not reveal to ANYONE, least of all the sidekick to our most dangerous enemy, because it turns every norm I've ever known into a possible “hostage-to-be-used-for-leverage”? Do I want
to talk about how one of the prettiest and most intelligent girls in school is the sidekick to a criminal mastermind/sociopath, and yet still manages to be more popular than I am? Do I want to talk about how I'm actually a little excited by the fact that I'm probably going to see a lot more of Allison Mendes, even if this does lead to my death and the city's eventual destruction? Sure, I'll talk about it. Right after I figure out if I'm going insane or not, I'll talk about whatever you want.

“You know, you can't just go off half-cocked like that and start attacking people,” Trent says.

“Huh?”

“You attacked Monkeywrench before the fight started. You're supposed to wait for your cue.”

“Oh. Right. That.”

“Yeah, ‘that.' What else would I mean?”

I don't know … maybe our archenemies finding out our secret identities? “Nothing,” I say.

“It was reckless,” he says. “We hadn't had a chance to survey the scene. What if the warehouse was wired and one of them had a detonator?”

“You mean like that time you attacked Pocks?”

Phantom Trent shoots me an annoyed look.

Pocks was a plus/plus villain we faced off against
about four or five times. Now, we've gone against some serious mouth-breathers in our time, but Pocks made the dumbest of them look like Stephen Hawking. First of all, the name: Pocks. He intended it to be Pox, like “a pox on your firstborn” kinda thing. It's a horrible name, any way you slice it. I mean, who still uses the word
pox
? But then, he made things worse by spelling it P-o-c-k-s, because that's how he thought it was spelled. So that's what he had printed on his business cards. That's right. Business cards. He even stopped in the middle of one of our fights to hand me one. I still have it. It says, “Pocks—Agent of Mayhem! A Pocks on You!” He could have knocked me out right then and there, because I just kept staring at the card, not sure what to do. He didn't touch me, though. He said he liked that I really read it … that I let it all sink in. He didn't start fighting again until I had put the card in a safe place (he wanted to make sure I didn't lose it; they were kind of expensive to print).

So one day, about ten months ago, Pocks manages to score himself a boatload of explosives, which you know right from the start is not going to end well. He spends the whole night wiring up about half of the cars in a used car lot. Why a used car lot? We're still not sure. It's not exactly the first place a supervillain would think
to hit, which is maybe why he picked it. He didn't seem to realize that the reason supervillains don't hold used car lots hostage is because … well, who cares? They're used cars. Even the guy who owns the lot wouldn't care all that much if everything blew up; he'd get most of his money back in insurance … plus all that free publicity.

So, Pocks has half the cars on the lot wired with explosives when we show up. Phantom starts in with one of his “opening confrontation” speeches. Meanwhile, Pocks keeps saying, “You're early. You're early” (as if we were supposed to wait for him to finish wiring all the cars before we confronted him). After a little bit of awkward silence, Pocks starts talking about how we can't stop him, and if we even try, he's going to hit the button on his detonator and blow up all these cars. The problem? He can't find the detonator. He starts searching all his pockets, but it's not in any of them. He starts sweating, and looks like he's going to apologize to us at any moment … but he's still saying his speech, which has lines in it like “You can't stop me!” and “I'll blow us all to pieces! I don't care!” And I'm trying not to laugh because the threats are obviously meaningless without the detonator, which he still can't find. To tell you the truth, I felt kinda bad for him.

So, Pocks is yelling these meaningless threats at us,
and the more he does, the more pissed off Phantom Justice looks. Finally, Phantom loses his cool and rushes him. Pocks looks really surprised, like he expected us to wait for him to find the detonator before we did anything … like he was following some script that Phantom and I were supposed to have but didn't. So … Phantom picks Pocks up and throws him about thirty yards; he lands on his butt on top of one of the wired cars.

Now Pocks had checked his back pockets at least a half dozen times while we were listening to his speech, but he hadn't found the detonator. It must've been in one of them, though, because literally half a second after landing on his butt—
KABOOM!
Half the lot exploded, taking Pocks along with it.

It took them a while, but the police eventually found all of Pock's pieces.

“Right … Pocks,” Trent says, and even though the Pocks example proves his point, he seems annoyed that I brought it up. “You realize that we are all that's protecting the good people of this city from the clutches of evil.”

“Right … clutches.”

“What possible reason could you have had to justify breaking protocol?”

“I don't know,” I say. “I guess I just snapped. Probably
something to do with yet another person making fun of my costume.”

Phantom Trent sighs. “Back to the costume again. I thought we settled that.”

“No, you settled that. I'm still the one who has to live with the ridicule.”

“I thought we settled that, too.”

“Look, everyone is making fun of me. The kids at school, newscasters,
the villains
… EVERYONE. I'm sick of it. Can we PLEASE talk about a new costume?”

“We'll see.”

“That means no, doesn't it.”

“No, it means we'll see. Keep pestering me about it and it'll mean no.”

“Fine.” I slump in my seat and cross my arms. My mask peels off my face and falls into my lap.

“What happened to your mask?” he asks. “Why isn't it sticking to your face?”

“I might've gotten some dirt on it.”

“Well, you really ought to check those things before you go out. What if it had fallen off during the fight?”

I don't say anything. I turn to stare out the window, hoping Trent doesn't see my reflection in the glass. I was never good at keeping a poker face.

“It fell off during the fight, didn't it?” he says.

“Not exactly. She pulled it off.”

“She?”

“Yeah. Turns out Monkeywrench is a girl.”

Trent slams on the brakes and pulls the car over. “What happened back there?”

“Can we talk about this later? We're kind of conspicuous out here—”

“Tell me what happened.”

I take a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “We were fighting on top of one of the warehouses and the roof gave way. We fell like forty feet. I'm OK, really … thanks for the concern.” He doesn't say anything, so I continue. “When I got up to check on Monkeywrench, I saw that her mask had come off.”

“What happened to yours?”

“Well, after I saw her, she flipped out and attacked me. I thought she was trying to kill me. She wasn't. She was just trying to—”

“Get to your mask,” he finishes.

“Yeah. ‘Mutual assured destruction,' she said. I tell people who she is, she'll tell people who I am.”

“She's smart. I'd expect nothing less from our main adversary.”

“Right.”

“So the girl is someone you know?” he asks.

“Yeah, I go to school with her. She's in my grade. I have a few classes with her.”

“Hm.”

He turns the wheel and hits the gas. We take off again.

“You don't seem that upset,” I say.

“Being upset about it is a waste of energy. Instead, we need to figure out where to go from here.”

There's a long pause.

“Soooo, what do I do?” I ask.


You
shouldn't do anything. As long as you don't tell, she won't tell, either. She can't.”

“But what if she does?”

“Well, then we'll have to do something drastic, won't we?” There's an odd tone to his voice, almost as if he's smiling when he says it.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing. Listen, this could actually be a good thing. We might able to use this to put an end to Dr. Chaotic's reign of terror once and for all.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You two have to stay close to each other now, if for no other reason than to make sure that the other one isn't plotting something.”

“OK … uhh … So, I'm supposed to go to school tomorrow and pretend like nothing happened?”

“No. You're going to pretend that you didn't tell me or anyone else anything about this,” he says. “You're going to get to know her. You're going to get close to her … become friends with her. She's going to get comfortable with you … then one day she's going to slip up … get a little
too
comfortable, and accidentally reveal some important piece of information … and … Wham! That's when we've got them.”

“OK, I guess. But … um … you know I'm not exactly great at making friends.”

“I know. Louis has expressed some concern.”

“Yeah, so … what if I just turn her in?”

“And let her give up your identity?”

I nod. “It would end their reign of terror, wouldn't it?” I say. I don't tell him that at the moment, I don't think giving up my identity would be that big a loss.

“Yes, except that you wouldn't just be giving up your own identity; you'd also be giving up mine, and who else would keep darkness from engulfing the city?”

“Yeah, but … couldn't we figure something out? Maybe get new identities or something?”

Trent turns to me. “You don't get it, do you? Once your identity is compromised, it'll be leaked to every news source in the world. Pretty soon your name and face will be beamed across the globe. Everyone will know who you are, what you look like, who your friends and relatives are, what you ate for lunch in the fourth grade, for heaven's sake.

“Not to mention, every criminal will know who you are,” he continues. “And those vermin will do whatever they can to hurt you, or gain leverage against you. And the best way for them to do that would be to threaten your loved ones, from the past and the present … the people in your personal life who can't defend themselves against the power of evil.”

“No, I know.”

“Are you willing to put a bull's-eye on every person you know?”

“No, of course not,” I say.

“Then you need to do your job and get over your shyness, or whatever it is. You need to do what is necessary.”

“I didn't say I wasn't going to try,” I say. “I'm just not sure I can succeed. I don't even know where to start.”

“Don't make the first move. If you go to her, she may
feel like you're coming after her. Let her come to you. And when she does, just play it cool.”

I almost laugh. Play it cool? Don't you have to be cool to play it cool? Does Trent even know me?

“Pretend like the whole bad-guy/good-guy thing is just a game to you,” he says. “That you don't really do it out of any moral obligation or sense of justice. You're in it for the thrills.”

“Right … OK … thrills …”

“You can do this, Scott. Just remember, there are lives at stake.”

I try to give Trent a confident smile, but it comes out more like a grimace.

“All right,” he says. “Good soldier.”

I spend the rest of the ride home staring out the window. For the first time since I was a little kid, I find myself wishing for a completely different life.

BOOK: Sidekicks
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