Driving home, Jack
saw a crude sign written on cardboard and nailed to an oak tree
near his house:
"Poison on gras!
Harmful too dogs. BeWARE."
The thin triangle of
land beneath the tree belonged to the city, leftover from when
the first subdivisions moved into and carved up the old farms
between the river and University Boulevard. The oak was a
majestic old thing, at least a hundred years old, that had been
left in place as the road was put down around it. Spanish moss
hung from its huge branches. Scraggly winter grass covered the
ground beneath it. Neighbors often let their dogs take dumps
there, and a few scofflaws were known for not cleaning up the
Jack pulled into his
carport. His stomach growling with hunger, he carried his
suitcase into the kitchen. Stan was straining hot pasta into a
blue colander at the sink. His nose was pink and his glasses
foggy. The heady aroma of garlic and tomatoes hung in the air.
"Who put up that
sign about poison?" Jack asked.
Stan carried the
colander back to a stainless steel pot on the stove. "Ward 6
Hero, last night. No welcome home kiss?"
"Hello." Jack kissed
Stan's grizzled cheek. Fifty-five years old, the two of them,
though most days Jack felt much older. He put his briefcase
down and shrugged out of his jacket. "What poison?"
"Some kind of
pesticide the city put down. It burned the paws of Janie
Napolitano's German Shepard. You know—Butch?"
"Dutch." Jack pulled
a beer from the steel-gray refrigerator. The kitchen was warm
and clean and modern, with black counters and gray cabinets, and
splashes of blue. All Stan's doing, of course. Jack wilted in
home improvement stores. "Not Butch."
Stan lifted the lid
from a pot of sauce. "And Mrs. Washington's little terrier, too.
corrected. His gaze focused out the window. "Ward Hero never was
able to spell very well."
"Still, I love
him." Stan tweaked Jack's nose. "Hungry?"
Go take your shoes
off and relax. Dinner in ten."
Jack put his shoes
and coat in the closet, swapped his teaching clothes for
sweatpants and a comfortable Gators jersey, and settled in the
den with the day's mail. Outside, another January evening
settled over North Florida and a brisk wind pushed leaves into
the St. John's River. He opened a thank you note from the
Lewises over on Clemson Street, tossed a reminder for the
monthly meeting over at Hero Hall, and pondered a letter from an
address he didn't recognize.
The reigning cat of
the house, Harrison, twined through Jack's legs and let out a
"So ignored," Jack
said, scratching one soft ragged ear. Harrison had seen his
share of fights and danger in the neighborhood. Sometimes he led
Ward Hero to children who needed to be pulled out of wells
(once) or lonely old men having heart attacks in front of their
TVs (twice, with a seven year lapse in between). He raised the
alarm if black widow spiders spun their way onto backyard swings
(twice for the Harper family and three times to the Shahs) or if
a carelessly discarded cigarette set the trash to fire (once,
three years ago, to the family renting the house at the corner
of Duke and Fordham).
Jack knew none of
this firsthand, of course. His body did the work under Ward 6
Hero's persona while his mind slept on, blissfully ignorant.
He only had the Chronicles for testimony. Twenty years of
leather-bound journals sat neatly on the shelves by the window,
each one labeled in the neat handwriting of Ward 6 Hero's
official companion, The Sidekick Kid. When the district began
requiring electronic reports, The Sidekick Kid had switched to
the Mac computer on the desk. Jack preferred the old-fashioned
way, ink on a page, over submission forms, text boxes, and
That was progress
for you. Damn progress, all around.
"Dinner's on!" Stan
"Coming," Jack said.
He opened and read the letter from the stranger, a Mrs. Alice
Waters of Elm Street. Afterward he put the letter aside. Her
lamentable situation was no job for Ward 6 Hero.
She had her own
Hero, wherever he was.
* * *
The one o'clock
class at the community college left Jack feeling strangely
exhausted. For years he'd taught literature in a fancy classroom
at the university, but those classes eventually grew too
painful. Few students read anything these days that didn't
arrive on a flashing screen accompanied by explosions, loud
music and headache-inducing special effects. Composition was
easier for him to teach and easier for them to pass, as long as
they turned in some semblance of work on time and attended
seventy-five percent of their classes.
Today's topic had
been dangling modifiers, one of his favorite pet peeves, but the
blank looks on his students' faces had told him they didn't
understand a word he said.
And he was tired of
trying to communicate. So very tired.
As the class was
letting out, a middle-aged brunette in a bright yellow sweater
and brown purse sidled through the door.
"Yes, that's me." At
first he thought she was one of the college faculty or staff,
but there was a hospital badge poking out of her purse. He
feared that something had happened to Stan. Wouldn't the
emergency room have called him, not sent a doctor or nurse?
"I'm Alice Waters. I
wrote to you?"
Jack let out a
worried breath and snapped his briefcase shut. The classroom was
empty but for two students lingering in the back. "I'm sorry,
Mrs. Waters. As I told you on the phone, I can't help you. Your
ward has its own Hero."
She nodded, her eyes
wide and mouth frowning. "Yes, I know. Michael Beamer. But he
hasn't put on his tights in months, Professor! He doesn't do
anything. And the situation's getting worse."
Jack moved past her
to the door. He couldn't quite remember the names of his
students—Shaniqua and Sharonda, perhaps. "Come along, ladies.
Time to lock up."
The girls dutifully
exited. Jack followed them to the cement sidewalk that
connected all the classrooms on campus. Mrs. Waters, close
behind him, said, "Your Ward 6 and my Ward 4 are only one street
apart, Professor MacKenzie. One street. But yours is well-kept,
and mine is going to seed."
"It's not up to me,"
he said as he coded the lock. "I wish it was. But everything is
handled by Hero Central. You can complain to them."
"I have! Believe
you me, Professor. But Mr. Beamer's uncle is very
well-connected, from what I understand. They've known about the
problem for weeks and haven't done anything."
Mike Beamer's uncle
wasn't just politically connected. He was second in command at
Hero Central, and had been responsible for Jack's demotion all
those years ago.
"Mrs. Waters, really
"I know there's all
this bureaucracy," Mrs. Waters said. "I know that you're not
allowed to cross ward lines under ordinary circumstances. But if
you know there's a problem and you don't do anything about it,
isn't that as bad as the people who cause the problems? That's
what I teach my children, Professor. And I don't know what to
tell them when they ask me why our neighborhood hero isn't doing
Jack was silent. The
sky was gray and overcast behind the palm trees. January was a
cold dreary month, even in Florida. Mrs. Waters appeared to be
the exact kind of upstanding, responsible citizen that heroes
were supposed to help.
"I'll talk to Mike
Beamer," he finally offered.
Mrs. Waters shook
his hand. "Thank you! Thank you very much."
He regretted the
promise almost immediately, of course. Regretted it during a
two-hour faculty meeting in which Ph.D. holders were instructed
on how to order pens, and regretted it on the drive home through
heavy, wet traffic. Stan, who was working on a new freelance
project for a bank, looked up from his coding when Jack told
"I'm glad you agreed
to help her," he said. "I've heard stories about what's going on
over on Elm."
"You know. The same
things she's talking about. High-volume drive-by traffic.
Different cars parked outside every night. Beer cans on the
lawn. There's a pit bull in the yard that worries the
"You never told me."
rested lightly on the keyboard, the coding forgotten. Carefully
he said, "Ward 6 Hero knows. But he won't cross official lines,
just like you."
Jack made a
non-committal noise and went off to fix himself some hot tea. It
was his turn to cook dinner, which meant they'd been eating
pizza brought by the nice man from Pizza King. First he looked
up Mike and Kate Beamer's number in his Hero Directory.
The phone rang and
rang with no answer and no voicemail.
Later, after he'd
graded eleven essays and flunked three of them, after Stan was
done with his freelance work and the house was quiet around
them, Jack opened the bedroom closet. His and Stan's uniforms
hung side-by-side on white hangers. Dark pants, waterproof
jackets, comfortable shoes. When Jack had first started, tights
and a cape had been mandatory. The dress code had changed years
ago, thank goodness. Jack had never felt comfortable in green
tonight?" Stan asked, yawning, as he hugged Jack from behind.
"No." Jack closed
the closet door. "Not tonight."
* * *
When he woke the
next morning, two of the uniforms were dirty and Stan had a
bruise on his chin.
Jack demanded, cupping Stan's face.
"Mr. and Mrs. Slater
were at it again. The Sidekick Hero didn't duck in time."
"I don't like it."
Jack got ice from the fridge, fetched aspirin from the bathroom
and made a note to start looking again for property in the
countryside. Decades of selflessly sacrificing for the
neighborhood, and some angry drunk husband dared to throw a
punch at Jack's partner?
Stan took the
aspirin and ice and kissed Jack's fingers. "Stop looking like
that. Slater's just a guy with his own problems, and I'm sure
he's feeling bad about it this morning."
"Not bad enough,"
It didn't help
things that he couldn't reach Mike Beamer by phone, and when he
walked over to the Beamers' house no one answered the door. He
crossed more streets to Mrs. Waters' house on Elm. The houses
there were like Jack's, concrete tract homes with gardens and
square lawns, but many had gone neglected of late. The windows
all had drawn shades and junk littered several carports. At
mid-day on a Saturday, even given the drizzle, there were few
signs of life.
The house at the
corner of Elm and Pine, the subject of Mrs. Waters' concern, was
an obvious eyesore. The roof sagged and the lawn was nothing but
dirt and dead grass. Two barrels of garbage gave off a rancid
smell in the empty driveway. The pit bull chained in the side
yard was a dark, scrawny dog with jagged teeth and a fierce bark
that made Jack cringe. An open sore was weeping pus on its back
He used his cell
phone to dial Animal Control, casually mentioned his hero
status, and waited a half hour in the rain for the officers to
arrive. They took one look at the dog, rang the doorbell without
response for ten minutes, and then cut through the fence to
confiscate the animal. The dog was anything but happy about
being rescued, and snarled and snapped under a muzzle as they
wrestled it into a cage.
The ruckus raised by
the dog brought a teenager with long-hair to the front door. He
had the glassy-eyed stare of someone who either hadn't slept in
days or was under the influence of illegal drugs, or maybe both.
Jack didn't eavesdrop on his conversation with the animal
welfare officers, but from the way the door slammed a moment
later, he guessed it hadn't gone well.
"Thanks for calling
this in," one of the officers said to Jack. "Hate to see a dog
suffer, even the vicious ones."
"What will happen to
"They'll try to
rehab him. Otherwise, he'll get destroyed."
Jack trudged off in
the rain. The next day he got a call from Mark Cho, the
Precinct 3 Hero.
"Mike Beamer is
complaining that you crossed wards," Cho said without preamble.
"You had a dog confiscated from one of his residents?"
"Jack MacKenzie did,
as a regular citizen." Jack was alone at home, folding laundry
still warm from the dryer. "Ward 6 Hero didn't have anything to
do with it."
"You used your hero
code when you called it in."
He rolled two socks
together. "No, I didn't. There's no code on the report. And even
if there was a code, it wouldn't be a case of crossing wards,
because every hero is honor-bound to report animal abuse
regardless of jurisdiction. Regulation 12.1.4, paragraph a."
A pause on the other
end of the line. Then Cho sighed. "Jack, what's going on? You've
got a beef with Beamer?"
"I don't have a beef
with anybody who does his or her job."
"Do me a favor. Come
to the meeting tomorrow. It's been a long time, Jack. People
will be glad to see you."
The doorbell rang,
saving Jack from having to make a commitment. When he peered
through the spyglass he saw the long-haired kid from Elm Street
standing in the weak sunlight poking through rain clouds. The
kid's T-shirt was plastered to his skin and had his arms folded
over his chest.
"You're the guy who
had my dog taken away," the kid said when Jack opened the door.
Jack replied, "I
reported an abused animal to the city. They took him away."
The kid's gaze was
fierce. "I was going to buy his medicine! I got my paycheck
"You can apply to
get him back."
"If I pay for his
license! And get his rabies shot." The kid wiped his nose with
the back of his hand but didn't break eye contact. "And for the
medical care they're giving him at the shelter. You know how
much that costs? I don't make that much."
"If you paid all
that money and got him home, would you really take care of him?"
Jack asked curiously. "It's cheaper to just get another dog."
"He's all I have
left from my—" the kid said, and then looked away.
The boy's name was
Ronald. Stan had brought up the property and rental records, and
cross-referenced them with the last city census. Ronald was
sixteen-years-old, his mother Jennifer was thirty-seven, and
there was no listed father. If Ronald was working for a
legitimate paycheck it was probably at a grocery store or
fast-food restaurant, where teenage laborers were in high
Jack said, "You have
two weeks to claim a lost pet from the city shelter. If you can
convince me in the next two weeks that you're a responsible pet
owner and can be trusted with the life of an animal, I'll settle
Ronald squinted at
him. "Screw you, mister. I'm not doing shit for you."
Jack waited until
the kid was at the end of the driveway and then he called out,
No answer. But then
again, he didn't expect one.
* * *
That night, Ward 6
Hero and The Sidekick Kid conducted their regular rounds. They
rescued a cat from a tree on Colgate, doused a casserole fire on
Mercer Circle, and took out the garbage for ninety-year-old Mrs.
Dee on Suwannee. If Ward 6 Hero stood ruefully on the edge of
the ward looking eastward toward Elm and Pine, it wasn't in the
Jack dragged himself
through classes that day, tired as usual after a night of
alter-ego heroics. Just because he had no conscious awareness of
the nighttime activity didn't mean he avoided the price. He
drank an extra protein shake and wondered how many more years he
had in him.
"You have as many as
you want," Stan said that night, after dinner, as they watched
TV and cuddled on the sofa. "We both do."
"Doesn't seem like
it." Jack checked the clock, then returned his attention to the
"I don't know what
you're talking about."
"You haven't taken
me out on the town in awhile." Stan poked him in the ribs. "I
could do with a drink or two with my handsome hero."
Hero Hall was a
two story brick building by the river. By the time they
showered, dressed and drove over, the parking lot was jammed
full and a spillover crowd was lingering in the misty chill of
the Riverwalk. Jack almost turned around right then and there,
but Stan persuaded him to at least get one beer. They waded
through the raucous main hall, where heroes and sidekicks sat
drinking out of steins while a polka band played loudly in the
corner. Bobby Barajas, in charge of the downtown Latino
district, was dancing with his wife in the middle of the dance
floor. Zhang Wen, from Chinatown, had his hand on the stage
microphone as if about to launch into a round of karaoke.
"There he is," Stan
Mike Beamer was
drinking alone at a table. The years hadn't been good to him.
His nose was red, his hair nearly gone, and he had a two-fisted
grip on his beer that made it seem like the most precious thing
in the world.
"I'm going to talk
to him," Jack said, but a hand snagged his elbow.
Mark Cho, his face
as wide and scarred as an antique frying pan, waved a cigar in
the air. "Jack! Glad you hauled yourself over. Time for that
beer, you and me."
apologetically at Stan.
Stan said, "Go on.
I'll keep myself amused."
Jack followed Cho
past the main bar to a windowless conference room lined with
black-and-white pictures of fallen heroes. Sitting at the table,
working his way through a plate of fish and chips, was Richie
Vito. He wasn't the Superintendent Hero of Northeast Florida,
but he was darn close to it.
"Jack, glad to see
you." Vito rose halfway out of his seat to offer a greasy
handshake, and then sat down again to tackle his meal. "I'm
surprised lightning didn't strike the minute you walked into the
place. Been a damn long time, hasn't it?"
Jack accepted a tall
glass of beer from Cho. "Maybe not long enough."
always welcome around here, you've always been, and it doesn't
matter what a few narrow-minded bastards thought a few years
back. Right, Mark?"
Jack didn't point
out that Vito had been one of the bastards. That Vito had said,
"No buggery, not if you want to be in charge of a precinct, not
if you want to be in charge of a district some day." And the
whispers and back-stabbing and double-crossing had reached the
point where Jack just didn't care about promotions. He had
Stan, which was more than enough.
"The thing is," Cho
said, speaking carefully, "Beamer's not doing his job. We know
he's not doing it. Anyone who drives down his street knows it.
We want you to take on Ward 4. Take it over."
Jack asked, "You're
giving it to me officially? In written orders?"
"Well, we can't do
that." Vito poured more catsup on his food. "You know his uncle.
It's sensitive. But if you clean up that problem on Elm and
Pine, the neighbors will see there can be a positive change, and
we can use that. As leverage. What do you say?"
"I can't make him
cross the ward lines," Jack said.
Vito gave him a
squinty look. "I hear you don't even talk to your hero anymore,
Jack. What's that about? I mean, sure, lots of guys give up
riding. But you don't even leave the guy a note once in awhile?
How's that make him feel?"
"I'm not worried
about he feels," Jack said. "We done here?"
"Think about it,
Jack," Vito said. "Clean up ward 4, earn some good karma
points, who knows what could happen?"
Jack left his
untouched beer in the room on his way out.
He searched the hall
for several minutes, passing old heroes and new ones, catching
snatches of stories and gossip that meant nothing to him. Dread
built up in him as he wondered where Stan could be. Finally he
found his partner in the parking lot, with an angry Mike Beamer
looming over him.
"It's okay," Stan
said, though he look relieved to see Jack. "We're just talking."
"Take two steps
back," Jack said to Mike.
"Both of you stay
out of my neighborhood," Mike said, his breath so boozy that
Jack's eyes watered. "I don't need your help and don't want
it. You hear me?"
fisted. "I said, back off. Or in a minute you're going to be
floating in the river. Got it?"
"Stay away," Mike
insisted, and lurched off toward his car.
"Stop that man from
driving!" Stan called out, and someone from the South District
intercepted Mike before he could drive.
On the way home,
Jack was so angry that his hands shook on the steering wheel.
"Kate left him,"
Stan said quietly from the passenger seat. "Not just as his
wife, but as his companion, too. Ran off with some other guy,
they say. He's been broken up for months about it."
"That's no excuse,"
Jack said. The idea of Stan ever leaving him made bile rise in
the back of his throat. He would never survive it; the days of
his life, not just his hero career, would be over.
Stan changed the
subject. "What did Cho want with you?"
Jack told him about
the conversation with Richie Vito.
"I've never told
anyone that you two don't talk," Stan said, when he was
finished. "You're the one who won't fill out the official
reports about how you and your hero relate."
said, "We don't have anything to talk about. He does his job,
and I do mine."
Stan reached over,
squeezed his hand, and said nothing.
* * *
The kid, Ronald,
knocked on Jack's door three rainy evenings later. He thrust an
"What's this?" Jack
"You wanted me to
"Who's this?" Stan
asked, appearing behind Jack. "Come on in. It's cold out there."
Jack was sure Ronald
would say no, but the kid surprised him by stepping inside.
While Stan rounded up some hot chocolate for them all, Jack
spread a sheaf of papers across the table. Some were magazine
clippings about caring for dogs. Others were articles on pit
bulls from the city newspaper. A few pages appeared to have been
ripped out of books.
"They said you were
a college teacher," Ronald said as Jack eyed the papers. He
stood in the corner, looking dirty and scrawny against the
moss-green walls. "I do good in school."
"Have you talked to
the shelter?" Jack asked.
"I visit every day.
Victoria's getting better, but she wants to come home."
Stan asked, "Who's
Jack answered, "The
shifted into something Jack rarely saw: judgment. "That's your
"She was my dad's."
Ronald started to chew on a dirty thumbnail, then dropped his
hand. "My mom, she used to help me take care of her. But now she
only does what Hickey says. He's her boyfriend, and he moved in
without them even asking me."
Jack gave Ronald a
careful look. He wondered what bruises might be under the worn
clothes, and how this man "Hickey" earned his living.
Ronald pointed to
the papers. "So? Did I do it right?"
"All these magazine
articles tell me what other people know," he said. "You haven't
proven what you know, Ronald. Write an essay."
"Nothing fancy. A
Ronald stomped off
in the rain looking disgruntled. That night, Jack left Ward 6
Hero a note:
"Visit Ward 4.
Don't do anything. Just watch."
The next morning, he
found a note in return:
"They nede another
Stan gave him the
report over breakfast. "Sixteen cars stopped for drug pick-ups
at that house on Pine and Elm between eight p.m. and midnight.
That kid Ronald was there, but he stayed in his bedroom.
There's also a house on Maple with guys coming and going at all
hours, and there are some squatters living in a foreclosed house
on Maple. Ward 6 Hero wanted to step in, but I reminded him that
you said just to watch."
Jack drank more of
his coffee and looked out at the lawn. "It's not our
"You can't have it
both ways," Stan said. "You want to help, help. You want to
stay out of it, stay out of it. But you're confusing everybody,
"There's nothing to
be confused about. We want to stay out of all the political
"Since when did
politics become more important than people to you?" Stan asked.
"More important than a kid?"
Jack didn't answer.
That afternoon, the
one o'clock class turned in first drafts of their analytical
essays. Jack flunked two for plagiarism, faulted another three
for using ridiculous fonts and margin sizes, and worked
steadily, cheerlessly through the rest of the batch with a cup
of cold coffee in the faculty lounge.
"I've got that
client dinner tonight," Stan reminded him on the phone. "I
won't be home until late."
"Are we okay?" Jack
A pause. Then he
swore he could hear Stan smile. "We're fine, Jack."
When he drove home
the carport was empty, the house and sky dark, and the oak tree
near his house had been uprooted in its little triangle park.
It almost looked like it had toppled under its own weight, the
torn roots thrust crazily toward the sky, but as Jack stood over
the fallen giant he could see that Ward Hero's wet cardboard
sign hadn't been crushed, but instead taken off the tree and
propped against it.
He knew when he was
being sent a message.
Jack went inside.
He poured himself a few thimblefuls of whiskey and open his
closet. After a long moment's consideration he donned his
uniform and stretched out on his and Stan's king-sized bed.
He closed his eyes.
A voice stirred in
Is that you?
No one else.
I've been alone.
You've had The
He has Stan.
I'm sorry. I got
tired. Let's go for a walk.
And for the first
time in a shamefully long time he felt Ward Hero lift his body
from the bed and go out on neighborhood rounds. Down Mercer, up
Colgate, around Clemson. All the streets in Ward 6 had been
named after colleges. On Fordham he was greeted cheerfully
by the Weavers, who were out walking their Chihuahuas. On
Suwannee he got a hearty hello from Ed Carter, who was taking
out the trash.
"If I've told the
mayor once, I've told him a dozen times. Best ward hero I've
"Thanks, Ed," Ward 6
"Not while I'm
Ward 6 Hero was
always working, of course. It was his job. The guy couldn't
spell, but he didn't take vacations, either. He didn't sit
around at night watching movies or playing computer games. He
did the jobs no one else wanted, and he couldn't even get a beer
out of it.
At the corner of Elm
they crossed into Ward 4. A green Trans Am was idling in front
of Ronald's house. A man emerged from the house and stuck his
head in the open passenger window. Ward 6 Hero flexed his fists,
and Jack sensed his impatience.
Take care of it,
Jack told him.
But you said not to
That was then. This
Ward 6 Hero strode
toward the Trans Am. "Evening, gentlemen! It's come to my
attention that you're engaging in illegal behavior that affects
everyone in this neighborhood—"
The man from
Ronald's house turned around and fled inside. The driver of the
Trans Am gunned his ignition and tried to drive off. Ward 6 Hero
blocked the road, stopped the car with his hands, and lifted it
so that the front wheels spun uselessly and the back wheels
burned rubber on the asphalt.
"Turn off your
ignition, please," Ward 6 Hero said.
"Don't listen to
him," another voice commanded.
Ward 6 Hero turned.
There was Mike Beamer, in his own Hero costume, looking
formidable and angry.
"You're in my
territory now," Beamer said, in the deep billowing voice of Ward
shirking your responsibilities, 4."
"Mind your own
Ward 6 Hero
carefully put the Trans Am down. The moment he did, Ward 4 Hero
rushed him. The impact sent both of them smashing into the
nearest utility pole, which toppled in a shower of sparks. The
two heroes grappled, punched and kicked, and behind the persona
of Ward 6 Hero, Jack was surprised at how good it felt to be out
fighting evil again, grappling with real evil, instead of
marking the hours by grading papers and correcting bad grammar.
His fistfight with
evil was abruptly ended by hands that pulled the two of them
"Stop it, you
idiots!" The Sidekick Kid was saying, loudly and with much
Beside Sidekick Kid
stood a female companion in a pink jogging suit and ball cap.
Ward 6 Hero said, "Kate?"
"Pink Sidekick," she
corrected, from where she held Ward 4 Hero against a white
picket fence. "What the hell do you two think you're doing?
Fighting each other when you're supposed to be protecting your
Jack felt foolish.
Ward 6 Hero mumbled, "He started it."
Ward 4 Hero said,
"You knocked down my
"You interfered in
Sidekick turned to her hero. "This isn't like you. You're
better than this."
"I was better," Ward
4 Hero said sheepishly. "Until you left me."
She sighed. "Kate
left Mike. I would never leave you. All you had to do was
The Sidekick Kid,
watching through Stan's kind eyes, tugged on Ward 6 Hero's
sleeve. "Come on. Let's go."
Ward 6 Hero glanced
toward Ronald's house. "But there's work to be done."
"We'll do it," Ward
4 Hero said, straightening his shoulders.
The Sidekick Kid
said, "Let's go home, Jack."
* * *
"You're sure, Jack?"
Jack smiled as he
put away the last of the clean dishes. It had taken a few games
of telephone tag to get the chair of his old department on the
phone. "Yes, I'm sure. No more composition classes for me.
Sign me back up for literature."
As he hung up,
Ronald walked the sidewalk with Victoria on a short leash beside
"Hey," Ronald said
when Jack met him in the driveway. "Victoria wanted to come say
hi. And thank you."
The pit bull gazed
up at Jack with doleful brown eyes. She was a gorgeous dog,
sleek and pretty in the February sunshine, but Jack kept his
Jack said. "But you're the one who did the work. It was a
pretty good essay, aside from the spelling, grammar and
"You can pet her.
She's totally a baby, especially now that she feels better."
said, "dogs make me nervous."
That earned him a
skeptical look. "But you're a hero!"
"Heroism comes in
lots of different flavors."
Victoria's ears. "Do you think I could be a hero someday?"
"You have to apply,"
Jack said. "And successfully complete the training. Not everyone
goes through with it, or likes it once the hero persona moves
into your mind. Most of the time the job is dull and routine."
"And some of it's
"Some of it's not,"
Ronald and Victoria
were gone by the time Stan returned home, looking disgruntled
after his afternoon meeting. Jack met him with a kiss and said,
"We've got reservations at Monte Carlo's. Dinner, dancing, fine
wine, chocolate desserts. I'm going to woo you until the wee
hours of the morning"
"Chocolate's bad for
your gout," Stan said.
Jack said. "Anything you want."
"What about the
neighborhood? Mrs. DeSoto's pacemaker might stop working
again. Or Mr. Garvey might go sleepwalking toward the river,
like he did last week."
"I asked the
district to send a substitute," Jack said. "I think Ward 6 Hero
and The Sidekick Kid have earned a night off, don't you?"
Stan gave him a long
hard kiss. "I love it when you talk like that."
* * *
dear Jack thankes
for talking to me again.
Dear Hero, thankes
for letting me.