Episode 6

The business sector, downtown Gargle City

Dirt Man was ecstatic. At last, after days of mind-numbing despair and futile wandering about Gargle City’s downtown shopping district, the impossible had happened: a sidekick had just randomly found him. Not only that, but the kid appeared to think that Dirt Man was pretty cool. Of course, Dirt Man was pretty certain that this would change after they had spent a little time together, but for the moment he was savoring it.

There was a street musician playing some sort of drum on the corner. Dirt Man gave him a huge smile, and the man immediately looked mildly suspicious and checked his hat to make sure none of his earnings had wandered off.

Sam, who was walking his bike along slightly behind Dirt Man, felt a little forgotten.

Suddenly Dirt Man stopped short, and turned to Sam.

“Hey, sidekick,” he said. “I just realized. Are you the sort who lives two lives, the life of the super hero and then your normal, everyday life? Or are you someone who doesn’t care about a secret identity and all that?”

“Isn’t the whole point of being a super hero that no one knows your true identity?” asked Sam. “I mean, if the enemy knows who you are then they’ll do stuff to your friends and family and stuff to manipulate you.”

Dirt Man thought about this. His family had disowned him years ago, and the concept of friends was one which he thought sounded pretty cool in theory but was probably impossible to put into practice. Besides, the primary reason to become a super hero was to escape the banalities of humdrum life and make an important difference in the world.

Or at least that was what Lesson 1: “So You Want to Kick Some Villainous Butt” of the Happy Hero(ine)™ Correspondence Course had said. To be honest, Dirt Man was a little fuzzy on the exact meaning of the word “banal.” He thought it might have something to do with ritualistic human sacrifice, and he had decided long ago that down that road lay trouble.

“Eh,” said Dirt Man. “I figured that I like the super hero me better than that other me, so I scrapped my real identity as soon as I landed this job.”

“Oh,” said Sam. There really wasn’t much else to say.

“Look,” said Dirt Man. “I need to report in to the Commissioner, let him know that I broke up those muggers, and give him a heads up that I’ve got a sidekick now. You willing to let him know your real identity, or should I wait to introduce you?”

“I better get home,” said Sam. “Mom’ll be worried enough as it is.”

“Alright,” said Dirt Man. “You have a pen?”

Sam handed him one, and Dirt Man wrote down the name of his trailer park. “That’s Dirt HQ. Why don’t we meet Saturday so we can figure out what to call you, get a proper super hero suit together and whatnot.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Sam, and he turned his bike around, hopped on, and rode off down the street.

* * *

The Commissioner was just packing his briefcase when Dirt Man walked through his door. Immediately his day got exponentially worse.

“What are you doing here?” asked the Commissioner, eyeing some of Dirt Man’s newest earthy additions to the DirtSuit™.

“You won’t believe this,” said Dirt Man, smiling smugly, “but I just intervened in a mugging and recruited a sidekick.”

As he had predicted, the Commissioner didn’t believe him. “Right,” he said, and packed a last sheaf of papers carefully into his briefcase. “Well, if you’ll excuse me I’m coming off the clock and would like to get home.”

Dirt Man looked at the Commissioner in annoyance. “No, I’m serious,” he said. He pulled up his sleeve. “Look, I’ve got a large, wrench-shaped bruise to prove it.”

The Commissioner looked down at his closed briefcase and sighed slightly. “Dirt Man,” he said. “I realize that you want to impress me with your exploits. But all bruises aside, I see no sidekick, I see no muggers, I see nothing but you.” The temptation to add “nothing but you standing here wasting my time” was strong, but the Commissioner’s diplomatic senses prevailed.

Dirt Man looked relieved. “Is that all? The muggers are unconscious in an alleyway; I’m sure the police will have picked them up by now. And my sidekick didn’t want to risk letting his real identity leak out.”

“You beat up some muggers and then just left them in an alleyway?” said the Commissioner. “I can’t believe it. If you actually did break up a mugging, why didn’t you take them to the police yourself? Don’t you realize that the odds of them getting randomly picked up are slim to none, particularly when they likely look like they’ve just been the victims of a crime?”

Dirt Man shifted his weight uncomfortably. He hadn’t thought of that.

“Listen to me,” said the Commissioner. “I do not have any missions or information for you. And no, no vehicle!” he continued as Dirt Man opened his mouth, and then shut it with a slightly guilty look on his face. “As far as I’m concerned you can sit in your trailer and wish for an actual, flesh-and-blood sidekick to come your way until your face turns blue. But until you have an actual sidekick or at least some knowledge of how the real world works here in Gargle City, I don’t want to have you darken my door. And I’d prefer if you left law enforcement to the people who are paid to do it. Half-bit heroics aren’t your style.”

The Commissioner sat back contentedly. He’d improvised that last bit, but he figured it was sure to strike a key. All super heroes were unbelievably full of themselves. Thought they individually would rid the world of evil, and all manner of other pure crap.

“Hmm,” said Dirt Man noncommittally. In point of fact, half-bit heroics were his style, according to the Find Your Heroic Style in Ten Minutes or Less quiz from Lesson 7 of the Happy Hero(ine)™ Correspondence Course, but he would rid the world of all evil before he would ever admit that to the Commissioner.

“I guess I’ll just have to prove it to you,” said Dirt Man, and stomped out of the office.

The Commissioner considered Dirt Man’s retreating back, then opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out Chicken Soup for the Bureaucratic Soul. He needed a bit of a pick-me-up; his wife hated it when he came home angry.

* * *

Sam whistled slightly as he sewed. He’d been collecting bits and pieces for a uniform ever since he had seen that special about the Happy Hero(ine)™ Corporation. He knew he didn’t have what it took to be a super hero, but he’d been taking some martial arts classes and he figured he was just about perfect sidekick material.

More importantly, his image at school could use a boost, and a careful slip of the tongue could give him a quick jump up the social standings. Just as soon as he had a few victories under his belt, he’d have to start thinking of the best way to feed some information to the high school rumor mill…

But for now he needed a costume. He held up the shirt he had been working on and smiled broadly. Life was about to get very, very good.

* * *

In one of the many bars dotting the industrial areas of town, a man nursed a beer and his bruises, silently fuming. His extremely large and bushy eyebrows were drawn down so far over his eyes that all the other customers had surreptitiously located themselves at the other end of the bar. One man, however, finally approached him and sat down on a stool nearby.

“Bad day?” he asked, glancing over. The man with the eyebrows grunted. If only that idiot hadn’t distracted him, he wouldn’t have had to be knocked around by the girl. Damn females these days were taking too many self-defense classes. Not that her pepper spray helped the situation any.

He glanced over at the man who had just sat down next to him. Big guy, looked to be working class. Bit of a beaten up jacket, flannel lining typical of loggers and the occasional trucker who came through town. “Whaddaya want?” said the man with the eyebrows.

“Well now,” said the man in the jacket, his moderately bloodshot eyes scanning the room. “I may well have a job opportunity you’d be interested in.”

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