The moment paramedics had freed her, the thief began taking dizzy swings at her rescuers. She groaned with each strike of her fair skin. David grabbed Cicada-Man’s passing arm once faux-Portia had finally been restrained.
“Ingrates! Perverts!” she howled. “Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!”
David glanced Boipelo catching a giggle before it escaped. A distracted man in dark cargos and t-shirt brushed up against her gurney before stumbling away, high hands up.
“Cease your talk, Beheld!” cried Cicada-Man. “That herring on your wrist won’t save your master for long!”
“Oh, you think you can name me, nosebleed-“
The ambulance doors shut on her, though she shouted behind polished windows. The cop with the taped-on eyebrow, leaning against the 7-11, muttered, “Gingers,” before the wail of the flashing lights began and the van drove towards harsh sunlight.
Cicada-Man turned to face David. “I have christened Beheld after the phrase ‘Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder.’ As she becomes the epitome of fairness to all who see her, we are the beholders, and she is beheld.”
“… do you do that often?”
“Of course! As you have bestowed my name, so must I identify the evils of this world. Why, not long before we met, I fought a man who could create entire galaxies and put them in your head, rendering you oblivious to the world around you. He offered it as a service to any sloth with a coin. Henceforth, I named him, ‘The Escapist,’ and he thanked me for such an appropriate moniker before I kicked him through an interdimensional portal.”
A cop with flowing red hair tapped the superhero on the shoulder and swatted his hand away at David. Holding his head, the sidekick stumbled over to the 7-11 curb and sat down, stretching sore arms and legs until each one gave out a crack. As Cicada-Man stretched, throwing out his hands with each loud description of the chase, David heard the scruffling of clothes and the clunk of a belt next to him.
“I had my doubts” Boipelo was now on the curb, accompanied by an aroma of latex, and she smiled.
“I hope we- didn’t go too far- this time.”
“Are you kidding me? Your wacko friend saved me a lot of gas.” She rotated to watch Cicada-Man do lunges as the square-jawed cop inched away from him. “It’s not often a puzzle saves you time instead of taking it.”
They minded the parade of cars under the lamppost banners for a while before Boipelo stated, “So I never finished my couple of things.”
David only gave a small nod.
“I suppose you’ve noticed your new friend is very religious.
Now, we’ll forgive him for that, but this occasionally gets the best of him. And though he stays in the law when making arrests, that doesn’t mean his record’s clean.”
“Right, right. On June 24th, I want you to keep your friend busy and off Broadway, Halsted, and Belmont.”
Boipelo sighed, “Pride Parade.”
“Pride Parad-“ It took some time for David’s eyes to widen and fists to tremble. “You can’t be serious.”
“Well, no one can be all good all the time. He screams at them, someone fights back, we charge him with disorderly conduct and slap a fine on him. The rest of the force has less patience than me on this.”
“You can’t-“ David glared at the limbering vigilante, then whispered “You couldn’t tell me before I pledged my service to him that I was working with a homophobe!”
“And now I’m stuck with him! You really think I can talk a bigot out of his ways!? And, guess what, now everyone’s seen me with him, and just by association, they’re going to brand me one too!”
“Your friend isn’t branded one.”
David’s mouth hung open as he extended his right arm out. “You just told me!”
“His costume is. If he ever takes the thing off, he wouldn’t be. You’re not using plastic surgery to disguise yourself.”
David rested for a bit, chin on fist, until he stood up and crossed over scatterings of gravel and glass to the neatly folded pile of neon-green and blue clothes. The grey bushel of fake hair rested in the center. He took it and placed its sweaty strands over his mouth, then walked to the Burrito Beach window and stretched his neck to the upper right. In the reflection, he saw Cicada-Man approach, his mud-layered arm straightened out and held by his left hand.
“It looked better on me,” said Cicada-Man before letting out a laugh.
David muttered, “I need a disguise. You know, enemies and secret identities and such. Plot of every other comic.”
“Quite right you are. It is the fate of all heroes who seek to become a symbol of good. Our time to deal with those circumstances will come,” he said gravely. “In the meantime, you will need to return the mustache and the clothes to its rightful owner.”
David’s bones creaked as he walked the mound over to the man, who snatched it up and held it to his shivering chest. Boipelo intercepted him right afterwards. “So what does Concerne- your friend mean by ‘Beheld?’”
“Name of that appearance-shaping girl. It’s probably some rogue government experiment or something.”
She held in a grin. “Rogue government experiment. You’re starting to sound like him.”
David put his hands in pockets and took in the burnt rubber and bakery scents around him.
“Look, David, if it’s that much of a problem, no one’s keeping you here. Your help was nice, but it turns out we could’ve handled it.”
“I promised him, though.”
“Bullshit. You’re getting something out of this, unless you have a death wish or something.”
David put his right leg behind his left and looked down. “I… I admire…”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Look, if I wanted to die, I would’ve done it already, right?” He compressed his shoulders while looking up at Boipelo’s smothered forehead.
A thick hand slapped David’s shoulder and twitched its fingers. “Are you ready to keep going?”
David turned around and panted out, “We haven’t done enough for one day?”
“Do we not still stand?” Cicada-Man extended his arms to the sunlight in the cramped streets and lofts ahead, each pedestrian voice below bringing a new rhythm to the din. The bright sky had no blemishes. He pivoted so that David could see a caked reddish-brown steam down the masked man’s cheek and to the edge of his lip. “When we have so much to offer this world, why hold any of it back? We are to prove that good is limitless, and evil will shrink under the forces of G-“
“…fine, we’ll go.”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s cool. Let’s go.” David sighed before beginning lurching steps towards the immense skyscrapers ahead.
Once they had reached the first beggar, Cicada-Man pulled out a lump of gravel and lettuce in a torn ziplock bag, then declared that they must return to his lair to replenish. David, however, had to wait in an alleyway for a half-hour until his master deemed he could emerge safely.
“Do not think I do not trust you,” Cicada-Man avowed to the slouched, sticky man in jeans. “But I have made enemies out of telepaths, and vital information like this must be as contained as possible.”
All the other beggars, passerbys, gigglers, and drunks were blurry as the sun crawled down. David’s throat was a sponge. Even when seeing a tall man talk down a jasmine-scented woman (a lover’s quarrel, found out after Cicada-Man made them tremble), David leaned on a wall and shut eyes when not walking. Around the time cars proliferated and the first headlights began, a teenager with thick legs and chapped lips stopped David before he passed.
“I just want to say you’re very brave for joining his cause.” He had hair like David’s and greasy breath.
David mumbled, “Everyone’s a hero, I guess.”
“Well, not necessarily the superhero part, but for standing against the ev-“
“Ali, we are still making our rounds.”
Ali turned to Cicada-Man, with wide eyes. “I’ll see you on Sunday, then?”
“If time permits. You seem busy yourself with your Sanctity of Marriage Organization. The bulletin is proud of you.” A smile flashed from him. “You two would find good company, I think.”
Ali had his hand extended once Cicada-Man began walking again, but it crawled back to his side under David’s glare. He took quick, scattered steps away.
David had emerged from his train back to the colorful houses of same size at night, wiggling himself within the insulated jacket. The air was less cold than this morning, but weighed heavier on David’s head this time. It took until two blocks past loud preteen gatherings and a desolated school playground for David to feel a tingle on his thigh.
He pulled out the phone: Above ‘8 Missed Calls’ read ‘Mom.’
Now his legs could hustle.
Copyright (C) 2013 by Nick Edinger