"Hands on the wall, now!" the officer demanded, the heel of his left hand burying the side of my face into the scathing red bricks of the alleyway. I slung my left elbow through the air about where I'd expected his ribcage to be. No go.
I was sixteen at the time but my baby face could have convinced you I hadn't sprouted a single hair below my eyelashes yet. By the time they got me into booking you couldn't even tell I had eyelashes. The glare on the finger printing screen cast the reflection of a monster where normally my irritatingly cherubic features would peer back. Made sense. I wasn't a cherub anymore. I was a monster. Bloody and swollen, cracked teeth with intermittent empty spaces. That's the way I should have looked. I smiled at my reflection, flattered to be such a creature, and an ogre grinned back.
"You couldn'a paid four-hundred on the bond, Ma!" I screamed in the late night air after being released three months later, as I kicked at the locked back door to my mother's house. I banged and shouted over and over, spiting the neighboring houses that squeezed the privacy from my childhood home.
"Coulda!" she shrieked from her upstairs window. Her bedside lamplight was the only glimmer in the house. From its uninterrupted cast, I could tell she hadn't even gotten out of bed to respond. "I'm done wasting money on shitty investments, Carl. Get out of here before I send you back there!"
"Jesus Christ A’mighty, Ma!" I gave up my knocking, but shouted even louder. A chipped brown Hush Puppy pump careened from my shoulder. "The Hell!"
"Don't you do dat! Don't you take da Lowd's name in vain, y’understand me?" That got her off her ass. Nothing but a shadow stabbing from her window, a finger prodding toward me with every syllable she cast upon me, but I could feel her angry face--you'd know the one if you'd seen it--tearing me to shreds.
"Yeah, yeah. The Lord. Good ol' Lord. Be sure to thank Him next time you talk, Ma! We got so much to thank him for!"
"You get out of my yard!"
"You ain't got a yard, Ma!"
"I'm callin' the cops!"
"Call the fuckin' cops, I don't care."
"Why don't the both yous shut up before I call the cops, huh?" blasted some wannabe tough guy from one of the darkened windows staring down at me from the confines of their secret troubles.
"Why don't you come down here and I'll give ya’ reason, ya bitch?" I shouted toward the man, and anyone else. But I was already moving down the street, faster than my pride would admit.
"The hell happened to ya' voice, Gary?" I asked, with an asinine smirk, lighting a cigarette in a living room where such was clearly not allowed.
My older brother Gary was every bit the diamond everyone had made him out to be, opening the door to his convict little brother at three o' clock that morning. He went to the window overlooking a convocation of garbage surrounding the cans where it should have been. He opened and jerked his head toward it, pulling me from my seat with his inherent authority. "Do that out the window, at least, you little good-for-nothing," he said without a tinge of disrespect.
"Out the window at least," I mimicked in the most highfalutin, proper tone I could muster.
"See, you too could learn to talk right if you tried," he teased with a smile I probably didn't deserve. "Why are you here anyway? Ma kick you out?"
"Na, didn't have to. She just wouldn't let me back in." I hocked a loogie into the street, loudly gathering it in my throat with a crescendo blast that echoed nastily.
"Mmhm," he said returning with a glass of water I hadn't requested, extending it toward me and insisting with a nod that I take it. I did. "Second chances aren't guaranteed, Carl. You shouldn't have expected to get a--what, fourth, fifth chance?"
"Yeah, yeah. I know. The first guy to ever fuck up, right?"
"You're a kid, Carl. You've got time to change." I turned to protest, but the sincerity and compassion in his eyes took me by such surprise, I went dumb. He cared. I could see it in his eyes, he actually cared. Holy shit, how long had it been since I'd seen that look? "You need to change."
When the governor had instituted the "Supers" the scouts had gone after only the tip of the top. Trained officers with athletic background, such as Gary, were the ideal fit for the new outfit. For them, landing a college linebacker with a 3.8 GPA and a degree in criminal justice was like finding the Holy Grail.
Gary never had my sense of individuality, I think he would admit that, so finding himself in a position to become a valued, guided part of a greater whole was every bit as valuable a find for him as it was for the government. So he thought, at least. Guy like that would've been just fine any way he sliced it. The truth is, the only reason they started that program was because the governor was scared to death by the influx of costumed vigilantes running around thinking they were in a damned comic book. Worried people were going to cause more harm than good.
"I wanna see ya costume!" I garbled around a bite of cereal one morning that next summer. "What's it like? Ya wear the nut-huggers?" He glared at me from above his laptop, and tilted the screen even lower. He must've been working on some official business.
"You dooooo don'tcha?" I chuckled.
"Now as two words, please," he said with the patient irritation of a veteran grammar tutor.
"Don't you?" I reiterated with exaggerated enunciation and a hint of a British accent.
"Lovely," he glanced up with a pinched smile momentarily, then back down, "we'll make a lady out of you yet, Eliza." I had to work to not laugh at that, though I wanted to badly. Ever since I'd moved in, those moments when I could see him as a brother, not as some painfully righteous arm of the law, were so few. Even so, I wasn't going to laugh at a diss. He checked his watch, grunted, and closed up shop, crossing to the door in a flash. "
Time fo' ya--for your real life?" I taunted him once more for good measure.
"Mmhm. And you?" he asked, trying to resist the accusatory tone which belonged--and surfaced--in his voice.
"Gonna rob a bank or somethin' prob'ly."
He swung around and blasted me with his eyes. For a moment I feared my joking had gone too far, especially since I wasn't really joking entirely.
"Go-ing to rob a bank or some-thing pro-bab-ly," he said striking each consonant, especially the end "g"s, and stretching each vowel, for illustrative purposes only.
"Villains" loved the fact that they got an official title too. The city was booming with them just as soon as the Department of Super Tactical Operatives formed. For every fresh crop of do-gooders itching to live out a little boy's fantasy, there were three times as many lifetime criminals with much broader delusions of grandeur and the lack of scruples necessary to stretch for that brass ring as long as they needed to, no matter how many convictions and masked crusaders tried to stop them.
"Last crime you committed was almost a year ago," the brute made the computer screen between him and me look the size of a saltine. He was the kind of guy you expected to have out in the mess, doing the work, not sitting here auditioning Goons.
"Yeah, but I took out a cop," I lied. He ticked his eyes up at me, reminding me not to bullshit a bullshitter.
"Not what it says here." He twisted his lips, flared his nostrils, grunted, and tilted to the side as if maybe... Then, he shook his head, lips tightened against his top gum line. "You just ain't right for this outfit, ok kid. Come back once you've done some shit, arright? Actually done some shit."
I felt the baton whip the back of my knee cap and crashed to the ground, crumbling like the plasma screens I'd been carrying under each arm. I was almost as thrilled as I was in pain. Almost.
Finally, I thought, I'd have something to show on my résumé; some relevant, recent material for my résumé. I knew who to call for bail, Marty Hadlock. Couple of Goons I'd met told me that was the way to go: get locked up, call Marty, and he'd let you work off the bond, with interest of course.
"They give you your papers?" Marty asked, a stony face that moved slowly and monumentally as tectonic plates.
"Yes, they are all here." From his grimace, I saw that my brother's dialect coaching had already gotten the better of me and my thug-speak was deteriorating despite my efforts. He checked my file, breathed deeply through his nose as if he was already having serious doubts, then exhaled with his eyebrows bowing to inevitability.
"Well, two felonies, six total arrests since age thirteen... Hmmm... If they say you gotta be registered, you gotta be registered. Congratulations kiddo, you're almost a Goon. You know where the Office of Judicial Status Certification is?" he rambled off with unexpected clarity.
"Yes, I've been there." With my brother once, a few months earlier. Marty glared at me suspiciously, eyes that looked like they were capable of kicking my ass without the aid of the rest of his massive body. "I tried to cheat on my Goon Cert the first time," I explained with the best save I could conjure on short notice.
He laughed and slid the papers back to me. "Awesome. That's freakin' awesome!"
Gang, Outlaw, and Offender National Registry. GOON. They didn't include the R. Not because they couldn't afford to make the stamp one character longer or because the R wasn't an important part of the equation, but because they wanted to make good and damn well positive that you knew who you were to them.
Through the window to the next room I spotted Captain Righteous and Lady Lightning--no shit, that's how they were legally referred to--waiting in line, smiling, laughing, with their florescent spandex uniforms glistening beneath the steady glowing bulbs.
The dim light above my line, not forty yards from the beloved masked defenders, flickered wildly in the grimy casing, as if weeping over its dead counterpart, the dust of which hinted a not-so-recent demise.
Captain Righteous had been gone for about an hour when I reached the head of my line, and some kid with blond hair--a sidekick I’m sure--was grinning his way to the front of theirs. The hag behind the counter on my end of the glass checked my paperwork, stamped my page without looking at my face, and shouted, “Next!”
GOON, the large red imprint reminded me, as if I could ever forget. But it's what I wanted. Right?
I folded the paper into a tiny triangle and headed down the hall. The brightness shining through the windowed doors from the street felt daunting and cold. It wasn't for me. Not anymore, I knew.
"Well, I'll be damned!" I turned to find a grinning titan in an orange Lycra onesie and a yellow cowl that covered everything above his upper lip. This, I recognized after the initial shock, was Crime Crusher--I don't make these up, ok--from the news. He was the cream of the cream, the man for the job, let me tell you. If a big Villain had come down, he'd been “Crushed.” End of subject.
"Well, brother man, aren't you full of surprises!" Crusher said crushing me with a bear hug.
"Gary?" I felt my face scrunching around my eyes in disbelief, as if the bridge of my nose had been sucking on a lemon. I still have no idea what he was saying as he, essentially, carried me into the next office, nor do I know how my hand wound its way to my mouth, pressing the triangle of judgment in for safe keeping, as I managed to submit a few mumbled "Mmhm"s of confirmation to whatever he was talking about.
There was a line in the room. I mean, there was a line, but Captain Crusher didn't know the meaning of lines. The girls at this desk were beautiful. Go weak at the knees, crash your car just to get a better look, fall to genuflect and propose as you pass them on the street kind of beautiful. Nevertheless, they crowded around to fawn over Captain Crusher, submission of facial features not necessary for a stud like him.
The garble of his voice finally cleared as he repeated to my awe-stricken ears for the third time, "Where's your paper?"
"Huh?" I felt my heart kick into a fury as if it was trying to pump up the evidence of my evil. "I don-- I don-- I do not have them," I said, my words and voice coming out like a Muppet, odd-sounding and teacher-approved.
"Who needs 'em, right, ladies?" he grinned a pair of alpine ranges. They laughed as if he was the lovechild of Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams, and passed a page across to me, never tearing their eyes from him. I scribbled away, unsure of what else I might do. In a flurry of movements, the page was slid across, spun around, hammered with a stamp, and pushed back to me. No questions, no credentials, no need. For a Super like him, he could've brought in Al Capone and walked away with a Super Cert. I looked down.
"DSTO APPROVED" with the governor's signature below. I turned around--I don't know, to run, maybe?--and caught sight of my reflection in the pristine white floor below, clean enough you could wash with it.
That guy looking up to me didn't look like a two-time loser from the ghetto. He didn't look like a monster in the making. He looked like Carl. Gary's little brother, Donna and Eddie's little boy. The kid who won the science fair in fourth grade.
Who knew that all along he'd only been one stamp away?