Two Months Later
“You’re sure about this?” Lenny asked for somewhere around the ninth time, if Owen’s count was correct. “That’s the beauty of living behind a mask and a costume. Change those elements up and Poof! New Hero. It takes a little wiggling here and there, especially with guys of your proportions, but it’s nothing I can’t pull off.”
Owen shook his head solemnly. They were in Lenny’s office, cheesy decor surrounding the two very different men. Owen was suited up in his Titan costume, red shirt, red mask, and blue jeans all wrapped around nearly seven feet of solid muscle. As strong as he looked, he was actually far more powerful. Lenny, on the other hand, was round, balding, and had a nose that looked like he’d tried to win a few boxing bouts by attacking his opponent’s fists with his face. Still, there was more than a touch of smarts and charisma in that foul-mouthed cherub’s eyes. Both were masters of what they did, though one had been out of the game for a long while.
“I’m not changing identities,” Owen said. “I’m coming back as Titan. If I don’t, then I feel like I’m still running. It might not make sense to you, but this is how I have to do it.”
Lenny ran his hand across the top of his head, touching more skin than hair by a large margin. Habits didn’t die easily though, even if follicles did. “I was afraid you were going to say that. You know that makes things harder, right? The other way would open up a lot more options.”
“The options I get going at it the right way are the ones I want,” Owen insisted.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Lenny cautioned, sliding a manila envelop over to his client. “Even with your license reinstated, there weren’t a lot of people clamoring to have you on their team. You come with more heat than most folks are willing to take.”
“Solo Heroes exist,” Owen reminded him.
“Not for you they don’t,” Lenny countered. “We let you go solo and that’s how you’ll be until the end. You’ll look like an outcast, the guy that no one wanted after his scandal. People like me will use your story as a cautionary tale to keep younger Heroes in line.”
“But no one does want me,” Owen pointed out.
“Why would you bring that up? My ulcer isn’t bad enough this week without you reminding me what we’re trying to pull off here? You’re a hurtful man and you should be ashamed,” Lenny chastised. “Besides which, you’re wrong. The team in that folder agreed to take you, so at least some people want you.”
Owen took the clue to flip open the folder. As soon as he began reading a frown formed at the corner of his mouth, visible just below the bottom of his skintight mask. The frown deepened the longer he read, until finally his gaze rose from the pages and across the desk to his agent.
“Corpies? Are you shitting me?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, did my months of trying to impress upon you how few your options were not provide a slight clue that you were getting the bottom of the shit-bucket? And don’t call them that. The technical term is Privately Employed Emergency Response Supers.”
“Come on Lenny, these guys aren’t even Heroes,” Owen said dropping the file onto the desk. “Why would I be on a team of Corpies?”
Corpies were Supers who hadn’t gone through the screening or training to get their Hero Certifications, and were therefore not allowed to confront criminal Supers. However, through some loophole maneuvering and fancy legal footwork, it had been established that a Super did not need a Hero Certification to assist in any emergency response operation that didn’t involve combat. This charge was led by corporations that yearned to get their logos emblazoned on the capes of champions doing good, saving innocents, and spreading the word about how this particular laundry soap got your whites the whitest. Rarely did a Corpie attain any real popularity, however the few times they succeeded had made so much money that companies kept paying for the right to keep their names on Supers and continue rolling the dice. Though many Heroes considered them worthless hacks who couldn’t cut it in the Hero game, the fact remained that having them on hand usually did more good than harm, so their continued existence was tolerated with minor grumbling.
“Why? Because in order for them to function as an independent team, with their own fancy headquarters, responding to various disasters and calls, they have to have a Hero on staff. Someone to bat cleanup if things get messy or trouble shows up. This team, as luck would have it, just lost their Hero to retirement. No others are stepping forward, so they had to either take you on or go back to working in the basement of a police station where the lights don’t work and it smells like piss. Those were their options, piss smell or you.”
“AND,” Lenny said, raising his voice and rising slightly off his chair, “I had to wheel and deal to make it happen. It was you and a luxury high-rise loft, or no you and a dank piss-soaked basement and I had to convince them to take you. Are you getting the picture here?”
“Then forget it,” Owen replied. “If no team wants me then I’ll go solo after all. Let me be a story, let everyone call me an outcast and a failure. Better that than chaperoning a bunch of Corpies.”
“That is your prerogative,” Lenny said, his temper cooling as he lowered himself back into his seat. “You have the right to go at this alone. But, if you do, then you’re doing it completely alone.”
A pang of uncertainty smacked Owen in the gut. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that if you go solo, I’m out. I’ll finish the paperwork to make you official again, and that’s it.”
“What the hell Lenny? Suddenly it’s ‘my way or the highway’? What ever happened to finding what works best for the Hero?” Owen resisted the urge to jump out of his own seat, only because he was afraid he might crack the floor.
Lenny didn’t yell back this time, instead he took an antacid from his desk and dropped it into a glass of water with a fizzy plop.
“I am thinking about what’s best for you. We worked together for a long time, back in the day. I know you, and that’s why I’m telling you that you need a team. The family man image we sold you as worked because you are a family man. You need people around who depend on you. They give you strength. They are what pushes you past your hardest moments. Last time you went off on your own, your funk lasted over a decade and didn’t break until your son called you a fucker. You need a team, Titan. Without one, it’s just a matter of time until it all becomes too much and you fall apart again. And I’m not hanging around for it this time.”
Owen felt his indignation metamorphosize into shame. He’d been calling Lenny a quitter when he was the one who’d walked away. Lenny was doing what he did for all his clients, just trying to make sure they were put in the best position to stay happy. He was watching out for Owen, even after Owen had nearly cost Lenny his reputation all that time ago.
Softly, Owen reached across and picked back up the folder. “Are they expecting me?”
“You report for duty at nine tomorrow morning,” Lenny informed him.
“They have a photo shoot at seven.”
Owen resisted the urge to groan, but only barely.