Chapter 223

               The guest speaker waiting for the HCP juniors as they filed in was unlike any of the ones they’d seen before. He wasn’t wearing a costume, of course, but only Shutterbug had shown up in full gear as she was the solo active Hero they’d talked with. However, he didn’t look as though he’d ever worn a cape or mask, let alone an HCP uniform. The man talking with Dean Blaine was short, with a noticeable paunch extending over his belt and a sizable bald spot visible to the students taller than him, which was most of them. Surrounded by the professors he looked even more out of place than he normally would have, but as he noticed the gray-uniformed youths piling in he turned his attention toward them and beamed a wide grin. Whatever he was, he certainly wasn’t lacking in confidence.

                “Today you all have a very special treat,” Dean Blaine said. “While our previous speakers were held in high esteem within their fields, Leonard Nicolo is a man that plenty of Heroes spend large parts of their careers hoping to meet. In fact, Mr. Nicolo is in such high demand that even I had to call in some favors to bring him here today. Leonard Nicolo is an agent for Heroes, and is quite adept at his job. I could go on about his reputation, but I feel it would do him a disservice to try and speak for him. Mr. Nicolo, please take it away.”

                “None of that ‘Mr. Nicolo’ stuff if you please. Never seen much point in putting on airs. Just call me Lenny.” Dean Blaine stepped back as Lenny moved to the forefront, his lively eyes darting about, assessing each student before him with the strange, ever-pondering mind that fed his instincts. “Your dean was right that I’m damn good though. I’d like to say the best, but that’s a title that belongs to whoever’s clients are on top at the moment, and in the Hero landscape that is a shifting status. I’m among the best, that much is safe to say, and it’s because I make my living by ensuring the lives of my clients run smooth.”

                Lenny finished taking a scan of the students, reaching Roy near the end of his sweep. The two men locked eyes and gave cordial nods to one another. It had been a long time since Lenny had seen Roy, but there was no mistaking the son of Titan. As for Roy, he remembered quite well how the sharp-tongued man had come to their homes and dealt with his father. Lenny had also been around for a bit after the scandal, making sure they had enough to live on while residuals were tied up in the divorce. There was no animosity in Roy toward this man, he’d just been another person screwed over by Titan’s mistakes.

                “That, in a nutshell, is all agents do. We handle the daily stuff that you Heroes will be too busy for, allowing you to focus on saving lives instead of filing press releases, booking appearances, or negotiating percentages from your t-shirt line. Now we hit the part where most of you are thinking ‘that doesn’t seem so bad, why do I even need an agent?’ And you’re right, most of you won’t need an agent at all.”

                Some of the students were surprised by this admission, though many of them had seen enough of these speakers to sense there was a twist in the conversation coming that would explain Lenny’s words. The agent made note of the ones who caught on to that, he might need a Hero with a decent head on their shoulders in a year or so.

                “You won’t need one because no one will be calling you and asking for appearances, you’ll be beating down the door to get them to talk to you, which is another service I handle, incidentally. Here’s the dirty little secret about being a Hero, kids, and it isn’t much of a secret to begin with: the pay is shit. You can get by on it, don’t get me wrong, but you’re paid like what you are, which is civil servants.” Lenny paused, well-aware of the suppressed sneers that were building under many of these idealistic faces.

                “And now we’re at the part where most of you are, or should be, thinking about how you don’t care about something like that, because you’re becoming a Hero to help people. You know what? I agree with you. This is not the line of work you get into because you want to make a buck, and I salute you for going into this with the right mindset. That said, you’re all around twenty one right now. It’s a lot easier to have that cavalier attitude before you’ve got rent, bills, and, god willing, a family that are looking to you for support. As I tell most of my clients when they start going the marital direction: diapers aren’t free. Not even for Heroes. And once you get further along in life, once you have people depending on you, all of sudden ‘getting by’ doesn’t seem quite as noble as it did when you were listening to that short agent talk about why merchandising mattered.”

                Lenny could see some of them biting, being drawn in by the scary idea of a future. That was the problem with HCP kids, they forgot about what would happen to them if they didn’t end up dying. That life had a set of challenges all its own.

                “Even taking money out of the equation, agents are also key to image management. You all clearly want to make a difference, no one without the guts and heart makes it to year three in this nuthouse, and I assume that means you also want to inspire the masses out there to goodness. Well we live in a culture of destroyers, kids. People love to tear down their idols, whether they be celebrities or Heroes alike.”

                “If we make mistakes, don’t we deserve to be held accountable for them?” Thomas asked.

                “You sure do, however, that’s an important ‘if’ right there. A good agent can’t, and won’t, protect you from serious or illegal fuck ups, but we can sort out some of the mistakes that everyone is going to make from time to time in life. Lots of occasions when you may not have even done anything wrong. Maybe you accidently knock over a kid when stopping a building from hitting him, but with the right angle on a picture it just looks like you smacked him. Maybe the company spitting out bobble-heads of you was using toxic plastic, not that you had any way of knowing that. Maybe you brought in some tabloid reporter’s brother and now they’re out to slander you six-ways to Sunday. Point is, when things get rough, an agent is there to smooth them over.”

                Lenny stopped and checked the feel of the room. He seemed to have brought most of them on board with reminding them of the importance of image, even without cash on the line. Some were still staring stonily at him, which meant they were likely lost causes. So be it. Lenny had long ago learned that not every Hero wanted to play the game, and he didn’t want those types as clients anyway.

                The ones too stubborn to realize how the world really worked often didn’t survive the pressure that society laid upon those muscular shoulders. Lenny had no need for future burn-outs. He was only concerned with clients that had a future.