Give a moment or two to the angry young man
With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand
He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood
It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good
And he sits in a room with a lock on the door
With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor
And he likes to be known as the angry young man
202 W Dekalb Pike was a pretty little piece of green next to a lot of interstate-highway-drab gray. Ben pulled up in his Judge Intrepid, and found Dan waiting for him outside. He was dressed again in his fedora and overcoat, making Ben feel slightly cheap in his old college windbreaker. Without a word, Dan waved him inside, past the wrought iron gate and down a paved path flanked by immaculately trimmed grass and well-kept headstones.
“Charming place to meet,” Ben tried to break the ice, but Dan just smiled calmly and nodded. They took a side path off the main one, and then another, and another, until they were down to a row of paving stones. Tufts of grass poked in between as they headed to a decidedly more low-rent section of the cemetery devoid of massive angel statues or mausoleums. Finally, Dan’s long legs came to a stop and Ben’s stockier frame did a final hurry-up to meet up.
“Huh,” Ben noted, looking over his brother’s shoulder, “Gregory Breitbacher. Who’s that?”
“I’m surprised you don’t remember him,” Dan’s voice was low and smooth, and his little smile didn’t waver, “He was the BMOC back when I was in high school.”
“Oh, yeah… Greg. He was always front and center on the homecoming float.”
“You remember some weird shit, Banjo,” Dan sighed and looked up at the clear, blue sky.
“Linebacker, Fullback, Prom King… and world-class asshole.”
Dan said it so plainly, so calmly, that Ben couldn’t stifle a sputtering laugh.
“Jesus, Dan. Isn’t that him, right there?”
He gestured to the grave marker. Dan moved his hands into the expansive pockets of his overcoat.
“Somewhere down there, yeah. What’s left of him. I like to come out here once in a while. It gives me perspective.”
“Sort of a ‘life is fleeting’ sorta thing? What, did he crash his crappy IROC-Z at graduation or something?”
The smile nudged upwards just slightly.
“Not exactly. You see… Greg was a complete piece of shit. Complete. I’d be sitting there in study hall, doing my homework, and he’d start something. He tried the usual things at first, all the way back in elementary school: I smelled, I was fat, I was ugly, yadda yadda yadda. And you know what Mom said when I came home from school complaining that a kid was mean to me.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Ben shrugged, “let me guess, it was something along the lines of ‘keep getting good grades and behaving, don’t let it get to you’ things like that?”
“Bingo. And when I asked her why I couldn’t fight back…”
“She’s say something about it not working out, and violence only makes things worse.”
Dan’s smile was getting bigger, now.
“And later on, it became pretty clear that not only could I throw a football pretty well, but I was also doing okay in the classes. Greg, on the other hand… he appeared to be getting dumber, I swear to God. He tried upping the ante with his bullying, getting physical, shoving me, et cetera… one day he and some older boys decided they didn’t like Tom being such a smartypants either, and I found them in the school yard, holding him down. I jumped on one of their backs, gave it a good shot, but he threw me to the ground pretty hard. We got our asses beat pretty bad.”
Ben was never one to keep from interjecting or interrupting.
“Dan, how come I’ve never heard this story before? I never knew about this!”
“I bet you never knew about Mom finding Tom’s shirt in the wash, covered in shoe prints. Tom… Tom always told me not to tell anyone about us getting beat up. Don’t know why: maybe he didn’t want Mom to get upset, maybe he didn’t want to let them know they got to him…”
“Maybe he didn’t want to admit he lost,” Ben grumbled.
“Either way,” Dan said with a little bemused emphasis, “Greg found out that there was one way to get me angry, and that was the family. Tom… he learned how to screw with their minds a little bit, make them feel like he was almost their friend, so they let up on him a little. I didn’t even act shocked when I found out he got the mental ring, or that Dad gave me the physical one. Because me… I kept fighting. A lot.”
Ben was skeptical. His brother Dan had always been the jovial one: boisterous, handsome, women falling at his feet… or maybe that was just the way he’d always seen it.
“I like to think that part of the reason you didn’t get as much shit in elementary was because they knew I’d beat both their and their brothers’ asses. That, and you were twice as big as most of your bullies, Banjo.”
“It does make it easier, I can only assume,” Ben shrugged, “So what happened to Greg? Don’t tell me you put him under.”
Dan’s eyes widened a little, and his mouth went drawn.
“Holy shit, Dan! Like, really?”
“It’s not what you think, Ben… and for the record, you’re a little too excited to hear about this.”
Ben knew it, and he slumped a little.
“Scouts came to look at Greg. All the way from Notre Dame, USC even. He had the guts to go, but the minute they looked at his transcripts…”
He stuck a hand out in front of him and made a whooshing noise.
“Went to community college, blew out his knee. The next time I saw him, he was working as a hired goon for Radius… you remember him?”
“Yeah, he was kinda one of your B-listers,” Ben noted, “Ugly-ass costume, homemade bombs.”
“Made his own proprietary blend of napalm,” Dan nodded, “Quantico’s got the recipe, now. He held up the divisional playoff at Three Rivers, locked the whole thing down. I can only imagine Greg was doing it to make ends meet. Last I heard, he’d gotten a least two girls pregnant… I busted in, like a badass, did my thing, saved the day, got a cheerleader’s phone number… I didn’t find out til the ten-year reunion that Greg had been one of the goons there.”
He took a slightly shuddering breath and continued.
“Near as I could figure, he tried to come up behind me. I remember the HUD in my helmet telling me there was an incoming, so I threw a fist back and swatted it. Just like a bug. I didn’t even think about it.”
Ben let the pause hang in the air as it blew cold through the cemetery.
“I didn’t… I didn’t feel it. He just sorta melted, I guess. Sometimes back then, when things got hairy, I didn’t know how to handle the strength the ring gave me… Tom got on my case a lot for that.”
“He got on your case for a lot of things, it seems.”
“I always like to think it was because he was trying to help,” Dan shrugged, “He’d been through some of the issues I’d had, but a few years earlier, so he knew all about it. I’m not really sure what happened with him, but Mom said he had some issues when he first started using the ring. Just like me, he had to learn to control it, I guess… and so will you.”
In the silence that followed, Ben thought about the carnival and the ninety mile-an-hour pitch. He began to wonder, just what was he capable of? Before he had a chance to explore any possible greatness, Dan sent him crashing back down to Earth.
“You killed Scoville, right?”
Ben took a deep breath and exhaled.
“How did it feel?”
Ben knew there was no point in lying.
“I know…” Dan said with that little smile again, “and that’s why I come over here from time to time. I do it to remind myself of the responsibilities we have, and how they are so much bigger… but sometimes, I come here just to yell at this son of a bitch.”
Ben stood there, shocked.
“If it wasn’t for assholes like this, I wouldn’t have this feeling of having to be ‘good.’ I wouldn’t crave someone to find to stop, to beat up, to turn in to the cops… I would have this madness, this desire to make things right. If it weren’t for Greg Breitbacher, I could have just been a normal, ignorant guy, or I could have been a full-on boy scout, because I wouldn’t have that feeling like you have, that it feels good to punish them.”
“So what do we do about it?” the words came tumbling out of Ben’s mouth. He’d wanted to ask them since the day Scoville died.
“We always keep aware of it. We always make sure it doesn’t get the best of us. That’s why we’re the good guys, and that’s what makes us the good guys. Because we can, but we won’t. Because we always could, but we never will… God, that sounds cheesy. Sorry.”
Ben had never really seen this side of his brother before. For years, Dan had been the jovial one, the big lug, the fun one with the great smile and women hanging off his biceps… but the nostalgia was beginning to fade from Ben’s eyes now, and we was starting to see that under all those smiles, this… this had always been there.”
“It’s all right, Dan. We’re from a dairy family. Cheese is what we do.”
They made their way slowly out of the cemetery, enjoying the cool breeze. They walked right past a gravestone marked “Tina Carmine,” and thought nothing of it. As they headed back to their respective cars, Ben had a sudden flash of inspiration.
“Hey Dan,” he started slowly and lowly, “You’re going to want to have a camera crew over at the Ben Franklin school tomorrow morning. It’s a Sunday, so let’s go with 8:00. I guarantee there’ll be a story there.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Just a… friendly reminder,” Ben gave a little grin. He went to shake Dan’s hand, but the big brother pulled in his stocky younger brother for a hug.
“Got any idea what to do for a job?” Dan asked when the hug ended.
“Not really, but there is a silver lining. Since I got in trouble with my last two bosses for going off, it’ll be easier for me to find blue collar work that might pay pretty decent. Believe it or not, no one thinks a theoretical physics major is gonna stick around at the average warehouse for $15 an hour.”
“And that’s why they’re idiots.”
“Everyone else usually is,” Ben shrugged with a sarcastic smile, “That’s just the curse of being us, ain’t it?”
“Oh, yeah. You know it.”
As good as the meeting had been for Ben, just to hear that someone else was feeling what he was feeling and that it wasn’t necessarily his fault, Dan was feeling cleansed by the exercise as well. Ben went home and applied for several labor jobs, being sure to cite his previous failures as an employee; by the end of the day, he’d had a callback to work in a factory. Dan made a few calls of his own: to the real estate agent to get the house he and Gina had shared onto the market, and to his best friend at the news station, who seemed curious how Dan might know something would happen, but had gotten used to it over the years. Dan Graf was known to have a “nose for the news” and his predictions were rarely ever wrong. And so, by the time the news van pulled up to Ben Franklin school, the internet had already blown up with the news that someone had vandalized the school. Under the cover of darkness, someone had painted over the sign reading “Ben Franklin School,” replacing the American revolutionary’s name with that of one Raymond Scoville. At eight in the morning, a curiously dressed man stood waiting on the steps of the school: green spandex, threadbare jeans, an equally threadbare red flannel shirt, a ghostly rebreather on his face, a shaggy mop of brown hair, goggles, and boots. There was one new addition to the outfit: a retro-themed white Philadelphia basketball jersey worn under the flannel but over the spandex, proclaiming SIXERS and the number 6.
“You can call me Big Six,” he said to the reporter wearing too much makeup. His voice was altered by the rebreather, but he still tried to lower the pitch.
“I assume you’re some sort of costumed hero?” the reporter asked the obvious question.
“Some of you may already know me, and if you do, you know I’m for real.”
“I have to ask,” the reporter went on, “why did you decide to change the name of a local school from one honoring an American patriot to the name of a recently-murdered drug kingpin?”
“Well, Alundra,” Ben adopted a casual pose, slouching, hands on hips, very unbefitting of a hero, “I deal with the fallout from the actions of people like Raymond Scoville every day. And while it’s all well and good to honor our American forefathers, I think it’s pretty safe to assume there are other schools, buildings, and businesses named after Ben Franklin. But I thought, what if one school, just one, was named after someone who made the wrong decisions in life, who was someone we would all consider a ‘bad guy?’ Maybe, for the thousands of schools telling our children what they can be if they work hard enough, we need at least one school that reminds them what will happen if they’re bad.”
“And what will happen, Big Six?” Alundra was enjoying her moment.
“Well, like all bullies Mr. Scoville was a coward, and he sent his goons to pick on someone he shouldn’t have. He threatened me, tried to have me killed and, well… I killed him.”
Alundra was taken aback on live TV from this admission.
“You did what?!”
“When good people are threatened, it’s up to people like me to do everything in our power to defend them. There are heroes, and they are here to help, and…”
The camera’s microphone could just pick up distant police sirens speeding to the school’s location. Ben smiled behind his mask.
“Well, that sounds like it’s my cue to go. Step back please, folks.”
They did as they were told and, in an instant, Ben created a bubble and slammed his feet down on the concrete steps of the school, rocketing himself off into the sky faster that the camera could follow.