Sometimes, I hang out with Malcolm while he works. Of course, if he’s doing his job correctly, it doesn’t look like he’s working. We hang out on a stoop. Walk down to the bodega. Buy a loaf of bread and feed the ducks. People come up to us, slap us on the back, do intricate handshakes. I mean, there’s no doubt that we’re suspicious as fuck, but what he’s doing isn’t actually illegal.
Malcolm publishes the Guide. The Guide tells you everything you need to know about the local Supers (and a few of the more national ones who might drop by). Not like what you get in the magazines, where you can learn their favorite snack (yogurt bars, always yogurt bars), or their workout routine (treadmill, free weights, and oh yeah, a does of radiation). No, the Guide tells you who you’re most likely to meet in a given neighborhood, what’s their deal. Phasatron will fuck up even a low-level dealer, while Scarlet Princess will only intervene in what she deems violent crimes. Or if you do have a run in, it gives advice on how to escape. The Mole wears night vision goggles, so a flash of light can give you time to escape. Most synthetic webbing can be dissolved with orange soda. (“I don’t know if that’s racist,” Malcolm says, “But it feels racist.”) It stops short of telling the heroes actual weaknesses.
“Defense only,” Malcolm says, “This isn’t a guide for some cocky motherfucker to try and take on the league, and get himself killed. I don’t need that on my head. And shit, somebody gets lucky and takes down a super, and we’re all in trouble. You don’t want to seriously piss off the guy who can punch out a comet.”
He updates it frequently, adding in new information that people give him while he takes his walks. So, he prints out fresh versions every few weeks. He refuses to put it up on the web. Too traceable, and he likes to know who he’s distributing to.
It’s a Sunday, and we’re already at the park, feeding ducks with Malcolm’s little sister, when we’re approached. Face mask. Black pleather outfit. She has short red hair, and bright red lipstick. I mean, she was a knockout, if you know, tool of state oppression is your thing. Ok, she could probably convince me that it’s my thing.
“You guys from around here?” she asks she seems friendly or at least is trying to.
All around us, the old men who feed the ducks, or play chess in the park watch us closely, while pretending to not see us at all.
“Yeah, not far,” Malcolm says.
Kiara glares at him. “You don’t need to talk to her.”
“It’s okay, sis. I’m sure Ms. Night Terror has nothing but the best of intentions.”
“I don’t go by that anymore. It was a stupid name. I was young. I’m Black Bird, now.”
I’m sure Malcolm knew that, but we still catch each other’s eyes and smile. We have a joke about heroes who have the word black in their names.
“All cops are bastards and supers are just cops in capes.” Kiara has the confidence of a newly political 14-year-old. She’s actually pretty cool, but she’s bound to land us in the shit.
“I get that. I’m just here to help.”
“Help, huh?” Malcolm hands her a piece of white bread, “All we’re doing is feeding the ducks, but if you want to help with that, it’s cool.”
Black Bird instinctively glanced at the signs prohibiting feeding the ducks, but doesn’t say anything. She just turns to the pond, pulls off a corner of the bread, and throws it into the water. Malcolm makes a signal to Kiara, and she tries to casual walk away until she almost gets to the edge of the park and starts to run.
“You guys do this often?” Black Bird asks.
“We like ducks. Sometimes there are swans..”
“And geese, and we don’t feed any of them on those days. We just like the ducks,” I say, “But it’s not like we really need you to stop by and help every time.”
“You know who really needs help, though? Clarence with his middlegame.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my middlegame,” Clarence yells from where’s he’s playing.
“I can come back, tomorrow, and play chess,” Black Bird says.
“Clarence doesn’t play against people in masks,” Malcom replies.
“You know why I wear a mask.”
“I do, and you know that as long as you wear one, you’ll never be able to help.”
Black Bird nods.
We keep tossing bread into the pond until the whole bag is gone. The ducks already full, have long since waddled away from us.