The lunch area is a cacophony of ringing cell phones, so I don't even notice when mine joins the chorus. Jennie nudges me, her mouth full of baloney sandwich (how can anyone eat baloney? Have they never touched it and felt how slimy it is?), and points to my phone. "Mnnff," she says, jabbing her finger at it.
I take a quick sip of Coke to wash down my half-chewed bite of club sandwich, and pick up the phone. It's my brother, Jason. I say, "It's Jason." Jennie points at the phone and waves, still chewing her baloney, as I answer it. "What's up?"
"Hey," he says. "You near a computer?"
"No, I'm on set visiting Jennie. We're eating lunch. She says, 'hi.' I saw Lauren Graham."
"From Gilmore Girls. And Bad Santa?"
"Oh, yeah. She's hot."
"Ridiculous hot." Jennie kicks me under the table. "So, what's up?"
"I'm in my office grading some lab write-ups and half-listening to the TV and the newscaster mentions something like "is LA's resident superhero out of control?" or something. When I look up, the story is gone, so I flip through the channels but I don't see anything more. Eugene's lunchtime news, y'know. So I go to latimes.com, and there's a little blurb about some guy who says you roughed him up for no reason and took some money. I mean, you know, the other you."
"So, what's going on?"
"I have ... listen, can I call you back?" I ask.
"So this is the first you've heard?"
"Yeah. I've gotta call ... I dunno ... someone."
"Let me know if you need anything, " Jason says.
"I will. Thanks, man."
"Wait, " he says, "you watch Gilmore Girls?"
"I'll call you later," I say, and close the cell.
Jen swallows her mouth full of vile sandwich. "What's up?"
I glance at my watch. She's got to go back to the set in just a few minutes, so I downplay it. "Jason just saw something on the LA Times website about Providence. Just wanted to tell me to check it out when I get to a computer."
"Something bad?" she asks.
"He didn't say," I lied. "He was running between classes. Just said to check it out."
"Well, any publicity, y'know?"
"Yup," I smile.
She wipes her hands with her napkin and balls it up on her plate. "I should get back," she says.
I follow her lead and gather my stuff together. "I've got it," I say, and grab her tray as well as mine. As she gathers her stuff, I dump our trash. We walk together back to her trailer, holding hands. She is smiling softly, as though she's remembering some old joke, not funny enough to laugh at after all this time, but still enough to bring a smile. I ask her what she's thinking about and she answers "nothing."
I'm thinking about the guy Jason talked about. It's not the first person who has claimed I rocked him too hard. A lot of the guys I've snagged, once they are in custody, claim brutality. Vigilantism is a delicate business. Canada has taken steps to build a legal framework under which their local heroes can work (Northstar wrote a really excellent, comprehensive essay about it for the New Yorker a year or so ago), but, apart from sanctioning a few select groups like the Avengers, the U.S. legal system as remained largely mute. Typically, local authorities -- police, mayors, judges -- are left to decide how to interact with costumed vigilantes. A lot of the time, it hinges completely on the public's perception of an individual hero, or how that hero presents him or herself. Some of us, by nature or source of their powers, their secret identies, behavior of their associates, etc., get a bad rap with authories and work mostly beyond the law: Spiderman, the X-Men, the Punisher. In the past few years, I've followed the Avengers path, and that of the FF: make good with authorities upfront, give them a way to contact you (I use an anonymous pager, which almost never beeps, Chief Bratton being an independent sort), get informally deputized (informally because formal deputization requires a real name, social security number, etc., and, while almost all of the LAPD I know are good guys, there's more than enough corrpution, large and small, in the department for me to be virtually certain that info would leak to the press) and play, more or less, by their rules. I don't have a lot of the tools for serious, deep "rogue" investigation anyway -- mostly I just assist in apprehension. Still -- it's a fine line. The FF and the Avengers work mostly against big, super-crime type stuff: alien invasions, international assassination rings, etc. There's so little law to govern those things that it's easy to stay on the good side of it. Guys like me, nabbing gang bangers, drug dealers, bank robbers and their ilk, face a thick pile of laws protecting the accused. I try to stay inside it. I mostly succeed. It's easier when the bad guy is armed, and I'm using my fists -- a gun vs. a fist, even with my strength and speed, makes justifying force a lot easier.
But this is the first one to mention money. Jennie's gig has produced a dramatic lifestyle change for us in the past month or so which neither of us has had time to fully digest, but the most immediate upside for me is that I no longer need worry so much about my part of the rent. I haven't taken a dime from a crime scene since the day after Alex's friend passed on my book, "for now." We needed to make rent, and Jennie wasn't starting work until the following week. I had been imagining an advance, a small one, of course. Instead, I headed down to UCLA, spent an afternoon in my civvies, watching a couple of pretty big-time (for the college scene) dealers selling exctasy, meth and even a little H out of a brand-new Prius. They were both young enough to be students (but turned out not to be), well-groomed, pretty clean-cut and athletic -- the sort regular folks never suspect, which is how they can end up with a hybrid full of pills, vials, little baggies and just over $15,000 in cash, and a rented house in Sherman Oaks. I paced the car from high in the air all the way over the hill, in rush hour, and crashed through their garage window as they were transferring the cash from the below-the-floor trunk compartment to a gun safe. The little guy dropped his handful of bills and ran into the house, while the bigger guy decided to throw a few punches. I let one land, to see how hard he could hit, and the answer was, "hard enough not to play around," so I gave him a little poke to the jaw, a punch in the gut, and knocked him out with an elbow to the back of the head. Then I zipped into the house after the little guy, but not before grabbing a wad of twenties and stuffing them into a case on my utility belt. I grabbed the little guy by his pants leg as he tried to climb out the bathroom window, and he surrendered immediately. I secured them both with zip-cuffs from my belt, and called the police to pick them up. The $600 I snagged covered the rest of the rent and, I told myself, hurt nothing save my increasingly guilty conscience. I haven't actually even checked to see if they'd been booked, which I normally do -- follow-up is important. I've just been so despondent about the book (Alex assures me I just need to keep plugging away at it -- when there's more substance and I can show I'm serious about writing it, publishers and agents alike will begin to salivate over it), I haven't been keeping my eyes on the ball.
We turn the corner beside the stage where Dogsitters is shooting, and then we are at her trailer. I go in with her, we kiss, and there is a knock at the door. Wardrobe is expecting her.
"Sorry you have to walk back to the car by yourself, " she says.
'Sokay," I reply. we head down the stairs of her trailer. She turns left, I turn right.
"I love you," she calls after me.
"I love you, too," I reply, and head off in the direction of my car. I need to find a place to change, so I can find out just exactly what's going on.