So it’s all come down to this. I always knew it would. It always happens to the heroes. This is the part of the story where nobody believes you, where your stupid best friend turns his back on you, tries to replace you. This is the part where the hero is persecuted for doing the right thing. Like Gandi. Like Ida B. Wells, Wreck-it Ralph. Like Jesus, if he had fought crime instead of preaching and making shelves.
So here I am. While I search for truth, JB eats dinner. While I’m risking my life and my permanent record, he’s giving away my seat at the table! While I’m solving the case, that big stupid idiot moron is going to be sleeping in a bed with no sheets. Like an animal!
I pump my muscular legs, pushing the swing I’m sitting on to fly higher and higher into the air. I could probably make it go all the way around, I’m swinging so swiftly and angrily. But I won’t. I won’t, because I’m smart. I can’t risk my mind or my huge cast-iron muscles, I can’t risk the injury. Not if I’m going to solve this case. Solve it all alone might I add!
As I swing I look around, I see my secret tunnel. I see the escape slide. And there, off in the distance but getting closer, I see the two dummies. I see JB and Lizzy.
They’re walking down the street, talking. How wonderful for them. How wonderful…ly suspicious.
I keep looking forward, pretending that I don’t see them. My acting skills are as honed as my fighting and deducing skills, so those two idiots clearly have no idea that they’ve already been spotted. My time in the swinging eagles nest has paid off once more.
They pause at the tree line and exchange words I can’t hear. I can’t read lips either but I’m pretty sure I saw JB say that he’s jealous of how cool I look swinging in the nighttime. Powerful, the moon shining its spotlight on the lone, amazing, handsome, betrayed hero. Jealous, huh JB? I can’t blame him. I look awesome. I look like an album cover.
After they finished their little secret conversation, JB surprises me by staying put. Lizzy is the one who starts forward, starts coming to my park. First my seat at the table, now my park? My home base? JB is going to get his butt kicked later, that was for sure.
I slow my swinging down until I’m just hovering above the ground, kicking at the wood chips with my lucky lime sneakers. I allow Lizzy to approach. I half turn to look at her, feigning surprise at seeing her there. She smiles, very briefly, then sits down on the swing next to me. It’s at that moment I decide to get off the swings and move to the teeter-totter. Her smile falters a moment, but she follows me.
“Hey,” she says. Inwardly, I scoff. Is that really all she can say to me? “Hay is for horses,” I informed her. She smiled again.
“We missed you at dinner,” she tried. My stomach growled in response. I hope she knows that it’s her fault I didn’t eat, that I'm starving. Her fault that I got in trouble too, actually. But, being the patient and even-tempered person that I always am, I just simply pulled a tight smile at her, while subtly scratching the back of my head with my middle finger, hoping that JB saw it.
“I like this park,” she said. “It’s pretty cool. Do you come here a lot?” I got up from the teeter-totter and rolled my eyes. I finally decided to talk to her. “Yes,” I said. “I come here all the time. I’m sure JB told you that already, maybe even while you were sitting in my seat. So my question to you is, why are you here?”
Her face scrunched up in confusion. “I’m….we came here to make sure you were okay. That’s all.”
I laughed. A big, sarcastic laugh. So they are a ‘we’ now, huh? I decided that I had been insulted enough for one night. It’s one thing not to eat. To not be believed. To be manhandled by the police when we’re on the same side. But now, to be chased into my own hideout and asked if I was okay? Would they do that to Batman? Would they go to the Fortress of Solitude and ask Superman a dumb question while he was swinging? That was the final straw for me.
“No, actually I am not okay,” I started, my voice starting to rise in volume to match my frustration, my anguish levels. “All I’ve been doing since summer started is work on this case. And yet when I know what’s going on, nobody will listen to me! Nobody ever listens to me!” I kicked a small mound of wood chips to emphasize my point. Lizzy started to speak up, but I wasn’t done answering the question yet.
“It’s bad enough to be treated like a jerk even though I’m right, but that’s not even the worst part. The whole entire summer is falling apart! JB is acting even weirder than usual. He won’t even do the workouts I’ve been giving him even though I spent countless hours crafting them. And everything on TV is a crappy rerun.” Another kick, another cloud of wood chips went sailing through the air.
“The police laughed at me. I lost one of my orange hats but I haven’t been able to look for it because all my time and resources and men have been put on the cat case,” I continued. I momentarily paused, looking for another good spot to kick. “I’m sorry,” Lizzy said quietly. I whirled around. “For what?” I asked her. “It’s not your fault. I lost that hat before you showed up. But everything has been downhill since then. That hat created a snowball effect that is not only destroying my summer and my life, but it has had ripple effects that you couldn’t even begin to imagine.”
I sighed. I forgot, as I often do, that other people can’t connect the dots like me. Can’t read between the lines like me. “I lost the hat. I tricked JB into going back to the school to look for it with me, and try to investigate my old principal at the same time. There we met you, and somehow that made JB lose his mind, maybe an accidental nose-picking lobotomy. Not sure, like I said, I’ve had all my focus on your case. With me so far?” Lizzy nodded that she was.
“So we look for your cat, which gets me in trouble even though I was just following standard private eye procedure. During that time solely focused on one thing, I accidentally let one of my nemesis’s get the better of me.” I hung my head in shame. I really didn’t want to admit this next part, but I had to. “Someone beat my high score at the arcade.” Lizzy looked surprised, then she wore a look that I didn’t quite understand. I let it go though, one thing I learned for sure was that girls never made sense and it wasn’t worth investigating. “And sure, I have other high scores still. I have the high score in Jez Ball, and Word Muncher and Math Blaster. I still have Bubble Trouble and I had the top score in Frogger before it broke. But some dastardly creep has taken my most important score, the one I didn’t even know I loved the most until I lost it. They took my Greebles score!” I kicked the ground twice this time, to really drive home the importance of my loss. Lizzy said she was sorry again. For who? Me, or the ground? And she had that look again, almost like a smile. How suspicious. But I wasn’t done ranting yet.
“And it’s one thing to be beat, that happens sometimes. And granted, their time at the top is limited, because once I finally get this case busted open once and for all, I will be back and I will beat them easily. But the name that they chose? It sickens me!” Lizzy’s face reddened slightly. But not like she was embarrassed, almost like she was holding her breath. Or maybe holding in a laugh. Suspicious, but maybe it’s because she doesn’t understand the severity of the disrespect I suffered. “You see,” I continued, “when I win, I use the best name possible. Everyone’s always jealous. I’m USA1. It’s clean, it’s clear, it makes sense, and it has a double meaning. I am number one, obviously. The scores show that. The USA is number one in the world, that’s obvious too. History shows that. And I’m the best in the USA at all games, so USA1. That makes sense, that’s a winners name.”
I paused for dramatic effect, milking the sinister reveal. “And this villain, this lowbrow lunatic, they picked the name ASS4. ASS4! Can you believe it? I mean, sure, ass is a funny word. But it’s a three letter word, the game wants four. Just pick a four letter word then! Use BUTT or POOP or DICK, but ASS4? What, did they lose the first three they had? Was ASS1, 2, and 3 already taken? I mean, come on, what does that mean? ASS4? What’s an ASS4?”
Lizzy’s face barely held together, she was pursing her lips tight to hold back her snickering. “It’s for sitting and shitting,” she said quietly. Then, unable to hold it in any longer, she burst out laughing, the force of it doubling her over. She made more noise than I’ve heard from her the whole summer.
As she laughed, her words sank in. The ‘sorry’ as I told her what happened. The look she had, her reaction to the name reveal. I went wide-eyed. Her! It was her! Then, after another beat, her words sank in even deeper. The name, the punchline, it was, it was…
Moments later, I was on the ground next to Lizzy, both laughing and slapping at the wood chips. As the tears of laughter fell down my face, as we rolled in the dust and debris of the wood chips, I knew that we were friends. And there was no way I'd let anyone steal from my friend!
JB, late as always, decided it was safe to come over. He stood there awkwardly until we were able to get ourselves under control.
“What are you guys talking about?” JB asked. I tried to keep a straight face, get myself back to calm. “Nothing,” I told him, “don’t worry about it. I assume that since you came here, you wanted to hear about the case?” JB and Lizzy exchanged a look and gave me a nod.
“Just no police, Jimmy,” JB said. “Can you promise that?”
“A world with no police? That sounds like chaos, is that really what you want? You don’t even workout, how would you be safe?” After JB stumbled through an explanation about how that’s not what he meant and he just didn’t want to get into trouble, I informed him that trouble was my middle name and that everything would be fine. I carefully made sure I never said the words ‘I promise’, as I wasn’t sure that it was one I could keep.
“So what’s going on,” he asked again. “What's the plan?”
“I’ll tell you at my house. We need to stop for supplies. And you’re not going to like it.” Before JB could speak up and protest as usual, I told him that the last one to my house was an ASS4.
“What’s an ASS4?” JB asked. Lizzy and I shared another loud round of laughter. I can’t believe he fell for it! What a stupid idiot!