If you would have told me just a few days ago that life in Villa park as I knew it would end, and that it would be caused by Nazi mutants gone wild, well, I would have believed you. Quite frankly, that’s always how I envisioned it happening.
I knew that something was afoot, things were amiss in my city. I was getting too close to the truth for comfort, that much was obvious. I knew that they knew that I had known the truth, and I also knew that they knew that I knew that they knew that I know. And this, they let me know with little subtleties and head games.
First, I was given a couple of bad grades. Biology, D. Math, D. English, the very language that I spoke, a D! I knew that I had deserved better, I knew that this was solely a personal attack on me from the school administration. How did I know this? Because I’m an incredible detective, that’s how, you jerk.
Well, that plus I cheated in every subject, copied answers for every single test that we were given. And not just random cheating either, I copied off of my best friend, the smartest kid in school. And that kid, the one I cheated off of? What were his grades? Biology, A. Math, A. English, A freakin’ plus. That’s how I knew that my bad grades were not my fault, that it was simply becoming personal.
After the grade thing, it got a little more direct. The in-school suspensions, the letters home to my dad; they were all nefarious deeds aimed at slowing me down, stopping my investigation cold in its tracks. I was so close to unveiling all of their little Nazi secrets that I could almost taste the bratwurst and schnitzel.
For me, it all started in the fourth grade, in history class. As we talked about the end of World War II our teacher, Sir Guitweist, had a manic glint in his eye when he was talking about Germany. About how we were too young to understand this, but that not all of the Nazis were really that bad. They did a lot of good too. The invention of the Volkswagen. The invention of the helicopter and medical methadone. Hell, even Fanta was invented by the Nazis. Sir Guitweist said all of this with a smile, speaking slowly between refreshing sips from a can of chilled Blue Raspberry Fanta.
He smiled widely over the top of the tin, the lips of both man and can gleaming. Tiny, moist droplets of condensation ran down his steady hand. He looked at me, and he winked. The gesture held no obvious malice, but I felt the ill intent sink deep into my bones. It was then that I knew for sure that I was living in the very heart of evil.
It wasn’t always bad out here in VP, it wasn’t always this hideous den of iniquity and knavery. Villa Park used to be a pretty nice place to live. We had all kinds of stores, small parades, a well-kept walking path that stretched across the whole city. As the years passed though, things began to fall apart. The local pet store, Jim’s Pet World, was shut down after being exposed as a puppy mill. The old Ovaltine factory shut down and became a den for hobos and devil worshippers, before eventually getting reopened as a high rise luxury building for hipsters. Hipsters and a few occasional satanists that didn’t want to move too far away.
As our buildings and businesses were vacated, even our infrastructure started to crumble. The roads fell into disrepair, the still trains were covered with graffiti. Even the V and the A fell off of our city sign, turning our once beautiful Villa Park into ‘ill Park’, which was honestly a more fitting name now.
There were a lot of signs that our enclave was ill. The pollution, the dip in the water quality, the constant whir of black, unmarked helicopters flying grids overhead like clockwork. The worst thing though? It wasn’t the symptoms of our illness. No, the worst thing for us was the cure.
The people who swooped in to save our town, the big heroes; I suspected that they were the very same ones destroying it. These people built the new Schnitzel Platz. The Edelweiss Restaurant. Laschet’s Inn. Hell, even the local Whirly Ball was now owned by German immigrants who seemed to have moved this way sometime around the mid 1940s.
Soon our little city was back to running efficiently, sure, but there was also a sinister vibe beneath it all, simmering just below the surface. Like the toilets popping up on random curbs and street corners, there were tiny pockets of weird activity that would bubble up now and then. Subtle mysteries, small ones. Weird smells coming from the Edelweiss. People passing through town and checking into the local motels, only to find that their stuff had disappeared by morning. Some of that stuff reappeared at a certain light pole in the Jewel Parking lot, as if magically transported there. Weird stuff indeed, but not real consequential stuff. That is, until the local pets had all started to disappear.
I was known as a bit of a detective around town, so people started coming to me with missing pet cases almost immediately. I’ve handled these things before, handled them with aplomb too, but these cases were a bit…well, different.
I’d found cats who had gone missing, some of them found quickly up in nearby trees. I’d found dogs who had hopped fences and gotten away, most of them hadn’t even gone more than a mile from home. These new cases though, they came flooding in like the tide. And sure, there were cats and dogs again, but also snakes too, ones who had vanished from sealed habitats. Hamsters suddenly gone, their wheels still slowly spinning from recent use, creaking quietly in their unoccupied cages. When I heard about the goldfish and sea monkeys beginning to disappear from their bowls overnight, I knew that it could only be one thing: Nazi nonsense.
Thank god we’ve been training for this.
By we, I mean the gang. There’s three of us. Well, two right now. But that’s what I’m working on. Here, let me start over.
First, you have me. JamesyBoy. Greatest detective in the world? Probably, but I suppose I haven’t met all of them yet. I can say with certainty though that I’m the best one in all of ‘ill Park’, no doubt in my mind. I’m so great that it makes Encyclopedia Brown look like a drooling sack of slow-witted crap. The only thing that might possibly rival the greatness of my deduction skills is my awesome, well-maintained mustache, the one that I’ve been expertly growing since I was twelve.
My best friend, my right hand man, the smart one that I cheat off of all the time, it’s like it was fate that we met. I was here to fight the good fight, I was here to rid the town of Nazi scum. And my best bud? He’s a Nazi’s worst nightmare.
BJ, or Beej as I liked to call him, my buddy, my backup. Big, gay and black, he was everything that these new Neo-Nazis hated, and he wasn’t afraid to stand his ground.
We met on the playground at school. I was new and my family had just moved to Villa Park, back when the sign still had the V and the A on it. Apparently his family had just moved here as well. I was on the swings. Beej was a few paces away, being teased that first day I saw him for having a stupid shirt, one that I now knew was one of his favorites. It had a giant picture of Charlie Brown on it, only he was now dark skinned. Underneath the bright yellow shirt with the black zig-zag, his shirt bore a name tag that said Brown Charlie. It seemed like the opinion on the playground was different, but I thought that his shirt was hilarious.
I pumped my legs as hard as I could on the swings until I was nearly circling all the way around. At the top of my arch, I leapt from my seat and flew across the small field of cultivated wood chips and I landed with a crunch, a thud and a roll in front of BJ’s tormentors.
As the faces of his bullies registered the surprise they felt by my grand entrance, I took the time to assess the situation, to ocularly pat them down for weapons. No suspicious lumps in their socks that could be a concealed knife or a kubotan. No bulge in their pockets that could be a gun or a taser, nothing tucked into their waistbands. His two oppressors did, however, have something hidden underneath their shirts that I couldn’t help but notice, to assess, to fixate on. Boobs. They had boobs; nice ones too. Not that BJ would notice or care, I later found out.
The Sherman sisters were both rich, mean, and hot, which meant that they could do anything that they wanted to in our school. In the short time that I had attended class here, I watched as they cut in lines without apology. I watched as they texted in class and never turned in assignments, yet they earned better grades than I did. I watched them cheat in gym class and stick gum in every conceivable place, but I held my tongue. This time, however, they had gone too far. As I heard them rip apart BJ’s fashion choices, I couldn’t help but notice the outfits that they were wearing, and I knew I had to leap into action.
They were wearing shirts that were well-coordinated, but not identical. They were both white and tight-fitting, sleeves rolled back and safety pinned at the shoulders. Each shirt had a picture of a bright yellow taxi cab in the middle. Where they differed, however, was the passenger. On one shirt, Hitler was riding in the back, encircled by the words Hail Hitler. The other shirt had a glowing, red devil crammed into the backseat, the burning words Hail Satan next to it. Clever? Sure, I won’t dispute that. But with their novelty shirts they had declared their allegiance, and it was to the wrong side of this guy. I wouldn’t stand for it, and I sure as hell wouldn’t swing for it either.
As the shock of my aerial assault wore off, the sisters let out a short, haughty laugh and shared a sassy and sinister look between them. I gulped, realizing I hadn’t really thought this through.
“What do you want, loser?” one of them had asked me. “Why don’t you just mind your own business, new kid?” asked the other. I got to my feet and brushed the wood chips from my clothing. I was prepared to stand my ground, to even fight physically if it was necessary. In my dad’s opinion, equal rights came with equal lefts, and I remembered that lesson as I raised my fists into a fighting stance.
Before anything else could happen, there was a whir of motion and a blur of color off to my right. I spun to see what it was, but the shape was already whizzing past me as I turned and I couldn’t catch a clear glimpse, only a brief red streak. I shook my head, blinked my eyes, and then turned back to face off with the sneering sisters, assuming I had just been seeing things. Maybe the fall from the sky had rattled me a bit more than I had thought.
The sisters, however, were no longer standing in front of me. They were both on the ground, writhing around in pain, making angel silhouettes in the wood chips as they flailed their extremities in an attempt to get their bearings back. Hovering over them, cloaked in a sharp and crisp Alizarin Crimson wind breaker, was the person who was soon to be the third member in our trio, our steadfast-most leg in the tripod. Smiling a mischievous smile, fists still tightly balled at her sides, Elizabeth looked down literally and figuratively at the sisters and teasingly asked them, “have a nice trip?”
Their faces turned a shade of crimson as well, but rather than face off with Elizabeth, the sisters left in a huff, making a beeline towards the yard monitor who would doubtless be here in just a moment to give us all detentions without even investigating what had occurred.
We all stood there for a long, beautifully silent moment. Me, tattered jeans, bright shoes, a baseball cap snugly resting on my head as always. BJ, dark as night but with a set of teeth and a personality bright as flames. Elizabeth, short but powerful, deep red slicker with a small stuffed Koala bear peeking out from her lefthand pocket. Three diverse people, all now on the same narrow path; the path leading to eternal friendship, the fight for justice and, thanks to the Sherman sisters, the one leading to detentions for a month.
In those detentions, every day from three o’clock to four, we talked. We laughed. We planned. We bonded. We didn’t even mind being there, our time together quickly became the highlight of our individual days. It was like The Breakfast Club, only not horrible.
Those times, my god I miss those times. Elizabeth, I’m so, so, so sorry. What have they done with you? How can I ever forgive myself if you’re really gone?