Patrol started easily enough. Anfernee was no great conversationalist–all he talked about was football and stupid stuff he did when he was drunk. He also had a tendency to get distracted by shop windows, and by the end, Ash was sick of calling out his garbled name. In the afternoon, they congregated under a big office building.
“Anything to report?” Ash asked.
Squirrel and Jamal shook their heads.
“That’s fine. It’s a good thing when we don’t need to do our job. I don’t want to bust anyone who doesn’t deserve busting. Switch up and continue. Take breaks when you want. Stay fresh. If you have trouble, don’t hesitate to call.”
Anfernee and Jamal paired up and headed down the street. Ash took off with Squirrel scampering behind.
“We take this road down north,” Squirrel said.
“Down that way. Then right on… on the street where there’s an Axel’s, then left at Baker Street. Heh, it’s like the song.”
“Yeah,” Ash said. “Don’t be nervous.”
“Sorry, sorry. Actually, I’m excited. I mean, well, heh, you’re not Ivan.”
“Very true,” Ash said. “I haven’t belittled you once.”
“Yeah. That’s kinda nice,” Squirrel said.
They continued down the block. No one stared at them like when they were in their Broadway costumes. They were just passerbys blending in, the way Ash wanted it.
“So…” Squirrel said, “You can set things on fire with your mind.”
“Yep,” Ash said.
“You don’t mind talking about it? Out in the open?”
“What’s someone going to do? Tell on me? ‘Excuse me officer, I’d like to report a pyrokinetic sighting.'”
Squirrel chuckled, “Man, you slept in my apartment, and you could have set the whole building on fire. How do you do it?” he asked.
Ash put a finger to his lips. He had never wondered about the ‘how’–the act felt so natural. “I don’t know. If I want something to be on fire, I just tell it to.”
“So, like, you ‘wish’ something to be on fire?”
“No. I’m not a genie. I’d be a pretty poor genie if all I could do was ignite things.”
“Yeah, except for things like ‘I wish I had a grilled hot dog right now’.”
Ash noticed the hot dog vendor on the corner. “Well, there are some wishes I can grant, I guess. Come on.”
Squirrel looked both ways and crossed the street behind Ash. “What? Food? Now?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Well, I mean, Ivan would never let us eat on the job.”
“I’m not Ivan. I don’t punish ignorance, I reward expertise. Two, please,” Ash said to the foreign man. He fished out a hotdog with his tongs, while Ash pulled some bills from his pocket.
“Where’d you get that?” Squirrel whistled.
“Petty cash fund, I assume. It was in a cash box.”
“That’s not… I mean, you’re not… never mind.”
“It’s White Knights money, right? We’re the White Knights. Call it a business lunch.”
Ash spread condiments into his bun, and walked off with his teeth in the soggy bread. He’d found a small collection of cash, but he had no idea how they were going to make more. Donations were too much like begging. Maybe they could contract out.
Ash’s pocket started vibrating, making him jump. He shuffled his hands around the food and got the phone out. “Jeez, that didn’t take long.” He held it up to his ear. “Hello?”
“Yo, Ash, it’s Jamal.”
“Yeah, I’m looking at something weird over here. Across the street. It looks like someone’s trying to break into a car, but I can’t tell.”
“What? You can’t see him?”
Squirrel jumped up and down. “What’s happening? What’s happening?” Ash glared him away.
Jamal said, “No, I mean, I can’t tell if he’s breaking in or not.”
“You think he locked his keys in his car?”
“Yeah. Should I say something?”
“Well, yeah. There’s a potential crime here, right?”
“Should I get my weapon out?”
Jeez, did these guys get any training? “No, just go up and ask if he needs any help. If it’s for real, your presence should scare him off. Ask him if you can help, if you can call someone. Ask him details about his car, like how long he’s had it, when he got it, how he got it. If he’s lying, he won’t answer right away. He’ll do a lot of ‘ummm… ummmm…’ stuff. And make sure you identify yourself.”
Jamal sighed. “Okay. I just hope I don’t get shot.”
“You won’t get shot. Anfernee’s got your back, right?”
“Yeah. Two against one. Go for it.”
He hung up and Ash rolled his eyes.
“What is it? What is it?” Squirrel said.
“Potential car theft, but I think it’ll turn out to be some guy who locked his keys in.”
“Damn, Ash, that was good. That was so detailed. You sure you never done this before?”
“As far as I know, I’ve never done anything before.”
Squirrel looked at him puzzled for a second. “Oh, right, the memory. So you had nothing when you woke up? No ID?”
“No, nothing but some pills that I lost and fifty bucks that got stolen a few hours later.”
“Really? So, like, it doesn’t bother you? That you can’t remember?”
“You’d think it would, but something inside me says not to dwell on the past. Even one that doesn’t exist.”
“You could go to the hospital.”
“Yeah, maybe I will, one of these days. But I seem to be doing fine for the moment, right?” he nudged Squirrel. “Got my own business and everything. I just want to get back on my feet. Get stronger.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool. That makes sense.”
They came to a four-way intersection, high-rises on each corner. Down the street, a hipster in square glasses ran across the street in a traffic gap.
“Look, jaywalker,” Squirrel pointed. “See, see? Over there.”
“Yeah, I see.”
“Aren’t we going to stop it? Or arrest him?”
Ash shook his head. “No. Not gonna do that. I’m not gonna run after him for four blocks for some stupid warning.”
“Good point, good point,” Squirrel nodded.
“And another thing, I’m not gonna grab people for non-crimes like that. I only want to stop crimes that harm other people. Those laws for jaywalking and speeding are so the police department can gain revenue. They’re meaningless. Law abiders become paranoid and distrustful of authority, and the bad people don’t pay and don’t care.”
Ash stopped in front of a newspaper box. “Look at this.” He pointed to an article reading ‘WOMAN SHOOTS HUSBAND–Domestic Violence Leads to Murder’. “This is the sort of stuff I want to stop.”
Squirrel read a little further. “Yeah, that sounds pretty tragic. Good for her, though. She fought back.”
“Good for her?” Ash said. “How did she get to that point? What messed her up in the first place that she got into that situation? Why’d she choose a husband like that? Huh?”
Squirrel didn’t have an answer.
“You think that happened out of the blue? You think they were married in a perfect life and she just snapped? No way. These things don’t exist in a vacuum. These people were screwed up way before, and somebody needs to pay for that. Or what about this?”
Ash pointed to the newspaper one stand over. “Settlement reached in StarkweatherCo embezzlement trial. First of all, how long had this been going on and nobody knew about it? What made him think that this was acceptable? What about the people who lost their retirement? And the plea bargain? That money goes to the lawyers. He just bought his way out of prison. These days, you can get as much justice as you pay for. You see what I’m saying?”
“Um, sort of,” Squirrel said.
He stooped down to read the article, but it disappeared behind the fold. And he had no change to buy a copy. But then, why should he have to pay for a newspaper? It was like his daily rap sheet.
Ash summoned his fire-strength to his fingers and twisted the knob. The lock broke and he pulled it out.
“Uh…” Squirrel mumbled.
“Hey, I’m doing the city a public service, right? So the least it owes me is a newspaper.”
Squirrel shrugged. “I guess.”
Ash fanned out the paper. “Look at this. ‘Grandmother Shot to Death in Desert’. ‘Councilmember Thoron Named in Foreclosure Scandal’. ‘Accused Rapist Acquitted on Technicality’. And this happens every day!” Ash shook the paper in front of Squirrel. “Tomorrow there’ll be a new paper with all new stories like this. All these could have been prevented. And if they do get caught, it’s a matter of time before they’re back in society. The cops can’t get them, the law can’t get them. But we can.”
“But… how are we gonna do that?”
Ash gazed out into the street. “That… I don’t know. One step at a time, I guess. We don’t have the numbers now, but we can build. Keep doing the little things. Then before you know it, we’re a force to be reckoned with. People will look to us as bringers of justice.”
“Dude,” Squirrel shifted his eyes left and right. “Are you talking about… killing people?”
“What? No, no, we’re not hitmen. There is a system out there. But when the system falls through, we’ll be there to hold up the net. The cops are about as effective as a wet rag trying to soak up the ocean. It’s up to us to make sure karma doesn’t fail.”
Ash’s phone beeped as they crossed the next corner. “Hello?”
“Dude, Ash, it’s Jamal.” He sounded out of breath.
“Ah, yes. Report?”
“Dude, it worked. I went up to him and he ran away.”
“Good. Good job,” Ash said.
“We tried to catch him, but he was too fast.”
“Too fast?” said Ash. “You said he was just across the street.”
“Yeah, but he was too fast.”
“Well, what the hell is wrong with you that you couldn’t catch up with him? You’re a fit guy.”
No response to that, just heavy breathing. Maybe he was being too discouraging for a leader.
“Well, don’t worry about that,” Ash said. “The important thing is you stopped the crime.”
After some gasps, Jamal said, “Right, right… yeah.”
“Good. Continue patrol. Report back with an update in half an hour.”
Another gasp. “Will do, boss.”
Ash clicked his phone off. “One step at a time.”