Authors: Wendelin Van Draanen
So we retrieve our stuff and head for the squad car, but Billy doesn’t follow us. He goes with Jack, straight to the High Roller.
“Hey!” Officer Borsch calls to him over the hood. “That’s not a safety helmet!”
Billy knocks through the cloth of his bomber helmet. “Mine’s built in, sir! Very convenient.”
“Get in the cruiser,” Officer Borsch tells him. “Enough lawbreaking for one day!”
Billy looks from Jack to Officer Borsch and back to Jack. “Go,” Jack says to Billy, then gives his hand a mighty shake. “Proud to have had you on the Justice Team.”
“Do you want me at the news conference?” Billy asks.
“You bet I do,” Jack tells him, then turns to Officer Borsch. “You’re going to help us set that up, right, Commissioner?”
“It’s Sergeant Borsch, okay? Enough of the Commissioner nonsense.”
Jack looks down. “You’ll always be Commissioner to me, sir.”
“Yeah, well …” Officer Borsch’s eyes shift around a little and he waves him off. “Whatever. I’ll set it up. The mayor, the news crews. Get your speech ready, and make it a good one.” Then he looks at us and says, “What are you waiting for? Let’s get this statue back to City Hall.”
So we all pile in and lowride out of the dairy barn.
Officer Borsch scheduled the press conference for the next day at three-thirty so all of us could make it and it still could air on the five, six, and eleven o’clock news. Marissa and I got there around three-fifteen, and when we peeked inside the City Hall foyer, we saw that the statue was already back on its big base.
There were news cameras set up outside the foyer near a podium with microphones, and a growing group of people was gathering. I wasn’t sure Casey would be there, but he came running up to me a few minutes after Marissa and I arrived.
“Hey, you made it!” I said, and had the hardest time not giving him a very public hug.
“Only because Jack showed up at our door last night with my backpack and skateboard and totally floored my mom.”
He laughs. “She has a thing about celebrities. She was all jelly-kneed after he left and she actually apologized to me.”
“Was he wearing hero gear?”
He laughs again. “Oh yeah.”
“So do you think your mom will show up
“Oh,” he says, looking around at the crowd. “Good point.”
So I stay with Marissa on one side of the crowd while Casey goes off to the other. But we grin and wink and do little hand signals to each other while we wait, which makes Marissa go, “I hate the two of you, you know that?”
I smile at her. “You love us and you know it.”
She looks like she’s about to cry. “I can’t believe I blew it so badly with Billy.” She nods up at the podium, where Mayor Hibbs has just appeared all rosy-cheeked and jolly, followed by Justice Jack and Billy, who are both decked out in hero gear. “Look at him!” she gushes.
Well, Marissa’s not the only one looking at the Deuce. There are girls everywhere swooning over the sight of him.
And then all of a sudden there’s a familiar voice behind us going, “Quite a turnout!”
“Hudson!” Then I see that Mikey’s with him, wearing his superhero Halloween costume. I laugh and slap five on him. “Spy Guy!”
“At your service, brave citizen!” Mikey says in the deepest voice a nine-year-old can make.
“How’d you hear about this?” I ask Hudson.
He laughs. “Oh, they’ve been teasing it on the news since early this morning. Your grandmother said she’d be here.” He scans the crowd. “There she is!”
“Grams! Over here!” I call. And then I realize that Bun-Top and Screwdriver Sally and about six other members of the Prune Patrol are there, too. I look at Hudson.
“Good grief. I can’t believe so many people care about that stupid statue.”
“It’s not the statue, it’s Justice Jack.” He gives me a knowing look. “People love a superhero.”
I see that Casey’s mom has found Casey, and that Heather is with them, too.
He grins at me. “Especially Heather.”
Well, if you ask me, Heather’s like the Lex Luthor of William Rose Junior High—there’s no way she would go all goo-goo over a fake superhero.
And yet …
I nudge Marissa. “Check out the way Heather is looking at Justice Jack.”
“Whoa,” Marissa says after a minute. “That’s freaky.”
All of a sudden Officer Borsch is up at the podium, welcoming people and introducing the mayor. He keeps it short and to the point, but then Mayor Hibbs gives a
speech that uses words like
. He’s reading it, too, which makes it seem like we’re floating down a long, sleepy stream of patriotic mumbo jumbo until
he says, “And now it is my great pleasure to turn the microphone over to the man who brought home the statue. Ladies and gentlemen, Justice Jack!” And the crowd goes wild.
Officer Borsch is standing beside me now and he gruffs out, “Jack came in for a one-on-one this afternoon. His conscience was bothering him.”
“He told you … what?”
“Everything.” He shakes his head. “I feel for the guy.”
I raise an eyebrow his way. “Sounds like he’s converted you, too.”
“Yeah,” he growls. Then he eyes me and adds, “And you know how tough that can be.”
I laugh. “Yes, I do!” Then I ask, “So, what are you going to do?”
He raises an eyebrow my way. “There are things you’re better off not knowing, and there are things you’re better off forgetting.” He goes back to watching the podium. “He asked me about joining the force.”
“I don’t think that would work in Santa Martina, but I’m pulling some strings to get him in an academy in Reno. They would love him there.” He nods toward Squeaky and the Chick, standing off to one side of the podium. “Besides, they owe me and they know it.”
The clapping and whistling for Jack finally die down, but when he booms, “Good afternoon, brave citizens!” the crowd goes wild again.
“Wow,” I say, looking around.
Jack puts his hands up to quiet everyone. He doesn’t read from a written speech, he just looks out at all of us and says, “It has been a noble cause, serving the citizenry of Santa Martina. I have seen you give freely to those in need, rise to your neighbors’ defense, and dig within yourselves in service to justice. One man, no matter how competent his assistant”—he turns to give Billy a little bow—“cannot take on evil alone. Nor can one police force. We need
, the citizens of this fair city, to rally in defense of what is good and fair and just, and hold up a mighty shield against
those who would have us cower in fear. Many small deeds add up to a collective good, so I ask you to rise above fear and do what’s right.” He takes a deep breath, which re-inflates his chest. “With the return of our city’s symbolic statue, my tour as Justice Jack is over. It is now up to you to carry on the work I’ve begun here.” He does a little head bob and ends with, “It has been an honor to serve you.”
The mayor shouts, “Wait! What? You’re quitting?”
As an answer, Jack peels off his helmet, his mask, and his gloves and hands them over to the mayor. And even though I can tell it’s killing him, Billy does the same.
?” a woman from the crowd shouts. “Is that you?” And someone else calls out, “Dude, you’ve changed a lot since high school!”
Everything sort of goes chaotic after that. People start talking like crazy and girls are screaming out Billy’s name and the mayor’s all flustered and trying to figure out how this news conference could have gotten so out of control.
“Well,” Officer Borsch says with a rare grin, “this is the first press conference I’ve actually enjoyed.”
At first that surprises me, but then I see that it’s the mayor he’s got his focus on. “I can’t believe you didn’t warn him.”
“Nah,” he says, still grinning. “This was way more fun.”
I thought about that grin of his a bunch that night. I thought about how Officer Borsch, of all people, went along with a cover-up.
Or, at least, an un-investigation.
I also thought about how Marissa was disappointed
that Billy and Jack got credit for returning the statue and we got none, and I wondered if she really could keep quiet about it, or if it would all eventually come out anyway.
But mostly I thought about Justice Jack and why a goofy guy in cheap hero gear could make you feel like it was possible to change the world. What was it about him that had that effect on people?
It couldn’t be the costume.
It was a pretty corny costume!
And it couldn’t be the booming way he talked or all his Justice-this and Justice-thats.
Try that at school and people would laugh you apart!
But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that what made people love Justice Jack was the way he
the things he said. The way he believed that one person could change things by standing up, standing tall. Maybe that wasn’t an actual superpower, but the way he put his whole heart and soul into it?
Powerful enough to make
believe it, too.
And, you know, when you think about it, that may be the best superpower of all.