Masks [original]

{Falls early on in the second run of Wrought Iron’s Tales of Bravery. Pygmalion created by Edward Haworthy.}

The first masked hero showed up in 1924, in the then-backwater city of New New Amsterdam (which had been named so mostly as a joke). Prior to then, there had been various heroes scattered across the ages—Hercules to Christopher de la Croix to the bastard lord of Birmingham—all of whom went about with uncovered faces. And had occasionally-destroyed houses and herds of retainers who owed them their lives.

Despite the sensational nonsense and salacious gossip that has been kicked around, it was the latter issue that finally drove the majority of professional heroes into donning masks. Bombs can be guarded against, but life-debts are tricky outside of a feudal society and uncomfortable for all parties involved. Unless the debtor finds himself in a position to rescue his former rescuer, he’s stuck with a debt that can’t be settled. And that tends to make people cranky.

Pygmalion (Charles T. James III in his private life) came up with the bright idea of mask and costume after his second rescue, which was greeted unenthusiastically.

“Well, this is just great,” the man said, staring at the somewhat crumpled thugs that were now strewn across the alley, ignoring his own bloodied nose and bruised face. “Now the boss is going expect me to pay twice as much. I don’t suppose you need a valet?”

“Er, what?” Charles asked, somewhat miffed (although he’d never admit it) at the lack of gratitude. He shoved his box of chalks into a pocket and tried for a don’t-mess-with-me face.

Which went wasted when the rescuee didn’t look up. “Didn’t think so, but I figured it was worth a shot. What about a buck fifty?”

“No, thank you.” Charles had heard that people sometimes offered their rescuers money, but he hadn’t expected for it to happen so soon in his career. Or for it to be such an insultingly small amount. Not that he needed money—that was what the trust fund was for—but still.

The rescuee sighed noisily and finally looked over at him. “No, I mean do you have a buck fifty to loan me? I need it for bus fare. There’s no way I can raise eight grand in the time the boss’ll give me, and obviously you’re not the type to follow through on your good deed of the day.”

“Oh.” Charles felt like he ought to protest that last bit, but it was pretty much inarguable. The rescuee wasn’t exactly the kind of person he wanted to keep an eye on permanently. “Here.” He dropped the requested amount into the rescuee’s outstretched hand. “Where will you go?”

The rescuee grimaced. “Back to my parent’s farm, I suppose. If you’re ever in Warwick, stop by. Sunny Acres. It’s the one with the purple barn. My mom will insist on giving you fresh eggs.” He offered his hand. “Buster Chiswick, but everyone calls me Buzz.”

Charles looked at the hand, then up at the suspiciously earnest face of Buzz. He could suddenly see himself being roped into this person’s life, being called on when funds were tight or hands were too few, repaid with mom’s eggs and a whole set of expectations, because everyone knew how it went when a hero rescued someone. There were duties. There were midnight phone calls and cryptic messages on telegrams and attempted (or successful) kidnapings.

And . . . Charles really didn’t want that. He’d never really contemplated what came after the heroics.

“Nice to meet you, Buzz,” Charles said, taking a hasty step back. “I really must be going now.” He didn’t quite turn tail and run, but it was pretty close. “Maybe you should call the police about these gentlemen,” he called over his shoulder, and then he was safely down the street and out of sight.

Buzz Chiswick. . . . He shuddered. Obviously his don’t-mess-with-me face wasn’t working—which he probably should have suspected after the old lady two days earlier had called him a sweet boy. Maybe if he kept his face hidden . . . ?

Charles T. James III strolled down the deserted street, one ear open for sounds of someone in trouble, and thought about masks.


2 thoughts on “Masks [original]

  1. Have I mentioned lately how much I love your original fic? I do. I adore them. You have such a luminous sense of place and character.

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