Zoid Man: Chapter Three

8 Dec

Zoid Man

Chapter Three

Copyright © 2015

 

The students and faculty at Frankton Middle were abuzz the next day.

“Did ya hear? Someone got shot last night!”

“I heard a bunch of gangs got into it at the triangle.”

“Me, too! A shootout! Guns blazing! Gang members getting’ killed! Three or four, I heard.”

Jack and Benny listened and kept their mouths shut. Both rolled their eyes and shook their heads as each new update rifled through the school.

At lunch, mock gun fights broke out among the boys, who feigned getting hit, and collapsed “dead” on the tables, peaking to see if any of the girls showed any concern over their demise.

“What’re we gonna do, Jack?” Benny had cracked open his tin lunch box and began to twist open his thermos of tomato soup.

“Here’s what we’re not going to do: we’re not going to panic! You heard the stories, nobody got it right. Nobody’s dead. You and me — plus our mystery friend — are the only ones who know the truth.”

“Okay. So what’re we gonna do?” Benny dipped the corner of his egg salad sandwich into his soup, which he had poured into the thermos cap.

“We hafta find out who that was in the triangle last night.”

“Did you recognize him?”

Assuming it was a him, no, I couldn’t tell who it was. I think he’s around our age, though. He wasn’t really big, and he took off fast. He wasn’t a grownup.”

“So the question remains … how do you plan to find out who he was?”

Jack tried to think. The noise of the students in the cafeteria was louder than normal, given all of the speculation of last night’s gunfire. Then he remembered the match being struck.

“Cigarette! That’s it! Our mystery guy struck a match and lit a cigarette!”

“That’s how you’re going to find out who it is?”

“Look … superheroes got to work with clues, and the cigarette is a clue! He lit it on the street and took a few puffs. Then, when he heard you, I remember he put it out in the street. Dropped it and squished it out with his foot.”

“He didn’t hear me —”

“— And then he started to head our way across the triangle. I’ll bet you a buck the cigarette is still there, and after school we need to look for it.”

“I still don’t see.”

“It tells us what brand he smokes. Or what brand his parents smoke, anyway. Either way, it’s a clue. And it’s better than anything else we got.”

“So we find the cigarette … what then?”

“There’s only a few guys smoke at Frankton.”

“Greasers.”

“Right.”

“But they’re really tough guys, Jack!’

“The tougher they are . . .”

“— Yeah, the harder we fall!”

“For a superhero you sure are whimpy! Maybe that should be your sidekick name! Zoid Man and Whimpy!”

“Ah, shutup!”

* * *

After school the duo met at the park and began to walk the area Jack saw the mysterious figure light the cigarette. They were into the search several minutes when Benny saw the crumped end of a filtered cigarette in the edge of the grass near the curb.

“Got it!” He lifted his trophy up, pinched between his thumb and finger. Jack hurried to his side and took the butt to inspect it.

“Great. He’s a Tareyton smoker.” His tone was sarcastic.

“What’s wrong with smoking Tareytons?”

“They fight.”

“What? I don’t get it!”

“That’s their ad. Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.”

“Oh. Well, that doesn’t make our guy a fighter just ‘cuz he smokes them.”

“Maybe not. But he probably thinks he’s a fighter.”

“Everybody thinks they’re a fighter.”

“I don’t. I know I’m a fighter!” and he hit Benny hard on the shoulder for emphasis. “Cassius Clay has nothin’ on me. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” He hit Benny again on “sting.”

“Ow! STOP IT!”

“Okay, Whimpy!”

“So we have one cigarette. How’s this going to lead to our guy?”

“Let’s assume he didn’t buy it. Probably he stole it from his parents. Maybe went into his mom’s purse and slipped one out. Or took a pocketful from a cigarette case.”

“Okay.”

“Then we gotta check out the neighborhood first. See what brands parents smoke, or what brand they leave out for guests. If we find anyone that uses Tareytons, they go on the suspect list.”

“Well, I guess that leaves me out. My mom puts out Kents.”

“Dumbhead!” And hit Benny one more time for good measure.

The boys began their first leg of searching out the source to no avail. They checked with friends as to whether their parents smoked, or what cigarettes they kept out for visitors. It seemed a bit odd to Jack that as a whole, parents would warn kids not to smoke, and then smoke themselves, or have ornate boxes of loose cigarettes all over the house.

“You’ll stunt your growth!” they would warn. Well, if that’s the case, why do all the doctors smoke? Didn’t make sense.

Jack didn’t smoke because he hated his gag and coughing responses. It was similar when his father first let him taste a beer. Ugh! What was with that? And his older brother only smoked when he was around girls. Never in front of the parents. He smoked Marlboros on account so many movie and TV stars smoked them. That was the one thing Jack didn’t admire about Jason — he caved to social pressure. He had read about social pressure in an article Jutsie Sloop gave him at school one day.

“Here. You need to read this!” And handed him a folded copy of Teen magazine, which he slipped quickly under his shirt.

Later he read nearly all the other articles in the magazine before dutifully looking at the prescribed piece. The article, written by some famous female psychologist, warned girls of the dangers of wanting to be like everyone else. Jack scoffed at the advice because he knew he wasn’t likely to fall into that trap. AND he wasn’t a girl, anyway.

It took Jack and Benny the better part of two weeks to satisfy themselves that the Tareyton cigarette did not tie into anyone they knew very well.

“What now?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking we could check out the smokers at the school.”

“You kidding? What — we just walk up and ask ‘Do you smoke Tareytons and are you the guy in the triangle the night of the gunshot?’”

“No. We play it cooler than that. We go to the Dog House at lunch and ask for cigarettes from the guys.”

“Jeesh, Jack! Now I know you’re mental! May as well go up and ask a greaser to smash us in the face!”

“Do you have a better idea? Look, Benny, superheroes are super for a reason. We’re smarter than everyone else, for one thing, and we’re not afraid to do what needs to be done. Am I right?”

Benny couldn’t argue with superhuman logic. To do so would merely start Jack on a Whimpey rant.

“But Jack, the break-ins have stopped since that night. Maybe the gunshot scared the bejesus out of the guy and he’s seen the wisdom of stopping his evil ways!”

Jack put his arm condescendingly around Benny’s shoulder.

“Benny — this guy is smart. He’s only waiting for the coast to clear. Let things die down. Kids are still talking about it. I don’t believe he’s gonna change his ways that quickly. Zoid Man and Whimpy still have our work cut out for us.”

“Bernard.”

“What?”

“You called me Whimpy. My superhero name is Bernard.”

“Right.”

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