Being a Hero-for-hire can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you get paid for your services. On the other hand, sometimes you have to work for clients who make you wish you could punch them instead of their enemies.
Or Let Them Punch You
But doing that would be bad for business, which is why for the last twenty minutes I’ve been listening to a short, fat little man with way too much grease on his forehead tell me how to do my job.
“So I want you to get them for me, see? Rough them up a bit, but don’t kill them. Just get my briefcase back.”
“And what’s in the briefcase?” I asked.
“You don’t need to know that,” The little man, who said his name was Soames, scowled at me as he said it. “It’s just a case, all right? All you need to know. My associates, the Rico brothers, were delivering it for me, until they had a change of heart and decided to keep the case. Bad idea. I want you to show them how bad the idea was, and bring me my case back. I don’t want the police to get involved, so I came to you.”
“And you are?” I addressed the woman standing behind Soames.
“Bethany,” She stepped forward. Her hands were shaking slightly. She was frightened. “The Rico Brothers have taken over an art center I teach at. It’s called Soul Purpose Inc.”
“I’d heard about you guys,” I nodded slowly. “Soul Purpose. You’re that company that makes T-shirts of superheroes.”
“We print pictures of all kinds of pop culture symbols on our shirts and shoes, actually.” Bethany nodded. “And part of the money we make goes into supporting and setting up art centers for new artists to train at. That’s what we’re doing in this city, too. Only the Rico brothers took over our center, which means I can’t teach there anymore. I knew Mr. Soames was coming to ask for your help. Please, I just wanted to say, try not to damage the art center too much when you’re dealing with the brothers and their men. It’s a pretty old building and we don’t have any money to get it fixed up.”
“I don’t care about that,” Soames waved Bethany away like she was a fly near his soup. “Burn the whole building to the ground for all I care. Just get me the briefcase, and I promise I’ll make you a rich man.”
“Fine.” I got to my feet. “I’ll need a ride to the center.”
Soames had his car, and I got in the back seat. But first I made Bethany get in the seat next to me. Soames tried to make an objection, but I gave him a look that shut him up. The rest of the trip passed in silence until we reached the center.
“Wait in the car,” I told Soames and Bethany.
“Remember, no harm to the suitcase,” Soames shouted after me. I entered the art center building through the broken down front door.
Bethany had been right. The place really was in bad shape. It used to be a middle school before they ran out of money. I could tell Soul Purpose had to really stretch the money they had to make some small renovations that allowed them to teach here again.
And now the Rico brothers and their gang had screwed the place up again. Cigarettes and whisky bottles were stashed everywhere. Needles and bongs were jumbled together with pizza boxes in the dustbins. The whole place stank worse than my prison cell had.
The Rico Brothers and their men had seen me coming, and clearly intended to put up a fight. I still feel surprised when someone tries to do that. Everyone in the hood knows I’m Luke Cage, and they all know what I can do. But so many regular thugs still like to believe they’d be the ones to finally lay me down.
Didn’t happen. There were thirty members of the gang inside that building, and I lay into each one. I went slower than I normally would have because I didn’t want to mess the building up any more than it already was. I let those that wanted to escape get out of the building, even the brothers, once I’d had a talk with them and they’d handed the suitcase over to me.
Once I’d made sure all the thugs had gotten out of the building, I went back to the car holding the briefcase.
“Yes!” Soames exclaimed, running up to me and seizing the case. “Cottonmouth would’ve killed me if I’d lost this.”
“The place is a mess,” I told Bethany. “But the brothers and their men have left.”
“Thank you, Mr. Luke Cage,” she said to me gratefully, and I nodded.
“So how much do I owe you?” Soames demanded, taking out his purse. “I told you I’d make you a rich man, and I keep my promises.”
“You don’t owe me anything. You’re going to use the money you were going to give me and get this art center fixed up.”
“Are you crazy?” Soames stared at me. “I’m not doing that!”
“Then you’re not walking away with the case,” I grabbed Soames by his collar and lifted him off the ground. “You’re going to get this place fixed up. And you’re going to tell Cotttonmouth and the Rico brothers and all your other associates that this place is under Luke Cage’s protection. Anyone of them come here again, I’ll come after them. Got it?”
“Okay, okay,” Soames wheezed, struggling to breathe. I let him go, and he dropped to his knees on the ground. “You really are crazy.”
“Get the center repaired, or I’ll show you what crazy actually means.” I growled, and Soames looked like he was going to wet his pants before he ran over to his car and jumped in.
Soames drove away at top speed, and Bethany turned to me, confused. “Thank you. I can’t believe you did that. I don’t know what I can do for you in return.”
I stared back at the art center. “You know, I haven’t been good for much lately except for hurting people, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand what you’re trying to do at this place. I’ve seen the kids you teach here, and how happy they are to have a place like this to come to. You want to thank me? Keep teaching these kids everything you know. Show them that there’s more to the world than joining a gang and selling drugs and getting into turf wars.”
“I will. Thank you so much.”
I nodded to her and turned to leave. Like I said before, being a Hero-for-hire has its upsides, but sometimes helping the people who’re spending their last dime helping others is more important than getting paid to do it.