They Fight Crime!
Jack and Terri spend their nights off in the back of a ’75 Caddy, fighting crime.
They’ve only been together for five months, sleeping together for two. It’s long enough that she’s more than happy to sleep with him, but they’re still in that grey area of euphemism and subterfuge: they don’t do it in her apartment ’cause her roommate might hear, they don’t do it at his place ’cause his wife might hear (separation pending, he promises), and they don’t talk about it in the naked terms that’d make the whole thing real. Fighting crime was something Terri read in a book in college, the title something involving shampoo and the plot consistently escaping her.
And it makes it sound much more glamourous than this: the seatbelt digging into her shoulder, the leftover gym smell and the smell of a beer they still stop for beforehand, the equivalent of setting up an alibi. She’s the psychic queen of the dead with an MBA from Harvard, he murmurs in her ear when he undoes her blouse. He’s a . . . Nobel Prize-winning astronaut with a past, she replies, and they giggle, but not too loud. Terri privately thinks the lives Jack spins for her are always better than the vice versa, though she knows if she said it he’d disagree.
Tonight she packs a surprise in her bag, along with the shoes and tennis racquet and triple-sealed water canteen. She’s not much for sewing, but was forced through enough years of Home Ec to make a Halloween costume that lasts—and surprisingly, still fits. She puts it on under the jeans and tee shirt once they meet by chance at the gym, tries not to scratch at it during their chance beer after the workout, goes through all the other steps of the ritual they know so well. Spandex ought to make him hot. Spandex always makes guys hot.
The fabric keeps heat in, makes her sweaty, pulls at her thighs in a kind of itchy way, but the look on his face when he takes off her clothes is worth a thousand years of torment. Terri and Jack fight crime with a surprising thoroughness.
What is not surprising is that their car should attract some attention.
He’s just about found the right rhythm when: “Hey, fuck,” a voice yells, and there’s a loud rap on the window. “It’s superheroes! Superheroes fucking!”
“Shit,” Jack says, and falls right out of her.
Hands push the car, rocking it back and forth on its axles. “Superheroes, man!” says the voice, high-pitched and malicious. Terri can’t see much from where she is: a flash of jacket, silver under the faraway streetlights, pale, pale hands on the windows.
The door opens and Jack’s yanked out from on top of her, half-naked and torn between shouting his lungs out and being quiet as he can. The one who yelled starts laughing, pokes the slight potbelly, pulls a knife.
She doesn’t know what to do; all she wants to do is get them as far away from her as she can, give herself some time to think—
Something builds up inside of her, and there’s a push—
The nearest thug catapults off of nothing, yelping, and arcs smoothly into the horizon.
Jack’s eyes are flaming. Literally. Once he remembers his tae kwon do (which he abandoned for a corner office and a growing waistline), three more flee stumbling and burning. He throws a fireball after them for good measure.
Panting, half-naked, they stare at each other. He pulls up his pants.
“She’s an archaeologist with the power to bend men’s minds,” he says wonderingly.
“He’s a fire-wielding accountant on a mission from God,” she replies.
They look at each other for a moment, and at the leather jackets smouldering on the ground. There’s the sound of a siren in the distance, Dopplering its way towards the deserted parking lot.
“Why not?” she tells him, and perches on the trunk to wait for the cops.
Crimes Against Humanity
Jack is working late. Or working out late, or whatever he says this time. Again.
Rosie’s had it with his bullshit. Yes, the doctor said he had to cut down his weight or the cholesterol would get him by forty-five (not too far away, now). Yes, he is looking in better shape than he was before, and the Christmas bonus went a long way to paying off the last of the mortgage, and she really shouldn’t complain. But he went from coming home late twice a week to three times, to four times, and now she barely sees him at all. There’s a vague look in his eyes these days.
He has to be seeing someone.
She’s already sent the girls to her mother’s—for a sleepover, she told them all—and the last touches are about to fall into place. The bag’s packed. The note—which she agonized over a bit, trying to choose the right words to convey her pain, her anger, the right amount of vitriol to wound and cause not retaliation but penance—is on the table. After six drafts, she concluded that all Dear John letters will inevitably sound the same, and scribbled whatever on the back of an old bank statement. Anything that’s valuable to her, she’s taking with. Anything she can carry, that is. The rest will see her in court.
There’s a rattle at the door. She zips up the bag and swings on her coat. It’s probably him right now, and then there’ll be a scene, and he’ll promise all sorts of things like he has before (and like every cheating husband on film and small screen does) and it’ll just go back to usual.
No. It’s better this way. She’ll go out the back.
She opens the back door and runs smack into a man all in black, a balaclava covering his face even though it’s summer. He probably squeals louder than she does when he pulls the gun. “This is . . . this is a stickup!” he says.
She puts down the bag and tries to take slow, calming breaths.
There are three of them in all. They drag out a kitchen chair, and after a quick conference in the other room (leaving her with the man with the gun), they tie her to a chair with a freshly laundered bedsheet.
Rosie sighs. “You don’t have to tie me up. I’m leaving, and you can take whatever you want of my ex-husband’s shit.” She puts the emphasis on ex.
He squints. “Gotta say, you talk a good line, lady,” and shoves a pillowcase gag into her mouth.
Her nose tingles; the fabric softener smells sickly sweet at this distance, and she wants to sneeze. Of course this would happen tonight.
The thieves, from where she’s watching, are at least thorough. They take out the stained-glass window in the bar expertly and slip it into a waiting case. They appraise the paintings on the walls, select a few, leave others behind. They don’t bother with the small things—the crystal, the electronics, or the books—and they don’t bother with her bag, which is fine by her. She watches them with a strange sense of peace, the kind you get when you know all those best-laid plans have just been swept away. He’ll pay attention now when she sends the kids to Mom’s. He’ll notice these things. The Great Escape is over.
There’s a clunk behind her, in the living room. She squints; a line of orange is snaking across the floor. And she smells smoke.
The masked man staggers back under a flurry of invisible blows; the painting in his hands doesn’t fall to the floor, but is lifted by some force and set on the dining room table. Fire explodes on the chest of the second and he drops his case, starts batting frantically at his shirt. Sirens sound outside, and the thieves panic, drop everything, flee into the waiting arms of the city’s Finest.
Hands loose the sheets binding her to the chair, the fabric in her mouth. And there they are, in her own house, the mysterious InvisiGirl and Fireman, the greatest superheroes the city’s ever seen—at least in the past few months.
Rosie gets out the fire extinguisher and puts out the carpet.
InvisiGirl starts tidying up a bit, asking her questions about the thieves—where did they come in, what did they look at, could she maybe recognize the voices in a lineup?—but Fireman’s standing off to the side, uncomfortable, shy-seeming. He won’t look at her at all.
Rosie’s no fool. It takes more than a bit of spandex and a movie-announcer voice to make her not recognize her own damn (ex-)husband. “About time you came home,” she says to him.
InvisiGirl nearly drops the vase they got for their anniversary on the floor.
Jack looks at the debris of the bedsheet and pillowcase, at the note on the table, at the bag by the door.
“Aw, shit,” Jack says, and gets himself a beer.
Terri doesn’t like being InvisiGirl.
For one, she is not invisi, more telekinetic. If people don’t know how to look in the right direction, that’s their problem. For two, she spent a lot of time and money to stop being a girl in the eyes of the world at large, and she’s not about to go back now. For three, Jack’s been on edge ever since the foiled robbery at his place, and it’s a strain on the relationship. It’s not like Rose knows that they’re anything but partners, after all, even though Terri is sure the woman has her suspicions. Anyone would have their suspicions.
Jack and Terri play racquetball together every day now in the gym where they met, in the building that houses both their companies. It’s more important these days to stay in shape.
“Jack,” she says, “you’re getting paranoid. It’s not like it’s painted on your chest that we slept together.” Slept, past tense. Fighting crime leaves very little time these days for . . . well, fighting crime.
He shakes his head again, slams the ball against the wall so hard she doesn’t dare intercept it.
“You said you were gonna leave her,” Terri says softly, and he doesn’t answer.
He avoids talking about them these days. Now that they’re front-page news, everyone’s on the lookout for a flash of red cape. The police officers they worked with are interviewed, every detail of the interactions dissected on websites, in magazines, on the news. They’re stalked, profiled, patterned and analyzed.
“We can’t be seen together like this,” he says again once they hit the bar, putting all those calories back on with a pint of cold whatever. Her own weight hasn’t changed; maybe she’s replacing fat with muscle or something. Maybe it’s doing nothing at all for her. Maybe she’s running in place. “God help us if the press connects it up.”
They stop meeting at the bar.
Terri starts seeing someone else. She doesn’t tell either of them about the other. There’s no point. The relationship ends after three months. The new guy isn’t a fiendish flyboy sorcerer for the 21st century.
On weeknights, Terri and Jack fight crime.
Rosie finds lipstick on a collar that’s five months old, shoved in the back of his gym bag, in the middle of a fit of spring cleaning. She breaks the vase she got for their anniversary on the paintings that were recovered from the art thieves, thanks to Fireman and InvisiGirl.
Terri deletes every single email that Jack ever sent her, rooting them out of their special hidden folder and consigning them to the bit bucket. He gave her nothing, afraid of it being tracked, so she has nothing else to destroy. After an hour of flailing and wanting to scream and feeling too scared to scream because someone might hear her, she burns the costume. It doesn’t burn well, and what she’s left with after half an hour is a pile of reeking, plasticky shreds. Even the gesture of it doesn’t work out right, she thinks to herself, and goes home to cry for three hours.
Jack takes a business trip to Boston. He knows none of this.
Jack comes home to the second Dear John note this year and an empty house, and drops his suitcase on the bed. The girls are probably at her mother’s. The paintings are off the walls. It looks like art thieves have hit the place, except Rosie does a better, cleaner job.
She’s his wife. He loves her, despite all the rough shit they’ve been through the past year. He calls her at her mother’s house, and leaves a message on the machine: Babe . . . I’m wrong. I’ve been looking for fulfillment in the wrong places. It’s been over for a while now.
Let me make it up to you. Please.
He goes to the office the next day, and Terri’s resignation is in her email. She doesn’t sign it InvisiGirl like she has been.
She’s his partner. This has gotten bigger than the two of them; maybe the city doesn’t need or depend on them, but they do good things. They help. He doesn’t want her for her body any more. They’re a team. He cares about her.
He emails Terri back: Baby . . . let me make it up to you. Please.
Crimes of Omission
Terri meets him at the parking lot where they made love in his Caddy, and he doesn’t kiss her cheek like he used to.
He never said he wanted out.
Crimes of Omission II
Jack meets her at the parking lot where they made love in his Caddy, and she doesn’t have her costume any more.
She never said she wanted out.
Crimes of Necessity
There is nobody else in the parking lot tonight. Not even superheroes.
“She’s a lovesick idiot who set herself up for a fall,” Terri says thickly, when she can speak.
“He’s an insensitive shit who doesn’t know what he wants,” Jack replies.
They know they’re hurting each other, and they’re not about hurting people. It’s not what crimefighters do. At least not what they mean to.
They know they’re not going to see each other again.
In the months to come, Fireman goes out in a very public blaze of glory. InvisiGirl isn’t seen or heard from again after that.
Terri moves to New York and takes a job with a museum. On the weekends she haunts secondhand bookstores, trying to track down that book she read in college. She never does. Several professional attempts to steal visiting artifacts from her place of employment are quietly and anonymously foiled in the years to come.
Jack and Rosie do not stay married. All she says is: I know there’s someone else. Maybe not in your pants any more, but there’s still someone else. Jack dies when someone sets fire to his office building, immolating the gym and the bar at its base. He is the only casualty, and Rosie and the girls are given a generous life insurance settlement. None of them attend his funeral.
One day a masked man knocks on Terri’s office door and lets himself in. Fighting crime is big business now; Terri and Jack were hardly the first, but their methods and budgets pale in comparison to modern standards. The masked man sits in her chair and shakes her hand. “You’re InvisiGirl,” he says.
“Not any more,” she tells him, without looking up. And she isn’t any more.
“You know it can be good,” the masked man says. “You make people happy, and that’s what’s important. You keep people safe. It can be good if you do it right.”
“No,” she says. “I don’t think so.”
She goes back to cataloguing bones. After a while the masked man leaves.
That night Terri takes out her old scrapbook. She couldn’t bear to burn everything of the old days. It was as much a part of her life as it was his.
She won’t go back. She knows she won’t. But at least she has the option.
After all, it’s not like they’ll ever run out of crime.
Thanks to the They Fight Crime! server for help with this story.