Cyrus sat on the couch and crunched on a bowl of frosted wheat. Normally he would have sat at the table, but the table was currently covered with papers, folders and charts. His mom was finalizing her budget with her new business partner, Herman. There wasn't much room in the one bedroom condo, so Cyrus was bumped to the couch.
He was sick to death of business plans and marketing and how much will it cost, so he put in his ear buds and switched his mp3 player on. He hit next to get a random song.
Can't trust me but it's not about trust
I make no sense, I am the walrus
Cyrus sprayed milk all over the coffee table.
He had been looking directly at Herman when that line played. He always though Herman looked like a walrus, with his droopy mustache and big belly.
"Cyrus, what is wrong with you?" asked his mother, irritated. "Hey, aren't you supposed to be going to school?"
Cyrus was still chuckling as he mopped up the droplets of milk.
"Yeah mom, I was just leaving."
"And take those headphones off. Your ears are going to grow around those things."
"Sure mom," mumbled Cyrus, but he made no move to take them out.
Between his mom's work and night school, he was pretty used to taking care of himself. She used to say it would be better when she graduated, but as soon as she had her business degree, she started spending all her free time developing her plans for "From Chi-town, With Love", a specialty bakery. Cyrus knew she had been working towards this moment for years. Say what you want about Sarah Durham, but when she had her sights set on something, she didn't quit. He was proud of her, and proud that, with her investment partner Herman Miller putting up half of the money, her dream was only two days away from becoming a reality.
Cyrus threw his bag over his shoulder, grabbed an old, baggy sweatshirt to protect against the fall chill, and checked himself in the mirror by the door. His tight, black hair was maybe a little frizzier than normal, but other than that, he looked about the same as he always did.
He skipped ahead to the next song on his player and smiled.
I’m sick of this, the time has come
for me to move along
And you can all just miss me when I’m gone.
Perfect exit music, as usual.
Cyrus ran his ear buds up through the sleeve of his sweatshirt. With the volume low, he could listen to music while pretending he was idly resting his head in his hand.
He was killing time until class ended, doodling in his notebook and writing down snatches of lyrics that struck him as interesting. He had just finished writing:
You weren't looking for something new,
You don't find destiny, it finds you
…when the bell rang. He ripped the page from his notebook, crumpled it, and tossed it in the trashcan on the way out the door.
He tossed his books in his locker and grabbed his bag. He wondered if his mom would be home for dinner, or if he would be on his own again. He slammed his locker door, revealing Milo Baumstein, who had apparently crept up while he was rummaging in his locker. Milo was skinny and white, with a perpetual smirk. He looked like he would be annoying, and he was.
"Cyrus, Cyrus, bo-byrus, just the man I wanted to see."
"What's up Milo?"
"Is this your hand writing?"
Milo smoothed out a wrinkled piece of paper and held it up for Cyrus' inspection.
"You're taking my papers out of the trash? That's creepy, Milo."
"What can I say, I have a crush on you." Milo laughed once, too loudly, like a donkey's bray. "So it is yours then? I thought so."
Cyrus snatched the paper out of Milo's hand.
"Yeah, it's mine. So what?"
Milo snatched it back.
"Dude, we've got to talk. How did you do it?"
"Do what? It's just trash."
"No, it's not. It's the future, man. You wrote the future!"
"Milo, what are you talking about?"
"Look, on Monday you balled this up and threw it at the trash can. It bounced off the rim and rolled to my feet."
"And you kept it?"
"Yes, and I'll explain why in a minute. But just listen! You wrote this on Monday, and everything you wrote came true on Tuesday!"
He had Cyrus' attention now.
"Look, here's an example. You wrote:
The fire and the rain,
All my life is pain,
I’m sick of this
and then someone pulled that fire alarm in 3rd period, and we all had to stand outside in the rain. And then here you wrote:
Hard to even move when I’m so dammed up.
and that was the day Neveh Jimson hit Tonya Bradley in the parking lot and nobody could move their cars for forty-five minutes. It's like a magic iPod or something!"
"Milo, what are you talking about? I just wrote some song lyrics down. That's a song by Breaking Cashflow. It doesn't mean anything about an accident. I don't even drive."
Cyrus tried to push past Milo, but Milo stepped in front of him. The halls were clearing quickly as everyone left to go home.
"It's alright, man. Don't be ashamed! I have a super power too. It's how I got this in the first place."
Milo waved the crumpled paper.
"Your super power is getting things out of the trash? Or just being really annoying?"
Milo was unfazed.
"No, my super power is getting information." He leaned in close. "They call me The Ferret. Get it? Because I ferret out information."
"By digging in the trash."
"I didn't get it out of the trash. That's what I'm trying to tell you. It rolled over to me, remember?"
"Milo, I gotta go home now."
"This is serious, Cyrus! I really mean it! I can't help it, information just finds me. I pick up the phone and overhear the name of the boy my sister likes. I go to the store to get milk for my mom, and I see Jamarcus Fisher coming out of the movies with Carrie Smith, not Wanda Pierce, who he's dating. Notes fall out of notebooks into my lap!"
"It sounds like you're trying to justify a lot of snooping."
Cyrus pushed past Milo and headed for the door. Milo trailed after him.
"Fine, you don't believe me? How about a demonstration?"
He ran past Cyrus and yanked open a classroom door at random. Inside, Mr. Blythe, the chemistry teacher was pawing passionately at Ms. Pastor, the librarian.
Cyrus' mouth dropped open, and hung there.
"Way to go, Mr. Blythe!" shouted Milo into the stunned silence.
"Milo..." warned Mr. Blythe, but before he could say anything more, Cyrus turned and ran. He wasn't sure if he were running to avoid getting in trouble, or just fleeing from the embarrassment of it all.
He ran to the end of the hall and skidded around the corner, not stopping until he passed through the glass doors into the stairwell before the exit. When he got there, he bent over, catching his breath. When he had it, he began to laugh. Hysterical laughter that kept him doubled over, holding his stomach. He was still laughing when Milo burst through the doors a couple of seconds later. Cyrus wiped the tears from his eyes.
"How did you know they were in there?"
"I didn’t, that’s my point. It's my super power."
"You just, what, stumble upon things?"
"I ferret out information. That's why they call me The Ferret. How do you think I keep from getting beat up every day?"
They sat in silence for a while before Milo continued.
"I have a superhero group. It's called the League of Awesome. We need you. There's crime out there that needs stopping. You could help stop it."
Cyrus stood up.
"Milo, you're crazy. I've got to go."
He turned and pushed open the door without looking back.
"Think about it!" Milo called after him.
Cyrus was sitting on the front porch, listening to his mp3 player and enjoying one of the last few nice evenings before fall reminded everyone just how much winter was going to suck. He skipped from track to track, trying to find something he wanted to listen to. It was no use; he needed some new music.
His mom and Herman must have finished their strategy meeting because Herman came out the front door.
"Hey, you coming to the closing tomorrow?" he asked.
"I don't know, maybe."
Cyrus really didn't care about some dumb paper getting signed, but he knew it was a big day for his mom. Once they owned the spot, the bakery stepped out of the realm of a dream, and became a reality. Cyrus kind of wanted to be there when it happened.
"Alright, maybe I'll see you then, kiddo."
Herman left down the front walk and took a left, fishing in his pocket for his keys. He must have been distracted, because he didn't see a boy walking in the other direction, and the two collided, hard. Herman's hand shot out for balance, and the contents of his pocket, including his keys and wallet, went flying everywhere.
The other boy was Milo.
Milo had been knocked to the ground, and he reached over and picked up Herman's license from where it had fallen next to him.
Herman snatched it out of his hand.
"Watch where you're going, kid!"
"Hey, same to you, pal!" replied Milo.
Herman hurried off, and Cyrus sighed as Milo turned in towards where he was sitting on the porch.
"Was that your dad?"
"Milo, he's white."
Milo just blinked up at him, so Cyrus continued.
"That's Herman. He's just my mom's business partner."
Milo got a strange look on his face, confused and suddenly intense.
"Did you say Herman? Why did his license say his name was Jack?"
Now it was Cyrus' turn to be confused.
"What are you talking about? Why would Herman have someone else's driver's license?"
"It had his picture on it, and the name was Jack Covington. I never heard of Jack being short for Herman."
"I don't know, Milo. There's probably a million explanations."
Milo had a gleam in his eye, and it was getting brighter by the minute.
"This looks like a job for the League of Awesome!"
"No! Uh-uh. No way. He's a nice guy who's helping my mom buy her bakery tomorrow. Leave him alone, okay?"
"Not a chance! There's something going on here, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it. That's why they call me The Ferret!"
"Nobody calls you The Ferret, do they?"
Milo was already during for the sidewalk. He shouted back over his shoulder, "I've got to assemble the League! We'll pick you up in an hour!"
Cyrus shouted back, "You're not doing this, Milo! I'm not going to let you!"
"You can come with us or not, but I'm going either way."
That left Cyrus without much of a choice.
A ratty gray sedan rolled up in front of Cyrus' house. Its bulk gave it a somewhat stately appearance, despite the occasional rust spot.
Milo poked his head out of the driver's window.
Cyrus said, "Hey Milo, nice boat! I thought you were bringing a car?"
"This is the Ferretmobile. Official League transportation. Hop in."
Cyrus opened the door and slid in the backseat. Next to Milo in the front seat, was a big black kid that Cyrus didn't know. He filled up most of the front seat, but he looked solid, chubby more than fat. He was just that big. His head was shaved smooth, and he had big wrinkles in the back of his neck. He was about the polar opposite of Milo. The boy had a rubber superball, and every few seconds he would bounce it off the dashboard, up into the windshield, and back into his hand.
Milo turned to face Cyrus, still grinning.
"Welcome to the League!"
"I'm not joining the League."
"This is Rudy."
Rudy stopped bouncing his ball long enough to turn and shake Cyrus' hand.
"And what's your power?" Cyrus asked wryly.
"I entertain myself," said Rudy, and he punctuated it by bouncing the ball in its two-bounce pattern.
"He never gets bored. Rudy's perfect for a job like this. We call him Stakeout Boy."
"Stakeout Man," corrected Rudy.
The car pulled away from the curb.
"So who else are we picking up?"
"Nobody else, you're it."
"So the League of Awesome is you and Rudy?"
"I'm not part of the League."
They rode in silence for a while, with only the boc-tic-whap, boc-tic-whap of Rudy's ball. Cyrus found it more annoying than soothing.
"Isn't that hard to do while he's driving?"
"That's what makes it a challenge."
Milo spoke up again.
"Now that you're a part of the League, you're going to need a superhero name. We can't just call you Cyrus."
"How about Shuffle Man?"
"How about Cyrus?"
"That will inspire fear into the hearts of my enemies. It makes me sound like an old man!"
"Shuffle Master. The iPoder."
"Come on, Milo. Besides, my mp3 player isn't even an iPod."
"Well, what do you have instead of shuffle?"
"Random play all."
"Random Play All...I like it. Nice ring to it. Random Play All."
"You're not really going to start calling me that, are you?"
"No, of course not. Only at League functions."
Mercifully, they were just pulling to the curb at their destination. It was an old brick warehouse at the end of a run-down, industrial looking dead end street. The shadows were dark in the gathering twilight, except for a lone light over a nondescript, windowless door.
"Where are we?" asked Cyrus.
"Jack Covington's place of business," replied Milo.
"Who's Jack Covington?"
"Who indeed? That was the name on the license that your mom's business partner dropped. The only Jack Covington I could find around here apparently owns a company named Triple A Imports. But it’s weird, it’s like the company doesn’t really exist. All I could find was a phone number. No address, no company website, nada. So I called up Tony's Big Slice and gave them the number for Triple A, and they repeated this address back to me, to confirm. In fact..."
A beat up hatch back with a glowing "Tony's Big Slice" car topper was just pulling up across the street. Milo shut off the car and went to go get the pizza.
"So what do we do now?" asked Cyrus.
"Now, we wait," replied Rudy.
He put his superball in his pocket and glanced around the car. He grabbed a nickel out of the center console.
"Heads or tails?"
After an hour or so, Cyrus couldn't take any more.
"This is ridiculous. Nobody's come in or out of that building all night. You don't even know for sure that this place belongs to Jack Covington, and even if it does, you don't know why Herman had his driver's license. And if I wanted to play head or tails all night, I could do it in the comfort of my own home!"
Milo thought for a minute, and then came to a decision.
"You're right. We need to get in there."
"That's not exactly what I meant."
Rudy tossed the nickel back in the console and Milo opened the door.
"Hey, wait a minute guys! That's breaking and entering. You could go to jail!"
"Since when has that ever stopped a superhero?"
"Guys! I'm not going to let you do this!"
Cyrus' complaints fell on deaf ears. Milo and Rudy were already out of the car and crossing the street. Cyrus opened his door and hurried after them.
On the side of the building, there was a row of high, small windows. Milo picked one at random, and Rudy boosted him up. The mechanism was broken, and Milo was able to pull it open easily.
"You've got to be kidding me," Cyrus muttered to himself. "What are the odds of that?"
There was no way Rudy was fitting through the window, even if he could have reached, so Milo had to wriggle through and then open the front door for them. As Cyrus waited for the door to open, he felt like every eye in the neighborhood was on him. It seemed to take forever, and when the door finally opened, Cyrus jumped inside as fast as he could.
Milo flipped on a bank of lights. The harsh fluorescents illuminated a mostly empty industrial space. In the far corner, chain link formed the walls of a small office, with a desk and filing cabinets. It was the only part of the big room that really looked used. The rest was mostly empty, with a few filing cabinets, a stack of wooden crates, and a worktable with a few papers on it.
"I guess we start with the office," said Rudy.
"You guys take the office...I want to check out those filing cabinets," said Milo with a far-off look in his eyes.
The office wasn't much. There was a desk in the center of the chain link "room" with a desk lamp and stacks of papers on it. A metal filing cabinet was in one corner with a few magnets stuck to the side, including one for Tony's Big Slice, a sprinkle covered doughnut, and a rainbow colored rectangle that said, "Don't worry, be happy!" A fan was sitting on the floor next to a well-worn boom box, both plugged into the same power strip as the desk lamp.
Rudy headed for the filing cabinets, so Cyrus took a look at the desk. There were receipts for what looked like a construction project of some sort. Gingerly, Cyrus pinched the corner of the top sheet and peeked beneath it. He wished he'd brought gloves or something.
"Hey guys, over here!" called Milo. He was holding up a manila envelope he had found in one of the drawers.
Cyrus and Rudy jogged over to him. Inside the packet was a series of false ids and documents. Cyrus scanned through them quickly. He saw at least six driver's licenses from various states, each one bearing Herman's smiling face next to names like Ted Brinkman and Alex Miller.
"Looks like Herman has a lot of irons in the fire," smirked Milo.
"Indeed I do," spoke a low voice behind them.
Herman stood pointing a small, black, snub-nosed gun at the three of them. His eyes were cold and his face was expressionless.
"Drop the envelope."
Milo dropped it. Herman motion with the gun.
"Into the office."
Cyrus didn't think he looked like a walrus anymore. More like a tiger.
Herman closed the chain link door and snapped a lock through the clasp.
"It's nothing personal, Cyrus. It's just business. I've been working on your mom too long to have it ruined now."
He set the key down on the worktable, well out of the reach of someone trapped in the office. Next to it, he placed the telephone handset he had removed from the office, as well as the cell phones he had confiscated from Milo and Rudy, and Cyrus' mp3 player.
"The key is right here. I'll make sure somebody stops by here tomorrow, after I'm long gone."
He picked up the packet of identities and a few other papers. He glanced around the room to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything.
"Be good, kiddo. It's not personal, I mean it. I like you. If I didn't, I'd kill you."
Herman smiled affectionately at Cyrus, but Cyrus felt less than warmed by it.
"You're stealing our life's savings, Herman. You lied to us from day one. I'd say it's personal."
"Suit yourself. Doesn't make a difference to me."
He turned and walked toward the front door.
"I'll call the cops! I'll track you down myself!" shouted Cyrus.
Herman didn't even look back as he left the building.
Cyrus wrapped his fingers in the chain links and yelled as loud as he could, screaming out all of the impotence, frustration and rage.
When he was through, Milo said, "We have to get out of here. We have to stop him before he gets the money from your mom."
Cyrus rounded on him.
"Yeah? And how are we going to do that? Anybody in "The League" have super strength? Laser vision? Huh? Or are we just a bunch of dumb kids stuck in a cage until some adult comes and lets us out?"
Cyrus was in Milo's face, but Milo didn't back down.
"We're not dumb kids. We're superheroes, whether you believe it or not. I believe it. I know it. And as far as predicaments go, this one's nothing. Any superhero worth his salt should be able to crack this one."
Milo started pacing in a circle around the desk.
"We've got to rely on our powers. It's our one advantage. I can't see how my power can be of any use, or Rudy's. Cyrus, it's got to be you."
"We don't have any powers, Milo! Besides, even if I did, my magic mp3 player is out there. I'm helpless."
"Maybe not," said Milo.
He reached down and picked up the old boom box, placing it on the desk.
"What if the power is in you, not the mp3 player?"
He flicked a button, and music suddenly filled the room. Oldies.
Cyrus reached out, his hand hovering over the tuner dial.
Please. For mom, he thought, and gave the knob a vicious spin.
The radio hissed and popped as it spun past stations, and when Cyrus' hand stopped, it settled in on a station.
"...nobody does doughnuts like Devil's Doughnuts. Sinfully good!"
Cyrus stared at the radio for a second, and then turned it off.
"Sorry Milo." Cyrus said coldly. "I guess I don't have any super powers after all."
Cyrus, embarrassed that he had even given it a try, couldn't look Milo in the eyes. Just for a second, he had almost believed Milo's delusion...
His eyes fell on the filing cabinet in the corner, and in particular on a magnet. It was round with a hole through the center and colored sprinkles around the edge, advertising a doughnut shop. Devil's Doughnuts.
Cyrus walked over and snatched it off the side of the cabinet for a closer look. Surely it was a coincidence. Could it just be a coincidence?
"Uh, guys?" said Cyrus, turning the magnet over in his hands.
Suddenly, he had an idea. Quickly he rummaged through the desk and looked on the floor.
"Do you guys see any string or rope or anything?"
Rudy and Milo started looking around, but quickly covered the small office, turning up nothing. Finally, Cyrus took the beaten up radio and unplugged it from the wall.
"If this works, I owe you," he murmured to the radio, wrapping the cord double around his hand. He set it on the floor, put a foot on it, and yanked as hard as he could. The cord came loose from the back.
He peeled apart the end of the cord and wrapped it around the doughnut magnet, twisting the exposed wires together to secure it. He walked over to the chain link wall closest to where the key lay on the table.
He couldn't push his hand through the chain link, but the magnet fit through. He held on to the plug end of the cord and stuck what he could of his fingers through the fence. Awkwardly, he tried to throw the magnet towards the key.
The cord was long enough, but Cyrus' throw wasn't even close. He reeled in the magnet and tried again, this time at least smacking the table before the magnet dropped to the floor. The next three tries were about the same.
"Mind if I try?" asked Rudy.
Cyrus reluctantly handed him the magnet and the cord, and stepped aside. Rudy bounced it in his palms a few times, weighing it. Rather than mashing his fingers through the fence, Rudy placed the magnet flat on his palm and held it up to the fence. He squinted one eye and lined up his shot carefully. With the index finger of his other hand, he flicked the magnet hard.
The magnet arched through the air and landed with a click on top of the key. Cyrus' mouth fell open, and he turned to look at Rudy.
"How did you do that?"
Rudy shrugged and allowed himself a little smile.
"Do you know how many times I've practiced flicking something at a target? It's a great way to kill time."
Rudy reeled in the magnet and retrieved the key.
"Way to go, Stakeout Boy!" crowed Milo.
"Stakeout Man," corrected Rudy mildly.
Cyrus took the key and opened the door.
"Rudy, you're definitely the man! Let's go warn my mom."
When they pulled up out front, Cyrus could see the light was on in the living room. They went inside.
Cyrus burst through the door.
"Mom? Mom! I have to tell you..."
Cyrus froze, and so did Milo and Rudy behind him. Herman was sitting on the couch across from his mom. He was smiling, but his eyes turned cold when they looked at Cyrus.
"Cyrus, I didn't expect to see you tonight."
Cyrus kept his voice level.
"Mom, what is he doing here?"
"Herman was in the neighborhood, so he stopped by to get the check a little early, so we'd be all set for tomorrow..."
Her voice trailed off as she noticed how Cyrus and Herman were looking at each other.
"Just needed the check a little early, huh Herman? Why's that?"
Herman stood up and took a step towards Cyrus. His voice was jovial, even if his expression wasn't.
"I was just driving by and I thought I'd stop in and get it."
"Cyrus, what is going on here?" demanded his mom.
"Mom, Herman isn't who he says he is. He's a con man, and he's trying to take our money."
Her face flushed red.
"Young man, I don't know what you think you're doing, but you will not talk to Mr. Miller that way! You should be ashamed of yourself!"
Herman kept his eyes on Cyrus, but he laughed.
"I've been called a lot of things, but never a con artist."
"Yeah, right," mumbled Milo.
It was quiet for a moment, before Herman broke the silence.
"Alright, well hey, no problem." Herman took another step towards Cyrus, and towards the door. "It's no big deal, Sarah, I'll just get it when I see you tomorrow."
Cyrus prepared to dodge or fight, but Herman just stepped around him and walked toward the door. As Herman walked between Milo and Rudy, Milo's hand darted out and slipped into the pocket of Herman's sport coat. It came back out holding the manila envelope of Herman's fake ids. Milo's face lit up triumphantly.
Herman backhanded him across the cheek, knocking him to the floor.
"Should have gone for the other pocket," he sneered, pulling the gun out with his left hand and pointing it at Milo.
"Hand over the envelope."
Sarah drew a deep breath, but didn't scream. Milo looked defiant.
"Don't be an idiot, Milo, give it to him!" said Cyrus.
Herman cocked the hammer back.
Time slowed to a crawl for Cyrus. He tried to move, to react, but there was nothing he could do. Milo wouldn't give Herman the envelope, he was sure of it. Herman was going to shoot Milo. There was no movement, no sound. Nothing but the gun pointing at Milo's chest.
A tiny "thonk!" brought Cyrus back to reality. Rudy's superball ricocheted off the kitchen cabinet and struck Herman directly in the eye.
Herman hissed and raised both hands to his face in surprise. Cyrus crashed into him a moment later, grappling for the gun. It went spinning across the floor, under the kitchen table. Rudy piled on a second later, using his bulk to pin down Herman's legs. Shortly, Milo jumped into the fray.
"Mom, get some rope!" shouted Cyrus.
Herman didn't say anything, but he fought and kicked like a cornered animal. With Rudy on his legs, Cyrus on one arm and Milo on the other, his struggles soon lessened.
Sarah came back into the kitchen carrying the yellow rope they had used to tie a Christmas tree on top of Uncle James' SUV two years ago. The tree hadn't been worth the hassle, but at least they found another use for the rope.
She tossed it to Cyrus, and Herman was quickly tied as securely as Cyrus and his mom could make him. Milo gagged him with a dish towel. Herman's eyes smoldered.
Sarah put her face next to his.
"Herman, I don't know what this is about. But if you think you can pull a gun on a kid in my kitchen, then you've got another thing coming."
"Thanks mom," said Cyrus.
Sarah rounded on him. "Start explaining," she growled.
Milo produced the packet and spilled its contents onto the table.
"Herman isn't exactly who he says he is."
Cyrus quickly explained about the fake ids and being trapped at Triple A Imports. Sarah looked skeptical at first, but Herman's face smiling up from half a dozen plastic rectangles spread across the kitchen table was hard to dispute.
"So, what do we do with him?" asked Rudy when Cyrus finished.
"We deliver him to the police," said Sarah, scooping the ids back into the envelope.
Milo produced something white from his pocket and tossed it at Herman. It spun through the air, bouncing off Herman's chest and into his lap. It was a business card with a "TLA" logo in bold green and purple letters. The League of Awesome.
"Our first collar," said Milo
Cyrus closed his locker with a bang and jumped when he realized someone had been standing behind the door.
"Come on, Milo, don't do that to me!"
"I have something for you."
He held up a brand new mp3 player.
"It's already full of songs. Thousands of them. I figure the more songs you have, the easier it is for your power to talk to you. This thing's like a power boost times ten."
"If I take it, do I have to be in the League?" asked Cyrus.
"You're already in the League," replied Milo.
Cyrus took the mp3 player and skimmed through it. It really did have everything on it: rap, country, alternative rock. He started to walk to his next class, and Milo trailed after him.
"You know, I think there's something shady going on at the dry cleaners by my house. I just got a funny feeling when I went in there the other day. I was standing in line and the door opened, blowing a receipt off the counter onto my shoe..."