It all started with Batman underpants
Last week, Chuck Wendig asked us to post an opening line for a story, on which a flash-fic piece could be based. I immediately fell in love with the line by S.W. Sondheimer – It all started with Batman underpants. I decided that even if this wonderful opening line wasn’t picked as a ‘winner’, I would write a flash fiction piece around it anyway.
Sadly, it didn’t win. So without further ado, I give you my story.
It all started with Batman underpants.
Most people laugh when I tell them that. Then they see the look on my face. The smart ones back away, leaving me to continue searching for the meaning of life in the bottom of my pint glass. Those with less sense, or cursed with curiosity, take the stool next to me, and ask me to elaborate.
I take a moment to think about how best to sum up my fall from grace. How best to explain how New York’s brightest up-and-coming detective lost his job, his family, and any chance at a career in law enforcement. What should I say first? That it was a tragedy? That I was the agent of my own downfall? That I should have listened to my partner, who was far more wordly and experienced than I?
Usually I continue by rote, the words rolling from my tongue as smoothly as the beer rolling down my throat; it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t our normal route. We’d come out this way hot on the tail of a stolen vehicle, but we’d lost it in heavy traffic. We drove around for almost three hours hoping to pick up a glimpse of that chevy, but lady luck was against us. Heavy fog had rolled in across the bay, thick as pea soup. As my partner, Danvers, put it; so thick I can’t tell my ass from my elbow.
A call came in over the scanner. Every cop, in the first week on the job, learns how to listen to the scanner without actually listening. Through all the calls and the chatter, you learn how to filter out anything that’s relevant to you. Most of the time you barely even notice the messages from dispatch.
I wish, now, I’d ignored that call.
Somebody had reported a robbery at a convenience store, corner of 3rd and Main. A mere two blocks away from where we were rolling through pea-soup fog. The shop owner had the perp at gunpoint. We should check it out, I said. Danvers, of course, tried to dissuade me. Cool your jets, hero. I’m sure a patrol will be out there soon enough.
Of course, I was young, and still fairly new to the job. I thought I had to impress my superiors with my go-get-’em attitude. Danvers shook his head and sighed, and I knew I’d won this round. We pulled up at the convenience store just a few minutes later.
The shop owner was an Indian man, or maybe Pakistani, or Bangladeshi. Always hard to know where your shopkeeper is from, these days. At any rate, he was pointing a shotgun at a tall young man cornered at the far end of the store. What struck me first was the perp’s expression. He didn’t seem afraid. In fact, when Danvers and I walked in, his face positively lit up with glee.
That should have set off warning bells in my head, but I was too wrapped up in the moment and the adrenaline.
I questioned the shopkeeper. This man came in and stole a pair of Batman underpants from aisle two. Check him, if you don’t believe me. So I checked him. And sure enough, there were the offending underpants, secreted away inside his coat pocket.
Seriously? Batman underpants? Out of all the things you could have stolen, that’s what you chose?
The perp shrugged, as if to say, So what? I happen to like Batman.
I asked him his name.
And that did set off the warning bells in my head.
Yeah, that’s right, he said. Maybe you’ve heard of my dad, William?
William McKinley. The Mayor of New York. The Big Kahuna. And I was first on the scene to find his son stealing underpants. And not just any underpants; Batman underpants.
They say hindsight is 20/20. I know, now, what I should have done. I should have slapped the kid with a caution, driven him home and handed him over to his dad. Here you go, Mr Mayor, I found this young tyke getting himself into a spot of bother, but no harm done.
That’s what I should have done. But the look on the kid’s face ignited a fire within me. He knew he’d get away with this. He’d done it before. That smug, self-satisfied smirk… I wanted to wipe it away. Teach him a lesson he wouldn’t forget.
I remember his expression when I whipped out the cuffs, spread him against the wall and started reading him his rights. I remember Danvers’ expression, as I did it. Open-mouthed shock, plastered across both faces. Danvers went pale. Shakily, he took me aside, told me that was enough, that I’d put the fear of God into the kid, that I’d made my point.
I didn’t listen. I was young, and new to the job, and oh so naive. I still believed in things like truth and justice and the American way. I still believed the dream. In my head, I was still seven years old, playing dress-up; a child living in an adult’s body, wrapped in a trench-coat and given a shiny badge to flash around.
You probably don’t need me to tell you what happened next. The Mayor was furious. The case folded. I don’t know whether the shopkeeper was bribed or blackmailed, but the result was the same. All charges dropped. My head was placed on a proverbial pike; I hadn’t realised that half of policing was about politics. Had somebody told me, when I was seven years old and playing dress-up, that if I wanted to be a law enforcer, I would have to dirty myself and the laws I held so dear, I would have become a street-sweeper instead. It would have been a better way of cleaning up the mess.
Five years on, I’m a private investigator. Wives pay me to follow their husbands, and vice versa. Occasionally I get a missing dog case; the highlight of my month. And every night, at six o’clock, I come to this bar, and drown my woes in beer. Sometimes I can even afford a little whisky.
Once in a blue moon, some schmuck like you notices me, and asks how I got here. And it takes me right back, back to that pair of Batman underpants.