The Trial of Black Panther

by Harmony Neal

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.
–Franz Kafka

“Now,” the judge said. “We can go about the administration of justice.”
“Is that real justice or the idea of justice?” Thomas asked him, and the judge flew back into anger.
–Sherman Alexie

Black Panther sat alone in her cell while the CPD discussed the best way to crack her. “We could threaten to label her an enemy combatant,” suggested a street-smart cop who had seen one too many crime series and one too few superhero movies. “Tell her if she doesn’t knock it off, we’ll send her straight to Guantanamo.”

“I think we should charge her with a felony, get her off the streets for five-to-ten,” said a stereotypical middle-aged white cop with a belly that protruded over his belt, who seemed to delight in confirming every cop stereotype known to the culture, particularly the parts that included eating as many hot dogs and donuts as he could during the day and drinking all the whiskey he could hold down at night, the whiskey being the main reason he needed the donuts and hot dogs the next day.

A rookie who had read hundreds of detective novels and thought the rich regularly and with impunity had trouble makers “taken care of” suggested they let her go so the residents of the Gold Coast could “deal with her” however they saw fit. The other cops rolled their eyes, knowing the way the rich would deal with the situation was to call the Captain and reduce their donations at the annual ball.

Black Panther tired of counting the cracks in the wall and opted to do a series of chin-ups using the bars of her cage. She hadn’t been charged with anything and was waiting to see if they were going to charge her this time or continue to violate her civil liberties according to their whims and need for absolute power. Her tail touched the ground and lifted off over and over. They’d gotten her mask and wanted to take the suit, but she wasn’t wearing anything under it, and it wasn’t actually illegal to wear a costume, as much as the police wished it was. She had quarters in her socks, waiting for a chance to make her phone call.

Black Panther knew she was guilty of many things. She was guilty of providing free food to children in a capitalist society. She was guilty of putting together information on how to obtain free and low cost healthcare and distributing it to people in the community. She was guilty of organizing busses to take people to clinics and the prisons to visit loved ones. She was guilty of taking pictures of police brutality and running a blog that kept track of the offending officers. Her most recent crime was standing on Oak Street, handing out flyers listing the residents’ crimes. People went hungry all over the city while the residents of the Gold Coast stole from the working person to give to themselves.

Donut Cop noticed Black Panther doing her chin-ups and hollered at her to stop, on the principle that he hated anyone engaging in any form of physical fitness within his line of sight. Black Panther let go of the bars and proceeded to do a series of sit-ups on the metal bench inside the cage. Aggravated that he couldn’t make her stop exercising if her entire body stayed within the cell, Donut Cop turned back to the conversation. “How about Criminal Trespass in the first degree?”

Detective Rookie shook his head, “Black Panther doesn’t have any weapons, plus, she wasn’t technically trespassing. The street is public.”

“Criminal Mischief in the—” Donut Cop glanced at Rookie, “third degree?”

Detective Rookie looked up at the ceiling, face pursed. “Interesting… Actually, if you want to try the Criminal Mischief route, you might as well go for second degree, class D. Prosecutor would have to prove she was damaging property worth over fifteen hundred, but in this case, we’d be talking stock prices, probably.”

Donut Cop smiled. “There we have it then. Criminal Mischief, second degree.”

Street Smart shook her head. “You’re both insane. None of our prosecutors would go for that shit. They’ll drop the charges and probably apologize besides.”

Donut Cop turned on Street Smart. “Fine then! Terrorism, but without telling Homeland Security. We’ll do it ourselves.”

Detective Rookie shook his head. “She hasn’t advocated violence. It won’t stick.”

Sergeant Oswell burst into the room, a three hundred pound blob of fury. “You idiots! You arrested her in front of hipsters! For what?”

Donut Cop, the most senior of the three, answered, “We were just working that out, Sarge.”

“Idiots! Her lawyer’s going to want to know what the charges are. See if she meets any profiles.”

* * *

Violet kept careful watch on all of the Real Life Superheroes living in and around her city. She’d tried to get the public behind them, but the truth was, most of the public didn’t care. When a few tweets in her feed mentioned a woman in a cat suit being arrested, she called the station and was put on hold for twenty-five minutes. She tweeted the incident, #CPDhatesheroes, but no residents retweeted or asked what was happening. It was an aggravating function of social media that caring about an issue didn’t necessitate that other people would, and if you tried to force your tag, it usually backfired. While Black Panther was being held on unspecified charges, the Chicago twittersphere was trending #hotdogwars and #celebnipslips.

* * *

After school let out for the day and the children were safely home, a pack of men and women in dog masks gathered in front of the police station, demanding to know what charges were being brought against Black Panther.

* * *

Black Panther didn’t pause in her crunches as Sergeant Oswell unlocked her cage and slid open the door.

“97, 98, 99, 100.” Black Panther rolled up onto her back, did a handstand on the metal bench, then executed a 10-point backflip with a twist, landing to face the Sergeant. Without saying anything, she followed him to a small room with no windows where a man in a suit waited for her with her mask held in his outstretched hand. Black Panther quickly tied her mask over her eyes. “You’re not a criminal lawyer,” was all she had to say.

The suited man scratched nervously at his clean-shaven jaw and neck. “No, you’re right about that.” He twitched bodily, face, hands, torso, like an anxious person being forced to pretend to be a lawyer, who was going to be dumped in a vat of snakes if they couldn’t pass. “But I’ve called in a few favors and will have one for you soon. In the meantime, I’m your best barrier.”

Black Panther nodded.

* * *

Donut Cop fought an erection as Street Smart skimmed the APBs and Rookie made a list of the profiles Black Panther met. It was true that many of the suspects were significantly taller or shorter or younger or more male than Black Panther herself, but a good cop covered their bases and knew eyewitnesses could be unreliable. He wiggled his fat fingers in anticipation of the dozen or so charges they could bring against the bitch in the cat suit who was making life on the force harder for everyone, particularly his partner Frank, who was currently on paid leave pending his Internal Affairs investigation. Frank was a good cop, and if he’d broken a few bones in the line of duty, a few of them belonging to teenage thugs who later claimed to have no weapons and have done nothing wrong, it was just part of the job.

* * *

Mr. Breakups’ Blackberry buzzed and buzzed and buzzed. He fiddled with it, checking each alert, trying to determine if this was the moment he’d been waiting for the past four months. His Shrinking Violet was quite upset. He scratched his stubble and grinned.

* * *

Violet tried the station again. Pop country blared in her ear, completely befuddling in a metropolitan city, like the cops were using every means possible to keep citizens away. She closed her laptop: press credentials or mask? She sighed. Pitbull’s Pack was already raising a ruckus. She put her credentials around her neck and put the mask in her pocket. At four in the afternoon, Carcosa would be taking a shower after work then getting ready to walk the dogs in advance of visiting hours at the women’s shelter. She texted him while walking to the train.

* * *

Black Panther and James sat silently in the interview room. There wasn’t much to say until the cops got their shit together and either announced charges or let her go. The moist stale air smelled faintly of potato chips and gym socks. An impatient knock sounded. Sergeant Oswell slammed open the door, his bulk blocking most of the opening, three cops excitedly trying to see in around him. The Sergeant cleared his throat, “Ms. Panther, you are being held in connection with the following crimes.” He listed a series of robberies and drug deals and even an instance of grand theft auto.

Black Panther didn’t so much as twitch.

James wished he had his mask, which was where he got his power to go against his own internal programming. He took a deep breath. “Those are ridiculous. Go through them again, and this time, read the descriptions of the suspects.”

“September 22, 2014, gas station robbery on the corner of 103rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. Suspect identified as a black male, twenty to thirty years old, six foot, slight build, menacing.”

James’ programming kept him from leaping from his chair, but it also put a small pleasant smile on his face, and he hated himself for it. “And what about that profile is reminiscent of my client?”

“Black, slight build, menacing.”

“My client is female, 5’6” at most, and well out of the age range.”

“You know, eye witnesses can’t be entirely relied on. Could be what they thought was a thin black man was actually a muscular black woman. Happens all the time. Costume might’ve made her seem taller. We’ll need to do a line up and hear about an alibi to clear her of that one.” He looked at his sheet, “And the others.”

James took a breath and wove his fingers together on the table. “Did the eyewitness mention a costume?”

“No, but she was pretty worked up from the incident. Might have slipped her mind.”

“Is there surveillance footage?”

“Oh yes, but it’s backed up right now.” Sergeant Oswell was a simple man who wasn’t too keen on conflict, despite his chosen profession. He doubted Black Panther was a viable suspect in the crimes his men had dug up, but he always backed his men, no matter what.

Black Panther busied herself thinking about being in the middle of apple and gourd season, what kinds of treats she would bake this year for Thanksgiving, provided she wasn’t in prison. She barely noticed the charges being leveled at her or the profiles she supposedly fit.

* * *

Violet kept her eyes half on her twitter feed and half on where she put her feet. Chanting and barking reached her from two blocks away. A voice amplified with a megaphone began a countdown, “Ten. Nine. Eight.” Violet broke into a run. She dodged a car turning into a crosswalk as the emotionless voice declared “Four. Three.” She could see the station, see the Pack hemmed in out front, the shields lined up around them as the voice screeched “One!” and orange liquid and wires shot into the encircled Pack members.

Violet tried to run across the street, tried to reach them, but a hand grabbed her from behind and she found herself falling to the ground, being crushed under an awkward, scrambling weight, catching sight of hooves barely missing her head.

* * *

From inside the damp room with Sergeant Oswell droning on, James and Black Panther heard muted screams at the same time that James’ cellphone buzzed in his pocket. He read the first message, leapt to his feet, and shoved past the sergeant and beat cops, ignoring his programming to never physically touch a white person, double for ones with authority.

Black Panther continued to think about a Brown Apple Betty and pumpkins stuffed with Gruyere and pumpernickel and shallots. She considered adding crispy bacon to the mix, wondering if she could get more of that thick sliced bacon from the university in Champaign, and if she could, what she could do with a few dozen farm fresh eggs while she was at it, maybe a quiche or meringue.

* * *

Violet struggled under the flailing weight that finally tumbled off of her, crushing her thigh in the process. “Sorry, love, that didn’t go quite how I’d imagined it.”

She closed her eyes and sighed, then opened them to see Robbie’s hand stretched into her face, his other hand awkwardly grasping his horse’s bridle. She almost wished she’d gotten a restraining order.

“Prince Charming, at your service.”

* * *

Kitsune splashed in the trickling stream, laughing and playing a game of keep-away with a family of beavers who were not at all amused that Kitsune kept stealing branches from their dam seconds after they added them to the structure. Kitsune passed off the branch to Kitsune right as the mother beaver almost grabbed it. Mother beaver chattered angrily at Kitsune who was smiling with all of her teeth as her brother zagged in the opposite direction with the branch.

A chorus of pained howls reached Kitsune and they stopped short, two beavers running right into Kitsune’s two tails. Kitsune dropped the branch. The beavers grabbed it and chattered angrily at Kitsune before waddling back to their dam. Kitsune looked at Kitsune. They listened. They narrowed their eyes.

* * *

Violet slapped Robbie’s hand and stood up on her own, glancing to see how many cellphones were recording the action. She checked Twitter, found the perfect photo, retweeted it, then texted her RLSH list again since half of them didn’t really use the internet.

Robbie pouted behind her. “Violet? Uh, Violet? Can’t I whisk you away from all of this?”

Violet spun to face him, feeling a vein pulsing in her right eyelid. He patted the neck of his white horse, making the tiny bells on the bridle jingle. The horse also endured bells on its saddle and flowers woven into his mane. Robbie himself wore brown leather pants and a billowing white shirt. His hair was a stunning shade of yellow. Violet closed her eyes and counted to ten.

* * *

Decency hadn’t bothered Fantasia about Violet’s texts. There hadn’t really been anything for two rural superheroes to do about the cops in Chicago, but when she got the pictures of Pitbull’s Pack surrounded and pepper-sprayed and tased, she rubbed the cinnamon from her hands onto her overalls. The cider would have to wait.

Fantasia slept soundly in her afternoon nap, so Decency loaded up the truck and changed into her all white costume and got Fantasia’s pink tutu costume ready while waiting for her mentor to rise. She watched Fantasia sleep, her wrinkled face peaceful and slack with tendrils of gray hair stuck to the corners of her mouth.

* * *

Sergeant Oswell and his cops stared down the hallway where Jamal had just run. Oswell shook his head, “Welp, better put her back in her cell, then.”

Donut Cop smiled and lunged his girth forward. Oswell put a hand on his arm, “Bobby, why don’t you let Shirley take her back?”

Donut Cop pouted and pulled an Oh Henry! bar from his pocket. Street Smart moved forward swiftly and professionally, yanked Black Panther up from her chair, cuffed her wrists until the plastic dug into Black Panther’s flesh, then shoved her out of the room and down the hall. The trick to making it as a black cop was to never be perceived as being soft on black suspects. Ever. Not even an old grandma like Black Panther.

* * *

The cops outside the station flipped over the writhing dogs and pinched their wrists together with plastic bands. They ignored the handful of citizens filming the proceedings, confident that their numbers and orders and the tradition of never prosecuting cops themselves were all the protection they needed. What the cops couldn’t have predicted was the tide of women who swept along the block from all directions, a wave of grey hair, pursed lips, and disapproving eyes.

“Tommy Blecher! I never! I am going to call your parents and tell them how ashamed they should be to have given birth to you!”

“Harold Jebediah Bloomsby Rice! You unhand that woman right now!”

“Shawn Dingle! You stop right this instant and go get me a switch!”

The Crones pinched ears and swatted shields and batons out of surprised hands. Some dragged cops away from the scene, taking their charges home for very necessary time-outs while Crones with medical training descended on the panting, wheezing dogs and snipped the bands on their wrists and ministered to their puffy, runny faces.

* * *

The Tarot Reader watched the proceedings with her omniscient gaze. The people she’d already touched glowed gold. The ones she might touch appeared dark to her, like black holes, like Jamal/James/Pitbull in his suit, in a frenzy, shoving confused cops who were already being shoved by old ladies. Jamal lifted his head and howled. The Tarot Reader shook her head and looked elsewhere, inside, at the cat in the cage who seemed to suck all the world’s light into her old, hard body.

Normally The Tarot Reader wasn’t at all indecisive. She decided to visit someone or decided not to visit someone and that was that. But Black Panther unnerved her in an unspecifiable, profound way. The Tarot Reader finally understood the human expression, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

* * *

Black Panther performed single-arm pushups in her cage. One pumpkin with bacon. One without. That was a good plan. She could compare and contrast the results. And for the eggs, a deviled eggstravaganza. She chuckled at her own pun. This year, she’d try a nice zigzag of Sriracha across some of the eggs. She switched arms and smiled. Sriracha was just the kick a good deviled egg needed. Some of her friends were Tabasco-loyalists, but they’d come around. Black Panther knew for a fact that you could indeed teach old dogs new tricks.

* * *

“Robbie, I don’t have time for your shit.” Counting to ten hadn’t helped much. “In case you hadn’t noticed, our community is in the middle of a crisis.”

Prince Charming frowned as Violet turned her attention back to her phone. He dug into his saddlebag and pulled out a red rose that had been perfect, but had wilted without oxygen, a few petals dented and rubbed off. He tried to smooth it with his hand, then held it out, “A rose for my rose!”

“Violet!” The Existentialist hurried toward them as fast as his limp would allow.

Prince Charming narrowed his eyes, his rival and arch nemesis once again making him look like a fool. He should have brought violets for Violet. Embarrassed rage shot through him and directed itself at his rival. He looked The Existentialist up and down—his black shirt with red tie, his big floppy black hat and black eye mask—and growled, “Hamburgler.”

* * *

Crystal Fritz typed a strongly worded letter to the mayor of Chicago with the help of her stuffed bear. “Now why would there be two ‘p’s in ‘disappointed’? Dis-a-point-ed. ‘Point’ only has one ‘p,’ Mr. Tummykins! It ain’t make no sense.” She stared at the word she had typed, then acknowledged that it had a squiggly red line under it. “Oh, I see, it’s more like the word ‘appoint.’ Well, why didn’t you say so?”

At a scratch at her window, she raised the blinds and slid up the glass, revealing two grinning foxes with two swishing tails apiece. “Took y’all long enough. Sheesh.”

* * *

#wtfcostumeparty was trending. Not exactly what Violet had wanted, but it was something. The Existentialist locked her in an embrace. “I’m so glad you’re safe!”

Prince Charming growled, “Right in front of me, Hamburgler?!” He reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a brown leather glove and smacked The Existentialist across the cheek with it.

The Existentialist rolled his eyes. “Looks like The Crones are getting Pitbull’s Pack taken care of. Hopefully that will be the end of the violence and not the beginning of a ridiculous escalation.”

Prince Charming’s face turned a shade of red that clashed with his slicked yellow hair. He pulled back a fist, but as he stepped forward, he was knocked down by an exuberant Great Dane.

“Dumbo! Down!” Carcosa shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “We’re working on it. Sorry man.” He reached a hand out to Prince Charming who batted it away. As Charming got to his feet, Carcosa continued to hold out his hand, “Good to see you again, Mr. Breakups.”

Robbie glared at the intruder, “My name is ‘Prince Charming,’ and I’ve never met you before in my life.”

“We’ve met and have met and will meet. All the same to me. I forget the rest of you are so linearly-minded.”

Carcosa grabbed The Existentialist in a bear hug, “Good to see you, old man. Still hoping philosophy will catch up with physics?”

The Existentialist chuckled good-naturedly, “Still completely insane?”

They laughed and pounded each other’s backs, then Carcosa hugged Violet close and kissed her warmly on the cheek. “Glad you’re safe, babe.”

With an arm firmly around Violet’s waist, he asked the other superheroes, “So what’s the plan?”

Prince Charming stared at the blue-suited arm around Violet’s waist and repeated the only dumb thing that came to mind, “The name’s Prince Charming now.”

Carcosa grinned. “New handle, eh? Suits you.”

The Existentialist chuckled. Violet rolled her eyes. Prince Charming stared at Carcosa’s arm around Violet’s waist and stuttered nonsense syllables. Dumbo shoved her nose into Prince Charming’s crotch.

Carcosa laughed. “She likes you!”

* * *

Kitsune agreed to leave Miss Ethel out of it, but said Mr. Tummykins insisted on helping. She complained, “I don’t look like y’all cuz my outfit is all red and the other is all white and y’all are imbetween.” Kitsune looked at Kitsune and smiled. They nodded to Crystal’s bed where a splotchy, red and white fox suit waited.

* * *

Fantasia whispered in her high-pitched voice, “Oh my, that’s dreadful.” Decency helped her mentor into her spandex, tugged it up over loose skin. Decency tried to be strong enough for both of them. “Don’t worry. I’ve already loaded the truck.”

She handed Fantasia her little pink cape and picked up last year’s pink Uggs and tugged one, then the other onto Fantasia’s swollen feet.

* * *

The citizens of Chicago talked about Real Life Superheroes and whether they were heroes or criminals, saints or insane. Most seemed to have never noticed them before the picture of Pitbull’s Pack being sprayed and tased went viral. Violet ground her teeth, enraged that so many people could stay so ignorant of the things happening around them. The superheroes helped in certain neighborhoods and not others, of course, but that was no excuse for people not to know what was happening two blocks away, to never read a paper not owned and written by the people who owned everything. Violet had written dozens of profiles and articles, published in local papers and on her blog, and she linked to relevant things on all of her social media platforms as fast as she could, but most people were happy to speak their minds about the events with exactly zero background information to go on. Some of the things people said about Black Panther and Pitbull’s Pack made Violet want to commit crimes. They didn’t know what the hell they were talking about, but they saw images of people of color in costumes and thought that was all the excuse they needed to let their “accidentally” racist flags proudly fly.

* * *

Black Panther counted squats in her cell while making a mental list of who to invite to Thanksgiving. The guest list presented more problems than the menu. Many of her best friends had acrimoniously divorced over the years, and some of them refused to be in the same room anymore. Just outside her cage, Black Panther materialized, holding a card through the bars. Black Panther kept squatting. She looked at the card and looked at the mirror image of herself and grunted, “Nice try.”

* * *

Sergeant Oswell’s face grew very red and very veiny as he listened to the report of how many men had walked away from their shifts during the altercation with the weirdoes outside. Donut Cop, Detective Rookie, and Street Smart flanked him, keeping him temporarily upright through the force of their outrage. Oswell plopped into the nearest chair, which just happened to belong to one Officer Bellevue, who was on the list of those gone AWOL after the grannies showed up and dragged his men away by their ears.

Oswell sighed and rubbed his temples, “I guess I better call the Lieutenant. She’s not going to like being bothered on vacation.”

Donut Cop fiddled with the empty Oh Henry! wrapper in his meaty hands, “But Sarge, the Lieutenant said not to disturb her. What if she and the kids are on the log ride right now, or at one of those expensive character dinners?”

Street Smart nodded, “Umhmm, those character meals are real pricey. My sister took her kids. She’s still paying it all back, plus eighteen-percent.”

Detective Rookie grinned, “Do we really need the Lieutenant, sir? I mean, isn’t this why we have the Vet Squad? Why not call in the Vets, get this uprising under control?”

Oswell’s mouth dropped open, “You’d call this an uprising?”

His officers glanced at each other and glanced around the station and nodded a little while shrugging, as if to suggest yes, it was an uprising, but it wasn’t such a big deal. Detective Rookie placed a thin hand on Segearant Oswell’s thick shoulder, “But Sarge, think of how happy the Lieutenant will be when she finds out that you didn’t interrupt her dinner with Mickey, and you successfully contained this unfortunate insurrection.”

Insurrection?”

“I mean uprising, sir.”

“I don’t know, boys. Seems like this is exactly the sort of thing to call in the Lieutenant for, Mickey be damned.”

Detective Rookie nodded his head. “Sure, sure, Sarge, I hear what you’re saying, but shouldn’t we at least try the Vets first? If that doesn’t work, at least dinner might be over by the time we call her.”

Sergeant Oswell slapped the desk in front of him, “You’re right, son. No reason not to try. Call the Vet Squad. Let them deal with this.”

Donut Cop, Detective Rookie, and Street Smart all grinned and gave each other high fives. Donut Cop tried to give Street Smart a fist bump, but she cocked her head and narrowed her eyes, so he opened his doughy fingers and made the loudest slap he could on her palm.

* * *

The Tarot Reader sweated in the form of Black Panther she’d taken. Several tarot cards lay abandoned on the concrete floor. Black Panther had pooh-poohed the Death card, citing that change was inevitable, and she didn’t need a damn card to tell her about it. She hadn’t liked The Wheel or the Six of Doors, even though it suggested success, or The Lovers, which was the main card most people wanted. The Tarot Reader had tried shifting her form to an actual black panther, a giant black swan, a giant white swan, a small child, a griffin, and—in a moment of confusion—the Pink Panther, but her shape hadn’t seemed to be the problem. Black Panther had only laughed and suggested she try a pumpkin next, so she’d returned to her original impulse of mirroring Black Panther herself and had tried changing up the tarot decks since The Cat People tarot hadn’t impressed Black Panther at all, and maybe Voodoo tarot wasn’t appropriate, and the Zen tarot was definitely out, and the classic Rider-Waite had only made Black Panther pause in her squats momentarily to declare the Fool extra foolish in his tights and garish colors.

The Tarot Reader reached into her currently invisible robes to pull out a new card as Black Panther loudly announced, “Two-hundred-and-fifty. Whew!” She wiped her brow and bent her arm, “Come on in here and have a sit. I want to ask you about something.”

* * *

Carcosa organized the fallen and the remaining. The Pack members who’d been severely injured had been taken to the hospital, but the ones who weren’t critical insisted on staying. Carcosa set up a perimeter with protestors in a line across the street from the police station and gawkers and other non-participating civilians kept back out of harm’s way.

The thin line of protestors mostly consisted of injured Pack members sitting and laying on the sidewalk with Crones tending to them. It didn’t look good. Violet grunted and grumbled while her fingers flew over her tablet. “I gave them statistics! 95-98% of Real Life Superheroes across the Northern Hemisphere are white! They don’t care! They won’t listen!”

Carcosa put an understanding arm around Violet’s waist. He liked how much she cared despite the utter futility of everything.

A voice behind them suggested, “Perhaps I can be of some service?”

* * *

Detective Rookie, Donut Cop, and Street Smart swallowed their apprehension in favor of their excitement. The Vet Squad had been created a few months before, but had yet to do anything besides hang out in their private rec room playing video games and occasionally consulting. The windowless door to the rec room remained closed, as always. Detective Rookie lifted a trembling fist and made a knocking motion. The soft taps were immediately swallowed by the noise of a shooting game turned up full blast. Donut Cop rolled his eyes. “Like this!” He banged the heel of his pudgy fist against the wood. The room’s noise cut off. Detective Rookie and Street Smart shuddered, their eyes growing round and scared. Donut Cop smirked and swung open the door onto a dark and silent room. He stepped in and turned on the light, revealing three guns pointed at him. It took a moment for him to notice others sights trained on him from behind couches and chairs and under a rug.

* * *

Carcosa tried to keep the amusement from his face. Pi’s costume, blue spandex with a white pi symbol emblazoned on the chest and white numerals stitched on, seemingly at random, almost glowed in the early evening sun, reminiscent of the Riddler, despite Pi’s impressive girth. Carcosa raised an eyebrow, satisfied at least with Pi’s color choices while half thinking, There but for the grace of physics, go I. Violet didn’t look up from her tablet.

Pi bowed his head, “You see, I don’t like to brag, but I have actual super powers that might help in this instance.” He smiled with his lips pressed together, the way small boys often do.

Carcosa grinned, “Oh yeah? I thought you mainly did an afterschool tutoring sort of thing?”

Chanting boomed down a side street. “Raise your voice, get on your feet! Fight for each other, fight for our streets! However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”

Violet grasped her tablet to her chest and strained to look up the street. “They’re here! They’ve come to help!”

Pi fiddled his hands together and stared at the sidewalk. “I hope they have shirts on.”

* * *

Decency tried to keep the frustration from her voice, “Which way do we go now?”

Fantasia peered at the smartphone in her hands, at the brightly colored map with so many green and blue lines and a moving red arrow. The glow hurt her eyes. “Ummmm.”

“Can’t we just turn on the navigation?”

“Oh, but Decency, the voice is so scary, and it never gives you enough warning about when you’re going to turn.”

Decency found herself thinking that if Fantasia wanted to hear a scary voice, she only had to listen to herself speak. Shame and guilt bathed her with their burning chemicals for thinking that about something her mentor had no control over. She hated driving in the city, and it was making her crabby. She took a deep breath and mentally chanted, “Patience, patience, patience.”

* * *

Prince Charming stood with his back against a brick wall, holding his horse’s bridle, and feeling, once again, that life was unfair and completely stacked against him. He stared at The Existentialist in his Hamburglar costume, knowing he should have known better, that of course Violet had better standards than a middle-aged limping Hamburglar. He stared at the back of Violet’s head. He stared at the back of Carcosa’s head. The obvious mean and nasty things to think about Violet and Carcosa swirled through his brain—dykes, perverts, —but his heart wasn’t in it and his head wasn’t in it, and more than anything, he was starting to think that maybe he’d been making bad choices with his life.

* * *

Donut Cop was glad he still wore tighty whities because without that barrier, the small amount of urine that escaped his bladder would have almost certainly shown through his uniform. He was definitely going to burn the boxers his wife had gotten him for his birthday.

The man, or kid—Donut Cop didn’t even know because the guy looked so young and yet so old all at once—who was standing in front of the door put down his semi-automatic and barked, “Stow your weapons!”

The others put down their arms, all eyes in the room on Donut Cop in the open doorway, hand still on the light switch with Detective Rookie and Street Smart shaking behind him.

Donut Cop took a breath. “Sarge sent us.”

* * *

The Slutkiss Girls lined up on the sidewalk behind the sitting Pack members. “Blame the system, not the victim! One! Two! Three! Four! We won’t take it anymore! Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Stop the violence! Stop the hate!”

They hadn’t had time to look up chants more specific to the matter at hand, but the ones already in their arsenal seemed relevant enough.

* * *

Pi continued to stare at the ground, slanting his mouth toward Carcosa to whisper, “Are they wearing shirts?” Carcosa laughed, “Yeah buddy, they’re wearing shirts this time.” Pi let out a huge breath of relief.

Violet erupted, “No! Holy fuck, oh my god, fucking no! That bitch! Kimmy fucking Brunswick just played the goddamn race card on twitter! Now no one will listen!”

Carcosa and Pi exchanged puzzled looks. Violet glared at them. “Kimmy Brunswick? One of our most influential bloggers? Look, there it is, right there.” She held up her tablet so Carcosa and Pi could see the offending tweet: “Sounds to me like another unfortunate instance of #theracecard.”

Pi tilted his head, “But she looks like a white lady in her photo.”

Violet shook with frustration, “She is a white lady!”

Pi shrunk back from Violet’s anger. “I don’t get it?”

“Yes, this goddamn, supposedly liberal white lady just played the fucking race card, tagged it at that, and now no one’s going to talk about what’s really happening because they’re going to be too busy distancing themselves from ‘the race card’ that’s been put on the table by a moron.”

Carcosa stood back, knowing better than to intercede or try to calm Violet when she was righteously angry.

Pi smiled, “Oh, I can help with that! This is exactly the sort of thing my superpowers are good for!”

* * *

Donut Cop found himself wedged between two men in camo on what would have otherwise been a very comfortable couch. He was trying to explain the problem at hand and why the Vet Squad was being called upon to solve the problem. It was taking him awhile to get the words out of his mouth as the head Vet paced back and forth in front of the couch while his eyes stayed trained on Donut Cop the entire time. The effect was more than off-putting.

“See. You see, they’re insubordinating, erhm, insurrectanating, um, I mean, well, what I’m trying to say is…” He glanced at Street Smart and Detective Rookie who stood at the entrance to the room, not looking at anything or anybody. “AWOL, son, good cops, AWOL, terrorist in a cat suit, dogheaded men and women terrorizing the streets.”

The icy gaze on him did not shift even as the body strode back and forth and back and forth. Donut Cop was tired of looking like a moron. He clenched his fists and tried to return the stare, “We need you, or the terrorists win!” He smiled, glad he’d finally conveyed the right message.

The pacing man stopped pacing and was inches from Donut Cop’s face before Donut Cop had time to appreciate the feline feat of motion. “Really?”

* * *

Kitsune observed the scene through a dirty window three stories up. Kitsune wobbled a bit on her two feet, trying to gain her bearings. “Y’all, that is a messed up way to travel. Mr. Tummykins is dizzy and has to sit down.” Kitsune turned from the window to look at Kitsune.

Kitsune blushed. “Not me! I’m fine. Just, Mr. Tummykins, he’s going to sit in the sill a spell.” Kitsune placed her stuffed bear in the windowsill and looked down at the people on the streets. “Y’all know them’s people in dog masks, not actual dogs, right?” Kitsune narrowed their eyes at Kitsune. “Right, of course. Good.”

Kitsune placed hands on Kitsune, who flinched. “Wait for me to grab Mr. Tummykins!” Kitsune grabbed Mr. Tummykins. Kitsune disappeared.

* * *

Pi sat on the curb showing Violet a series of graphs and equations on his laptop. “Now I’m sure you know about ‘Black Twitter’ and ‘White Twitter,’ especially here in the city, but by using a series of differential equations, you can zero in on the commonalities and exploit those, and start to bring the two apparently separate zones together. These equations show you what words and phrases to avoid outright, and these show you which ones disarm and allow for actual communication to take place.”

* * *

Black Panther and The Tarot Reader sat on the metal bench in the small cell with a special spread taking place between them. The Tarot Reader didn’t often go through the actual steps of a reading, explaining the chosen spread and the cards: it usually wasn’t necessary, but Black Panther had asked, so The Tarot Reader was obliging her. They could faintly hear the protestors outside chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!”

They’d agreed on The Multiverse Tarot deck, and The Tarot Reader was about to be exactly halfway through a Cross and Triangle Spread developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Significator was, oddly, Queen of Selves ᴥ Kingfisher: Emotional honesty and compassion. Grace and maturity. The embodiment of water, be it placid and calm, a watering rain, or a wave crashing on deserving enemies.

Black Panther had nodded in satisfaction at that, and The Tarot Reader had gratefully wiped her brow. Sometimes you needed to take liberties with traditional interpretations, based on the Seeker. The Tarot Reader took a breath. The fifth card is placed to the left of the Significator. Representing Earth, it describes your physical presence and position in life. Your influence on the manifest world. She glanced up at Black Panther, but Black Panther was staring at the deck of cards in The Tarot Reader’s hands. She flipped over the next card and placed it in its position. Page of Mirrors ᴥ The West Wind: Air acting like earth, a steady, unfaltering wind. A new project or unexpected challenge to be met with integrity and reason. Gathering information and carefully examining it. Cutting through confusion to reach a fair and just conclusion.

Black Panther sighed, “Well, fuck me.”

* * *

Peter Tran stood up to his full height, sneering at Donut Cop. “Get the fuck out of here, man.”

Donut Cop glanced around, confused. Peter Tran flicked his wrist and the two men on either side of Donut Cop stood up, bringing him to his feet between them.

“But, but! You’re supposed to help!”

Peter Tran shook his head, “We don’t fight civilians, son. Ain’t nothing to fight about here. Sounds to me like they’ve got a right to peaceful protest.” He tilted his head slightly and the two men holding Donut Cop walked him to the exit.

Donut Cop couldn’t fathom what was happening. “But, but, it’s an order!”

“Pft. You ain’t the boss of me.”

“No, but Sarge said…”

“Then Sarge can come tell me himself, and then I’ll tell Sarge to go fuck himself. What the hell is happening in this country? We fought for you idiots, and now you’re trying to declare war on the citizens we fought for. Silvie lost a fucking arm for you!”

The two men carrying Donut Cop turned him abruptly so that his nose was inches from a stump being waved by a smirking woman with hard, dead eyes. Donut Cop looked down.

Street Smart had enough smarts that she’d already pulled Detective Rookie out of the room. They pressed themselves against the wall on either side of the door, within earshot, but out of sight.

The soldiers dragged Donut Cop to the open doorway, then halted. Peter Tran’s voice sounded millimeters from his ear, low and gravelly, “And if you or your fucking friends come bother us again while we’re in the middle of a tournament, we’re going to play tubtub with you.” Donut Cop felt his body gliding back, then he was sailing through the open doorway, tumbling into the hallway, and crashing into the opposite wall. The door thunked shut behind him.

Detective Rookie asked, “What the hell is ‘tubtub’?”

* * *

Kitsune shredded body armor straps and sprayed the suits with urine while Kitsune oversaw hundreds of rats who carried ammunition into the sewers while Kitsune stared at the armored tank. “What the police got a tank for anyway? Ain’t them for wars and whatnot?” Kitsune glanced at Kitsune behind Kitsune’s back and rolled their eyes.

* * *

Jamal sat on the curb with his head in his hands. His life had taken a series of awful turns. He couldn’t have anything he wanted. He could have everything he didn’t want. He was waiting to be arrested, charged with assaulting officers, locked up in a maximum-security joint where he’d be beaten and worse. He hated himself for doing nothing to help his Pack, who sat and lay injured and aching around him, tended to by Crones, organized by Carcosa, and buffered by Slutkiss Girls. He felt distant from everything he’d been trying to achieve. He didn’t even have the strength to look at his phone and see where his criminal lawyer acquaintance Alexander was, if he was almost there, almost around to save the day, or if he’d backed out due to the seemingly nonexistent press. Jamal lifted his head. No news vans. No copters. Nothing. Injustice against people of color was rarely news. He wished he had Maya with him. He wished he had his mask.

* * *

Sergeant Oswell squeezed himself under his desk in his locked office with the blinds drawn. He was only a few years from early retirement. What he needed was plausible deniability. If his boys and the Vet Squad succeeded, he wouldn’t mind taking his share of the credit, but if they stuck their collective foot in it, he didn’t want people looking at him.

He pricked his finger. Glucose holding steady at 90. Not ideal, but not awful. He gripped his cold pack of insulin. If things went south, he’d shoot three injections in a row and dial 911 before he passed out.

* * *

Violet hugged Pi as hard as she could. In under thirty minutes, they’d made it so #cpdsucks, #freeblackpanther, and #whopolicesthepolice were all trending. Pi did have superpowers, and those superpowers were getting the right message in the right packaging to all major demographics in the city. For once, the people were on their side.

* * *

Street Smart and Detective Rookie didn’t offer to help Donut Cop up from his position with his legs folded under him and his face smooshed into the wall, arms dangling limp at his sides. He stayed like that for a full minute, then Street Smart and Detective Rookie noticed a red fire shoot up from Donut Cop’s collar, into his jaw and cheeks, up to his forehead. For a second they worried he was having a heart attack or a stroke, but then he shoved himself from the wall, fell onto his back, started rocking back and forth to get himself onto his side, then pushed up onto his knees. He roared, “Fuck ‘em, we’ll do it ourselves!”

Street Smart and Detective Rookie high-fived.

* * *

Black Panther tapped a finger against her lips. The tarot reading continued. The eighth card reconciles the opposing forces. Meditating on this vehicle of change can swiftly bring the matter at hand to its optimal conclusion. She flipped over the top card of the deck, unsurprised that it was another Major Arcana. The Phoenix, when reversed: Loneliness, depression, uncertainty. Nostalgic memories. Disappointed or empty peace.

Black Panther laughed. She laughed and laughed, then stood up and bent over, holding her belly. The Tarot Reader didn’t understand. When Black Panther finally caught her breath, she said, “Tarot just tells you things you already know.”

The Tarot Reader found herself smiling and shrugging. Duh.

* * *

Kitsune barked at Kitsune. They paused and perked their ears. Kitsune told the rats to scram. Kitsune and Kitsune ran on all four paws to Kitsune and reached her just as the door swung open.

* * *

Decency circled the block again, looking for closer parking. They couldn’t get anywhere near the station itself, but she didn’t want to make Fantasia walk any farther than absolutely necessary. She saw a spot on the street, but before she could line the truck up with the minivan in front of the open spot, a tiny, almost comically small red car zoomed into it.

Decency slapped the dashboard and cursed, her nerves completely frayed. If city driving wasn’t enough, the sky blue truck with crocodiles painted on the side coupled with the passengers wearing masks had caused many a fellow motorist to honk and yell. Decency had started flipping off anyone who honked at her, so long as Fantasia wasn’t looking.

The roaring engines of motorcycles shook the glass in her window. She thought she might snap. The noise came closer and closer as she hovered in the middle of the street with her foot on the brake, ready to cry since she couldn’t scream. She couldn’t park and couldn’t protect Fantasia, once again, and she never seemed to be able to do a damn thing right.

The roaring and popping engines surrounded the truck. Decency gripped the steering wheel with both hands, squeezing her eyes shut, waiting for the damn noise machines to continue on their way. A knock sounded on her window right as Fantasia gently patted her arm and said, “It’s some of our friends.”

* * *

As a young man, Donut Cop had been exceptionally influenced by his viewing of Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Atom Bomb. Unfortunately, Donut Cop’s grasp of the plot was tenuous at best, and he assumed the heroes of the film were General Jack D. Ripper, General Buck Turgidson, and Major “King” Kong. He had despised the spineless, almost effeminate President Muffley and felt a surge of patriotic pride in his chest when Kong rode the bomb down onto the damn Ruskies. Donut Cop’s admiration for General Ripper had been such that he too had started avoiding water from that moment on, initially trying the spirits route, but, finding that too taxing, he’d simply stopped drinking water, bottled or otherwise, and began only drinking soft drinks, iced teas, and the occasional juice, failing, somehow, against all reason, to recognize that the main ingredient in all beverages is and always will be water, fluoridated or otherwise. His delusions about his own purity of essence were stronger than any rational argument could ever be, and thus, it had been three decades since he’d last been properly hydrated.

He led his crew to his desk, where he recovered the cowboy hat he’d stored in the bottom drawer, just in case he ever got the chance to be a true American hero, and then he led them to what he called “the War Room,” but was actually the weapons garage where the department stored its deeply discounted military surplus gear, including an armored tank.

Upon opening the door, Detective Rookie gagged. “What is that awful smell?”

* * *

Jamal figured that so long as he kept his face in his hands, nobody would notice the tears on his cheeks. A tongue brushed his left ear, dug between his fingers, getting at the salt, at the pain, lapping up his sorrows and frustration.

He laughed, “Maya!”

Maya grinned in the way dogs do, then went back to erasing all evidence of her human’s woes. Jamal cracked an eye open against the onslaught, saw Ms. Ernestine at the other end of the leash, holding out his mask with her free hand. She smiled. “Thought you might need this.”

He took his mask from her and blubbered like a baby, the tears fast and hot, no longer caring if anyone noticed.

* * *

Black Panther stood in the center of the small cell and lifted her right leg straight out in front of her, then slowly turned it around in the air until it was straight out behind her. The motion was fluid and precise. “That’s enough. Don’t need the last one.”

The Tarot Reader frowned. She’d never once not completed a reading. She pointed at the top card on the deck in her hands.

Black Panther shook her head. “Nope, doesn’t matter. You’re obviously not going to tell me anything I don’t already know about putting together my guest list. Thanksgiving is on me, like it always is.” She put her right leg down and lifted the left, executing the same precise feat.

The Tarot Reader frowned. When Black Panther wasn’t looking, she lifted the corner of the top card on the deck, then cocked her head. She lifted the blank white card to her face. She’d never seen anything like it.

* * *

“Never mind the smell!” barked Donut Cop. “What we want is that!” He pointed at the tank and took off at a jog. Street Smart and Detective Rookie exchanged glances. Detective Rookie asked, “You know how to drive one of those things?”

Donut Cop heaved himself up the metal ladder. “How hard could it be?” He turned the hatch.

Street Smart and Detective Rookie exchanged glances again.

Donut Cop paused. “You guys gonna stand there, or are you gonna help out?” He went back to turning the wheel, then stopped and asked, “You think there’s a garage clicker in here to open the door? I sure would like to make an entrance.” He opened the hatch and peered into the tank. “Hope we don’t have to raise the door before we get inside…”

* * *

Decency gripped Hel’s waist for dear life and kept her eyes closed, wishing she’d stayed with Azrael to park the truck and drag the coolers. She’d never once been interested in riding a motorcycle. They were death traps. They were death in motion. They were death begging to happen. They were the perfect chariots for The Dead.

A weird wailing sound rose and fell in her ears. She tried to force an eye open to check on Fantasia, who rode with Anubis, whose pointy-eared mask covered his entire head. There was no way he could see well enough out of that thing, which was why she’d chosen Hel, who only wore a black mask on half her face, and why she was a complete failure who’s first instinct was always to protect her own skin, even when Fantasia needed her. She couldn’t get her eyelids to budge. She tried taking a deep breath, but a tiny bug flew up her nose, making her sputter. Her body thought it was dying, so her eyes flew open. Out ahead of her and Hel, Fantasia had a fist in the air, and Decency realized what the weird “woooo” sound was.

* * *

Oswell wished he had an extra arm. His were shaking too much. He tried leaning his weight on his right arm to hold it still long enough for his left hand to prick his finger. He pricked the carpet. “Gosh darn it.” He leaned his bulk forward even more, pinning his arm all the way to the wrist. He tried to steady his left hand. “That’s it…that’s it…a little more.” He pricked his palm. “Close enough, sir, close enough.” It seemed someone else was directing and congratulating him. His pen said 70. He smiled and nodded. Oh yes, his blood sugar was quite low now, quite low.

He wondered why he wanted his blood sugar so low. He wondered why he was under his desk. He wondered what he was waiting for and what was taking so darn long for whatever it was to happen.

* * *

Mr. Tummykins was having a sit in the sill while Kitsune leaned against the window while Kitsune gazed down on the proceedings. The chants from the heroes came loud and clear. Pitbull led his pack. The garage on the police station shook: it sounded like a garbage truck had run into a dumpster. Kitsune stood up straight. Kitsune looked at Kitsune. Kitsune disappeared, leaving Kitsune and Mr. Tummykins. Kitsune reappeared, nodding at Kitsune. Kitsune reached out paws. Kitsune grabbed Mr. Tummykins and sighed.

* * *

“I think you’ve got it in reverse, sir.” Detective Rookie looked over his shoulder, but of course he couldn’t see through the tank. He guessed they’d taken out the cage of semiautomatics. He clenched his fists, then glared at them. He shouldn’t have picked rock. Now Street Smart stood at the entrance, her only job to open the damn door at the correct, most dramatic moment. Then again, he realized that if he was inside the tank, Donut Cop couldn’t run him over with the tank. He smiled and whispered, “Watch yourself, Shirley.”

Donut Cop barked, “What’s that? What’d you say?” He looked at the knobs and levers in front of him then consulted the handy dandy illustrated instructions. “Never mind. Oh here. Here it is.” He grinned as the tank lunged forward. The garage door started to rise. He lifted his cowboy hat from his head, smacking his knuckles on the metal ceiling, “Wooo—Ow!”

* * *

Violet looked up from her tablet. The chanters stopped chanting. Everyone stared at the police station garage. Violet looked at Carcosa. “What the hell is going on in there?” Carcosa shrugged. The garage door creaked up. Everyone held their breath.

* * *

A strange wheezing sound headed up the street accompanied by the rhythmic wooshing of bicycle wheels. The Existentialist thought some fool was dragging a dying dog behind a bike. The sound got closer. The garage door was halfway up. The sound got clearer. The Existentialist turned his head right as a gangly junior high kid with a head of wild wavy hair glided by on a bike, chanting, “Batman Batman Batman,” in her best, gruff Christian Bale voice. The Existentialist burst out laughing. All eyes turned to him and the kid on the bike, head down, chanting her breathy, throat-destroying mantra, oblivious to her surroundings, sailing past the protest without ever lifting her wildly-maned head.

All eyes missed Kitsune appearing in front of the opening garage.

* * *

Sergeant Oswell tried to get out from under his desk. He was stuck. He shook his girth back and forth. The desk shook with him. He laughed. “Pooh bear!” He tried to lunge forward, sending a spray of papers onto his head. “Haha!” He tried turning on his side, like a screw—he’d unscrew himself from his desk. He made it about thirty degrees before his belt snagged. “Hank, this is getting ridiculous!” declared the voice that had been declaring things and guiding him the past twenty minutes or so. “You’re right!” he agreed with himself. He leaned back and shoved the desk as hard as he could, toppling it over. “And you were upset they hadn’t gotten you one of those sturdy pure oak things.” Sergeant Oswell climbed to his feet, clasping his hands together over his head. “Man defeats corkboard!” declared the voice. “The crowd goes wild! Yeaaaaaaaaaaah!”

He adjusted his pants and shirt, double-checked his keys were still on their retractor, turned the knob to his office, and walked into the closed door.

“Still locked, buddy.”

“Right, right. You’re right.” He pulled the keys on his waist and jabbed them at the doorknob. “Wait, wait, I see.” He turned the little switch on the knob. “I’m inside the office, that’s right!” He tried the knob. It worked. He left his office on a mission to discover his mission.

* * *

When the motorcycle came to a stop, Decency continued to grip Hel, eyes sealed shut. Hel wriggled a little, so Decency lifted a numb left leg over the bike, holding Hel for support until she was standing. Fantasia jumped off Anubis’ bike and waddled away at what Decency figured was a run. Some Crones and Slutkiss Girls and Pack members appraised the new arrivals, but most people stared where Fantasia was running: at a young girl in a patchy white and red fox costume who stood in front of a tank with a stuffed bear outstretched at it.

* * *

Much later, in her old age, death on the horizon, Violet’s greatest shame in her life that she could never forgive herself for was the moment when she turned from the weird Batman kid and saw a little girl with a teddy bear outstretched at a herky jerky tank, and her first and primary thought was one of elation and hope that somebody somewhere in the crowd was framing that perfect shot, the updated, Real Life Superhero version of Tiananmen Square. The remorse would clench her stomach and burn her throat, each time as fresh as the first, because each time, the memory elicited the excitement too, before drenching her in shame.

* * *

The tank lurched forward then crawled. Detective Rookie stared at the screen and pounded on Donut Cop’s shoulder. “Stop! Stop! It’s a little girl, you lunatic!”

Donut Cop laughed, “That’s what the damn Ruskies want you to think! I’m going to complete this mission!”

* * *

Sergeant Oswell stumbled against Black Panther’s cage. “This is the place, Sarge?”

He nodded. “Yup, this is the place.”

“These are the perps?”

He grinned wildly and nodded his head. “Oh yeah, these are the perps, right here.” He fiddled with his key ring.

“Were there always two perps, Sarge?”

Oswell laughed and shrugged, jamming key after key into the lock. “The more perps the merrier, I always say!”

* * *

The Tarot Reader and Black Panther watched the obviously ill Sergeant talk to himself while trying to open the holding cell. Black Panther grinned and whispered in The Tarot Reader’s ear. The Tarot Reader switched from a Black Panther clone to a silvery unicorn. Sergeant Oswell gasped, then shook his head and muttered, “Can’t be helped, son. Can’t be helped.”

* * *

It’s called Genovese Syndrome or Bystander Effect, and it’s an unfortunate fact that even Real Life Superheroes sometimes fall prey to this basic human delusion that with so many people present, particularly so many superheroes, somebody else is bound to do something in a time of crisis, and therefore, no one does anything out of fear of getting in the way or doing the same thing twice or whatever reason an individual brain may concoct that would cause a person to stand by while a tank slowly rolls forward at a young girl in a patchy fox costume.

* * *

Kitsune narrowed her eyes at the tank. “All right, Mr. Tummykins. This might be it.” Her life didn’t flash before her eyes, what little of it there had been. She knew she might die, but it seemed to her that someone had to do something, and it seemed to her that all too often, that someone was her since your average person was too something or not enough something to do the obviously right thing.

* * *

Kitsune barked at Sergeant Oswell, who dragged Black Panther and The Tarot Reader behind him from a tether he’d made of one of his own shoestrings, which was why one of his shoes was half off his foot and causing him to walk with an unsteady shuffle. Kitsune looked at The Tarot Reader, who changed into a giant Kitsune for a moment, which made Kitsune grin. Kitsune looked at Black Panther then Oswell then back. Black Panther held up her wrists to show that she’d been “cuffed” with the plastic rings from a six-pack of soda. She rolled her eyes.

Oswell squealed in delight. “What an odd little puppy! How’d you get in here, girl?”

Kitsune grinned and ran in a circle around Oswell then got in front of him and jerked her head down the hallway, barking again for good measure.

“What’s that, girl? You want me to follow you?” Oswell laughed and clapped his hands together. “Has Timmy fallen down a well?” He guffawed and slapped his knee with his free hand.

Kitsune barked.

“Well, then, let’s go!” He tugged on his shoestring and took off at a trot. His lace-less shoe came the rest of the way off, causing him to stumble and fall on his face. Black Panther and The Tarot Reader helped him up. He seemed surprised to see them. “A cat and Big Bird! How delightful!”

Kitsune barked to remind Oswell he was supposed to be hurrying. Black Panther and The Tarot Reader kept ahold of his arms to make sure he didn’t fall again.

* * *

Kitsune took the form of a human child and appeared next to Detective Rookie in the cramped interior of the tank. Detective Rookie held himself and cried, having been unable to make Donut Cop stop or dislodge him from the driver’s seat. Kitsune slitted his eyes and shook his head at Detective Rookie.

* * *

Kitsune held Mr. Tummykins to her chest. The tank was so close she could feel its main gun casting a shadow over her head. She sniffed. “Ain’t no time for tears, Mr. Tummykins.”

* * *

Robbie couldn’t believe nobody was doing anything. He felt certain that at any moment, he was going to leap onto his horse and save the day. The problem seemed to be that his muscles wouldn’t move just yet, but they would soon, he was sure of it.

* * *

Pi used his superpowers to determine how many more seconds were left for the tank to brake before it’d be too late. 18.

* * *

Detective Rookie sped through his options. Donut Cop appeared more or less wedged into the driver’s seat or cockpit or whatever the hell the control area was called. If he knocked him out, the tank might keep going. He could try climbing out of the tank and grabbing the girl, but he didn’t think there was enough time. All the books he’d read, all the climatic endings, and his brain refused to provide the answer. The kid who’d appeared hissed, showing razor-like teeth. That was it. Detective Rookie punched the air and shouted, “Yes!”

* * *

Sergeant Oswell burst through the front doors of his police station. “What in the Sam Hill?” He couldn’t make sense of the scene in front of him, the costumes, the tank, the little girl in front of the tank. His tank, he realized. That was his tank.

He asked, “Did you authorize this?”

He replied, “Hell no, I most certainly did not!”

He turned to his prisoners, “Catwoman, Alf, do something!”

* * *

Kitsune felt her body leaning back, like she was going to limbo. She managed to keep her feet firmly planted, but physics seemed to force her to lean back, away from the tank that kept inching forward.

* * *

“Almost there, boys! Almost there! Woo!” Donut Cop waved his hat, ignoring the fact that he kept banging and scraping his knuckles. As he did, Detective Rookie flipped the switch to the battery and the tank powered down. He pointed a finger hard into Donut Cop’s chest and yelled in his surprised face, “Occam’s Razor, bitch!”

* * *

Fantasia reached Kitsune right as the tank shuddered to a stop and the child fell backwards. Fantasia caught the child in her arms by going down on her bad knee. She ignored the throbbing sting. “Oh, you poor sweet baby!” She looked at the people lining the streets, and denounced them through her tears. “What is wrong with all of you!”

She pulled the hood off the girl’s head to make it easier for her to breathe, releasing her braids. The girl didn’t open her eyes, but she mumbled, “Is Mr. Tummykins okay?”

* * *

Violet barely had time to turn her head before she vomited onto the street. Pi patted her shoulder. Carcosa slapped himself in the face, wondering where he’d just been on his flat circle if he hadn’t been here, doing something.

* * *

Prince Charming saw the Hamburglar making his move. Black Panther was outside, and the stupid fucking Hamburglar was going to try to take credit. He startled his horse by jerking the bridle. The horse shook its head and let out a scared whinny. He apologized and dropped the bridle, figuring the horse wouldn’t get too far without him. He realized he really should give the horse a name, but he had more important matters at hand. Prince Charming had seen who had Black Panther on a string. He had an Ace up his sleeve.

* * *

Sergeant Oswell had no idea what was going on, and neither did Sergeant Oswell. “Who are these people?” He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He got mad. “What the H-E-double-hockey-stick?”

The Existentialist reached out to take the plastic rings off Black Panther’s wrists, but she grunted at him and pulled them off herself. The Existentialist’s face bunched up in concern. “What’s wrong with this guy?”

Black Panther shrugged, “Probably low blood sugar. That or bad drugs.”

The Existentialist reached out a tentative hand to Oswell’s shoulder, “Sir, do you need help?”

Oswell spun around. “Who’s that? What’s this? Who’s there?”

Prince Charming strode up, placing a palm on the Existentialist’s chest, pushing him away as he reached out a hand to Oswell. “Hank Oswell, as I live and breathe!”

Oswell looked at the hand and looked at Prince Charming. “Robbie McElmurray? Is that you? Good to see you, Regent, sir!” Oswell saluted Prince Charming.

The two men laughed and embraced. Oswell stroked his jaw, “How long’s it been, Robbie?”

“Too long, Hank. Too damn long. How’s the wife?”

“She’s good. Just started yoga. Says it clears her mind.”

“And the kids?”

“Patty’s playing the trombone at school and Mark’s in some sort of game club or something.”

“Good to hear, Hank, good to hear.” Prince Charming flashed his insanely white smile.

Oswell frowned, “Robbie, level with me. What the hell is happening here?”

Prince Charming’s smile widened. “Just a little mix up, that’s all. Nothing two Sigma Nus can’t work out.”

“Yes, Regent, sir.”

“Aw, shucks, Hank. I retired a long time ago.”

“You’re still the boss, sir.”

They smiled and, despite Oswell’s shakes and tremors, managed to complete an intricate handshake while whispering a secret chant.

* * *

Kitsune regarded the scene from the third story window. Things were winding down. They’d more or less done their job. They watched Fantasia stroke Crystal’s head. They wished there was a way around it. Right as they were getting ready to leave, Crystal sat up and pulled on her hood. Kitsune smiled, poofed down to Kitsune, grabbed her arms, and poofed back to their forest.

Kitsune complained, “Y’all could at least warn a Kitsune before doing that.”

Kitsune sat on either side of their torii, swishing their new tails, getting the feel for having three tails instead of two. Hanging from the torii was a red-and-white suit with two tails dangling from it instead of one. Kitsune carefully sat down Mr. Tummykins and changed into the new suit. Kitsune looked at each other and smiled, showing all their teeth, which made them laugh, as it always did.

* * *

Nobody noticed Azrael riding a rolling cooler like an extremely difficult skateboard while dragging another rolling cooler behind him. He tried not to pout and keep grinning. He’d been impressed by his own ingenuity and agility, but nobody was paying attention. People bunched in small groups, speaking loudly to each other, with the biggest group convened in front of the tank stopped in the middle of the street. He tried whistling a tune, but no one even glanced his way. He rolled the coolers to a stop next to Decency, who wasn’t talking to anyone, standing by herself, holding herself, arms crossed and hands on opposite shoulders, biting her lips. He popped open the cooler he’d been riding and pulled out a mostly-still-frozen Big Stick. “Here you go, ma’am. Supplies for our troops.”

Decency turned and slapped him in the face, knocking his mask slightly askew.

Azrael grinned while rubbing his cheek, “Now that’s the Decency I knew as a kid.”

He pulled the wrapper from his Big Stick and stuck it in his mouth.

Harmony Neal was the 2011-2013 Fiction Fellow at Emory University. Her essays and stories have been published in or are forthcoming from Shadows & Tall Trees, Interzone, Black Static, Eleven Eleven, Gulf Coast, Nashville Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Paper Darts, among others. Her essay “Simulacra” is included in the 2015 Best of the Net Anthology. She encourages women everywhere to get hysterical. harmonyisawitch.com