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Stop the Presses

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“Nick, don’t.” Phil glared at his boss. “There is no story there.”

“You damn well know there is a story there, you just want to take a nap.”

“Naps are great.” Phil countered. “I’ve written several lovely articles about them.”

“I’ve read them.” Nick rolled his eye. “I have a Pulitzer award winning writer who wants to cover the mayor’s office, little league and the advice column.”

“I would write a great advice column.”

“What advice can you give Phil? How to survive a big ass explosion that sends rebar through your chest?”

“I also know how to get stains out of anything, and like how to deal with family who nag at holidays.”

Nick was unimpressed. He handed a folder to Phil. “Someone might be stealing nuclear waste.”

“Put Sitwell on it.”

“Sitwell got fired for feeding information to reporters at the Mail.”

“Send Hand.”

“Hand is busy with that corruption story.”

“Send Hill.”

“Pause and reflect on what you just said.”

“Why can’t I write movie reviews?” Phil whined.

“Look into these rumours and tell me that nothing is there and then I’ll give you the fucking advice column.”

“There is nothing there Nick.” Phil promised but he took the files and went to his desk. He read all the notes that Sitwell had gathered before he had defected and sighed. Shit, there might be something there. It was the tingle in his spine that let him know something was up. Or that could just be the dead nerves doing phantom twitches. But it looked like he was doing a stakeout. He hated stakeouts. He wasn’t a cop.

It smelled like piss and rotten fish and garbage by the old docks. And seagulls. They carried their own special scent of hell. It was his third night here and nothing. The only good thing about the stench was that it meant Nick had been wrong and soon he’d get to sit at his desk and answer letters about how to deal with dear old bigoted aunt gertrude. The quiet sounded nice. He didn’t want anymore adventures.

Maybe he should just switched to straight editing, or work on a book. Get his masters and teach writing in Con Ed classes. Die of boredom. Dying of boredom sounded better than the last time he died.

He was about to back it up, so of course that is when he saw the flashlights. “Great,” he muttered to himself, “Nick is going to gloat.” He still had the option to not go and see what was happening. He could pretend he didn’t see it and go home and put on pajamas and think about getting a pet, maybe a fish. He grabbed his camera and tazer and got out of the car and climbed the fence.

Phil moved quietly, years of following soldiers, teaching him a great deal about stealth. Please just let these guys have moonshine, or illegal chinchillas.

But no, no they had barrels with nuclear symbols on the side. Lovely. He took photos of the barrels and the men, who didn’t even have ski masks on. He ducked away from them and tried to find their car, see if he could get plates. And he found a car all right, one with government tags. He took some more photos and there was the governor’s aide.

Fuck, this tied into what Hand was researching.

He was never going to get to write that advice column now.

Phil followed the aide to where he was meeting the rent by the hour goons and hit record on his phone, glad it was Stark, they had the best audio features. Right now it was really standard though, bribes, blackmail, make this stuff disappear, don’t care what your boss wants to use it for. Blah, blah, blah. He took some more photos and heard a small noise behind him and ducked.

The goon was huge and Phil managed to fight smart and knocked the guy out but there was enough of a scuffle that it alerted everyone. The other goons came after him and Phil ran for the fences. He heard a car squeal away, sure it was the aide. Phil heard the pounding feet behind him and tried to hurry but it was dark and he tripped and one of the guys kicked him in the ribs hard.

They dragged him back to where the barrels were and he figured the one in the kicky hat was Goon #1.

“Hey fellas, you taking part in the scavenger hunt too?” Phil asked cheerfully.

“Who sent you?”

“Team leader.” Phil answered quickly. “We needed a ship wheel, what better place than this derelict dock?” His arm was twisted hard behind his back. He sighs. Amateur torture time, yay.

“So want to go on record on the deal you and the governor’s office has?” Phil asked. “I’ll keep you as an anonymous source.”

Goon #1 took his coat off and rolled his sleeves.

“You’re right, it is warm out tonight. Being a goon, has to be sweaty work too.” The guy grabbed a crowbar and pried a lid off and oh shit that stuff did sort of glow green. “This is taking a turn I don’t really care for.” Phil said. Goon #1 pulled out a syringe and added some red stuff and then pulled some nuclear waste into the syringe as well. “Really, really don’t care for.” Phil had no idea which scared him more, the goon injecting it into himself or Phil.

The man smiled and started to move.

Look like the stuff was going into Phil. “Please.”

“I like it when people beg.” The guy said.

“Please, go fuck yourself.” Phil answered.

The guy holding him dislocated his shoulder. Phil screamed in pain, because yeah that fucking hurt. His head was yanked to the side and Phil resigned himself to become some sort of monstrous creature.

Only there was a sharp sound and a blue bullet hit Goon #1 in the forehead and he rocked back and hit the ground. There was a blast and the goon guarding the parameter was knocked back. He blinked and all of a sudden there was a woman in front of him.

All in black, red mask over her eyes and nose. Military boots, hard posture.

“Hi.” Phil smiled. “How’s your night going?” And he learned you can see a person roll their eyes even in a mask. She swung out and the guy on his one side was gone. Three came around the corner and she ran to meet them. Phil grabbed his camera and started taking photos.

“Let me help you.” A sweet voice said to him. He looked over and it was a girl, in a similar outfit, though her mask was green. “We need to get your shoulder back in place and you need to run.”

“Huh?” He heard swearing and turned and watched what he was certain was the leader beat the crap of the goons. He took another photo and then swore and his shoulder was forced back into his socket. “Who are you people?”

“Shield.” she said, “And you need to get away call the cops.” The woman looked up at the quiet.

“They’re out. Quake tie them up.” The woman in the red mask had a hard voice. Firm.

“Sure Red Wing.” Another girl, her mask black, went over and tied the goons up with the help of the one guy. His mask matched the girl who helped him.

Phil ignored the attempts to tug him away. “Red Wing is it? Care to make a comment? How did you know to be here? Are you a superhero, new to the scene here in Portland? Favourite donut shop?”

The whole team looked at him.

“Favourite donut shop?” the girl beside him asked. British, young, he thought, trying to catalogue everything.

“Look, I’m trying to get onto the fluff beat. Advice column, movie reviews. God, I’d love to cover a dog show. So, asking you guys about donuts seems reasonable.”

“I like Voodoo.” The lone man offered.

“Overrated.” from beside him.

Red Wing held up a hand, and there was quiet. “Call the cops. And I hope you get that job. You seem like trouble.” She bent her knees a little and was gone up into the air.

“Ahhh, explains the name. For the record there is Red Wing, Quake, and ?” he asked.

“Icer and I don’t actually have a name yet, nothing has felt quite right.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Phil offered sympathetically.

“Thank you.” she smiled a little. “Remember to ice that shoulder.” she gave a little wave and the three hurried off. Phil watched after them and then took a few photos of the goons before calling the cops.

He noticed the syringe was gone.

***********************************

Phil woke up a week later and stumbled to the coffee pot and stared at it until there was enough in to pull it off and fill a cup. He drank desperately and sat at his computer.

That...that was a lot of emails.

Oh hell, Nick put up the expose he and Hand had ended up writing.

He went to the newspapers web page and had to blink a few times.

Where the fuck had Nick even found that photo of him in camo?

An hour later he was pacing in Nick’s office. “Front page Nick? I thought we were giving all the credit to Hand?”

“No, you said that. Hand and I agreed, you broke a key component to the story. It wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been there.”

“I look like a tool in that photo.”

“You look ‘rugged’ and ‘intriguing’ and ‘daddy af’.” Nick looked at him. “Darcy picked the photo and those were her selling words.”

“Of course they were.”

“I don’t find you that attractive, but according to the comments, several people agree with Darcy.” Nick spun his computer around to show Phil the comments and Phil spun it right around again.

“I didn’t want this much awareness Nick. You promised when you hired me, I could be fairly low key.”

“Well then you shouldn’t have gotten your ass grabbed by the bad guys and then saved by the superheros and managed to document the whole bloody thing.” Nick pointed. “You know as well as I do, superheros are news. Good news. Selling news. Your article got us 50 new online subscriptions. I like that sort of money Phil.”

“I just want to write reviews of the latest local theatre revival of the Music Man.” Phil said forlornly.

“Don’t worry. I’m not putting you on features.” Nick leaned back in his chair and Phil was terrified. “You are getting the superhero beat.”

“You aren’t.” Phil’s jaw dropped. “No fucking way, Fury.”

“Find out everything you can about this group called Shield, Phil. Get me the goods, and I’ll let you write that column on bundt cakes you want to do.”

“I hate you.”

“Good luck, Coulson.”

Phil went to his desk and sat and just lay his head on the small bit of open space.

“Hey boss, uber boss man assigned me to be your assistant.” Darcy plopped down next to him. “Where do we start?”

“Coffee. All the coffee. Enough to make me forget the job Nick just gave me.” Phil said without looking.

“I think it will be fun.” Darcy said. “Superheros are big news these days.”

“I don’t want big news, I want little news.”

“I started my period this morning. That’s little news.”

Phil slid out of his chair and curled under his desk.

“I’ll get you that coffee. And maybe a donut.”

He watched Darcy’s feet walk away and wondered if maybe returning to war zones might not be the sanest option left to him.