"Wanted: sidekick for a superhero.  Must own a car, be able to lift 50 pounds, have excellent problem-solving skills, be reliable, punctual, and available to work evenings and weekends.  Discretion is paramount.  Email me at aeneas753@aol.com.

I was reading the neighbourhood classifieds when this ad caught my eye.  It's not often that there is an opening for a superhero sidekick.  I met the basic requirements and thought going down this rabbit hole might be fun. I emailed my interest and immediately got a reply.  All it said was, "May 7, 2pm, 624 Church St." I Googled the address and found that it was a seniors' home, Belvidere Manor.

This left me even more intrigued.  It felt like a prank, but I couldn't turn back now, besides I had nothing on Sunday, so why not?

When I arrived at the manor, I approached the reception desk.  A pleasant woman in blue scrubs smiled at me.  "Hello, how can I help you?"

I thought about asking about the sidekick position, then realized this was probably a test of my discretion.  I paused.  

The silence between us quickly became uncomfortable. I was about to apologize and make a hasty retreat when a small old man stepped forward.  His eyes were sunken and sad, and lines of living were carved deep in his brow.  He wore a tweed jacket with elbow patches, brown corduroy trousers and a bow tie.  He walked carefully with each step, relying heavily on his crooked cane.  

The receptionist smiled.  "Are you here to visit Pete?"

I looked at the old man, and he gave a quick nod. 

"Um.  Yes.  Ya, Pete."

"He's been looking forward to going out today." She spoke as if talking about a little kid.  "Just sign here and make sure he's back at the manor by 4:30 sharp unless you are taking him out for dinner, in which case the curfew is 7:30.

I looked at Pete, and he shook his head no.  I turned back to the receptionist, "Um, we're just going out for the afternoon.  I'll have him back by dinner. "

"Are you a relative?  It was so tragic that his son passed away so suddenly."

"Um, more of a friend."

"OK, then sign here and he's all yours."

I was uncomfortable with her language.  I really didn't want to take possession of a human being, but with a quick signature - and no background check  - I became his guardian, at least for the afternoon. 

Pete was walking out the door before I had even finished signing for his freedom.

The receptionist called after him, "Have fun with your new friend, Pete."

I cringed at her condescending tone.  What had I got myself into?

 I rushed after him.  "Did you put the ad in the paper?

He stopped abruptly.  "Stttt," he hissed and raised his finger, then asked, "Where's your car?  What colour is it?"

"Over there." I pointed. 

He looked at my blue Corolla and smiled.  "Excellent.  You definitely won't stand out driving that."

I wasn't sure if that was a compliment or not.

It was then I noticed he was no longer using his cane.  He practically jumped into my car.

I put the keys in and turned the ignition on but didn't immediately start the engine.

"OK, what's going on?" I asked

"Not here." He shook his head.  "Let's go to the London Arms.  It’s safe there.  It’s just around the corner.  Go out to the street and turn right."

I paused to take in the man sitting next to me.  I wasn't sure if I had just taken custody of a psychiatric patient.  Nevertheless, he seemed harmless.  After all, if he was violent, they would have warned me, wouldn't they?  I started the car and followed his directions. 

We drove in silence to the pub.  When we walked in, the bartender gave Pete a wave, and Pete smiled back, "Hey, Chuck!" We didn't delay a moment but walked straight back to a booth in the corner where the light was particularly muted.

Immediately a young waitress arrived with a pint of beer.  "Haven't seen you in a while Pete.  How have you been?"

"Not bad, Dolores."

"Good to hear.  Good to hear." She repeated herself.  She then turned to me and asked, "Do you want anything to drink?"

"Ya.  Sure.  I'll have the same as him." 

"OK, I'll be right back."

When we were alone, I finally demanded, "What's going on?  Did you post the ad for a sidekick?"

"Of course I did." He replied, annoyed at my obvious question.  "Lower your volume."

"Are you a superhero?" I asked directly in a stage whisper.

Just then, Dolores returned with my beer, and our conversation stopped.  We sat in complete silence until she walked away. 

"Are you a superhero?" I asked again.  

"If I wasn't I wouldn't need a sidekick would I."

This didn't seem to be going well.  "What sorts of crimes do you fight." I was skeptical.

"All kinds especially those of my greatest nemesis Sum Sola?"

"Sum Sola?  I’ve never heard of him or her?"

"Him. Of course you haven't.  He wouldn't be much of a master criminal if everyone knew him."

"And what's your name?"


"No, your superhero name?" I clarified.


I furrowed my brow, confused.

"What's wrong with Pete?" he challenged.  "A true superhero doesn't need to be a celebrity or associated with some type of animal.  In fact it is better if you operate more incognito.  I don't do it for the publicity.  I do it because it is the right thing to do. "

"So you don't wear spandex?" 

"Don't be stupid.  One word: Wedgies."  

I laughed, then added, "How do you keep your identity secret?"

"I wear a mask." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a plain brown leather mask.  Think Green Lantern but not so fancy.

None of this was helping my confidence.  "What's your super power?"

“Confidence and a cane." He declared then raised his pint. I saluted him with mine and we both took a long draw of beer.  

"Were you always a superhero?"

"No.  I was a high school Latin Teacher for most of my adult life.  I was among the last of my kind.  They don't teach Latin anymore.  Nihil perpetuum.

"So, when did you start your superhero career?" I asked, hoping to get a concrete answer.

"Soon after I was moved into the Temple." His voice dropped.

"You mean the manor."

He rolled his eyes and frowned his forehead.  "My wife had passed, and my son was worried for my safety, so I was locked away to live out my life where they tell you what to do.  I suddenly had lots of time on my hands, surrounded by perfect strangers.  Just because you're the same age as someone else doesn't mean you're their friend.  Only in schools and senior's residences do they herd people together like this.  I don't want to live out my life with old people.  All they do is complain about their health.  Whoop de do!  From 19 to 80, you can hang out with whomever you want.  Age doesn't matter.  It's about personalities, interests and lifestyle.  But once you're old…."

"How old are you?" I asked.

"I am 92." He announced and took another drink of beer. 

"Wow.  You don't look 92." I was amazed by his revelation.

"How many 92 year olds do you know." He snapped back.

"Well, none I guess." I admitted.

"Then how would you know?" His response was terse.  He didn't want pity or hollow compliments.

I took another long draw of beer. 

Mercifully he took control of the conversation, "I'm looking for a sick kick.  Someone who can drive me around in my fight for justice.  I lost my license a few years ago.  I gave all the wrong answers.  I was trying to be funny but they didn't have a sense of humor."

This was starting to sound like a chauffeur job.  I wanted clarification, "Did you have a sidekick before?"

Pete paused for a moment before he spoke in a low, depressed tone.  "Yes.  He was my son.  He died of cancer a few months ago." 

"I’m sorry to hear that.  Do you have any other family?" 

"Nope.  I win.  Last one standing.  They’re all dead."

"I”m sorry." I replied

"Why are you sorry?  It wasn't your fault." Pete didn't want anyone's pity.

"I know.  I just…" I drank more beer.

"So I need a new sidekick." He declared, then asked,  "What makes you think you're qualified."

"Well, I not sure." I replied honestly.

Pete sighed. "Well that's not very encouraging, is it?" 

I offered a more complete answer.  "Um, I think I cover all your requirements.  I guess it depends on what you expect of me.  I'm fit but not particularly athletic.  What does the job involve?"

"OK, I am going to give you a scenario and I want you to tell me what you would do if you were my sidekick."

"OK." I took another swig of beer.  

He was happy that I was finally taking it seriously.  He leaned forward slightly and began ""Sum Sola is trying to steal 1000 tonnes of maple syrup." 

"Maple syrup?" I asked incredulously.

"It was in all the papers." Pete was surprised I hadn't heard of this incident.  "Don't you read the newspaper?"

"I get my news on my phone." I explained.

"Oh for god's sake.  The great Canadian Maple heist?  Worth millions of dollars.  A few years ago." He was trying to jog my memory. 

I suddenly had a faint recollection of the event.  I think it was a joke on the late-night shows.  I nodded my head.  "Now you mention it - "

He ignored my response.  "Sum Sola has been siphoning off syrup stored at Sugar Shacks.  We are driving up a dark winding laneway through a thick forest, a maple stand.  The moon is bright, and the stars sharp.  When we are almost there, I tell you to stop the car and park it across the laneway to block the exit.  You turn off the engine and the headlights.  We need to use stealth from this point to catch them.

"We get out of the car and carefully, quietly walk up the gravel road.  We hug close to the trees.  Around the next bend we can see light coming from a big rig.  It's engine is running.  It is clearly being loaded up.  What are you going to do?"

I thought for a second; what did he want me to say?  I decided to answer truthfully.  "Um.  Call 911"

Pete collapsed into the back of his seat, dejected.  He sighed and then decided to ignore my response.  "We creep closer.  slipping from tree to tree.  We can soon make out three henchmen.  One is rolling a 40-gallon barrel of maple syrup up into the truck trailer and another is siphoning off one barrel into the next.  The third seems to be a lookout."

"What about Sum Sola?" I ask, finding myself intrigued by his story.

Pete smiled.  He's standing by the truck cab, smoking a cigarette.  Sum Sola is tall and lanky.  He's wearing a long dark green outback oilskin coat and a digger hat.  We move closer.  We can almost now see their expressions.  What do you do?"

This time I decided to play along.  "I take out my compact, high-powered binoculars for a better look."

"Excellent!" A smile swept across Pete's face.  "What do you see?"

"Encouraged by his reaction, I continued, "The lookout is not vigilant.  He’s scrolling on his phone.  His machine gun hanging off his shoulder.  The other is using a hand pump to siphon the maple syrup.  The third has now rolled his barrel into the trailer.  I can't see him anymore.  Do we have any weapons?"

Pete's eyes sparkled.  "I take the rubber foot off the heel of my cane and carefully aim at the look out.  A single shot, barely a sound, a tranquilizing dart right to the neck.  He collapses against the barrel."

I jump in, "I use the binoculars again.  No one has noticed."

Pete was getting caught up in the excitement.  "I shoot at the lookout.  Another perfect shot in the neck.  Down he goes."  

"Just then," I added, "the henchman inside the truck comes out and sees the lookout down.  He immediately runs over to him and notices the dart.  He pulls out his pistol and looks out into the dark forest but can't see us.  He shouts to Sum Sola, "Pete's here!"

Pete's expression blossomed like a little kid in a candy store and he immediately added to our story, "Sum Sola tosses his cigarette aside then scans the darkness but he can't see anything, so he climbs up into the truck and turns on the headlight high-beams, illuminating the dark forest, and flushing us from our hiding place.  "There they are!" He shouts, "Shoot them!" The henchman opens fire. "

"We drop to the ground to hide in the underbrush." I interjected. 

 Pete continued, "The henchman fires a few more shots then Sum Sola yells at him to stop.  "Don't waste bullets."

An idea spinged to mind. "I use my phone to pop open the truck of my car and start up my drone.  I fly it remotely through the darkness.  He can hear it coming but can't make out exactly where it is.  He shoots randomly until I fly the drone straight into his face causing him to drop his pistol to protects his eyes.  He smashes the drone to the ground and -"

"I jump up," Pete shouted "and shoot him with my cane.  He falls down unconscious.  Next we charge Sum Sola."

"Isn't that dangerous?" I ask.  "Isn't he armed."

"No," Pete explains.  "Sum Sola never carries a weapon.  He gets back in the truck and lurches forward from first to second gear."

"What are we going to do, Pete?  He's getting away." I implored, now fully vested in our narrative.

"We run after the truck knowing that your car is going to slow him down." Pete explains.  "He won't be able to build enough speed on the tight winding laneway to ram us off completely.  And he can't go around it because of the trees." 

"OK," I add.  "We hear the truck smash into my car.  It’s a mangled mess but still blocks the road.  Sum Sola yells in frustration." 

"We catch up just as he jumps down from the cab.  He attacks me." Pete continues.  I parry with my cane, striking him with the handle.  I swing again, but this time he grabs hold of the shaft and tosses me to the ground." 

We were talking as one narrator now, "I lunge towards him and slam him against the truck. He’s winded for a moment then punches me hard in the stomach.  I double over. "

Pete takes back the story, "Sum Sola runs to the back of the truck and goes inside.  We soon hear the high scream of a dirt bike coming to life.  He flies out of the back , lands on the lane way, then donuts the bike around to face us.  He revs the engine then squeals forward full speed.  I try to shoot him with the tranquilizer but the headlight of the bike blinds me.  He zooms past and escapes.  We foiled his plan but he got away. We now call it in and leave the crime scene and the paperwork to the police."

Pete's expression was energized.  "You're hired if you still want the job.  Oh ya and there’s no pay."

I laughed.  "No need.  I'ld be honoured to be your sidekick."

“By the way.” he asked, “do you really have a drone.”

“Yes,” I chuckle. “And binoculars too!”

"How about this Tuesday, for dinner." He asked cautiously.  "We don't always have to be on an adventure."

"Sure!" Tuesday sounds great.  Shall we make a day of it?  I can pick you up in the morning, and we can patrol the city or get out of town for a bit."

Pete smiled.  "Thank you."

"No. thank you for reaching out." I replied.  "I am glad I read your ad."

When we got back to the manor - on time - he walked into the senior's home with his cane in hand.  

I went home that night proud of myself.  It felt good to bring a smile to Pete's face and to be his sidekick.  There was only one question left.  Knowing he was a Latin teacher, I decided to look up who his arch nemesis actually was:  Turns out Sum Sola means “I am alone/l am lonely.”

April 28, 2023 23:51

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