Issue #55 – Beer Money

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

The Beach House Arc Part 2

It has famously been said: ‘Great villains make great heroes’. And it rings true down through the ages, for how bright can a beacon be without the inky dark to shine through?

The best villains aren’t just antagonists, they are foils; dark mirrors held up to the hero an exaggerating their flaws to monstrous proportions and calling into question the very purpose of the hero’s existence. They are nemeses who make the battle between good and evil a personal, frightening conflict and their motivations might be frighteningly sympathetic, even tempting the wayward to follow them into Hell.

A truly great villain can tear their opponent down, stripping away the powers and the gadgets and the skills to reveal the base, human beneath, bringing to the surface their fears, insecurities and vulnerability. And in their defeat, they allow them to be remade into something stronger.

This is not a story about truly great villains.

Some villains don’t have much more than a theme and a desire to perpetrate some crime. They are the ones who are lucky not to wind up in cuffs before the end of the cold open. And their motivations leave a lot to be desired…

***

“Dude? You got our beer money?”

Sitting in the back of the silver and red convertible, Reggie Elwood had to lean forward to be heard over the roar of the wind and the blaring sound system. His mop of hair and beard, both dirty-brown fading to nearly yellow and carefully cultivated for just the right level of messiness, were tossed around his head so much that he could barely see, or talk for hair getting in his eyes and mouth.

Kevin Clark whipped a black slip of plastic bearing the logo of the Piedmont Consumer Capitol bank. “Party card.” He declared. “Paid up for the month in the house online this morning, then pools everything else we chipped in on this. It’s enough for one hell of a party, bro.”

He was mahogany skinned and clean shaven. During the year, his hair had been cut short, but he’s been growing it out for the summer. When he held up the card, a ring of twisted silver glittered on his finger.

“Of course,” He continued, flipping the card around in his hand. “We are the party now.”

The driver, at least a head shorter than both and several shades lighter than even the pasty Reggie, cackled and fixed his eye on the ring instead of the road. “A thrift shop. I still can’t get over that. Fifteen bucks at a freaking thrift shop.”

His name was Duncan Pinkett, and he was grinning like an idiot.

Kevin slapped the cash card down on the dashboard and modeled the ring for his friends. It was a strange piece, made of three thinner silver rings twisted together and in the process holding three glass beads; orange, blue and clear.

“I can’t believe it either, man. The one time Reggie’s mommy has a good idea,”

“Dude!” Reggie protested. “Getting stuff for the trip cheap so we had extra money for the party was all me. My mom’s got nothing to do with this.”

“In my experience, your mom’s got a lot to do with everything.” Kevin snickered.

Duncan was forced to swiftly correct the car to avoid killing them all by laughing so hard. “Yeah, and she knows a lot about bargain basement prices if you know what I mean.” Both he and Kevin roared with laughter while Reggie fumed.

“Alright, alright.” He tried switching their focus. “Kev, I wanna try it again.”

“Again?” Kevin turned all the way around in his seat to look at him. “How many times are you going to test this thing until you believe it’s real?”

“I’m not gonna stop disbelieving it’s real until we get there and show it off.” Reggie admitted, bouncing in his seat like an excited child.

After the close call, Duncan was paying better attention to the road, so he only glanced in the rear-view to voice his concerns. “Reg, what if this think only had so much juice before it’s used up? You’ve been wasting it for no reason for like a week. If we get down there and there’s no more power in that thing, you’re walking home, bro. I’m not even kidding.”

Reggie scoffed. “Relax, Pinky,”

“Don’t call me Pinky! I’ll toss your ass out on the side of the road, bro; swear to god.”

Duncan’s protest fell on deaf ears as Reggie talked right over him. “If the ring was gonna run out, it would have like a week ago with all the times we used it, trying to see how it works. Now come on, Kev, hit me.”

Rolling his eyes, Kevin sighed dramatically. “One last time. Then that’s it until we hit the Bay, deal?”

“Deal. Let’s do this, dude!” Reggie clapped and held his arms out to the sides as if expecting Kevin to hit him with whatever it was directly.

Kevin closed the hand bearing the ring into a tight fist with the back of his hand facing Reggie. The sun caught the silver and the beads and brought them to full brilliance. He paused to remember the correct pronunciation, as provided by the online translator they’d used to figure out what the inscription on the inside of the bands said. According to the same site, it was written in Old East Slavic and translated roughly to ‘In war there are three kings: numbers, attrition, resources. Let the Three brother-generals become the three kings and bring victory into reach’.

Carefully, he recited the Slavic version, because it was the only way to make the power work. When he intoned the final syllable, the ring became cold as the heart of a Siberian winter. At the same time, the three friends felt an inner warmth kindle, starting in their bellies and expanding out through their entire bodies.

While they felt the warmth, they’d discovered that they were marginally stronger, faster, and reacted faster than before. At first, the believed that was the extent of the effect. It wasn’t.

“I’m feeling it, dude.” Reggie closed his eyes and grinned as he sat back in the seat. Then without warning, he flexed his arms in opposite directions. Azure sparks ran down his arms and leapt into space on either side of him before erupting like tiny fireworks that traced twin outlines of his body. In short order, the outlines became more and more detailed, filling in three dimensionally, and gaining color until two exact copies of Reggie sat on either side of him.

“Dude!” The three of them exclaimed and high-fived one another.

“I am going to get with every hottie on the beach, man!” said the original Reggie, a smile plastered on his face. “At the same time no less.

“Only the blind ones once it comes down to them choosing a dozen of your ugly ass and me. “ Duncan took a hand off the wheel and flexed his bicep. “The ‘can’t be hurt’ and ‘what’s done to me hit the other guy’ thing is just going to be a way to get their attention. Wild chicks like bar fights.”

He spared a look at Kevin. “It seriously sucks that the third one is broken, or whatever, man. Whatever ‘resources’ was, I bet it kicked ass.”

Kevin laughed at his friends’ concern. “Man, you got no idea, do you? The ring itself? The ultimate chick magnet.”

The Reggie in the back passenger seat leaned over the back of Keven’s seat and squinted at the ring. “I don’t know man… It’s kinda ugly.”

“That’s because you don’t know how to use it.” Kevin said confidently. “Check it out. How’s it look when I say…” He waggled the finger with the ring on it at an imaginary group of women. “Hey ladies, who wants super powers?”

Duncan and Reggie fell silent, the former dismissing his clone in bursts of blue sparks.

“Dude…” Reggie said with all due reverence. “You. Are. A. God.”

“Sex God, bitch.” Kevin smirked and turned back around in his seat. “Use the full title.” All three laughed at that.

“Just keep it in your pants until we’re safely out of the car.” Duncan warned him. “And if your holiness doesn’t mind, I’m pulling off at the Jiffy-Mart up ahead; I’ve gotta go take a leak.”

Kevin and Reggie got out at the convenience store too, to stretch their legs and peruse the available impulse buys. It turned into a longer stop than expected when Reggie decided to get a snack for the last leg of the trip and had trouble ordering from the automated hotdog machine. They finally returned to the car twenty minutes later.

“I can’t believe they made me pay for my two botched orders.” Reggie was complaining around a mouthful of hotdog.

“Not complaining about eating them, I see.” Kevin followed him out, having not bought anything.

“This one’s fine, just needs ketchup and dill relish.” Reggie managed to swallow in the middle of talking. “But this other one… What’m I supposed to do with a hotdog with raw onion on it?”

“Eat it?” said Kevin, not seeing the problem.

“Pick the onions off?” Duncan was bringing up the rear with a box of donuts in one hand and a bag full of different brands and flavors of breath mints in the other.

Reggie made a retching sound. “Pick ’em off or not, the dog’s touched raw onion and that’s a flavor you can’t wash out of your mouth.”

“You can give it to me.” Duncan offered helpfully.

“Give me the five bucks and you’re on.”

Duncan blew a raspberry at the idea. “Five dollars for a vending machine hotdog. No thanks, bro. Enjoy your onions.”

“Maybe I’ll just throw it out.”

“You’d rather throw it away than give it to me?”

“If I gave it to you, I’d want my money back. Not your birthday, dude, so no presents.” They piled into the care as the bickered. “Why’re you being so cheap anyway? It’s not like you to beg food.”

Duncan started the engine. “I told you, my job this semester was shit, so I’ve got about a hundred dollars in my pocket for the next three weeks. Everything else, I kicked in for the party card.” He started to back out of the space.

“The card!” Kevin suddenly exclaimed, causing Duncan the slam on the brakes.

“What about it?” said Reggie and Duncan together.

“Where is it?”

“What do you mean, ‘where is it’?” Duncan stared at him, trying to find a hint of ‘gotcha’ in his friend’s eyes. There wasn’t any. “You have it. Right?”

Kevin was patting down his pockets frantically and looking around. “I had it. But… I don’t think I’ve got it anymore.”

“Dude, you better be kidding.” Reggie moaned. “Quick, let’s check back in the store!”

“I didn’t take it into the store. I…” Kevin retraced his steps from the past half hour. “I put it in the cup holder.”

“Well it’s not in the cup holder now.” Reggie moaned, staring between the seats at the empty spot.

“Thanks for that, Sherlock.” Duncan said, then to Kevin. “Goddamnit. You left a bank car in the cup holder and we left the top down for like an hour?”

“Someone stole it.” Reggie belatedly concluded.

“We’ve got to get it back. Call the bank or something.” Kevin was on the edge of panic.

“Aw, man.” Reggie continued to have a minor break down. “What if they don’t catch him?”

“There goes the party.” Duncan muttered.

“The whole semester’s worth of work each of use did.” said Kevin.

“Our beer money!” Reggie banged his head on the back of Kevin’s seat.

***

“Jun!”

Juniper had only just turned off her Genokaze‘s engine and started to take off her helmet when Cyn hit her in a hug that felt like a tackle. The white-haired looked leaner than her friend, but super-dense bone and muscle made it so that her deceptively slender frame was substantially more massive. If not for the bike beneath her lending stability, Juniper would have been on the ground.

It never occurred to her to complain, only to hug back. “Hi, Cyn. Did you miss me?”

Cyn snorted. “Miss you? I’ve been you. Twice. And it was tiring. I never realized how much you move around on stage until Kay put me through Juniper boot camp.”

Juniper took off her helmet, revealing a waterfall of formerly compressed brown hair and a nervous blush. “Sorry. I’ve been.”

“Spending time with your parents.” Cyn said, breaking the hug to pat the other girl on the shoulder. “I know and it’s cool. Really. If I had family that cared about me, I’d spend a ton of time with them too.”

The blush was replaced by a gentle smile and Juniper leaned in for another hug. “You do, Cyn.” She looked up at the beach house. It was pretty amazing, even taking into account that her parents lived in what amounted to an underground bunker in the White Tank Mountains, just outside of Phoenix. “Where are they by the way?”

Cyn couldn’t help but succumb to Juniper’s infectious smile. “You didn’t say exactly when you’d get here, so they’re still out getting stuff for you welcome party.”

“You’re throwing a welcome party for me?” Juniper’s eyes glittered at the idea.

“Of course. Expect one every time you come visit too. Oh, and also, tomorrow, we’re having a ‘its Friday’ party.”

Juniper giggled and headed toward the house. “You guys are the best. I missed you all.”

“Me missed you too, Jun.” Cyn followed he. “By the way, Kay wanted to be the one to tell you, but she’s not here, so I win.”

“Huh? Tell me what?”

Cyn gave a coy smile as they stepped out of the hot sun and into the air conditioned coolness of the living room. “Oh, only that Sonja Remington will be here for the beach party gig Saturday.” She braced for excitement.

She didn’t get any. “Oh.” Juniper said, slightly off. “That’s nice.”

“Nice? Jun, Sonja is celebrity B-list. Not quite an A, but she’s a big deal and she’s thinking about joining Snackrifice! How is that not the coolest non-superhero thing in our lives ever?”

Juniper pretended to peruse the room, but her eyes were clouded with unhappiness. “She wants to sing.”

“And?”

“I’m the lead singer.” Was the muted reply. “Maybe not for much longer.

Cyn deflated almost visibly. “Oh. Oh crap, Jun… But Kay would never…”

Snackrifice is Kay’s dream.” Juniper observed airily, as if she’d come unbound from the topic. “Sonja becoming part of that would make it real… more real than just playing parties and cafes. Sonja can probably get us… them… a record deal like that.” She snapped her fingers to drive the cliché home.

“That’s not going to happen.” Cyn said firmly and crossed her arms defiantly.

“It’s okay.” Juniper said, mustering a smile. “Even though I really like being on stage and singing, it’s Kay’s dream. I still want to go to college and get a degree anyway, so I’m going to do my best to help Kay and Lisa make this happen. Promise me you won’t overreact?”

Giving her a sour look, Cyn scowled petulantly. “I’ll promise to try not to overreact. But I can’t promise I’ll try very hard.”

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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