Ollie paces up and down the hallway. His big toe protrudes from his red slippers. He folds and unfolds the note from Toby:
JUT’Z RKZ NOS ROBK NKXK O’RR NKRV!
He tries in vain to clear the lump from his throat. A hand rests on his shoulder. A familiar exhalation fills him with contempt. He cringes as Greg’s oversized class ring digs into the sore spot.
––He’s a tough kid, old man. I just wish I could have done more.
Ollie crumples the note in his fist, his hands tighter and tighter. He trembles. His Decoder Ring finger turns a reddish-purple.
The door to Toby’s room opens. Remnants of tears stick to Olivia’s face.
––He wants you.
Greg nods and walks to the door. Olivia puts a hand out to stop him. She shakes her head.
Ollie hugs her. His trembling fist relaxes.
–– He’ll be ok.
–– I know, I know. It’s just I don’t know why so many what’s wrong ––
Ollie kisses her on the forehead. Comforting Olivia always makes him feel better. Wanted. Needed. A father, not a live-in stray. He wonders if it does her as much good as it does him. He squeezes her hand and feels the coarse skin where she bites around her fingernails. Got that from her mom.
Greg pats him on the shoulder as he enters the room. The tap of the class ring makes him wince.
• • •
Toby lies in bed, a washcloth over his head. He looks up at Ollie.
Ollie hangs his head and places his hand on Toby’s forehead. Toby adjusts the washcloth.
–– Too warm.
Ollie smiles and nods. He uncrumples Toby’s note.
–– Buddy, the note. I don’t know what you’re –
–– Tell me the rest of the story.
–– What story?
–– The Sentinel. You said ‘you and everyone you care about.’ Then you went to commercial.
–– I think you need to get some sleep buddy. You’ve had a rough day. We all need to get some sleep.
Toby rolls over to his side.
Ollie folds the note back into his pocket and transforms from beaten old man to superhero storyteller at the foot of Toby’s bed.
–– We’re in the Daily Record offices. Intrepid story-seekers. Typetypetype. Belmont’s got a juicy story hot on the typewriter ribbon. Chief wants it now. ‘You’ve had your extra hour!’ ‘Three minutes chief!’ Then Walker shows up. But you and I know who he really is… right?
Toby rolls over to face him and nods.
–– Good. BOOM! The building shakes. Windows EXPLODE! Chief yells at them ‘find out what the Sam Hill’s going on out there! BOOM! SMASH! Margot jumps in ‘but Chief, my headline!’ ‘You want a headline or a Pulitzer! GO!
–– What was her story?
Ollie stops. He relaxes his arms to his side.
–– What’s her story? The one she’s working on?
–– I… I don’t know.
–– It doesn’t matter to the story.
–– Oh. OK.
Ollie gets back into character.
–– So VROOM! Belmont and Walker speed around the city! BOOM SMASH AAAAH! Everything’s blowing up! They’re at the Shuster Bridge! They see the ray! ‘It’s the Sentinel,’ Belmont yells, ‘it’s our chance to finally stop that menace!’ She doesn’t like him much, you see?
––Billy told me to tell you that I should kick your ass.
Ollie stares at Toby.
–– Billy. It was all white. And this guy in uniform showed up. Said his name was Billy. He told me to go back and kick Private Ollie’s ass. You weren’t in the army were you?
Ollie stands there for a moment. Toby motions for the notebook and pencil next to his bed. Ollie hands it to him.
–– He said ‘Private Ollie?’
Toby opens it and scribbles. He doesn’t look up.
–– Yep. So what happens?
–– What happens? The death ray hits the bridge! And… Billy?
–– Yeah. He said you’d know him. What happens?
Ollie readjusts. Toby taps the pencil on the notebook.
–– The bridge blows up. The car goes in ‘We’re going in the drink!’ BOOM! To be continued!!!
–– Does The Sentinel save them?
––You’ll have to find out tomorrow!
Toby ponders this. He looks up at Ollie and hands him his notebook.
–– I think he does.
Ollie stares at the page. His eyes widen. He clears his throat.
To be continued.