by Dan Swanson
Sitting in the dark gym, Todd Drake and Tomas Thomas ate sandwiches and talked. They didn’t bother with any more whiskey; that one shot had felt good going down, like liquid fire burning toward the stomach and then exploding into the rest of the body. It was just what they needed after an emotional roller coaster of an evening at the boxing match, followed by the slightly unnerving climb up the outside of the building.
Todd wanted to know more about why Tomas was acting the way he had. “OK, Tomas, what’s the deal?”
Tomas thought for a while. “Sorry, I still need to calm down a little bit before I can tell that story. But I’ve got an idea. You have some kind of secret in your past. I think I’ve figured it out.”
Todd shook his head; he had been really careful to protect his secret, and he was sure Tomas couldn’t possibly know the real story. But it would be fun to hear what he had come up with. “OK, go ahead! This should go good!”
Tomas began to lay out his case. “OK, the first time I met you, I knew you had grown up in New York City and then moved to Chicagoland sometime in your teens — your accent is a dead giveaway. When you told me about the move later, and how much it had disrupted your life, it only confirmed what I already knew.
“It was a weird move. The war was just over, everybody was celebrating, but your parents were trying to get away from something. And your dad left a good job he really liked and was unemployed for about six months, and the new job he got, he didn’t like, and it didn’t pay nearly as much money.”
Todd remembered telling this whole story to Tomas, so there was really nothing new here. But he was stunned by what came next.
“Something about that move created a major rift between you and your folks, and you hated and resented them for several years. You still have some lingering resentment, you know?”
“How did you know that?” Todd asked. “I’ve never told anyone that!”
“Don’t forget, I’ve met your folks,” he said, referring to the time when they had spent a Thanksgiving at the Drake’s house, “and the three of you were walking on eggshells the whole time I was there. And, when you first told the story, you had no sympathy for your dad being unemployed. In fact, you swore about it. ‘It’s his own damn fault. He didn’t have to quit the old job!’ Of course, you muttered this under your breath, but I have a way with language, you know — I can even read lips pretty well.”
Todd suddenly became very thoughtful, wondering what else he may have whispered to himself over the past few years that Tomas had been able to understand. He decided his conscience was clear; if Tomas had ever been upset about Todd’s mutterings, he would have said something.
“I also learned a lot from the way you fight at our martial arts club workouts.” Tomas had acted as the main instructor over the first few meetings, but he hadn’t kept the job long.
Most of the club members had learned a lot of the philosophy behind the martial arts in their past training. Tomas, on the other hand, had been trained in the physical skills without any of the philosophical underpinnings. The physical skills of the martial arts were just another type of weapon for a Marine. They figured they didn’t have time for the philosophy stuff, and if the basic martial arts training provided by the Corps helped keep a Marine alive, he could learn martial arts philosophy after his enlistment was up.
The other students missed the mental and philosophical training and discipline they were used to, and the instructorship passed to a martial artist with a more traditional background. What was amazing to Tomas was just how effective a fighter this new instructor was, and how his own physical skills improved as he began to accept the mental discipline and the philosophy behind the art.
“Somebody taught you to fight, and taught you very well. But, like me, you were only taught the ‘martial’ part of the martial arts. Somebody was teaching you to fight as quickly as possible.”
Todd thought back on his training with Minute Man. As he reviewed his memories, he realized that Tomas was correct. Minute Man, he was sure, had rushed his training, probably because Todd had already had a few adventures as Bulletboy before Bulletman had been able to arrange the training sessions. It was only Todd’s power of flight and his partners subtly protecting him that had saved him from some serious beatings in his first couple of outings, and probably more.
When he was younger, he hadn’t realized this. He had always thought of himself as a great fighter and never thought about how unusual it was for a twelve-year-old, even with a gravity helmet, to fight against adults and not end up battered, bruised, and seriously injured — or even killed. And he had never bothered to go back in his mind and review these battles.
Through the filter of all of his more recent fighting experiences, Todd realized just how lucky he had been back then to avoid serious beatings. No wonder his folks had been so upset.
While Todd was coming to this stunning realization, Tomas was still talking. “The other thing that is odd is that the moves you use — blocks, throws, punches, counters, holds, whatever — come from several different disciplines. Whoever taught you was clearly familiar with a lot of different styles and schools. You use elements of karate, judo, kung fu, taekwondo, aikido, jujitsu, eskrima, savate, and some that I’ve been unable to place. It seemed like a random mishmash, until I figured out that every element was selected because it was designed for a fighter whose opponent is both larger and stronger. Your sensei was teaching a boy to fight adult foes!”
Todd’s head was spinning now. It seemed that he was right — he had not given away any obvious clues. And yet Tomas had found clues that were so much a part of him that he couldn’t hide them, and these clues had given him away.
“There are a couple of other things. You don’t seem to realize it, but I’ve noticed that whenever we talk about super-heroes, you get really animated, and you often talk as if you’ve met the big names — the Bullets, Minute Man, and Captain Marvel — in person. And you’ve got a hero complex, always doing what you think is right, even when it puts you in danger. You don’t know how often you’ve scared the pants off of your friends by butting into someone else’s business, like the time you gave that mobster a hard time for smoking in a crowded elevator, or the time you chastised that all-pro linebacker for littering.”
Todd remembered both incidents well. “You weren’t scared, too, were you? When you backed me up, they both backed off.”
“Todd, if you aren’t a little bit scared in situations like that, you’re a fool. But I’ve always been told to stand up for what’s right, too.” He grinned, and reached out to grasp Todd’s shoulder. “We make a good team, you know!” Todd grinned back.
“The final clue, or really the first one, was that autographed picture of Bulletman and Bulletgirl you nailed up on our wall the first day they assigned us to a dorm room! So, put it all together, and my conclusion is that you, Todd Drake, used to be Bulletboy!”
“Ah-ha! It worked! All those little clues I planted worked. You’re close, my friend, really close. But you got the wrong kid sidekick! I was really Pinky, Mister Scarlet’s partner.”
Tomas looked startled for a second, then smiled again. “Nope! Your accent is wrong. ‘Fess up, you are Bulletboy, right?”
“I guess there’s no fooling you, eh? Well, you’re right. I didn’t know I was giving so much away. Do you think anyone else might know?”
“I don’t think so; nobody knows you as well as I do, and I haven’t told anyone. How about telling me more? Why did the Bullets pick you? What’s it like to fly? Why’d you quit? Are you ever going to go back into the super-hero biz? What’s Bulletgirl really like? Is she as sexy as her pictures?”
Todd broke out laughing at all of these questions. “You did some good detective work, roomie! Tell you what, though, now it’s my turn. Let’s see if I figured out as much about you as you did about me!”
“Before you start, Todd, we really ought to get out of here before the place opens in the morning. The campus police are pretty relaxed about most things, but they might think we were breaking and entering or something.” So the two cleaned up their mess, and headed out of the building. As they walked back to their dorm, Todd took his turn at being a detective.
“Ever since I’ve met you, you’ve said nothing about your life before you joined the Marine Corps. You’ve never once mentioned your parents, or what you did in high school, or old girlfriends, or anything like that. It’s almost like you’re pretending that you didn’t exist before you joined the Marines.
“Given all the weird things that I saw when I was Bulletboy–” He looked at his friend and shook his head; he still had trouble believing that Tomas had figured it out. “–that’s the first thing I checked into once I noticed your strange behavior.
“I had all kinds of wild ideas. Maybe you were some kind of magical creature, like a genie or a golem or something, or maybe you were an alien, come to Earth as an advance scout for an invasion fleet, or maybe you were a robot or an android! Or maybe you had a criminal past you were trying to hide from, or maybe you were a Nazi, or maybe… As you can see, my imagination was running wild!”
Tomas didn’t know whether to laugh at some of these wild ideas or to be insulted. He decided he was glad his best friend trusted him enough to tell him about these crazy thoughts, and he just nodded his head and kept listening.
“One thing Bulletman tried to teach me, as both a detective and a scientist, was that you shouldn’t theorize without facts. Keep an open mind, gather all the facts you can, and then come up with a hypothesis that explains the facts. And then test the hypothesis against the real world. I calmed down a lot at that point.
“Here are some of the facts I gathered. You are an American citizen — you have a U.S. passport, you were a Marine, and you voted in the election last November, I think for Ike. You have a talent for languages and accents, not just for different American dialects, but also foreign accents, which suggests that you moved around to a lot of different countries when you were growing up. I thought you might be a military brat, but I heard Bulletman in the back of my head telling me to do more research first!
“Once a month, regular as clockwork, you send a long letter to someone. It almost always goes overseas. You’ve always been careful never to let me see the address, even when we would go to the post office together. But you asked me to pick up your mail for you a few times, and once you got a letter from John and Amitola Thomas, care of the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon.”
“I figured these must be your parents, and your mom’s name was so unusual, I tried to learn more about it. Amitola is an American Indian name that means rainbow, isn’t it? After that, I came to the conclusion that this was really none of my business, and I stopped snooping.
“The only other thing I know, I learned by accident, really. Remember that time you lost your dog tags?” Tomas was superstitious about some things, and he wore his dog tags all the time as a good luck charm. During their sophomore year, he had taken them off before a boxing match. After the match, he had been unable to find them. He and Todd had searched the locker room for over an hour, before Todd found them under a bank of lockers. Someone had apparently accidentally kicked them there. “As I was pulling them out from under the lockers, I noticed your middle name — Deganawidah. Sorry, Tomas, but I couldn’t help looking that up. Deganawidah was a Wyandotte, and he helped found the Iroquois Confederation, didn’t he?”
Tomas smiled. “He was, and he did, and he was a great prophet, besides. His name means ‘two rivers running together,’ and he was a prophet of peace. Our family records show that he is my great-to-the-fourteenth grandfather!” There was real pride in his voice as he said this.
Todd nodded. “My hypothesis, based on the facts I have, is that you are half-Wyandotte Indian, your dad works for the State Department as a diplomat, and for some reason you prefer to forget your childhood. So far, the hypothesis has stood up under all the real-world situations I’ve been able to test it against. But it’s far from a complete explanation.”
Tomas nodded, and then started talking. “I don’t talk about my past a lot because… well, because… um, I had some pretty painful experiences because of my ancestry.
“It’s like this… In the mid-twenties, my dad worked for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The government was attempting to renegotiate yet another of the umpteen failed treaties between the U.S. and the Wyandotte Nation when he met my mother.
“While the Wyandotte Nation has a council of chiefs, and all of our chiefs are men, the heads of most families, and the wisest advisers to the chiefs, are all women. My mom was one of the most respected diplomatic advisers in the Wyandotte Nation. Many of the Indians she represented felt that she must share some part of her thirteen-times-great-grandfather’s soul. Anyway, dad and mom met over the negotiating table, hit it off, got married, and guess what? Here I am!
“The reason I don’t tell anyone about my background is the amount of crap I had to deal with when I was growing up. Dad is really great at solving diplomatic problems, and he was always being transferred to another diplomatic hot spot somewhere around the world. It seemed like in every embassy, wherever we went, some clever white kid would find out I was half-Indian and decide to nickname me ‘Tom-Tom.’
“I got in a lot of fights, and everyone decided I was a problem child. I won more’n I lost, and after a couple weeks at a new place, the other kids would usually leave me alone. But I didn’t have many friends. I was probably headed for big trouble ’till Mom convinced Dad to take a leave of absence from the Diplomatic Corps. We moved back to Kansas, where a lot of the Wyandotte live. I thought I’d have a problem with them, too, because of being half-paleface, but not a single Wyandotte ever treated me as anything other than a family member!
“I learned something then that I think was really strange. There’s a lot of people with at least a little Indian blood in them, and it seemed like the worst, meanest bastards were the folks with just a few ‘drops’ — you know, as maybe their great-great grandmother was part-Indian. It’s like they hate themselves and take it out on everyone else, or maybe they think that they will be accepted by the ‘pure-blood’ white folks if they show just how much they hate us ‘half-breeds.’ It’s kind of like the idea of Hitler secretly being part-Jewish, I guess, and trying to purge the world of Jews.
“Tonight, when all those folks were beating drums and chanting, it really got to me. I was so mad I couldn’t see straight! All I could think of was all the times I’d get taunted with those words, usually by five or six other kids, and how many times I got beat up when I couldn’t keep my temper any longer.”
Todd interrupted. “Tomas, they weren’t taunting you; they thought they were cheering for you. Well, except for those creeps in the mobster suits.”
“I know. That’s why I came back to fight. I’m sure there were some haters in the crowd, but most of the folks wanted to see a good fight, and an awful lot of them wanted to see me win.”
Todd looked at his friend thoughtfully. “You know, Tomas, I’ve never been the victim of discrimination and hatred just because of who my parents were. But I don’t see how you can hide who you are. It really isn’t like you at all. I’ve been your friend for a long time, and I’ve seen how uncomfortable keeping your past a secret has made you sometimes. You can’t keep it up forever. Somebody might think you were ashamed of your past.” But Todd realized he might be treading on pretty dangerous turf here when he saw anger flash in Tomas’ eyes.
“You can’t have any idea what it’s like!” Tomas realized who he was yelling at, and stopped, abashed. When he started talking again, he was very subdued. “Sorry, pal! I guess you’re right. You’re probably the best friend I ever had, and it is ridiculous for me to get mad at you when you’re just telling me things I already know. I have to get over this anger!” He stopped and thought for quite a while. There were a lot of things Todd could have said, but he decided that keeping quiet was probably the best choice for right now.
Tomas finally spoke again. “I’ll have to think about it some more. I’m definitely not ashamed of my background, but there are a lot of ignorant people in the world who would never let me know peace. ”
Todd was pretty sure how Tomas would finally resolve this issue. He wasn’t the kind of guy to run away from his problems.
They reached the dorm. Instead of heading for bed, they sat up even later, swapping stories about their youth. Todd had some pretty exciting adventures as Bulletboy to share, and Tomas had lived all over, and his stint in the Marines had not been dull. Luckily, it was early Saturday morning, so just before dawn they finally had breakfast and then hit the hay for a few hours. Later today, they were scheduled to do some lab work for a special seminar they were taking.