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To Turn a Life Around

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A Man's Gotta Do What a Man's Gotta Do

 

Moist is in first grade when he discovers his true calling, when he uses his newfound powers for evil for the first time. One morning at recess, he runs his palms across the tops of the first three monkey bars, as far as he can reach without falling himself. Then he waits behind the balance beam for Allyson Jones. Allyson in her polka dotted jumper with the pink and purple ribbons in her hair. Allyson with the long eyelashes and the Kool-Aid mouth and the undivided attention of Kevin Walker. At first she is so still on the ground that Moist feels a little like he might throw up. But after ten seconds of utter silence, Allyson screams, and Moist feels better then. Of course, she spends the rest of the year in a double cast with Kevin turning the pages of The Poky Little Puppy for her, so not exactly a successful plan. There's clearly a sharp learning curve in villainy, but Moist figures one day he'll get it right.

 

Evil Inside of Me is on the Rise

 

"I just don't think it's a very safe line of work. Mrs. Montague's daughter—the brunette with the big ears, you know the one I'm talking about—she blew herself up with some kind of time cannon. Molly was picking that poor girl's brains out of the curtains for weeks."

Moist sighs and flips on his blinker before changing lanes. "I know, Mom. Supervillain is a dangerous gig. But I could get hit by a bus in the parking lot of Best Buy tomorrow or die of food poisoning or something. Nothing is ever completely safe. This is what I want to do."

His mother is silent for a long time, and Moist is pretty sure he knows what's running through her mind—Bad Horse with bloody hooves. "You know your father and I will always support you, son, but are you sure you're Evil League of Evil material? I wish you'd consider work as a henchman."

Moist clenches his jaw and takes a deep breath and almost misses his turn, his hands sliding damply down the wheel. "Mom, I have to go. I'm on my way to a party and pulling into the drive now."

Conflict Diamond's got a place off campus, a rundown sort of spooky Victorian. Perfect start-up lair. Moist drinks beer for awhile, tries not to completely soak the couch he's sitting on, and then he notices the guy in the corner with goggles pushed up on his forehead. He's laughing with his head thrown back—deep from the diaphragm but shaky on the dismount. It's the beginnings of a good laugh. Suddenly, Moist doesn't think it would be such a hardship to downgrade to henchman.

 


It's a Brand New Me

 

He sees the guy—Dr. Horrible—again a week or so later getting his face bashed by Captain Douchebag. It's fantastic. Not the part where Dr. Horrible's face goes squish, but the other part, the part where he holds his ground even though he doesn't stand a chance against those fists. Moist calls the Union and three days later, he's officially assigned to Dr. Horrible.

They make a few successful heists, nothing big, just some chemicals from one of the labs at the university and some petty cash from the Blockbuster on Piedmont, but the two of them work well together. Dr. Horrible seems to truly appreciate Moist's natural talent for laundering money, so to speak, and Moist certainly admires the sincerity of Dr. Horrible's mission to remake the world.

One day while he's sorting through his fan mail, Dr. Horrible tells Moist to call him Billy. "Not on camera or anything, but you're my henchman. You should know my true identity." Moist doesn't point out that he's known Billy's real name from the very beginning; it's on all the mail he leaves scattered across his coffee table. Moist is too stuck on the thrill in his gut when Billy calls him my henchman.

 

The Evil League of Evil is Watching so Beware

 

Moist appreciates Billy's multimedia approach to mayhem. It's about time somebody took villainy into the twenty first century. The blog is sheer genius, but unfortunately it's also Billy's biggest liability. It's not just that Captain Hammer is almost one hundred percent for sure watching; the League is probably tuning in too and that's just bad news for Billy, for Dr. Horrible.

He leaves himself too open, everything laid out for anyone with eyes to see. Moist has a bad feeling about that.

His suspicions are confirmed when Billy crawls back into the lair after the Freeze Ray catastrophe with bruises in the shape of Captain Hammer's fists and an ultimatum from Bad Horse that inexplicably floors him.

"I deserve to get in," Billy says. "You know I do. But killing? Really?"

Moist tries to bring him back to reality. "Hourglass says she knows a kid in Iowa that grows up to become president. That'd be big." Not that he wants Billy to murder some toddler, or really anyone at all, but that's what villainy is at its very heart. It's always about the blood, and Moist is afraid Billy doesn't have it in him to spill very much of it.

Billy says, "Do I even know you?" and the question is so genuine, so deeply perplexed, that Moist's heart aches with the answer.

 

There's No Happy Ending

 

When all is said and done, Moist supposes he should be happy for Billy. He has all he's ever wanted—a seat at the big table, all the crazy toys his brain can dream of—hell, bonafide groupies.

"Dead Bowie wants me in on the NASA job. You should pack the new Freeze Ray," Billy says to the floor and very carefully does not touch the weapon that he has painstakingly reengineered per Bad Horse's orders. Moist watches Billy pull on gloves and a coat that are red but so very much not the true color of blood, the color of Penny's blood soaked into Billy's clothes, into his hands.

Moist is not happy for Billy. He isn't happy at all.

 

I'm the Guy to Make it Real

 

Moist would say his palms are sweating, but that's just status quo. Billy is hunkered over a dismantled shielding panel, something complex and heinously evil that Ziggy Stardust wants to affix to the side of the next shuttle to orbit the earth. He is concentrating, his tongue caught in the corner of his mouth, his brow slightly furrowed, and he looks very much like the man that Moist met years ago.

"The first thing you ever said to me," Moist says and then he stops to clear his throat. Billy looks up from his work. "The first thing you ever said to me was that if we want the world to improve, evil plots, villains, henchmen may be our only hope." Billy's eyes are huge in his pale face. He appears to be holding his breath. "Billy, man, what are you doing?" Billy very carefully sets down the wrench he's using, and then he walks out of his lab and doesn't speak to Moist for three weeks.

 

Some Kind of Harmony

 

"We have to leave now," Billy says from underneath Moist's bed. To his credit, Moist does not scream like a girl. He does, however, flail wetly in the sheets until he falls to the floor. Billy lies flat on his back, the box springs mere inches from his face. "I packed for you."

"Thanks?" Moist says and tucks the sheet a little more tightly around his hips.

"I would have contacted you earlier, but it wasn't safe." Billy scoots out from underneath the bed. Dust bunnies cling to his hair. For a moment he looks as if he's going to sneeze, and then he presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. "You don't have to come, you know. You should probably stay here. I'll just—" He nods vaguely in the direction of Moist's window.

Moist takes Billy's wrists gently in his hands. They are so slight that his thumbs and middle fingers touch just over the pulse points. He uncovers Billy's eyes, but Billy won't meet his gaze. "Where are you going, Billy?" Moist says.

"I quit the League."

Moist grins. He knows he should be hyperventilating in fear, but somehow he can't wipe the smile.

"Bad Horse shit a brick, literally, right on Fake Thomas Jefferson's hat." Billy looks up and grins too when he sees Moist's expression. His hands are still shaking in Moist's watery grip, but he's got his game face on, and a part of himself that Moist didn't realize was wound unbearably tight begins to unspool. "I barely got out of there."

Moist says, "I'm glad you did," and he's not only talking about the meeting. "Let me just put on some pants."

Billy nods and turns his back, draws his knees up to his chest and holds on while Moist dresses in the moonlight. "We're going to need totally new identities," Billy says. "And a new lair, new catchphrases. Some new duds. You think you're up to that?"

Moist hauls Billy to his feet. "Yeah," Moist says while the starshine glints off Billy's goggles. "I'll be your henchman anytime."