You said heroes are needed, so heroes get made -- Bruce Springsteen
The first time a reporter called for his perspective on the Super Human Civil War, Henry thought it was a practical joke.
"Very cute, very funny," he said to the telephone. "Did Ashton Kutcher put you up to this?"
"As I said, Mr. Hellrung. This is Kat Farrell of The Pulse, a subsidiary of the Daily Bugle. What do you think of Captain America's decision to join the rebels?"
"I don't -- wait, Captain America did what?" He fumbled for the remote, still a little groggy. It was his first day off after a two-week long speaking tour of addiction-recovery programs up and down the West Coast. This morning he had been perfectly content with a cup of coffee and a Trading Spaces marathon.
Now Henry flipped from TLC to CNN, where he was confronted by a vivid graphic showing the cowled head of Captain America, and an all-too-familiar Iron Man mask (not the current one, either; who did these graphics?) In between their faces, and a harsh diagonal, blazed the words "Divided They Stand!"
"My God," Henry whispered, sinking back into his sofa. "This is insane."
The reporter's voice crackled through the line. "Did I hear you correctly? You believe Steve Rogers, the man widely known as Captain America, to be insane?"
"What? No! I -- This! This is insane! You people are all running around talking about how there's a war going on, and then you turn around and -- want my opinion?"
"Your perspective," Farrell corrected him. "Your insight. Based on your unique relationship with the national icon that is Iron Man --"
"My unique relationship? Why would that --?" And he stopped himself just in time, realizing that the reporter wasn't actually referring his personal relationships, after all. "Because I used to play Iron Man on a TV show, you're asking my opinion about a war?"
"My research indicates," she answered in a crisp, know-it-all voice, "that in episode 6 of Season 2, a very similar conflict arose between Iron Man, played by yourself, and Captain America, played by Ian --"
"Oh, for the love of God! Listen to yourself! If you want to know about the Superhuman Civil War, why don't you talk to some of the people who are going to have to fight it? I was on a television program -- a fictional television program -- for a couple of years, and you're talking to me like I know as much about this as Tony Stark does? I'll tell you one thing, considering what Tony has to deal with every day -- not the least of which is people like you -- I consider that he is doing one hell of a job. I trust the man implicitly, and as for Captain America, well -- I've always considered him a hero, who doesn't? -- I just hope he's thought about what he's doing so that no one gets hurt. Because that's the most important thing, keeping people safe, that's what heroes are supposed to do and -- you know, that episode wasn't even written for our show. It was a recycled script from that Starfleet Legal spinoff that never got picked up, the one about space lawyers -- which I know because I was in the pilot -- I played a Romulan -- and -- the only thing I have to say is that I'm glad a man like Tony Stark is out there trying to do something good for America. Maybe your paper should report on that, but that would require you all to know what doing something good looked like."
He slammed down the phone. He slammed it so hard that his Tivo fell off the top of the monitor, and, as much as he tried, he couldn't run it back and find out how Ty Pennington had managed to fix the problem with that nice young couple's deck.
Henry was drifting off again, on the couch, when it occurred to him that he should have said, "This is off the record."
Henry didn't read The Pulse. Henry didn't know anybody who read the The Pulse -- except, most likely, Tony, for news about himself. But Henry hadn't spoken to Tony more than a handful of times in the past year. He wasn't even sure his old friend counted as somebody he knew anymore. Other than that, Henry's circle was very California-centric, and superheroes had never been a West Coast obsession. Occasionally, there had been a fad for capes and armor in the movies or on T.V., as his own brief career could attest. But even then, Angelenos were more likely to check Variety for gossip about who might be playing a particular hero than to find out what the real ones were doing.
All of this made it seem very odd that, by 9 the next morning, everybody Henry knew had decided to call, email, or text message him to make sure he had seen The Pulse's headline: "Former TV Iron Man Questions Cap's Mental Health." And underneath, in smaller type, "Ex-Actor Says Stark Doing 'One Hell of a Job.'"
After the first twenty times, he stopped answering the phone, and called his longtime publicist, Kate Kildare. "Kate, did you see --?"
"Oh, don't be silly, honey. I'm already on my way over."
Five minutes later, she was letting herself into his condo. "Oh my," she said crisply, "here's another fine mess we've gotten ourselves into." Her pronoun choice generously encompassed herself, Henry, and, apparently, the eight-inch tall Richard Nixon bobblehead doll that she removed from her spacious shoulder bag and set on the counter. "Tell us the worst, love."
"Well," he said, "since this isn't my area of expertise, I'm not so sure. What's worse?" He started counting out on his fingers. "Our largest donor calling to say that he doesn't want his money supporting 'that fascist prick' -- the promise of a boycott from the National Association of Mental Health Professionals for my insensitive use of the word 'crazy' -- the actual death threats or -- I think this is my personal favorite -- the email expressing solidarity from someone who claims to represent the Red Skull."
"Hmm," Kate seemed deep in thought as she tapped her pen against the top of Tiny-Nixon's head. And yet, as the quiet seconds passed, a familiar half-predatory smile began to creep across her face. Or maybe it was an entirely predatory smile. In Kate's mind, getting Henry out of this jam would entitle her to absurd displays of gratitude and, as loath as he was to disrupt the delicate balance of mostly-imaginary sexual tension that had sustained their professional relationship up to now, he figured she probably had a point.
"Kate," he said cautiously "Why are you smiling?"
"Well. As I see it, we have two options. We can always tell them you were drunk --"
"Yes, yes," she soothed. "I figured that was a no-starter, since everybody knows a professional recovery junkie would rather lose his entire future and career than his ten-year medallion --"
"Maybe I just don't want to lie about something that's so important to me," he protested, resolving not to give any thought to whether or not Kate was right.
"Maybe," she said, beaming a smile not at Henry but at Nixon, a reminder of exactly where Kate rated honesty among the cardinal virtues. "In which case our other option is to focus not on the friends in high places you may have lost, but on the legendary second side of the proverbial coin."
At that instant his cell phone buzzed again. "Also, you should change your number." And then, with a shark's smile, Kate said, "But not yet."
Henry looked at the caller ID and grimaced as he picked up the phone. "Tony? Listen, I know I didn't express myself very well, but you have to understand. I had jetlag and I wasn't done with my coffee, and then that woman was talking so fast and --"
"You were great."
"-- and I think I had a rage blackout and then. . .what did you say?"
"Great, Hank. You were great."
"Oh. Umm. "Great? Really?"
"Forceful. Eloquent. All the things I've known you to be over the course of our long and close friendship."
"Wow. Okay. Well. That's nice. Thank you. For the support."
"Oh, I'm not calling you to offer support. I'm calling to offer you a job. I always thought you made a very convincing superhero."