Paul often fell into these moods: half regret, half vengeance, where he would rave about the ultra-heroes who had betrayed him. Listening to Paul, you would think that he had been the only one targeted or hurt by the Hero Wars.
I hadn’t been working with him two weeks before I knew that he had been a chemist in his daily life and had used his chemistry know-how to build his ultra-hero persona. He had been working with a partner when heroes had started turning on each other. He was worried, as were we all, but having a partner to depend on gave him reassurance. Moore was his name. Moore Ginesbury.
While Paul was detailed in his own work and mission, he never said anything about Ginesbury’s personality, looks, alias, or specialty. It seemed that the only important factoid about Mr. Ginesbury was that he had betrayed Paul. Paul never said how or why. While the beginning of Paul’s rants were colorful and drawn out, his and Ginesbury’s falling out was brief and vague, like the scribbles a person makes to test that a pen has ink.
It all happened at the beginning of the war, so at least fifteen years ago. Still, Paul didn’t seem to have gotten over it. He had taken me on as a new partner, so that was a start, but he wouldn’t divulge any details about the wars, about Ginesbury, or about the cause of his vocal chords being damaged beyond recovery. I’d bet my last dime that it had something to do with Ginesbury’s betrayal.
Whenever I was over at his house, providing moral support while he planned our ascent to the top of the hulking mass of corrupted ultra-heroes, or when he let me use his garage to tinker with my flame throwers, or when I stood in the kitchen popping cashews into my mouth from the bowl of assorted nuts as I waited for my laundry to finish, I snuck peeks at his neck. I tried to figure out what had happened.
Maybe Ginesburgy had snuck up behind Paul while he was working and had slit his throat. A quick, ruthless slice from behind, meant to leave him dead in seconds. Paul must be a truly amazing surgeon to keep himself from dying from that. From what I had seen, Paul wasn’t great in a crisis. He spent most of the time yelling at the various people—real and imagined—who had put us in that situation. Then again, he had fixed my back.
Ginesbury could have poisoned him instead. Something super corrosive and deadly, so corrosive that even if Paul had been able to throw it back up, his throat would be all mangled. His vocal chords could have been shriveled and burned beyond repair.
The list of possibilities was endless. In my mind, I had Ginesbury shoot Paul through the neck but he was a poor shot so he shot at such a bad angle that he hadn’t done anything but take out Paul’s vocal chords. I had Ginesbury stabbing Paul directly through the neck with a knife, a pencil, a geometry compass, a fork…the list got longer as I noticed more objects around Paul’s house that could be possible weapons. In one scenario, Ginesbury had a trained Doberman pincer and he had sicked him on Paul and the dog had torn Paul’s throat out. In another, Ginesbury was a martial artist and he had crushed Paul’s trachea with his bare hand.
Until I saw Paul’s throat, I would never know, or at least, I wouldn’t be able to hone my guesses into something realistic. Every time I saw Paul, he was wearing a turtleneck. Sometimes sweaters, sometimes cotton, and sometimes athletic wear, but always a high collar. I had never seen more than the top two inches of Paul’s neck. The bottom three inches were tantalizingly secret. He could be hiding anything under that turtleneck. I could see the slight bulge right at the front was where his artificial voice box fit into his throat, but the remaining expanse of neck was a mystery to me.
I knew that if I could just take a single, split-second peek, I would be able to figure out how he had lost his voice and I would be able to piece together his falling out with Ginesbury. There had to be a scar and it would be a scar that would make it quite obvious what had happened. There would be teeth marks, or a hole, or melted skin, or a single, wide, shining scar.
I had asked once, after I had been staring for a good five minutes, when I was supposed to be sewing a hole in my jacket. He had been doing something on his computer, scratching absently at the lip of his turtleneck.
I hadn’t known how to ask, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
“Paul, why do you always wear turtlenecks?”
He gave me a look, one of those looks in which I could see his opinion of me falling.
“Because I think best when wearing a turtleneck,” he answered. “I like turtlenecks.”
“Do you have any scars on your neck?”
His opinion of me was plummeting. I could see it in the way his face shriveled.
“I have a scar by my ear, see?” I turned my head to let him see. My scar was long and it cut through my eyebrow, so there’s no way he hadn’t seen it already. “It’s all cool.”
Paul sniffed and closed his computer. “I don’t show my scars to people,” he said as he stood up and walked down the hall towards the bedroom, fed up with my idiocy. “Stop acting like a child.”
A/N: What’s your social security number? Don’t worry, I have a scar by my ear, see? It’s all good. You can tell me.