The police chief of Gotham stood on the roof of the police building. The red glare from the fires raging in the distance reflected off of his glasses, casting his face in eery shadows. The mayor stood next to him, rubbing his gloved hands against the cold.
“Well,” the mayor said, “what are you waiting for? Turn the damn spotlight on! Each moment you waste in summoning Batman is another thousand votes gone!”
“Batman doesn’t work for us anymore,” the police chief said. “Don’t you remember? He was the first victim of your budget cuts. The insurance on him was getting ridiculous.”
“Oh shit, I do,” the mayor said, burying his face in his hands. “I didn’t think the Joker would come back so soon though. Is there any chance Batman will come for the spotlight anyways?”
“Not a chance. You hurt him, Mr. Mayor, hurt him right in his feelings. He’s not coming back anytime soon.”
“I’m finished,” the mayor cried.
“Well, no,” the police chief explained. “We still have superheroes. I took the liberty of contracting with Super. They provide their own insurance, and we only pay them for the hours of superheroing used. Pretty neat, eh?”
The words had no effect on the mayor, who had taken the liberty of crumpling to the floor. Non non-plussed, the police chief continued.
“In fact, I would say that’s our guy right now! Mr. Mayor, look!”
The police chief bent down and thrust his cell phone in front of the mayor’s face. The mayor reluctantly raised his head, and saw a first-person view of the fires on the small screen. A voice crackled from the phone: In the middle of it. No sign of Joker yet.
“Is this him? This is the Super guy?” the mayor asked.
“Well, one of them. But yeah, they get strapped with GoPros. Pretty cool, right?” the police chief replied.
“Yes, I suppose,” the mayor said, peering at the screen with some small relief. “Is he good? Do you think he can defeat the Joker?”
“Well,” the police chief said, “if he isn’t, that’s not our problem. We get refunded if he fails or dies. It’s amazingly convenient.”
“I suppose so,” the mayor said. On the screen, the flames looked terrifyingly big, and faint screams could be heard. It seemed as if they were coming from the post office. The superhero’s voice crackled again from the phone’s speaker: Heading for rescue. Standby.
The mayor and police chief watched in silence as the superhero ran through the door, crashing it inwards in a cloud of dust and splinters. They could almost feel the heat as the superhero charged his way through the smoke and flames, running up stairs and hurdling debris. He certainly appeared heroic, the mayor thought.
The superhero reached the third floor. The screams were clearly distinguishable now, and the mayor could hear a woman’s voice pleading through the speaker. He shuddered involuntarily, and the police chief clapped him on the back.
“Just wait, our boy will get him,” the police chief said.
On the screen, the superhero kicked at the door. It held. He kicked at it again, and it flexed and cracked. He kicked at it one more time, and it shattered inwards. I’m heading in, the superhero said.
The mayor held his breath as the superhero crashed through the remnants of the door like a cannonball. On the screen, a dim shape was clear in the corner of the smoke-filled room. The superhero’s voice boomed: Ma’am, I am here to help. Remain calm. He approached the woman.
Then the screen went black.
“What the hell?!” the mayor said. “What’s going on?”
As if in response, an unmistakable, evil cackle came through the phone. Then a voice came on, the voice of pure evil: That was fun! Send another one my way, won’t you? This one’s a bit broken.
“Was that?” the mayor said, unable to finish his thought.
“Yes,” the police chief said, solemnly. The mayor sank to the ground once more.
“This can’t be happening,” he moaned.
The police chief’s phone rang, and he put it to speaker.
“Hello?” the police chief said.
“Hi, this is Jennifer with Super. I just wanted to let you know that your first superhero failed to complete his task, so we’re sending a replacement right away at no extra cost.”
“Great, thank you Jennifer,” the police chief said.
“No problem. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Great! Have a wonderful day.”
The police chief watched his phone impatiently, waiting for the icon to pop up again to watch the superhero in action.
From his feet came the voice of the mayor: “But what if this superhero fails too?”
“Then Super sends another. Don’t worry Mr. Mayor, by the law of averages we have to come out on top eventually.”
The mayor groaned, and his voice mixed with the sound of collapsing timber in the distance.
Several hours later, the mayor woke up on the ground to the police chief shaking him.
“What happened?” the mayor asked groggily. “Did we win?”
“Yes, Mr. Mayor. The Joker was once again captured and taken back to Arkham Asylum by one–” the police chief peered at his phone. “Warhog. And the good news is that, even factoring in the overtime and rush fee multipliers, this whole event will barely put a dent in the budget. I disagreed with you dismissing Batman at the time, but I can’t disagree with these results. This is really fantastic.”
“How many?” the mayor asked. “How many superheroes died?”
“I think the term they use is ‘superhelper’, but the answer is 35. This fellow Warhog was the 36th. There’s no extra fee for additional superheroes, though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.”
The mayor slowly stood up. In the distance, he could see the flashing lights of ambulances and firetrucks.
“Is the city safe, at least? This nightmare is over?”
“Indeed it is, Mr. Mayor.”
“Thank the Lord.”
The police chief stared into the distance, his large body and starched uniform lit up by the soft glow of the rising sun.
“No, Mr. Mayor,” the police chief said, “thank the gig economy.”