BIG SHOES TO FILL
The sign on the fence read “Gordon and Sons Construction” in big, bold letters. The gate rolled open and a red pickup drove into the lot, stopping in front of a half-finished office building.
Constance Gordon climbed out of the truck and flipped a yellow hardhat onto her head. She crossed the site to the trailer labelled “Office” and opened the door. In the tiny, wood-panelled room, her father, Gustav, sat at his desk examining a sheet of blueprints.
“Morning, Dad,” she said, and glanced around. “Where’s Gus?”
Gustav shrugged and said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Probably hungover on someone’s couch,” she replied.
“Most likely, yes,” Gustav said, standing from his seat. “So it looks like it’s just you and me today.”
He grabbed his hardhat and they headed out onto the lot, where the crew had already gathered. Gustav approached the building-in-progress and began to grow, increasing in size exponentially. Constance followed suit, and soon they both stood nearly a hundred feet tall.
Gustav leaned down and began lifting his employees to the upper floors of the building. Constance focused on carrying up tools and supplies. When the last worker was in place, Gustav leaned against the side of the building and closed his eyes.
“You okay, Dad?” she asked.
“Just a little winded,” he replied. “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?” she said. “If you want to go lie down for a bit, I can—”
“Young lady,” he said, placing his hands on his hips, “I’ve been doing this job since before you were born, so I think I know my own limits.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “You’re the boss, Dad.”
After work, Constance pulled into the parking lot next to her apartment building and found her younger brother, Gus, sitting on the steps leading up to the side door. He was nineteen, dressed all in black with shaggy blond hair. He grinned again as Constance approached.
“Hey, Sis,” he said. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty tired, actually,” she said, fishing her keys out of her pocket. “Dad and I just worked nine hours on the site because somebody didn’t show up.”
“Oh, was that today?” Gus asked, and grinned. “Totally slipped my mind.”
“Of course it did,” she replied.
She headed up the stairs and Gus followed.
“You mind if I crash here tonight?” he asked. “I don’t really feel like dealing with Dad right now.”
“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you stayed out all night drinking,” she replied.
“I did think of it,” he said. “I thought, ‘My sister is so kind and generous that she’ll gladly invite me into her apartment so I can avoid our father’s wrath.’”
“When has flattery ever worked on me?” she asked.
“Well, there was that one time,” he said, “about ten seconds from now.”
She glared at him for half a minute, then sighed.
“Fine,” she said, unlocking her door. “But you’re coming to work with me tomorrow morning and staying for a full shift. And you’re going to apologize to Dad. He’s going to throw his back out again if you keep doing this.”
“Sure, sure, you got a deal,” Gus said, and pushed past her. “What’s for dinner?”
She rolled her eyes and followed him into her apartment.
Constance climbed out of bed at five in the morning and staggered to the kitchen. She threw some bacon into the frying pan and leaned out the door.
“You want eggs with your bacon?” she asked.
She stepped out into the living room and peered over the back of the couch. Gus was splayed out on his back with his legs dangling over the armrest.
“Wake up,” she said, flicking him on the forehead.
He mumbled something and pulled the blanket up over his face. She stepped around the couch and grabbed her brother by the arm.
He started growing, his weight increasing until the couch began to groan beneath him. She doubled her size and hauled him to his feet. They both shrank back to normal.
“Man, just let me sleep,” he said.
“You’ve slept enough,” she said. “Dad’s going to be livid if you skip another day of work.”
“Oh, please,” Gus said. “What’s he going to do, fire me?”
“You really want to risk that?” she asked.
“Maybe,” he replied.
She loaded up two plates with bacon, eggs, and toast, and returned to the living room. Gus was sprawled out on the couch again, snoring.
Constance grew again and tipped the couch forward with her foot. Gus rolled off and cried out as his arm hit the coffee table. He clambered to his feet, rubbing his elbow.
“Okay, already!” he said. “I’m up.”
Constance sat on the steps outside the site office, listening to her father and her brother shouting on the other side of the door. She could hear them pacing heavily around each other. The ground shook as their argument entered its second hour.
Silence fell in the office. Gus stormed out and slammed the door behind him, warping the frame. He donned a hardhat and grew a hundred feet. The door opened again and her father stepped out.
“I don’t know what to do about him,” Gustav said, staring up at his son.
“He’s just a kid,” Constance said. “He’ll grow out of it.”
“I sure hope so,” Gustav said. “We’re already over budget and behind schedule on this job. Any more delays, I’m not sure we’ll be able to break even.”
“It can’t be that bad,” she said, and paused. “Can it?”
He nodded and said, “I might even have to start letting people go.”
“Dad, no,” she said, standing to face him. “These guys work their asses off for us. To fire them, just like that… it’s not fair.”
“I know,” he said, “but times are tough. This is just the nature of the business.”
“What if I take a pay cut?” she asked. “I can get by on less, and then you won’t have to—”
“It’s not your sacrifice to make,” he said, placing his hands on her shoulders. “I have to figure this out, and I have to make the tough decisions, if and when the time comes. Okay?”
She sighed, then nodded.
“Good,” he said, and smiled. “Now get up there and help your brother.”
She nodded again, and Gustav stepped back into his office, leaving the door ajar. Constance stared at the ground for a long moment, then grew and joined Gus.
She forced a smirk and said, “That didn’t sound much like an apology.”
Gus rolled his eyes.
“If you thought that was actually going to happen,” he said, “you’re more delusional than he is.”
“He’s just worried about you,” she said.
“Bullshit,” Gus replied. “Only thing he cares about is this damn company.”
“That’s not true,” she said. “He’s under a lot of stress is all.”
“You always take his side,” Gus said.
“I’m not taking any side,” she said. “I’m just—”
“Whatever,” he said. “Let’s just get this day over with.”
He reached down and scooped up a handful of rebar, depositing it near the top of the building. Constance glanced down at the site office and sighed.
The phone rang in the middle of the night. Constance dragged herself out of bed and stared down at the screen; her brother’s number appeared in the call display.
“This better be good,” she muttered, “or I’ll—”
“Constance Gordon?” an unfamiliar voice asked.
“Uh… yes,” she replied. “Who are you and why do you have my brother’s phone?”
“I’m Constable Norton with the Victory City Police Department,” the voice said. “I’m sorry to bother you so late, but I found your number in your brother’s contact list and—”
“What happened?” she snapped, fully awake. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Norton said. “He’s just… well… inebriated.”
“Of course,” she said. “And I suppose he needs me to bail him out?”
“Something like that,” Norton replied. “If you could meet me at the western gate of Victorious Park, I can explain.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said, and hung up.
Constance spotted a police officer with dark skin and a shaved head pacing along the sidewalk in front of the park entrance and pulled up the curb. She hopped out of her truck and hurried over to him.
“Miss Gordon?” he asked.
“Follow me,” he said, heading into the park. “I’m really sorry for dragging you out here like this. I just didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t exactly trained for this.”
“Trained for what?” she asked.
He stopped on the path and shone his flashlight into the woods, where a swath of trees had been uprooted and flattened. He stepped forward and Constance followed.
Eventually they came to the edge of a small clearing. A twenty-foot-tall Gus was sprawled out on the grass, face up with his mouth agape. Constance sighed.
“I haven’t tried to wake him,” Norton said. “I just dug out his phone and his ID and called the first person with the same last name. I figured his family would probably have a better idea of how to deal with him.”
“I do have a few tricks up my sleeve,” she said.
Norton’s eyes widened as she began to grow, matching her brother’s size. She stepped over to Gus and nudged his shoulder with her foot.
“Wake up,” she said.
Gus groaned and rolled away from her. Constance glanced down at Norton.
“Can I borrow your taser?” she asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Please?” she asked.
He crossed his arms, and she shrugged.
“Worth a shot,” she said, and turned back to her brother. “Come on, Gus. I’m giving you one last chance to get out of this with your dignity intact.”
Gus didn’t respond.
“Your call,” Constance said.
She grew a few feet taller and grabbed Gus by the ankle. She dragged him along the ground, out of the clearing and into his path of destruction. He tried going limp, but it didn’t help.
“Let go,” he mumbled behind her, clawing at the dirt.
“I will if you’ll stop acting like a child,” she replied.
He yanked his leg free and lay back, rubbing his temples.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone?” he asked. “I’m old enough to make my own decisions. You don’t need to babysit me.”
“Clearly I do,” she said. “You’re lucky you’re not under arrest.” She glanced down at Norton. “He’s not, is he?”
“I suppose I could let him off with a warning,” Norton said, and glanced around at the damage. “Someone’s going to have to clean up this mess, though.”
“I’ll take care of it later,” she said. “First, I need to get this kid home so he can explain himself to our father.”
Gus scoffed and rose shakily to his feet.
“I’d rather be locked up,” he said.
Constance sighed and said, “Go wait by the truck.”
“Fine,” he replied, and marched out of the woods, shrinking with every step.
Constance returned to normal size and headed up the path with Norton.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “He’s been really hard to handle lately.”
“No worries,” Norton said. “My little brother’s the same way. He just dropped out of police academy and my parents are furious. They’re trying to make him reenroll but he’s dead-set against it.”
“Sounds familiar,” she said. “How long has your family been in law enforcement?”
“Three generations,” he said. “My grandfather was on the force back when Captain Victorious was still flying around.”
“My family’s been in construction about as long,” she said. “The Gordons put the city back together after the Venusian invasion of ‘56.”
“I bet you miss having superheroes around to wreck up the place all the time,” Norton said.
Constance laughed and said, “Actually, yes.”
They reached the gate and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Constance’s truck still sat by the curb, but her brother was nowhere to be seen. She grabbed her phone and dialled Gus’s number. His ringtone, a high-pitched guitar solo, blared in Norton’s pocket.
“Shit,” she muttered.
Days passed, and Constance still hadn’t heard from her brother. Norton promised to keep an eye out—short of putting out an APB—but so far had come up empty.
Gustav was taking it worst of all, spending all his spare time phoning hospitals, hostels, and any other places he thought Gus might have ended up. He also started working extra hours at the site, trying to get the job back on schedule.
Constance stepped into the office one morning to find her father slumped over his desk, sleeping soundly. She touched his shoulder and he jolted up in his seat.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Almost seven,” she replied.
“Better get back to it, then,” he said.
He stood from his desk and took a step toward the door. He winced and clutched his back. Constance reached out to take his arm. He waved her off.
“I’m fine,” he said.
“No, you’re not,” she said. “You need to take some time off. I can handle things here on my own.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” he said. “Your brother should be here.”
“Well, he’s not,” she said. “And you won’t be, either, when you hurt yourself again and end up back in the hospital.”
“That’s not going to happen,” he said, taking another step toward the door.
She stepped into his path and crossed her arms.
“I’m not willing to take that risk,” she said, growing a couple feet. “I’ll carry you home if I have to.”
Gustav sighed and said, “You’re just like your mother.”
“And you’re just like your son,” she replied.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s go home.”
When Constance pulled up in front of her father’s house, the front door was ajar. Gustav’s expression went blank, and he marched up the driveway. Constance climbed out of the truck and hurried after him.
In the kitchen, they found Gus standing at the counter, making a sandwich. He spun, startled, when they entered, and stared silently for a long moment. Then, he smirked.
“Hey,” he said.
Gustav strode across the room and slapped his son in the face. Gus staggered backward and clutched his cheek.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Gustav snapped.
Gus glared at his father for a long moment, then stormed off down the hall.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me!” Gustav yelled, heading after his son.
Constance placed her hand to Gustav’s chest and shook her head.
“Let me talk to him,” she said.
She walked quietly down the hall and peeked into Gus’s room. It was tidier than she remembered, and looked barely lived in. Gus stood in front of his dresser, shoving clothes into a duffel bag.
“You’re leaving again?” Constance asked.
“I never should’ve come back,” he replied. “He’s gone too far this time.”
“Oh, come on,” she said. “You totally had that coming.”
Gus glanced back and said, “You’re seriously defending him, after what he just did?”
“Gus,” she said, stepping forward. “You ran off in the middle of the night without so much as a word. And then you were gone for a whole week. How do you think I felt, having to call Dad and tell him you went missing under my watch? You’re lucky I didn’t smack you myself.”
Gus sighed and dropped his bag. He turned to his sister. Their father’s handprint shone red on his face.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?” he said. “I was just… looking for a job.”
“You… what?” she muttered. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want to be a construction worker my entire life,” he said.
“You’re only nineteen,” she said. “You have plenty of time to—”
“To change my mind?” he asked.
“To figure things out,” she said. “Look, I get it. You want to be your own man. But this just isn’t a good time. We need you, now more than ever.”
“There’s never going to be a good time,” he said. “If I don’t leave now, I’m never getting out.”
“All I’m asking is that you stay on a little longer,” she said. “At least until this project’s finished.”
He turned away and drummed his fingers on the dresser.
“I could maybe do a couple shifts a week,” he said, and turned back to her. “But only until I find work. After that, you’re on your own.”
“I guess that’s better than nothing,” she said. “Do you want to come in today, or should I schedule you later on in the week?”
“Might as well go today,” he said. “Beats being here with Dad. Just give me a minute to change.”
“I’ll wait in the truck,” she said.
She shut the door behind her and returned to the kitchen. Gustav was standing by the sink, pressing a bag of ice to his hand.
“Twenty-seven years,” he said, “and not once have I raised a hand to my children. Until now. How did I let this happen?”
“It’s not your fault,” Constance said. “You’re doing the best you can.”
“Am I?” he asked. “You weren’t this difficult when you were his age.”
“We’re two different people,” she replied. “There’s only so much you can control. The rest is up to chance.”
“I know,” he said, “but maybe if your mother were….”
“Dad,” Constance said.
“Sorry,” he said. “I just can’t help thinking that I’ve done something wrong, failed him in some way.”
She squeezed her father’s hand.
“It’s been a long week,” she said. “Get some rest.”
He nodded and headed to his room. Constance dug her phone out of her pocket and called Constable Norton on her way out of the house.
“My brother’s home now,” she said. “You can call off your dogs.”
“That’s a relief,” Norton said. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” she said, “unless Dad’s in there killing him right now.”
“I’ll, uh, just pretend I didn’t hear that,” Norton said.
“Things did get a little physical,” she said, “but nothing worth calling in the cavalry over.”
“I guess we’ve all been there,” he said. “So what’s your brother been doing all this time?”
She rolled her eyes and said, “Job-hunting.”
“Ouch,” Norton said. “Sounds awkward.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” she said, and sighed. “Dad will never forgive him if he quits.”
“I’m sure everything will be fine,” Norton said. “Your father still has you, after all.”
“Yeah, well, the company’s called Gordon and Sons,” she said.
“Ah,” Norton replied. “I see what you mean.”
“So anyway,” she said, “I finally got Dad to take a day off from work so I should get back to the site before he changes his mind.”
“All right,” Norton said. “Feel free to drop me a line if you want to talk more.”
“You might regret making that offer,” she said. “Catch you later.”
She hung up and leaned back in her seat, smiling to herself.
“What’s that look about?” Gus asked, climbing into the passenger seat.
She cleared her throat and sat up straight.
“Nothing,” she said.
“You told Dad, didn’t you?” Gus said.
“No,” she replied. “As a matter of fact, I’ve decided to cover for you, for as long as I can.”
“Really?” Gus said. “What’s the catch?”
“The catch is that you have to take this seriously,” she said. “No slacking off and no going out drinking. If you have time for that, you have time to work. Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” he said, and stared out the side window. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” she replied, and drove to work.
Constance dropped Gus off at the house after their shift was over and stopped in to update her father on the status of the project. He seemed satisfied and agreed to take more time off…
…which lasted about three days, until she glanced down one afternoon to see her father marching across the site toward his office. Constance finished securing a plate glass window to the side of the building, and shrank back to normal size.
“Where’s your brother?” Gustav asked, standing by his desk with his back to the door.
“He had to step out for a bit,” she replied. “He’ll—”
“You know, I’ve come to expect lies from him,” Gustav said, “but not from you.”
He turned to face her and held up a printed copy of Gus’s resume.
“You were supposed to talk him out of this,” Gustav said. “Not help him get away with it.”
“I’ve tried talking,” she said. “Now I’m trying something else.”
“Whatever it is, it’s not working,” he said, crumpling the resume.
“You just need to give it time,” she said. “The more he has to fight to get away now, the less willing he’ll be to come back later. In the long run, it’ll be better for all of us.”
“Unless this company crumbles in the meantime,” Gustav said. “I can’t take that kind of chance with my father’s legacy.”
He tossed the balled-up resume into the trash and headed for the door.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“Talk some sense into my son,” he replied.
“No, you’re going to yell at him,” she said, “and that’s only going to make things worse.”
Gustav placed his hands on her shoulders.
“Honey, I know you mean well,” he said, “but I’m the parent here. It’s time I put my foot down.”
He stepped out of the office. The door swung shut behind him. Constance grabbed her phone and called her brother.
“Hey, hey,” he said. “I think I did pretty good today. Just heading home now.”
“Uh, you might want to hold off on that,” she said. “Dad found your resume and now he’s on the warpath.”
“Shit,” Gus said. “How angry is he? I swear, if he hits me again—”
“He won’t,” she said. “Just… avoid the house for a little while. Go clubbing or something.”
“Jesus,” Gus said. “He must be really pissed if you’re actually giving me permission to go out.”
“I just don’t want to take any chances,” she said. “Try not to get used to it.”
“Sure thing, Sis,” he said. “Thanks for the heads up.”
“No problem,” she said. “I’ll be in touch.”
She hung up and stepped out of the office. Gustav was already long gone. She sighed and returned to work.
The moment Constance heard the phone ringing, she knew exactly who was calling. She sat up in bed and glanced at the call display. She sighed; “Constable Norton.”
“What’d he do this time?” she asked.
“He, uh, got in a bar fight,” Norton replied.
“A what?” she said. “Jesus Christ, I let him off the hook for one night and now he’s fighting? How bad was it?”
“Minor injuries,” Norton said. “Some property damage.”
“This isn’t going away as easily as the night in the park, is it?” she asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Norton said. “And there’s more….”
“Oh God,” she said. “Do I even want to know?”
“Well, the thing is,” he said, “I wasn’t there when your brother was brought in so I couldn’t inform them of the situation at home. They, um… called your father.”
“I’m on my way!” she said.
She jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and ran out the door.
Constance pulled up in front of the police station and hurried up the front steps. She found Norton pacing back and forth in the lobby.
“Your dad just got here,” Norton said. “He’s—”
“How could you be so stupid?!” her father bellowed from somewhere in the building. “The drinking was bad enough, but now….”
She followed the sound of his voice to a small interview room deep in the station. Norton nodded at the officer standing by the door, and Constance stepped inside.
Gus sat hunched in a chair, a dark bruise swelling around his left eye and a bloody bandage taped to his right arm. Gustav stood on the other side of a thick, wooden table, looming over his son as he ranted and occasionally pointing a finger for emphasis.
“Who do you think has to pay for all this mess?” he shouted. “Are you trying to bankrupt me? Do you really hate me that much?”
Gus stared down at the table, saying nothing.
“You know what?” Gustav said. “I’m glad your mother never had to see what a little monster you’d turn out to be. You just—”
Constance stepped forward and said, “Dad.”
“Stay out of this,” Gustav snapped, keeping his eyes on Gus. “I’m not—”
“Dad!” she shouted, growing a few feet taller. “Stop talking.”
He glared up at her, then sighed and turned away, arms crossed. Gus stared at the table a moment longer, then looked up at Constance.
“It wasn’t my fault,” he said weakly.
Gustav harrumphed loudly. Constance gave her father the evil eye and turned back to Gus.
“Okay,” she said, “just tell me what happened.”
“There was this guy,” Gus said. “Really big, really drunk. He was pushing people around, and nobody was doing anything about it. So I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to pick on someone his own size.”
He pointed to his black eye.
“That’s when he did this,” he said. “I grew a little, just enough to outmatch him. I just wanted to scare him. But he didn’t back down. He called his friends over, and he pulled a knife.”
He picked at the corner of his bandage.
“The cops showed up a few minutes later,” he said.
Constance glanced at her father.
“See?” she said. “He was defending himself.”
“He’ll say anything at this point,” Gustav said. “I’m not sure I trust either of you right now.”
“Excuse me,” a voice with a British accent said behind her. “I hate to interrupt, but I saw what happened, and the boy’s telling the truth.”
Constance glanced back at a blond, middle-aged man wearing jeans and a leather jacket.
“And who are you supposed to be?” Gustav asked.
The man stepped forward and extended his right hand to Gustav.
“John Arthur Owens,” he replied. “Owner of the club in question.”
Gustav kept his arms crossed. John Arthur lowered his hand and glanced down at Gus.
“I owe you an apology, lad,” he said. “The situation tonight should never have escalated like it did. Bloody bouncer was off in the loo when he was supposed to be on duty. I’m sorry it was left to you to do his job for him. I’ve already informed the officers here that I won’t be pressing charges. They’ll be cutting you loose any minute now.”
He nodded to Gustav, bowed to Constance, and turned to leave. At the door, he paused and turned back to Gus.
“I was impressed with the way you handled yourself back there,” he said. “A man of your talents could do quite well on my security staff, and it just so happens that a spot has opened up.”
He produced a business card from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table.
“If you’re interested,” he said, “give me a call.”
He turned again and strolled out of the room. The Gordons stared down at the card for a long moment, then Gus reached for it. Gustav snatched it up first, and Gus sprang from his chair.
“Give me that!” the boy snapped.
“No,” Gustav said. “I won’t have you abandoning your family to go work at some seedy club.”
“It’s not seedy,” Gus said. “It—”
“Enough!” Gustav snapped. “We’re going home, you’re going to bed, and we’re putting this whole episode behind us. You already have a job, and I need you there.”
He held up the card and tore it in half. Constance stepped forward.
“I’ll quit,” she said.
Gustav froze, turned his head toward her. Gus did the same.
“What?” her father asked.
“If you don’t let him go, I’m leaving,” she said.
“But… you can’t,” he said. “I need you too.”
“You don’t act like it,” she said. “It’s always been about Gus and Gus alone. He’s your legacy, your heir. I’m just… superfluous.”
Gustav reached for her shoulders and said, “Honey, that’s not—”
She brushed him off and backed away.
“But you know what?” she said. “There are plenty of construction companies out there who would be thrilled to have me. Hell, maybe I’ll even start my own. I’ve been watching you my entire life. I could do it. Care to see me try?”
Gustav glared at her, and she stared him down. He sighed and threw the remains of the business card on the table.
“See you at work,” he grumbled, and stormed out of the room.
Constance glanced down at Gus and smiled.
“Would you really have quit?” he asked.
“Dad wouldn’t have listened if I were bluffing,” she replied.
“But why would you want him to?” Gus asked. “A couple days ago, you agreed with him.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I didn’t give you enough credit,” she replied. “By the time I turned nineteen, I already knew what I wanted to do with my life. I shouldn’t have expected less of you just because we came to different conclusions.”
Gus slid the business card back together and stared at it.
“I still don’t know exactly what I want to do,” he said, “but this… this is a start.”
“Good enough for me,” she replied, and placed her cellphone on the table.
She stepped out of the room and found Constable Norton leaning against the wall by the door. He stood up straight and cleared his throat.
“I, uh, wasn’t listening in or anything,” he said.
“Sure you weren’t,” she said. “So… think I made the right call?”
“Well, it’s probably not what I would’ve done,” he said. “But yeah, I think you nailed it.”
“I hope so,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other if I was wrong.”
Norton glanced down at his shoes.
“Only if you were wrong?” he asked.
She smiled and said, “We’ll see.”
Constance pulled up to the site in the morning and glanced at the sign on the fence. A splash of white paint blotted out the word “sons” and a few strips of electrical tape spelled out a new word in its place.