Silver Linings 1 (Part 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
by Bek D Corbin
April 11th, 2006
Stanley examined himself carefully. Yes, he was definitely changing. He wished that he could use George’s digital camera to take pictures of himself, so that he could get a better idea of what was happening over time. But his stepfather went ballistic if Stan ever touched anything of his, so Stan had to settle for the mirror and his own memory. His eyes were definitely getting wider, and his nose was getting narrower. His cheekbones were getting sharper and so was his chin. There was definitely something different about his butt. It was softer and rounder. But the kicker, the real cincher was there on his chest. At first it had just been a matter of his nipples being bigger and more sensitive. But now? Now, there was no question about it - he was growing breasts. Nothing outrageous yet, but they were definitely breasts.
He was turning into a girl. It wasn’t some TV sit-com thing, where it all happened in, like, a minute. It was happening slowly, as if he’d really been a girl all along, and his body had just woken up to the fact. Half of him was overjoyed. He was finally turning into a girl! His deepest, most cherished dream was coming true!
But the other half of him wanted to puke with fear. George barely tolerated him as the child that his wife had from her first marriage as it was. George was always complaining about the expense of raising the ‘little bastard’, and he was always pointing out what a loser Stan was, compared to Cody and Wyatt, who were only Four and Two. George had nearly beaten Stan black and blue last week for doing a shoddy job mowing and weeding the yard; what would he do if he found out that his wife’s ‘little sissy’ was turning into a girl?
And it wasn’t like Stan could keep it a secret for very long. He was in Junior High now. That meant showers after Phys Ed. And he could only beg off Phys Ed for so long. The second that he took his shirt off in the locker room, his life was over, one way or another. Even in places like New York or Los Angeles, any Junior High school kid who got outed as a fag was on the Shit List. This was Oakwood, Ohio - if he got beaten to death in a fag bashing, the Cops wouldn’t even bother investigating. Hell, George would probably buy the assholes that did it a beer.
Stan closed his eyes for a long moment, and cleared his mind. When he looked in the mirror, there was a cute girl, just beginning that first bloom of puberty in the mirror. She had straw-blonde hair cut short, which didn’t really fit the perfect oval of her face. One look at her and you knew that she was going to be a looker.
Yeah, a looker. That is, if George doesn’t grind my face up into hamburger first, Stan thought to himself. Story of my life. Being such a fucking sissy has ruined everything. I drove Dad off, ‘cause he couldn’t stand me being so girly. I drove off all my friends, ‘cause they didn’t want the stink rubbing off on them. And now, I can’t even hide it, no matter what I do.
Stan couldn’t think of anything to do about it, so he just gave up on it, and stepped into the shower. Taking a shower wouldn’t solve anything, but at least he’d be clean before going to bed. And at least, asleep he wouldn’t have to deal with it.
Stan had to fight off the yen to use his mother’s ‘Body Shampoo’ and use the more ‘manly’ bar of soap. Things were too iffy right now, no sense in giving George any excuses to go off the handle.
Stan was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the bathroom door open. Stan slicked himself down, pulled the shower curtain back, reached for the towel-
-and stared right into the startled face of George, who was taking a dump on the toilet. George’s eyes only stayed on Stan’s face for a second. They immediately dropped and fixed on the two ever-so-slight, but still there bumps on George’s chest. Somehow, Stan could ‘hear’ George taking in the two bumps, Stan’s feminine face, and delicate build, putting it all together, and coming up with-
“You Fag! You fucking FAG!” George straightened up without bothering to finish or clean himself up. “I knew that you were a fucking Sissy, but THIS? What, you’re taking some fag drugs to become a girl? Hey, where’d you get the money for that? You’ve been stealing from me, haven’t you? You been stealing from me to pay for your stinking fag drugs, haven’t you? I had to beg off on Bengals tickets, just so that you could have a pair of fucking BOOBS to wave around at your fag buddies!”
George backhanded Stan, knocking the boy back into the bathtub. Stan hit his head against the rim of the tub, with enough force to break his skull.
But Stan was only dazed. Still, neither he nor George were in any state to notice that. George was looking down at the mess between his legs, where his dung was rubbing against his skin. “LOOK at this! You made me shit on myself, you little shit-eating FAG!”
George went red in the eye and began beating on Stan with a berserk fury. “You. Made. Me. SHIT! On. My. Self!” he chanted, over and over. Even through the haze of pain and fear, Stan could feel George’s hate and contempt slamming away at him, entering him, battering away at his very soul, even as George battered at his body.
As George’s fist slammed into Stan’s side, the boy could feel his ribs starting to crack. George was totally out of control! Not that Mom could ever keep him from doing whatever he felt like. But before, George had always stopped before any real damage had happened.
George was going to kill him.
Something inside Stan snapped, and suddenly the blows seemed like mere raindrops on his skin. More out of instinct that any real expectation, Stan threw George off of him. To Stan’s stunned surprise, George went flying and smashed with a thud that almost buckled the closed bathroom door. George slid to the bathroom floor in a lump. There was a red spot on the door where George had hit his head.
Totally agog, Stan looked at his hand. His hand didn’t look like it was make of flesh and blood; it looked like it was made of liquid silver or something. He flexed his fingers, and they moved like normal fingers. There weren’t any clicks or whirrs or electronic noises. He touched his hand with his other hand. Now, his other hand looked like it was made of liquid silver as well. Stan looked down at his body. All of him had the same chromed look. He looked in the mirror on the medicine cabinet. His face and hair all looked like they’d been sculpted from silver.
Stan was snapped out of his near-trance by the sound of George moaning. He couldn’t let George see him like this! He had to get out! He had to get out NOW!
Stan pulled George away from the door and sprinted down the hall. From downstairs, Stan could hear his mother yell, “What’s going on up there?” There was something wrong with the way that Stan was running. Which was par for the course, tonight. He was sort of gliding along, as if he were in low gravity or something.
He managed to get to his room unseen. Why did I bother getting here? Stan asked himself, George is only gonna come after me, even madder than he was before!
The only solution that came to Stan’s mind was run. Run, as fast and as far as he could. Get out of town, get out of the state, maybe even get out of the country! Stan quickly pulled on some clothes and started grabbing everything that he could think of and cramming it into a back pack and gym bag. He was in such a panic that it never occurred to him that he knew exactly what he needed, or that he knew exactly where it was, or that everything just seemed to spring into his hand.
He could hear George bellowing in the bathroom now. Well, at least he didn’t have a Murder charge to worry about. God knew he had enough on his mind. Well, now Stan knew that the inevitable had happened - George had been sniffing around for an excuse to throw him out of the house since Cody had been born, and now he had his excuse. Stan put a chair under the doorknob and went over to the window. He threw the window open and swung out into the high second floor.It was a high drop from the window to the ground, at least ten feet. But somehow, Stan felt that two broken legs were the least of his problems.
He pushed off, and the weirdness continued, unabated. Instead of dropping like a rock, he floated down to the ground. He touched down, light as a feather. When I have the time, I have really GOT to sit down and figure out what the hell is going on here, Stan said to himself. But first, I have to get as far away as my money will take me.
Money. Stan dropped dead in his tracks. He knew that he had a grand total of twelve bucks in his pocket, and most of that was from the money that he got recycling cans. And twelve bucks wouldn’t even last him a night, much less get him out of town. He needed money.
He snuck around to the kitchen door, and no one was around. Odds were that everyone was upstairs, listening to George rant. Stan knew that he only had a few minutes. He went through the kitchen and poked his head out. Mom’s purse was where it usually was. He ran out, grabbed the purse and pulled out her wallet. She only had thirty bucks in her wallet; George liked to keep the family on a pretty thin string.
But there was her ATM card. Stan thought that he might be able to remember her PIN number. Well, it was worth a shot. He put the wallet back in her purse and slipped out the back door before anyone came down the stairs.
Stan went jumping over the back fence, taking the 10-foot high obstacle like it wasn’t even there. When he was well down the street, he paused. All those ‘Runaway Prevention’ ads on TV came rushing into his mind. The voice of one announcer asked, ‘Is what you’re running away from really that bad?’ as images of wretched kids digging through dumpsters for food played. Stan looked back at the house. Hell, yeah it is.
Stan managed to get $300 out of the ATM, and then threw the card away. He had to get out of town. Taking a bus involved too many questions, and was too easily traced. Hitchhiking was just asking for trouble. But things had changed. Now, Stan could do things. The silver ‘body paint’ had faded after a few minutes, but Stan found that if he put his mind to it, that he could jump all the way from the street to the roof of a two-story building. Not that there were a lot of really high buildings in Oakwood. He used this to sneak on top of the moving company’s warehouse and wait until one of the big rigs was being loaded. When no one was watching, he dropped and slipped in among the packing crates. It took a couple of hours before everything was finished, during which Stan spent a lot of time holding his breath and praying that they didn’t see him.
Then they finally closed up the truck, and Stan spent another three hours dealing with the fact that moving vans aren’t really built for moving people around, so the ventilation was almost nil. When the van finally got where it was going, Stan spent another few long hours as the van waited around to get unloaded.
Somehow, he managed to slip off the van and out of the moving van warehouse without being spotted. After nearly nine hours of being on edge, Stan was finally safe.
Or, at least as safe as a 13-year-old runaway is, in a big city.
It didn’t take Stan long to find out where he was from a newspaper rack. He was in Cincinnati. Oh well, he thought to himself, at least I didn’t cross any State lines. That’s gotta be worth something.
Peggy Conners looked at her husband pleadingly. “But George, shouldn’t we call the Police or something? Let them know that Stan’s run away?”
“Why?” George growled back as he cradled the ice pack on the bruised and scraped back of his head. “Good riddance to bad rubbish. No good little ingrate fag bastard! Jumped me from behind!”
“Now, dear, you know that Stanley would never-”
“I don’t wanna talk about it!” George snapped. George surprised himself. He’d never liked the little wimp, so why was he still so mad that the punk upped and ran away?
Then 4-year-old Cody spilled some milk that he was trying to pour on his cereal. “Dammit!” George roared, “Can’t you do ANY thing right?”
Stan wasn’t fool enough to try and live by himself on the street. Even a kid from a dinky burg like Oakwood knew better than that. Cincinnati might not have been a magnet for runaways, like New York or L.A., but it still had a runaway center. The Alger House for Runaways was itself just a storefront, but Laura, the young woman doing intake, thought that she could get Stan into a halfway house out in a working class neighborhood. Laura struck Stan as a well-heeled girl who’d just graduated with some Liberal Arts degree, and was looking for some way to do some good, while she was waiting for some lawyer or doctor to ask her to marry him. Laura looked at him sympathetically. “So, Honey, exactly why did you leave home?”
Stan looked down at his hands in his lap. “Well, uhm, I’ve been having, y’know, some… problems… with George, my Step-dad.”
Laura’s look changed to one of worry. “Has he been… bothering… you?”
“Ah, yeah, I guess that you could say that.” Terrifying was a better word, but Stan had definitely been bothered by it.
“Has he been… touching… you? In places that you know that he shouldn’t?”
Stan blushed beet-red. “NO! Nothing like that! He yells at me a lot, and he beats up on me every chance he gets, and he really lost it last time, but he never, y’know, groped me or anything…”
Laura let out a breath of relief. “Oh thank God!” Then she realized what she was implying. “Oh, not that beating on you is good, but you’d be horrified at the girls who come in here...” Laura blithered on, as the implication clicked in Stan's head. She thought that he was a girl! It wasn’t all in his own mind! He was sitting there in jeans, a down jacket and plaid shirt over a T-shirt, and she still though that he was a girl!
Maybe there was an upside to this whole mess. If he could get into the system as a girl, there was no way that they’d link him up with the runaway boy from Oakwood. And if they all thought that he was a girl, well then, he could act any way that he wanted, dress any way that he wanted, and no one would so much as say ‘boo’. And girls got more privacy that boys did, so he could figure out what all this weirdness that was going on was all about.
Laura asked a question, and Stan snapped out of his reverie. “Sorry, what was that again?”
“Your name, honey. I know that you’re scared, but I have to have your name, in order for the City to allow us to let you into one of our halfway house programs.”
Name. Stan paused, unsure. Did he dare? Nothing had ever gone his way before--- but things were different now. Internally, he took a deep breath and made the Leap from the Lion’s Mouth. “Stacy. Stacy Conrad.”
Two Weeks later
The halfway house was a rundown place on the edge of a working class neighborhood. There was a gas station on one side of the house, and a plumbing supply yard on the other. Most people, even in working class neighborhoods, aren’t all that happy to have a bunch of rowdy runaways living next door, so that was the best that Alger House had been able to do.
Stacy quickly learned that she’d been wrong about girls getting more privacy. She shared two sets of bunk beds in a room that had been designed as a double, with three other girls. The other girls seemed to resent Stacy for some reason, and they made sure that she knew it. And there was… girl stuff… that they had for that time of the month that Stacy only had a few less-than-appetizing hints about, from TV. She didn’t know what she was gonna do, when they started asking about her period. The food was the sort that her family had had to eat when George had been between jobs. There was one TV, and the other kids didn’t seem to like Stacy’s taste in programs. She had to go to a Junior High School with the other halfway house kids, and all the other kids despised them as ‘trash’.
And yet, for all of that, Stacy was happier than she’d been since she could remember. There was no George making her life miserable. She had actually managed to get some dresses and other girl clothes - they were at least five years out of date, but they were girl clothes! - and was able to wear them without anyone making ‘sissy’ comments. She had a plush cat that she’d named ‘Binky’, something that would have sent George into a screaming rage.
And there was a boy. His name was Danny Ferris. He was a year older than she was, and he was cute and funny and so very confident. And best of all, he seemed to like her. He ate with her whenever he could, and he showed her around what parts of Cincinnati that he knew. Stacy didn’t really have any idea of what she wanted to do, but Danny was full of big ideas. Stanley had never really been all that interested in boys, other than in avoiding all the yucky boy-stuff that he was expected to do. But Stacy thought that Danny was simply wonderful. She just knew that Danny was destined for big things, and that he’d take her along with him.
But most people didn’t appreciate Danny. His parents in Dayton hadn’t, which was why he’d run away. The House Managers seemed to think that he was a punk. Even the other kids at the halfway house didn’t seem to like him. It was just so unfair!
Then, one day, Stacy was coming down the stairs, and Danny almost ran over her on his way up. That fragile sense that Stacy sometimes got, like she could feel what other people were feeling - not just guess at it, like most people, but really feel it! - told her that Danny was absolutely furious. “What’s the matter, Danny?”
“Fucking Cosgrove called me a fucking thief!” Howie Cosgrove was one of the House Managers, and he’d always treated Stacy kindly. Which sort of creeped her out.
Stacy blinked her eyes in near panic. “But why?”
“Hey, I dunno! He’s just got it in for me!” And somehow, Stacy knew that it was true. “I’m outta here!”
“But Danny! Where will you go? What will you do?”
“I dunno. But I gotta go, before they kick me out.”
Danny hung around the corner for almost twenty minutes before Stacy ran out with her backpack full of what she could carry. Stacy ran up to him, worry on her lovely face. Danny just held out his hand. She took it, and they went down the road.
Wanda Kelso, the halfway house administrator, sighed and shook her head as she watched the two young lovers run down the street. Well, she knew that she couldn’t keep them. She might wish that Stacy knew better, but in her years of helping runaways, she knew how little chance there was of talking her out of it. She just phoned Family Services and told them that two beds had just opened up.
Danny and Stacy wandered around the seamier parts of the city for a while, and it was getting dark. “It’s okay, Stacy.” Danny reassured her. “I know just what to do. There’s a guy I gotta meet, and from there, everything should be cool.”
Danny led Stacy to an alley out back of a bar, and he went in alone. Stacy wondered why he was going into a bar. He was obviously underage, so what business did he have there?
Then the door opened, and a rather seedy looking guy walked out. He was tall, rangy and lanky, with a thin face that was hard in a ‘I might not be that strong, but I’m meaner’n you are, asshole’ way. He was dressed in cheap clothes, but he had an expensive watch on, and his shoes looked good and brand new. He had his sleeves rolled up to show off the nasty-looking tattoos on his lower arms. Stacy took one look at him, and got a real ‘junkyard dog’ vibe off of him. She devoutly wished that he’d move on immediately, and that Danny would come back soon, so that they could get OUT of there!
Instead, the man stopped, looked her up and down, and all but licked his chops. “Nice. Very nice,” he drawled in a deep voice to himself. “A little young, but when did THAT ever hurt?” Then, straight out of the clear blue sky, he gave her an expert slap alongside the face that knocked her clear off her feet.
The man picked her up and hit her a few more times. She screamed for Danny. “What is THIS shit?” the man demanded, “You’re MY meat from now on, bitch!”
Stacy struggled, and then she felt something happen. The asshole goggled at her and she threw him back. He hit the alley wall, but he was tougher than George was. He came back off the wall and pulled out a gun. “I don’t know what you ARE, freak, but NOBODY messes with Pike!” Then he let off three shots.
He must have missed, because Stacy didn’t feel a thing. She went for Pike’s throat. Her hands were all silvery again. She threw Pike around the alley a few times; it was like playing with a rag doll. Eventually, Pike stopped getting up, and slid to the alley. Stacy felt at his throat, and there was a pulse. He’d live. He’d be bruised and bloody for weeks, but he’d live.
Then Danny came bustling out of the bar. He looked around, goggle-eyed. “Stacy? Stacy, is that YOU?”
Stacy realized that she was all silvery. She ran over to Danny and threw herself into his arms, and suddenly, she wasn’t all silvery anymore.
“Stacy? What happened?”
Stacy looked into his eyes with tears in hers. “I- I don’t know! This happened once before - but I don’t know!”
“You mean, you can do this, whenever you want?”
Stacy shook her head, “I just don’t know!”
He took her in his arms and held her tight. “It’s gonna be all right. I’ll make sure that it’s all right.” And Stacy knew that he would make it all right.
Then it was time to get out of there. Danny went through Pike’s pockets, got a huge roll of money and the asshole’s wallet and that fancy watch as well. He also pocketed the gun.
Stacy showed Danny what she could do, and he was cool with it. He was more than just cool with it. “Don’t you see? You have super powers! This solves everything!”
“Stacy, all our real problem is that we don’t have any money! But you got super powers! You can get go GET some money!”
“But- but, DANNY! I can’t go steal money from somebody!”
Danny grinned, “So, who says that you got to steal it? There are a lot of people with a ton of ready cash on hand, and they’re all CROOKS! It ain’t stealin’ if they’re crooks!”
“Think about it, Stacy- do you think that drug dealers get drugs from their suppliers for FREE? Do you think that cops turn a blind eye to some pimp beating up a hooker for FREE? Do you think that super-villains and like that get all those fancy gadgets of theirs for FREE? NO! They gotta pay for all that! And that means money. If they don’t have money, then they can’t run their rackets. Y’see? If you jump these guys and take their money, then they can’t go out and run their rackets! So, there’s no drugs on the street, and the dopers gotta go into rehab, and the street gangs don’t have nothin’ to go to war about! Things get BETTER! And, we get money for food and clothes and shit!”
Stacy wavered. “D-do you really think that it’s okay?” She worried her lower lip.
Danny took her in his arms. “Do you really think that I’d ask you to do anything, if I thought that it was wrong?”
Stacy melted against him. Well, maybe… if Danny really thought that it was okay…
Danny asked how she got her powers, if she had some sort of power ring or something. She told him about Oakwood, and George, and how she almost killed him. Of course, she left out the parts about Stanley. “So, howcum you don’t use your powers all the time?”
“Why would I?” Stacy asked. “I mean, if you got powers and you don’t keep it a secret, people get all weird. I mean… you can’t stay awake forever. Y’gotta sleep sometime. And the silver stuff, it doesn’t turn on all by itself.”
Danny nodded. “Okay, first things first. We gotta get you trained so you can do the silver thing when you wanna.” He looked at her. “I love you, Stacy. I ain’t gonna slap you around, just to turn it on.”
Stacy flushed and bit her lips. Danny’s program basically consisted of finding an isolated corner in a junkyard, and having Stacy lift stuff. Danny figured that the silver stuff kicked in when Stacy thought that she needed it, and straining to lift something really heavy would be a safe way of kick that in. “I figger that once you get an idea of what it feels like when it kicks in, you’ll know how to turn it on yourself.”
It took a while. A couple of days, as a matter of fact. It turned out that Stacy was a lot stronger than she looked, even without the silver stuff. It finally got to the point where she had to try and pick up entire junked car, before the silver thing kicked in. And when it did kick in, it took a couple more days before she was able to really wrap her head around what she did to make it work.
One time, while she was working on it, the guy who ran the scrap yard came in to see what was going on. It was the big, heavy crap where all the stuff that could be taken out and stolen had already been removed, so he hadn’t posted a dog. He surprised Stacy was she was lifting a chassis. She dropped it, and he shouted, “Who’s there? I know someone’s in there! Show yourself!”
Danny was nowhere to be seen. Stacy froze and wanted to hide something fierce, but her silver was up, and she knew that there was no way that she could hide. But he came in with a flashlight and he never saw her. Heck, the beam from the flashlight hit her squarely in the chest, and it went right through her! Confused, she looked at her chest, and it wasn’t there. Neither were her feet. She stamped her feet, to be sure that they were there, which caught the watch man’s attention. He poked around a bit, and eventually he got tired of it and went back to his shack. He wasn’t getting paid enough to go looking for stupid junk-pickers picking around the wrong junkyard.
When Danny found out about, he was totally psyched about it. He had them playing ‘hide and seek’ in the park, until she figured out how she did it. Then he had something for her. “A cape?” she asked.
“Yeah, I was doin’ a little research on-line at the library. Accordin’ to the nerd-geeks that are into superheroes and all that sorta thing, the reason that ‘invisible’ types wear capes, is that it minimizes their visual signature.”
“HUNH?” Stacy honked.
“Look, did you ever see that old Arnold Schwartzeneggar movie ‘Predator’?”
“Well, remember how in the movie, you could just make out where the bad guy was, ‘cause there was this, like, outline, and some ripple effects? Well, accordin’ to the net-geeks, most invisible guys are like that. They sorta bend light around them, and there’s what’s called a ‘silhouette effect’. Y’can’t see them, but y’can see their outline. You do that Stacy. If you’re standing still, it’s lots harder, but when you’re moving, I can get an idea of where you are. The thing is, we’re all used to making out the shape of a human being, so we can spot it easy. And, there’s all those bends and curves and stuff. What the cape does, is it changes what the light bends around, so the outline’s a lot cleaner and there isn’t that human shape tripping you up. Makes your job of not being seen lots easier.”
“And the hood?”
“That’s in case you forget and let yourself be visible.”
“Are you SURE about this, Danny?”
Stacy could tell that Danny was getting worried. “Stacy, we’re starting to run low on money. We NEED some more money, and this way, we’re doing some good on the street while we’re getting’ it.”
Stacy worried her lower lip. “Weeelll… okay… but how’re we gonna FIND these guys? They don’t exactly wear signs, y’know. And if we go around asking about who collects protection and like that, they’re gonna figure out who we are and what we’re up to. Gangsters are supposed to be real good about things like that."
“Not to WORRY, Stacy!” Danny breezed, “While you been workin’ out, I been out picking up some spare change doin’ errands for this local sleazewad.”
“Oh, nothing really wrong, just getting’ a few bucks for making some deliveries. Anyway, I got a few ideas for where to start. I got this one vice cop pegged. All we gotta do is follow him around while he’s shaking down the scumbags, and he’ll lead us to all the players.” Stacy worried her lower lip again. Well… Danny seemed to think that it was a good idea…
Stacy ran from rooftop to rooftop following the three men. She’d discovered that she could run real fast - not as fast as Blue Streak, the local super-speeding superhero - but fast enough to keep up with a car poking through downtown traffic. And she could jump well enough that the differences in the heights of the buildings weren’t that big a problem. At least as long as she didn’t look down. The three guys didn’t LOOK like gangsters to her. Not that she really knew what gangsters looked like. She’d always had the idea that gangsters - at least the gangsters who were hooked up with a real crime syndicate - had some sort of dress code or at least there was some sort of thing about looking like you had money. These guys looked like cheap thugs, sort of like a citified version of those overgrown punks who hung around the diner at the trucking depot back in Oakwood. Cheap leather jackets, Cincinnati Bengals parkas, T-shirts, jeans, cheapo gold jewelry - weren’t gangsters supposed to have a little CLASS?
According to Danny, they were picking up the week’s take from pimps, massage parlors, pushers, loan sharks and bookies. Their route changed from week to week, not out of any real sophistication, but more a matter of the goons’ whims and which crew got assigned to what pickup. But they still started out in the suburbs and worked their way in towards where their boss would meet them to get the take. Again, this changed from week to week, and their boss would call them on the cell phone at the last minute to tell them where to bring the cash. So, jumping them was a matter of hitting them after they’d made a few pickups, but not before they went in to deliver it. She was sweating bullets, just taking on those three hard-asses - there was no way that she was taking on a whole crew of gangsters!
Then as the three hoods were going into a ‘transient hotel’ - probably to shake down another pimp - the guy in the Bengals parka got a call on his cell phone. He probably just got the call from his boss, telling him where to take the money. Stacy jumped across the street and dropped down to the alley, being as invisible as she possibly could. They weren’t carrying anything obvious like a bag or a satchel, so they were probably carrying the money on them in envelopes, like in the movies. Stacy couldn’t be sure which of them was carrying the money. Heck, in their shoes, she’d share out the money - and the responsibility - between them, each carrying some of the money, so if one of them got unlucky, the others still were bringing home something to the boss. It probably meant that no one of them was carrying too much cash, and got too tempted. No sense pissing off the big boss for a third of a week’s take. Still, she couldn’t be sure - she’d have to take out all three of them and search them.
The three goons came out of the hotel casually, not like they were carrying at least thirty grand on them. But then, they did this every week, so they were used to it. Stacy came barreling at them full speed, and knocked them all off their feet. She grabbed each of them in turn and threw them into the alley. The black guy in the Bengals parka had a gun out and was pointing it around like he was trying to find something to shoot. Stacy zigzagged a bit, and he fired at what he thought he saw. She body-blocked him into a car and then threw him into the alley. The guy with the cheap leather jacket was scrambling to his feet. Stacy pushed him to the ground and felt inside his jacket and found an envelope. She took it, and then found his gun. She threw the gun up into the air and pushed him towards the alley opening. She repeated that with the second guy, but he had a trucker’s wallet chained to his belt. She snapped the chain like it was twine. The black guy was up and was trying to run away, so Stacy had to pull him back into the alley. When she had his envelope, she ran up the side of the alley wall to the roof.
What she didn’t know, was that going up the alley wall, she’d gone from invisible to all silvery. And that Desiree Delacroix (nee June Tomlinson), a local ‘working girl’, had seen everything.
All told, there was about fifty grand in the envelopes. “Fifty GRAND?” Danny sputtered, “Is that ALL?”
“Danny, it’s fifty GRAND!” Stacy whined. “With that much money, we could go to, say, Chicago and live for a year on that!”
“Why would they be bringing in only fifty grand?” Danny wondered.
“Hey, it was only a weekly pick-up!” Stacy pointed out. “I mean, this is Cincinnati, not Chicago or New York! Fifty grand a week is pretty damn good! Besides, they probably had two or three other guys making other pick-ups, so no one is handling too much money and gets tempted. So, where are we gonna go?”
“Yeah, I mean, we can’t stay in Cincinnati! Besides, we got money! We can go someplace that has class!”
“No, no, no, sweetheart, you don’t understand,” Danny said in a patronizing voice. “We gotta stay in Cincy. I mean, people on the street know me here! If I light out for Chicago after a couple of Boss Hogg’s guys get jumped, the Boss will send guys to bring back our scalps.”
“Boss Hogg?” Stacy asked in a disbelieving voice.
“Yeah, that’s what they call the guy who runs most of the rackets in this part of town.”
“Wasn’t that the name of the guy who was the head bad guy on ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’?”
“Hey, that’s what I hear.” Danny wrapped a comforting arm around Stacy’s shoulders. “Look, we lay low for a couple of weeks. You hit a few more of Boss Hogg’s operations so that he thinks that it’s his competition making some moves. Then we go up to Chicago with a bundle of loot, you hop back here for one last job to confuse things, and then we kick back in Chicago with enough money to last us until we’re old enough to get real jobs. It’ll be sweet, and if we do it right the Hogg won’t have a clue as to who’s sticking it to him.”
Leonard Hoag didn’t resemble the character from ‘the Dukes of Hazard’, or Tony Soprano, or Don Corleone, or any of the stereotypes of what a gangster should look like. If anything, he resembled a second string middle-class lawyer; which was, after all, what he was. He hadn’t come up through the mobs the way that most crime bosses do. Rather, he sort of fell into being the lawyer for local gangster Ed ‘the Rooster’ Russell. When Russell went up for ten years, Russell shared out control of his rackets between his lawyer Hoag and his main lieutenant, Willie Snodgrass. Willie Snodgrass had no intention of taking on too much control (thus risking setting off the Rooster’s notorious paranoia), so bit by bit Hoag found himself taking more and more control of the business. When Russell got convicted while in jail for another 10 years, Hoag found himself the unwilling ‘godfather’ of the Cincinnati mobs, a position that he found rather like teaching kindergarten while riding a tiger’s back. Hoag made no bones that he was only doing this for the money, and that he had little if any patience with the colicky antics of hoodlums. Oddly, the low lives of Cincinnati seemed to respect that. When the onus of leadership first settled on his shoulders, Hoag had decided that the only way out of his predicament was to simply walk away one day and disappear. He set himself a goal of 100 million dollars in a Swiss bank account. When he reached that goal, he’d just walk and go live the good life in Switzerland. And in the mean time, he figured if things got too hairy, he could still bolt and live on the lesser amount.
He was married with a wife and two quite spoiled daughters who were all blissfully unaware of his illegal activities. He had no room for either his wife or his daughters in his escape plans. He currently had $71,465,500 in his ‘escape account’, and he saw himself as being ‘in the home stretch’. A part of his success as a crime boss was that he lived and supported his family solely on his legitimate income from his law practice. And he was able to achieve a level of comfort for them by not putting any money into IRAs or other long-term investments.
Leonard Hoag didn’t like being a mob boss, and he really didn’t like being dragged away from his private life (such as it was) to handle unexpected surprises. He found Willie Snodgrass waiting outside a doctor’s office at Cincinnati General Hospital and pulled him aside. “Okay, what happened?”
“I don’t wanna know names, I just wanna know what happened. And ‘Slick Ronnie’? Why don’t these dicks have real names?”
Willie ignored the jibe. It was the price that he paid for having Hoag out front being ‘the guy in charge’. Willie was happy being the ‘right hand man’. It had all the money and most of the perks of being in charge. If you were the ‘guy in charge’, then the Feds put special task forces on you; if you were the ‘right hand man’, you got to cut deals for rolling over in court. “Three of our pick-up guys got hit on their way to Gramma’s house.”
“How bad are we talking about?”
“Oh, they’re beat up something fierce, and I don’t think that they’re gonna be working any time soon-”
“I MEAN, how much did they take us for?”
“Sixty-five grand.” And that, children, is how you skim fifteen grand that goes straight into your back pocket.
“Any idea as to who did it?”
“Sorta. Problem. Hooker saw it. She says that whoever did it was movin’ too fast for her to see him too clearly.”
“Blue Streak did this?” Hoag liked running a quiet operation. Cincinnati liked to think that it didn’t have any organized crime. Hoag was a big believer in letting the Queen City think that. But superheroes were attention magnets, especially when they went on the wrong side of the law. If one of the White Hats was picking up money on the side by hitting them, it might actually be better to just roll over and let him, than draw any attention by trying to take him out.
“Nah. The Streak doesn’t move like that. Desiree sez that whoever did it was invisible most’a the time, like a ghost. Not the Streak. Besides, whoever did it went up a wall, and she got a look at ‘im. She said that whoever it was, was wearin’ a cape, and was all silvery lookin’.”
Hoag screwed up his face with irritation. This meant that either some low-rent supervillain was trying to scare up the ante for a big score out of his pocket, or someone from the other side of town was using this newbie to rattle his cage. Superheroes are one thing, but supervillains are another. Black Hats should know better. “Okay, put the word out, I want to know who this ‘Silver Ghost’ is, and who he’s working for.”
“You want we should talk to Chicago for backup?”
“Not yet. This ghost-guy could just be passing through town. Keep an eye on Pitt’s operations; if the Silver Ghost hits them, we can talk to Pitt about sharing information and stepping on this ghost like a bug. But beef up the enforcement on pickups and banks.”
With that, Hoag straightened himself up and headed back to his country club.
Within two weeks, Stacy hit two of Boss Hogg’s collection teams and one of his policy banks. Danny heard on the street that Boss Hogg was offering big bucks for information about the ‘Silver Ghost’. “So, Danny, now we head up to Chicago?”
Danny smiled. “Nope. I found something better.”
Danny led her to an underground utilities tunnel, and got her to open it with her strength, being careful to fix the damage after they got in. Consulting a map of some sort with a key-chain penlight, Danny guided Stacy through the tunnel, until he found a panel that he had her open with her strength again.
“What is this?” Stacy asked as Danny took her by the hand and pulled her through the narrow tunnel. He opened a hatch and climbed through into a large circular chamber.
“Just a sec,” he said as he poked around and found a power panel. He flipped a few switches, and the lights went on in what looked sort of like the bridge from the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. “Welcome to our new digs, Stace!”
“What IS this place?”
“Well, do you remember when the Crimson Claw was kicking up a fuss in Cincy a few months back?”
“Ah, yeah, errr... Sorta… No, not really…”
Danny shrugged. “Anyway, the Crimson Claw was a third rank evil mastermind type supervillain who was pulling some sorta scam here in town, and SPECTRUM kicked his and his boys’ asses. Anyway, this is his base.”
Stacy looked around. “But Danny… wouldn’t the cops or the Feds or somebody have this place, like under heavy guard or sum’thin’?”
Danny grinned. “Nah! That’s the beauty of this! Y’see, the Crim didn’t build this place, he RENTED it from Boss Hogg!”
“Stacy, building secret lairs is fuckin’ expensive! So, Hogg’s got this scam where he has these modular ‘lair’ things that you can slap together and use, that he rents out to supervillains who wanna operate in the Tri-State. All you need is a place to put ‘em, and power leads, and you can have a secret base, complete with labs, cells for holding hostages and captured superheroes, henchmen’s barracks, doomsday weapon, piranha tank, the whole schmeer, up and running in three days! And best of all, they’re designed so that Hogg can knock ‘em down in hours and cart ‘em off when you leave or get busted. The Crim got busted out in the field, so Hogg decided that since nobody found this place, why move it?”
Stacy looked around nervously. “I dunno about this, Danny… Wouldn’t Hogg have, like, alarms and sensors and stuff? In case anyone tried to break in?”
“Oh, sure there are alarms and sensors and stuff all over the place! But that’s the beauty of this!” Danny plopped down in the dark red overstuffed command chair with the claw logo on the back. “All the alarms and stuff are wired so that they go off down HERE. Y’see, Hogg can’t afford to be connected with this place. So, all of this is completely self-contained. Totally hands-off. We could have a fucking WAR down here, and he’d never hear about it!”
“Errr… Yeah, I can see that. But won’t he be renting it out again?”
“Sure! But it’ll be months before Hogg gets another tenant for this place! And, he’s got another pre-fab lair out there somewhere that he’ll rent first. And in the mean time, WE get to live here FREE! Free rent, free power, free water, free cable TV, free DSL, heck we even got free food that the Crim left in the kitchen! Okay, it’s frozen food, but it’s all pop in the microwave stuff!”
“Won’t somebody know that the power’s been turned on?”
“Nah! Hogg’s got it rigged so that the power hookup doesn’t register with the power company. Remember, this is a SECRET base! The whole idea is that nobody’s supposed to be able to find it! And, since nobody found it, I think that we can say that this setup works as planned.”
Danny showed her around the lair, which included a fully stocked arsenal, a workshop with a half-completed… something… and a master bedroom suite for the evil mastermind himself. The master bedroom was as opulent and indulgent as you might expect an evil mastermind’s personal sanctum to be. The bed itself was a king-sized canopy bed with sheets that were just one step down from satin in luxury. Danny pulled Stacy to him, and kissed her deeply. Stacy melted into his arms and let herself be swept away by his passion. Then it suddenly occurred to her that they were in a big bed, clenched in passion, and where that scenario inevitably led. The warmth fled, and she felt a chilly knot form in her stomach. “Danny?”
“I… I’m not saying ‘No’… But… but I’m just not ready… I mean… I’ve never…”
Danny changed the tone of his embrace and kissed her nose. “Okay, I understand. But… I can still hold you? Like this?”
“Sure,” she snuggled in close. “I’m just not… ready. Not yet.”
The name ‘Silver Ghost’ went out on the mean streets of Cincinnati. Danny found out about most of the operations that answered to ‘Boss Hogg’, and Stacy went after them. And yet, despite the fact that Stacy was bringing in all sorts of cash, it never seemed to be quite enough. After all, it took more and more money to find out what operations belonged to Boss Hogg, and which belonged to Boss Pitt. Why that would be such a big thing didn’t make sense to Stacy, but she knew that Danny understood the way that the street worked a lot better than she did. Also, Danny had a habit of spending the money that she brought in almost as quickly as she got it.
This was a big one. Danny said that Boss Hogg acted as a middleman for various supervillains and types like that in the Rust Belt. He was apparently buying a shipment of ‘exotic’ weapons from one of those ‘Black Lab’ outfits that you heard about, the kind that did all sorts of illegal research and development, and used peddling dangerous weapons like this to underwrite the R&D. For some reason, things like cures for cancer or AIDS never came out of ‘black labs’. Killer Robots and bigger and better energy weapons, yes, things that actually made life better, no. So, this was doubly important, Danny said. Without the fancy guns, the supervillain that Hogg would resell it to might think twice about trying to rob the Cincinnati Blood Bank or whatever he was gonna do with it. And it hit the ‘black lab’ right in the pocketbook. Losing that much money and inventory might not stop them, but it would hurt them and slow them down some.
According to Danny’s information, the weapons had come down from Canada disguised as a shipment of computer equipment in a shipping container. Hogg’s front man would buy the lot of computer stuff at the normal rate for computer gear, which was, like only 5% of the actual purchase price, and the rest would be exchanged for cash.
The exchange was going down at a trucking depot right next to the rail yards. Hogg’s guy had the sellers open up the container, and had pulled a few boxes out and opened them, apparently to make sure that they weren’t paying a couple of million for old PlayStations. He slapped together something that looked sort of weapon-like, added what must have been a battery of some kind, and checked it out with something from his pocket. He nodded, and one of the hard boys reached into the Chevy. He produced a briefcase, just like in the movies. ‘Okay, target in sight and all that…’ Stacy got into position. She wanted the seller to check the money to make sure that Hogg’s guy was on the up and up as well. As soon as the seller gave the okay, she’d run up invisibly as quickly as she could, grab the money and be out across the rail yard.
Then a clear trumpeting voice said, “You’re paying off, just like THAT? What, no test-firing or nice dramatic killing of a test subject? MAN, are you guys trusting!” Up on top of a nearby semi-trailer was a lithe woman dressed in a tight-fitting outfit in shades of brown that showed only a mane of golden hair through the hood.
“TAWNY!” One of the goons gasped.
“Y’know, I really hate that name…” the woman jumped from the trailer and tackled one of the armed goons. “I wanted to be called ‘Lioness’, but that bitch in New York got it first…” she grappled the guy who was holding the high-tech weapon. “Well, I suppose that it could be worse… there’s this chick in Providence called ‘Tabby Cat’.” The guy holding the briefcase had dropped and was trying to crawl away through the melee. “I mean, Tabby Cat? That would really suck.” Tawny grabbed him by the ankle and started to drag him back.
Seeing her best opportunity, Stacy dashed out invisibly as planned. She dashed up and snatched the briefcase out of his hands.
“HEY!” Tawny screeched, “I NEED that! It’s evidence!” To Stacy’s amazement, the superheroine lit out right after her, despite the fact that she was invisible. Stacy double-checked. Yep, she was still invisible. But Tawny was right on her tail, as if she could see her, no problem. Which was a real problem for Stacy. She ducked through and among the moving trains as best she could, but Tawny was hot on her heels. Stacy weaved through the cars so much that she lost track of where she was, until she found herself boxed in. “HAH!” Tawny exulted, “Gotcha!”
Panic twisting her gut into a knot, Stacy looked around for some way, any way, out of there. In desperation, she just closed her eyes and jumped up as high as she could. But she didn’t come down. Opening her eyes, she saw that she was just hanging there in the middle of the air. Below her, Tawny was jumping up and down on top of one of the rail cars cussing up a storm. Not really sure as to what going on, Stacy sort of moved herself up and down a bit, and then from side to side. Once she had an idea of what she was doing, she just moved herself in the general direction of the Ohio River, which was the one place that she could be reasonably sure that Tawny couldn’t follow her. And, she was right - the last she saw of Tawny, the superheroine was standing on the docks on the river, with all but flames coming out of her mouth.
“You can FLY?” Danny demanded, “Why didn’t you TELL me that you could fly?”
“I didn’t KNOW!” Stacy shot back, on the verge of tears. “I don’t know how I’m doing this, I just DO it!”
Danny took her in his arms and comforted her. “Hey, Sweetheart, it’s okay, it’s okay… All this means, it that the next one will be that much easier…
‘NEXT one?’ Stacy froze. But she didn’t say anything. She knew that she was lucky to have a guy like Danny. And she had to do what he said, ‘cause he knew what he was doing. And, if he ever found out that she was really a he… Oh, she didn’t even want to THINK about that!
SPECTRUM is the name of Cincinnati’s most recent superhero team. Though, to be honest, calling SPECTRUM a team was rather overstating the case. SPECTRUM was more of a clubhouse for the local superheroes, who prefer to operate for the most part as solitaries than a cooperating team. Which, truth be told, suited the Commissioner of Police and the District Attorney right down to the ground. It offered them the ability to keep track of the local long john jockeys as a real team would, while still allowing the Authorities the luxury of only dealing with de facto loners. The team had been founded by the Golden Knight, the Green Witch, Blue Streak, Red Thunder and Violet, and the local Press named it ‘SPECTRUM’ because of the founders’ colorful names. It was that last bit that got Tawny tagged with her nom de guerre, and it still rankled at her a bit. She was just about ready to chew nails as she came through one of the SPECTRUM HQ secret entrances.
“So, Lorna, how did the big arms buy bust go?” Captain Patriot asked from his position at the On-Duty station.
Tawny almost spit. “It was a cluster fuck!”
“What happened? Did the buyers get away?”
“No, I bagged the zap guns, and the buyers and the guys selling the guns, but someone ripped off the payoff cash, right out from under my nose! And I NEED that money to prove that Hogg’s men where there with intent to purchase!”
“Really?” You could even see Cap’s surprise through his blue hood. “Any idea who it was?”
“Yeah. I’ve heard about a new player in town. They call him the Silver Ghost. He’s been hitting Boss Hogg’s operations pretty hard for the past two weeks.”
Cap nodded. “So, any information on this ‘Silver Ghost’?”
“Nah. Came completely outta nowhere,” Tawny insisted. “But I do know one thing about him: he’s a Pro. He hit invisibly, and never showed himself. He didn’t stop to chat or brag or anything. He headed straight for the rail yards, and if I hadn’t been able to see his heat trail, I’d never have kept up with him. And he did some of the best evasive running that I’ve ever seen. It was like he knew which way that I was gonna turn, even before I did. And, get this - he’s invisible and he’s running. But when I finally lucked out and cornered him by accident, he FLIES out of the box and heads for the river. He doesn’t trust that I can’t follow him, and he leaves the flying as an ace up his sleeve until he absolutely needs it. No way this guy is a rookie. My guess is that he’s either a super powered operator from out of town who doesn’t want to screw his rep by being connected with these heists, or he’s a professional burglar who recently acquired some kind of invisibility rig with flight capability.”
“Has he hit Boss Pitt’s operations?”
“I’m not sure. But I haven’t heard anything in that direction.”
“Maybe he’s working for Boss Pitt?”
Lorna shook her head. “God, I hope not. If Pitt’s trying to muscle in on Hogg’s exotic weaponry racket, then this could only be the opening bell. Bringing supervillains into a mob war is a bad idea, for everyone. It could escalate beyond anything that we - or anyone - can control. People will die, there’ll be millions if not billions in collateral damage, the Cops will look useless, the Politicos will be embarrassed, and the Press will go wild. And we’ll be the first ones they roast for it.”
Cap raised an eyebrow. “So. You wanna bust this ghost by yourself? Or do you need help on this one?”
Lorna chewed on it for a bit. She hated the wording, but she knew what her obligations were. “I don’t need help on this one. BUT, let the others know that if they spot this ghost, don’t waste time calling for me - bag and trap him ASAP. But let them know that this Silver Ghost is dangerous.”
“But Danny! I’m not dangerous!”
“I know that honey! That’s why I’m saying that you should, y’know… upgrade a little. You can’t just keep running away and trusting that bein’ invisible will be enough. If they catch you, they’ll hand you over to the MCO, and we all know that’s pretty much the same as bein’ handed over to the Gestapo. If they bag you, you ain’t comin’ back - ever. And I couldn’t stand that.”
Stacy chewed her lower lip. “Sooo… what d’you think I should do?”
“Well, I heard about this guy, he specializes in modifying what they call ‘exotic equipment’ – that’s ray guns and force fields and shit like that. I found this electro-zap harness that the Crim left in his arsenal. I figure if I take the harness to this guy, he can modify it some. Y’know, up the voltage, like that, so you can defend yourself. But it won’t be cheap. We’ll have to spend a big chunk of what we got on that last job.”
“Danny, we wouldn’t NEED to spend that, if we just go to Chicago NOW! We have enough money!”
Danny shook his head. “Nope, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t count on having ‘enough’. You gotta have money to cover the unexpected. For instance, what if someone follows us to Chicago from Cincy? What if something big and unexpected comes up?”
“Like, I dunno! That’s why it’s unexpected! Stacy, once we stop this ‘Robin Hood’ thing, we gotta stop it forever. We can’t just keep sending you out to steal some money every time that something comes up! Someone WILL put Two and Two together! No, we gotta make enough money to cover the bills AND have some in reserve for emergencies. AND, we gotta do it NOW, while Hogg’s still lookin’ over his shoulder.”
“Okay…” Stacy looked up at Danny. “So, if we do this, we gotta get the money back somehows. You got any ideas?”
Danny grinned. “Now that you mention it…”
Stacy clung to the underside of the ledge and prayed that he didn’t see her. The Golden Knight wasn’t just A local superhero, he was THE local superhero. He was Cincinnati’s answer to Superman or Iron Man. Oh, WHY did she let Danny talk her into this?
The Golden Knight floated ten stories above the street, way too close to where she was hiding. His golden power armor shone even in the dim light from the streets below and the odd window. Why did he even CARE that she had sneaked into some office or another? For that matter, how had he even seen her? She’d used the security system bypass that Danny had got for her, she’d gone in invisible, and she was sure that she hadn’t set off any alarms. So why was he throwing zap-rays at her?
Then she heard him speak through some sort of ‘public address’ system in his suit. “Listen up, Silver Ghost, I know that you’re there. We can do this easy, or we can do this the hard way.” Silver Ghost? Who’s the Silver Ghost? Maybe she was wrong, maybe he was after somebody else, and this ‘Silver Ghost’ guy would pull something and she could get away clean in the confusion?
Then an intense spotlight hit the very place on the ledge that Stacy was hiding under. “You’re not fooling anyone, Silver Ghost. Come out with your hands showing, and no tricks.” Oh, Crap. She had a supervillain name. She was so screwed. When you got a supervillain name, they threw you in jail, like, forever! And the first thing they do is scan you six ways from Sunday, until they know EVERYTHING about you – not just your fingerprints and stuff, but your cup size and the fact that you’ve got that cute little identifying mole on your left breast. Of course, Stacy was panicking about what ELSE they’d be learning. And Danny had told her about how this goes into some massive government database and permanent record so that from then on, every police officer and superhero knows everything there is to know about her. If she got arrested, she was WORSE than dead!
Stacy panicked and dropped from the ledge in a dead fall. At the very last, she hit the street. Since he seemed to be able to see her somehow, she dropped the invisibility and put everything that she had into running as if her life depended on it. He kept shooting at her, but his shots never seemed to hit. But, but by the time that she realized that he’d been herding her with his shots, she was stuck in a blind alley. The Golden Knight slowly hovered into the mouth of the alley, filling the dark byway with his spotlight. “Just put down the device and assume the position, Silver Ghost,” he said calmly. “Don’t make this any harder than it absolutely has to be.”
Stacy realized that she was trapped. There was no way out. Her frenzied mind came up with all sorts of horrible things, the worst of which was what would happen when they searched her, and found out that she was really a boy! It was more a blind reaction to the prospect of being publicly humiliated than of going to jail, but Stacy finally used the gizmo that she was pulling this job to pay for in the first place. She sort of reached out and grabbed all the energy in the air, the way that Danny had taught her, and crammed it into the dingus on her left arm. “What’s this? What are you up to?” The Gold Knight asked, as if he could somehow sense what she was doing. When the gizmo buzzed, she knew that it was fully charged, and she let out a blinding blast of electrical energy. The spotlight went out and the Golden Knight reeled. Stacy knew that if she just ran, he’d just follow her, and her new gizmo wouldn’t catch him by surprise a second time. So, she launched herself at him and laid into him with a few punches, knocking him into a power junction box. As the sparks flew, Stacy dropped back down to the ground and lit out invisibly again. By the time that she dared slow down and check to see if she was being followed, she’d somehow managed to lose him.
Calvin Bineman cursed and pulled the VR rig from his head. He hurriedly checked the conventional monitor to check the condition of his ‘Golden Knight’ drone. As he feared, though what he was getting of the internal systems readouts showed that the drone’s power and servo systems were still functional, the far more delicate remote control relays had been screwed by the jolt from the grounded charge from the junction box. The unit hadn’t been harmed, but there was no way that he’d be able to pull off anything as subtle as chasing someone as elusive as the Silver Ghost. BLAST! Three weeks of running remote surveillance drones looking for that black lab, flushed right down the pipes! He didn’t even know what the Silver Ghost had stolen, or who he was working for. And where did that electromagnetic surge come from? Had the Ghost stolen some sort of prototype energy weapon from the lab? And how closely associated was Hogg to his lab? Was he just providing research facilities, or was he gearing up for a move up in the ranks past the local bigwigs? And what did this mean for Hogg’s quiet war with Boss Pitt?
Bineman called his mind back to more immediate matters. He hit the recall sequence, which would bring the drone back to SPECTRUM HQ. As a tech-head, the thing that really worried him was how this new development affected his gear. At first, when he’d decided to become the latest incarnation of the Golden Knight, he’d thought about creating a suit of power armor to wear as he went out to fight Evil in person. But despite all of his brilliant innovations there was one of the unavoidable stumbling blocks to both power armor and energy weapons- battery space. Well, that and his ‘pickle barrel’ figure. Even with the most expensive, toxic and potentially explosive energy storage system feasible, you simply couldn’t pack enough raw wattage into a servo exoskeleton of the target size for more than 45 minutes of usage. And that didn’t even touch on the power costs of a single use of his blasters. He’d arrived at a compromise that wriggled around both the problems of power armor and robots. He remotely both powered and controlled a robotic drone using a tight broadcast power beam to carry the control signal. The relay drones that bounced the combination beam doubled as ‘tactical overwatch’ units, and the whole thing had come together nicely with a VR control arrangement.
But that weapon that the Silver Ghost had used managed to hit his system at an unexpected weak spot. Before the first electric surge had hit, there was a strange drain on all the ambient energy in the area, a ‘blackout’ of some sort. It had cut the power supply to the drone and almost completely severed the control connection. The drone had been a sitting duck for both the electric blast and the physical attack. If the Silver Ghost ever figured out how effective that ‘blackout’ was against his systems, the Golden Knight might just be out of business. Cal strummed his fingers on the console irritably. The tech-head in him wanted to wait for his drone to come back to begin damage assessment; the hero in him knew that he had to get in touch with the rest of SPECTRUM, and let them know that the Silver Ghost was more dangerous than they’d thought.
The oh-so dangerous ‘Silver Ghost’s’ first response upon getting back to the hidden lair that she shared with Danny was to throw herself into her boyfriend’s arms and break down crying.
“Hey, Stacy!” Danny came back, “Check it out! You made the paper!”
“See? ‘Golden Knight vs. Silver Ghost’!” Danny held up the newspaper, which had a big full-color picture of her- or at least a vague impression of her- being chased down the street by the Golden Knight.
“Aaawww… Maaannn!!” Stacy moaned as she sagged into the chair and held her head in her hands, “I am SO SCREWED!”
“What do you mean?”
“I have a supervillain name! I’m in the fucking PAPER! When they catch me, they’re gonna throw me in prison until Paris Hilton wins the Nobel Prize!”
“Stacy, Stacy, STACY!” Danny wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulder. “You’re not seeing the upside here!”
“Upside? There’s an upside? The DA probably is forming a special strike force to shoot me down dead right now!” Stacy shrieked, “Where’s the UPSIDE in THAT?”
“Sweetheart, all that the paper is really saying, is that they don’t know JACK about you.”
“The guys in the paper talk about you like you’re a guy, and they think that you’re some sort of hotshot pro from out of town. They’re making all sorts of wild guesses and it all comes down to they don’t know shit.”
“They know that I EXIST!” Stacy yelled, “And that’s a lot more than I’m happy with! No more Silver Ghost!”
“That’s a lot more easily said than done, Sweetheart.”
“What do you mean?” Stacy said, dread creeping into her voice.
“I mean, that this place ain’t exactly free. I’m paying off a guy to look the other way. Stacy, if we light out for Chicago and the ‘Silver Ghost’ just goes away, that dork is gonna put two and two together. If he rats us out to Hogg, then they’ll send people to come find us, no matter where we go. And when they find us, they’ll kill us. The only way out of this, is to give this creep a big enough payoff that he’ll be afraid to go to Boss Hogg, no matter what he thinks.”
It didn’t make any sense to Stacy, but she knew that it made sense to Danny. And he had Stacy’s best interests at heart, she could just tell it. And another wave of guilt washed over her, for lying to him the way she was. But how could she get by without him?
‘Golden Knight vs. Silver Ghost!’ the headline of the newspaper read. “Shit,” was Leonard Hoag’s concise if indelicate response. This was exactly what he didn’t want. Willie Snodgrass had told him that someone had taken a prototype of some sort from one of the ‘start-up’ black labs that was branching off from one of the larger, more established black labs. Hoag had had hopes that Cincinnati would become a place were new budding black labs would come to get started. But that went down the tubes if the word got out that he was a magnet for high-tech pirates. Or, worse, they’d still come, but they’d rent their spaces and buy their black market supplies from that ratsass Pitt across town. That was just so very much not what Hoag needed. He briefly though about how much money he had stashed away. By his recollection, he had $72,356,000 so far. The temptation to just get in his car and drive for Canada hit him again. He beat it down. Not yet. He was in the home stretch and it wasn’t that bad. He could make it to the whole $100 Mil. When he left his allegedly privileged suburban home to head for work downtown, Hoag stopped at a chain drug store, bought a cheap $20 cell phone with cash, and activated the phone. He called Willie Snodgrass on his new cell phone. "Willie? Make that phone call to Chicago. We need backup. Make sure that it’s someone who can handle the job.” With that, Hoag shut the phone, and when he crossed the bridge, he threw his new cell phone from the window of his moving car into the rolling Ohio River.
“So, Sir Lancelot- wha’ happened?” Blue Streak asked as he zipped in.
“He surprised me,” Cal said from his position at the table. While the others were wearing their superhero outfits, Cal was wearing a simple polo shirt and chinos. He knew that an overweight, middle aged, not terribly athletic man would look silly in a superhero suit, and talking with them through the ‘Golden Knight’ drone just struck him as dishonest. “I had him cold, backed into a blind alley, and I was reading him his rights, when he pulled something out of his hat. Some sort of energy weapon that first drained all the energy from an area and then unleashed it in a tight beam.”
“Owch,” Captain Patriot said in empathy. “So, was this something that he stole, or is this ‘Silver Ghost’ only showing his cards when he absolutely has to?”
“I say that he’s playing it cagey,” Tawny insisted. “I think that when we finally get our hands on him, that this ‘Silver Ghost’ will turn out to be an old friend.”
“You mean Old Man Jenkins?” Azure jibed. “Jinkies, and he would have gotten away with it, if not for us meddling kids and our dog!”
“I think that we’re forgetting the really important thing here!” Captain Patriot insisted. “From what I’ve heard, this ‘Silver Ghost’ has only hit Boss Hogg’s operations and affiliates. What are the chances that Boss Pitt is behind the Silver Ghost, and he’s trying to force Hogg out of Cincy? Even if Hogg doesn’t retaliate, there are people in Chicago who’ll send someone down to take over and bust some chops! This is what the Cops and the DA really don’t want, and it wouldn’t be good for anyone else, either. The old days when gangsters only killed each other are GONE people! And if supervillains are already a part of the action, then it’ll only be that much worse!”
Blue Streak nodded. “Right. So, the only way to head all of that off without it looking like we’re taking sides in a war of thugs, is to concentrate our efforts on busting the Silver Ghost.”
Stacy wondered where Danny was getting his information on these targets that he kept coming up with. Knowing about couriers and pickups and things like that was one thing, knowing about secret labs and lawyers offices and shit like that was another.
But, at least the security for the office was lighter than it had been for that weirdo lab. Which struck her as odd, since even a dumb hick from Oakwood knew that a bunch of papers from a Lawyer’s office could be more valuable than a badass prototype. Well, maybe the same guy who had offered them the money for the whatchamacallit had plans for these papers. It was a realtor’s office, which meant that it had something to do with real estate, which from what she was hearing on the News, was going nuts all over the country.
Just as she had in the black lab, Stacy found that she could just sort of know where the safe was hidden, built right into the guy’s desk. And the same way that she just knew where the safe was, she also knew when the catches - tumblers, she thought they were called - inside the combination mechanism had caught. It was starting to weird her out, how she was able to do all these things. She wished that she could get some sort of magical hunch about what was going on. It was starting to creep her out - she knew that when things go this well this long, when it goes bad, it goes REALLY bad.
Stacy found the folders that Danny had specified. She tucked the files into her backpack and replaced it on the harness under her cape. She wasn’t as scared of breaking into places as she was at first, but that didn’t make her happy. No, she knew that what Danny was making her do was wrong. It was time that she put her foot down. This was the last time that she went out as the Silver Ghost, and this time, she MEANT it! No more stealing! If Danny didn’t like it, then she’d go to Chicago by herself! She didn’t like the idea. She knew that Chicago was a town that prided itself on being tough. But she’d go, before Danny talked her into doing something that was really wrong. She didn’t know how she’d get her share of the money out of him, but maybe he’d see sense and go with her, and the money wouldn’t be an issue. Well… at least… she hoped that he’d see the sense…
She hoped. She took a deep cleansing breath and exited through the window. She clambered up to the roof, and tried to figure out which path home would be the safest. Then, out of nowhere, a sultry voice asked, “So, did you get what you came here for?”
Stacy almost jumped out of her skin as a woman dropped out of nowhere riding a fancy staff sidesaddle, like a witch on a broom. She was dressed in a fancy outfit in several different shades of green, topped off by a flowing green hooded cloak that somehow shadowed her features, while her eyes still showed. Stacy had been reading up on the local superheroes, and her heart almost stopped. This was the Green Witch, one of the most powerful of the local 'white hats’!
Reflexively, Stacy turned and ran in exactly the opposite direction. Her panic was so complete that she almost ignored the sudden sense that something was really wrong. She tried to stop, but took one step too far and suddenly a circle of light flared around her. A pentagram lit up inside the circle, and letters of light wrote themselves inside the circumference of the circle, and now Stacy found that no matter how hard she pushed, she couldn’t move any further.
Oh God… She was gonna arrest her… And they’d examine her… And find out that she was a he… And Danny would know…
‘Well!’ Karen Wickham, a.k.a. ‘the Green Witch’ said to herself, ‘that wasn’t such a chore!’ A little preparation, a little planning, some strategy and timing, some thought as to the villain’s MO and habits, and the villain in question ran right into her Charm of Keeping. It was designed to contain demons and other supernatural beings, but Karen figured that anyone who used such powers would reflexively use them to escape, and be caught by his own efforts. Elegant, really.
But… the Silver Ghost wasn’t lashing out at the containment, screaming in outrage. No… the Silver Ghost was… crying? Crying? There’s no crying in supervillainy! Then suddenly the draped figure stared right at her and said in a high-pitched voice, “Behind you!” The Green Witch almost did the ‘Oh, that’s the oldest trick in the book’ bit, but she also sensed something behind her, and unseated herself from her staff just in time for a crackling bolt of electricity to pass right about where the small of her back would have been. Karen made her staff rise quickly and did a gymnastic re-mount to get a better idea of who or what she was dealing with. This was made much harder by the high-intensity spotlight that had her framed. What she saw was not heartening.
The figure was barely humanoid, with large obviously mechanical limbs that ended in long wicked metallic claws that could either grip or tear. The torso was encased in blocky red ceramet armor, and atop the torso was a head that showed a stylized visage of a snarling lion. The visage had no real purpose other than intimidation, at which it was sadly successful. From the back sprang an array of long metallic tines that at first appeared to be a set of bat-like wings, but Karen recognized as an electromagnetic levitation array. On either side of the torso were hardpoints with heavy weaponry attached. Snaking between the legs was a tail-like aiming waldo with a high-powered combat maser aimed at her.
“Oh, Shit.” Karen said to herself. “Manticore.”
Lonny Clay was a happy camper. The problem with being a high-end, top-of-the-line cyborg killing machine was that while you got top dollar for each kill, you didn’t get very many contracts. After all, you don’t send a killer cyborg to go break a pimp’s legs. You send them to kill people who are extremely hard to kill. As a result, Lonny only got one or two contracts a year. When the lab rats had come to him in the hospital and pitched this idea to him, it had seemed like a gift from heaven. Instead of being a bed-ridden invalid, he’d spend a couple of years as the ultimate bad-ass, and then they’d transplant his brain into a vat-grown clone of his old body, only with a football players’ build, Brad Pitt’s face and a foot-long dick. Oh yeah, and a couple of Mil in the bank. That was five years ago, and he was still paying off the maintenance on the clone. There was just so much overhead on running a killer cyborg operation! After expenses, he could only expect to see Five Grand from this ‘Silver Ghost’ hit.
But the Silver Ghost was in the bag, and he had the Green Witch in his sights. There was a $50K bounty out on the Witch’s head, and it was all pure gravy.
Lonny Clay wasn’t exactly what you’d call a deep thinker. It never occurred to him that he wasn’t the first ‘Manticore’ that the lab-rats had deployed, and that he probably wouldn’t be the last. It never entered his head that the lab-rats didn’t think of him as a client, but rather as a cheap biological alternative to an expensive Tac-Ops Expert System, with an actual killer instinct. Or that the ‘clone’ which he kept such an eye on was just a CGI image, and that he was shelling over a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year for a pipe dream. Or that if he ever actually did manage to pay off the costs of his clone and the transplant operation, that they’d just disconnect him, toss his brain and support organs into the waste bin and plug in the next asshole that they had in rotation. Of course, that was exactly why the lab-rats had recruited him out of Intensive Care in the first place.
Lonny switched over from the default optics to the Thermographic Scanning and Augmented Reality overlay. He’d fought mages before, and he knew that their real weapon was mindfuck and illusions. Well, they could mess with his perceptions from optics that copied normal sight, but there was no way that they could duplicate what he saw from purely electronic input. Also, mages tend to be very good at coping with energy weapons, so Lonny switched off the ‘tail’ maser, and warmed up the .50 cal rotary railgun. Even so, mages are at their best in ranged combat. So, Lonny would warm up with a few volleys, get the bitch thinking that he’d go at her on her terms, and then go hand to hand and rip her apart with the claws. Mages tend to go into battle with a pre-selected array of spells, and it takes them longer to dig into their bag of tricks to cope with the unexpected. So, the key would be to force the timing and keep her off balance.
Karen’s fingers danced as she flickered them through the mudras to keep her mind clear. She had options, and she knew more about handling high-tech opponents than most mages did, but Manticore was a very high-end hitter. The tail maser was still pointing at her, but he’d deployed what looked like a scaled down mini-gun with a belt feed. If she was lucky, it was a conventional mini-gun with propellant rounds. They'd be just as deadly, but there’d be noise, and Manticore would have to cope with the recoil. If it was some sort of linear accelerator weapon, it would be silent, the recoil would be a fraction of that of propellant rounds, and his magazine would hold up to five times as much ammo. She’d have a much easier time of coping with the maser. So, instead of attacking him with witch-fire, she opened by throwing her charm-blade at his belt feed.
Stacy watched from the safety (?) of the magical snare as the Green Witch and the guy in the scary power armor went at each other. It was pretty damned obvious, even to Stacy, that the red monster guy had been sent by Boss Hogg to kill her, and that he was fighting the Green Witch, ‘cause he wouldn’t get paid if someone else killed her. She knew that no matter who won, she was screwed. If the Green Witch won, Stacy would go to jail and worse. If the red monster guy won, she was just plain dead, which to be honest, Stacy might prefer to getting outed in court. Her only chance was if they kept each other busy while she got away. But, just her luck, that stupid magic cage thingie was still holding up strong.
The stupid thing didn’t even offer any kind of protection! One of Red Monster Guy’s gun-bursts went right through the cage like it wasn’t there. The rounds would have cut right through her if she hadn’t silvered up with a squeak. Even through her silver, the bullets hit as hard as George ever did. The rest of the bullets tore through the roof, leaving a trail of holes.
Stacy had been so busy trying to break through the cage that it never occurred to her that she was standing on your standard commercial building construction tarpaper-wood-gypsum-board- and-chicken-wire roof! She put her foot through the roof and fell through the ceiling into the room below. She carefully moved around, and found that however the cage had worked, the effect didn’t come down through the roof.
She went invisible and looked through the window to see how the fight was going. The Green Witch was definitely getting the worst of it. Red Monster Guy had switched from using the machine gun to just mauling her with his big ol’ metal claws. The fight had dropped down to the street, and RMG was pretty much knocking the Green Witch around like a rag doll. Stacy exited the office building invisibly. There were people on the street, but they all had the good sense to keep from getting between two heavy hitters. Even if the street were normal, with the usual numbers of passers-by, she was reasonably sure that she could have slipped away unnoticed. With this chaos going on, she wouldn’t even need to be invisible to get away.
Then RMG slammed the Green Witch into the side of a SUV, and she was down, stunned. RMG guy stalked over to her, popping long sharp blades from his claws as he walked.
The smart thing for Stacy to do would be to run right now, before Red Monster Guy caught sight of her. He probably had all sorts of fancy sensor-stuff in that suit of his, like the Golden Knight did. Just get, while the getting was good.
But she couldn’t.
The fight had taken more than Lonny had expected. The Witch was both tougher in a knock-down-drag-out fight than he’d expected, and a lot more techno-savvy too. She’d spotted his remote broadcast power relays and destroyed them, so he was operating on battery power. No more fucking around. He’d smash in the bitch’s rib cage, and then slice her head off. Odds were that the Silver Ghost was far and away by now, but Lonny would have another shot at him. And he might even get to bag another superhero, while he was at it! There were at least three other heroes in the Cincinnati area with major bounties on their heads. As the Witch tried to pull herself up on a SUV, his systems targeted the arc that would be the most sure to hit her rib cage, and to do the most damage. He’d cocked his left arm and was engaging the ‘pile driver’ feature when there was a brief obscuring flash in front of his sensors, and the witch was gone!
He barely managed to make out a cape fluttering behind someone hauling some serious ass. Nobody gets away with Lonny Clay’s kill! He switched over to the rail gun, but for some reason his systems couldn’t acquire a secure lock. Not that the asshole dragging the witch away was helping any. He kept ducking in among the parked cars, and when Lonny finally managed to peg where his bunny was headed, the scumbag changed the rules and fucking power-jumped up onto a wall! He ran up the side of the wall, with the railgun sketching a trail of bullets that somehow never quite managed to connect. Then Lonny made a connection. But it made no sense! Why would the Silver Ghost try to save the Green Witch?
When the Ghost was halfway up the building, Lonny decided screw the batteries, he was going vertical.
Karen hurt all over, but she was able to bring herself back into focus. She didn’t have her staff, so she was drawing on her own power to restore herself. Luckily, she had enough of her own mystical power that she didn’t have to draw on the Investment. But when she opened her eyes, she had the immediate impression that she was being carried by an Angel. An Angel? But she couldn’t be dead! She still had two of the Grandmothers to redeem! And while they weren’t the unmitigated horrors that Great-Great-Grandmother Isabel had been, they were still…
Then Karen snapped out of it. The girl who was carrying her was only a girl, just entering puberty for real. She had delicate features, ethereal even, but she was still just a girl. And then Karen became aware that they were running up the side of a wall. The girl crested the side of the roof of the building with practiced ease and set Karen down. “Are you okay?” the girl asked with frantic concern. “How bad are you hurt? Is there something that I can get you?”
“My… staff…” Karen grunted through the no doubt cracked ribs. “Get me my power staff…”
“Aaahhh… that’s kind of a problem right now…” the girl said. “Y’see, I think that it’s still down on the street, and that big Red Monster Guy is still down there, and I think he’s really pissed…” Then the girl straightened up and looked over. “Oh… Shit…” she whined.
The girl squared herself, raised a hand and aimed it in the general direction of the horizon. As the girl set, Karen suddenly realized that the girl was wearing the hooded- and now rather tattered- long cape of the Silver Ghost! The Silver Ghost was a young girl? Then another realization occurred to her: the Silver Ghost had saved her LIFE?
There was an odd darkening in the area, and then, just as Manticore rose up past the edge of the roof, the Silver Ghost let out a powerful energy blast from her aimed fist. Manticore took the blast square in the chest, and Karen could see circuits short and smoke, but he kept coming. He immediately deployed the mini-gun, but the Silver Ghost put herself between the line of fire and Karen. The Silver Ghost raised her arms and sort of plowed through the rain of bullets. Then she gave a high vaulting leap that both took her out of the angle of fire and caused Manticore to jerk his aim up, away from Karen.
The Silver Ghost came down on top of Manticore and ducked right behind him. Manticore’s mechanical limbs were designed for raw power, not flexibility, and he was effectively ‘muscle-bound’. The Ghost ripped first one ‘wing’ off of Manticore and then the other. As Manticore danced around trying to get the Ghost off his back, she disabled first the mini-gun and then the rocket launcher. Manticore was now trying so frantically to get at the Ghost that he stopped paying attention to where the edge of the roof was, and went tripping over it. He almost took the Ghost with him, but she lightly skipped off his head back onto the roof. The Ghost watched him drop, and flinched as Karen heard the sound of metal crashing and glass breaking and car alarms going off.
Then the girl ran back over to Karen. “Okay, do you, like NEED anything? Do you want me to call you an ambulance or something? Honest, I don’t know anything about First Aid, or nothing!”
“No… no ambulance…” Karen insisted through the pain. “My staff… just… get me… my staff…”
The girl - Karen couldn’t really think of her as the Silver Ghost - scampered over to the edge of the roof and held out her hand. A few moments later, Karen’s power staff floated into her hands. She brought it over to Karen. “Does it, like, y’know, heal you or something?”
“No. But it will get me to where I can heal…” Karen tried to hitch herself up onto the levitating staff.
“Lady, there is no way that you are gonna fly yourself anywhere on that thing, not in the shape you’re in.”
“The Staff… knows where to go…”
“Yeah, and you’ll fall off of it before you get halfway there and kill yourself, and it’ll all be MY fault and… here…” the girl kept fussing as she took Karen’s cloak and contrived a sort of hammock for Karen slung under the staff. She helped Karen get into the ‘hammock’, and then, suddenly, she was gone.
As her staff raised itself into the air and headed to the Grotto, Karen tried to keep herself awake by contemplating what had just happened. One thing was for certain - this whole ‘Silver Ghost’ affair was far more complex than they’d taken it for.
“NO, Danny, this is real SIMPLE! I’m LEAVING!” Stacy had already made up her mind even before everything went to pieces, and the fight had cinched it. Walking through that hail of heavy bullets had been like a beating even worse than anything that George had ever put Stanley through, and Stacy wasn’t in a mood to be wheedled at.
“But the money for this file-”
“Fine! KEEP IT! I don’t WANT it!”
“But Stacy, Sweetheart!”
“Don’t ‘Sweetheart’ me, Danny! I am THROUGH!” Stacy threw the bullet-tattered cloak across the room. “They sent a fucking killer robot after me!”
“Yeah, and you trashed it!”
“What? Don’t you ever read comic books? So, I trashed it! So WHAT? All that means, is that the NEXT guy that they send after me will be even worse! That’s the way it always works! They always keep upping the ante, until they’re siccing fucking GALACTUS on your ass!”
“But, Stacy, I got-”
“I don’t CARE! I’m OUTTA here! Look, that Green Witch lady got a good look at me! Danny, she saw my FACE!”
“Stacy, where are you gonna go? Stacy, Boss Hogg answers to the Chicago Outfit. If you go up to Chicago, then all you’re doing is going where they OWN the fucking Cops! And, they got Champion up there! You think that superheroes don’t talk to each other?”
“So?” Stacy grasped around furiously, “I’ll just go somewhere else! Like… Kansas City! Or New York!”
“New York. Superhero Central?” Danny jeered.
“Okay, then, how about Minneapolis? It always looked like a real nice place on the Mary Tyler Moore Show! And I want my money!”
“Hey, I have earned that money, Danny!”
“Look, honey, I keep telling you, we got expenses! I got-”
“That’s YOUR problem now, Danny! I want Five- no, make that TEN thousand dollars! In cash! And I don’t care how you get it!”
Danny forced himself to calm down. He took Stacy's face in his hands. “Okay, Stace, if it means that much to you, we’ll go.”
“You’ll go with me?” Stacy asked hopefully. Maybe this would be all right, after all!
“Sure. You’re all that I want, Stacy. Where you go, I go. All that I really wanted with this was that we’d have to stop all the running around, making do and scraping by. But you’re right - it’s getting way too hairy around here. We’ll go. To Chicago, or Minneapolis, or wherever you wanna go. And no more stealing.” He took her in his arms, and she could feel his love. And she remembered her ‘little secret’ and remembered again how lucky she was to have him. “And, I promise you - no more Silver Ghost.”
The Green Witch settled her aching body into the seat at the meeting table at SPECTRUM Headquarters. “Well, I understand that congratulations are in order,” Blue Streak said with a touch too much heartiness for Karen’s battered condition. “I hear that you managed to bag the Manticore!”
“Not… quite…” Karen winced. “It’s a lot more complicated than that.”
“Are you all right, Kare?” Cal asked. “Usually, you try to heal up in that ‘Pool of Vigor’ that you told me about after a rough time like that.”
“I DID,” Karen grunted. “You should have seen me before.”
“What’s this in the paper about you having to be saved by the freaking Silver Ghost?” Tawny demanded.
“THAT is the complication that I was just talking about. Not only did the Silver Ghost save my life, but she finished off Manticore for me. Damn nice of her, considering that not ten minutes earlier, I had just captured her and was about to put the handcuffs on her.”
“HER? The Silver Ghost is a woman?” Azure asked.
“No, not a woman. A girl. I’d say somewhere between 13 and 14, certainly not older than 15. Sweet little thing, from what I saw of her.”
Azure guffawed out loud. “The great Golden Knight got his shining ass kicked by a girl who’s probably still breaking in her first training bra!”
Cal grunted, “Well, she’s not a delicate little girl, I can tell you that! She left three dents in my drone’s exo-shell. That stuff’s my own high temperature compound. Do you know how hard it is to dent that stuff?”
“She may be physically pretty tough,” the Green Witch maintained, “but she’s very delicate, emotionally. When I captured her, she started to cry.”
Tawny made a disgusted noise. “Oh, puh-leeeze! So, she cried! Like you said, she’s a kid! She’s playing you!”
“Oh? If she was playing me, then why didn’t she just run off after that Manticore idiot jumped me? She could have been halfway to Akron by the time that she got me away from him. Her first thought was to get me to a hospital.” Karen spelled out the sequence of events. “And even then, she took care to make sure that I got back to my grotto safe.”
Red Thunder, SPECTRUM’s resident blaster-monster blanched. “You mean, she pretty much ripped Manticore apart with her bare hands?”
“Not quite that dramatic,” Karen hedged. “I did a fair amount of damage to the big tin goon, and I’m pretty sure that he was running on batteries. But that blast-thing of hers that did so much damage to Cal’s drone did look pretty damn nasty. And, as Red said, she did manage to pry off Manticore’s wings and external armament with pretty much her bare hands.”
“SO?” Tawny insisted, “She’s powerful! That just means that we gotta put her away, before she hurts somebody!”
“Tawny, if she was gonna hurt someone, she would have at least tried to fight you in the rail yards,” Cal pointed out. “She only used that electric ray of hers on my drone when I had her cornered with no way out.”
“Yes,” Karen agreed, “the more I think about this, the more complicated it gets.”
“COMPLICATED!” Tawny blurted out, “She’s a CROOK! So, she’s a juvenile delinquent who cries when she gets caught, but let’s face facts, folks, when you scrape away all the maudlin melodrama, she’s still just a CROOK!”
“She’s a teenaged crook who’s part of an elaborate feud with Boss Hogg,” Captain Patriot spelled out. “That’s complicated, right there.”
“Yeah!” Blue Streak added. “WHY is she going after Hogg? Did he do something to her family? Is Boss Pitt forcing her to do it? Are her parents making her do this, figuring that they can look to Pitt for protection?”
“Hell,” Azure said in a disgusted mutter, “Ten will get you Fifty, that there’s a cute boy at the bottom of all this.”
“And there’s another complication,” Captain Patriot insisted. “Green, you said that she’s, what? Thirteen? Fourteen?”
“Possibly a late-blooming fifteen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“The perfect age for an emerging mutant trait,” said Violet, the team’s resident ‘Green Lantern clone’.
“So, we call in the MCO, that’s their job,” Tawny insisted.
“NO.” Captain Patriot’s face was set like stone. As SPECTRUM’s ‘Flag Hero’, he took his self-appointed role as the resident voice of morality very seriously. “No MCO.”
“Hey, handling mutant crooks is their JOB!”
“Giving this ‘Silver Ghost’ to the MCO would pretty much be the same as marching her into a gas chamber, and we all know it!”
“Hey, Cap, we don’t know that the MCO-”
“Amnesty International reports that there are no less than twenty-one known mutants who were reported as being handed over to the MCO, in the United States alone, that the MCO denies ever existed! Fourteen of those were children under the age of sixteen! And, of the over 120 known mutants that the MCO will admit taking into custody, exactly NONE of them have received anything even resembling Due Process or a fair hearing!” By this time Cap was thundering and pounding his fist on the table. “NOTHING that this ‘Silver Ghost’ has done warrants what amounts to a Life - or Death - Sentence! Thief or no thief, in America, a child has a right to get her life back on track!”
There was a brief silence around the table. Tawny gingerly stepped into the silence, saying, “Well, we may not have a lot to say about that. She’s broken the Law; if she’s a mutant, the MCO will be brought into this when she’s arrested. That’s the Law. And we obey the Law. Period.”
“But it may not have to come to that. Not if we handle it properly,” Karen said with a wicked grin.
Stacy hummed happily to herself as she packed her things. They were leaving together! No more Silver Ghost! No more running around stealing stuff! No more superhero craziness! They’d go first to Chicago, and see if that worked. If not, they could move on to Minneapolis. Danny said that they had enough money to get by, if they were careful. Nothing fancy and they’d have to scrimp and maybe get some of those bullshit jobs that they let teenagers take, like making fries. But they’d be able to get by without stealing. Still, she mused, maybe they’d have a lot more, if Danny hadn’t insisted on buying fancy clothes and jazzy gadgets. Really, did anyone really need a cell phone with all those stupid features?
It was decided. Danny would go and get paid for those documents that Stacy took. He’d empty out his bank account. Stacy would have their stuff all packed and ready to go the minute that he got back. He’d buy a ticket for himself, and Stacy would sneak onto the train invisibly. Trains were perfect, nobody would notice one more girl, and every time that the conductor would show up, she’d just go invisible. It wasn’t so much the cost of the ticket, Danny insisted, as it would be safer if no one could place them as traveling together. Danny was so smart about things like that. Even if she did have to talk a little common sense into him every so often.
Danny came back in looking flushed and a little nervous. “What’s the matter, Danny?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s just… well, leaving like this, finally going to Chicago. I just sort of have a hard time believing that it’s really all going off without a hitch.”
Stacy leaned over and kissed him. “See? I told you that it was time to go!”
“Yeah, well, I… aawww… Stacy!! Why’d you pack THAT bag?”
“What? It’s for MY stuff!”
“Yeah, but _I_ gotta give it to the luggage handlers! Look at it! It’s PINK!”
Stacy looked at the offending carryall, and was about to object that it was just a light red and shouldn’t be all that obnoxious, when she sensed a surge of pure rage aimed right at her. She suddenly turned to look almost straight down the barrel of a large caliber gun. She ducked her head to one side just as the gun went off with a boom that filled the bedroom with its roar.
Even if the attack hadn’t rattled Stacy, the sound of the gun going off almost in her ear did. She couldn’t concentrate enough to silver up. She scrambled across the bed as Danny took more shots at her. Luckily for Stacy, it was a large, powerful gun, and Danny wasn’t anything like a decent shot. “Will you- <*blam!*> -just stand still- <*blam!*> -and DIE! <*blam!*> You stupid little- <*blam!*> -BITCH!”
Stacy finally pulled it together enough to get mad and silver up. She charged across the bed at Danny, who let off two more rounds. The second one only hit because she was an inch in front of the barrel, and it didn’t even slow her down. She knocked the gun out of his hands with a slap of her open hand. “What are you DOING?” She grabbed him by his jacket and shook him.
He immediately started sniveling. “I HAD TO! This is all YOUR FAULT! You had to get all that money! I didn’t want any of this! But YOU had to go around using your stupid freak powers to rip off Boss Hogg! I didn’t want that! It was all YOU!”
Stacy looked into his eyes, trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about, when an image seemed to pop out of Danny’s mind into hers, of a guy in a black leather jacket giving Danny the gun. “What?” Stacy blurted, reading the non-visual implications that came with the image, “You sold me out to Boss Hogg? He was gonna pay you HOW MUCH to kill me? Why?”
“I NEEDED THE MONEY!”
“What are you talking about? You must have gotten thousands of dollars for all that stuff that I stole!”
“There ISN’T any more money, you stupid mutant bitch!”
“WHAT? What did you DO with all that money?” Then another image came boiling out of his mind. “DRUGS? You’ve been using the money to buy cocaine? You shoved it all up your fucking NOSE?” Even a hick from a nowhere town like Oakwood knew what a heavy drug habit meant: All the money was gone, up in smoke, down the shithole, with absolutely no chance of ever getting it back. “YOU MEAN…” Stacy grated through clenched teeth, “THAT I HAVE BEEN GOING THROUGH FUCKING HELL, STEALING, GETTING SHOT AT, GETTING CHASED BY FUCKING SUPERHEROES…” She started banging his head against the wall, “BECAUSE MY FUCKING BOYFRIEND IS A FUCKING JUNKIE?”
“Nononono!” Danny wailed, “It’s all YOUR fault, you made me do it, it’s all your fault, you…” And another image came boiling out from his mind, but this one was all tangled up and confused, like an insane kaleidoscope, with facts, events, motives, words, perspective and sequence all shifting around. They changed and were twisted all out of proportion, some being glossed over or even completely forgotten, while others were invented out of whole cloth. All of it driven by a single overriding imperative: that Danny Ferris wasn’t responsible. Danny’s mind kept twisting it until, in his mind, Stacy was the one who was to blame for everything. Danny was always innocent, always the victim, always the scapegoat. Everyone was to blame, his parents, his brother and sister, his teachers, his classmates, his friends, the people on the street, the cops, the adults at the halfway house, Boss Hogg, Stacy - they were all to blame. But not Danny. Never Danny.
“You… sleazy… shit-talking… LYING… Bullshit Artist!” Stacy grated out. “You were stealing from the Halfway House, weren’t you? That’s why Cosgrove threw you out! I had a place to stay! It wasn’t much, but it was safe! And I threw it all away because of YOU, you lying piece of SHIT!” A memory clicked. “PIKE! That asshole Pike! He was a pimp, wasn’t he? You sold me to him, didn’t you? From the very beginning, you’ve been selling me out, haven’t you? Stacy lashed out, and only barely managed to divert her fist so that it crashed into the reinforced concrete wall instead of Danny’s head. She threw him aside, and gouged a hole in the wall with her fists, trying to get the anger and pain and self-loathing out of her system by inflicting it somehow on the inanimate concrete. She began crying as she lashed out, until all she could do was sob in utter despair.
Danny picked himself up, and briefly thought about running. But, if he could make her feel better about all of this, give her some shred of hope… “Stacy… Stacy, honey, don’t cry… It’s okay, it’s okay…” He went into total bullshit overdrive, trying to find something that he could offer her. He laid his hands on her sobbing shoulders. “Baby, you gotta trust me!" he crooned. (she sensed: he's sincere. He needs me.) "This is the only way! It's the best for both of us!" (Sense: That's so true!) "Honey, you know I'd NEVER do anything to hurt you!" (Sense: completely true!) "I'm sorry I had to tell Hogg, but you forced me! You had to have the damned money!" (her inner voice said that it WAS her fault, he had no choice). Her inner voice told her one thing, but her sheer common sense told her another. He’d tried to shoot her, and he’d called her a bitch for not just rolling over and dying. Somehow, Danny could lie to himself and make himself believe his own lies. And somehow that inner voice, the one that told her that he loved her and wanted to make her happy, believed his lies too. He believed them, so her inner voice believed them.
“Look, we can just…” Stacy lashed out with her fist, catching him on the chin and knocking him out cold.
“I may be a hick from Nowhere, Ohio, but I’m not stupid, Asshole!” she rasped at his still form. She picked him up and dragged him to the Crimson Claw’s holding cell. She locked him in, loaded the feeding hopper with a few frozen dinners that would be automatically heated and dispensed, and then did her best to completely forget about him.
For three hours, she did nothing but sit in the Crimson Claw’s command chair and brood. She didn’t want much. She just wanted a life as a girl, with someone who cared about her. Was that so much to ask from life?
After a while, it occurred to her that she was still a wanted felon, with a mob boss who wanted her dead and a superheroine who knew what she looked like. Her first reaction was to grab bags, take what money there was, head up to Chicago, and just leave all of this behind. Yeah, right, like anything in her life had ever been that easy. No, she knew, she just KNEW, that if she tried to run, that somehow it would follow her. Hell, Danny would probably still find some way of selling her out to Boss Hogg, and get big bucks for doing it. She could kill him… No, she couldn’t. She just didn’t have it in her to kill anyone, not even a disgusting little bug like Danny Ferris.
Stacy knew that she didn’t really know anything about crime or law enforcement, or that much about the Law at all. Just what she’d learned in middle school and from watching TV. Okay, what did a crook do, when he wanted to stop being a crook? Well, from what mobster movies she’d seen, they usually cut a deal with the FBI or somebody, for testifying against a mob boss or someone major like that. The only mob boss that she even knew about was Boss Hogg, and what Grand Jury in its right mind would take her word against his? She hadn’t SEEN him do anything. She didn’t even know what he looked like. Still, it was the only plan that she had, and she sat down and thought it all out very carefully, just as careful as she could.
Stacy finally came to the conclusion that she simply wasn’t smart enough to figure it out all by herself. Going directly to the Cops or the DA would be stupid. They wouldn’t help her; they’d just throw her in jail, and get a big gold star on their records for doing it. She had to go to someone who maybe felt like they owed her something. And the only person who even remotely owed Stacy anything - except Danny, who’d screw her over in a second - was the Green Witch. She was a superhero, so she might feel obliged to do the right thing by Stacy. Hell, she was some kinda super-sorceress; she might have some kinda mystic obligation or something. No matter how you sliced it, the Green Witch was Stacy’s best bet for getting out of this mess without getting thrown in jail for, like, forever. Not that she’d stay in jail for very long. They’d undress her and find out and she’d just up and DIE out of shame!
The problem was that Cincinnati didn’t exactly have a ‘Witch Signal’ that they turned on when they needed the Green Witch for something. They had SPECTRUM, the local superhero team - sort of - which had a headquarters – sort of - where they’d probably arrest her if she walked in and asked for the Green Witch. So, she had to get to the Green Witch. Maybe if she found one of the SPECTRUM heroes, they’d know how to get in touch with the Witch? Well, it was slim, but it was the only thing that she could think of.
One of the pointless, expensive gadgets that Danny had bought was a police band scanner, which he probably thought that he’d use to listen in on police calls, in case they were headed for somewhere that Stacy was breaking in. She noticed that he’d never taken it out of the stupid box. It was just another pretty-shiny toy that he’d wanted at the moment and then forgot about. Still, it worked, and after a while, Stacy figured out the band that they used for ‘Code Kent’ calls (read: ‘Superheroes needed/involved’). After a couple of false alarms, including a real one where Tawny was involved (Stacy didn’t think that approaching Tawny or the Golden Knight would be a very good idea), she got one that sounded promising. It was a 459 (Burglary) with a Code 13 (Supervillains involved, SWAT notified, accept assistance of Superheroes) attached. As Stacy headed in that direction, she kept one ear glued to the scanner, and she heard that Azure had responded and was on the scene.
What with comic books, TV shows, and movies, most super-power types are more commonly associated with fictional characters than with real live superheroes. As a result, a lot of heroes tend to get pigeonholed by comparison to some comic book hero. For instance, despite his red-white-and-blue theme, Captain Patriot was often described as a ‘Superman’ type, as he was super strong and he could fly. Violet was often called a ‘Green Lantern’ type, as she could form things with her energy. And Azure was often described in terms of being like Wonder Woman or the She-Hulk. She was tall, strapping, and she had incredible strength that when she used it, caused her to glow a shade of deep blue. It was said that she might more aptly be called ‘Indigo’, but there were copyright issues involved. The ‘Wonder Woman’ comparisons were fed by the fact that she also had this odd metal cable that she could do interesting things with, though coercing people to tell the truth wasn’t one of them.
When she got to the scene, a warehouse near the industrial sector, Stacy found that SWAT had the site surrounded, and Azure was mixing it up with six guys in power armor. Or, at least, Stacy thought that they were guys in power armor. Two of the armor jockeys were keeping SWAT off-balance, three were bear-baiting Azure, and the last was flying up in the air, switching between Azure and SWAT, and maybe keeping an eye out for any other supers who might show up.
It struck Stacy that Azure might be more receptive to listening to her if she gave her a hand with these guys. Besides, it looked like they were trying to get some crates together so they could leave before anyone else came along to crash the party. Stacy went invisible, and hating it with all her guts, took a long running leap into mid-air. Just because you know that you can fly, doesn’t make jumping off a building any easier.
She floated closer to the flying utility man, and tried to stay out of his range of sight. Remembering what she’d done with Manticore, she slipped around to his backside, and latched onto him with everything that she had. He immediately went into a tight spin. This tactic turned against him, when Stacy grabbed onto one of the steering vanes, and her weight tore it off the suit. She was able to right herself by levitating, but he had a much harder time of it. She managed to pull the same trick again, and used her weight and the out of control spin to tear off one of the main lifting thrusters.
As the utility man went spinning to the ground, Stacy went invisible again, and dropped onto one of the power suits that was keeping Azure busy. She ripped the control cables from his main cannon, and then ripped the cannon from its hardpoint. As Azure took advantage of this to finish that unit off, Stacy used the cannon to trip up one of the other suits. She did a vaulting leap over the fight scene, and landed on top of the third ‘bear-baiter’. She went visible and wrapped her cape around the last guy’s helmet. When Azure picked up the second suit and threw it at the one that she was hoodwinking, Stacy just barely managed to get fly away in time.
Then Stacy noticed a bright purple light from up in the sky. Two lights, one golden, the other purple, were coming their way at high speeds: the Golden Knight and Violet. She didn’t have anything against Violet, but she really didn’t want to mix it up with the Golden Knight again. She went invisible, and ran for a nearby alley as quickly as her legs would carry her. And then she threw up from the suppressed fear.
With Violet and the Golden Knight added to the mix, the power suits didn’t last very long. Once they had the goons peeled out of their shells, it was all over but the paperwork. Of course, the paperwork took ten times as long as the actual fight had. It was over an hour before Azure could tear herself away from the Cops, and headed for the roofs. Stacy took off after her, hoping that she could catch up.
Catching up wasn’t that hard. About a quarter-mile from the crime scene, Azure just stopped and sort of copped a pose, looking out behind her. After a few minutes, she sort of generally addressed the rooftops. “Well? Do you want something, Silver Ghost?”
Stacy dropped her invisibility and stepped forward. “uhm… How’d you know that I was there?”
“I didn’t,” Azure said with a confident smile. “But I figured that the only reason that you’d throw your hand in like you did back there, was if you wanted to talk to someone. As I was the first SPECTRUM member on the scene, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that I’d be the most likely one that you’d follow.”
“Well? Do you want to ask me something, sweetie?” Azure raised an eyebrow.
Feeling like a total idiot, Stacy rattled out, “LookI’minrealtrouble and IneedtotalktotheGreenWitchrealbad, and Iwaswonderin ifyoucouldputmeintouchwither…”
“ah, One more time, sweetie, and this time in English?”
Stacy took a deep breath and carefully said, “I’m in some real bad trouble that I didn’t do nothing to cause. I need to talk to the Green Witch, ‘cause I figure that she’s the only person who’d listen to me, rather than just throw me in jail and throw away the key. Okay?”
“And what make you think that I won’t just throw you in jail?” Stacy lost her nerve and turned to run, but Azure shouted, “NO! I’m not going to throw you in jail. At least… not until you’ve talked to the Green Witch.” Azure paused. “Let me see your face.” Stacy stepped forward a bit, pulling back her hood, and feeling more naked than she ever had in her entire life. “Wow. Greensleeves wasn’t kidding. You really are just a little slip of a thing. How old are you?”
“Fourteen,” Stacy said in a squeak.
“By any chance, would there be a really cute fourteen, maybe fifteen year old boy that’s mixed up in all of this?”
“How’d you know?”
“There usually is, Sweetie, there usually is.” Azure pulled something from her belt and spoke into it. “Hey, Greensleeves! Squawk back! I got someone who wants to talk to you, real bad.”
Stacy finished her side of what all happened (less the fact that her real name was Stanley), knowing that she was telling it all wrong. The Green Witch kept stopping her and making her explain things. Finally, the Witch raised an eyebrow at her and asked, “And, why didn’t you just catch the first bus out of town?”
“Look, I didn’t want any of this - I just did it ‘cause Danny seemed to know what he was doin’, and it made sense to him. Sorta. Anyway, I can’t just up and leave like that. I gotta make things right.”
“And, exactly HOW do you propose to ‘make things right’?”
Stacy bit her lip and went teary in the eyes. “Well, I was sorta hopin’ that you’d know how,” she answered in a tiny choked voice.
The Green Witch gave a loud gusty sigh, half of exasperation, half of amusement. “Well, on one hand, it’s not like Hoag is going to press charges. On the other hand, the DA doesn’t need Hoag to do so, if he thinks that it’s called for. And what you did manages to have one foot in vigilantism, and the other square in plain old thievery.”
“But it wasn’t MY idea!” Stacy squeaked.
“Try proving that in court.”
“Isn’t there some kind’a State’s Evidence or somethin’ that I can do?”
“Not unless you can offer convincing testimony that you saw Leonard Hoag commit a felony.”
“Who’s Leonard Hoag?”
“ ‘Boss Hogg’?”
“Oh, right.” Stacy looked down at the rooftop and felt ridiculous.
The Green Witch allowed herself an amused smile. “So, exactly what did you steal from that office?”
“I don’t really know. Some sort’a Real Estate papers.”
“Well, there have been some rumors that Hoag’s been offering pre-built ‘evil lairs’ to supervillains,” Azure offered.
“Oh, sure!” Stacy confirmed. “As a matter of fact, Danny and me been living in an old lair that Hogg rented out to some guy called the Crimson Claw.”
“Oh? How did you find that?”
“I didn’t. Danny did. Danny did most of the leg-work for me, and I did the break-ins.”
Azure and the Green Witch shared a knowing glance. “Silver, it strikes me that this ‘Danny’ boy knows a LOT about Hoag’s operations. And you say that Hoag gave him the gun that he was supposed to kill you with. It wouldn’t take too much to guess that he managed to finagle himself a job with Hoag’s operation somehow, and has been using that to rip off Hoag. Now, if you could somehow… lay your hands on… documents that would tie Hoag to his Cincinnati crime operations in court, I think that the DA might be persuaded that it would be too much trouble to press charges against you. I think that if you put it to your boyfriend, he might have a few ideas as how to find that kind of evidence.
“Indeed, if those papers that you stole really are Real Estate documents, then this ‘Danny’ knows a LOT about Hoag’s operations, and intended to sell them back to Hoag. Pity that he already sold them back to Hoag.”
“He didn’t.” Stacy pulled the file out of her backpack. “Don’t ask me why, but Danny didn’t take them to Hoag before he pulled that gun on me. I guess that he figured that Hoag would accept that he got these off my dead body, or he could use them as proof that he'd killed me or something.”
The Green Witch took the offered file. “I can’t say that I much care for your taste in men, dear.”
But the Silver Ghost was already gone. Then she popped back into sight. “uhm, By the way… How do I get in touch with you, once I get whatever it is?”
The Witch handed her a card. “This telephone number will get you past all the anti-crank measures at SPECTRUM.” Stacy took the card and was gone again.
“Nice kid,” Azure commented. “She has more strength than she knows. But she needs to work on her exits.”
Stacy worked Danny for information about Hoag, but the boy was too slippery, even in his own mind, too plastic in the way that he looked at reality to get anything really solid. However, she did get fleeting images of a thick ledger book that Danny coveted mightily. But she couldn’t get any images of where Hoag kept the damned thing. Which made sense - Hoag wouldn’t want his own people knowing where it was, much less a hungry little punk like Danny Ferris.
Stacy shoved Danny back into the holding cell and re-stocked it with frozen dinners. She popped one into the microwave and sat down to eat it as she watched ‘The Sopranos’, to get some ideas. She got no ideas from watching the show. Gee, thanks for nothing, Tony.
Well, thinking like a thug wasn’t getting her anywhere. Maybe thinking like a hero would. What would Champion do? What would Dr. Thunder do? What would the Dark Avenger do? Hell, what would Batman do? What would Sherlock Holmes do? That, finally, triggered a memory. It was a little fuzzy, but Stacy was able to track it down after a bit. Yes! In one of the short stories, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, Holmes was squaring off against a woman who was actually as smart as he was. He had to find some letters that she was using to embarrass the Prince of Bohemia, that she had stashed somewhere in her house.
Well, it was a little rough, but if it worked for Holmes…
Leonard Hoag was relaxing at his country club, when his cell phone went off. Then he noticed with irritation that it wasn’t his regular cell phone, it was the cheapo unit that he’d bought and given the number to that little creep Ferris. He excused himself from the guys that he was talking with at the bar, and went to an alcove. He pulled out the cell phone and said, “Well?”
“Mister Hoag? It’s me, Danny Ferris!”
‘Well, Duh!’ Hoag thought to himself. “Well? Did you do it?”
“Uh, not yet, Sir!”
“I’m WORKING on it!”
“Well then, WHY are you bothering me? I don’t want to hear from you until she’s no longer a problem, understand?”
“But SIR! I’ve found out something very important! It’s VITAL!”
“What IS it?” Hoag asked wearily.
“She’s found out where you keep your ledger! She’s going after it tonight!”
Hoag’s blood ran cold. “WHAT? How?”
“I dunno! All I know is, I can’t get close to her before she goes for it! Look, I gotta go, but I thought that you should know!”
“Good boy,” Hoag said numbly. The signal went dead, and Hoag put away the phone. He went back to the bar, spent ten minutes bullshitting with the other middle-echelon movers and shakers, and then casually strolled out to his Lexus in the parking lot. From there, he made a casual roundabout tour of some of the lesser holdings in the screen of front-companies that he used to launder the money from the illegal operations. First he went to the meat packing plant, then the car rental agency, and then the furniture warehouse. Then he dropped in on his brother-in-law Gary’s used car dealership. He told Gary that he was going to look at the books, so Gary gave him some alone time in the office. Once Gary was out of the office, Hoag opened up the hidden safe in the office wall. Gary didn’t know about this safe, let alone what was in it. Hoag opened the safe, and looked through it. It was all there: his main ledger, the schedules of pay-offs and rake-off, the phone numbers in Chicago, and the reams of blackmail material. All the tools that a modern mob boss needs to stay in operation. He carefully stashed all of it into a brown paper tote bag and hefted it into his arms.
Suddenly, it hit him. It was time to leave. It was getting too hairy. He had NO idea as to how that Silver Ghost bitch knew about this, and he didn’t trust that Ferris punk to wipe his own ass. Even if Ferris was blowing smoke about the Ghost being a girl and having a line on her, and this was just that little puke’s way of rattling his cage for more money, it just wasn’t worth it anymore. It was time to go to Switzerland. Anyone who couldn’t live the good life on a 5% per annum dividend from 73 million and change was doing something seriously wrong. Let Willie Snodgrass take the heat for once, he was heading north for Canada, and then Switzerland and freedom!
Then it hit him. Not an idea or realization, but Stacy’s fist on the back of his head. As Hoag’s face bashed into the wall, Stacy couldn’t help thinking that he didn’t look like a gang boss. Heck, he looked more like her old middle school principal. Well, in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ Holmes had set a false fire to scare Irene Adler into rushing to rescue the most important thing in the house: the embarrassing letters from the Prince. Her call that she’d made from Danny’s fancy cell phone wasn’t quite as slick as that, but it had done the job. Of course, Holmes wouldn’t have had to hide in the back of Irene Adler’s car and ‘peep’ into her mind to know which stop was the one where she’d be picking up the ledger. But hey, he was a big-time master detective, and she was just a kid! She tucked the paper tote under her cloak, and edged out of the dealership, with no one the wiser.
Danny was in the middle of his TV dinner when Stacy opened the door to the holding cell. She handed him his jacket and carryall, and said, “Danny we gotta go NOW!”
“Why?” he asked snidely, “We run outta TV dinners?”
“Hoag knows that you were using me to rip him off. He’s got everyone in his organization scouring the streets for you.”
Stacy gave him an exasperated tisk. “You’re slick, Danny, but he’s a fucking Mob Boss. It was only a matter of time before he put two and two together. Hell, you probably tipped your hand when you offered to kill me for him.”
“THINK about it! First, he was gonna have you kill me, and then you’d come and ask to get paid, and he’d have one of his boys take you out in a cornfield somewhere and kill you.”
That made far too much sense to Danny. He wanted some coke. He always thought more clearly went he’d had a toot. Still, he knew that he needed to take charge of the situation. If he let her, he just knew that Stacy would screw things up for them both. Look at how she completely took his slick move at trying to get close to Hogg all wrong! She didn’t listen to him, but she did shove an envelope that felt like it was full of money into his hand. “Here,” she said. “You hold onto this. You understand money. But right now, we gotta get OUT of here! That guy you were paying off has probably already heard about all this, and he’s busting his ass trying to find Hoag to sell us out!”
There was no guy that Danny was paying off. He’d spent that money on coke. But he couldn’t tell Stacy that, she’d just go off again. But she was trusting him again. A little. That was good.
All the way to the train station, Danny talked to Stacy, and she seemed to be listening. But he couldn’t tell. He needed a toot, so that he’d be on his ‘A’ game. But at least she was listening. That was good. She kept asking him goofy questions, like ‘when were you going to stop’, and ‘are you going to stop using the coke’, and ‘do you love me?’ But he kept getting back to the really important things, like how they were gonna get some money.
“STACY,” he pointed out as they neared the CSX station, “The train station is one of the first places that they’re gonna check! If we go in there, they’ll just start shooting!”
“I know.” Stacy pulled them both into an alley. She reached into her bag and pulled out her ‘Silver Ghost’ cape. But she didn’t put it on. Rather, she draped it around him, and picked him up like he was a small dog. Then she went invisible and lifted off.
“What are you doing, you stupid bi- they can SEE me!”
“No, I’m making the cape invisible. If it’s invisible, then so are you.” She looked at his shoes poking out the end. “Or, at least most of you.”
“Well, then HURRY UP!” he almost screamed, “Stop dawdling! I could WALK faster!”
“This is as fast as I can go, and still carry you and make us both invisible,” she said in a tight, controlled voice.
It took, like, forever, but Stacy got them to the roof of a moving freight train. The wind almost pulled Danny off the roof, but Stacy held onto him. She did something that opened a hatch on the roof, and she lowered him down into the car.
“Whew!” Danny fanned the air in front of his face, “What’s that SMELL?”
“This is a cattle car,” Stacy said as she kicked some straw on the floor of the car.
“Why’d you have to pick this one?”
“It was the first car on the train that had one of those hatches. Cows gotta breathe, y’know.”
“Yeah, and so do WE!”
“If you think that I’m such a stupid bitch, then why did you hang out with me, before you knew that I had super powers?”
“Danny…” She grabbed his face and gave him a deep kiss. “Thanks.”
“After you, all my other boyfriends will be an improvement.”
“Hunh?” Stacy grabbed his right hand and slapped a handcuff to his wrist. He screamed and struggled, but she coldly ignored him as she fastened the other cuff to the cattle car wall. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Look, I have to stay here and clean up the mess that you made. But I don’t wanna have to do all that with you running around, doing stupid stuff, and getting both of us killed.” Danny lunged at her, but the handcuff kept him back. He swore blue vengeance at her for five solid minutes. Then she lashed out, took him by the throat and slammed him against the wall. She said in a dangerously level and controlled voice, but with tears glistening in her eyes, “I gave you all the love that I had to give and you sold it to buy dope. You ever come near me again and I’ll kill you.” She took her cape back, wrapped it around her. She held up a key to the handcuffs and put it on a peg on the opposite side of the car. “Let the railroad cops get you loose.” Then she began to fade as she rose to the top of the car.
Danny waited a good five minutes, just to be sure that she wasn’t hanging around, invisible. Then he dug into his jacket pocket to see how much money was in the envelope. Man, after all that crap, he’d need a toot and BAD, when he got to Chicago! The envelope was thick, there must have been at least ten grand in there. His already pale face went totally ashen when he pulled out a handful of newspaper, cut into the shape of dollar bills. Horrified, he flipped through all of it- every single goddamned one was nothing but newspaper! The full impact of how much shit he was in hit him like a sledgehammer. He had no place to stay, he had no girl, he had no coke, and he didn’t even have a fucking penny in his pocket! It would be hours before the train stopped, and he didn’t even have a place to go to the fucking bathroom! And HE NEEDED A TOOT! He beat the side of the cattle car and screamed and raged at the whole fucking unfairness of it all.
As she floated in the air and watched the train pull away, Stacy couldn’t get the sour taste out of her mouth. Danny had never loved her. Danny could twist things until day was night, lies were truth and shit was gold, but even HE couldn’t make himself believe that he’d give up the dope. Everything else, he’d mashed and molded like silly putty to suit the moment, but there was no way that he’d deny himself the dope. He’d made himself believe his own lies when he said that he was glad to be leaving Cincy, and that he loved her. But not the dope. Inside his head, he knew that he’d go back to the dope, the first chance he got.
Feeling very bitter and hollow inside, Stacy wondered if, really, she were to blame for all of this. Had she let Danny talk her into doing all of that because she loved him? Or had she listened too much to that sense that allowed her to ‘hear’ others’ thoughts, and let Danny’s crazy fact-twisting persuade her? Or was it just because she wanted him to be happy, so that he wouldn’t press her for sex. So that he wouldn’t find out that she was really a boy.
Now, she could tell that Danny had envied her super powers. But she’d give them all away in a second, just to be a real girl with a boy who loved her.
District Attorney Lee Kaltenborn looked confused at the Green Witch and Burt Larribee, SPECTRUM’s lawyer. “Let me get this straight - you want me to let a supervillain GO?”
“The Silver Ghost isn’t a supervillain,” the Green Witch insisted. “She’s a just young girl who let a silver-tongued sleaze-bag lead her down the garden path. She’s hardly the first, and certainly won’t be the last to let that happen to her.”
“A girl? When did you find this out?”
“A couple of days ago, when she saved me from Manticore.”
The DA cleared his throat and adjusted his tie nervously. “Still, she’s broken the Law. I can’t ignore that, even if she is a minor. When she’s arrested, I’ll have to prosecute.”
“On what charges?”
“On what charges? Breaking and Entering, Grand Larceny, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, the list goes on and on!”
“Oh? You have proof that she stole anything?” The Green Witch raised an eyebrow. “As I understand it, you let Hoag’s goons slide, as you couldn’t prove that the money that Tawny claims they brought to buy those weapons ever existed, so there was no proof of Intent to Purchase. So, legally, that money never existed. You can’t steal what never existed.”
“Dubious legal logic. And what about the reports that she stole well over a hundred thousand dollars from various of Hoag’s operations?”
“You can’t take Organized Crime Intelligence reports into court as evidence, and you know that.”
The DA rested a finger on his chin, considering the Green Witch. “And exactly where are you going with this?”
“She wants to make things right with the Law. She woke up, smelled the coffee, and figured out that her sleazy boyfriend was using her.”
The DA arched an eyebrow. “AND?”
“She’s willing to cut a deal - you dismiss any charges against her, and she gives you Boss Hogg.
“How? I’m not going to take the word of a minor - and a suspected supervillain at that - that she saw a respected lawyer commit a felony.”
“Not two hours ago, she contacted me, and informed me that she has come into possession of the ledger that Hoag uses to keep track of his various operations.”
“How did she ‘come into possession’ of this ledger?”
The Witch looked coy. “I… forgot to ask. Besides, as long as YOU or the police didn’t illegally seize it, it’s still admissible in court.” The DA looked dubious. “She said that besides the usual entries, that Hoag kept a listing of all his payoffs to various officials-” The DA looked more interested. “-various items of blackmail-” a distinct spark entered the District Attorney’s eye. “-various pieces of information regarding Boss Pitt’s operations, that Hoag was probably intending to use against him at some point-” the DA nodded. “-and a complete listing of all the various black labs in the Tri-State area, their locations, how Hoag was supplying them, and out-of-state connections. The RICO asset seizures for the supervillain bases that Hoag has been leasing out alone should run into the MILLIONS.”
The DA smiled. “Let’s talk.”
‘Maybe it’s best this way,’ Hoag tried to convince himself as he made himself obey the speed laws. ‘Now I won’t be tempted to hang around for that one more million. Really, I should have gone last year, when Emily started yapping about college for the girls. Besides, this way, if I just disappear, it’ll look like the Mob did a Jimmy Hoffa on me.’
Hoag pulled into the car storage garage where he had his exit kit stored. His ‘exit kit’ consisted of an inconspicuous late model sedan that he’d parked here years ago, with a suitcase in the trunk. In the suitcase were three changes of clothes, a loaded gun, an identity taken from some poor schmuck that he’d had Willie Snodgrass ‘disappear’ years ago - complete with vague photo ID, passport, credit cards, and birth certificate - $5,000 in cash, $50,000 in travelers checks, and the proofs of ownership for the Swiss Bank accounts where he had over 73 million American dollars deposited.
It was time for Leo Hoag to skip out of his blighted Middle American existence, and live the good life. Now that he was committed, he was looking forward to it. He walked up to the office. “Hello, I’m Karl Lazar? I have a car parked in stall D-14?”
The attendant looked at his cubbyholes and said, “I ain’t got nuthin’ in D-14. All’s I got is this letter.” He handed it to Hoag. In the envelope was a single sheet of paper on which was written,
‘Nice exit plan. I think I’ll take it.
“Of course, there’s still a major problem here,” the DA insisted. “Even if this Silver Ghost does want to go straight, from what you tell me, she’s a transient minor without proper adult supervision or visible means of support. We can’t allow her to remain at large on the streets, and putting her into City-run facilities would be an open invitation for deadbeat parents to come out of the woodwork with lawyers, screaming that we’re putting their children in danger.”
“Not a problem,” the Green Witch assured him. “SPECTRUM is willing to take responsibility for her.”
The DA wasn’t reassured. “We can’t hand custody of a minor to a person using an alias. We need someone who can be legally held responsible for her conduct. We’d need your real name.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about ME. I’m talking about SPECTRUM. The entire outfit.”
“And, remember, SPECTRUM is a legally defined entity,” Burt Larribee pointed out.
“What about the ‘Kid Sidekick’ laws?”
“The ‘Kid Sidekick’ laws were written to prevent superheroes from endangering the lives of minors without extraordinary powers. It’s been argued and accepted in court that minors with extraordinary abilities require extraordinary guidance and protection. If the minor in question has preexisting superhuman abilities, and either enters into some area of crime-fighting or criminal pursuit on their own initiative, then the adult superhero can provide guidance or protection,” Larribee spelled out. “Or, if the minor is being pursued by persons of extraordinary resources with the intent to harm or criminally exploit the minor, then the superhero can provide shelter, provided that the child’s parents are informed at the first possible opportunity.”
“But this ‘Silver Ghost’ is a runaway,” the DA noted. “If she ran away from home, or she was kicked out by her parents when her mutation kicked in… she IS a mutant, isn’t she?”
The Green Witch nodded. “From what she said, I’d say so. I rather imagine that she’d mention a bite from a radioactive gerbil or a run-in with a Mad Scientist, or a power ring.”
“Well, if she’s a mutant, then I’m afraid that we’re going to have to hand her over to the MCO.”
“NO,” the Green Witch said, her face going very hard.
“It’s the Law.”
“Actually, the MCO’s charter only applies if the mutant in question is charged with a felony,” Larribee pointed out.
“And our deal is specifically that she wouldn’t be charged,” the Witch reminded him.
The DA sat back and steepled his fingers. “The MCO will still want to take charge of her, on general principles.”
Larribee stepped up again. “In the United States, the MCO has no authority to take anyone into custody who hasn’t committed a felony. Indeed, they have no mandate to take anyone into ‘Protective Custody’, either. These times when they ‘detain’ a mutant ‘for ‘their own protection’ are both illegal and unconstitutional. You’ll notice that the first thing that they do when they disappear someone, is they flat-out deny that that person even existed, or if it can be proven that they existed, that the MCO took them into custody.”
“Give them the chance, the MCO will claim that YOU handed her over to *ahem!* ‘parties unknown’, and that you’re legally responsible for her fate,” the Witch said with chilly panache. She paused and added. “Captain Patriot is still pretty steamed about what happened with Charlie Denver.”
Kaltenborn sat back and considered the implications of that. Captain Patriot was both an African-American hero and a ‘Flag Hero’ in a region that took patriotism very seriously, and he’d managed to make it stick for fifteen years. The Captain carried some serious clout with the VFW, the NAACP, the American Legion, and even the PAL. The DA knew that the Captain had been given assurances that young Charlie Denver would be treated fairly. Then the MCO turned around and claimed that they’d never heard of the kid. Both the Captain and the local Civil Rights groups had gone ballistic, and it was still a very hot potato. The DA didn’t want to cross the MCO, but he certainly didn’t want another Charlie Denver mess on his watch. The MCO would still raise a stink, but the politic thing to do would be to step aside and let the two main antagonists slug it out. Still… “And how do we handle her schooling?”
“She’ll be home-schooled by the SPECTRUM heroes. She can be periodically tested, as is the rule for home-schooled kids.”
The DA smiled. If he handled this right, any blow-up regarding this ‘Silver Ghost’ would be seen as a completely separate issue from any criminal charges. So, his big organized crime coup would remain absolutely spotless. “I think that I’ll let you thrash out the details with Family Services.”
“You’re not going to, y’know, SCAN me when we go in to SPECTRUM headquarters, are you?” Stacy asked, phobic images of being exposed the second that she walked through the door running amok through her mind.
Karen just smiled in wry amusement at the young girl as she floated alongside her when they headed to SPECTRUM HQ. “What’s this? Cold feet? I thought that burglars were supposed to have nerves of steel!”
“I’m not a burglar! I’m just someone who gets talked into doing stupid stuff a lot!”
“Okay, okay, I agree… No spectroscopes or anything invasive.”
“What’s ‘invasive’ mean?”
“We won’t go peeking at the color of your panties.” The Witch quirked a smile. “Not that we really need to, what with you flashing the greater Tri-State area, flying in that skirt.” Stacy gave an ‘eeep!’ and almost dropped the box of evidence that she was carrying as she tried to secure her skirt.
Almost all of SPECTRUM was standing on the roof, along with three guys in business suits. After Stacy and the Green Witch lit down on the roof, the Witch introduced one of the guys in suits as the District Attorney. “I understand that you have some confidential information for me?”
“I give you this, and you drop the charges against me?” Stacy asked, so nervous that it was all she could do to keep her voice steady.
“What are you going to do, run away?”
“Stop bullying the girl, Kaltenborn!” Captain Patriot growled, his arms folded across his chest. “Hey, kid,” he added in a much gentler voice, “we have a signed and notarized agreement. You hand over the papers, and you’re clean as far as the Authorities are concerned.”
Stacy almost melted with relief and handed the DA the box. “Here. Take it. I never wanted any of this in the first place.”
“Then why did you do it?” Captain Patriot and the Green Witch started to object, but Kaltenborn waved them down. “She’ll have to make a statement anyway. But we don’t have to do it here. Let’s go downstairs, where at least there’s coffee.”
As Stacy finished up her deposition, the DA asked, “And where is this Danny Ferris, who you claim is to blame for most of this?”
“Last I saw of him, he was on a train headed for Chicago." Stacy answered with absolute honesty.
Kaltenborn let out a long impatient sigh. “Too much trouble to have him found and extradited back here. Besides, from what you tell me, that punk will wind up in Juvenile Hall anyway, so it might as well be in Chicago as here. Now, about YOU…”
“ME?” Stacy squeaked, her eyes big and scared.
“Look, I’ll take your word that you want to go honest and all that, but the odds are that you’re a mutant. If we put you into the City Family Services facilities, it WILL get out, and there will be trouble, and the MCO will kick up a fuss. And believe me, nobody here wants the MCO breathing down their necks, especially not you. But, we CAN get you back to your parents. We don’t have to inform the MCO, as you haven’t been charged with a felony.”
“Uhmmm…” Stacy started to sweat. “That’s kinda hard, y’see…”
“Your parents kicked you out when they found out that you were a mutant?”
“I was afraid of that,” Kaltenborn let out a gusty sigh. “Well-”
“Oh, give it a rest, Kaltenborn!” The Green Witch snapped. “What Mister ‘I’m so important’ here is trying to get at, is that we’ve cut a deal where SPECTRUM - the entire group - will act as your legal guardians. So, you don’t have to go to the Orphanage or a Runaway Shelter. We’ll see to your education and needs, and be legally responsible for you. In return, you’ll be Home Schooled by us and answer to all of us, as you would your parents. That is, if this is all right by you. If not, it gets a lot more complicated.”
“You mean…” Stacy gawped, barely able to comprehend the possibility, the hope, “You mean you want… ME?”
“You make that sound so incredible!” Azure said with amusement ripe in her voice.
“You want me to be a superhero?”
“NO,” Kaltenborn said firmly. “NO superheroing! She may be powerful, but she is still a MINOR! She’s the only super-powered teenager in Cincinnati - well, that we know of - so we can’t afford to form one of those idiotic ‘training cadre’ teams. GOD, the only reason that we can afford YOU people, is that you’re self-funding! Also, as it stands, my office doesn’t have to announce that we’re dropping the charges against her. But if she starts going out and beating up bad guys with you, then I’ve got to make an announcement, and the MCO will be beating down my door!”
Stacy relaxed a lot when she heard the DA categorically nix the idea of her superheroing. Between that Red Monster Guy and those guys in the power armor, she’d had enough of that to last her a lifetime. Still, the Green Witch shot the DA a dirty look. “NO, we’re not asking you to become a superhero. Just… that you let us help you out for a while, until you’re able to take care of yourself.”
Stacy’s only answer was to wrap herself around the Green Witch in a big hug that almost cut off her circulation.
(Fade to Black) End Part 1