by Doc Quantum
Fighting street-level crime was a new experience for the hero known as Captain Thunder. Back on his own Earth, most of the menaces he fought tended to be monsters or robots created by mad scientists. He rarely ever had to deal with the likes of muggings and gang violence.
After only a few weeks, Captain Thunder was already starting to make an impact on the community. Making regular patrols in the same neighborhood, the hero was able to prevent several more outbreaks of gang violence over turf disputes. Finally, word began to spread to the upper-level dealers, who, after all, were in the drugs game for the money. Captain Thunder told everyone no violence, and the gangs began to listen.
The hero wasn’t interested in stopping the sale of drugs, at least for now. Junkies were going to get high somehow, no matter what. So he adopted a hands-off policy for the most part when it came to drug deals. His only rule was that that the dealers couldn’t sell to kids. He knew that they’d probably find ways to get around that, but he hoped it would at least make a small difference.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Police Department had noticed that there were fewer murders than normal in West Baltimore, and they were looking for answers. The Homicide Unit was pleased, of course, with the drop in the overall murder rate. But politics soon came into play, with the other districts unhappy about how West Baltimore’s drop in the crime rate was making their districts look bad in comparison. Without knowing the underlying reasons for the drop, it looked like West Baltimore was fudging its numbers.
Finally, Detective Parker was called in, since he was the first detective to have had any dealings with this new super-hero. The hero had kept his word, returning to the precinct station and following through by making a statement for the Grand Jury. But the Captain still had no address, only assuring the detective that he would be there when he needed him.
Scratching his head, Detective Parker tried to think of a few ways to go about it. He’d heard that, back in the old days, Commissioner James W. Gordon in Gotham City used to use a Bat-Signal to summon the Batman. That wouldn’t go over so well in Baltimore, he knew. So, with a bit of innovation, he did the next best thing.
After making a trip into the basement, the detective signed out one of several seized items that were eventually slated for auction. Then he drove out to the tracks near where Captain Thunder had first been spotted and sat on the hood of his car.
Lighting up a cigar and taking a strong whiff, the detective pulled out the flare-gun he’d taken from the station and shot it off.
A bright red flare soared into the sky, lighting up everything below it for a few seconds before falling back down and sputtering out.
Detective Parker was only able to pull one more puff from his cigar before he heard the sound of two feet land a few feet away from him.
“You called?” said the deep voice of Captain Thunder.
“Well, hello there, Captain!” said the detective. “Long time no see. How’s it hanging?”
“I’m doing all right,” said the Captain.
“So I’ve heard,” said the detective. “Still haven’t got an address, though, right?”
“My address is wherever I’m needed at the time,” explained the hero.
“You’re really an honest-to-God super-hero, ain’t cha?” said the detective. “You have my apologies, Captain. I’ve seen a lot of kooks in costumes over my twenty years in this outfit.”
“Apology accepted,” said Captain Thunder. “Did you want something, Detective?”
“No need to be so formal, Cappy-boy,” said the detective. “And please, call me Bill.”
“All right… Bill,” said the hero.
“Captain, I know you’ve been busy,” began Detective Bill Parker. “I’ve seen the stats. The homicide rate has dropped drastically in West Baltimore, and overall crime is down. You’ve really made an impact in the few short weeks you’ve been in town.”
“I’m just trying to do my best,” said Captain Thunder.
“Well, your best is, well, mighty damn good,” the detective said, laughing. “And the people love you. But we’ve got a bit of a problem.”
“Well, we’ve never really had a super-hero in Baltimore before,” he explained. “And certainly not a black super-hero. You’re stirring things up.”
“Is that a complaint?” said Captain Thunder. “You just said crime is down.”
“I’m not complaining,” said Parker. “No indeed. Us Baltimore cops are overworked and underpaid. The less homicides and crime we have to deal with, the better. You won’t hear any complaints from me. It’s my bosses who are worried.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’re doing such a bang-up job here in West Baltimore, the rest of the districts are starting to look bad in comparison.”
Captain Thunder looked at him as if he was crazy.
“What I mean to say, Captain, is that some people higher up are looking for reasons to shut you down. They’re starting to notice a pattern. You’ve put a stop to most violent crime, but you’re doing nothing about drugs.”
Captain Thunder nodded. “I thought you might mention that. My reasoning is simple. As long as the drug dealers aren’t fighting each other for territory, causing any bodily harm to others, or selling to children, I leave them alone. Once they cross that line, though, I go after them. I’ve found it to be effective. The drug dealers have mostly honored my wishes, since they don’t want to be shut down.”
“They’re still selling drugs right under your nose!” countered Detective Parker. “And in case you hadn’t noticed, hero, drugs are still illegal in this country.”
Captain Thunder shrugged. “That’s where you come in, Bill. My role, as I see it, is to keep people safe. If that means drug dealers are changing their behavior in order to remain on the streets, then so be it. As far as enforcement of drug laws goes, I leave that solely in the hands of the police.”
Detective Bill Parker laughed. “You’re really a piece of work, hero. It’s a genius move, I’ll give you that. But I can guarantee it will eventually bite you in the ass. Once you start crossing the wrong people, they’ll use anything to take you down — even accusations of being in bed with drug dealers.”
The police detective sighed. “Anyway, I wanted to give you a heads up. You might be hearing from one of your people soon, and if I were you, I’d try to make sure I’m looking my best.”
“My people?” questioned the Captain.
“Super-heroes, mystery-men — whatever you want to call ’em,” explained the detective. “One of them will be calling on you soon. If you’re planning on sticking around, you’re going to have to be checked out by a fellow super-hero so you can testify in any criminal trials.”
Reaching around in his coat pocket, Detective Parker pulled out a business card and held it out to the hero. “Here, take my card. I trust we’ll be able to talk again?”
Captain Thunder took the card and looked at it. “Count on it.”
“Uh… What’s the best way to reach you?” asked the detective as the hero began to float in midair.
Captain Thunder grinned. “The flare-gun works. See you later, Bill!”
In a split-second, the hero was gone.
Detective Bill Parker tossed the cigar down to the ground next to the tracks and ground it out. “I’ll be damned,” he muttered. “Just like Gordon. My own personal super-hero.”
Willie Fawcett walked down a street in West Baltimore, checking out the neighborhood in his civilian identity for the first time in days.
He realized he was still going through a mourning period, and that it would pass, but eventually he would have to start living his life again. He couldn’t just stay in his Captain Thunder form all the time, as much as he wanted to. Old Maharaji would never have wished him to use his powers only to avoid actually living his life.
So, since his old life was entirely dead and gone in another universe, Willie decided that he’d just have to start making new friends, and perhaps even find a new family. The orphan had been in this situation before, when his parents died when he was only little. He’d ended up homeless and started out by selling newspapers in order to get by, until he was helped by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. It was during a camping trip held in 1972 by that organization that Willie was temporarily granted the power of Captain Thunder by an elderly Indian mystic called Maharaji so that the hero could defeat the Scorpion Gang, a gang of criminals led by a mastermind bent on conquering the world through a powerful ancient artifact called the Golden Scorpion, discovered by the Malcolm Expedition in Thailand and brought back to America. After the Scorpion case was over the old mystic died, but not before granting Willie the power of Captain Thunder for good, since in saving the world he’d proven himself to be a true hero. From that point on, Willie was occasionally contacted by the spirit of the old mystic, speaking through his belt buckle and typically offering assistance by speaking in cryptic riddles that only made sense later on.
Soon, Willie got a job with a radio station in Binderbeck City, working for the lovely jazz-singer-turned-businesswoman Beryl Breyfogle. And although his boss never formally adopted him as his mother, at least she did become his legal guardian. Things were good, at least for a while. But as the years passed people began to notice that Willie barely aged. They started making unfavorable comparisons to actors Emmanuel Lewis and Gary Coleman, assuming that Willie had a condition that had stunted his growth and slowed down the onset of puberty. The truth about his supposed condition was that the same magic that had given him his Captain Thunder powers had also slowed down his aging quite a bit as a side effect. At this rate, it would be decades before he reached the same apparent age of his friends now. He had often wondered if there were some way to counteract that side effect without messing up his Captain Thunder powers, but Maharaji had not given him any answers then, and now he never would. Perhaps things would be different now that he was on a world that seemed to work differently in some ways. He tried to put it out of his mind. He’d know one way or another if he started aging normally again. Until then, he would remain a boy who should have long since become a man.
Willie’s experience from living on the streets came in handy, but he constantly forgot that life on the streets in Baltimore was nothing like life on the streets in Binderbeck.
That’s why he didn’t notice at first that he stood out like a sore thumb in his 1970s-style red sweater, pale blue pants, and high top sneakers. He looked far too clean-cut for this West Baltimore neighborhood, especially since it wasn’t even Sunday morning.
“Rufus, will you take a look at that boy?”
“What’s that, Bernice?”
“Do you see that boy in the red sweater, there? Doesn’t he look a bit out of place, here?”
“He sure does.”
“You ever seen him before? Around the neighborhood, I mean.”
“Nope. Looks to me like he got off the wrong bus.”
“Hmm… That worries me, Rufus. He looks like he has no clue whatsoever how dangerous it is around here.”
“You don’t have to tell me how dangerous it is.” Rufus pointed to the bruises on his face.
“Oh, Lord. Don’t remind me, boy. If you ever get it into your head to try to ‘save’ a working girl again, you’d better think twice. Now go on, put down that broken old toaster oven and talk to that boy out there. I want to make sure he’s okay.”
Rufus sat up from the stool in his elderly mother’s kitchen and set his screwdriver back into his beat-up toolbox. Looking out through the kitchen window, he could see that the boy in the bright red sweater was still walking aimlessly down the street, looking at everything as he passed by.
“Don’t worry, Bernice,” he said. “I’ll go talk to him.”
“That’s a good boy,” said his mother, peering over her narrow reading glasses at him as she sat in the kitchen, reading a newspaper.
As a retired schoolteacher, Bernice MacMurray always kept an eye on the children in the neighborhood. Although her age and infirmities kept her housebound for most of the time, she tried to do her best to keep the little ones safe. She was known to everyone in the neighborhood, having been there her whole life, and even the gangs respected her enough to keep her safe.
Exiting through the front door, Rufus MacMurray strolled down the street in his usual slovenly way in the boy’s direction. The tall, slender man was known by all as a fix-it man, but although it had been years since this man in his mid-thirties had held down a real job, he always managed to scrape up enough work fixing things and doing odd jobs to keep himself and his mother going.
Rufus had once been a bit of a player, but after a few bad experiences that had nearly killed him, he turned his life around and walked away from that life. But day-to-day living in West Baltimore was no picnic, and he was always trying out some new scheme to make money.
As Willie Fawcett stopped in front of a fruit stand, his stomach started grumbling. How many hours had it been since he’d eaten anything? He’d been spending so much time as Captain Thunder that he’d neglected to take care of himself. He was still eating old fruit and nuts that he’d picked up in a more tropical part of the world a couple of weeks ago, but most of it had gone bad, and all he wanted was a decent home-cooked meal.
“You look hungry, boy.”
Willie turned around to see a man bending down slightly to talk with him. The man looked friendly enough, despite the bruises on his face. Although he was a stranger, he was still the only person who had even tried to talk with him as Willie Fawcett since he’d arrived in this world.
“I’m fine,” he said, turning back to the fruit stand. “Just trying to figure out what I want.”
“I hear those apples are the best ones in the city,” said Rufus.
“That’s cool, I guess.”
“They sure do make a great apple pie.”
Willie’s stomach suddenly grumbled even louder.
“Wow, boy, you must really be hungry. Why don’t you go on home and have your mom fix you something?”
“I-I don’t have a mom,” Willie explained.
“What about family?” asked Rufus. “Everyone has family.”
“Stop pestering the boy, Rufus, and bring him up here!” called Bernice from her nearby window.
“Who’s that?” asked Willie.
“That’s my mom,” explained Rufus. “Bernice. But everyone in this neighborhood calls her Grandma.”
“Well, boy, you hungry? If you are, she’s got plenty of food.”
“What’s the catch?” said Willie suspiciously.
“No catch — really,” said Rufus, holding up his hands and shaking his head. “She just likes to look out for young’uns like you.”
“All right,” said Willie. “But don’t try any funny stuff, all right?”
“Scout’s honor,” said Rufus.
Willie nodded and followed Rufus back to Grandma’s place. There, he ate his first home-cooked meal in three years. It was glorious. And with that, Willie had found a new family at last.