“Well? I asked you, where is my son?” the older Mrs. Durrel demanded. “And who are you people?”
The man in his rear admiral’s uniform nodded with a heavy sigh. “Your son is currently in our waiting room, visiting with an old friend of his and mine — Robert Delvecchio, who is currently our Pentagon connection and just happened to be visiting our facility when, uh, your son came to us.”
She nodded. “I see. Some sort of government CIA program?”
“No… Well, we’re a private operation, but we rely heavily on government funding, and some of that does come from the Pentagon.”
The man talking was shorter than Durrel, had graying, black hair just beginning to recede, held a snuffed-out cigar in one hand, and a small, handheld device in the other, which had a plastic decor showing lights that glowed yellow-orange, red, and blue-green, which he was looking at intensely. “According to Ziggy, you’re Magdalene Durrel, and you’re a professional psychic, which explains why you can see and hear me. ”
“And just who are you, sailor?” she inquired menacingly.
Carmine Donnici’s men had donated out of pocket several thousand dollars for the funeral of Timmy Bodeaux, almost ensuring that the small-time hood and drug-abuser would have a funeral better than that of the police officer he had killed.
Even so, at the Seminole Police station, officers were collecting money for the family. Each and every one of them knew the late Corporal Robert Cook as an honest, hardworking member of the force, and each one of them personally liked the man.
Even while that was going on, two men from Internal Affairs were preparing to start an investigation on the killing of both Cook and Bodeaux. The two men felt it would be an open-and-shut case, as early evidence indicated it was a clean shooting in self-defense. Witnesses had already given statements to officers in the hospital, and those who had been nearby had filed their own reports, or were scheduled to.
“I don’t know about this press conference, boss,” television news reporter Bess Joplin said, looking at her notes. “I mean, the man is an idiot. We all know that. Why else would he bring up rumors no one else had heard? But something isn’t right in all of this.”
Her immediate superior looked up from his desk. He had been going over the schedule for the noon news when this beautiful black woman barged in. True, she had more footage than they could squeeze into two reports, but that was typical of any reporter in the field, and even now it was being edited to fit. But to him it was obvious she was hot on a new story. “Why do you say that, Bess?”
“I was there at the well near the murder site and saw a police officer take one civilian from the scene,” she explained. “Neighbors say she lives alone, yet that jerk kept mentioning her family. OK, maybe he didn’t know there was only one. Or maybe the police are pulling off a big-time cover-up.”
Another reporter burst in. “Chief, I just got reports of — believe it or not — Carmine Donnici being sighted out in Frenchtown. Sounds like a story there to me.”
“OK, Olson, but be careful. I don’t want to have another reporter found dead in the swamps. OK, Bess, dig around some more, see what you can find. In fact, take this youngster here, and maybe the two of you can find something useful.”
She nodded. “Right. Olson Alverez, come with me. I need some coffee.” The young Cuban American nodded.
Terry Lee Travis went to the Hertz Agency and while in disguise rented a nondescript-looking Ford, checked a road map, and made for Seminole, Florida. He was completely unaware that he was only three cars behind Agents Skinner, Smith, and Jones, or that the road also contained several carloads of Peruvians intent on finding Carmine Donnici and convincing him to do business with their boss, El Diablo Roho, or killing him and all of his family. According to their information, they lived not far from Seminole.
One more figure was eagerly awaiting the noontime news, anxious to see what the press had to say about his latest artistic work and wondering if Dr. Monroe was up to the games he had in mind. He called himself Flencer, and he was a very evil man.
Special Agent Walter Skinner was driving Agent Smith and Agent Jones from Miami to Seminole along the I-95, the highway that ran through Florida. “Between the three hurricanes and the recent battle between some of the super-types, you guys were lucky Miami International was even open,” Skinner said conversationally.
“Hey, if you fly to a state, and it has only one commercial airport operating fully on the day you gotta be there, that’s where you go,” Smith said with a shrug. “‘Sides, as FEMA personnel, we should be observing the countryside for damages.” With that, Smith slid back, put his Stetson over his face, and proceeded to snooze.
Looking back at his partner, Jones chuckled and turned back to Skinner. “That man sees more with his eyes closed than you and me with ours open. ‘Course, what he sees usually involves naked women, but the man is observant.”
Skinner laughed. “Had a partner like that once.”
Terry Lee Travis had also been inconvenienced by recent events in Florida, but he was enjoying the drive in his rented car, listening to tapes of his favorite musical groups. Also running through his head was once more the debate of whether or not he was doing the right thing in seeking to become a costumed crime-fighter like his late uncle, but he felt the discussion with his father’s old friend Dr. Monroe would help him immensely.
A part of him was thinking that perhaps, if he did well enough, then someday a second Crimson Avenger would carry on, and then a Crimson Avenger III, and so on down the centuries. Or perhaps not. There wasn’t, after all, a second Batman running around, none that young Mr. Travis knew of, at any rate. The only one who would fit that bill called himself Red Robin.
The Peruvians were all headed to a base camp that had once belonged to a Cuban dissident group that didn’t exist anymore, since most of its members were dead or in Cuban jails. Already a score or more of their compadres were there, and more were expected. El Diablo Roho had felt the need to send a large number of his soldiers into Florida after this DeNucci business had cost him some good men. This man knew the next target would be well-armed, so why not come even more heavily armed?
“I’m telling you, Sam, this case has got more twists and turns than a… a… I don’t know what! One of those mazes you see in old cathedrals.” Making sure Mrs. Durrel wasn’t around, Al Calavicci pulled his cigar and lighter out of his rear admiral’s uniform jacket pocket and relit it.
Police Chief Lawrence Durrel nodded. “So Ziggy thinks I’m here to solve this case?”
“There’s a 99.8 percent probability you do,” said Al. “But there’s concern about this Dr. Monroe. According to Ziggy he dies tonight, but there’s also a 98.8 percent chance you are here to save him.”
Durrel nodded. “OK, get me all the facts, but I’ve got to get to my office. As chief of police, I should be letting my people know I’m all right.”
Al nodded. “I’ll meet you there, and we’ll have all the known information.” He pushed a button on his handheld device. “Gooshie, I’m coming out!” A door of light opened, and Al walked toward it. “See you in an hour,” he said to Durrel’s back, as the man was already turning to the door.
Magdalene Durrel was sitting with her daughter-in-law Sharon, listening politely as the woman chatted, but in her mind she was remembering the times she had worked with the great ones. Those fine doctors such as Fate, Occult, and Thirteen had been of great assistance solving crimes. Based on what she knew of the situation here in Seminole, she felt she could be of great help.
“I want you to take me to the crime scene,” she suddenly said.
“Sharon, that man is fine. Let’s us girls go and snoop around.”
Down the street from the crime scene, a man sat in his Volvo, laughing at the humor of it all. His finest artistic work yet, and the police were still running around like headless chickens.
Dr. James Monroe Sr. sat at his desk in the basement, giving deep consideration to recent events. He was feeling very agitated right now, almost like he could feel evil nearby, and he didn’t like that feeling. It was too close to his family, and especially his granddaughter Amy, who right at that moment, while standing in the yard, was being scoped out by Flencer, who was already imagining what he could do with her flesh.
The roadside diner Special Agent Skinner pulled into delighted Agent Smith, who pointed out to Agent Jones the small store attached to the diner. There, he found something of interest.
“Look — the Tater-Tot super-babies!” said Smith. “There’s Aquababy, Baby Red Robin, and check this out — Vic Valor, my favorite cartoon show when I was a kid!”
Agent Jones, the older of the two, snorted. “Aren’t these things for children?”
Agent Smith nodded. “My niece will love these.” He selected one of each of the dolls and paid for them, while Jones discovered a selection of Hot Wheels NASCAR models and decided to add a couple to his own collection.
As the government agents were being seated at their booth, Terry Lee Travis also pulled into the same diner. There, he picked up a newspaper that had been left behind in his booth. The headline startled him.
THE NEW CRIMSON AVENGER SAVES SEVEN!
Travis shook his head. “Sure, while I’m off doing Uncle Sam’s duty, someone else takes over Uncle Lee’s name!” he muttered quietly to himself. “Well, good thing I didn’t put the name on the costume! Hmm… guess I gotta think of a new moniker. Crimson Tide? Avenging Crimson? Mister Scarlet? Nah — who would call himself Mister Scarlet? OK, Terry Lee, get your head on right.”
The waitress came over. “What’ll it be?”
“Biggest burger you got with everything, fries, and Coke, no ice,” said Travis. The waitress nodded and went to the next table.
Special Agent Skinner was puzzled over his two charges. In his years with the FBI, he had come across some unusual types, but these two took the cake. According to Jones — and honestly, Skinner felt he was being handed a load of bull-pucky with these names — his partner could read auras. Yeah, right, thought Skinner. And someday I’ll be a director in D.C. and will no doubt have to assign agents to investigate B.S. like that. In my nightmares! Truth be told, Skinner was basically skeptical of anything out of the norm.
Seminole was a busy place as folks continued to clean up from the hurricane the night before.
At the police station, people were talking about storm damage, what to do to help Officer Cook’s family, the gruesome murder of four children, and whether or not the chief was going to be all right. So when Police Chief Durrel walked in, there were cheers, which he handled with embarrassment, and while he seemed to be slightly disoriented, he tried to cover it well. He asked for the files on the crime scene and a big mug of coffee and went into his office. Several people noted that the chief seemed to not be sure where it was at first, but they chalked it up to everything that had happened recently.
In the office of the chief of police, Lawrence Durrel slumped into his chair and said softly, “Al?”
A doorway of light opened, and Al Calavicci came through. “Ziggy is still crunching the data, Sam, but we think we have a lead for you.”
As the man named Flencer saw the Durrel ladies drive by and watched as the older of the two looked toward his car, he felt a chill and decided to leave the neighborhood. He couldn’t say exactly why he felt that way, just that he felt this woman was a danger to him, and he did not like that feeling.
Flencer preferred being the danger himself, not feeling endangered. The last time he had felt that way, he finally killed his source of pain. And it felt good to see his abusive father lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. The thought of that now made him laugh.
Agent Smith paused as he passed by Terry Lee Travis, then smiled at the younger man and moved on. Terry Lee was puzzled. Hope he wasn’t hitting on me, he thought with a chuckle.
That was when a name came to mind. But he had to consider how it would sound to the general public. The name? At the moment, he was considering adopting the handle of Victory.
At a Cuban eatery not far away, several Peruvians were discussing their own plans. Those plans would result in lots of lives lost, no matter which way Donnici went.
As Agents Skinner, Smith, and Jones were leaving the diner, Terry Lee Travis was on the outside pay-phone calling the woman he’d always thought of as his aunt. Technically, Linda Travis was his cousin, the daughter of Terry Lee’s other uncle, Lawrence. But she was now in her early fifties, more than two decades older than Terry Lee, so he had always referred to her as his aunt rather than as his cousin. She had never married, preferring to focus on her career in journalism; she was the current publisher of The Globe-Leader, a New York City newspaper formerly owned by their late uncle, Lee Travis.
“Aunt Linda, it’s Terry Lee.”
“Terry Lee, when did you get back stateside?” she asked excitedly.
“Just got mustered out a couple of days ago.”
“Where are you, lad?”
“Florida. Sorry I didn’t land in New York to see you, but, well, this is where they sent me.”
“I understand. Will you be up soon?”
“I aim to, but I have a question maybe you can answer.”
“I’ll try, Terry Lee.”
“Do you know who this new Crimson Avenger is?”
There was a pause as the older woman thought for a moment. “Terry Lee, it’s Wing.”
“Wing? I thought he was dead!”
“We all did for years, but he turned up alive and took over Lee’s role last fall.” (*)
Terry Lee considered this new information for a moment.
“You thinking of following in the family footsteps?” Linda asked, guessing his thoughts.
“Yes, I am.”
She sighed heavily. “Please be careful. It’s not a picnic.”
“Neither was being a Navy SEAL, Aunt Linda.”
Gunshots sounded, and Terry Lee looked around. “Gotta go! Love ya!” He hung up and crouched down; the shots were near, but not too close.
“Over that way,” Agent Smith said as he and his companions looked around.
“That Cuban diner,” Special Agent Skinner said, indicating the building.
Indeed, not far from their location, a group of black-clad commandos had made a preemptive strike on the potential enemies of their employee, and the Peruvian hard men were shooting back, neither side being particularly careful about civilians.
Ducking into the outdoor men’s room, Terry Lee changed into his untested costume, which consisted of green boots, red tights with green shorts, a red jersey, green gloves, a red cowl, and a full-face green mask. The last part of his costume was a black gun-belt with two automatics and a knife.
“Well, Victory, I guess it’s time to begin your own crusade against evil.”
Outside, Agent Smith reached for his pistol as he said, “Should we intervene?”
Agent Jones shook his head. “On whose side? Nope. I hear sirens. Let’s let the locals do their job.”
Special Agent Skinner nodded, even as he reached for his car phone. “Calling this in, just in case,” he stated.
Magdalene Durrel made a call of her own to give the Seminole City Police Department the license plate of the car she and Sharon had passed. She had felt the evil radiating from the driver of that car and wanted people alerted.
Flencer himself drove back to his rented house, thinking about that older black woman who had eyeballed him like she could read him. That made his flesh crawl, and he did not like that feeling.
Already he was debating how to remove her from the game he was playing — a game involving Dr. James Monroe Sr. and Chief of Police Lawrence Durrel.