Mitch Shelley continued his journey deeper into the city as the neighborhoods he passed through continued to slightly improve. A sound of a woman screaming loudly and then being abruptly cut off drew his attention. He ran directly toward the sound, finding a sobbing woman slouched down on the wall with a tall, powerfully built man standing over her.
“Don’t talk back to me, slut,” the man said as he slapped her in the face. The woman started begging the man not to hurt her while tears rolled down her terrified face. The man laughed coarsely as he looked down at the woman.
Mitch Shelley’s face grew cold and serious as his eyes gleamed with a dangerous warrior’s fire. “I would advise you to back away from that young lady if you wish to keep your teeth.”
The man turned and looked at Shelley with a detached amusement. He laughed, feeling unthreatened by the strange man. “Look, girly. Some hero has come to save your nonexistent virtue. As soon as I get finished with your savior, I will get back to you.” The man pulled a black .38 special from his pocket and pulled the trigger several times, aiming at Shelley and saying, “Goodbye, hero.”
The woman screamed loudly as the bullets sped toward the unmoving Mitch Shelley. The bullets impacted Shelley’s chest and then fell to the ground, leaving Shelley unharmed. The man looked scared as he grabbed the woman as a shield. A wicked-looking switchblade appeared at the woman’s neck as the man started backing away.
“I’ll only ask once more before I get really angry at you. Let the woman go!” Shelley said, looking coldly at the man.
“Leave me alone, you freak. If you come any closer, I’ll cut this slut’s throat wide open.” The man touched the woman’s throat with the blade, causing a small trickle of blood to flow down her neck.
“That does it!” Shelley shouted as he exploded into motion. The man seemed to be moving in slow motion as Shelley’s hand reached out, snatching the blade away from the woman’s throat. The blade cut a deep hunk of Shelley’s hand, sending a spray of blood into the man’s face. The woman started screaming at the sight of the stream of blood from her savior’s hand as she was yanked to safety.
Shelley acted with surgical precision as he directed a series of blows at the cruel, thuggish man, each blow chosen to inflict the most pain. The man was soon crumpled on the ground, pleading for mercy with tears streaming from his eyes. “Please don’t kill me. Please, mister, don’t kill me.”
“You don’t deserve any mercy, but I am not going to kill you,” Shelley said as he delivered a final knockout kick.
Shelley turned to look at the still-frightened woman with concern. “Are you all right, young lady?”
“You saved me.” The woman looked shocked that anyone would come to her rescue.
“I guess I did save you from this man’s unwanted attention, but really, it was nothing.” Shelley looked modest and unassuming as he gave the woman his full attention.
The woman looked at Shelley’s bloody hand. “It doesn’t hurt much from where he hit me, but he cut you when you came to save me.” The woman’s voice still contained shock that anyone would come to rescue her as she moved to look at the wound.
“This?” Shelley looked down at his hand. “Really, it’s nothing.”
The woman pulled a rag from her purse and wiped the blood away, showing just a fine cut that disappeared as she looked. “You must be a super-hero.”
“No, ma’am, I am just a man trying to make the world a better place.” Shelley touched the bruises on the woman’s face gently. “You need to go home and put some ice on your face to keep the swelling down.”
The woman remembered the bullets bouncing off the man’s chest at that moment. “You must be a super-hero, ’cause the bullets bounced off of you.”
“That was a new kind of bulletproof vest,” Shelley replied, trying to stick as close to the truth as possible. “Why was that man after you?”
“He’s a scumbag who’s all the time messing with the girls down at the club I work for. He thinks just ’cause he’s with those big-time drug dealers that he can do whatever he wants.” The woman started to look scared again at the thought of what the beaten man’s bosses would do to someone who defied one of their agents. “Mister, you need to get out of here.”
“I can’t leave yet, young lady. For one thing, we haven’t been introduced, and for another, I am not at all afraid of this man’s associates. Besides, leaving a beautiful damsel in distress would be a great tragedy.”
“My name is Isabella Dixon, but most folks call me Bell,” the young woman said.
Mitch Shelley bowed before introducing himself. “Mitch Shelley at your service, fair damsel.”
“Damsel? You sure do have a funny way of talking, Mr. Shelley,” Bell said as she tried to smile.
“Call me Mitch,” he said as he offered Bell his arm. Still looking slightly dazed, she took it with relief. For some reason, Bell thought to herself, being in this man’s presence gave her a boost of courage.
“So tell me about this club you work for that allows such callow fellows to patronize it,” Shelley said with genuine curiosity.
“You don’t want to hear about the club I work at, Mitch,” Bell answered. “It’s not a very nice place at all, but at least it’s better than working the streets like my sister did.”
“Your sister is a person who works for the city maintenance? Wait a minute, you said ‘did.’ Does that mean your sister is dead? That’s terrible.” Shelley patted Bell’s hand with sympathy.
Bell gave Shelley an odd look, much like Mac did earlier before attempting to explain. “She was a hooker. She sold her body to get money to buy drugs. He was one of the ones who got her strung out on drugs.” Bell’s eyes flashed with hatred as she looked at the battered, unconscious thug. “She died of an overdose a while back.”
Mitch Shelley was shocked by the revelation as his face filled with a deep compassion. “I grieve for your loss and the circumstances of your sister’s death, Bell.”
She thought to herself about her family and friends’ lack of reaction to the death of her sister and compared it to this stranger’s grief over the death of someone whom he had never met. Tears began to flow from her eyes as all the pain and misery that she had been holding in overwhelmed her. “Thank you, Mitch,” she said between the soul-wracking sobs as she threw her arms around this stranger and grabbed him tightly. Mitch patted her back, gently waiting for the tears to stop. Bell finally stopped crying and released Mitch. “You must think me some kind of fool for the way I’ve been acting.”
“A fool? I don’t think that at all, Bell,” Mitch said with conviction. “You have been through a lot, and it finally just caught up to you, is all. Tears are not a sign of weakness but a sign that you are human. Just remember to not hold all that pain inside, but to let it out.”
“How did you get to be so wise?” Bell asked as she dried her tears.
“Wise, am I? I don’t feel wise at all,” Mitch said, looking a little troubled.
“We need to get off the streets.” Bell grabbed Mitch’s hand and started pulling him down the alleyway. Bell led Mitch through the streets, finally coming to a broken neon sign of the club Excalibur. Bell looked around with worry before pulling Mitch into the club.
A large bouncer stopped them just inside the door before recognizing Bell. “H’lo, Bell. How’s life?”
Bell gave the bouncer a half-hearted smile. “It’s taken a turn for the worse, Billy. Jackson finally tried to get me, but this man saved me.”
Billy gave Mitch Shelley a looking over before offering his hand. “Any friend of Bell’s is a friend of mine. No need to pay the cover charge.” Billy waved the two in.
Bell walked into the club with Mitch coming slowly behind her. His eyes caught the half-naked woman dancing on the stage and widened. “What kind of club is this, Bell?”
Bell looked embarrassed before she answered, “It’s an exotic dancer club, but I am not a dancer. I work behind the bar.” Bell waved at the woman dancing. “Hi, Roxy.”
The dancer on the stage stopped and waved back at Bell. “Hiya, Bell. Who’s the cute guy with ya? Is he your boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend, Roxy. He saved me from Jackson.” Bell looked around nervously.
Roxy climbed down off the stage and grabbed a towel. “None of his crew are in here tonight, Bell, so you and your cute guy should be safe for now.” Roxy looked over Shelley appraisingly before giving him a wicked half-smile. “What’s your name?”
Bell turned and gave an apologetic reply. “Roxanne, that’s Mitch. Mitch, this is Roxanne.”
Mitch offered his hand to the half-naked dancer, which she took. “A pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”
“Oooh, he’s got manners, too. Bell, if you don’t want him, can I have him to play with?” Roxy gave Bell one of her many half-smiles as she caressed Mitch’s hand before releasing it.
Billy stepped over, looking jealous as he watched Roxy lavish attention on Mitch Shelley. Roxy looked at Billy and gave him a wink. “My boyfriend is jealous of you, Mitch. Don’t you just find insecure men such a pain to deal with? He’s knows I love only him, but he hates it when I pay real attention to another man.”
“I’m not jealous, Margaret,” Billy replied, using the name that Roxy preferred to avoid hearing. Roxy had an outraged expression on her face as she jumped at Billy. The two tussled with each other playfully as Mitch and Bell continued to the bar.
The petty thief ran wildly through the night, trying to avoid the police right on his tail. The thief’s name was Alfred Moore, and tonight his whole life would be irrevocably changed. A gleaming star fell to earth and landed directly in front of the running thief. He stumbled and fell onto the box, triggering its relays to open. Within lay two golden armbands with ornate runic drawings inscribed inside and out.
Moore instinctively grabbed the glittering armbands and put them into his jacket pocket before climbing up a ladder. The police officers were right behind him as he climbed up to the roof. Moore looked frantically around trying to discover a way out, but found himself trapped on the rooftop.
The bands in his pocket began to glow softly as they detected a living being. Moore looked down to see the bands snap around his wrists as if driven by some arcane need. The police officers arrived with weapons in hand, shouting for Moore to surrender. Panicked, the petty thief jumped at the police, swinging his arms in what he believed to be a futile effort to knock the police down.
The bands flared to life as they strengthened the wearer’s arms. The first officer was knocked back twenty feet and flew off the building to land in a trash bin. The second officer fired her revolver at the crook. Once more the bands flared to life, increasing Moore’s speed and reaction time tremendously as he watched the bullets slow down in the air and moved effortlessly out of the way. He jumped at the other officer and knocked her off the building as well. She landed on some abandoned mattresses before losing consciousness.
Moore laughed wildly on the rooftop at the power that the bands had given him before jumping down off the roof and landing agilely on the ground. Thoughts of what he could now do whirled through his head as he disappeared into the night. One of the officers managed to call for backup before fading back to unconsciousness. Police cars and an ambulance arrived shortly to investigate and assist the fallen officers. An all-points bulletin was issued for Alfred Moore over the radio as the Special Crimes Unit was called in.
Two members of the Special Crimes Unit soon turned up at the general scene of events. Special Investigator Johnny “Answer Man” Jones Jr. and Sergeant Anthony “Steel” Stark walked around the setting, looking for clues.
The redheaded Jones looked at his dark-headed partner before posing a question. “So you think the DEO will step in if we catch this guy?”
Stark looked at the ground where the officers said they saw a box before answering. “They will want to have those bands the guy was wearing, but probably care nothing about the guy himself. There’s nothing here that can help us, though.”
Jones pulled out a magnifying glass and began to examine the ground with considerable care. “I hate to disagree with you, but I am finding this place full of interesting clues.” Jones pulled out an evidence bag and grabbed a minuscule amount of odd-looking material with tweezers and placed it in the bag.
“But you are an eccentric genius, while I am just a dumb soldier, so naturally you would find this place more interesting than I would.” Stark waved a hand at the alleyway and the crime scene.
“Your guise as a dumb soldier must work quite well with the ladies, but I have read the several scientific papers you have written under an assumed name, so I am not fooled by it.” Jones continued to scan the crime scene with his magnifying glass.
Stark tried to look innocent. “Papers? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jones looked up as he pocketed the magnifying glass. “If that’s what you want me to think, then you should learn how to disguise your handwriting or use a computer.”
Stark sighed as he held out his hands. “I should have known that you would figure it out. So do you want to climb up on the roof and look at that, too?”
“Of course. A visit to the rooftop, where our formerly weak and cowardly suspect became a veritable superman, would be quite illuminating.” The two walked over to the ladder and climbed to the rooftop. Stark wandered around while Jones pulled several components out of his belt and put together a strange kind of scanner. Jones swept the area with the scanner and hummed to himself.
“What’s that for?” Stark stopped wandering the rooftop to come look at the device his partner was using.
“It’s a prototype energy detector. I acquired it just before I left the DEO.” Jones examined the readings with concern after switching the scanner from energy source to energy source.
“Why are you changing the settings?” Stark asked, seeing the look of concern.
“This prototype was designed to be multi-functional, and one of the settings is supposed to scan for magic energy. Unfortunately, that’s the one that registering the most.” Jones rescanned the area, hoping to be wrong about his conclusions, but the readings remained the same.
“Bad enough to be after kooks with super-powers, but magic is ten times worse,” Stark declared vehemently.
“I wonder if we can convince the DEO to take this case, after all. Let me scan the alley with this device before I put it away and see if the magic energy is detected.” Jones climbed back down the ladder and scanned the alley.
Stark followed shortly afterward. “I can tell by your expression that its magic in the alley, too. So do you want to contact Richard and see if he wants to kick this back to the DEO?”
“Not sure, but we do need to get back to headquarters so I can run an analysis of the material I found. You can go confer with our nominal boss while I get to play scientist,” Jones said as he disassembled the scanner and replaced the components in his belt.
“That’s means I will be stuck with Lena as my partner to investigate the known hangouts of this Moore character,” Stark complained as he pulled out the van keys.
“Nothing’s wrong with Lena except for her bad temper and the desire to blow stuff up. I thought you two would be the best of friends with that in common,” Jones teased his partner as they headed toward the SCU van.
“I’ve heard the stories about her and her actor husband,” Stark said as he opened the driver’s side door.
“Stories? No one has told me any stories about Lena,” Jones replied as he climbed into the passenger side door.
“That’s because you are still considered one of those lab rat types, not one of the guys like me.” Stark started the van up and drove toward headquarters.
“I wonder if they would consider you one of the guys if I told him about your hidden nerdyness,” Jones said as he watched the traffic flow.
“No need to tarnish my image as a roughneck, soldier. I’ll tell you the stories, you damn blackmailer.” Stark laughed good-naturedly as he drove through traffic. Jones became quiet as Stark relayed the stories he had heard about their fellow squad member.