“So this is where you work.” Mitch Shelley looked at the somewhat dingy nightclub from the bar.
A grizzled old man stepped out from the back and answered the question. “She is one of the best waitress bartenders I’ve ever had. So who the hell are you, anyway?”
“Red, this is Mitch Shelley, and he saved me from Jackson,” Bell Dixon said as she picked up a rag and wiped down the bar absentmindedly.
Red spat at the name of Jackson and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “That no-good punk has deserved a good beating for a long damn time, but I’m the one who wanted to do it.”
Bell patted the old man’s hand. “I know you wanted to, but he would have hurt you really badly.”
“I may be an old man, girl, but I can still beat one of those young punks if I put my mind to it.” Red snatched the rag away from Bell. “Sit down, girl; I’m giving you the night off with pay. So tell me about yourself, young fellow.”
Mitch Shelley noticed the sword hanging on the wall, and to deflect the conversation asked about it. “That’s a very interesting weapon. Where did you get it?”
Red swelled with pride as he looked back at the old sword hanging on the wall. “My dad got that sword from a genuine mystery-man back in the ’40s. Of course, my dad passed to down to me, but I never had the time to have no children to pass it on to. I would give it to Billy, but he’d cut his hand off trying to swing it around.”
A brief image formed in Shelley’s mind of men in odd costumes that quickly flickered out. Red looked at Shelley and back at the sword before making up his mind about something. “Would you like to feel it in your hand, young fellow?”
“If you don’t mind, that is.” Mitch tried to not to look too eager to hold the sword as Red pulled it off the wall and put it in his hand. Mitch expertly swung the sword around, to the astonishment of the people in the room.
“I bet I could do that if Red would let me hold the sword,” Billy said as he broke the tussle with Roxy, who gave him a look of disbelief at that claim.
The sound of a gun going off sent everyone into panic except for the now-armed Shelley. A gang of colorfully clad armed members had come into the club. The head of the gang in a deep voice asked, “Where’s that slut and the scumbag who helped her beat up our man Jackson? We’re here to make them an object lesson for the rest of the people in the neighborhood. Nobody crosses Los Diablos.”
Shelley put the sword into a guard position as he stepped in front of the terrified Bell. “I would advise you not to call Bell a slut, or else I will have to teach you some manners. As for your ill-mannered colleague, he received such a lesson. I would say it hurt me more than it hurt him to do it, but that would be a lie.”
“Nobody talks back to us like that and lives.” The tallest of the gang leaped forward to take out Shelley. A spinning side-kick sent him tumbling backward to slump half-conscious to the floor. The leader of the gang looked down and gave the gang member a kick to the head.
“The quality of my help leaves a lot to be desired at times. We have guns, you idiot. No need to engage in hand-to-hand combat when we can just shoot them full of holes.” The rest of the gang aimed their firearms at the motionless Shelley. Red reached out and pulled Bell behind the bar while Billy and Roxy dived into a booth.
“No pleas for mercy, fool? How strange. Let’s kill this idiot and then take our time with the women.” Several of the gang chuckled evilly as they pulled the triggers on the guns. Shelley started spinning the sword in his hand faster and faster as the bullets flew toward him. The chime of metal on metal hummed in the air as the spinning blade caught the bullets and deflected them into the floor.
“No frackin’ way!” the gang leader cursed as he looked on at this seemingly impossible task. “What are you standing there for? Go get him!” The gang leader pushed one of his frightened men forward.
“No way. I’m not going to fight no freaking super-hero. Let’s get the hell out of here.” The rest of the gang agreed and started rushing toward the door. Only the leader of the gang remained as Mitch Shelley advanced on him. The gang leader tossed his gun in a futile effort at Shelley, which he ducked.
The gang leader tried to fight but was overwhelmed by the superior skills that his opponent had. He was grabbed and dragged outside. Shelley yanked him up and slammed him into a wall with deadly earnestness. In a pleasant tone of voice, which frightened the gang leader even more, Shelley began to speak. “Here is what I want you to understand, young man. Those people inside are under my protection, and if something happens to them, I will hold you personally responsible.”
The gang leader looked even more scared when Shelley dropped him and held the sword out. “If you think you can still stop me, let me show you a little trick.” Shelley took the sword and cut his hand open. The gang leader watched as the blood flowed, then suddenly stopped as the wound sealed shut, and even the wound itself disappeared.
“Do you understand what I am saying to you?” The gang leader nodded his head as Shelley wiped the blade clean on his shirt. “I am glad that we were able to reach this understanding without me being forced to get really nasty. I would advise you to leave now.” The gang leader took off running as Shelley reentered the club.
Bell ran and threw herself at Shelley. “I knew you were a super-hero — I just knew it.”
Billy jumped out of the booth. “I could have done that.”
Roxy snorted with disbelief as she climbed out of the booth. “Not in a million years could you have done that, Billy.”
Billy glared at Roxy. “Are you saying that I can’t do that? The only reason I didn’t jump on those gang guys was because I was protecting you from harm.”
Roxy just smiled as she shook her head. “If you say so, Billy-boy.”
Red came out from behind the bar as he smiled approvingly at the young man. “You could be the equal of that man my father met so long ago.”
Mitch Shelley gently disengaged the clinging Bell as he walked over to return the sword. Red refused to take it. “You keep it, Mitch. Maybe in your hands it could do some real good.”
“Then could you hold on to it for me? I still have a lot of places to see in this city, and somehow I think the law would find a man with a sword out of place.” Mitch gave the sword to Red, who took it this time.
“Sure thing, Mitch. I’ll keep it right there for you.” Red returned the sword to its place on the wall.
“Why are you going? Can’t you stay here for a while so I can get to know you better, Mitch?” Bell looked disappointed and saddened as she gave Mitch an appealing look.
“I am sorry, Bell, but I need to go. It’s nothing I can put into words, but I feel drawn to continue moving. I’ll come back to see you, I promise.” Mitch gave everyone a wave and a smile as he walked out the door.
Bell broke down crying as Red tried to comfort her. “Stop your crying, girl — that man will be coming back when you least expect it.”
Sometime later, the gang leader reported back to his mysterious hooded employer. The hooded man sat in the shadows with the glare of lights focused on whomever he was speaking to. His voice was dry and harsh, without the normal emotional tones heard in a normal human.
“You disappoint me, Felix. I give you power, and you let one stranger armed only with a simple sword defeat you. I had hoped that you could rise in the ranks of powers to serve as one of my Hands, but your failure means that you will pay.” Arcs of energy erupted quickly, destroying the cringing gang leader and leaving only a fine residue of ash behind.
The hooded man stared at the ash before pressing a button on his chair. Another man came into the room and bowed to his leader. “I see your interview went well.”
“I will tolerate many things from the people who serve under me, faithful Hand, but cowardice combined with failure is not one of them. This stranger with the sword had frightened Felix more than the thought of my displeasure does, so his end was inevitable.” The hooded man seemed to lose focus for a moment, as if distracted by something unseen.
“What do you want me to do about this stranger? He might interfere with the new shipment of drugs coming in very shortly.” The Hand looked unafraid as he waited for his orders.
The hooded man waved one hand as if the stranger was of little consequence to his plans. “Is this the new shipment of the designer drug that you speak of?”
The Hand nodded his head. “Yes, it is tailored to boost the user’s strength and constitution while being incredible addictive.”
“I am very curious to see the effect it will have on this city. As for the stranger, send a few of the Eyes after him to keep him under observation. If it becomes necessary, we will destroy him.” The hooded man gestured for the Hand to leave his presence. He then rose from his chair and moved to a wall, which slid upward to reveal a computer monitor.
The monitor flared to life, revealing a bearded, well-dressed man on the other side. “I wish a progress report on your efforts, agent,” the bearded man said with a commanding tone.
“The plan proceeds as you outlined, my lord. I have organized the criminal element into a structured network and am distributing the new test drugs as soon as they arrive. The rebuilding is continuing to be delayed by a set of seemingly random acts, increasing tensions amongst the population. The few minor setbacks dealt to us by the local super-hero set have been anticipated and planned for.” The hooded man acted very respectful of the bearded man as he outlined what he had accomplished.
“I am glad to see that some of my servants are at least confident enough to do as I asked, despite my long absence.” The bearded man gave his servant a fierce smile before disappearing from his monitor screen.
“I live only to serve you,” the hooded man said to the now-blank monitor screen. He closed the wall panel and returned to his chair to consider his next move.