Hourman decided to look into the possibility that the sultry young Velvet Smith had made an enemy during her rapid rise to daytime stardom. He watched the next day’s taping, and all progressed smoothly except for the fact that Wendi Harris was apparently avoiding him. His efforts to engage his wife in a conversation about the case had ended in a fight.
She had looked lovely with her brunette hair flowing loosely and her still-trim figure casting doubt to her fear of being too old for Hollywood. She listened as he explained about Al Fletcher and began to talk about the planned alteration to the script. “Wendi, you did not tell me that they wanted your character to exit instead of Velvet’s,” he had said. “Fact is, according to Fletcher, you had a hissy fit.”
Wendi’s eyes blazed as she began to stalk back and forth in the room. “Hissy fit? What kind of garbage did that flake tell you?” she shouted. “I didn’t mention the change, because I didn’t think it had any relation to the accident. I only protested because, as an actress, I hated to see Eden Wainwright lose her proven record of strength and passion. Don’t you see? They want to make me some granny type! Even you are in on it. You don’t want me to work!”
Rex Tyler moved to hold her, only to feel her stiffen at his very touch. She pulled away in anger as her husband tried to explain. “You can’t forget that this is a criminal matter,” he said. “I’m certainly not in on some scheme to keep you at home!”
She broke into tears and shouted, “You are so used to seeing criminals behind every event in life that you’ve become paranoid. Maybe that infernal drug you love so much has ruined your judgment!” She had rushed out of the room, leaving him feeling more than a bit annoyed and guilty.
Now he waited and frowned as he heard a shouting voice from a nearby dressing room. The heavy British accent identified the speaker as Colin Daniels, the star from the United Kingdom who played Saffron’s lover, Brick McGuire. “Look, luv, if you play me like the others, I’ll see you pay!” he said.
Hourman heard a female cry and knocked open the door. He saw Colin gripping Velvet’s wrist tightly. Their faces were red, and anger was etched on their faces.
“Let her go!” said Hourman as he removed the British actor’s grip from the blonde’s arm.
“This isn’t your concern! We’re having a family discussion!” said Colin as he struggled helplessly in the mystery-man’s iron grip.
Velvet pleaded earnestly, “Hourman, it’s true. I was being a bit of a witch to Colin. There’s something you need to know. We’re married. We kept it secret from the cast and the press, but it’s bound to leak out sooner or later.”
Hourman released the young man, who nodded abruptly. “Sorry about the yelling. I guess it sounded bad from outside,” he explained. “It really was just a married couple airing some tension.”
The man of the hour nodded. He did understand, but he also wondered if he could settle the differences that had popped up between him and his own wife.
That evening as he left the studio alone, Rex Tyler pondered the clues. There was no doubt that someone wanted a star of the show to die. The light had been damaged intentionally. There was some question as to whether the intended victim had been Wendi Harris or Velvet Smith.
Perhaps some old foe of mine wants to get revenge on me by hurting her, he thought. I have used the line about being a Tyler family friend for so long that it would give any of my old villains a reason to strike at me through Wendi or Rick. I also wonder if there is any truth to Wendi’s words last night. Am I becoming paranoid? Could my years of Miraclo use have affected my emotions or judgment as well as my body? Some addicts do lose all sense of perspective. They develop persecution fixations. Am I suffering from one? Could Wendi be ill because of the drug residue in my body? Perhaps our years of intimacy could have slowly hurt her, too. Miraclo is still mysterious in many ways, even to me.
A screech of tires caught his ears, and he whirled to see a red car screeching wildly across the lot. He saw Velvet Smith struggling with the wheel, fear evident on her face. He rushed forward using the Miraclo within him to add speed to his movements. He flipped across a parked car and landed in front of Velvet’s racing car. He braced himself and dug his heels into the pavement. He gripped the front of her low car and strained as his mightily enhanced muscles forced the car to a stop.
He helped her out as she threw herself into his arms. “My brakes! Something’s wrong with them!” she wept.
Hourman nodded, soothing her fears. He wondered if anything could soothe his own. He had noticed that Wendi had rushed off earlier before Velvet exited makeup. Surely she could not have tampered with her rival’s car. A quick check of the vehicle revealed that, as the man of the hour had feared, someone had damaged the brakes. He spoke to the lot attendant, who admitted that he had left his post briefly and had noticed Wendi Harris slipping out of sight when he returned.
“They told me my old lady called me,” said the English boy. “It was a prank. Weird, too, since the operator knows me wife’s accent!”
Hourman nodded. He was well aware that his wife could easily do any accent.
That night, a concerned Rex Tyler paced the floor of his spacious home laboratory. He held a small tube to the light and shook his head in dismay. This is the same type of acid someone used to weaken the light stand at the set, he thought. I know exactly how much I had at home. I’m missing an amount that I can’t account for except by accepting an idea I cannot stand to believe! Wendi took the acid from my lab and deliberately used it to stage an accident that almost killed her younger co-star. Has jealousy driven the woman I love to attempt murder? Plus, she was seen at the lot. I even spotted oil on her peach blouse, though she had tossed it in the wash. She might have tricked that kid away from the lot long enough to damage Velvet’s brakes.
He brought his fist down on the table, shattering the bottles lined along the top. “Good night!” he said grimly to himself. “I’m acting like a raging jerk. I have to calm down and think rationally. Wendi is no killer. If all the evidence leads to her, then it just might be because the real killer wants it to! I thought killing Wendi would be a way for a thug to get back at me, but framing her for murder would be just as painful.”
Rex stood nervously in the living room as Wendi entered from the gym in their home. “What’s wrong? You look like your world has ended!” she said as she saw his grim demeanor. He was wearing the gold and black costume that had made him a legend, but with the mask pulled back.
“Wendi, I know the truth,” he said calmly. “You were worried that the show was reducing you from a glamorous starlet to a supporting player. You were sick with fear that your acting days were ending. You were scared, and you did things you’d never do normally. You need help, and I can see that you get it. Doctor Mid-Nite can help. Just tell me what you did, and we’ll get through this together.”
Wendi scowled in rage. “How dare you? You think I’m a killer? You really don’t trust me after years together! I raised your son! I nursed you after dozens of injures. I paced the floor while you were lost on other worlds with your costumed pals. How dare you?! I think you need help. That drug has made you into a madman! I’m leaving!”
She turned to walk away, and he jumped forward to grab her. He spun her around roughly and said, “No one walks out on me. You are going to a padded cell, not a country club!”
Reaching into her gym bag, she pulled out a gun. “I think I’d better end this now. I’m sick of you and your sanctimonious preaching,” she said as she waved the gun. Her eyes blazed in anger, and tears streamed down her face.
Hourman reached for the gun and gasped as shots echoed. He staggered backward with shock and pain in his voice. “I can’t believe it! You shot me!” He fell down to the ground hard, and Wendi stared down in horror.
“Rex, it was an accident!” she screamed. “I just wanted to get away. I just wanted you to back off so I could leave. I never meant to shoot!” She bent over his still form and wept uncontrollably, clutching his cloak and sobbing until a side door slid open, and a woman entered the home. She moved confidently, as if she had been there before or at least knew the arrangement of the house.
“This is more than I expected. I wanted to hurt Hourman. I wanted him to suffer and see his wife go to jail, but I never dreamt my emotional manipulation of the two of you would lead to this!” The woman, who had very long red hair and wore a pair of jeans and a yellow blouse, laughed, showing her delight.
Wendi did not look up as the woman stared down on them. “All the emotions you two have been feeling has really been a pleasure to me,” the woman said with a laugh. “I’ve been like a kid in a candy store. Suspicion, guilt, doubt, and anger all hit the spot for this little emotion addict!” As she drew closer, she suddenly gasped as Hourman slapped her across the room, where she hit her head and remained still.
He checked her pulse and nodded. “She’s fine — just stunned,” he said. “I hated to hit her so hard, but I could not risk her getting the chance to use that emotion-manipulating power of hers on us again.”
Wendi held him and said, “She was so happy. That witch was thrilled that we had made her believe that I had killed you.”
Hourman nodded. “She is what she claimed to be. She is addicted to the empathic absorption of emotions. Her name Psyche Hayden. She hates me because her father, Roger Hayden, the Psycho-Pirate, hates me. I’d say she is the product of his brief marriage. She may have been born with her addiction because of his use of the Medusa masks to control other people. I pity her for her craving. I’ve been there. Still, I can hardly forgive her for the pain she caused us.”
Wendi kissed him and said, “She got on the set and, as my new makeup person, she conveyed impulses that matched her own emotions. She does not need to have her victim see her face to feel what she feels. She just needs some source of proximity like the one that job gave her. She made me bring her back here, and she constantly fed me with feelings of fear, insecurity, hatred, and jealousy of Velvet and suspicion of you. She bragged about how she was going to turn me into a killer and break your heart. She didn’t mind telling me, since she could also remotely keep me from telling you. She made me feel too afraid to trust even you. She made me do those things to Velvet, and all the while I was desperate to tell you. But the fear prevented me.”
Hourman nodded. “Of course, she had you lie when I asked about new staffers. I guess she only thought framing Hourman’s friend’s wife would be hurtful to me until her contact with you gave her my secret. That made her revenge even sweeter. She induced you to try to kill Velvet and leave enough evidence, like the acid and the oil and the script changes you lied about, around so I’d realize you were guilty. Then she made me feel doubtful and angry myself. I guess she was in the house, since you were under her control and could hide her.”
Wendi nodded. “She’s even younger than Rick. I feel pity for her, too. What will happen?”
“Superman will wipe her memory of my secret, and we’ll get her help,” said Hourman. “I’m glad I was able to hit upon the idea that my own behavior was irrational and that you were being framed. I’d never have suspected you if she had not been manipulating us both all along. Plus, for all of her need for raw emotions to absorb, she still doesn’t understand love. She could not conceive that we could trust each other so much that we’d be able to risk enough to stage this little drama to lure her out. She wanted to believe that she had driven you mad and that you had killed me. That made her careless and enabled me to trap her. That also proves that you are a fine actress, Mrs. Tyler! If you had not been able to fool her when you experienced the relief of my telling you that I believed in you, her empathic link would have blown our plan.”
Wendi smiled and kissed him. It was a good ending to a drama that rivaled her life on Secret Hearts. However, as she looked down on the girl, she recalled that, unlike her show, this drama would continue and be evaluated not by ratings and Emmys but by years of pain and possible recovery.