Secret Files: Lily DeLuna: 1943: The Summer of ’43, Chapter 7: Charles Atlas Unbound

by Dan Swanson

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In the back seat, Lily DeLuna was putting the facts together. She tried to tell Deputy Tracey Thomas what she knew, but he wasn’t interested, and told her to keep quiet. So she motioned to Rich Spooner to lean closer, and they whispered together.

“That gasoline truck hijacking I saw the other night,” she began, having mentioned it during lunch, “must have been Biff. He just stood up, and then things changed, and later I found out I’d lost over an hour, but never even knew it. I wonder how he did that?”

“Didn’t you say he took his hood off?” Rich asked eagerly. He couldn’t believe how cool this all was. Riding in a police car in hot pursuit of a mystery-man criminal. Exciting stuff like this never happened in Redcliff, Ohio. “Why would he do that? You’d think he’d want to keep his face hidden… unless…” He stared at Lily, excitement in his voice and eyes.

“Unless…” she finished for him, “…taking off the hood unleashed his mysterious power!” They smiled at each other in triumph, and Rich was stunned when Lily gave him a quick kiss. “Thanks, Rich! I needed some help to figure it out, but I think that’s it! It’s got something to do with his bad eye! That’s why he wears the patch!”

Rich was still flustered. Fortunately, he didn’t have to react, as Deputy Thomas swung the car off the highway onto the dirt road, bouncing everyone inside around. Then they were speeding down the bumpy road, fast enough to scare the pants off of everyone but the driver. “Hey, partner! We won’t be able to catch this bum if we’re in the hospital! Slow it down!” His partner’s screaming at him finally seemed to get through to Thomas, and he did slow down. The other occupants of the car gasped in relief. At least they could stay in their seats now. Lily climbed up off the floor where she had wedged herself. Rich had wrapped his arms around the support pillar between the open front and rear windows and hung on for dear life, ignoring the bruises to his head, chest, and arms.

“Hold it, hot shot! See that spot there? That’s the turnoff to our old fort!” Rich pointed out a narrow gap between two trees, free of underbrush on the left side of the road. It didn’t look wide enough for a car, which was why the two deputies had missed it their first time down the road. “It’s another quarter mile to the river, but the path runs out in about a hundred yards.”

Deputy Thomas started barking orders. Lily could see that he was destined to be the sheriff himself one day. “We’ll leave the car here, so our backups will know where we are. Spooner, you come with us. Your girlfriend can stay in the car!” He still didn’t know Lily’s name. She was going to protest that she wasn’t his girlfriend, and that she had no intentions of staying here, but Thomas was already out of the car, dragging Rich down the hidden path. Well, fine. As soon as they were out of sight, she opened the door and slipped quietly into the woods.

As Rich had remembered, this path was only navigable by car for about a hundred yards. They came upon Biff’s car. Either he was still here, or he had left some other way. Rich thought they might be walking into some kind of trap, and said so. “Hey, Trace! I can’t believe Biff would lead us out here like this and then let us walk in and arrest him. I think there’s something funny going on.”

Deputy Thomas held up his hand and they stopped. “I think you’re right, Spooner. So from now on, no talking, and we move as quietly as we can. You go on along the path, and Bobby and I will sneak through the woods. When you spot him, pretend you’re out here by yourself, looking for him. Get him talking, and Bobby and I will get the drop on him!”

Rich replied, “That’s not much of a plan! What if he shoots first instead of talking?”

Bobby spoke up this time. “What’re you, chicken? I thought you’re joining up next week? Does the big bully Biffy Redondo scare you more than the Nazis? Get a move on!”

Biff thought there was a big difference between courage and stupid recklessness, but now didn’t seem to be the time to argue. Thomas and Bobby were already moving off into the woods on either side of the trail. He would probably regret this much sooner than later, but he started walking along the trail, making noise and calling Biff’s name. A couple of hundred yards later, he came out into the remembered clearing next to the river and was unsurprised to see Biff Redondo sitting on a log, aiming a pistol at him. He was wearing his zoot suit, although he had taken off the hat and jacket. The black patch covered his left eye.

“Hey, Skinny! Fancy meeting you here! Good thing you let me know you was comin’, or I would’a plugged you! What are you doing way out here in the woods? Come to do some shooting with me?” Biff moved his pistol slightly, and almost before he heard the pistol shot, Rich was sprayed with wood splinters as a bullet blasted a hole in the tree closest to him. Rich quickly bolted behind that same tree.

“Biff, don’t shoot me! I just came out here to help you! There’s FBI in town, and they’re searching all over for you. Searched your house, and trashed it too, the bastards!” He tried to inject righteous anger into his voice, but wasn’t sure he had succeeded. The fear of being shot was hard to overcome, and he knew his voice was squeaky and quavering. “We aren’t friends any longer, Biff, but we used to be. I couldn’t let them catch you, no matter what they say you did!”

“Ah, and what did they tell you I did, eh, stoolie? Shoot somebody? They’re lying. If I shoot you, you’ll be the first! Something to look forward to, huh?” He stood up and walked slowly forward, keeping his gun aimed at the tree where Rich was hiding. “Out from behind the tree, Skinny! If I have to come any closer, I’ll shoot you sure as it’s summertime!” He put another bullet into a tree farther away.

“OK, Biff, I’m coming out. Please don’t shoot!” Rich hoped the deputies would spring their trap soon. While he was scared, while any rational person would be scared in this situation, what he really wanted to do was tell Biff where to go. But Biff seemed to like seeing his ex-friend grovel, and it was Rich’s job to keep Biff’s attention as long as possible.

Just then there was some noise in the woods off to Biff’s left. “A trap, huh? Should’a known! But it won’t do you no good!” Biff turned toward the noise and pulled off his patch. They both heard a noise like something heavy falling through the branches of a bush. “Might was well be sure!” Biff mused, almost to himself, and he turned around slowly, his gaze sweeping the woods. Strangely enough, the normal sounds of small animals and insects stopped as Biff’s gaze swept by, and by the time he completed the circle and was facing Rich again, they were surrounded by an eerie silence. Just before he turned his head to look at Rich, he replaced the patch.

But Biff wasn’t facing Rich anymore. Lily had replaced Rich. And he heard a crashing noise in the woods behind her, as if Rich was running away. “DeLuna? My guys were supposed to take care of you last night. But I’m glad they didn’t, ’cause now I can take care of you myself!” He pointed his pistol at her and fired.

There are legends about martial artists who can dodge bullets. Heather didn’t believe them, so Lily didn’t, either. Heather knew that the basis for these legends came from highly trained people who could read their opponents well enough to know when they were going to pull the trigger, and move out of the way before the shot, not after.

It was a tough skill to acquire. The person training you had to really pull the trigger on a working gun in order for you to learn what cues were real. She couldn’t pretend, and she couldn’t know she was shooting blanks. But if you didn’t know the skill already, how could you keep from getting hit? Heather had come up with the idea of using BB guns. Heavy clothing was fairly good protection against BB pellets, and the pain associated with failure actually speeded up the learning process. Lily got better. But at her best, she barely managed to dodge half the pellets Heather shot at her. And bullets moved much faster and hurt a lot more than BB pellets.

Fortunately, Lily had watched Biff take two shots at the trees near Rich, and she had seen that he fired that gun without a pause, without even an instant’s thought. She was moving fast at the same time he started to swing the gun toward her, moving toward the place the gun had previously pointed at. Biff ended up shooting empty air, and Lily lashed out with a hammer-hand punch to his wrist as she flashed by him. The pistol fell from his hand, but he didn’t even think about picking it up. Instead he just used his other hand to once again remove his patch, and as soon as he turned his head toward Lily, she fell to the ground, unmoving. With a satisfied sneer on his face, he started to walk toward her. She was in his power now. And he had plans for her.

Without warning, two clasped hands crashed down on the back of his neck, a blow with the full power of Charles Atlas — not to mention 195 pounds of fighting-mad Rich Spooner — behind it. It was a dirty blow, but Rich realized he couldn’t risk Biff turning around and looking at him. Biff stumbled and fell to his knees, but he somehow managed to catch himself on his hands, and he started to turn his head toward Rich. Charles Atlas would hardly have sanctioned what Rich did next, a powerful kick from behind between Biff’s legs.

Biff didn’t even have the breath to scream out his incredible pain. He fell forward, his face digging into the detritus on the ground in the clearing, moaning softly. Rich quickly knelt with one knee on Biff’s back and the other on the side of his head, pinning his dangerous eye to the ground. Biff’s whimpers and pitiful cries of pain tore at his heart, but he knew Biff’s mystery power continued to make him dangerous. If Biff managed to knock him out now, he knew he would be better off never waking up.

Rich pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around Biff’s head, knotting it tightly. He then wrapped his belt around Biff’s head to help hold the shirt in place. Finally, he bound Biff’s hands, using Biff’s own shirt and belt.

Finally, Rich felt safe enough to check on Lily. She seemed to be sleeping, which was consistent with the story she had told him. He ducked into the fort and was surprised at how small it now seemed. He found some old fishing gear — it might even have been his, sitting out here for the past three or four years — and went back to Biff and did a more thorough job of binding him.

There were some old blankets in the fort, so he got them out and laid Lily on top of one, then dragged the two deputies into the clearing and made them as comfortable as possible as well. He found a handkerchief in Biff’s jacket, dipped it into the river, and was bathing Lily’s face when the FBI arrived in force.

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