by Sandy Hausler
Hugo looked at his watch. He estimated that in twenty minutes Buddy Carter would be dead. He shook his head. The cops were so stupid. The mob wanted Carter dead. They needed him dead. They would do anything to ensure that he was dead… including paying Hugo an obscene amount of money to ensure that he was dead. And how did the cops protect him? They stationed two cops outside his house. That was it. Hugo had seen a little girl go into the house, and those bozos did nothing. If that little girl had been a midget with a submachine gun, Carter would be dead. Hugo kicked himself for not thinking of it earlier.
So while these cops were watching Carter’s house, they knew nothing about the house next door. Hugo’s men were inside. They had posed as gardeners, tending the lawn. The cops didn’t notice that, while six guys went onto the Farrells’ property, only two actually worked. The other two entered the house and rigged it to explode. The bomb would go off in fifteen minutes. A perfect diversion.
The Farrells were away on vacation, which was perfect from Hugo’s point of view. While he was willing to kill anyone standing in the way of killing Buddy Carter, he wasn’t a kill-crazy brute. If the job could be done with only one person dying, that was all the better.
While the two cops — Hugo dubbed them Dumb and Dumber — went to investigate the explosion, Hugo’s men would break into the house through both the front and back door and polish off Carter. Chances were Carter would be armed; Hugo’s men knew that and were paid to take that risk. At the end of the day, however, one of his men — crack shots all — would put a bullet through his head or heart or some vital organ, and the job would be done.
Hugo prided himself on his work. He was, to his mind, a super-villain. Not the kind with the crazy costumes and powers or funny names, but the kind who prevailed. How long had the Joker ever stayed out of jail? Not very long, as Hugo recalled. But Hugo had been in the business of planning hard to execute crimes for the past ten years, and he had never seen the inside of a jail. He had back-up plans upon back-up plans, but this time he felt that Plan A could not fail. Buddy Carter would soon be dead.
Hugo looked at his watch and counted. Ten more seconds.
When the bomb went off, the two cops Dumb and Dumber did precisely what Hugo had expected they would do. They radioed in the incident, asking for help, and they went to investigate. This, of course, left Buddy’s house unguarded. Hugo expected it would take five minutes, at the very least, for help to come. And by the time it came, Buddy would be dead. But Hugo assumed that Buddy had no other protectors. He did not know of the Gray Ghost. While the Ghost had no knowledge that the house next door would be blown up as a distraction, he knew something was coming. And when it did, he was prepared. He immediately took over Buddy’s body.
The Gray Ghost had anticipated that the easiest means of entry into the house would be through the kitchen door in the back of the house, so when two armed men broke in through that door, the Ghost was ready. He broke a wooden chair over the head of the first man and pushed him at the second, who fell back into Buddy’s back yard. The man got off a shot, but because he was off-balance, his shot went wild. And before he could get off a second shot, the Gray Ghost was on him, knocking him over and quickly kicking him in the head. That was two down and out.
The Gray Ghost returned to the kitchen just as two more men, who had entered through the front, burst into the room. Before a shot could be fired, the Gray Ghost scooped up a meat cleaver from the kitchen counter and threw it at one of the men. The blade hit him squarely in his right shoulder, causing him to drop the gun.
The second shooter got off two shots, but the Ghost moved like lightning, dropping to the floor, opening a drawer in the cabinet, and pulling out what looked like a small glass marble, which he threw at the floor in front of the shooter, allowing a thick gas to envelop him. The gas grenade had been planted by the Gray Ghost weeks ago when he had last occupied Buddy’s body, knowing it might be needed at a later date. Not that it was absolutely necessary; the Gray Ghost knew of five other ways he could take out this bozo.
The shooter, unable to breathe, fell to the floor. The Ghost kicked him as he left the room. He heard with great satisfaction the crack of bone. Good, he thought. He won’t be following me.
And then the Gray Ghost ran like a bat out of hell out the front door. He headed straight for the empty police car and got in.
The Gray Ghost knew his target almost before he saw it. A car was streaking away from the scene of the crime. No doubt the getaway car. The Ghost switched on the siren, and the chase was on.
The Ghost picked up the police radio and called in his position. “In pursuit of dark blue Pinto heading east on Euclid Road.”
“Buddy, is that you? You are not supposed to leave your residence, damn it.”
“Lucky for you I did. This guy is driving the getaway car for the three bozos who tried to kill me.”
“We got those guys, and we’ll get this guy, too, after we interrogate them.”
“What makes you think those bozos know everything this guy does?”
“Buddy, every second you’re out of our custody, the chances increase that you are going to be a dead cop.”
Not that Buddy was much of a cop, thought the Gray Ghost. “If you’re so concerned with my well-being, you’d better help me stop this guy.”
The getaway car headed onto the highway, hoping to lose Buddy. But losing Buddy wasn’t something that was going to happen. And the sounds of other sirens could be heard in the background.
The getaway driver was getting desperate. Traffic on the road was slow, and Buddy and the police were gaining. It looked good for the good guys.
Then the getaway car blew up.
Hugo sighed. Wally had been a good employee who had been reliable on many occasions. He was cool under fire and a great driver. Under normal circumstances, Hugo would have trusted Wally to clam up and await help. But this was not an ordinary situation. The authorities needed Buddy alive to expose the connection between the corrupt police force and the mob. The mob needed Buddy dead to prevent this. Unfortunately, Wally was a loose end, the existence of which Hugo could not justify to his employers. That was the way this game was played; Wally had known that. All that mattered now was getting rid of Buddy.
Hugo flipped a switch on the radio set in front of him. His radio system was special. If any transmissions were intercepted, all the listeners would hear was static. Only a receiver equipped with a special device would allow the listener to hear the actual transmission. Hugo had been using the system for some time and was very satisfied with it.
“Bernie,” Hugo said, “do you read me?”
“Loud and clear, boss.”
“What’s going on?”
“Pretty much what you’d expect. A lot of cops. They’ve got Buddy, and it’s not going to be easy to pry him loose, if that’s even possible.”
“We have no choice. We have to pry him loose. And now! We are never going to get a second chance.”
Hugo still wondered how his plan had failed. Of course, he hadn’t been there, and the information he had received was sketchy. It appeared that Buddy had overcome the three gunmen single-handedly. But based on the information he had, that was impossible. Buddy was a better than average fighter, but not good enough to take on three armed men. And he, evidently, was unarmed. None of Hugo’s men had been killed or even shot.
This led Hugo to three possible conclusions: One, Buddy had help — but there was no word of any person at the site indicating the existence of any such person; two, Buddy was a highly skilled fighter, even though nobody knew about it; or three, Hugo’s men were totally incompetent — the most likely scenario, but one that Hugo did not buy. Those men were skilled professionals. Hugo didn’t like it.
There was a fourth possibility out there that he did not want to consider — superhumans. He had dealt with their kind before, but such a complication had not been anticipated in this case. There were no super-heroes in Rockville. As much as he hated to consider it, this was becoming a real possibility. If any further indication of superhuman interference came to light, he would have to reconsider his course of action, possibly even scrapping the operation, something Hugo hated to consider.
In fact, Hugo refused to consider it. If he failed to keep his end of the bargain (for which he had been paid a considerable amount in advance), his life wouldn’t be worth a plugged nickel. He was the best at what he did, but even he couldn’t stand up against the entire mob. Even if Buddy’s testimony put the ringleaders behind bars, there would be others willing to track down Hugo. No, he would have to go forward with the job and complete it.
“All right,” Hugo said. “Here’s what we are going to do. I am sending out a drone car, run by remote control, packed with explosives. As much as I hate to engage in excessive bloodshed, it’s necessary.”
“You can do that? On such short notice?”
“Bernie, you know me by now. I am always prepared. Even in a situation like this. I need you to keep the police from getting back to the station, or back to Buddy’s home, or anywhere else. Stall them. Can you do that?”
“Sure, boss. Piece of cake, huh?”
“What is it?”
“I was just looking at Buddy through my binoculars. He seemed to see me and wave. But that’s crazy.”
And those were the last words Bernie would speak for a while.
Bernie had left the building, but the Gray Ghost was there. Of course, in taking over Bernie’s body, he had left behind a very confused Buddy Carter. He hoped Buddy could figure out the score and hang in there until he could get back to him. Hopefully, this wouldn’t take long.
“Bernie, is everything all right?” The Gray Ghost looked at the radio. He had no idea who was on the other side, but he knew he had to answer.
He picked up the radio and said, “Yeah everything’s fine. How are you?”
Hugo was nonplussed. That did not sound like Bernie. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Did Buddy actually see you?” asked Hugo. If he had, they would really have to act fast.
The Gray Ghost caught on fast. Bernie had said something to the guy on the other side of the radio, probably his boss. “Nah, I thought he was waving at me, but he hasn’t looked in my direction since.” That was true enough. Buddy had no idea that anyone was keeping an eye on him.
“Good,” replied Hugo. “Then we can go forward. Hold the cops and Buddy there. The drone car is on its way.”
Drone car? That did not sound good to the Ghost. “I’ve got a better idea.”
“A better idea, Bernie? Remember, I’m the one who does the thinking around here.”
“Relax, boss,” said the Ghost. “In a few minutes, all your troubles will be behind you. I’ll have Buddy, hand him over to you, and that will be the end of the matter.”
Hugo was worried. What was Bernie thinking? Was he serious?
“Just do what I tell you. Keep everybody in place until I can blow them to kingdom come.”
“Nah. I think my idea is better. I’ll get back to you when I’m done.” Bernie turned off the radio. He was sure Bernie’s boss was bouncing off the walls. Good. Let him. He started up his motorcycle and headed down the hill.