by Sandy Hausler
The Gray Ghost headed down the hill at a good speed. The hill ended when the natural terrain met a wall on the side of the highway. At that point, there was a ten-foot drop to the road. It would be tricky to land at just the right spot to pick up Buddy Carter, but the Ghost knew how to handle a motorcycle. He briefly wondered how that was, but quickly put the thought aside. All of his concentration was necessary to see that things worked out; he could think about the hows later. At any rate, the Gray Ghost often found that he had special knowledge without knowing how he came by it.
The Ghost flew off the hill, and the cycle turned as it fell and landed right in front of Buddy and the police.
“Gray Ghost Express, Buddy. Hop aboard,” said the Ghost. Buddy didn’t waste any time in hopping on the cycle. This happened so fast that the police didn’t react until the cycle sped away. But the police, once it was clear that Buddy had been taken, were in quick pursuit.
Fortunately, Bernie’s motorcycle was top of the line, and the police found it hard to keep up. Once they reached a stretch of road with heavier traffic, the Ghost was able to weave through the cars and exit the highway with ease. He then reentered the highway going the other way, passing dozens of police cars before anyone even realized what had happened. In short, the Ghost and Buddy were home free.
The Ghost clicked on the radio. “Boss, I’m back,” he said.
“I can’t believe it,” said Hugo. “You actually got him? Right from under the nose of the police?”
“Ah, you’ve heard,” said the Ghost.
“Of course I’ve heard, you imbecile! That’s what I do. I know things that nobody else knows,” snapped Hugo. “What I want to know is why you did it. We had arrangements to take care of things.”
“But that would be very bloody. A lot of cops killed. Dead cops is bad news.”
“Normally I’d agree, but kidnapping our target from under their nose is almost as bad,” replied Hugo. “Now, I assume you’re willing to finish things off.”
“Not on your life,” replied the Ghost. “You’re the brains. You figure out a way to take care of him without anything pointing at me.”
“Hmm… that’s smart thinking. Anything that points at you is bad for me, too,” said Hugo. “All right, we’ll arrange to have him turned over. I’ll tell you where we can meet.”
“If it’s the same to you, I’ve got a place in mind. The parking lot at the Shop Mart on Haines Street that closed up recently. Midnight. Nobody will be there.”
Hugo was impressed. It was as if Bernie could tell that Hugo planned to off him at the same time he turned over Buddy. But this worried Hugo. Bernie took orders; that was his thing. He didn’t have the initiative to come up with a scheme to protect his own interests. Which, of course, led Hugo to believe that he wasn’t dealing with Bernie. And that worried him.
“All right,” said Hugo, “Midnight tonight.”
The Gray Ghost smiled and drove off with his precious cargo.
Of course, Hugo didn’t intend to show up to pick up Buddy from Bernie. Hugo knew Bernie. He was a by-the-book kind of guy — a very competent by-the-book guy, but not the guy with the kind of initiative to kidnap Buddy from under the nose of the cops. For one thing, he didn’t have the skill set for that kind of thing. From what Hugo had been able to gather from his sources, it would have taken someone with superhuman skill — or close to it — to pull off that little stunt. That worried Hugo. If it acted like a super and performed like a super, it likely was a super. And as good as Hugo was, he wasn’t a super, and he tried to avoid them. Oh, sure, he had outsmarted Wildcat a couple of years ago (without him ever finding out who was behind the caper), but the idea in Hugo’s business was to keep out of the way of super-heroes.
On the other hand, you couldn’t just run away from a fight, especially when you’d been paid for the job, so Hugo had to find a way to minimize his risk. The first thing he knew was that, whatever this super was, it was able to take over bodies. It had taken over Bernie, and the last thing Hugo wanted was for it to take over him. On the positive side, even though the super had taken over Bernie’s body, it didn’t appear to have had access to his memory. If he had, he’d probably already have access to information that would allow him to reach Hugo without setting up this drop scenario.
So the first thing he needed was to have someone play the part of “Hugo” at the drop. And the second thing was to make sure that, if the super took over this faux Hugo, his sharpshooters would take him down. And if that didn’t work, well, at least Hugo would have a chance to escape. That should work.
The Gray Ghost recognized that his adversary wasn’t a moron. Whoever was trying to get Buddy was pretty smart — and was likely being paid a tidy sum to succeed. So whoever was going to appear at the parking lot at midnight was not going to be that person. But that person would be nearby to make sure that the job he was hired to do got done.
This, of course, meant that the Gray Ghost would have to visit the Shop-Mart, but not as Bernie. He’d have to leave Bernie’s body — Buddy could make sure that Bernie wouldn’t be in any position to cause trouble — and scout out the area in his ghostly form. Then, once he saw how things really stood, he could take action.
It meant playing things by ear, but the Gray Ghost had a very good ear. He had no doubt that things were going to come to a close in very short order.
Hugo had set everything up. Only Buddy and Bernie (or whoever he really was) would be getting to that parking lot at midnight. And when he did… well, boom, or bang, or some variation thereof. He had sharpshooters stationed in strategic places, who were prepared to take care of Buddy and Bernie. It bothered Hugo to have to kill Bernie. After all, Bernie had worked with him on many other projects, but he was carrying a cancer in his body, one which could not be allowed to live.
Checking his watch, he then trained his binoculars on the parking lot. A shot of adrenaline went through his body. Soon it would be all over.
And he was right, but not in the way he thought.
“They’re not coming.”
Hugo swerved around and saw a man standing there with a gun trained on him.
“Harvey, what are you talking about? You’re supposed to…” Then he understood. He had underestimated his adversary. That wasn’t Harvey, one of his sharpshooters, anymore. It was someone else.
“At least tell me who you are,” Hugo said.
“I’m the Gray Ghost,” replied the body of Harvey. And he smiled.
District Attorney Walter Carver was in a fury. He had a bunch of new suspects under lock and key for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Buddy Carter, but no Buddy. And he needed Buddy, not just for the new cases, but for the underlying police corruption case. He was the guy who started everything on the case. And without Buddy, he had nothing.
“Where the hell is he?” he asked no one in particular for the umpteenth time. The only answer he got was a series of shrugs from assistant D.A.s who had been asked that question before, had no answer, and were, frankly, tired of being asked.
“Boss!” yelled a secretary. “There’s a call you should take.”
“The police?” asked Carver hopefully. Maybe those dopes had found something.
“Better. The man himself,” the secretary replied.
Carver grabbed the phone. “Carver,” he barked.
“Hi, Walter. It’s me. I’m OK,” said Buddy.
“Where the hell are you?” yelled Carver.
“I’m not telling you,” answered Buddy. “But I’m OK, and I’m prepared to testify.”
“That’s not how it works,” said Carver. “You come in, we keep you safe, and you testify. We’re going to have to work with you, prepare you for your testimony. You can’t just come in and take the stand.”
“We’ll have to prepare over the phone, because I am not coming back until I have to. You guys can’t protect me. You’ve already shown that. I’m with a guy who can.”
“And who’s that?” asked Carver, who didn’t like the way that the conversation was going.
“You don’t need to know that. But he’s saved me from those lunatics who tried to kill me.”
“He wouldn’t be the Gray Ghost, would he?” asked Carver.
Buddy was surprised. “Where’d you hear that name?”
“Oh, Hugo Venner, the guy behind the attempt to kill you, hasn’t been able to stop talking about him. Not that he’s admitted to anything. He’s trying to pin everything on the Gray Ghost. Takes over bodies. Responsible for all kind of bad things.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about any ghosts,” Buddy replied. “But I’m not coming back — not now. Here’s how things are going to work.” And he told Carver how it was going to work. Carver listened.
Buddy Carter looked at the Gray Ghost, who was now “borrowing” the body of a tall black man. “He went for it. He’s going along with your plan.” The two men sat in a spacious office. The Ghost sat behind a large desk, while Buddy sat on the other side of the desk. The walls were lined with bookshelves and file cabinets. Buddy didn’t know what this place was, but he knew that it was a sanctuary from those trying to kill him.
“He has no choice,” said the Gray Ghost. “He wants to run for higher office, and he can’t lose this case. And if he doesn’t have you on board, that’s precisely what will happen.”
“But there’s one thing I don’t get,” said Buddy. “How am I going to get to the courthouse without being taken out by the mob? They aren’t just going to let me walk into court and testify against them.”
The Gray Ghost picked up the phone and pushed the intercom button. “Nicki, can you join us?” Miss Nickleby, the secretary from the head office, entered. “Buddy, this is Miss Nickleby. She’ll be working with us for a while, maybe a long while.” He smiled at Miss Nickleby. “Nicki, were you able to obtain the object I need?”
“Of course, Ghost. Here it is.” Miss Nickleby handed the Gray Ghost a ring with a large green stone embedded in its setting. Buddy took a deep breath and tried not to look at Miss Nickleby’s legs, which were extremely shapely. Buddy had always been a leg man, so this was no easy task.
“Excellent,” said the Gray Ghost, and handed the ring to Buddy. “Put this on.”
Buddy quickly obeyed, wondering what the ring had to do with his question. But once the ring was on his finger, the answer became clear. Buddy grew two inches, and his body frame broadened. His eyes changed from brown to green, and his hair from jet black to a dirty reddish color. No one looking at him would know he was the same man. Of course, Buddy could not see all of the changes to his body, but he knew that something had happened.
“What’s happening to me?” stammered Buddy.
“You’ve become a new man,” replied the Gray Ghost. “I would suggest that you don’t remove the ring. But when you turn the ring so that the stone is on the palm side, you will resume your original form. You can walk into a room and change from one form to another. And nobody will notice; that’s part of the ring’s magic. Am I right, Miss Nickleby?”
“Absolutely, Ghost,” replied Miss Nickleby.
“So getting into court unnoticed will prove no problem. The trail will go forward as scheduled. I expect convictions will ensue. And then you can start your new life.”
“My new life? And what is that going to be?” asked Buddy.
“Well, I have work to do down here, and I can’t do it alone. You are my first recruit for the G Squad.”
“What kind of work are we talking about?”
“Oh, making things right. Helping out people who need it. Serving justice. That kind of thing. Are you on board? Can I count on you?”
“How can I say no? You saved my life.”
“Well, I also endangered it, as you might remember. Without me, nobody would be out to kill you.”
“That’s not what I meant. I was the kind of guy I was because I was angry and unhappy. I wanted to take control of things and stop playing by the rules. But you showed me that that wasn’t the way to be true to myself. Thanks to you, I could never live the kind of life I was living again.”
“Excellent, Buddy. Welcome to G Squad.” The Ghost turned to Miss Nickleby. “I hope you aren’t too unhappy coming down here to help me out, Niki. This isn’t exactly headquarters.”
“Think nothing of it, Ghost. Something a little out of the ordinary is exactly what I need.”
“Well, you should get it here,” laughed the Gray Ghost. “Things down here should be anything but ordinary. Now it’s time for me to return this body and start work on our next case.”