by Dan Swanson
From the journal of Lily DeLuna:
I needed a safe place to doss, and I thought I knew just the place. Vic Valor’s TV transmission had been traced to a hidden bunker outside of Opal City. Police Commissioner Bailey quickly got very tired of dealing with anything related to Vic Valor, so he had slapped a police quarantine on the place, and quashed any further investigations. I had read the police report that gave the location of this place just before Bailey had sealed the documents.
(Well, OK, it was actually after he had ordered them sealed. You remember that police corporal from the Tombs, when I interviewed Doctor Doog? (*) I ran into him at the gun club firing range a few days later and found out his name is Fred Johnson, and we’ve become good friends. Boy, can he shoot! Anyway, Fred got me a look at that report, when I was working on my big Vic Valor story. He didn’t want to, but I talked him into betting on a bull’s-eye target match with pistols. And I talked him into giving me a 300-point handicap. Well, I needed every point, but Fred lost the bet and paid up, and he hasn’t bet against me since then! But we’ve both improved our shooting.)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Times Past, 1949: Vic Valor, Invincible, Chapter 7: Lily Visits the Tombs.]
On the drive out of town, I had a chance to do more thinking. I realized that last night’s thugs hadn’t known very much about me. They didn’t know what I drove, or they would have followed me when I drove by. And the lookout hadn’t known what I looked like. But Mac (I was assuming it was Mac) would soon fill them in. Lucky for me, Mac didn’t know I had a bike.
A woman with a motorcycle rates pretty low on today’s social scale — probably even below the streetwalker I’d pretended to be an hour ago. So I kept my 1927 Harley-Davidson Peashooter secret from my coworkers at the paper, and I rented a garage in another neighborhood to keep it secret from my neighbors. I couldn’t drive the car for a while, but as soon as I got the bike, I’d have transportation again.
The bike and I were old friends — my dad had bought it in 1927, when I was one, and passed it on to my bother Eddie when he turned fourteen in 1932. Eddie had asked me to take care of it when he joined the Navy in 1935. Of course, Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me ride it until I was fourteen, but I’d kept it in tiptop shape for him. Eddie was the copilot of one of the bombers that was shot down in the bombing raid on the Italian Navy fleet in Taranto harbor, 1939. They never found his body, and he wasn’t among the prisoners who escaped or were recovered after the war, so he is listed as “missing in action, presumed dead.” So I got to keep the bike. Probably the worst trade I ever was part of!
Damn, I hate being reminded how much I miss him! Ten years, and I still think about him every day. Damn all wars! I quickly wrenched my thoughts away from Eddie and back to my current problems. It could be dangerous to drive while crying.
I was going to need help. I couldn’t fight Boss Neuertski’s whole gang by myself.
I absolute hate asking for help; it’s something I almost never do. But part of the martial arts training I got from Mom was learning to admit my own limits and ask for help when I needed it. I had never liked depending on someone else, but this time I realized I had no choice.
I had no idea what had stirred up Boss Neuertski so much. I thought about running away, and I thought about giving up on the story, but I quickly gave up those thoughts. The bad guys couldn’t afford to leave me alone at this point. My best defense was to turn over some rocks and report on what crawled out, get the whole story, and then make sure that the police and the public knew everything (whatever “everything” was). Along the way, though, I might need some special protection. I had something in mind. And that’s why I needed some expert assistance.
But not just anyone, I needed help from Starman! Sure, he had publicly retired several years ago, and had only been active once since then, but I thought I had something that would pique his interest. If I could find him, but I was pretty sure I had that locked up. I’d received a package in the mail yesterday that might have the final piece of the Starman puzzle in it. It was in the trunk of the Cord right now.
By now I was into the hills northeast of the city. I smiled as I sighted some Burma Shave signs. This particular series was one of my favorites:
BEN MET ANNA
MADE A HIT
And they made good landmarks. About a mile and a half past the last sign, I turned right on an old dirt road. There used to be a house at the end of this road, but it had burned down long ago and had never been rebuilt. Vic Valor had concealed the entrance to his hideout in the basement of the ruined house.
The old barn was still standing, and the doors were missing, so I parked the Cord inside. I grabbed my pack and my suitcase and headed for my new home away from home. The storm doors had kept debris out of the outside basement stairs, and the police had forced them open, so it was pretty easy to get down into the foundation of this house.
At the bottom of the stairs there was a police sawhorse supporting a big police quarantine sign. What a waste! Did they seriously think anyone would ever see it, much less pay attention to it? I pushed it out of the way and cautiously explored the debris-filled foundation. At the front of the house, someone had cleared off a trapdoor set into the floor that looked like it might cover a root cellar. That’s what I wanted! I pulled an electric torch from my pack and went exploring.
In the wall of the root cellar was a door that was secured with a chain and padlock. I cursed the police under my breath as I went back out to the barn to see if anyone had left any tools. I found an old sledgehammer that seemed to be usable. After bashing it against a tree stump a few times to see if the handle was still sound, I went back into the basement and used it to batter the lock from the chain. Finally, I walked into Vic Valor’s secret hideout — which was now my secret hideout!
It was dark. I used my torch to find a light switch on the wall near the door. Never thinking about where the power would come from, I flipped the switch — and nearly jumped out of my skin when a gasoline-powered motor roared to life, and all the lights came on! Scared me so much I almost… well, you don’t need to know!
I later found out that this switch turned on a gasoline-powered electrical generator with an electric starter. The starter ran off a normal car battery, which was still charged, even after having not been used for a month. Lucky for me, otherwise I would have had to yank the battery from the Cord and lug it down here. Valor seemed to have planned on a long stay — there were about a dozen fifty-five-gallon drums filled with gasoline for the generator, which used about a half-gallon an hour. As I had suspected, there was no alien technology here. Come to think of it, if normal lighting blinded Valor, why would he have put lights in here? More verification, if I had needed it, that at least part of his story was phony!
I explored for a few minutes. There are seven rooms: electronics lab, electronics storeroom, kitchen, pantry, bedroom, sitting room, bathroom. The pantry was fully stocked, the other rooms fully furnished. Everything looked worn and lived in, and nothing matched. It was as if everything had been bought at the Salvation Army. But it was as comfortable as my own apartment, and had much more room. Maybe I’d just let the lease run out on my current place and live here full-time. Well, I guess not really. This place is too far from the city to be convenient.
I changed the bed linens, and took a shower. I was tempted to lie down and take a nap, but I really wanted to recover my bike first! I carried my bag down from the car, and changed into something more suitable for riding a motorcycle, and then headed back to town.
It took about forty-five minutes to hike out to the main road. Not nearly as long to hitch a ride back to town, as the second car stopped. There are some advantages to being a woman, and the guy that picked me up didn’t even try to get fresh! Although he did ask me if I wanted to go out for dinner some time. He seemed like a nice guy, but right now didn’t seem like a good time for social activities. I told him I was going to be out of town on business for a month, but I gave him my number if he wanted to call me afterwards. I asked him to drop me off at a store a couple blocks away from my rented garage, and after he left, I hiked over to the garage, picked up the bike, and headed back to my new hideout. I assumed my apartment was being watched, so I didn’t even try to go there. I was glad I kept my riding jacket and helmet in the garage, because I really don’t like to ride without them.
On the way back, I stopped at a pay phone and called Mac. I was supposed to be working on a story about the congressman from the Opal City area, so I told him I was headed for D.C. for a few days for interviews and background at the House of Representatives. Even though he had already approved the trip, I wasn’t surprised when he tried to talk me out of going today and coming in to the office instead. But I told him I only had a minute or so before the bus left, and I’d call in from D.C., and then I hung up before he could say anything else.
I waited a few seconds and called back. His phone was busy. I promised myself I would get that rat fink! No doubt he was right this instant telling Boss Neuertski that I was on a bus to Washington. If those thugs didn’t know yet that I knew about them, they might waste some time checking out the bus station… until they found there weren’t any busses to D.C. until tomorrow morning. What the heck; a little misdirection couldn’t hurt.
One more thing to do before that nap! I got the package out of the trunk, and settled down in the sitting room. If this package contained what I hoped it did, it was the final clue to finding Starman.
The night I bought Xenon’s scepter from that kid, I tried to figure out how to use it. (*) I wasn’t surprised when I couldn’t get it to work — after all, it had been in the hands of the kid for almost a week, and there had been no buildings destroyed downtown during that time. However, the scepter comprised two pieces, a sort of sheath or holder, and a smaller rod that very much resembled Starman’s gravity rod. This was the power rod that had been built by the (missing, presumed dead) criminal scientist named Xnon back in the early ’40s. Xnon must have built at least two power rods, because he used one to fight the Spectre, and was never seen again afterwards. (*) The sheath must have held the improvements that Doctor Doog had boasted to me about during my interview with him in prison.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: Times Past, 1949: Vic Valor, Invincible, Chapter 15: Lily Gets the Last Word and The Spectre, More Fun Comics #60 (October, 1940).]
There were no controls on the sheath, but once I figured out how to detach the power rod, I discovered some buttons, switches, and dials on the rod itself. I tried pushing one of the buttons, and disintegrated a big hole in one of the walls in my apartment! Lucky for me it wasn’t a load-bearing wall, and I was able to patch it up and then repaint the whole wall the next day. Sometimes the things I learned as a tomboy growing up on a farm really come in handy! Hopefully the landlord would never know.
The second after I blasted the wall, I put the power rod back into the sheath, and I hadn’t experimented with it since. As soon as I realized I was going to need expert help to figure this thing out, I had started looking for Starman. I mean, really looking! Fortunately, doing research is one of the things they taught us about back in journalism school.