by Dan Swanson
As Dr. Edward Clariss had realized, and the Rival seemed to have forgotten, Nails McGoon, although only poorly educated, was quite intelligent and very observant. Although Clariss tried to keep his personality change secret, Nails noticed enough changes in him to realize that he was no longer the same person Nails had almost come to consider as a friend. He wondered why Clariss would keep such a secret, and the most likely reason he came up with was that Clariss was plotting treachery. Instincts that had been dormant around the “kindly professor” were aroused, and Nails began to view him with the kind of distrust he viewed everyone else in his life. He felt vaguely sad at the loss of someone he come to consider almost a friend. But he was too cynical about life to be surprised.
Nails watched as the Rival prepared various potions. He saw the potion that Clariss took to regain his sanity, and he secretly stole several vials, replacing them with vials of regular water. When Clariss filled a lot of vials with a clear potion and told him that this batch was for use by underlings in the Neuertski organization, and would give these underlings limited super-speed, he was naturally suspicious.
Why would anyone give power like that to others? He knew he would never use one of those vials himself. He knew the original potion had originally left Clariss helplessly insane. What better way to protect himself from underlings plotting to replace him? Endow them with great power, use them to help him gain the position he was seeking, and then discard them as they lost their speed and their sanity.
The Boss was anxious for results from McGoon’s pet project, so Nails set up a job in which he and Priest Madonne would use the super-speed potion to rob a bank. They traveled to Baltimore, and outside of the biggest bank in the city, they quaffed their potions. Nails used one of his stolen potions rather than the one Clariss had given him for this expedition.
The Rival had warned them that the super-speed granted by the potion would last for about a half-hour of subjective time. If they used super-speed, they could do an awful lot in such a short time. They had also been given some basic instructions in the use of their anticipated powers.
“While the Flash manifests his powers by running, it is not necessary to run to move at super-speed. In fact, until you become familiar with the hazards of moving at super-speed, you should move very cautiously, and instead of running, you should walk.
“To manifest your own power, once you have ingested the potion, watch something that is moving, and concentrate on that object slowing down. Continue to concentrate until it stops moving entirely. Then walk, don’t run, into the bank.
“Although you will feel that you are moving at normal speed, and everything around you is frozen, in fact you will be moving at a velocity high enough to make you invisible to normal humans. Because you are moving that fast, you need to be very careful of everything you touch. The world around you is very fragile when you are moving at super-speed. And things behave differently than you might expect. Inertia will become much more apparent to you.”
He realized that neither man really understood what the word inertia meant. Idiots! he thought, and adjusted the level of his instruction.
“It takes a lot of energy to induce a stationary object to move at super-speed. You will need to provide that energy. So, whenever you attempt to move something, such as opening a door or even picking up a dollar bill, you will find that it is much more difficult, and requires much more effort on your part, than it would if you were not super-speeding.
“And once you have started any object moving, you must be careful to slow it down again, rather than letting it stop on its own, no matter how slowly you perceive it to be moving, or the results could be disastrous. Remember that anything that you can actually see moving in your speeding state is, in fact, moving at thousands of miles per hour. Imagine if you throw open a door and let it smash into the wall behind it at that speed.
“Finally, you must realize that, although you will not be able to see some things moving, they can still be dangerous to you. A bullet may seem to move slowly through the air towards you, and you can easily avoid it, but it has inexorable momentum, and if you remain in its path, it can hurt you. You’ve heard about the Flash ‘slapping’ bullets from the air? The Flash, and I, have learned how to safely do that trick. You, on the other hand, will probably shatter every bone in your hand if you try this incorrectly.
“When you are ready to return to normal speed, concentrate on something you know is moving, and attempt to see it move. The sweep second hand on a watch is perhaps best suited for the transformation from super-speed to normal speed. It is better if you deliberately return to normal rather than wait for the potion to wear off. That way you won’t be surprised when the bullet that was barely creeping towards you an instant ago suddenly starts moving faster than you can see.
“I’ve given you each an extra vial. If you need to, use the extra vial to extend the duration of your powers.” The Rival was certain that using super-speed for extended intervals would hasten the onset of insanity, but his plans were just about complete. If Priest Madonne succeeded as well as the Rival hoped, he would cure the man’s insanity. As for Nails, the sooner he was insane, the easier it would be to eliminate him.
The robbery itself was anticlimactic. Clariss was absolutely right about the unexpected differences in the way the world behaved when one moved at super-speed, but Nails and Priest moved cautiously and were in and out of the bank in less than a normal second, although to them they felt that they were in the bank for about twenty minutes. No one saw them, and the Baltimore papers the next day reported on the mystery robbery. They returned with about seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand dollars.
Nails repaid his petty cash loan, gave fifty grand each to Clariss and Priest, and presented the rest to the Boss. An impressed Boss restored Nails to his prior position. Clariss was accepted as a member of the organization, and he and Priest were assigned to Nails’ division. “Nails, I’ve got a special assignment for your division.” Nails knew he was back in good with the Boss when he heard the Boss call him “Nails” instead of Sylvester. “I want a plan to take over Boss Phillips’ mob.” This amused Clariss, because he had already developed such a plan, but Neuertski had no part in it.
Nails watched the Priest closely and saw no signs of insanity, and he decided it must take repeated doses of the contaminated potion to actually induce insanity in the user. So, that night, he took a big chance. He used the suspected contaminated potion Clariss had given him this morning and, moving cautiously, stole all of the good potion vials, replaced them with vials which he suspected were contaminated, and replaced the contaminated vials with vials of regular water. He didn’t know what the Rival’s plans were, but he had plans of his own. When the Rival made his move, Nails would be ready.
Police Corporal Fred Johnson accompanied Councilman John Ross to work the next day. The press conference was scheduled for 11:30 in the morning, with a free buffet lunch at 12:30 after the question and answer session. One of the valuable political lessons that Ross had learned in over thirty years in politics was that the best way to get a good attendance at a press conference was to provide free food afterward, and to refuse entry to any reporters who didn’t get there in time for the press conference itself. It was a little cynical, but it worked, especially for announcements that were as essentially boring as the announcement of granting a city government construction contract.
Lily DeLuna showed up early, and Ross immediately hired her on as his press secretary. She had mailed her resignation to the Opal City Register yesterday. This hiring would only last until Ross resigned, and she would never even draw a paycheck. But she expected to get just a little bit of fun out of this whole thing. She was pretty sure that her ex-boss from the Register, Harold “Mac” McCallahan, would show up today; he never missed a free meal, and besides, this announcement was of interest to his other employer, if, as she now suspected, he was in the pay of Boss Neuertski.
Ross had insisted that Mary-Beth Karnath, the most senior member of the City Council, attend the press conference as well. She really didn’t need to be there for the announcement of awarding the airport contract, but by the council rules, acting chairmanship would descend on her as soon as John resigned.
Reporters started drifting in about eleven o’clock. Lily greeted the pair from the Register, who were surprised to see her, because she wasn’t usually on the city politics beat. She didn’t explain anything to them, though; they would find out at the same time as everyone else. She greeted a few other local reporters who she knew, and then the fun started. Mac walked in, and just about the last person he expected to see was Lily. But he recovered quickly — she had to give him that — and he was yelling at her almost immediately.
“DeLuna, what the hell are you doing here? Why haven’t you called in over the past three days? Wait, never mind, I don’t want to know! You’re fired! And don’t bother trying to collect a paycheck for this week — we don’t bother to pay people who don’t bother to show up for work!”
Lily smiled sweetly. “Why, Mac, it’s so good to see you, too! Sorry, but you can’t fire me, because I quit yesterday. And, if you try to hold my pay, we’ll just see what the reporters’ union has to say about that, won’t we?”
McCallahan sputtered and was about to loudly respond when representatives for the five companies who had submitted bids entered the room. Four of these representatives were each nervously hoping their company would be awarded this contract. The fifth was certain his company would be selected. Lily knew that they would all be disappointed, at least today. The contract was the second item on the agenda, and she suspected that the press conference would never go beyond the first.
When the room was full, Lily stepped to the pedestal and spoke up again. “Ladies and gentlemen of the media, thank you for your attendance. As the newly appointed press secretary for the Honorable John Ross, chairman of the Opal City Council, welcome. I know you are here to report on awarding the contract for the new Opal City Airport construction, but Chairman Ross has an announcement to make first. Chairman Ross!”
Fred had noticed a few men among the reporters who had media credentials, but seemed not to be known to the other media people around them. Their dress stood out as well; they were dressed a little too well and a little more neatly than most of the reporters, who seemed to feel that sloppy dress was kind of a union suit. One of these men was talking on the pay-phone in the hall, while another sat near the door and relayed him signals. His cops’ instincts told him these were Boss Neuertski’s men, come to see that Ross held up his end of the forced deal, and to notify the Boss if he didn’t. They were nervous. They didn’t like surprises, and they had not expected any special announcements.
Elsewhere in Opal City, Michael Gallant slowly circled the Ross home. He didn’t like what he saw on the streets. He identified at least half a dozen thugs, all trying to come up with ways to loiter nearby and still look casual. One had been standing in a phone booth for the past ten minutes, talking to someone, and from his surface thoughts, Michael could tell that he was waiting for news from the other end of the call.
Michael decided that the time for ghostly reconnaissance was past. He headed to the hotel, and as soon as Lance saw him, Lance rubbed the birthmark on his wrist, and ghostly Michael Gallant and solid Lance Gallant merged into Captain Triumph. Michael wanted to round up the thugs right away, but Lance argued that they should stick with the plan. So Captain Triumph hovered invisibly over the Ross home and waited.