by Vendikarr DeWuff
“Yes, hon, I’ll call you when I have her,” said Ted Grant into the telephone. “You, too,” he said, and hung up the phone.
“You can come in now,” Grant called out to the younger man. Jose Delgado entered the room just as Grant pulled on his cowl. Delgado was in his union suit, as Wildcat liked to call them.
Grant took stock of the young man. A cop run into the wall, he took the only option he saw open: he went outside the system. Grant remembered another cop he knew that did the same — old Jim Harper. He hadn’t seen Jim in years, although he had learned that the Guardian of Earth-One was his younger counterpart. Grant made a mental note to track Harper down one day.
Wildcat only had one reservation about Delgado. He didn’t know where he stood on Helena once she was caught. Yes, Ted knew she deserved lots of prison time. But she was his blood, and he had to spare her that. Would Delgado turn her in or help her out?
“You have some real good moves, kid. As good as the best. If you’re serious about staying in that suit, look me up at JSA Headquarters when this is done. I can give you some first-class training.”
“Thank you Mr. Grant. I will keep that in mind,” replied Delgado.
“So, where we headed tonight?”
“Lake Forest. It’s a fancy suburb north of the city. It’s where DeLuca lives. Nemesis has hurt him all she can at this point. Only thing left is to take it home.”
“Then let’s go. And this time, I drive the motorcycle. I could teach you a few things.”
Cameron Chase pored over the records on the DeLuca family, and she saw that his wings were clipped. He had nothing left, and if Nemesis didn’t get him, old rivals would. He had turned his home into a fortress, and he was preparing for a long siege. Poor fool, making himself an easy target for someone as skilled as Bertinelli.
“Chance!” she called out to the bureau chief.
In moments, Christoper Chance entered the room and said sarcastically, “You bellowed?”
“Yes. Get the car; we need to head out to the DeLuca house. The girl hasn’t been active in a while, and her target just sent out the welcome mat.”
“Yes, ma’am,” replied Chance as he left the room.
Chase grimaced at the ma’am comment, but quickly brushed it off. Then she picked up the phone.
“Munro? Is he in town?” she said. “You did remind him that being a part of Operation Liberty is forever, didn’t you?” She paused to listen. “Good. Things are going to get hot here, and I need my own heat. I will meet him at the target.” Then she hung up the phone.
Chase then grabbed her gun and headed for the door, wondering why Steel wanted this loose cannon on her assignment.
She perched in a tree near the home of DeLuca. She had been observing him for days, even going so far as to have slipped in and bugged his home. It would have been so easy for her to kill him then. But she needed him to see her, to beg, to plead — for his own life and his family’s. Then, and only then, would she kill him — when he felt all was lost.
Checking her watch, she saw the car leave. His family was being evacuated. He knew the end was near. Suddenly, the car was engulfed in a blue flame, almost like a gas fire. Then it exploded, and the last of the DeLuca family was dead, with the exception of her target.
Helena swore and cursed. Someone had beaten her to the kill — his rivals, no doubt. That clinched it for Lena; she moved tonight. The kill belonged to her, no one else.
After the explosion of the DeLuca family’s car, the area was swarmed with police and reporters. And the whole time Lena sat and watched. DeLuca was visibly shaken, and Lena was mad. Someone had beaten her to the punch and dealt him a horrible blow. After fighting with herself, she decided that it was for the best. Her conscience had been bothering her of late, and it would be easier for her to sleep knowing she hadn’t killed the children.
The police searched the grounds, but they were local suburban police and had no real clue about how to solve a crime. Helena knew she was safe in her high hide until they left.
It would all be over soon was all that ran through her mind.
Moving through the grounds of DeLuca’s property, Wildcat and Gangbuster were dispatching the guards in their way.
“Well there’s another one we’ve saved,” commented Delgado.
“True enough, kid. Given Helena’s M.O., it’s doubtful she would let them live on her approach to the house,” replied Ted Grant. “You think it’s tonight, Jose?”
“Given what happened here earlier, no doubt about it,” said Gangbuster. “The death of DeLuca’s family will push her to finish it today.”
“You’re sure she didn’t kill them then?” asked Wildcat.
“No chance of that. She has been confronting her opposition face-to-face. There is no way she would resort to killing them by bombing. That was someone else trying to get their licks in while the dog is down.”
Wildcat chuckled at the comment, then replied, “Well, leave it to the daughter of a cat to take out a dog. We just have to get her before DeLuca does… or the cops.” Delgado just nodded, and they continued toward the house, now within sight.
The car pulled up to the gate of the DeLuca house, and Cameron Chase showed her I.D. to the guard. He stopped to call up to the house, then admitted their car.
“Not being too careful, are they?” remarked Christopher Chance.
“Wouldn’t you? He just lost his family. And he knows he’s next.”
They drove on silently, noting the number of men patrolling the grounds.
“I think he must have called in every man he has left to guard the house,” commented Chance. “Too bad he doesn’t stand a chance,” he added.
“Not from Nemesis. If she wants him, she’ll get him. She won’t rest until he’s dead,” said Chase.
“And we’re here to prevent that, right?”
Chase just sat beside him stonefaced and said, “Let’s go meet the man.”
The car stopped outside the house, and the two agents exited the car. They were immediately stopped.
“The woman stays outside. Mr. DeLuca doesn’t want any strange women in his house,” said the man standing at the top of the stairs.
Chase laughed at that, then replied, “Fine; then you tell Mr. DeLuca to get his butt out here and talk to me. If he doesn’t, I will drag him out of this house and downtown for questioning regarding the death of his family. Does he want to be out of his fortress right now?”
Before the guard could say anything, a call from inside was heard. “It’s OK, Charlie. I’ll talk to the lady outside.”
Charlie backed away from Chase and allowed his employer to step up to her.
“How can I help you?” asked DeLuca.
“I’m here to catch the woman who’s ruined you. I believe she’ll strike soon.”
“Oh, and why do you say that?”
“Well she just saw your family killed,” replied Chase. “She didn’t do it, so she will move fast before she loses her chance at you.”
“Makes sense. It’s what I would do.” He paused for a moment, then asked, “Who is she?”
“Well, DeLuca, your people messed up their last big job. They missed a Bertinelli. And she’s mad.”
“Damn… that kid? I told my boys to let the kid go. Guess I have a soft spot for young girls.”
“I’ve heard that about you, DeLuca. And between you and me, I hope she does kill you before I catch her. You’re dirt, and deserve what you get.”
“You can’t talk to me like that. Boys, get rid of these two.”
Charlie then pointed his gun at Chase and fired. However, the bullet never struck its intended target. Christopher Chance leaped in front of his boss and took the bullet for her. Chase pulled him behind the car and asked, “You OK, Chance?”
“Yeah — cough-cough — just fine.” He lifted his hand off of his wound and looked at the blood. “Guess you can call me the human target now.” He coughed again and slipped into unconsciousness.
“Damn,” said Chase as she pulled her gun and started returning fire. At that moment, the men to her left went down, and she spotted two costumed men working on the next group of DeLuca’s troops. She immediately identified them as Wildcat and Gangbuster.
To her right, she heard what sounded small-arms fire, and saw two more of DeLuca’s men go down, and Chase doubted they would be getting up soon.
Looking down at her wounded partner, she had to end the stalemate quickly. She pulled a radio out of her coat and said, “Fire.” At that moment, DeLuca’s home erupted in a bright blue flame.
The house was quickly engulfed, and DeLuca was distracted. Having nowhere else to turn, he dropped his weapon and surrendered to Chase. He then signaled Charlie to do the same. Looking around, he saw he had no other men standing.
“I give up. Get me away from here, into jail.” He looked up and saw the raven-haired woman dressed in black approach him, a knife in hand.
“I demand to be arrested!” screamed DeLuca. Chase just looked at him. The powerful crime lord, reduced to begging for arrest and safety. She almost felt sorry for him — almost.
Wildcat and Gangbuster made it to the house and stood in front of DeLuca. Helena was steps away. Ted saw his granddaughter for the first time.
“Helena, it’s me… your real grandfather. You can’t do this. Let the law have him.”
“The law? There is no law except for what you make.”
“You’re wrong, Helena. I know you’ve been hurt and think you lost everything. But you haven’t. I’m here.”
Helena stopped and looked at the man in the cat mask. “And where were you all my life? For all my father’s life? He never knew, but he wasn’t one of those people. He was decent and kind, and couldn’t survive in that world — the world you left him in. Where in the hell were you?”
“Helena…” He paused. “I’m sorry. I spent years searching for Jake… err, Vincent. The Wasp hid him well. I never stopped loving him. Not once.”
“Why should I believe you? How can I believe you? You left your own son to die, and me? What about me? Don’t you think I would rather have had a good man for a grandfather, than the type of people I grew up with? I hate you!”
And then she turned toward DeLuca. “And I hate you for taking away the only family I have ever known. I hope you hurt. I hope you understand what it’s like to lose everything. Now we are alike.”
DeLuca just stared at her, trying to remain brave. Chase thought he was staying quiet to keep from angering her further. DeLuca probably thought he could still walk out of here.
Helena took another step toward DeLuca. Wildcat took another step toward her. “You still have family,” said Wildcat. “I found your grandmother. We want to be your family.”
“Yeah, my family from jail? You think these cops are going to let me stay free after I finish here?” She met DeLuca’s eyes and quickly threw her knife at him. Had it hit him, he would have been killed. However, it was swatted out of the air by the nun-chuks used by Gangbuster.
“Sorry, Ms. Bertinelli, you’re done,” he said.
DeLuca dropped to his knees, sobbing, and Chase could see that he had wet himself. She smiled.
“This has to end, Ms. Bertinelli. You have to go now,” said Delgado. Both Helena and Ted looked up at him in surprise. “I decided to resign from the force. I can’t bring her in. Plus, I need to do this. Chicago needs me more as Gangbuster than as Detective Delgado.”
Chase then stepped up. “I’m sorry, but I have to say something here.” She then stepped close to Nemesis and Wildcat. “I am with the Department of Extranormal Operations, a government agency responsible for the superhuman community. I just can’t let Nemesis walk away from here. And I am certain Mr. Wildcat will back me up.”
Ted stared at her, then looked at Helena. “Honey, I stood on the right side of the law my entire life. I have to ask you to give up. It’s done. I will do all I can to help you, but it’s the right thing.”
Helena began to protest, but then Chase spoke up, “Excuse me, I am not arresting her. I have a deal.” She then stopped, and once she was sure she had everyone’s attention, she continued.
“I can offer her a place in our organization, doing community service, until she works off her debt. Once that’s completed, she will be free to go, with no criminal record.”
“‘Community service’?” asked Wildcat. “What kind of service?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that with you. But I can tell you if she doesn’t come with us, I will have to turn her in, along with Mr. Delgado. He has broken several laws himself. Policemen can’t run around and do what he’s done. Do we have a deal?”
Ted looked at Chase, then at Helena. “I really have no choice, do I?” said Lena. “I’ll go with you, lady, but can I have a minute?”
“Sure,” said Chase as she turned and started speaking into her radio again. Sirens could be heard in the distance. “Better be quick.” She then went over to check on Chance again.
“Yeah, I know, kid. Do what they need you to do, and your gran’ma and I will be here when you get out. And see if you can write. I really want to get to know you.”
“It’s not that… I don’t want to get to know you. I had a family, and you think that showing up after a slaughter, that I will just fall into your arms and be the obedient granddaughter? Forget it.”
She turned and walked away from Ted Grant, having wounded him more than any villain in his entire life could have done.
“That bitch…” said Delgado, then Grant stopped him.
“Mind your mouth, son; she’s still my granddaughter. She’ll come around one day.”
And with that, Ted Grant pulled off his mask and headed back toward the motorcycle. As Delgado was getting ready to leave, Chase called to him.
“Mr. Delgado, my organization is setting up a full-fledged region centered here in Chicago. And I have been instructed by the head of the organization to offer you the chance to be the director of the Midwest region.”
“Lady, you just threatened to throw me in jail — now you want me to run the region? You’re crazy!”
“The jail threat is still valid, but we can use a man like you here. You have power to staff on your own, with one exception. The former bureau chief here stays on as assistant director. Think about it.”
Chase then turned away from him, and Delgado ran to catch up to Wildcat. Nemesis helped Chance into the car and waited. Chase used her radio one more time.
Then a blast of flame erupted from above, and DeLuca and his assistant were incinerated. A matchstick bounced off Chase’s head, and she bent down and picked up. Then over the radio she heard a voice:
“Tell Arn I said hi. And tell that bastard Steel I am done.”
“Now, Matches, you know no one ever leaves Project Liberty. Have a good night.”
Chase then got in the car and drove off to O’Hare Airport and her waiting plane.