Wild Dog drove through Bettendorf slowly. He was trolling. He needed a lead or a connection to the Scalias. He just hadn’t had an idea on how to secure such a thing. And so he was trolling. Then he found just the man he had been looking for.
He pulled up beside Barney Collins. The man took one look at the hockey mask and started to run. The vigilante smiled as he jumped out of the truck and ran after the man. He closed the distance and tackled Collins around the legs. He dragged his victim back to the truck.
“Now, we can do this the hard way or the easy way,” said Wild Dog. “Which do you prefer?” He tied Barney’s hands to the rear bumper with a rope.
“What are you doing?” asked Collins.
“I need a place for some guys,” said Wild Dog. “I would like for you to tell me the address.”
“Who?” said Collins, obviously considering what it would be like to be dragged through the streets.
“Scalia’s outfit,” said Wild Dog.
“You’re crazy,” said Collins. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I saw you at that rigged house last night,” Wild Dog said flatly. “A location or a keelhauling.”
“All I know is that some woman offered everybody jobs as lookouts and paid six bills to each of us,” said Collins. “We didn’t even know what was going on. When the house went up, I got out of there.”
“A name,” demanded the vigilante, wondering if the Question ever intimidated criminals this way.
“Don’t know,” said Barney. “Really, I don’t.”
Wild Dog stared into the man’s eyes. He knew the man was too scared to lie with his hands tied to the bumper of the truck. He cut Collins loose with his knife. “I don’t want to see you again,” he said, and walked around to the cab of his truck and got in, then drove away into the night. Barney Collins sighed in relief.
The masked vigilante drove aimlessly for a while as the night settled in. A woman had paid money for ineffective guards — or stage dressing — depending on how he looked at it. Andy’s list had only one woman on it. It was more than likely the same woman taking up Wormwood’s speciality in elaborate traps. How do I find this woman? Wild Dog asked himself. There must have been some kind of trace of her somewhere.
He drove home and changed his clothes, putting his gear and working clothes away before he called Andy at home. “I was wondering if you could get a look at the flight records from New York,” Jack said into the telephone.
“Already got them,” said Andy. “I’ll bring them by tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Andy,” said Jack, putting the phone down.
Jack Wheeler and Andy Travis went into Jack’s office at his garage. Andy handed him a thick file to go through and waited. Jack had the list from the prison on one side and the airline list on the other. His index finger traced the names as he read for some minutes.
“Here she is,” he announced triumphiantly. “Cornelia Wilder.”
“I guess I’ll go and talk to her about her house and see what happens,” Andy said.
“Be careful,” said Jack. “Anyone hanging around the Scalias won’t be a sweetheart.”
“Just keep your leash on,” said Andy. “Maybe she’ll turn herself in without any problems.” He left the office, already wondering how to track the elusive Miss Wilder down.
Andy Travis pulled his car in front of a rental house and got out. He frowned as he walked up to the door. The place looked deserted on the outside. He knocked on the wooden panel and waited for an answer. He heard movement, and then the door was thrown open. A tall woman regarded him coldly.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” Andy said. “I’m Lt. Travis. Could I speak to you for a moment about your house that burned down the other night?”
“Excuse me?” said the woman.
“You’re Cornelia Wilder, aren’t you?” asked Andy. “I understand a house you bought had caught fire and burned to the ground.”
“The insurance company will take care of that,” said the woman. “I’m just waiting on the report from the fire department.”
“You don’t seem interested in what happened,” Andy remarked casually.
“Why should I be?” asked Miss Wilder. “The house was for my company, not for me personally. A hundred such houses could burn down, and it wouldn’t matter to me as long as the insurance paid up the initial costs of buying the house in the first place.”
“What does your company do?” Andy asked, trying to be friendly. His immediate impression was that the lady was a hard case.
“We find things for people all over the country,” said Miss Wilder. “Is there anything else, Lieutenant?”
“I guess not,” said Andy. “If I find anything out, I will let you know.”
“Thank you.” The door closed in Andy’s face smoothly. He scratched his head in puzzlement.
Andy got into his car and stared at the house. Miss Wilder was a little too unconcerned for his tastes. No executive he had met would just write off an investment like that unless he had planned to write it off in the first place, insurance or not. So the house had been meant to be blown sky high from the start. Was that enough to allow Wild Dog to go in with guns blazing? Wormwood specialized in elaborate traps, according to Bullock. A woman visiting him in prison had bought a house, and it had been converted into a death trap. A coincidence was too much to ask.
Then the Scalias stood at the edge of the picture, but as what — money men? That would do as motive. The problem was that a solution was becoming more the use of physical force and not the collection of evidence.
Andy sat in his car, thinking about the situation and wondering about getting some warrant with the amount of cause he had been able to gather. He decided any judge would laugh his robe off. He didn’t notice two men come up from behind his car until one had put a gun in his face.
“Hello,” said Andy, putting his hands in plain sight. “What can I do for you?”
“You’ve been asking our associate questions, and we would like to know why,” said the thinner of the two.
Andy looked at the men for a moment. “That’s my job,” he said casually. “I’m a cop.”
“Get out of the car,” said the brain. “You’re bait for your troublesome friend.”
“Which one would that be?” said Andy, slowly opening the car door.
“Don’t kid me. We know you and Wild Dog are connected somehow. He follows you around like you’re joined at the hip.”
“I wish that were really true right now,” Andy said.
“Don’t get any ideas,” said the brain. “We’re going to send a message to Wild Dog and wait for him to try to rescue you. He couldn’t pass that up.”
Jack Wheeler was listening to the radio in his garage when the following announcement stunned him:
“Police Lieutenant Andrew Travis’s car was found today engulfed in flames. The police department remains quiet over any possible leads or the actual circumstances of the fire. That’s the latest. The news is on at the top of the hour, every hour.”
Jack cut the radio off and finished the tune-up he was doing before taking the customer’s truck off the rack and parking it in the small lot in front of his garage. He waited impatiently for the man to pay up before shutting down for the day.
He rolled home, barely obeying speed laws, and changed into his working clothes, arming himself for the fight ahead. That woman and the Scalias had done something to Andy. He was going to do something to them, something they would never forget.
Wild Dog checked the address and drove to the house in question. He hoped he was on rescue mission and not already too late. He pulled on the hockey mask as he pulled in front of the address for Wilder. He had some questions for her, and he was determined to get answers one way or the other.
The masked vigilante pulled the Jatimatic as he kicked the door in. No one was in evidence. The house was devoid of everything. A scrap of paper drew his eyes. He cautiously picked the note up, which said:
“If you want to see your friend again, come to the parking garage on Yancy Street in Bettendorf.”
Jack crumpled the note and threw it away, then walked from the stage setting and drove to his next destination.
Wild Dog pulled in across the street. He made sure he had his equipment ready. The Scalias were sure to have a warm welcome ready for him. No telling what Wilder had in store for him. It was time to go.
The vigilante took out a lock pick gun as he ran to the building next to the parking garage. Two clicks opened the door. He ran in and up the stairs. Maybe he had a surprise, too. He reached the roof easily, then pulled his crossbow and took aim after attaching a rope to it. Bargain-basement Blue Beetle, he thought as he let the bolt fly. The projectile flew into a bumper and stayed. He tied off the other end and used the crossbow to slide across to the top of the garage.
Wild Dog dropped down silently on the concrete and pulled the Jatimatic. His eyes scanned the roof and saw no threats. He started down the ramp, ready to shoot anything that moved.
“There he is!” exploded the first lookout.
The masked vigilante dropped to his left, letting the Jatimatic do his talking for him. He could see men come from all over the garage, intent on stopping him once and for all. He took a few hits in the full armor he wore underneath his makeshift costume as he began to weed his opponents from life with short bursts from his weapon. He worked his way down three stories after blowing up a car with a short burst, cutting down anyone who fled from the explosion. There was no sign of the woman or Andy.
Wild Dog paused as he reached the first floor ramp. He put a fresh magazine in as he assessed his situation.
“I got your friend, Wild Dog,” said a female voice in the dark. “Give up or face the consequences.”
The vigilante walked forward, automatic weapon ready. He ignored the groans of the injured and the dead. The police and emergency services would have to take care of that.
“Throw down the gun,” said Miss Wilder. “I am not getting paid to kill this fat idiot, but I will if you don’t listen to me.”
Andy Travis was tied to a hood of a car. He was trying to look calm and resolute in the face of a pistol in his ear. He knew Jack Wheeler wouldn’t negotiate. That was something that he had proven beyond a doubt since he had started taking vigilante action weeks earlier. Andy was surprised when the Jatimatic lowered off aim.
“You’re smart,” said the trapster with a leer.
Men were struggling from the darkness of the garage. Soon they would be able to gather into a cohesive group and deal with the vigilante. Wild Dog didn’t plan to give them that time.
The Jatimatic came up while the woman was still grinning. Several nine-millimeter bullets rattled from the barrel viciously as Wild Dog attacked. Wilder tried to put a bullet in her captive. Instead she blasted out the window of the car as she was thrown back by the fusillade.
A knife came down on the rope holding Andy Travis to his car. He rolled off the hood as bullets came after him.
Wild Dog spun. The Jatimatic emptied out in a convulsive string of flame and smoke. Burnt powder clung to the white hockey mask.
Andy punched Wilder in the face and threw her over his shoulder. He ran for the entrance to the garage as he heard Jack reload. The Jatimatic roared in short bursts as Wild Dog backed out of the garage.
Sirens were fast approaching as Andy took cover behind a parked car in the street. He dropped Wilder on the ground as he watched for fellow cops and fire department to show. Wild Dog had disappeared.
Andy Travis helped load Cordelia Wilder in the back of an ambulance. Emergency crews were on the scene, putting out the fires started by the gun battle in the garage. Andy was already mentally starting the report he would write on the whole thing.
Case was closed, even with some of the loose ends that were left. Andy slammed the doors on the ambulance. Time enough for that tomorrow. He had a crime scene to police right now, and a small list of things to do after some sleep and some kind of meal. He had to say, though, that this was a win for the guys in the white hats.