by Dan Swanson
Lightfinger Looie was determined not to blow this chance. Many times in his life he had been this close to the big time, but he was always screwed over by bad luck. Like the time he’d lifted fifty large in counterfeit bills, or the time he’d hot-wired that Duesenberg at the classic auto show, and run out of gas just as he was about to ditch the cops. His life was filled with similar cases in which nothing but bad luck kept him down, but not this time.
“Please make your third wish, new master,” the genie requested.
“Yeah, yeah, just give me a few minutes to think!” Looie responded. “What’s your big hurry, anyway? You got a train to catch?”
For an instant, small dark clouds appeared around the genie’s head, and miniature bolts of lightning flashed. Looie blinked; had he really seen that? The genie looked as jovial as ever, or did he? Was he just a little larger, and a little darker, and somehow now looming above him instead of just floating in front of him?
“I’m trying to come up with a wish that is worthy of your power and magnificence,” he said quickly. Did the genie’s color lighten imperceptibly? “I gotta give this some careful thought. Why don’t you go back to the ring, and I’ll call you when I come up with something grand enough?”
Nope, that was wrong. The genie grew taller, and the swirling smoke that supported him started to spin faster. The clouds became visible again, and lightning flashed from cloud to cloud.
Looie was easily intimidated. The sight of an angry genie drove all thoughts of caution and careful thinking from his mind. His eyes darted frantically around the room and came to rest on the brightest, flashiest thing in the room — the cover of a comic-book. Of course.
“Give me real-life super-powers, just like the Rush has in his comic-book!” he pointed at the comic.
The genie was actually very bored with this whole routine, as he had better things to do. The comic Looie pointed to was The Rush No. 1, and it told the origin of the russet rocket, and the origin itself appealed to the genie.
“It is done!” He clapped his hands; then, without even saying goodbye, he was gone. And he took the ring with him.
Looie ran at the wall of his apartment at top speed, starting his body vibrating at super-speed so he would pass through the wall. BLAM. It didn’t work, but at least he wasn’t running at super-speed and didn’t hurt himself.
“Damn! Screwed again!” He realized he wasn’t surprised. Well, it had been a totally wasted day, so far. If he was gonna eat tomorrow, he needed to pick up some cash tonight. Putting the genie out of his mind, as he had so many of his prior failures, he headed for the streets.
Donal Regan rarely stayed up past midnight, even on a Saturday. He worked construction six days a week, and he was always up early. But today his boss had told him that his application for the associate civil engineer position had been approved, the promotion to take effect as soon as he achieved his citizenship. He could sleep late tomorrow, so he’d gone out to dinner to celebrate.
He stopped at the corner pub on the way home for a pint of bitter and a corned beef sandwich. When he had first arrived in Chicago, he’d been surprised and gratified to find a good Irish pub in his Southside neighborhood, though the clientele included people of all descents, not just the local Irish.
He’d even made a few bucks in a dart game with a couple of strangers. It was fun turning the tables on hustlers. Maybe they’d learned a lesson, but though he doubted it, they wouldn’t hang out here anymore. Still, it was really late when he finally headed for home.
Donal was crossing a side street when he saw people in the parking lot behind the new Korean restaurant on the corner. The place closed at eleven o’clock; there shouldn’t have been anyone around at this time. He kept on walking past the front door and then across the driveway that ran alongside the other side of the building. He didn’t slow down, but from the corner of his eye, he saw someone peek around the back corner of the building, watching him. Well, any plans he had of going straight home were now out the window.
He walked by two more stores and a small house on the next corner, then turned left. He slipped into the yard and crept through a backyard, heading back toward the restaurant. The yard ended in a tall hedge that provided privacy from the parking lot. Donal carefully pulled aside enough branches until he could see into the lot. Two figures were moving along the back of the restaurant, carrying metal gasoline cans.
Donal was graceful, especially for a man the size of a lineman in the NFL, but there was no way he could slip through the hedge and approach these guys without them seeing him. He considered just bursting through and scaring them away, but he wanted to catch them. Behaving as they were, in this particular neighborhood, he reasoned that there was a good likelihood that they were the same thugs who’d killed the owners of Ma and Pa’s Corner Store.
A distant observer watching Donal from one of the nearby houses would have sworn that he had simply vanished — but that observer wouldn’t have been able to hear the soft sighs of displaced air that accompanied his disappearance.
Jonny “Hots” Flambeau wasn’t superstitious, and he didn’t believe in ghosts or fairies. When he saw a very short figure slip onto the back porch of the house next door, he figured it was a kid sneaking out late. Still, his partner “Spike” Van Dyke would kill him if there were any witnesses. A week ago, Hots wouldn’t have believed he or Spike could kill anyone, but things had changed since then. Word was out that the Korean couple who ran this place knew who had done for the old couple and had been talking about going to the law. Well, losing this place ought to make them think twice, or three times, and if they didn’t get the message, he and Spike would be back, and who would miss a couple of them, anyway?
So he sneaked up to the porch, and thought he heard someone drinking. He silently pulled out his torch and aimed carefully, flicking it on and then off real fast. It couldn’t be, but it was — an honest-to-God leprechaun, drinking the pint of beer the homeowner had left out for the wee folk.
“Aiee!” the little man cried, and quick as a wink, he was over the front of the porch. “Ye’ll nae be gittin’ yuir big, clumsy hands on me pot ‘o’ gold!”
Once he was on the lawn, Hots could see him fairly clearly in the light from the nearest street lamp. He was running right toward the parking lot where Spike was dousing the back wall of the restaurant with gasoline. What could he do? He didn’t dare wake up the neighborhood, but he was determined not to lose this leprechaun’s pot of gold, either. He risked a quiet shout, cupping his hands.
“Spike! Coming your way!” Suddenly, the little man just seemed to disappear in the shadows. Hots kept running toward the spot where he’d vanished.
Spike was angry. They were going to have to give up tonight’s little lesson and get out of here as soon as possible. Suddenly, though, right in front of him, a little man appeared. He seemed startled to see Spike, but he reacted instantly.
“Another one of ye big hairy sassenachs! Well, ye won’t be a catchin’ wee Paddy on this eve!” The small figure danced nimbly between his boots, somehow managing to kick the gasoline can, which spilled all over Spike’s legs. “I’d would nae be settin’ nary fires tonight, me boyo!” And he was gone, heading toward Hots’ voice. Spike headed after him, then stopped in dismay when the wee laddie vanished.
“Hey, lummox! Over here!” the high voice taunted him. “Did yuir sainted mum leave ye with half a brain?”
Hots was surprised when he heard the leprechaun behind him. “Begorrah, laddie! Ye could nae sneak up on a rock, clumpin’ around like that. Here’n I were hopin’ for a little sport this fine night!” He turned around, and the leprechaun zipped between his legs, laughing maniacally. He reached down to grab the annoying sprite, but something crashed into his rear, and he fell and rolled heavily, ending up flat on his back. The leprechaun leaped onto his chest and danced a couple of jig steps before hurrying away.
“Heads up! Comin’ through!” Hots heard the leprechaun’s shrill voice again, from off to his left, and then suddenly, the little man was rushing toward him at high speed. “Oop, oop, and awayyy…” the magical being shouted as he leaped over the prone thug. And right behind him came Spike.
“Look out!” Hots shouted, as loud as he could, forgetting that the two thugs didn’t want to be caught.
“Oh, sh–” Spike didn’t have time to finish, as one of his feet kicked Hots in the side of the head, knocking out the prone thug, and then Spike was flying headlong, but not for long. He did a bellyflop onto the lawn, and his head bounced off the grassy soil.
“And lucky he is there’s nae a drought,” came a voice from the shadows.
“Aye, though with a head that hard, he’d likely have cracked the sidewalk.” The same voice, from another direction in the dark.
“I think I hear a siren; sounds as if the coppers are on the way!” Same voice, different location.
“I think me work here is done for the night. A fine way to celebrate!” There was laughing from four directions, then a rustle of grass, and then silence, except for the painful mugs of the two would-be arsonists.
And, later on that day, well after the sun came up, Captain Tony Spinelli was pleased to find that these two were the missing murderers.
Looie always did his business several miles from home in one of the less reputable entertainment districts. He had his best luck hanging around the strip joints. He saw himself as a sort of moral crusader, accepting charitable donations from well-heeled gentlemen in exchange for protecting them from the moral turpentine and drunkenness that would invariably follow if they could afford the cover charges.
He was stunned to see that, overnight, a new establishment had been built in the mouth of the alley that he considered his own private office. How could they possibly build something like that in a single day? Even more surprising, it appeared to be a store, rather than a bar or a strip joint. Aside from looking out of place in this neighborhood, it also appeared to be a very old store. In fact, the red bricks of the store front were stained, brown, and crumbling, the windows were streaked and dusty, and the paint on the sign was faded and peeling.
He realized this store looked very familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. After a moment of racking his brain, he realized that he had seen it before, but that it was impossible. It hadn’t been here last night. He looked at the sign again, and suddenly things started to make sense. It was the Cei-U Super Store, and he’d seen it before in the comics. He couldn’t help but feel, dare he say it, giddy. This was the place the Rush had found the costume that gave him his super-powers. Maybe the genie hadn’t shafted him, after all.
“Yeah,” Looie said quietly. “This could be my lucky day.”
Eagerly he hurried inside. This place was incredible. He was surrounded by dozens of mannequins dressed in colorful costumes. In the window, there was a big guy with long blond hair. He was dressed in a blue, form-fitting, sleeveless tunic with four silver discs sewn into the material. Yellow boots and a yellow belt, along with a silvered winged helmet and flowing crimson cloak, completed the costume. In the mannequin’s hand, held as majestically as any kingly scepter, was a huge hammer. Not far away, a muscular figure sported a blue bodysuit with red shorts, red boots, a yellow belt, and a red cape. A stylized S dominated the mannequin’s chest. Looie couldn’t help but wonder if the belts and capes of these two characters were intentional or just a lucky coincidence. In one corner, he saw a purple skintight outfit and hood, with striped blue and black shorts, a black leather gun belt with two big guns, and a domino mask hanging from the belt, and along the back wall, outfits of purple and blue, green, red, and yellow, all of which included bows and quivers of arrows as accessories.
Looie was just dazzled, looking around. He couldn’t believe it; he was actually reliving the origin of the Rush.
The ringing of the bell attached to the door had alerted the proprietor to the presence of a customer, and he floated out of the back room. Looie had expected to see a pink lightning bolt with an almost-human head, arms, and shoulders, but he wasn’t surprised when this living lightning bolt was blue, with the features of the genie of the ring. Boy, this was swell.
And then Looie was reliving in real life the legendary scene, familiar to every comic-book reader in America, playing the part of Jonah Corbett. A freelance writer, he’d wandered into the nondescript store looking for the basis of an off-the-beaten-track human-interest story. The proprietor explained that he was from another dimension, and he had chosen Jonah to receive the gift of super-powers. Looie was so excited he couldn’t remember all his lines, but it didn’t seem to matter; some magical force was guiding his body right now. He might as well have been one of the mannequins.
A spell cast by Qwnk, the sixth-dimensional imp who was the proprietor of the shop, had selected Jonah as one worthy of receiving great powers, and drawn him here.
Looie waited for the next part of the story to play itself out when he started noticing that a number of details of the store around him differed from the Rush’s origin. The big blonde guy had a gigantic potbelly hanging over the yellow belt. Upon close inspection, the silver discs seemed more like almost-round pieces of duct tape stuck haphazardly to the faded blue tunic. What Looie first thought was a Norse war hammer turned out to be nothing more than a croquet mallet with a deep split in the handle. He took another look at the other costumes. The stylized S was backwards, and the cape was closer to pink than red. The mannequin itself seemed pastier in color than he first realized. The guns with the purple costume were both squirt guns, and all the arrows had suction cup tips instead of arrowheads. And the genie, posing as Qwnk, made no reference to heroism or his worthiness.
The genie led him to a circular rack in the middle of the store, and spun the rack on its stand. The variety of costumes hung from the rack was incredible. As it spun down, Looie was thrilled to see the costume of the Rush spinning toward him, russet red covered in wild splashes of every color in the spectrum, a style that would be called psychedelic during the next decade.
And then it spun by, and the rack slowed further, and the genie grabbed a costume and held it in front of Looie.
“A perfect choice! Once you don this costume, the power you have always wanted shall be yours!”
Looie’s eyes widened. The wanna-be super-villain dropped to his knees. His words were barely a whisper.
“I am so doomed.”
If he had bothered looking up at the genie, Looie would have noticed a mischievous gleam in the creature’s eye.