by Dan Swanson
Captain Tony Spinelli of the Chicago Police Department, Homicide Division, tried again to reassure himself that lunch with Police Commissioner Stewart and Mayor Daley, even in the mayor’s private dining room in City Hall, was nothing to worry about. After all, they’d met several times recently to discuss his impending promotion to vice-commissioner. On the other hand, the earlier meetings had all been scheduled well in advance. Still, everything was going smoothly in Homicide. But Bart Magoon, who had worked in Homicide, had just been released from the force, and he was the mayor’s second cousin. But the mayor hated that kid, anyway. What about…?
He angrily yelled at himself, “Whatever it’s about, you’ll know in fifteen minutes!” He was sure everything in Homicide was going smoothly, and that’s really all he could control. Better concentrate on his driving.
Parking in the private garage under City Hall, he rode the luxurious private elevator in silence. The mayor’s top aide met him and ushered him into the mayor’s study, where not only were his boss and the mayor waiting for him, but he was also greeted by Illinois Governor William G. Stratton. He’d never spoken with the man before, but he was greeted like an old friend. Now he was almost flummoxed; why would the governor be interested in a captain in Chicago P.D. Homicide? The governor introduced him to the other man in the room, Colonel Cranston of the Illinois State Police.
“Let’s get business out of the way so we can enjoy lunch, eh?” Stratton suggested. Mayor Richard J. Daley nodded in agreement and turned to Tony.
“What do you know about this new super-villain Zing, Captain?”
Tony was a little surprised, but not much. If this wasn’t about him, it must be about the current big news. “So far, she hasn’t been involved in any deaths, so Homicide hasn’t been involved in any of her crimes. I’ve been following the case, anyway; I have an interest in heroes and villains with super-powers.”
“Yes, we know of your friendship with Red Rocket and Tom Atomic,” Cranston said, a little impatiently. Tony started to think he might not like this man. He was tall and impeccably handsome, the trim fit of his State Police uniform was definitely the result of some non-regulation tailoring, and there always seemed to be a little hint of condescension in his voice, except when he addressed the governor; then he sounded obsequious. “Vigilantes are dangerous, if you ask me!”
“Rocket and Atomic have been officially deputized to assist the CPD; they are hardly vigilantes,” Tony replied quietly. He’d heard this argument many times before and didn’t care to get involved again, particularly in this company.
The governor looked a little uncomfortable. “Let’s stick to the subject, shall we, gentlemen? Zing, the self-styled queen of quick. What information do you have on her, Captain?”
“Hmm… No one knows anything about her history prior to two weeks ago. One day, she appeared out of nowhere and stole hundreds of thousands in cash, plus a couple of million in jewelry. Since then she’s robbed a couple of museums, the Chicago Stock Exchange, and a couple of banks. Nobody has been able to stop her, not even our resident super-heroes.”
“Her super-power is super-speed, and she almost never slows down enough for anyone to get a clear look at her. If it weren’t for the photos taken by the runway photographers at the Fashion Flash, we probably still wouldn’t know what she looks like.”
“So far, nothing new,” Cranston said with a sniff.
Tony ignored him and continued. “She can apparently run across water and up the sides of buildings. She doesn’t seem to be able to fly, but she can jump incredible distances, change her direction somewhat in the air, and come down safely. She is apparently immune to high temperatures, since she is not burned by air friction as she runs, and she can create ultra-high temperatures by friction heating — rubbing her hands on something so fast that it melts or bursts into flames or explodes.”
Cranston was still sneering, though the other men were looking thoughtful. All of this information had been reported by one news outlet or another, but very few people had pulled it all together in a single place as Spinelli was laying it out for them.
“She can apparently move several times the speed of sound, and is sometimes accompanied by a small sonic boom. Experts on high speed are puzzled by the relative weakness of the sound — it should be several times louder than it is — and the relative ease of her passage through the air. A human body moving that fast should cause a wind that would knock people down!”
“I haven’t heard that before!” Stewart exclaimed. It was clear from his sour expression that Cranston hadn’t, either. “What else?” he asked, almost eagerly.
“Only a couple more things. She seems to be only about as strong as a normal human; she never takes heavy things, only things a normal woman of her height could carry. And she either steals things like gems, jewelry, and artwork for her own use, or she doesn’t have the connections to sell them.”
“How do you know that?” Cranston demanded.
“The first few days of her rampage, she stole a lot of stuff other than money, such as the jewelry from Horowicz, some small sculptures and paintings from the art museums, and the negotiable securities from the Chicago Stock Exchange. None of that stuff has turned up since. And since then, she’s stolen nothing but cash.”
Even Cranston looked thoughtful. None of the police analysts working on the case had come up with those observations yet. Tony continued.
“We’re getting into opinion, now, but my guess is some kid somehow got super-powers two weeks ago, maybe by magic, and she has big plans but no prior criminal experience or connections. She got her powers by surprise, and the first thing she did was start stealing all the valuable loot they always show on cop shows, on radio and TV, and in the comic-books. But she didn’t know anyone who could fence the stuff, or how to find someone who could, so she decided to stick to cash for the time being.”
“If you were assigned to the case, Captain, how would you go about catching this Zing?” Mayor Delay asked.
“Some girl in Chicagoland has a lot more money today than she had two weeks ago, and she’s going to be spending it. Also, there are probably some neighborhood pawn shops where she tried to sell some of the jewelry, and they knew that the stuff was too hot to handle, and those guys will probably be telling stories. And she’s going to be trying to make some big-time connections. So that’s three things to look for.”
“As I said earlier, Governor,” Cranston piped up, an annoyed tone in his voice.
Tony ignored him. “And I’d put out a notice to every police department I could reach to check their own pawnshops and fences for some of this stuff; with her speed, she could easily do her business in Los Angeles and be back home before dinner. And if Ibis the Invincible was still around, maybe he could figure out more about who she was and how she got her powers. As it is…” He paused, then continued reluctantly. “We might want to contact the St. Louis P.D. and ask if Majique can help us.”
Cranston snorted. “That fraud?! You have to be kidding!”
“I agree that her reputation and powers are no match for Ibis, but she is apparently the most powerful mage working on the side of the law today. I don’t know of anyone else who might be able to look back into time and find out what we need to know.”
Before Cranston could say anything else, the governor spoke up. “Gentlemen, I think I’ve heard enough. Captain Spinelli is clearly the man for the job.”
The mayor and the police commissioner smiled. Cranston sputtered. The governor wasn’t finished, though.
“Tony, we would like you to take command of the newly created Chicago Police Department Super-Villain Apprehension Task Force. You will be relieved of all your duties in Homicide and promoted immediately to major. Your immediate priorities are establishing the task force as a permanent organization, and capturing Zing. You can requisition whatever resources and personnel you need from any law enforcement department across the state. Major Cranston is your liaison with the Illinois State Police, who will cooperate with you fully.” He was looking closely at Cranston, and nobody in the room missed the emphasis on full cooperation.
“Congratulations, Major Spinelli! Establishing the Task Force is urgent, but you can wait until after lunch to get started.”
Donal Regan was only a few days on the new job, and already he was working late. Not that he minded; he was already looking for a promotion. The building business was booming in the American Southwest, and Donal was angling for a transfer. Lots of work and fast promotions for competent employees, such as he was. The commercial district near his company’s office was relatively quiet for Chicago at this time of night.
He just happened to be looking in the right direction when Zing sped into the district, heading for the Thirteenth National Bank of Chicago, next door to Donal’s office building. He wasn’t the only one who saw her flash past, but nobody else seemed inclined to do anything. It was pretty common knowledge these days that nobody could do anything about Zing or her thefts. People in Chicago were on the verge of panic; since there didn’t seem to be any way to protect their assets, every company that could was working on a plan to get their cash, at least, out of town. Thirteenth National had dragged their feet about following this policy, and tonight they were going to pay for their slow response.
Zing the Queen of Quick went through the front door almost without slowing down. As usual, she’d melted the lock and then shoved with super-speed. Since her first bank heist, she’d started ignoring alarms, as neither private security forces, the police, nor even Chicago’s own super-heroes had been able to arrive in time to stop her. Donal quickly slipped through the broken doors after her. In the shadows inside the door, he paused for a second and closed his eyes, then disappeared.
But he didn’t actually disappear; the beefy figure of the six-foot-six-inch-tall Donal vanished and was replaced by four virtual duplicates — except that they were each only half his height.
To Donal, the process was incredibly eerie and had initially terrified him. For an instant, he felt as if his mind had been torn apart, and then from the chaotic emptiness where his mind had been there emerged five minds. The five minds included each of the four smaller Donals, as well as one other, which Donal thought of as the overmind. The overmind didn’t seem to have a well-defined physical location, but was always connected to each of the others and could move into any of the individual minds at any time. Each of the four Donals could think and act independently, but the overmind coordinated the group’s actions.
Communication between the various minds was seemingly instantaneous, or perhaps at the speed of light. Nothing Donal had encountered so far could block this communication. Privately, Donal referred to his split self as the Donal pack, and he thought if he ever became publicly known as a hero, he might name himself Quadrechaun.
The pack split up and moved silently and purposefully, vanishing deeper into the darkened interior of the bank. They moved with an unconscious grace that would turn the most accomplished gymnast green with envy.
Zing had been in this building earlier today, disguised in her civilian clothes, and she knew just where to find the vault. She raced into a large room full of desks, straight to the vault door that was set in the rear wall of the room.
She didn’t notice that this room itself was very much like a very large vault, with massive sliding doors now withdrawn into recesses in the front wall. She had eyes for nothing but the vault door itself. And for the first time since she’d blazed onto the Chicago crime scene days ago, she was stymied.
The vault door was a huge slab of steel, set flush into the rear wall. The hinges must have been inside, and the lock must have been electronic and built into the wall, because the door itself was featureless. Once again, Zing began rubbing the door at super-speed, friction heating it, but the monolith was so massive that her best efforts barely warmed a small section. Frustrated, she changed tactics, drumming on the steel with her clenched fists, hoping to induce high-speed vibrations that might cause it to shatter.
She heard the barest whisper of movement behind her, and she whirled to see that she had run into a trap. The massive doors through which she had entered were silently gliding shut, and some kind of gas was seeping out of the light fixtures in the ceiling. If she’d been a little more preoccupied with the vault door, or the tiny noise had come a tenth of a second later, she would have been trapped. But a tenth of a second in real time was close to an hour to her highly accelerated subjective sense of time, and she easily slipped between the almost-stationary doors.
A door into the lobby had started to open, and she could see the man in uniform whose premature movement had alerted her. He had spoiled the trap; now that she was aware, not even the massed forces of Spinelli’s fledgling Super-Villain Unit would be able to stop her. She accelerated toward the wide-open front door.
She saw the rope stretched across her path by two Donals at the last nanosecond, and even her fantastic reflexes weren’t enough to avoid it. She tripped and sprawled headlong, and she would probably have died when she smashed into the wall or the floor at supersonic speeds, except for the magic aura that protected her from the effects of her speed. When her concentration was broken, she lost her speed, and the aura instantly slowed her down to normal human speeds. The sudden change stunned her, though she would survive, and she slid to a stop on the floor, dazed. Another mini-Donal raced from behind a pillar and quickly cast a steel-stranded net over her, and her own struggles to rise simply tangled her more tightly. Donal number three raced to her side before she could regain her concentration and her speed.
“I’m afraid this’ll hurt ye a wee bit more than meself!” And he whacked her on the side of the head with a small leather sack filled with sand. The mini-Donals had managed to liberate the rope, net, and sap from various members of the SVU team without being noticed.
By this time, Spinelli and his new team had gathered in the lobby, surrounding the three small heroes and the entangled villain. The confrontation between the cops and their newfound mini-allies was pretty comical. Spinelli was the first to speak.
“I might barely believe in one single leprechaun, if I was drunk at the time, but three of you?”
“‘Tis best if’n ye count yuir allies a wee bit more accurate,” came a squeaky voice, and a fourth mini-Donal raced out across the room from the direction of the vault.
“But… you all look like twins,” another officer observed, somewhat bemused.
“Gosh and begorrah. The lad’s right,” one of the small characters piped up sarcastically. “A wonder we nae noticed before!” The cop couldn’t help but smile at the irony; he’d used the same line — without the accent, of course — when people made similar remarks to him.
“Beside,” another joker piped up. “Ye’re a fine lot ta be talkin’, ye bloody clumsy sassenachs! Who amongst ye could tell any one o’ ye froom t’others?”
Mini-Donal number four, the one who had just joined the group, spoke up. “’Twas nice meeting ye all, t’ be sure, but it’s time fer us to be leaving ye!” The four headed for the door. Various cops tried to grab them, but seemingly without effort, the leprechauns avoided capture.
“Years o’ practice, doncha know?” one of them explained to the bewildered Spinelli. “Can’t let none of ye big clumsy folks get yuir paws on our pots o’ gold!” He winked. “Tough enough hidin’ them from th’ rest oov us!”
“Hold on! I need to know who you are! And you have to fill out a report!” Spinelli raced after them.
“Ye don’t say?” one of them responded. “Looks like ye and yuir boys are gonna have to do it yuir own selves, copper!” The last leprechaun stepped around the corner into a dark alley, and by the time Spinelli reached it, the alley was empty, except for a drunk lying near the wall of one of the buildings.
“Say, fella, did you see…” And then Tony thought better of it. How could a self-respecting cop ask anyone, even a drunken bum, if he’d just seen four leprechauns pass this way?
Back in the bank, Stanton was talking big. “Spinelli sure messed up this one! If it hadn’t been for those midgets, the dame would’a got away, and we’d have to go in with zilch! Sure would look good on our records, huh?” He ignored the growing muttering around him. “After my report, the governor will bounce him outta the unit on his can, and then you guys will have a real leader!”
“Major, that isn’t the way it happened, and we all know it.” This was from a SVU team member who was on detached duty from the State Police. “You got me busted the last time you screwed up because there weren’t any witnesses. But there’s twenty of us tonight who saw you jump the gun.” There was a lot of nodding and muttered assent, though the rest of the cops weren’t quite up to arguing with a major just yet.
Stanton turned to Spinelli. “You hired this lying weasel? He almost got busted out of the Force, and the whole thing is in his records! I warned you he was trouble.”
Spinelli was calm. “A man is not his record, Major. And I took your warning into consideration when reviewing Officer Lioni’s qualifications.” He attempted to change the subject before Stanton could talk himself into more trouble, and spoke to the whole group. “We didn’t do bad tonight. A little overeager…” But Stanton wasn’t going to be ignored or placified.
“I’m talking to you, &#@$*!” he screamed. Grabbing Tony’s shoulder, he spun him around. It looked like he was about to take a swing, and for just an instant, everyone’s attention was on the two officers. But the tension was quickly broken by a soft sonic boom and the smell of burning floor wax, ignited by the melted strands of the steel net. While Stanton was picking a fight, Zing had used the distraction to her advantage, and now she was gone.
“I guess we’ll continue our discussion at the station house,” Spinelli remarked sadly. He knew he’d be off the hook for Zing’s escape when his team reported Stanton’s behavior, but he had caved in and let Stanton accompany the team despite his own misgivings. Well, he would do better in the future.