The Marvel Family
Times Past, 1976
The Fawcett City Vigilante
by Dan Swanson
Who is the latest mystery-man in Fawcett City? It’s none other than boy scientist Dexter Knox, ally of the Marvel Family. His target? Bad drivers!
Dexter Knox was taking the family car out for a spin, the first time he’d ever driven alone, at least legally. He wanted to show off, so he’d picked up his friends, Mary Batson and Freddy Freeman. They were on their way back to Fawcett City, when out of nowhere a terrible storm sprung up. The wind was ferocious, and then it started to pour. The drops were like soft bullets, splattering on the windshield with a blat sound that was so loud Dex was afraid the glass would shatter.
“I’m going to pull off to the shoulder,” he said, gently stepping on the brake. He knew this stretch of road was straight, so he was slowing gradually. “I hope there’s no jerks burning up the road behind us!”
Lightning struck the hood of the car, and the glare blinded Dex. He jammed on the brakes, and the care spun wildly out of control on the slick road. Dex heard the sound of Mary’s door tearing open as well as her scream as she was flung from the car. The scream cut off suddenly. And then the car stopped spinning. Somehow it was carried off the road onto the shoulder, and then it stopped moving. Dex still couldn’t see.
Kraaa-aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa-aaack-baaa-aaa-aaa-aaam! Another lightning bolt struck nearby.
“Oh, my God! What happened to Mary?” Dex yelled, fearing the worst. He struggled blindly to get out of his seatbelt. Then, appearing out of the driving rain like a ghost from the night, Mary slipped back into her seat.
“I’m OK, guys! Lucky for me, Captain Marvel Junior was patrolling nearby and came to investigate the lightning. He caught me and saved you, and then he was on his way to save someone else!”
Freddy smiled at her. “Good to see you’re safe, Mary! That’ll teach you not to ride without your safety belt!” He turned to Dex, who was just starting to regain his sight. “That was pretty good driving, there, Dex! If you hadn’t been slowing down, we might have wrecked before Cap flew by!”
Dex was pretty shaken up, but he knew Freddy was just trying to make him feel better. “Logic dictates that if I had been driving faster, the lightning could have missed us entirely!” He was still pretty shaky, though. “Right now, logic dictates that we wait for the rain to stop before we finish our little drive!”
Finally, the storm vanished as abruptly as it had begun. Strangely, there had only been those two lightning bolts; Dex would have expected a storm capable of those two bolts would have caused a lot more. His speculation was interrupted when somebody blasted up the road behind him, almost rear-ended him, and then swerved into the left lane to pass. There was a car coming the other way, much too close, but instead of slowing down, the other driver sped up even more, and then swerved back into the right line, forcing Dex to jam on the brakes. Lucky for them all, the car held the road this time.
“There’s never a policeman around when you need one!” Dex complained bitterly. When he first got his learners’ permit, Dex got caught in a speed trap. He received a ticket, his permit was rescinded, and he had to wait another six months before he could apply again. He had been going thirty miles per hour in a twenty-five-mile-per-hour zone, and the speed limit sign was hidden behind some branches of a tree. While the cop was writing his ticket, at least a half-dozen cars had zoomed past, going at least sixty. When Dex complained, the cop wrote him up for driving with a busted taillight as well. Since then, he had obeyed all traffic laws exactly. But he was still bitter. He noticed Freddy writing down the license number, but he didn’t think that would do any good. Nobody would listen to a kid who just got his driver’s license.
“I’m tired of that kind of thing. I’m going to do something about it this time!” he hollered with angry enthusiasm. “I’ll fix that jerk so he never does that kind of thing again!”
His friends were worried. Dex was a genius inventor, and he could easily come up with something that was very dangerous. “Dex, don’t hurt anybody!” Mary pleaded with alarm in her voice.
“Don’t worry, Mary! Everything will turn out all right. You know I wouldn’t hurt anyone!” He lapsed into silence, trying to figure out how to get his revenge on bad drivers without hurting them.
A couple of days later, Dexter Knox was ready to go. He mounted his invention inside and under the front bumper on this folks’ car. He had invented a quick-mount system so he could easily remove it when someone else was using the car. He didn’t want the family mechanic to find it and tell his parents, that was for sure.
He was almost disappointed when nobody cut him off or tailgated or honked at him in the first few miles. He was headed for home, wondering if somehow everyone had all of a sudden decided to be good drivers, when a car coming around a corner toward him strayed halfway into his lane and forced him to swerve and jam on his brakes. “That’s the one!”
He did something then he’d never done before — a U-turn in the middle of a block. He stomped on the gas pedal and drove faster than he ever had in a thirty-mile-per-hour zone. “Some cop is gonna stop me, and let that jerk go, I’ll bet!” Up ahead was a stop sign; at least the jerk slowed down for that. He must have seen Dex chasing him, because he shifted into second and squealed his tires. But Dex was close enough.
He clicked a button on the remote control in his pocket, and down near the road, his invention came to life. It lowered and launched a tiny, heat-seeking missile, and then automatically reloaded.
The missile flew up the exhaust pipe of the jerk’s care — and nothing happened. Satisfied, Dex stopped at the stop sign, then headed for home. He launched two more of his missiles before he got home, and they both flew into the exhaust pipes of the cars that had pissed him off — and nothing happened. Dex smiled happily to himself; so far, so good.
There was an interesting story in the newspaper two days later. Three drivers, from different parts of the city, had been unable to start their cars yesterday. There was no external damage, but the engines refused to turn over. Three different mechanics received incredible surprises when they worked on those engines; the were filled with epoxy. Every place there was oil in an engine, it had been replaced by epoxy, almost as if the oil had actually been transformed into epoxy. Dex smiled, satisfied at last.
For several days there was an epidemic in Fawcett City. For unknown reasons, people were finding that when they turned off their cars, suddenly all the oil in them turned to epoxy. Nobody could explain it. But the people whose cars did not catch the epoxy bug, as the papers took to calling it, found that the quality of driving on the highways had improved. Before too long, one smart guy who was acquainted with several terrible drivers noticed that only the cars being driven by terrible drivers were affected by the epoxy bug. Not all terrible drivers paid the price, of course, but before long the pattern was firmly established.
Almost immediately, a roadside bulletin board sprung up, and on it anyone could post the license plate number of terrible drivers. Not long after that, a second sign started showing the license numbers that had been posted on the first sign, and which had got the epoxy bug. Some of the drivers whose licenses were posted on the first sign immediately improved their driving, and they escaped. Within a couple of months, people driving in Fawcett City were much more courteous on the road, and the epoxy bug outbreak seemed almost over, but not quite — every once in a while, the motor in yet another car would suddenly fill up with epoxy and be destroyed.
Nobody ever tracked down the inventor of the epoxy bug, though Freddy and Mary were pretty sure they knew who it was. And that’s why, to this day, it was very pleasant to drive in Fawcett City.