by Dan Swanson
Red Rocket glowered at the costumed man calling himself Captain Democracy. “I’m not quite sure why you were a ‘big fan’ of mine. You obviously don’t know what I stand for. Maybe it was just that I got to beat up the bad guys. Well, there is more to being a hero than fighting!”
He looked around at the circle of police with drawn guns, then looked back at the Captain. “I’ve got more free advice, jackass. Get out of the hero business right now! Sooner or later, you’re going to be in a bad situation where you need a friend or an ally to bail you out. Take a look around you. Any man in this room might someday be in the position to save your life. Yet look where their guns are pointing — it sure ain’t at me! Does that make you feel warm and happy inside? Do you think I’ll come running with a smile on my face after you’ve insulted not only me, but my partner?”
Red Rocket turned to the police. “It’s OK, Tony. Mr. Flag, here, was just leaving, eh, Mr. Flag?”
Anger played across the rookie hero’s face, and resentment flared in his eyes. He opened his mouth to make a caustic retort, but Red Rocket pushed him a little harder against the wall. Rocket didn’t have superhuman strength like Tom Atomic, but he was pretty strong for a normal human, and right now he had leverage. Captain Democracy was starting to have a little trouble breathing, and finally he nodded his head — just barely.
Red Rocket realized he might have made a new enemy, but he didn’t really care at this point. He hoped the rookie would get out of the business, but only time would tell. He released Captain Democracy, who stalked out the door without another word.
Detective Spinelli walked over to talk to him. “I think you ought to watch out for him, Red. He could turn out to be a bad one!”
“Thanks, Tony. I’ll keep an eye out. Find out anything new?”
“They’ve put together sketches of the two dead guys and Wizzo. Jackie just brought me some copies.” He showed Rocket three sketches. The murdered men seemed to be two pretty average guys; Red Rocket had never seen either one before, as far as he could remember.
“Got any extras? Might be Atomic and I can find out somethin’. We’ll be looking for that Wizzo fella, too.”
Tony smiled. “Thought so. Tell you what, you tell me what you found out, and you can keep those two.”
“No leftover trace of magic, but then, I’ve never been able to detect magic, so it doesn’t mean much. Far as I can tell, the water is water, and that pile of ashes is a pile of ashes. No bones left, which usually means really hot. But no scorches on the rug. Seems to add up to magic, to me. Nothing else but questions. Wanna hear ’em?”
He and Tony stood there and traded questions. Tony had come up with a few that Red Rocket hadn’t thought of yet. “Why would a guy with that kind of power send lackeys to rob a bank? Better yet, why does he need to rob banks, anyway?” Both men had been in the business long enough to know there was often no good answer to either of these questions. They usually felt lucky if they could solve the case and capture the bad guy; if any of their questions were answered, they considered it a bonus.
A couple of hours later, back in his laboratory, Todd Drake puzzled over the results from his analysis of the samples he had taken. The water was water, which was nothing unusual as far as he could tell. The ash was organic, to be sure, but there was nothing in it that he could say for certain had come from a human. But nothing he could say for certain didn’t come from a human. His earlier suggestion that there really hadn’t been any murders today had been almost rhetorical, but he was seriously considering it now.
Tomas Thomas and Todd and Bonnie Drake always tried to get together once a day, usually just before they quit for the day, to discus their cases. Tomas had called in to say he would be dropping by about five o’clock before he headed home to nearby Calumet, Indiana. Dewey had lived on the third floor of the building for several years, and after DMT had purchased the building, Bonnie and Todd had redecorated that floor and now called it home. They invited Tomas up for dinner.
Little Jack Drake, as usual, was thrilled to see his “Unca Tomas,” and he and Bonnie played with Jack while Todd prepared dinner. Bonnie wasn’t working on a case now, and Tomas had just started his case, so they soon turned the discussion to Wizzo the Wizard. Even with his perfect memory, Tomas couldn’t remember much about the villainous wizard. He’d fought Captain Marvel by creating an evil duplicate who spoke in reverse English named Niatpac Levram (Captain Marvel in reverse), whom the Captain had beaten fairly easily. He had cast his spells in English, punctuated by the word “Presto,” unlike today’s used of an unknown language, and he hadn’t made much of an impression on Marvel or anyone else. Todd was pretty sure he remembered that Wizzo’s spells hadn’t been anywhere near as powerful the last time he had made news as the spells he used today.
They discussed the police reports, and Todd reported all the talk he had heard at the crime scene. None of them were willing to come to any firm conclusions, since there was too little information, and anything else would be guesswork. Tomas summed up their general impressions of Wizzo based on what they did know.
“Type B villainous wizard, uses a wand as a focus for his spells and possibly as a storage device for his magical power, spells include a vocal component (chanting in an unknown mystical language) and a gestural component. Likes to show off with flashy effects. Spells used indicate moderate to strong magical power, but he could be concealing his real power level, so don’t make any assumptions. Has not shown an affinity for a single type of magic; for instance, he doesn’t seem to specialize in fire magic — although all of his spells might be considered elemental magic, they included control over fire, water, and air.
“Standard tactics against Type B — disrupt his chants, don’t stay in the same place long enough to make an easy target, get the wand away from him, and be cautious, even when he doesn’t have the wand. Some Type Bs can cast spells without the aid of their wands.
“So,” Tomas continued, “do you want any help?” Tomas made the offer because he felt obligated to, but Todd could see that his main interest was really in his current case.
“Keep your receiver turned on. If it looks like the $#!* is about to hit the fan, I’ll give you a shout.”
The talk turned to Captain Democracy. Once again Tomas summed up what they knew of him. “Type A heroic athlete, possible training in martial arts, artificially enhanced resistance to damage, uses a shield as both a weapon and a defense. Strengths unknown. Weaknesses: reduced speed, agility, and stealth, inexperience, and a bad attitude.”
Bonnie was intrigued by the new hero. “When you took pictures, did you take any of him? I think I’ll see if I can find out anything else about him.” Todd got up to head for the darkroom and develop his pictures, but Bonnie volunteered instead. “How about you put Jack to bed tonight? I need some time to myself!”
Tomas headed for home, Bonnie developed the film, and Todd put Jack to bed, without too much trouble, although he jabbed his finger on one of the safety pins while changing Jack’s diapers. At least it wasn’t Jack that got stabbed.
The next day, Todd picked up their once-a-week nanny, and he wrapped up his current case. The lab work he had done yesterday resolved the case, and he was free again by noon. Bonnie was doing some research in the library, looking through recent stories in the Chicago papers. Todd hung a Back At sign on the office door, set the clock hands to indicate three o’clock, and Red Rocket took to the skies.
As always in a city as big as Chicago, there were many situations in which Red Rocket could have intervened. He had learned early in his career that he could not possibly intervene in every situation, and sometimes his hardest decisions were to not help. Rocket didn’t want anyone to become dependent on his assistance.
Today he was looking for Wizzo the Wizard. He stopped a couple of muggings, rescued a cat from a tree to stop a little girl from crying, and managed to pull an elderly man from the path of a speeding car. The car swerved at the last second, which was too little, too late, but Rocket plucked the man from the street. He didn’t have time to prevent the car from going out of control, running over a fire hydrant (which ripped the car in half), and then crashing into the wall of a building. But he did call an ambulance and the police, got the occupants out of the car, and prevented the gas tank from exploding. He also used his magnetic power to restore the fire hydrant, once the people were out of danger.
But he found out nothing about Wizzo. Nobody in town seemed to know him, and nobody admitted to recognizing the henchmen in the police sketches, either. Nobody was recruiting muscle right now, and nobody was spending loot from yesterday’s bank heist. He was back in the office by three, but no new clients showed up that afternoon. He hoped tomorrow would be a little more exciting.