by Dan Swanson
Within a few minutes, a team of physicians and their assistants, also wearing protective gear, had arrived and were examining Tomas Thomas. Several of the doctors who taught at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine were doing advanced research in radiation-related health issues, so Tomas would get the best possible treatment without even having to leave the campus. When the doctors determined that the level of radiation Tomas was emitting was reasonably safe, they put him onto a stretcher cart, and gently but quickly transferred him to a special suite in the medical school’s teaching hospital. They were attaching him to an IV and putting some type of salve on his emerging blisters even as they started pushing the cart out of the room. Two of the doctors stayed to check out the others in the room.
Todd Drake told the whole story again, and then one of the doctors started to question the hazard team. Todd and the other doctor went into the emergency room in the next lab, and decontaminated and removed their suits. Todd took a shower and scrubbed with decontaminate cleaner, then put on a clean lab robe. The doctor tested him with a Geiger counter and pronounced him to be clean and safe. Todd then asked him more about Tomas.
“He must have taken a fatal dose, Doc. What did you think?”
“I can’t tell you for sure, son, but the blast of radiation was enough to knock him out, right? We’ve found that when that happens, the dosage is invariably fatal. All we can do is make him as comfortable as possible.” Now the doctor looked angry. “What the hell were you guys doing? It’s against the rules to work with radioactive materials without supervision. You’re lucky you aren’t dead, too! And what are you doing working with that level of gamma radiation, anyway?”
Todd shrugged. Under normal circumstances, he might have been angry at being falsely accused, but he was tired and worried, and too upset about Tomas to get too worked up for this man.
“We haven’t violated any rules, Doc. We were working on the electronics in our prototype, and the device wasn’t even turned on today. And that blast of radiation was an order of magnitude higher than anything we expected. The bullet crossed circuits or something; I haven’t figured it out yet. But I guarantee we weren’t doing anything wrong!”
The doctor knew that any research into the unknown could be dangerous, and he realized that the device that the two men had been working on could potentially revolutionize some kinds of surgery. But he was never happy when faced with death; he saw it as a personal failure in his battle to help the living.
The head of the hazard team came out of the emergency shower in a lab robe, and the doctor examined him. When he was pronounced safe, he used the phone in the lab to contact his deputy who was keeping people out of the building, and let him know that people could come in if they avoided the lab where the explosion had been. The deputy reported that he was sending up some Chicago City police.
Once again Todd told his story. One of the cops smiled at him. “I thought you looked familiar. I’m really sorry about your buddy. I saw you guys fight last night, and you won me a bundle. We’ll get those mugs, I promise!”
Todd’s attention picked up. “Say, do you remember the guys in the stands who were such jerks last night? Did you recognize any of them?”
“I know who you mean. I saw your confrontation with them, and I was getting ready to come out of the stands myself. But no, I didn’t actually recognize them. It was those same guys, right?”
“Yes, and they said they had lost a lot of money on the match. Where did you make your bets?”
The cop suddenly looked very uneasy. If the police force officially knew that he was gambling on sports events, he would probably get fired. And if he told Todd about it with his partner here, his partner would probably feel compelled to report it. “Just some friendly wagers with some of my brother officers,” he said. “No bookies or nothin’ like that.”
“Darn! I was hoping you could give me a name. Those guys need help, fast!”
“Well, son, why don’t you come down to the station and look at some mugshots? Maybe you can identify them that way.” He noticed that his partner was talking to the doctor, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “Talk to this guy,” he whispered. On the card was a name and a phone number. Todd nodded his thanks, and pocketed the card.
At just that time, the door to the lab opened again, and the president of the university, Dr. Phillip A. Grenco, bustled into the room, followed by Dr. Jonas Wright, who was the facilitator for the Advanced Topics seminar. Wright looked angry and worried. Grenco just looked angry. He spotted Todd and immediately started yelling at him.
“You! Mr. Drake! You and Mr. Thomas are expelled from U.C., effective immediately. I will not have this kind of careless accident on my campus! And I’ll make sure the two of you are blacklisted from any other colleges, too. I want you off campus before nine P.M. tonight.”
Todd was tired, upset, and distraught about his friend. He wasn’t about to take any crap from this idiot.
“Mr. Illustrious President,” he responded, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “Perhaps you don’t know the whole story yet. You don’t need to expel Mr. Thomas — he will be dead in less than a week.”
Clearly the president was looking for someone to blame. “That’s even worse!” He turned to the policemen. “Officers, I demand that you arrest this man for murder of a student at U.C. And this man should be arrested as an accomplice!” he pointed at Dr. Wright.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Todd started.
Grenco, shouting, interrupted. “Your gross negligence in violating our rules, experimenting with radiation without supervision, and working with dangerous radioactive substances without permission or the knowledge of the university is ample grounds for negligent homicide, at best!”
Now Todd was yelling, too. Anger and adrenaline had overcome his apathy. “We have a complete description of our entire planned development program, as required by the university, on file, and it includes the signatures of Dr. Wright, Dr. Perlman, and the president of the university, who just happens to be you, Dr. Grenco!” Todd pointed out hotly. “If there is any negligence here, it is on the university’s part. Four men, armed with silenced pistols, were able to come onto your campus and slip unnoticed into your high-security atomic building. The university has, over the years, told us many times that the campus was as safe as our homes!
“But no posse of armed men has just walked into my home and shot my friend before! Where was your highly trained campus police force? Oh, yeah, not to forget: even bloodied and radioactive, and with radiation alarms going off, they managed to get away without anyone other than us even seeing them!
“Go ahead and expel us, Mr. President. And I’ll see you in court! Betcha I’ll win, too! It’ll cost you, and just think of all the wonderful publicity. I’ll bet every family will want to send their kids to U.C. after that!”
Grenco sputtered, but finally settled on, “I do not take kindly to being threatened, you damn punk kid!”
“And I–” said Todd, in his coldest voice, “–do not take lightly being accused of murdering my friend by some idiot who has no idea what he is talking about. Or, being expelled from school on trumped-up charges. Anyway, I’m not threatening you, Mr. President.” A sneer crossed his face as he used that word. “I’m just telling you some things you may want to consider before expelling me — or Tomas!”
Todd turned to the policeman again, who had recognized this argument as a good opportunity to keep quiet. “Officer McGuire,” he said, reading the name off the officer’s uniform, “let’s go take a look at those mugshots.”
With that, Todd turned around and marched out the lab door, with McGuire following him, while President Grenco just stood and fumed, his face turning redder and redder. Just as Todd was about to close the door, Grenco turned to Wright, and Todd could see he was about to explode again. Wright ignored him and followed Todd and the police out of the room.
Susan Barr was curled up on the couch, reading a thrilling Harlequin bodice-ripper, wishing Bulletman would get back from whatever he was doing. She had some very interesting plans for tonight, but they required two people.
She could hardly believe what she was reading. Nowhere in the book was there anything explicit, but the unmarried heroine in the book wasn’t spending many nights alone. And while her practices were mostly left to the imagination, they were most unconventional and sounded like a lot of fun. Sue had an excellent imagination.
As Bulletgirl, she had seen some pretty wild things in her career, so she wasn’t exactly shocked, but she had never expected to buy books like this in mainstream bookstores. To be honest, though, her plans for the evening had been pretty nebulous until she had read Chapter Three. There were people who thought the romance genre was just a fad, and that Harlequin would be just another bust, but she suspected they would have a long and profitable history.
Just as she started Chapter Four, the phone rang. She hoped it wasn’t Jim with some lame excuse for working late, or telling her that Bulletman was needed someplace else. If it were, she would tell him a thing or three.
“Hello, this is the long-distance operator, and I have a collect call for anyone from Todd Drake. Will you accept the charges?”
“Of course, operator. Thank you!”
“Thank you! Sir, please go ahead.” And she heard the click of the operator hanging up.
“Sue! I need your help! Can you and Jim come out here right now?” Todd sounded worn out and really worried.
“What’s the matter, Todd? You sound awful!”
“I feel awful, too! You remember my roommate, Tomas? He’s in the hospital and not expected to live. He’s dying of radiation poisoning. Some gangsters broke into our lab and took a shot at us. Our prototype blew up, and Tomas took a fatal dose of gamma radiation.”
“Todd, that’s horrible! Are you OK?” Sue asked, worry in her voice.
“I’m OK, just really tired. But I want to catch the bad buys. You and Jim are the best detectives I know, and I need help tracking them down.”
“Todd, it sounds like a police matter to me. The police will catch them sooner or later.”
“No, Sue, you don’t understand. If somebody doesn’t find these guys fast, they’ll probably die of radiation sickness, too. The police seem to feel that there’s no hurry; if these mobsters die on their own, it’s four less bad guys in town! But I want to see these guys stand trial, so I’m going to find them myself, fast! So, will you help me or not?”
Well, Sue thought to herself wistfully, I suppose I can wait until some other time to try The Dragon’s Lair.
“What did you say, Sue?” Todd’s voice showed that he was very puzzled.
Oops! I hope I didn’t say that out loud! she thought, a roguish grin flashing across her face.
“I’ll call Jim, and we’ll be there as soon as we can. Until then, don’t you be a fool.” This phrase caused Todd to listen very carefully. “Wait for us before you do anything!”
Jim Barr and Sue Kent had taught Todd a couple of secret codes that they used whenever they had to discuss Bullet matters in their civilian identities. “Don’t you be a fool” was a catchphrase that indicated a coded message would follow in a specific code. Sue was about to tell him when and where they would rendezvous. Todd knew that, at top speed, it would take them about five hours to fly here from New York, and he hoped he could get a little sleep in during that time. Sue’s next words surprised him.
“It will probably take us two hours or so to get plane reservations, but we’ll see you tomorrow! Maybe you can meet us, like you did last time?” Two hours, in the little park by the lake. How were they going to get here that fast? Well, they had never let him down before; he was willing to trust them one more time.
“That would be great, Sue! Thanks very much! Umm, I know it may seem like a strange thing to worry about right now, but do you remember that hat you guys gave me when I left New York? It was my favorite, but it doesn’t fit any more. Do you remember where you got it?”
That wasn’t part of the code, but Sue understood it, anyway. The Bullet helmet they had given him when he was twelve no longer fit, but he wanted to join them as Bulletboy in this investigation. Of course, they couldn’t really call him Bulletboy anymore — she and Jim had been at a conference in Chicago about six weeks ago, giving a presentation on the use of infrared spectrophotometers in police crime labs, and of course they had dropped in on Todd. He sure growed up nice! she thought. Very handsome boy. I wonder why he doesn’t have a bevy of bouncy bimbos hanging around all the time?
“That’s funny! I just bought your birthday present, and it’s one of those very hats! I’ll bring it with, and I’ll get you something else for your birthday. Todd, don’t worry, we’ll be there before you know it. I’ve gotta call Jim! See you soon!”
After she hung up, she hurried down to the basement and through the secret door into the hidden room they called the Armory. She sat down by the shortwave radio, tuned to the wavelength that she and Jim used when in their costumes, and gave him a call. He answered right away. “B.G. to F.D., come in,” she said, using the initials for Bulletman’s nickname, the Flying Detective. “F.D., where are you? I just talked to our old friend B.B. and promised him we’d meet him in that little park near his dorm in two hours!”
“F.D. to B.G., are you crazy? We can’t possibly get there in less than five hours, even if we could leave right now and fly straight through!”
“Don’t worry, F.D., I have it covered. Meet me near Central Park in forty minutes, five-hundred feet straight up over the lagoon!”
“F.D. to B.G., Roger. I’m just finishing up my business now. See you then. I won’t spoil your surprise by asking! Over and out!” She later found out that his business that night had involved busting a dope-smuggling ring.
Sue smiled. Sometimes he was infuriating, but there were times, like now, when he said exactly the right things. He trusted her enough that he didn’t even question what she had in mind.
She picked up the special phone she used to contact her fellow heroes. America’s mystery-men had never become all that well organized, but they knew each other and operated together occasionally under names such as the Crime Crusaders Club or the Squadron of Justice. (*) It had been Jim’s idea to give each of the heroes a special phone so that they could contact one another if needed. Pressing one of the buttons, she waited; if she didn’t get an answer right away, she was going to have to try an alternate plan, but she was relieved when the call was answered on the fourth ring.
[(*) Editor’s note: The Crime Crusaders Club was the predecessor to Shazam’s Squadron of Justice; see “The Man Who Demanded Death,” Master Comics #41 (August, 1943).]
“Alan? It’s Sue. Jim and I need to get to Chicago fast — faster than we can fly. Do you have a few hours right now?”
Alan Armstrong was only half-awake. His wife Eve was asleep next to him, so he spoke quietly. “Do we have to go right now, Sue? We had a big night tonight, and I’m bushed. How about tomorrow morning?”
“Sorry, Alan, but it’s got to be right now. Tell you what, though — if you’re a dear and help us out, the next time I see Eve, I’ll tell her about my latest discovery. It’s something called The Dragon’s Lair. I promise you’ll both like it!”
Sue had always been a very persuasive lady. She had shared some of her earlier discoveries with Eve, and that was part of the reason Eve was sleeping so soundly right now. Alan was already getting dressed. “Where do I pick you up?”
“Five-hundred feet above the lagoon in Central Park, forty minutes! See you then!”
Sue hung up and pulled her Bulletgirl costume from a locker. She was changed in seconds. She then found civilian clothes for herself and Jim, along with a spare adult helmet and costume for Todd. She threw everything in a backpack. She almost folded the teddy and put it away in a drawer, but then shrugged her shoulders and tossed it into the pack as well. Maybe she and Jim could fly over to Michigan and find a nice romantic motel along the rocky shores of Lake Michigan before they came home. She added her purse and Jim’s wallet, then strapped on the backpack, flew out through the secret tunnel, and zoomed off toward Central Park. She didn’t want to be late.
Bulletgirl never did actually reach the lagoon. The famous Gyrosub pulled alongside as she flew, the door opened, and she saw Bulletman already inside. Sue flew in and gave him a hug. He closed the door, and they both hurried forward and sat down in chairs in the cockpit. Spy Smasher gave her a quick wave of greeting, turned the Gyrosub to match a compass reading, and flew off at high speed.
For a few seconds, all three passengers were pressed back into their seats by an exhilarating acceleration. Sue felt the vessel shudder a little and realized they had just broken the sound barrier. A few seconds later, the acceleration eased, and Spy Smasher turned to the Bullets. “Good to see you two! We’ll be there in about an hour. We could move faster, but we’d wake up people all along our flight path. When we get closer, Sue, you need to tell me exactly where you want to be dropped off. Say, you aren’t looking for a ride back tonight, too, are you?”
“No, Alan. I expect we’ll be in Chicago a couple of days, and then I’m going to try to convince this lunk to take me on a short vacation in upper Michigan! So you should head on home once you drop us off.”
Jim looked at her thoughtfully. She looked especially appealing tonight. It must have come from inside, he decided, because he couldn’t notice anything different about her appearance. They hadn’t had a vacation in a long time. Of course, he was going to take a few days off later this year to attend that awards ceremony with Captain Marvel, but that was quite a ways off. This sounded like a good plan to him.
The three old friends talked quietly for the rest of the flight. Sue and Jim directed Alan to the west edge of Lake Michigan, and then the two hopped out of the Gyrosub. Alan turned the Gyrosub around, and within seconds he was headed home. The Gyrosub moved so fast, it was out of sight in only a few more seconds.
Bulletman and Bulletgirl flew down to the small campus park on the lake shore. True to his word, Todd Drake met them there.