by Dan Swanson
The next night, a trusted confederate hopped into a rented station wagon and drove to the Oak Street Beach, where he picked up an envelope at a closed concession stand — an envelope Zing the Queen of Quick had dropped there only a second before he arrived. And shortly afterward, he pulled into a parking lot near Grant Park, where he got out of the car and hopped up on the hood to sit down.
Zing zoomed up. “I’ve got the box. Where’s the money?”
“I guess you’re Zing, huh?” the driver asked. “Check da back seat of da car.”
She looked in the window and was stunned. There were bundles of hundred-dollar bills that filled the back seat from side to side, more than six inches deep. There was no way she could get even half that into her pack.
“Holy moley!” she exclaimed in annoyance. “How am I supposed to carry all this?”
“Not my problem, though you could leave it wit me,” he chuckled. “But da boss put t’at steamer trunk in da back for you, if you want. It’s got wheels. Just give me da box, you pile in da money, and we’re t’rough here.”
“How do I know it’s all there?” she demanded.
“You can count it when you put it into da trunk. Just don’t touch da t’ing on da floor of da car; it’s a bomb. Won’t go off ‘less you touch it or I let go of t’is t’ing.” He showed her the small device he was holding in his right hand.
“But… that would kill you, too!” She was stunned that anyone would carry around something that could kill him.
“Well, if t’is deal don’t go down right, da boss’ll kill me, anyways. He’s payin’ me big bucks for t’is, so I decided to take da risk. We should hurry, t’ou — t’is neighborhood ain’t all t’at safe at night.” He didn’t really seem worried, but then, who knew what would bother a guy who would agree to carry around an armed dead man’s switch? “So, gimme da box, huh?”
Zing was somewhat bemused, and she gave him the box. He put it into his pocket, then carefully opened the tailgate so she could get the trunk out of the back of the car. At super-speed, she counted the bills in one packet — there were exactly one hundred bills, each of them a one-hundred-dollar bill. A little super-speed calculation told her there should be two hundred packets total. It took about five seconds to ruffle through each packet and then pack them all into the trunk. When she was finished, the trunk — which was large enough for her to curl up in comfortably if she’d wanted — was full.
Her contact threw the device to the ground. “We got thirty seconds to get outta here, lady. Nice doing business wit’ you!” And he ran off into the night.
The Queen of Quick could easily have caught him, but if the car blew up, it would take her money with it. Besides, so far her anonymous contact had played more than fair with her; she’d refused to listen to the potential difficulties in picking up two-million dollars, and even then, he’d thrown in free this wheeled trunk. She tried to pick it up — it weighed more than fifty pounds, which she could carry, but there was no way she could run with it. So she pushed it. And was a couple of blocks away when the car blew up.
She had to steer the trunk into an alley, because smoke was coming out from underneath it. She realized that the little wheels on the trunk had never been designed to move at high speeds, and they were starting to melt. She quickly cooled them off by using her hand as a super-speed fan; fortunately, the wind she generated blew out any flames as well. But she wasn’t moving that trunk any farther.
Zing could run home and be back here again in under five seconds — hardly time for anyone to steal her money. So that’s what she did. She filled her pack with bundles of cash and ran home, dumped the pack under her bed, and made several more trips. Finally, she had all her hard-earned money back home, and she fell into bed, exhausted.
But she couldn’t go to sleep. There was two-million dollars under her bed. What if someone broke into her apartment and stole it? She went to the kitchen for a cup of tea to calm down, but instead she kept flashing back into the bedroom at super-speed every few seconds just to check.
Constant super-speed activity took a lot of energy, and finally she collapsed into the bed and almost passed out. She slept fitfully for a few hours, then awakened. She lay in bed until the sun came up, fretting about protecting her money. When she finally got out of bed, she realized she’d never felt worse in her life.
Being rich is supposed to solve all my problems, not give me more! she thought disgustedly.
She went out for a bagel and coffee at the deli across the street, but before she got there, she had to rush back; how could she leave two million in cash unguarded? She realized she was going to have to figure out what she was going to do with her new fortune; she couldn’t go through life paranoid about leaving her apartment.
I can’t spend it at the places I usually shop. There’s no way they’ll let me buy breakfast for a buck twenty at the deli and pay for it with a c-note! Most of ’em don’t do a hundred dollars of business in a day. She knew that from experience, having checked out the registers at super-speed shortly after the mystical event that had brought her to this Earth. She tried to think of places where she could spend one-hundred-dollar bills. A car dealer — but they’ll want to see my driver’s license, and if I try to deposit it, the bank will want to see my I.D.
She’d appeared on this Earth in her costume, so she hadn’t been carrying her driver’s license, and given her current lifestyle — super-villain — she hadn’t bothered establishing a legitimate identity yet. It looked like she would have to do so now. To do that, she would have to overcome her paranoia about leaving her room. It would be difficult, but she had to do it.
Aleny Huong had no idea how to go about setting up an identity. She vaguely remembered reading at least one story a few years ago in which the hero had needed to do something similar. She gathered up her courage and headed to the public library. Fretting the whole time about her unguarded fortune, she found the science-fiction section, which was absolutely deserted, and found to her relief that the same author existed on this world as her own. She spent the next few minutes rereading the entire collection of books by Robin A. Fineline at super-speed. Armed with what she’d learned, she developed a plan as she rushed back home to discover to her relief that her stash of cash was still untouched.
The next day, a small young Asian woman walked into a used clothing store in a rundown section of Chicago’s South Side. She was neatly groomed and clean, and her clothes were freshly pressed, but they were old, worn, and neatly patched, with ragged edges at the sleeves and hem. The manager figured she was here to look and dream — customers like her usually didn’t have money to spend.
“Can I help you?” she asked the young lady with an intimidating frown on her face.
The young woman smiled hopefully. “I need something to wear to a job interview, but I’ve only got ten dollars.”
The manager’s mood changed quickly. Ten dollars of sales would raise today from mediocre to pretty good, and it was always gratifying to help someone look better for a job interview. “I’m sure we’ll be able to help you.” She sensed there was more to this young lady’s story than what she’d heard so far.
And slowly, as she showed off some of last year’s most fashionable clothes — the best her store had to offer — the story came out. The young lady had run away from home, hoping to make it in the big city. She’d been living at the YWCA, finding money by begging on the street and running errands whenever she could. The manager got the impression of someone escaping an abusive home life, determined to make her way on her own, who had just been offered a fantastic break. The story aroused her sympathy; years ago she’d been in a desperate situation and gotten her own lucky break. The big problem this young lady had was, even after she had a nice outfit to wear to the interview, she was only seventeen years old. She needed an I.D. to prove she was old enough to work.
“Dearie, I know someone who can help you with that,” the manager suggested sympathetically. “Talk to Lefty, the bartender at the tavern down on the corner; tell him Maggie sent you.”
The cost of the new outfit somehow fell from ten dollars to only $8.50, which left the young lady enough to buy a good mid-afternoon lunch at Lefty’s.
Lunch was an adventure. Lefty’s Tavern was full of loud men and brassy women, definitely not the kind of place Zing would enter if she didn’t need to, but she walked in with confidence. She maneuvered through the crowd to an empty table, put down her bag, and sat down. Only a few seconds later, a man with greasy hair and a neat pinstripe suit was pulling out the other chair.
“Hey, baby, how’s about I buy you a drink?” he asked as he sat down.
She picked up a napkin to cover her hand, stood, and pulled the cigar from his mouth, throwing it to the floor. “Not interested. And I can’t stand those smelly, disgusting things. Leave me alone.”
The crowd in the taproom was stunned into silence until the greasy man erupted. He stood up instantly, knocking his chair backward. “You shouldn’t ought to have done that, witch,” he hissed. “Now I’m gonna cut you!” He pulled out a knife.
“You’re lucky you didn’t spill anything on my bag,” she responded, seemingly totally unconcerned with the knife. “You could save yourself a lot of pain if you go away now.”
Instead of saying anything, he kicked the table toward her. She easily stepped aside and dropped into a fighting crouch.
“That Asian kayrati crap won’t do ya no good, sister. This here is an all-American knife fight!” He lunged, and she easily knocked his arm aside, continuing the motion into full spin and delivering a side-kick to the side of his chin, about six inches above her head, moving almost faster than he or anyone in the bar could see. The force of the kick snapped his head around, lifted him off his feet, and threw him backward, and he crashed down on the next table, unconscious.
“I think I’ll sit at the bar instead,” she said to the room in general. She wasn’t bothered again, and she was able to make the necessary arrangements with Lefty in peace. Then she rushed home to make sure the bundles of cash were still undisturbed under her bed.
Colonel Tony Spinelli, commander of the Chicago Police Super-Villain Apprehension Team, got a phone call later that day.
“Colonel, it’s Sergeant MacRae from South Side precinct,” he heard.
“C’mon, Mac, it’s Tony. Just ’cause I’m downtown now doesn’t change us working together for more than ten years out there.”
“Sure, thanks, Tony. Say, you remember Wylie the wino? He just rushed in here and said he has some important information for you about that Zing dame. Says you’re paying for stuff like he’s got.”
Tony had put the word out that any information useful in the ongoing investigation of Zing was worth money, and there were police analysts wading through the flood of tips that had come in. He’d done business personally with Wylie in the past, so he figured it was worth talking to him today. “Thanks, Mac. Put him on.”
“Heya, Tone! Good ta talking t’you… again.” Wylie was unusually coherent today. “How mush you payin’? Wha I got t’day ish worth… top dollar, ya know!”
“We’re getting a lot of tips, Wylie, and most of them aren’t paying off. Suppose you let me decide. If your news is worth anything, I’ll have Mac pay you on the spot. If that’s not good enough, you’ll have to come downtown and talk to an analyst.”
Wylie thought it over for a few seconds. Spinelli had always been right with him in the past. He knew his news was big, and he wanted cash now; going downtown would take hours, and besides, by the time he got back, he’d be sober. He decided to take a chance on Spinelli.
“I wush at Leffy’s earl’er, ya know, sittin at… the bar, gabbin’ with Leffy.” Meaning, Tony knew, he was trying to bum a drink. “Dis dame walked in — pretty short, Far East type, ya know? Soon’s she sat down, she got inna beef with Jack da Knife, ‘member him?” Tony did; whenever there was trouble in the South Side precinct, the Knife was always one of the usual suspects.
“Jack’s gotta be twice her shize, and he pulled his shiv, ya know? Din’t bot’er ‘er none, though. Fasht’r’n you can shay it, ya know, da Knife is flyin’ t’rough da air, out cold b’fore he hitsh the ground!”
Tony stopped him and asked some questions. Wiley hadn’t seen the actual fight, but he’d heard people talking about it. She’d apparently kicked him in the head, using one of the Asian fighting techniques. Wylie insisted it was karate, but he didn’t know karate from caramel.
“Thanks, Wylie — you’re right, this is top-dollar stuff. Anything else?”
Wylie had overheard the negotiations at the bar, and he knew when the lady was scheduled to return to pick up her new documents. But he wasn’t telling… yet.
“How mush? Man’sh gotta eat, ya know?” he demanded.
More like drink! Tony thought to himself. “Eight bucks,” he replied.
“No way! I t’ought we was buddies, ya know? This has gotta be worth at least ten!” Anger helped Wylie sound more coherent.
“OK, ten bucks. Now give.” Tony had been prepared to pay up to fifteen, but he felt that as a public servant, he had a duty to be frugal with taxpayer money.
“Two-thirty tomorrow afternoon.”
Tony asked him to put Mac on the phone, and made arrangements for Mac to pay Wylie out of petty cash, then send a voucher to his attention. After he hung up, he sat for a moment, gloating, then got down to planning. This was the first big break for the Super-Villain Apprehension Team. He had a lot of work to do before tomorrow afternoon. He hoped Tom Atomic and Red Rocket weren’t booked up yet — their inventions would help trap the villainous Queen of Quick; they deserved to be in on the capture.
Aleny entered Lefty’s Tavern the next day and walked up to the bar, and when Lefty came to take her order, she dropped a c-note on the bar. He handed her an envelope. “Nice doin’ bizness wit’ ya; hope you get the job!” He smiled to let her know that he knew no real job was involved.
At that instant, the front door banged open, and a stream of police officers started pouring into the taproom. They all carried strange objects: a six-inch parabolic reflector with a stud holding a silvery ball at the focal point, mounted to a pistol grip, which they immediately aimed at Aleny. She couldn’t have known this, but infrared sensors in the men’s weapons instantly locked onto her body heat. If she moved, the weapons would be triggered automatically, with electronic speed — much faster than a normal man could fire. Colonel Spinelli was one of the first into the room, and he immediately started barking.
“Everybody be calm. We’re the Chicago Police Super-Villain Apprehension Team, and we’re after a dangerous villain. The rest of you are safe and will be allowed to leave shortly.” Silence filled the taproom. Aleny smiled calmly, apparently unconcerned with any attempts to capture her. Tony turned to her. “Zing, you are under arrest. Please come peacefully. The weapons we are carrying have been specially designed to stop you; please don’t make us use them.”
Zing disappeared. The weapons fired instantly. Somehow they projected a kind of force-field. It was invisible to normal humans, but with her reflexes now super-speed-attuned, the Queen of Quick was able to see what looked like a dim fog spreading slowly through the room, somehow produced by the parabolic projectors. She moved forward until she actually touched the fog, and was stunned to realize that she couldn’t pass through it, even though her internal vibrations would allow her to pass through solid matter. She turned and ran for the back of the tavern, passing through the bar, the display wall with hundreds of bottles, and into the office. She was dismayed to realize that the office was also already filling with the restraining fog.
Tony Spinelli wasn’t some rookie who would leave the rear exit uncovered, and there were SVAT cops surrounding the entire building. However, due to the other buildings nearby, the coverage wasn’t as complete as it should have been. This probably wouldn’t have mattered, as the expanding fog would quickly fill in the gaps before the Queen of Quick could find them, but no one had expected her to be able to actually see the retaining field. She picked the largest such gap and raced through the outer wall.
And she almost dashed herself unconscious when she ran into Tom Atomic. He reacted instantly, wrapping both arms around her, and she was trapped. This was new; she’d escaped from him in a similar situation in the past simply by vibrating out of his embrace.
She tried hitting him thousands of times in a split instant, but the armor cloth of his costume just stiffened in response, and she was hurting her hands, not him. She tried to wriggle free, but he’d wrapped her up so well she could barely move. She tried furiously to vibrate free, using rhythms she’d never tried before, with no effect. She drummed her feet, hoping to build up air pressure underneath her and lift them both into the air, but he was too heavy. By now, she was getting a little winded; she relaxed out of super-speed mode.
“Why, Tom Atomic — no gentleman would grab a lady he hardly knows like this!”
“You’re no lady, lady!” he said, grinning at her. “Neat new trick, isn’t it? — a force-field you can’t pass through, reinforcing the costume. Built it myself, too.” He’d upgraded the circuitry in the magnetic controllers Jim Barr had invented as Bulletman. “Sorry about the tight squeeze you’re in, but you should know that nobody escapes from Tom Atomic!”
“Sorry, Tommy-boy. I can’t say it’s been fun,” she said sweetly. “But you’re not the only one with a new trick.” She concentrated, and her body released an extremely powerful electrical shock. Even through the insulation of his costume, it jolted Tom Atomic, causing his muscles to spasm and easing his grip for just an instant — but that’s all Zing needed. An instant later, Tom was back in control of his reactions, and Zing was gone.