The elderly woman sat still in her bed as if waiting on something or someone. She had a serene smile upon her face that belied a very slight tremor of anticipation. She knew it would not be long now. It was odd that, after so many years alone, she was now in a hurry. She felt heavy and tired, and the room became blurry as the medicines took effect. She had secretly hoarded her daily pills for a while, and now, thanks to their potent power, she would soon be joining her beloved Jonathan again. Of course, he was eager to see her, too, since he had been a regular visitor of late. It was strange how he had just appeared in the room after so many years away on the other side.
A nurse passed the door of the private room and stopped short. She rushed inside to check on Mrs. Anderson but was shocked to find that the elderly woman was in a deep coma. She checked her pulse and summoned the head doctor. She could not stand to lose yet another resident.
That night, a worried elderly man of Chinese origin received the news that the doctors had been able to save the woman from her apparent overdose thanks to the quick actions of Nurse Betsy Cranton. Ah Chan was nearly exhausted after having sat up all night. He had tried to draw upon the philosophies of his ancestors for comfort, but he simply cared too strongly for his residents to hide his worry or smooth it away with any ideology, no matter how ancient in origin. He knew this strange suicide attempt was very out of character for the devout Mrs. Anderson. Something was very wrong at Hedley Heights Retired Living Community, and the former pharmacist was determined to find answers.
He made a call across the country to his old partner’s home. He knew Stormy Foster had not been well of late, but he was recovering rapidly, and his daughter was a woman of remarkable ability. Ah Chan suspected the attractive Dee Tyler to have connections with his old friend’s secret lifestyle. He knew Stormy, a meek pharmacist, had also led a double life as the Great Defender, a super-powered Freedom Fighter of old. Dee had her old man’s pluck and drive, and if Ah Chan’s keen observations based upon regular visits to his “niece” were accurate, the young woman had secrets all her own.
“Dee, how are you, my pet?” asked the old man. “I need your help. Will you make your regular visit here a bit early this season?”
On the other end of the line, the darkly beautiful Dee answered readily. “Of course. You know you can count on me.”
Dee Tyler was a fiery, red-haired young woman with a fiercely independent streak. She had never been afraid of anything and had seldom even allowed her own doubts about her true parentage to interfere with her goals. She knew Stormy and Mabel were only foster parents in both senses of the word, but Dee loved them dearly and considered them to be the only parents she needed. She even adored her slightly annoying kid brother, even though he could be a pest at times.
She drove her car a bit too fast on her way to her destination, but then Dee did everything at top speed. It was like some inner force drove her onward to seek ever greater risks and experience all she could of life. Pop would blow a gasket if he saw me driving his prized beauty at this speed, but I can handle it, she thought. Special classes at the school gave me all the defensive driving skills a person could need. She laughed as the breeze swept through her long dark hair.
The school she referred to was a very elite private academy in southern France called La Université Notre Dame des Ombres, which in English was Our Lady of the Shadows University. The school was dedicated to making its female pupils as capable and resourceful as any man. The university had boasted of having an American legend, Sandra Knight, on its staff in recent years. The ever-amazing Phantom Lady had taught her charges far more than the typical lessons found in such an establishment.
Dee had followed her into the role of female Freedom Fighter in some ways, since she now held a much-prized slot on the team of heroes. As Hourgirl, she enjoyed the association with legends like the dashing Ray and the noble Black Condor. Now she hoped to help Ah Chan, who had been her foster father’s loyal aide during his own career as a mystery-man, despite her dad’s annoying tendency toward somewhat-racist humor in the nickname he called him by — Ah Choo. But those were different times, she supposed, and the full horrors of the Third Reich’s extreme racism were not yet known.
She pulled into the long driveway of the exclusive Hedley Heights Retired Living Community. The old mansion had once been a private home, and it still retained the appearance of a pleasure retreat for the wealthy. Now it was a well-staffed old folk’s home, although poor Ah Chan’s sensibilities would be shocked to hear his beloved creation referred to in those mundane if accurate terms.
The receptionist, a man named Edison Geer, greeted Dee in a cold manner. He glanced down at her from above his sliding glasses and gave her the feeling that she was a cold fish on someone’s lap. “Yee-es?” he drawled.
Dee smiled. “I’m here to see Ah Chan. I’m his niece,” she said with a playful smile.
“What? Oh, certainly,” he gushed as his manner changed abruptly. “Please step this way.”
Dee idly dangled one feathered earring and smirked as she saw the man alter his first impression. Poor guy must have written me off as some party girl looking for work, she thought.
She entered the small but impeccably neat office of her old friend and said, “You look great. Are you sure you aren’t imbibing some hidden Asian potion of vitality?”
Ah Chan hugged the woman warmly and gazed up at her with pride. She looked wonderfully fit, and her charm and wit left those who met her with a sense of her razor-sharp awareness and verve. “Your esteemed father was the one with such formulas.”
Dee laughed and said, “OK, OK — loose lips and all that.”
Ah Chan took her hand and led her to a chair. He sat down across from her and began to explain his troubles. He felt that, in spite of her youth, Dee could be counted on to act wisely as both listener and sounding board.
“As you know,” he said, “I established this place to provide a high quality of life for those who were too elderly to live without some help. All prospered, and fortune smiled upon me until death started to become an all-too-frequent visitor here. Oh, I know death comes to all who achieve the age of wisdom, but these poor people were in reasonably good health, and their deaths came by suicide or mischance. Such accidents are simply not possible in such large numbers. The state has been very insistent that changes must be made, but nothing can be determined beyond the fact that several of our residents died of mysterious causes — perhaps suicides.”
Dee leaned over and pressed his hand gently. “I know your level of attention to detail. You couldn’t be guilty of anything that wasn’t some kind of bizarre circumstance beyond your control. So you suspect some outside force? Could someone be killing them? A serial killer who preys upon the elderly?”
Ah Chan sighed. “I can swear by our security system. No improper or even suspect visits have occurred beyond that of the spectral presence of the grim reaper.”
“Perhaps when Mrs. Anderson recovers, she can tell us what drove her to attempt,” said Dee.
Ah Chan shrugged. “The poor woman’s late husband was rumored to have mob connections.”
“The Mafia?” said Dee, surprised. “Well, let your favorite niece do some snooping.”
The next day found a costumed Hourgirl in a battle for her life. She was surrounded by four goons who circled her warily. Two other thugs were stunned on the ground at her feet. Still, she felt nothing beyond exhilaration when using the Super-Vitamin that granted her strength and vitality for one hour. This was truly living.
“You boys won’t attract customers with this attitude,” she quipped, spinning around to trip the nearest man. She brought her elbow down on his back and dodged his falling form.
The other men closed in on her, and their sheer mass caused her to disappear beneath their bodies. Seconds later, they were hurled clear as she struck back with the fury and force of a dynamo. She connected with a right cross that left the final man dazed.
Hourgirl sighed as she glanced around the private office of Johnny Ritoni at the Free Spirit Club. “They don’t make hoods like they used to,” she said with mock sorrow.
“So I broke into the Free Spirit Club,” explained Dee Tyler as Ah Chan heard her tale that evening, “since Mrs. Anderson’s late husband’s old business partner owns the dive. Sure enough, I uncovered some dirt on the guy, but he had no connection to the problems here. My nosing around did attract his hired muscle, but they proved unexciting, to say the least.”
At that moment, Ah Chan received a phone call. He picked up the receiver and spoke rapidly. Dee listened with concern as his expression registered first surprise and then pleasure. He turned and smiled warmly as he hung up. “Mrs. Anderson has come out of her coma,” he announced. “We may see her.”
“Great,” said Dee, looking down at her Hourgirl costume. “Let me slip into something less conspicuous, and we’ll try to get her to explain her actions.”
Soon, Dee Tyler, wearing a smart red business suit and heels, listened as the frail woman tearfully told her story at Ah Chan’s encouragement.
“My dear Al has been gone so long,” she wept. “I’ve missed him for years now since he passed away. Well, he appeared to me a few nights ago. It was wonderful. He looked like he did when we were married — so handsome and young. He said it was time for me to join him, and he told me how I could do so. I hid my pills, because he said that way would be quick and we’d be together again. He said he promised it would be the right thing to do.”
“Your late husband told you to do what you did?” Dee clarified. “You could not have just imagined it?”
Ah Chan cautioned her and said, “Perhaps you should rest and just get well again. We cannot choose our time of passing, and Al would tell you so if he was here. Promise me that you will not do anything like that again. Trust me in this matter!”
Mrs. Anderson nodded sadly. “He looked so happy,” she repeated. “He was young again.”
Meanwhile, as the worried pair sat in the hospital room, a stranger wandered around the grounds of Hedley Heights. She was watching the building intently and moved with silent grace across the grounds. She keenly took note of the environment, making special notes as she surveyed the area. She spoke into a small device in perfectly modulated and precise terms.
“Father, as you suspected, the building is indeed of such an age as to render the possibility of a manifestation within the realm of reason. I detect no apparition yet. However, our client’s reputation would allow us to place trust in the validity of his claim.”
The night was a cold one, but the young woman showed no sign of being chilled. She also displayed no fear as she crossed the grounds of the foreboding old house. A strong voice echoed out of her communications device. “Excellent. Proceed as is customary.”