Thursday, December 10, 2009

White Owl in Toyland, part 2

"Why did they send a message to Queen City?" asked Nicholas.

"I know why!" said Gregory. "its because White Owl lives here, isn't it?"

"No," I said calmly, suppressing a smile. "There's a much better reason. May I continue?" The boys sat back in their beds and nodded agreeably.
In police headquarters, Commissioner Jordan held the communication from the North Pole in her hand. Beside her, Chief Linseed rubbed his face. Worry crossed both their visages.
"I can't commit men to this Commissioner," said Chief Linseed. "We've barely enough as it is with these budget cuts and furloughs."
"I know Chief," said Commissioner Jordan. "Besides, this request is for someone besides us. I don't know who she is behind that mask, Chief. But if there was ever a time for her, this is it." The commissioner crossed the room and lifted a small glass cover from a velvet cushioned table. She picked up the cell phone and pressed one on the speed dial.
"Wait a minute! White Owl has a cell phone?" asked Nicholas.
"Of course she does," said Gregory. "How else are the police going to get in touch with her? Its not like they have a big searchlight on city hall."
"But its not included in her action figure!" insisted Nicholas.
"Calm down Nicholas," I said. "Would you grant that they might not list EVERYTHING White Owl has in her tool belt?"
Nicholas nodded. "I think so. It would be too small, and might cause a choking problem." I beamed. At least Alex and Beth's safety lectures were getting through.
A few moments after the call, White Owl landed in the commissioner's office. "Good afternoon, Chief, Commissioner. I assume the situation is dire, the fate of the world is at stake and I'm the only one who can stop it?"
"Now how did you..." began Chief Linseed.
"You're absolutely right White Owl," said Commissioner Jordan. "In fact, it could be far worse. We have a communique from the North Pole that indicates Santa Claus has been captured and is being held hostage. The communique requested you specifically."
White Owl took the sheet and studied it. "I don't think I have a lot of time. Christmas is in three days, and if Santa isn't free before then, then Christmas isn't coming."
"Surely you can't get there flying, White Owl?" said Commissioner Jordan.
"I don't have to fly Commissioner. I just have to get to Casey's" And with that, the dauntless heroine flew out the window leaving the Police Chief and
the Commissioner staring agape at one another.
"Well you heard her, Chief! Let's get to Casey's!"
"Why did they have to go to Casey's?" asked Gregory.
"I know this one!" said Nicholas. "They had to go there, because that's where Santa is!"
"But there's Santa's all over the city," protested Gregory. "They're in the Tri County mall, out in Sylvania and on the West Side too."
"But the REAL Santa is at Casey's" said Nicholas solemnly. "They even advertise that."
"Nicholas is right, Gregory," I said. "In fact, didn't we see the parade this year?"
"Oh yeah," said Gregory. I smiled and continued.
Casey's department store was crowded, but it was warmer in the manager's office. Mr Throckmorton was not being very cooperative. "No, I forbid it. I can't have the police traipsing through all the departments during my busiest time. Ye cats! No one would be able to buy anything!"
Commissioner Jordan replied, "Mr. Throckmorton, I have a warrant signed by your good friend Judge Hooker. Now I would prefer not to exercise it, but I CAN."
Throckmorton turned red with rage. "Now see here, Commissioner! I pay my taxes to keep you from running roughshod over me."
White Owl stopped him at that point. "Mr. Throckmorton. I think you misunderstand. Santa Claus is in trouble. Have you seen him today?"
"No," said Throckmorton. "And he's never late. I can't understand it."
"We just want to find him. Could I maybe have a look at the dressing room Santa uses?" She smiled and Throckmorton smiled back.
"Weeeellll! I can hardly refuse such a lovely lady now, can I? Walk this way please." Throckmorton pushed through his office and onto the floor. A short escalator ride later, the four of them were on the second floor and headed toward Santa's chair. The chair sat empty, with a note that said, "Feeding the Reindeer"
"OK White Owl," said Throckmorton. "Normally this is just another storage area, but we do make a dressing room from it at Christmas. You know, a few lockers, a chair or two--just a place to get away from the kids every so often."
White Owl entered the room. It was so small that one might have to go outside to change his mind. The room held four lockers, a chair and the miscellaneous debris of people who eat fast food and work retail. White Owl studied the lockers, which seemed to be randomly placed. They all seemed identical except for the numbers: 836 837 1130 and 1224. She gave a tentative tug on the locks of each, and was surprised when the door to 1224 opened. She felt a swirling breeze from inside and could see a bright white light blinking. She stepped into the locker and fell flat on her face in a snowbank.
Looking back up, White Owl couldn't see the locker anymore. She shivered, and was glad for the ski jacket she wore over her leotard. Turning back, she saw the gleam of a small city ahead of her, the light rising above the thick pine forest in front of her. Tucking her hands into her pockets, White Owl trudges slowly toward the city, deciding to save herself the wind chill of flight.
She entered the forest, and was awestruck by the fact the trees were decorated with ornaments, lights, tinsel and garland. White Owl stared in amazement at the sight and missed the two little elves rushing by on either side. Suddenly, her ankles were tugged together and White Owl fell into the snow once more. "Hey!" she cried. "I'm White Owl! One of the good guys! I think you sent for me."
There was a rustle from the pine boughs and a small cadre of elves poked their heads out of the trees. An older elf, with thick glasses stepped forward and studied a sheet of paper. "Hmmmm, you seem to be who you say. OK guys, let her go." The ribbons fell away and White Owl staggered back to her feet, brushing the cold snow from her tights.
The elf held out his hand. "I'm Doc Blinky. I run--er used to run--Santa's Records and Files. I guess now you'd say I'm the leader of the resistance."
White Owl took his hand and shook it. "What's happened here, Dr Blinky?" She listened intently as the elf explained Jingle Belle's arrival.
"And now, she's got Santa locked up in the only room in the castle with no chimneys, windows, or mirrors. And it only has one door, guarded by one of the Outcast. Jingle Belle rounded up a whole lot of the elves who were unhappy under Santa and put them in charge."
"What about the rest of them?"
"They're still in the workshops. Belle disabled the World Watch, and turned it on us instead. No one can go anywhere in the compound without her seeing and knowing." White Owl filed this knowledge away.
"But we have a plan, White Owl! We're out of the compound now, so Belle isn't watching. We need YOU to spring Santa, while we cause a big enough diversion to bring Belle to us. You'll break in through the big window in Santa's great hall and get to him while we reconnect world communications and overthrow Belle."
"I'd hate to destroy the window in this cold," said White Owl.
"It's OK. We have the best collection of carpenters, glaziers and putty men this side of a union hall. We'll have it fixed in no time. Besides, there's a weather control over the compound." Doc Blinky smiled and White Owl could see the pride in his twinkling eyes.
"All right. When do we go?"
"Give us an hour to get back into the grounds. You'll see fireworks over the toy factory. That's your cue. Oh here, this should help you while waiting."
He handed a silver flask to White Owl and she took a drink of strong coffee. Then the elves disappeared into the dark forest.
White Owl shivered in the cold and sipped the coffee. She went over the layout of Santa's castle in her mind and was ready when the fireworks display erupted over the workshop. "Showtime," she muttered and jumped into the air, flying over the castle. A large rosette window with frosted glass loomed beneath her. White Owl took a silver ball from her pouch and threw it at the glass. The ball hit once, bounced and exploded, sending glass shards into the empty great room. White Owl covered her eyes and followed into the gaping hole.
She followed Doc Blinky's instructions and took the hall to her left. The hall ended at a small alcove where a snaggle-toothed elf sat. He looked up at White Owl and got a shocked look on his face. He picked up a tin can, with a string attached and shouted, "Intruder Alert, Intruder Alert!" White Owl threw a steel ball at him and the elf yelped as the ball knocked the can out of his hand.
"A tin can intercom?" she asked, incredulous. "You'll have to do better."
Snaggle-tooth ran toward the heroine, tiny fists of doom raised. White Owl stepped to the side, grabbed his arm and dropped the elf on his head. The small figure lay still. White Owl patted him down, and found a key. She went to the door and slipped the key into the door. "Forgive me Santa, I may have wound up on your naughty list for that," she said as she opened the door.
"I wouldn't worry about that, White Owl," said a feminine voice. White Owl looked up to see a red haired woman with a deep green outfit in front of her.
The woman was holding one end of a rope, the other was looped into a noose around Doc Blinky's neck.
"Jingle Belle I presume?" asked White Owl. "You should know I'm going to stop you."
"I don't think so Miss Snooty Heroine." She tugged the rope and Doc Blinky's eyes bugged out. "Now if you'll just surrender to me, I MIGHT let you go home."
White Owl watched in horror as Blinky kicked and struggled, clutching wildly at the rope. He was trying to be defiant, but White Owl also saw him looking past her, trying to warn her about something. She turned and saw Snaggle-tooth with a funny looking slingshot in his hand. He released the sling, and a small purple sweet hit White Owl in the nose, leaving a sugary residue on her face. White Owl shook her head, and turned to Jingle Belle.
"Your silly little games aren't going to stop me. Now put Doc Blinky down or...or...." She attempted to charge Jingle Belle but found herself blocked by a giant Candy Cane. Dodging left, she found a large taffy impeding her...
"Or what, White Owl?" asked Jingle Belle. "Finding it hard to stay awake?"
"What...what was that?" asked White Owl. The room was reeling...she could feel her knees buckling.
"That was the Sugarplum bomb. Sweet dreams White Owl."
The great heroine's knees buckled, and she dropped to the floor, a pleasant look on her face. Jingle Belle released the noose and Doc Blinky dropped to the floor, then stood and smiled. "She fell for it Milady Belle! That was so Tinsel!"
"Of course she fell for it you oaf. All heroines have a need to believe they're helping the oppressed. Now Blinky, I need you and Snaggle-tooth there to get her to the packing room. I think our heroine is in for a little surprise...
(to be continued...)

Monday, November 30, 2009

White Owl in Toyland part 1

“Tell us a story, Aunt Theena,” said Gregory, my older nephew.
“Pleeeeeeese” echoed his younger brother Nicholas. They sat upright in their bed with eager anticipation sparkling in their clever brown eyes. Babysitting them was a chore I enjoyed all too infrequently, as my dual careers didn't often allow me the pleasure. But Alex and Beth were out for a weekend retreat, and I'd volunteered to watch the boys.
“A story, hunh?” I hemmed. “I know a lot of those. Once upon a time...”
“Not THOSE kind of stories,” harrumphed Greg. "Tell us a Christmas story. And not the ones Father Timothy tells," he added quickly.
"And put White Owl into it, please," Nick added. "She's the best!" I was flattered of course, but my young nephew is very much taken with all costumed heroes right now. His collection of action "figgurs" was large, but lacking White Owl. Until just this month, I had been on probationary status with the superhero Guild and my likeness hadn't been licensed. But White Owl had been released in time for Christmas, and Nick was dying and hoping to unwrap one on December 25.
"OK," I said, putting my hands up in mock surrender. "Let me think a moment." I paused, considering how to put some of my recent adventures into a child friendly, Christmas adventure. I had the added caveat of not giving away my secret identity. Finally inspiration struck and I started.
About 25 years ago, a little girl was born, named Felice Natividad. She was born to loving parents on Christmas Day, who loved her and provided for her every need. December was her favorite month, and her parents were careful to separate her birthday from Christmas, celebrating each as a special occasion. Felice was happy and loved both Christmas and her parents.
But one day, fate intervened as it often does and one snowy Christmas (and birthday) morning six year old Felice awoke to find herself an orphan; her parents had died in an accident on the way home from a late Christmas party with friends.
The man from child protective services was dressed in a long red stadium coat, and had a long white beard. To Felice's childlike eyes, he resembled a certain denizen of the far north. But to her dismay, he didn't take her to the North Pole; instead Felice found herself sleeping in a strange bed in a group home with girls she didn't like.
Life was hard after that for Felice. She was shuffled from foster home to group home to foster home again. She grew hard, bitter and distant. No one remembered to separate her birthday from Christmas anymore, no one made her feel special. And she was certain she didn't believe in Santa any more.
Greg just yawned at that revelation, but Nick's eyes lit up like saucers. I smiled and continued.
When Felice was 16, she went to a movie with the group home where she was staying. The movie was called "Believe" and was a children's movie. Though the plot was simplistic, Felice was fascinated. The children in the story discovered they could travel anywhere and any when with the phrase, "Envision, believe and here we go!" If only that would work for her. She could go back and save her parents! Late that night, in her room in the foster home, Felice began envisioning her childhood bedroom. No detail was spared; Felice was as exacting as her 6 year old mind could remember.
Softly, she chanted her new mantra, "Envision believe and here I go." With her eyes shut Felice felt herself falling into the bed, then into a long, dark tunnel. The tunnel twisted and jumped, and Felice nearly lost it a time or two. But her run ins with the police had kept her sharp and adept at remaining focused. A moment later, she pulled up short at a doorknob. With a determined look on her face, Felice swung the door open and stepped into a familiar yet unfamiliar room.
The room was still the same size, but the friendly pink walls, with the cabbage rose border was gone, and in its place were posters of the Queen City Gems and the Cobras. Her precious canopy bed had been replaced by a set of bunk beds. Felice looked behind her at the door she'd come through, and realized it was the closet. The clothes were all boy clothes, and the toys on the floor indicated at least one and possibly TWO boys were living in HER house, in HER room.
Felice swung open the door and stepped out of the bedroom into the hallway. Her room had always been at the top of the stairs and overlooked a grand, tall living room. Now gazing over the railing, Felice's eyes were drawn to a gleaming Christmas illumination. A tall gorgeous tree stood in front of the picture window. The tree was covered with gleaming blue and gold lights, ornaments, tinsel. A silver angel hung on the top of the tree. Underneath, a mound of presents rose, waiting to be opened by whatever family was invading her home.
Felice went down the stairs, and gazed up at the tree, awestruck. Her hand reached out and she felt the sharp pine needles in her palm. Her reflection grinned back at her in the silver, red and blue balls and Felice felt a joy and warmth she hadn't felt in years. "It's not fair," she mused. "Why should they be so happy and I'm so miserable." Her focus on the room began to flutter and she realized her time was up.
"No!" she gasped. Desperately, she clutched at the tree, snagging an ornament. "I have to see if it works!" As if a giant rubber band was attached to her back, Felice was snapped up the stairs and through the closet door. She felt herself falling, twirling and falling. Then with a thump, she stopped.
Cocking an eye open, Felice studied her surroundings one more time. A pale false dawn illuminated the room and she saw she had been returned to her uncomfortable bed in the group home. But had it all been a dream? Or had she actually been home?
Felice saw her fist was clenched tightly. Slowly she opened it, and in the pale light she saw a tiny jingle bell. Her mind raced with excitement! She'd succeeded and on her eighteenth birthday, she graduated from foster care, and stepped into an inheritance. But she soon learned it was easier to make money by stealing it from others.
A strong moral sense kept Felice from taking money from the poor, or those who were weak. But several wealthy families, and crime families as well soon found themselves with much less than they had.
"When are we going to get to White Owl?" asked Nick, a pout crossing his face.
"And how is this a Christmas story?" rejoined Gregory.
"I'm getting to that," I said. "But I thought you needed to know a little bit about Jingle Belle."
"Jingle Belle? Who's that?" asked Nick.
Greg punched him in the arm. "Stupid! Felice is Jingle Belle! Isn't that right Aunt Theena?"
I nodded. "Can I continue?" The boys settled down again and I continued.
Felice made herself a costume--one of green with candy striped green and dark green stockings. But while the simplicity of her pop in and pop out robberies made her richer, Felice still felt unhappy.
"I need a new challenge," she said. And then one night in early December, Felice got a wonderful idea. A wonderful, terrible, awful idea. "I'm going to stop Christmas once and for all--and December 25 will be my birthday celebration ALONE!!.
She sat still in her chair; thinking, envisioning and believing. "Here I go!" she said to herself.
When her eyes opened, Felice found herself in a large barn. It was exceedingly cold; she could feel the wind biting though her bodysuit. But in the barn she could see eight stalls with deer sticking their heads over the gates.
"I've done it," she said. "And there's no going back." You see, in the six years since she'd learned her traveling spell, Felice had mastered it. She could stay as long as she wanted in any one place. Moreover, she could bring things to her, or send things far away.
She waited, patiently in the cold barn until she saw the deer pick their heads up. She crouched in a dark corner, a heavy barrel stave in her hand. She saw the man, looking like the man from Children's Services, shuffle into the barn. He was stocky, heavy set and had a kind face. The biting cold didn't seem to affect him much; as he wasn't wearing a heavy coat. Felice listened as the man fed each of the deer, rubbing them down and talking gently with each of them. He got to Donner, and patted the old deer with his big hands. Felice could see the long sinewy fingers, gnarled with age and long hours of skilled woodworking. She rose from beside the stall and swung the barrel stave at the old man.
Of course he ducked. He was fast for an old man, and clever too. "Felice!" he said. "I always did think you were one of the Naughty!" Felice seethed. She understood the capital letter in the title, and swung again, hitting the jolly fat man in his rib cage. Down he went, clutching his belly in pain.
"I'm not Felice any more," she raged, beating the old toymaker into senselessness. "I haven't been her since you took my parents away! I'm Jingle Belle!"
Santa groaned and slumped unconscious to the dirty floor of the stables. Jingle Belle tied him tightly, and dragged him across the snowy waste to his studio. The work on the floor stopped as she dropped her burden on the wooden balcony. "All right, this joint is under new management," she declared. "You all work for me!"
But out of sight, in the North Pole communications center; a hurried message was sent to the Queen City Police. "Help! We need White Owl. North Pole!"
(to be continued)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catspaw Conclusion...

A full moon rose over the city, lighting the rooftops with a pale bluish light. I looked out over the city and wondered why the sky was upside down. My head was throbbing; more evidence all was not right with my world.
I looked up into a pair of pink boots. then saw a smiling face peering up at me.
"Comfortable little birdie?" giggled the Pink Pussycat.
I squirmed, realizing now, that I was bound upside down to something large and bronze. A bell?
"Where am I?" I asked, still a bit groggy.
"All Saints Cathedral, White Owl," said Pussycat. "You've always been on the side of the angels, so I thought you'd enjoy getting there even sooner." She stood up and all I saw was a pair of boots moving around me.
"You're chained to the clapper of the largest bell in the tower. At midnight, the Westminster Chimes will play for the last time, then you, White Owl will begin to toll the last hours of the night. At the twelfth ring, an electric charge will connect, blowing up the tower, the bell and you. I suppose the only question is, will the bell sound your knell, or will the bomb do you in?"
"You're extremely mad," I said. "Why are you going through with all of this?"
"I did try to warn you off, love," she said. "But you wouldn't listen. Poor dear, you'll be in smithereens and poor Captain Valiant will be heartbroken. He'll pine for his poor lost lover, and in despair he'll turn to the only woman who could love him as he deserves."
Across the road, I could see the cathedral clock reflected in the mirrored windows of the City County building. I had eight minutes before the death knell began. I struggled again, feeling the chains settling back against me and keeping me pinioned to the clapper.
"I'd love to stay and watch the fireworks, White Owl, but I'm sure you'll forgive me if I watch from a safer distance. WENDELL!!!" I saw her meek looking muscle come up to his mistress and the two of them climbed down from the belfry. My only companions were a handful of curious pigeons.
I glanced at my feet and chest at the chains holding me in place. A heavy gauge steel, drawn tightly across my chest and around my shoulders and elbows. The chains had a slight give, but I wasn't able to put enough resistance and leverage into them to snap the welds.
But I did notice the lock at my wrists was in a position to be grabbed. I grasped it tightly in my right hand, then pulled. I felt the tumblers groaning in my grasp, then head the faint snap as the lock snapped free in my hand. I quickly unravelled the chains holding my wrists.
Working faster, I was able to flex at the elbows, snapping the chains at my waist and elbows. The chain around my shoulder slipped over my head and dropped with a soft tinkle against the wooden floor of the open air belfry. "How much time?" I wondered. I heard a buzzing sound as the bell tower's carillon wound up and a moment later, the familiar Westminster Chimes began sounding.
With a furious tug, I broke the chains at my ankles and flitted out of the bell. I saw the dynamite strapped to the bell and stopped. With Athena's wisdom, I broke the bomb free from the bell and tucked it under my arm. I flew out the bell tower and into the cool air of Queen City's night. Looking down, I saw the minivan that had brought me here, idling at the corner of Queen City and Broadway. I dove down, hovering above the roof panel and listened.
"I simply MUST hear the death throes, Wendell. Please wait just one more moment." From above, I could hear the steady tolling of the bell, strong and clear as it chimed the night hours. With each clear tone, I could hear the Pink Pussycat growling.
"She should be dead! Those tones are too clear--why aren't they muted by her body?" The twelfth note sounded.
"Where's the kaboom?" she asked. "There was supposed to be an Owl shattering kaboom!"
At that moment I tossed the deactivated bomb into the passenger window.
"NO! The bomb! WENDELLLLLlllll!" screamed the Pink Pussycat as I reached into the van and grabbed her by the costume, yanking her out of the minivan. I threw her backward, into the Broadway National bank, but the marble cornice softened her blow. Behind me, I heard the squealing of wheels as Wendell drove like a madman into the night.
"Now you peroxide bitch," I said. "I believe we have some unfinished business." Pussycat scrambled back , then turned and launched herself at me, her razor sharp claws tearing into my costume. I rolled with her lunge however, putting a foot into her belly and flinging her down Queen City toward the square. Pussycat flipped through the air, landing lithely on her feet. She began running, laughing as she did.
"You can't stop me, Owl," she grinned.
"We'll see," I replied. I pulled a sleeve of marbles from my belt, winging it at the Pussycat's feet. The bag broke open, spilling tiny marbles and graphite lubricant all over the Pussycats feet. The feline felon couldn't keep her balance and skidded across the pavement, tripping on the curb and ending ass over teakettle into the Fountain. She came up for air, blubbering about being wet and cold.
"You haven't won yet, White Owl! I'll still have Captain Valiant!!" she spluttered.
"You look like a drowned rat, Pussycat," said a strong masculine voice.
"NO!" she hissed; slinking down and trying to hide. Captain Valiant was hovering above the water.
"Satisfied?" I asked.
"I'm sorry I ever doubted you," he said. "You obviously are capable."
Late the next night, at Valiant's Secret Sanctum, deep in the Arizona deserts, I snuggled up against a bare chest. "I'm sorry I had to deceive you," I said. "It wasn't right to use you as bait for my trap."
"You put yourself into some severe danger. Athena you might have died!" he said.
"I know. But I also had to prove myself to you. And maybe to me too. If I couldn't handle a clever cat burglar, I don't deserve to be your girlfriend, and maybe I don't deserve to be a heroine either."
"Well," he began. "While I might not approve the methods, I approve the results--She really looked ridiculous in the fountain" Val paused as if searching for the right words.
"And what about us?" I asked, hesitantly.
"I think there IS an us," he said. "Just no more interviews with Jackie Marks, OK?"
"I promise," I said as I fell asleep in his arms.
The end.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cats Paw Part 3

Four days has passed since my grandstand play in Bayport; and the plan was succeeding magnificently. I had made the cover pages of both Bayport's and Queen City's newspapers; been talked about in all the national tabloids, been a joke on Conan O'Brien's monologue. The spin had been wild, and my new publicist Tad, had been hard pressed for a good, simple quote.

But the little wonder had managed to book me on "Good Morning Queen City" with Jackie Marks. I was sitting on the set with the sexy blonde reporter, chatting amiably before the lights came on and the real meat of the interview came up.

"So is he really all that?" she asked. I smiled.

"Yes--but lets save some of this for the viewers, Ms Marks."

"Call me Jackie." I smiled again, a bit nervous.

The lights came on and I saw the director point at us with his clipboard.

"Thanks for watching Good Morning Queen City. I'm here with White Owl, who's taken a bit of time to answer some questions. White Owl all the speculation in the past few months is out in the open. It is now apparent that you've become attached to the most powerful man on the face of the earth. That's quite a coup in anyone's book. But the question all of us want to know, is how did you do it?"

"I'm not quite sure myself, Jackie," I gushed. "I think I fell for him a couple of years ago, shortly after I was recruited for the Guild. Captain Valiant always seemed to stand off. But eventually I realized he wasn't being aloof; he was shy.

"Jackie's face dropped in surprise. "Captain Valiant is SHY?!?"

"Terribly shy. It seems he really didn't know how to be anything more than Valiant. And I think he was worried about his pristine image. If he ceased being heroic, he was afraid the public would turn against him--thinking less of him."

"So you're saying Captain Valiant..."

"Really had no idea how to be with a woman--and no one to show him. I'm not saying he wasn't interested, but he had no idea how to proceed. So I was taken one night when he showed up and asked if he could court me."

Jackie's head rolled back, her tawny blonde hair shimmering in the lights as she struggled to keep from laughing. "You're serious?"

I nodded. "He really was old fashioned, and very much the gentleman."

"Well surely you've enlightened him to the 21st century?"

"Over time, yes." I buried my face into my palm, grinning. "But a lady doesn't tell."

Jackie caught my cue, "And this is still family television. Thank you White Owl. Let me say, we're all glad to have you helping to protect the city."

"My pleasure, Jackie." The set went black and I pulled the lavaliere mike from my leotard. I shook hands all 'round, then exited the set to find Tad tapping his foot anxiously.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing. But I can't figure out your angle on this one Boss Lady. Normally you're as solitary as an oyster and shunning all the spotlight. But this..." Tad shook his head and I smiled.

"Look, trust me. Its going to help keep the city safe. Go on, head back to the office and work on some of your other clients. I'll be in touch tomorrow to let you know what the next step is." I didn't add, "If we need it." I was fairly certain the trap had been properly baited.

That night, I flew a solo patrol over Queen City. Captain Valiant had been called to DC to accept an award from the president and to liaise with Bureau of Metahuman Affairs. I was successful overall, stopping two carjackers and a drug sale in the space of two hours. About eleven o'clock I was about to pull it in for the night when I spotted a woman in a party dress being accosted by three men in dark leather jackets and heads bound in bandannas. The men's slurred words indicated they were drunk, but they had the woman surrounded. One of the men grabbed her purse, and a second man pushed her against a minivan parked along the curb.

"C'mon baby--we wanna party longer!" I heard a shriek following that and I couldn't wait any longer. I dove from the rooftop and scattered the trio as easily as picking up a spare.

I turned to the woman, interposing myself between her and the drunks. I tossed my phone to her.

"Run!" I shouted. "Press one on the phone and run. That will bring the police."

The woman took off and I saw her punching buttons on the phone. Satisfied, I whirled and cut the drunk gang bangers down in a short dance of kicks and punches. The men dropped to the ground, woozy. I got on one knee and grabbed the nearest punk.

"OK, roll over," I said, rolling his sagging form onto his stomach. I rose to a crouch to pull the Zip Ties from my belt. I heard footsteps behind me--women's boots it sounded like.

"I told you to run!" I said. Then a bright light and searing pain creased my skull. My knees turned to rubber and I dropped backwards, then pitched onto my face. I pushed up trying to get to my knees and felt the heavy sap fall against the back of my cranium once more. I drooped to the ground.

As darkness swallowed me, I saw the bright pink boots. "All right boys, wrap her up in the gunny sack and chain her in the back of the van. We have a timetable--and the pretty birdie here has a deadline!"

I was blissfully unaware as I was lowered into the back of the minivan...

To be concluded....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cats Paw Part two...

The fuzz in my head cleared slowly. Somehow I was outside, in an alley behind the Garfield Museum. The first thing I noticed were the red and blue lights bouncing in crazy patterns on the brick walls. As my eyes focused, I saw both a worried EMT and the scowling face of Captain Don Winslow. The soft glow of his ever present Laramie limned his chiseled face.

"Have you EVER heard of backup? You know, like assistance?" asked Winslow, frustration evident on his face.

"Well captain, I have considered it, but the laws have regulations that make it hard to have a teenage sidekick--things like child labor laws, curfews, delinquencies and so forth."

His scowl loosened one notch and he continued. "My guys are pretty efficient Owl. In fact, I don't think I would need the SCU to stop a simple Cat Burglar." He sized me up again. "Though one who could do that to you might be a bit more than they bargained for."

I glanced down at the tattered rags that had once been my costume. The once pristine white Nu Silk had been stained red with my blood and underneath the tatters I could see and feel the deep scratches healing and retreating. "At least she left me a shred of dignity," I said. "Though my tailor is going to have a fit."

"Feeling better?" asked Winslow, the compassion coming back into his voice. I nodded.

"Good. Maybe you can explain this, then." He shone his flashlight on the side of the museum and I read, "Keep Back and consider yourself lucky! PP"

"We had some guys thinking it was gang related," apologized Winslow. "But its too literate for that."

I sank back against the debris, the cold brick rough against my exposed back. "It's the Pink Pussycat," I said. "She's taking a friendship of mine far too personally. I think it's time for me to Scat this cat--hopefully into your cells."

"The Pink Pussycat?" several officers snickered. "I'll bet she's terrific!" I heard.

"Knock it off you dopes, we got ladies present!" growled Winslow and the catcalls died down. He turned back to me.

"You OK?"

"I should be," I replied.

"I can have someone drive you home. You aren't really dressed for flying, you know."

"I looked at my costume and frowned again. "I have spares. Honestly, I'll be all right."

Winslow thought a minute, then said, "Wait." He rummaged in the backseat of his car and produced a blue and gold SCU sweatshirt. "Here, it may be a bit big though."

"How thoughtful! I'll bring it back soon Captain!" I pulled the dark fleece over my head and smiled as it fell to my thighs. I looked up and grinned.

"Look! I'm a squad car!" That brought a smile to Winslow's face.

"Well as long as you're making wisecracks, I know you're all right."

But I wasn't. I'd been taken like a raw rookie by a cunning burglar with jealousy issues. What's more, I remembered Val saying that she had a partner and I completely glossed over it. I got home and dropped the shredded costume into a bag for Mr Wickersham. I was certain he'd want to study the shredding to see if there were any way to improve Nu Silk.

I showered and stood in front of my full length mirror, studying the scratches. They were almost gone, a testament to my healing factor. That there was still evidence of those cuts indicated the ferocity and depth of the Pink Pussycat's attack. I stepped into my spare costume, smoothing away the wrinkles and frowned. I desperately wanted to call Val and pick his brain; but I didn't much feel like hearing "I told you so."

The same feelings applied to using the Guild's resources to track down the crazy cat lady. Val would know. I risked losing the man I loved all because I was to confident in my own abilities and underestimated my opponent.

Or maybe not. A plot suddenly filled my head--a method for drawing out the Pink Pussycat, and I wouldn't have to tell Val about my initial failure.

The next night, I found the Guild teleporter on the rooftop of STAR labs. Working quickly I reset the controls from the Guildhall to Bayport. A moment later, the incredible skyline of the big city on the ocean shined in front of me.

"Athena?" Virgil was incredulous as I stepped into his bachelor digs atop the Coleman Foundation.

"I don't think I was very receptive the other night Virgil," I said. "So I'd like to make it up." My hands were working on the buttons of his shirt, peeling it back and exposing that gorgeous scarlet and gold outfit.

I stepped to his balcony and winked coyly at him. "Care to patrol Bayport with me?"

Moments later, we flew past the Bayport theater district and then over the Bayport commons. In both places, shrieked excitedly and pointed. I was flying close to Val and hugging him tightly, carrying on like a teenager in love. But when we flew past the Bayport Daily Globe, I leaned in even closer and drew him to me. We hovered in place, kissing as if we were the only two people in the world. Beneath us I could see the flashes of cameras, and heard the whirring of the motors.

I could tell Val was amused, but he didn't say anything until we wound up in the master bedroom at his penthouse.

"All right, what was that about?" he demanded.

I scrunched down under the covers and pulled the feather comforter over my face, hiding the smile. "Not telling." I said.

"Oh yes you are," said Virgil, grabbing my bare foot and tickling it ever so gently....

"AHHHHH!!! HA HA STOP!!" I shrieked. "I'll tell! I'll tell!!" Tears were rolling down my face.

I caught my breath, then said, "I wanted to announce our love to the world. I don't think we should be secret anymore!"

"Is that it?" he asked, seriously.

"Yes! Why else would I do it? I want to prove you don't have to watch over me twenty-four, seven. I'm a big girl and a big heroine, and I love you Virgil Coleman! Why shouldn't the world know that?"

He sighed and settled back next to me, cradling me under his arm. I stroked the soft hair on his chest, wondering how the next bit of my plan would work out.

To be continued...`

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cat's Paw

After a long and frustrating day at the museum center rebuilding an entire Hopewell burial mound construct, all I really wanted to do was put my feet up on the couch and relax with my favorite comfort foods and music. So I got off my bus three blocks early and wandered into the Goldline Chili in my neighborhood.
Even though I'm a part owner of the chain, for some reason this store never had an inkling who I was. I used it for quality control checks and secret shopping. Alex thought it was a great idea and approved it. Anyhow, I ordered my food and walked the three blocks home with my order in one hand and a large diet Zesti in the other. The smell of the chili was overpowering and though I was footsore, I hurried home and up the five flights of stairs to my "penthouse" apartment.
Daisy met me at the door, yowling and hungry, impatiently racing me to the kitchen. She slithered in between my legs as I opened the can of cat food and set it on her plate. Daisy sniffed the dish daintily, then buried her pink nose into the "Super Supper." I smiled, stroking her back and watching it arch as she purred and fed. "Enjoy, kitty," I said, grabbing the gold and blue bag and slipping to the sofa. I kicked my pumps across the room, then opened the Styrofoam box where the cheese coneys sat in all their gooey glory. I took a sip of the diet Zesti, then clutched the nearest bun. The combination of chili, hot dog, onion, mustard and cheese was almost intoxicating, especially as I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I downed the first coney without even thinking.
I was reaching for the second coney when I heard a knock at my door. My Patio door. As in, I'm five floors up and only have one entrance to the street, and it's not the patio. I figured it could only be one person. Grumbling, I get to my feet and open the door. "Virgil Coleman," I scolded. "I have a secret identity that I care about protecting, even if you don't!" Virgil brushed his blond hair back out of his eyes and grinned at me over his glasses.
"Things were really slow in Bayport tonight, so I buzzed over to Queen City to see my best gal," he said by way of explanation. "And I move too quickly for most radar, so I don't think your neighbors are going to see anything." He moved his lean, muscular frame into my living room and sat on the couch.
"There's more to this than you're telling, Virgil," I said. "Slow night or not, Captain Valiant just doesn't up and fly to Queen City for no reason."
He sighed, then pulled out a copy of a national tabloid, The National Blade. The front cover had a well enhanced telephoto picture under the headline, "A Heroic Affair." Up until now, there had been rumors, but no evidence. This photo however had been taken three weeks earlier as we left the Guildhall. Captain Valiant and White Owl, in mid-flight, kissing (and not chastely, I hasten to add).
"So we're official," I said. "But that's hardly a reason for you to come. After all, Virgil, we've been dating for months; so there's nothing to connect you and me to Captain Valiant and White Owl."
He hesitated. I'd never seen him so uncertain of himself before. "It's not Athena I'm worried about; it's White Owl. I'm darn near invulnerable, Athena. There isn't much that can harm me. But my friends. That's a different matter. Now that people know we're an item, they'll attempt to hurt you to hurt me."
"Oh come on now, Virgil, that's ridiculous and you know it. I CHOSE to be a superheroine--and was chosen too, I might add. I think YOU told me danger was my business. Besides, didn't we have this conversation before I left for Egypt?"
"And look how that turned out," he retorted. "Some crazed madman with superpowers tied to kill you."
"And I survived and got away," I said. "We handled it. And it's not like I haven't faced some dangerous people on my own."
"You have, but when it comes to my villains, you're in another league. My villains are worldbeaters, Athena, and they're deadly.
"You mean like Frosty Fred? I seem to recall saving you that time."
Virgil scowled. "Fred's an exception. You have some low powered enemies too, I believe."
I smiled. Even though I was upset with his overprotective behavior, I couldn't STAY angry. After all, how many women have the world's most powerful protector as a boyfriend? Every woman wants a shining knight; very few have them as shiny as Captain Valiant.
"OK," I said. "Truce. I'm flattered by your devotion to my protection. But I think I can handle most of your crowd, and if not, there's the Guild, right?"
He nodded. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his Blackberry. "Here, take a look at my gallery."
"You collect pictures of your enemies?" I asked.
"Know your foe," he smiled. "Besides, what does the man who has everything collect?" I took his phone and thumbed through the list. Doctor Solar, Plague, Frosty Fred, the Buffoon (he seems to show up on everyone's list) Megiddo, the Astronomer, Stonewall, the Baffler...My finger paused at an image of a woman in a pink leotard.
"Pink Pussycat?" I asked.
"She's ah...well...a cat burglar I'd guess. But she's more. She commits some outrageous robberies, and executes some even more audacious escapes. But she's also has a crush on me."
"My rival for your affections?" I asked with a hint of a smile.
"Not hardly. I think she's in love with the costume, and really doesn't care for the man inside. I'm nothing more to her than another shiny bauble. But she's convinced we're fated to be together, and her crimes seem designed to pull me to her. She's actually defeated me once or twice, threatening to destroy parts of Bayport if I didn't give myself to her."
"Did you?" Now he had my curiosity.
"No, both times I was able to figure out an elegant solution, and escape. But usually SHE got away too. Other than that photo, I have no idea who she is, Athena. But she's been quiet for a long time now. I think she's laying low."
I nestled into his arms, and kissed him gently. "Well, I thank you for the lessons Virgil. But I think I need to get some rest. It was a long day today, and I think tomorrow may be as bad."
"Can I spend the night?" he asked.
"I said I needed to rest, remember?" Virgil laughed
"You can't blame a guy for trying," he said.
I kissed his nose, and said, "Good night." He smiled and a split second later, he was gone.
I slept comfortably that night and woke the next morning dressed for a work day at home. The day consisted of writing and I was going stir-crazy. I decided to patrol as White Owl for a while.
I flew downtown, overflying the Garfield museum. Though it wasn't a part of the city's museum center, the Garfield had a remarkable collection of late Egyptian antiquities, and I'd spent some time with the curator there as Athena. But I noticed the open skylight. I dove through the open space and landed near an older, balding guard, who was just sitting up.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
"I think so--she moved so quickly!" he said. Then he added, "Hey! You're White Owl! My name's Wendell."
I nodded."Yes I am. Pleased to meet you Wendell. What was taken?"
He did a quick look around the room."Cat mummies."
"WHAT?" I asked, incredulous. "Cat mummies?"
"And the Opal of Bubastis."
I mouthed a silent "O".
"Did you see who did this?"
Wendell nodded and said, "Yes. It was her." He pointed over my shoulder and I whirled.
A blond woman in a pink suit stood there, juggling a cat mummy.
"Catch" she said, heaving the cat at me.
I stretched and caught the cat, then heard the snap of a leather whip snaking through the air. The whip snapped tight around my wrists, causing me to drop the statue. The Pussycat pulled the lash and I tipped off balance.
"It will take more than a whip to stop me, Pussycat."
"Like this? NOW WENDELL!!" I felt a hand clamp down on my face.
"MMMPPHHH" Wendell's fist slammed into my stomach and I gasped for breath. The chloroform on the rag over my nose burned my throat, and I felt my legs trembling. I struggled against the whip and the chloroform but it was no avail. My knees buckled and I dropped to the floor.
"I'll teach you to steal my man," was the last thing I heard as all went black...
To be continued...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Gilded Death

It was nearing ten in the morning that Wednesday when I stepped off the bus and entered the revolving doors of the Queen City Museum of Natural History. The museum was open but that early, it was filled only with senior citizens and a couple of school groups. I breathed in the smell of the exhibits. It was good to be home after my recent dig in Egypt. I was looking forward to getting the pieces from the temple of Khem Adam on display, as well as publishing the journal from the dig.
From across the large foyer I heard, "Athena! There you are!!" I looked up to a blur of motion and suddenly found myself wrapped in the tight grip of Cassidy Yeats, the museum's director of fine arts. Cassidy stands about 5'1" tall, and is almost elfin in appearance. This morning, her hair was a bright shade of blue found no where in nature. She was dressed in a plaid skirt with a white blouse and dark green vest. Pale white hose and buckle shoes completed the ensemble.
"I'm so glad you're back. You have to tell me how you escaped Chatterjee this time," she said, squeezing my ribcage. I remembered I had to play injured and weary traveler.
"Cassidy! I'm still a little sore from the fire," I said, and I felt the hug growing less intense. I drew a deep breath and smiled. Cassidy stepped back and looked me over. "Still no fashion sense I see."
I looked down at my khaki pants and dark blue scoop neck blouse. "What's wrong with this?" I asked.
"Never mind," she said. "We're going out for lunch!"
"Now?" I protested. "It's just now ten in the morning, I just got back from an extended dig, and I'm sure there are piles of notices and work that Director Chatterjee wants me to get on," I did my best impression, "Immmmmediately if you please."
Cassidy burst into laughter. "Oh you're so precious. But you can't POSSIBLY start on all that work without being well fortified. As to Chatterjee, you put him off for eight weeks, I don't think another few hours is going to matter. In fact, when did you tell him you'd be in?"
"Today," I said and Cassidy cut me off.
"Exactly--but you didn't say when, now did you?" She took my arm and I soon found myself in her Miata driving down to the Four Trees restaurant. "Your treat," Cassidy said. "I fly, you buy."
We spent three hours and $75 on food and drink and story telling. Cassidy listened intently as I explained about the dig and the explosion, her green eyes twinkling in rapt attention. But then she started.
"Do you have anything in black and white? I know you do, I've seen that cute little white body suit you wear sometimes. Match that with a dark jacket and slacks, you'll be fine."
"This sounds like an opening. How did you get funds for that?"
Cassidy smiled. "The art collection received a grant from the Cafazzo Foundation for the purpose of promoting new artists. I found a local named Piotr Mailun who's opening his show tonight at the museum center. You have to come Athena, its a $500 dinner and grand opening.
"Whoa there girl, that's a bit steep," I said.
"You're comped! Museum policy. And Chatterjee thought having you there might double the sales of the artists book and yours." Suddenly the reason for the morning ambush became clear.
"All right, but it's your show Cassidy. I'm just going to be along the wall."
The show opened at seven, two hours after the museum closed. I arrived early this time, dressed in my little black dress. Cassidy was a buzzing bee, directing the caterers, and making sure the final polish was added. I looked, but saw the gallery door was closed, no doubt building the anticipation for the grand opening.
To Cassidy's side I saw a large, powerfully built man. He seemed ill at ease in his coat and tee shirt combination, as if he seldom dressed up. He had a full head of thick hair and a matching mustache. Cassidy buzzed over to me and smiled. "Athena Nikos, Piotr Mailun."
"How do you do?" I said, extending my hand. Mailun looked at it and growled. "Hiya."
"All set?" asked Cassidy, perhaps sensing the tension building up. The doors were opened and the upper crust set of Queen City swarmed into the museum center, finding seats and listening to the brief remarks of both Ajay Chatterjee and Harmon Hollett, the director of the Cafazzo Foundation. Cassidy stepped to the podium, then pulled the mike free and squeezed around to the front.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you a new vision in art. Mr Mailun is a local artist, graduating from Sylvania High School five years ago. Though he's never had formal training, his art has been hailed in both New York and San Francisco. But this is his first formal showing, and we're pleased to offer it here at the Queen City Museum of Natural History. Please enjoy the artistic visions of Mr Piotr Mailun. With a dramatic flair, Cassidy swung open the gallery door and I saw a collection of bumpers, hub caps and aluminum cans in an interesting mixture of motion and stability.
"Abstract yes, but it was almost laughable to call it art. It seemed more like someone had taken the contents of a salvage yard and welded them together haphazardly. The artist flew into a rage when members of the audience began questioning his vision" The write up in the Herald-Dispatch was brutal and the projected crowds for the weekend failed to appear.
Saturday afternoon I ran into Cassidy in the employee lounge. Her head was buried in her hands. "I don't understand Athena. His art is good!"
"I'm not sure, Cassidy. Maybe the audiences here aren't into such avant-garde art."
"But you liked it, didn't you?"
"It was...interesting." Cassidy began sobbing.
"I knew it, you thought it was ugly too!"
"I didn't say that, but I'm not much into abstracts. I like classical forms, I think it goes with the title of archaeologist."
Cassidy snuffled and looked up at me. "Are you sure?"
"Yes Cassidy, I'm sure."
Sunday afternoons I try to enjoy a few pleasures--a walk, football on the television, reading the Sunday Herald-Dispatch. This particular Sunday though, had been filled with church (and the monthly potluck--yum) then some time visiting my parent's graves and a long walk. I heard the score of the Cobras game; another heartbreaking loss in the last minute as Rick Pettingill fumbled on the goalline, allowing Hub City to recover and score. So it wasn't until late that I climbed into bed and read the paper.
I flashed through the news, noting things that might need White Owl, then scanned the comics, the fine arts and the endless supply of ads and coupons. Finally, I skimmed through the ads until I found this one.
Local artist seeks Superheroine to pose for commission
No nudity. $500 an hour for charity of choice.
Contact Mailun @ Studio on Fox and Broome.
Offer expires in six days.
I folded the paper and scratched Daisy between her ears. She purred loudly and adjusted her chin for further attention down low. While I petted the cat, I contemplated the offer. I was almost certain it had to be a trap. Still, until I had further information, I was reserving the final judgement.
I spent a few hours at the computer, studying everything I could find in the public record about Piotr Mailun. He seemed to be a relatively clean artist. But he was known for the abstracts he made, not statuary. This seemed to be a new venture for him. The google views of his art were not always flattering, but I could see the raw passion and vision of his art. He had talent; he just wasn't very good at expressing it.
I pulled the back door on the police files, and studied the record there to see that Mailun had never even so much as had a ticket for loitering. I nodded in approval, knowing my estimation of the man had gone up at that point.
Daisy mreowed, and I realized she needed some cat food. Looking up, I saw it was late. I put a can of food out for the cat, then slipped into the NuSilk, feeling an urge for an on site investigation first. I swept out of the apartment's balcony and into the dark night sky.
Fox and Broome is an insignificant corner near the rail yards and closed slaughterhouses in the west end of town. The buildings are old and dilapidated, but still serviceable and rents are cheap. I looked up the street and saw a large dark sedan stopping at a street corner, under the light. From the shadows, a man stepped up with a large handful of cash. He stepped up to the car and the passenger door opened. A man in a dark suit stepped from the car and walked to the rear of the car, where he opened the trunk. From my vantage point I could see the gleam of black gunmetal on the pistols.
I dove into the corner and caught the buyer by his jacket collar. With a strong swing I threw him into the lamp post, where he crumpled, unconscious to the ground. The seller called out "Holy..." and ran for the door. I heard the motor race and the car began to accelerate.
"Not so fast," I said, grabbing the back bumper of the car and digging in. My muscles screamed as I lifted, and the wheels spun uselessly off the ground. A bullet shot out the back of the car--passing by with a deadly speed.
"Well if that's the way you feel," I said dropping the car. The high acceleration sent the Caddy careening down Broome to the wall at the end of the short block. The car crashed and I flew up, to drag the unconscious salesmen from their airbags and bring them back to their buyer. I bent the torn lamp post around the men and smiled. It had been a good night so far.
Mailun seemed to inhabit a two story building, with an upper level given for residence and a lower level with a deep garage where his studio stood. The back of the building was given over to what looked like a junkyard. I stood watch for a good thirty minutes, ensuring there was no more criminal activity going on. It seemed safe and quiet.
I found a tall window on the side of the building, and noticing the light was still on, I slipped through. "Knock Knock!" I called out.
Mailun looked out from under a welding mask and smiled. "White Owl! I wasn't sure you would see my ad, but I'm so glad you came! I just came into a big inheritance, and can well afford to pay you." He may have looked unkempt, but he was polite and soft spoken, and I felt more at ease around him.
"I've done my research Mr Mailun, and I know you're an abstract artist, not a sculptor as such."
"It's true," he agreed. "I can't sculpt humans at all, I do much better with pieces of junk in new forms. But I had a commission come in from a fan of yours. They wanted a life sized sculpture of you."
"And how did you propose to fulfill that?" I asked, curious.
"Are you familiar with life masks?" he began. I nodded and Mailun continued, "Well I want to make a casting of you. Basically I'll pour a modeling compound over you, then after it begins to harden, I crack the shell, and let you out. I'll press the two halves together and have a perfect image to pour full of plaster, making a perfect life-sized sculpture of you. Once the plaster hardens, then my sponsor will have his perfect image."
"I'll be honest Mr Mailun, I have my doubts. The mobiles are really neat, but this seems so...well, out of your realm."
"But it works! Look!" He whistled and a beagle trotted into the room; his tail wagging excitedly. "This is Bridger, my dog," he explained. "Now take a look at this!" With a showman's flourish, he pulled a cloth from a sculpture and a full scale plaster Bridger stared back at me.
"See," said Mailun. "Bridger here posed once, and here's the mold I used." I saw a gold polymer shell, split and rejoined in Bridger's image. Holes for his nose were in place, allowing the dog to breathe while Mailun waited for the compound to harden.
"How long does it take?" I asked, realizing I was about to give consent.
"Bridger was in the mold for two hours. Unfortunately the compound takes some time to harden. But I can pay well. To the Children's Hospital, right?" I nodded.
"All right, I'll pose for you Mr Mailun. When would you like to start?"
"We can start now, if you'd like. If you'd step over here?" He led me to a clear spot on the floor, and I saw a scaffolding with several plastic buckets above. Mailun handed me two long straws (so I could breathe) and I inserted them into my nose.
"Find a pose that's comfortable White Owl," Mailun said jovially as he climbed the ladder. I stood with my hands at my side, in a relaxed pose.
"Are you ready?" he asked and I nodded. A warm, sticky plastic began pouring from above me, splashing on my boots and thighs. Despite it's warmth, the liquid chilled me and I shivered. "Stand still please," I heard from above. "You're a very lovely subject and I'd hate to mar that because you moved."
"This will take a while to harden," he reminded me.
"It's OK, I'm free the rest of the night," I said. Mailun worked quickly, and in a few minutes I was covered head to toe in a thick, gooey, glistening past. And to my shock, it was hard quickly, curing in contact with my body's heat. I panicked and then calmed myself shouting to Mailun, "YOU LIED TO ME!"
"Anything for art," came the terse reply. I tried to respond but the compound had solidified around my lips and all I could manage was a stifled MMmmpph!! I could still breathe, but Mailun took the straws from my nose and laughed. Thankfully though, the compound hadn't covered my nostrils. I pressed against the sides of the molding, but I couldn't muster the leverage to crack through the molding compound. I was hoping that Mailun was reaching for the mallet and chisel to break me free.
Instead, I could feel his footsteps around me. I could make out his words, "Stunning, absolutely exquisite. I can't believe I created this."
I heard the ringing of a delivery bell and shuddered. Who could be calling this late at night. I knew it couldn't be good news for me. "We're here to pick up our...sculpture," said a thick gravely voice. I heard another, high pitched giggle. Obviously there was more going on here than a love smitten artist.
"She is not for sale," I heard Mailun say. "She's my masterpiece and I'll never sell..." A pistol barked and I heard Mailun drop in front of me.
Gravel voice said, "Nice shootin' Ham. Now we gotta work fast, because you've let the neighborhood know."
"Aw can it Monk," came the giggler's reply. "He was tryin' to cross us, and no one crosses Boss Saint."
Saint? Since the downfall of Giovanni Cafazzo, the Saint gang had become the undisputed leader of organized crime in Queen City. I had no doubt Saint was behind the gun sale I broke up earlier. But despite the best efforts of the QCPD, they were too entrenched to be easily rousted.
The leader of the Saint mob was an unknown. I mean we knew he existed, but his identity was a complete mystery. The police profiles indicated he was someone well known in the community; but despite the best efforts of the police or myself, no one had ever gotten close.
I felt myself being tilted back and the sensation of motion. I was being hand trucked somewhere. I felt myself being set down and heard the slamming of the van doors. "I don't see why we didn't just plug her here," whined Ham. "All this expense coulda been spent on bullets."
"You dummy," growled Monk. "Killin' masks outright is bad for business--an' difficult too. Bullets generally don't work on heroes. Ya gotta be clever an' show some...what is it the boss called it? Panache! Besides, a dead heroine brings the cops and the other heroes down. But a MISSIN' one. Well, they can't PROVE we had anythin' to do with it."
The van rumbled through a dark and quiet city. Through unseeing eyes, I tried to visualize my surroundings but without some reference point, it was an exercise in futility. I was literally in the dark. But when I was wheeled off the van, I could feel the rock of water underneath me and I realized I was on a boat.
"Well done, gentlemen," said a quiet voice.
"It was nothin' boss," said Monk. My blood ran cold underneath my Owl shaped sarcophagus. Boss Saint was within inches of me. But I couldn't see him, and I railed. My arms were stiff from pressing and I KNEW the molding compound had to be breakable, I'd seen the evidence myself at Mailun's studio. In my frustration I almost missed Saint's next words.
"This woman has been a royal pain. Cast off, and when we get to Suttler's Bend, we'll be rid of White Owl forever." A cold sweat broke over my encased form. I wasn't sure from which marina we'd started, but Suttler's Bend was no more than two hours from any point in Queen City by river. I tried once more to expand and break the modeling compound, but my arms were almost leaden from the hour of pressure I had already attempted.
"Get her out of my sight," I heard Boss Saint say. "Take White Owl up on deck. She should have a last look at her beloved Queen City, don't you think?"
"But, Boss?" asked Monk. "She can't see nothin. How is that gonna help?"
"It means I won't have to look at her you moron!" shouted Boss Saint.
I felt myself being tipped back and carried, awkwardly, up the gangway to the deck. I was set down, and heard Monk and Ham talking. "She's gonna get what she deserves, Monk."
"I don't think so, Ham," said Monk. "She may be gettin' what she deserves from the boss, but I owe her a few bruises from the time she took down the counterfeiting operation."
I remembered that night. Captain Winslow and his special crimes unit had needed a bit of extra backup, and I provided a silent air cover. I remembered one large bruiser trying to escape through a secret exit, and managed to nail him with one punch from above. If that was Monk, he may have indeed felt a need for retribution.
"Sheesh, it's freezin' up here," said Ham. "I'm goin' below until we get to Suttler's bend. You comin'?"
"I want to finish a cigarette. You know how the boss feels about that."
It grew silent around me, then I heard Monk's voice hissing in my ear. "He's gone little lady, we're all alone. And I was the laughing stock of the gang for weeks. They couldn't believe a little girl like you could take down Monk. So I owe you this."
I heard a heard thump against the front of the case, where my stomach rested. And I felt a jarring from the boot connecting with my ribcage. But the compound was solid and held. I heard Monk grunt in satisfaction, then felt one last jarring at my left arm, right about where I'd been stressing with my elbow. I pressed once more and winced in pain. Apparently Monk's foot had bruised my elbow.
But if his foot could cause bruising, then maybe...I moved my arm in the confined space and slammed the elbow back into the casing. The sparks up my arm nearly caused me to black out, but I heard the sound of crumbling. The casing COULD be broken. Hope sang in my heart and I ignored the pain, driving my elbow into the compound again.
Beneath my feet, I felt the change in the rumble of the motor, then silence as the boat drew to a stop. I had moments to act, or I was going to be submerged beneath the depths of the muddy Ohio. I tried to apply pressure to the side once more, to force open any opening I may have made. But I felt myself being lifted.
"On three..." said Ham. "One...Two...Three.." I felt the forward motion, then a splash and the sound changed around me. The case bobbed up once and I managed to break through the case at the elbow. But it didn't go unnoticed. As the golden sarcophagus bubbled under the water I heard the "SPIANG" of bullets ripping into the water. The casing sank into the river and I felt the water oozing through my newly made crack, expanding the hole and sinking me that much faster. But with my arm free, I was able to dig into my tool bag. I short second later, I had my rebreather in my mouth and the first gulps of pure oxygen reinvigorated my stressed muscles.
I flexed harder, able now to move a bit more freely and the modeling compound shattered. With powerful strokes I broke the surface of the water and drew a deep breath. With a swift eye, I took in the river scene. Three boats were still traveling slowly downriver, and I had no clue as to which one I had been on, except one. Monk.
I broke from the water and into the air. I closed in on the three boats, then heard a yelp. From the middle boat a body plunged into the river. I heard a cry for help and had to alter my course. A head bobbed up in the water and I recognized it as Monk.
"I should let him drown," I thought. But I sighed. Neither wisdom nor my Christian values would allow me to do that. I banked back and grabbed Monk's flailing arms. His bulk added dead weight to my flight, slowing me down. And I wasn't too happy with the way he leered at my appearance in a skintight watersoaked costume. I landed on the bank, about a half mile in and dropped Monk unceremoniously into a streetlamp. My zip cuffs pulled his wrists tight on either side and kept him in one place until Winslow showed up. It was a long wait, because my cell phone had gotten wet as well.
But Monk never revealed who Saint was, dying on the way to the jail--a victim of a time released poison. Winslow charged Monk with the murder of Mailun, with an earwitness account, and marked that case closed, even though we both knew better.
"Sometimes you just can't win them all Owl," was all Winslow said. I nodded sadly, knowing Mailun had died for no reason other than his art.
Cassidy was somber the next morning, her black skirt and vest brightened only by a deep purple satin blouse. "He's gone Athena!" she wailed. "He was going to be the biggest and best thing we'd promoted in the art galleries, and he's gone!"
I took her in my arms and comforted her. "I know, Cass. But he'll be remembered, though." She stifled a sob and pulled back.
"I did get a call from the Guggenheim today, though Athena. They want Piotr's works there, and offered a sizable check for purchase. It will go a long way to setting up an estate for him, and a scholarship at his high school."
"Then some good did come from it, just at a tragic cost." I said. "C'mon, Cassidy, let me buy you some coffee."

The End.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dark Wisdom Part Five.

You'd think sand would be soft, maybe even warm; and not overly uncomfortable as it contours to your body. But in a dark cave, with a basalt floor beneath the sand was nothing but itchy. My nice satin sleep set had runs from the sands and the rough treatment Black Ibis had subjected me to. Moreover I was certain sand fleas were biting at my exposed skin. I kept shifting, but I was finding it difficult to get comfortable.
Heavy chains held my wrists and legs wide, and weren't doing much toward improving my comfort level. Every so often I would glance around my dim chamber, and examine the chains fastened to the cave walls. Three chains were set into heavy D rings mounted directly into the walls. The fourth was mounted on a metal post driven deep into the cave's floor. I studied the post and its ring, concluding it was too deeply set for me to break loose there.
But the three mounted to the cave wall looked equally looked equally strong. But as I studied the one over my right arm, I could see the stress lines in the wall, surrounding the link. They looked fresh, almost brand new. "It's been driven in," I thought. "With sheer brute strength--or Super Strength! Ibis! He couldn't resist showing off for his men."
Well two could play at that game. Black Ibis wasn't the only one with extraordinary strength. I looped the chain around my right hand, and gritted my teeth. I pulled, feeling the chain burning and tearing at my fingers. Grimacing I refused to loosen my grip. I pulled again, feeling the tension in my shoulders, the burning in my right arm muscles. I tried to brace with my feet but the sand only offered scant purchase.
"Pull Athena," I exhorted myself. Then it happened. I heard the 'chink' of metal moving against rock; almost like driving a piton. I relaxed a moment, then pulled again, and was rewarded with a "pop" as the D ring pulled free from the wall. I sprawled on the floor, resting a moment, catching my breath. Then I moved to my left wrist and pulled the manacle back, shattering the hinges. Within another three minutes I was free, the chains laying on the ground next to me. I was about to stand up when I heard the sound of footfall in the corridor.
"Has she been silent all this time?" I heard Black Ibis say, in flawless Egyptian.
"Yes Dark one, she still slumbers within."
"Then I think it's time to wake her. Her judgement before Thoth awaits." I played possum, clutching the free chain in my right hand. I knew that Black Ibis and I had similar powers, but where I had an ability to heal quickly; Black Ibis could read minds with a touch.
"Athena, my dear," I heard Black Ibis say, standing at the doorway to my cell. "It's time for you to have your heart weighed in the balance." I lay perfectly still, daring to hope Black Ibis wouldn't suspect my plan.
"You once refused my offer to become my bride, spurning my hand and nearly destroying me. Now only the land of Osiris awaits, the land to the west, my dear. Arise and prepare your heart for the journey of your ka." He moved closer, and nudged me with his boot.
I sat up rapidly, looping the chain tightly under his ankle and spilling Black Ibis onto the floor. My attack was so swift, he was off balance and toppled like a giant redwood. I dove on him, wrapping the chain tightly around his neck, cutting off his air supply.
"!" he gasped, his strength waning with each second. His hands tore at the chain but I refused to be dislodged. Black Ibis then realized he could fly and struggled to his feet, trying to fly and scrape me against the walls.
Holding tight to the chains with one hand, I reached into his toolbelt and found a small canister...his sleep gas. I sprayed it under his nose and was rewarded with a sudden gasp, then I felt Black Ibis falling to the ground. I waited until he stopped moving, then pulled the toolbelt from his waist. It was too large for my hips, but I buckled it over my shoulder.
I started by pulling his own handcuffs from his belt, and restrained his wrists tightly behind him. I added more sleep gas to a cloth I tore from my camisole and left it tight around his mouth and nose. Satisfied Ibis wasn't going to arise anytime soon, I took a quick inventory of his toolbelt.
He had many items that seemed to duplicate my own, but on the opposite side of the belt. I realized he was from a dark, yet almost mirrored dimension. I found his flashbang devices though and made my way to the front of my cell. The guards were sitting, almost eager for their boss to arrive. "Too easy," I thought. "But why not?"
I tossed one of Ibis's flash bombs into the mix, the combination of noise and phosphorus disorienting the Sons of Darkness and allowing me to slip past them and into the temple area.
I remembered the way out, and flew through the cave, hearing gunshots ricocheting behind me. I knew I had to get out, and keep them in.
I drew a heavy sigh, the temple was so magnificent, and I hated to do it. But as I neared the cave's entrance, I tossed one of Black Ibis's smoke bombs back at the Sons of Darkness. But instead of smoke, the grenade exploded, closing the mouth of the cave with a heavy boom. Shocked I flew back, but the rock debris was thick. I knew that the cavern had been deep though, and that the Sons looked capable of holding out for a while.
I flew out of the cave and into the canyon, looking for any sign of civilization I could find. I knew my presence in the desert would present more problems than I'd care to answer. Still I knew that could be dealt with as I came to it. But suddenly I was swept into the air, in a familiar embrace of gold and scarlet.
"Are you all right?" asked Val.
"Better now," I said. "What are you doing here?"
"You made the local news when the Stennet house exploded. So I couldn't accept you were dead, especially in light of your apartment fire. I've been looking for you since. And when Dr Mystik reported this explosion being reported on the Guild's satellite feed, I had to check it out."
"Why you? Wouldn't that go to the nearest hero?"
Val got that sheepish smile. "I was in Cairo. Someone had to come and I knew you weren't dead."
"Well in that cave are several very disgruntled Sons of Darkness, and Black Ibis." It was Captain Valiant's turn to look surprised.
"You managed to capture him on your own? And without weapons?"
"You told me it's what inside that makes us heroic, not the masks or suits or weapons. Sometimes its just being able to out think the villains."
Val nodded. "Let me take care of something, first here, Athena." He touched the signal device on his belt and spoke.
"Dr Mystik, this is Captain Valiant. Recovery is complete. Lock onto my signal and send Guild Task Force for cleanup." He turned back to me.
"Dr Mystik will be here shortly with a few other members for mop up. But we need to figure out some way to get YOU explained."
"How long have I been missing?" I asked.
"Only about a day. I think we can work with something here. There's a clinic in Cairo where I can take you as Virgil. They'll be more than willing to errr....alter their documents for me, since I'll make a sizable contribution to their operating costs."
So 24 hours later, Athena Nikos was discharged from the clinic and into the arms of Virgil Coleman. The thoughtful man had brought a change of wardrobe for me, and within 48 hours I was safely at the dig as planned. Dr Sahdi was gentle, but exacting and I threw myself into my work. The therapeutic value was good and I lost track of the time.
But about a week into the work, I felt my new Guild comlink tingle. "What is it?" I asked.
"Can you get away for about an hour?" asked Torrque. I nodded, and saw a golden glow forming around me. A scant moment later I was in the Guildhall, in Megametropolis. I headed into the locker area and quickly donned one of my costumes. A moment later I was in the science lab along with Scirocco, Captain Valiant and Dr Mystik. One of the Guild's transit pods was secure in the middle of the room.
"We know Black Ibis came from an alternate dimension," said Dr Mystik, her green eyes flashing. "And in the last week I've been trying to track it. I can now safely say I know where he comes from."
"But you can't send him back there Doctor," I said. "He's a predator and already a menace there."
"What happens on his world is his concern, White Owl," said Dr Mystik. "And as our world developed, so must his." She raised her arms and the dark green sleeves swirled over her head.
In a moment, Ibis screamed as a bright purple sphere filled his cell, then filled the room. When the light had cleared, the transit pod was empty.
"He's gone," I said. "Is he gone for good?"
"I believe so," said Dr Mystik. "I placed a ward on this planet. I don't think he'll be back ever again."
"I certainly hope so." I stretched and yawned. "I'm sorry but dawn hits early in the desert. I don't suppose you could zap me back?"
The End.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dark Wisdom Part Four

I was hanging and swinging weakly over the shoulder of Dark Owl as we flew south from Cairo. As the city receded, I could see the glow of the sand on the desert beneath me and if I could cock my head, the sky was full of more stars than I could ever see in Queen City.
I could see the Nile reflecting the pale moonlight beneath us, and calculated we were heading south by southeast toward the Sudan. I wrestled with my restraints, but the handcuffs Black Ibis had used were mine, and had been test rated against some powerful villains.
We flew south and east for a while and from my own experiences flying and carrying, I figured we were well away from the city. The terrain slowly changed from desert to rocky cliffs, and I realized we were nearing an area that had sheltered bandits, guerrillas and outcasts for centuries. Its remote location and myriad caverns made it a fantastic place to hide things of value.
We entered a dark, winding canyon, and I saw the ground rising to meet us. Ibis shifted his positions and mine, and landed with a gentleness born of much practice near an unguarded cavern. To the east, the sky was glowing a dark red, as the faint beginnings of dawn heralded the arrival of another sun. "Take a good look, dear Athena. Tonight, you will follow the sun into the realm of Osiris. Only you won't be reborn, I'm afraid."
He placed a hand on my shoulder and tried to force me into the cave. I whirled on my heel and slammed him in the ribs with a whirling roundhouse. Black Ibis groaned, as my unexpected attack caught him by surprise. I planted my feet, flexed and leaped into the air. But as I attempted to fly, I heard a fast whir past my ear.
Another whirring sound buzzed past, then I felt a stabbing pain in my left thigh as Black Ibis hit home with one of his Shurriken. I winced, then felt three more tag me in my right shin, my waist and my shoulder. Trying to ignore the pain, I staggered in flight. But Black Ibis had one last trick; a large silver ball shot past me, then opened, revealing a net. I flew directly into the web, snagged by the heavy nylon. The net shot close around me, and Ibis reeled me in like a prize catch of fish.
"That was very foolish, my dear," he said. Leaving me in the mesh, Ibis dragged me deep into the dark cavern. As we slipped in, I could see the sun fading from view. We rounded one corner, and I saw the shadows of daylight playing on a retreating wall. Then a second corner and suddenly I was plunged into an eerie and complete darkness. My tail felt sore, from all the dragging on the harsh sand and rough rock of the cave. I lost count of the steps and the turns Ibis made, though how he could see was beyond me.
But on a wall in front of us, I saw a dancing light--flickering like a torch playing on a wall. We rounded that turn and the narrow passage opened into a large cave, one that looked like it had been altered by humans...
The walls were painted with scenes that would rival a Pharaoh's tomb. Despite the smoke from the braziers surrounding the room, the paint looked almost untouched. I ached, wishing I had my camera and my art tools. An undiscovered temple, and now in use by Black Ibis as a base. The walls were fantastic, the main wall, directly opposite of me was absolutely breathtaking. There was a large onyx statue of Thoth, holding a balance. In front was a large table or altar with bas relief images of Osiris and Anubis carved into the dark stone. Parts of the stone were darker than the normal shade, and I had to assume the most grisly events that had happened here.
Ibis dropped the bag in the center of the room. Suddenly I was surrounded by five men in dark, flowing robes, who began poking and prodding me. The net was removed, and I heard murmurs of appreciation as the men examined my nearly nude form. "Do not molest her!" I heard Black Ibis say, his voice full of command authority. The men retreated a step, though they still watched with wary and leering eyes.
"This woman is our guest, she will share bread, water and salt with us before she makes her journey." The men nodded silently, in agreement and I saw their demeanor change to obedience.
With shaky legs, I attempted to stand.
Ibis licked his lips greedily, then pointed at one of the men and said, "You, get bandages for her. The rest of you, take her to her chamber until we are ready to send her ka to the birthplace of the dawn. Be wary though, despite her size, she is more powerful than any of you."
Two men helped me to my feet. I stood up, feeling strength returning. One of the men said, "You are playing a joke on us Black One! This is a mere slip of a girl, how can she..." His sentence was never completed as I elbowed him in the ribs. I swivelled again, and kicked out at the other guard. He howled in pain as I connected in the center of his crotch, dropping his rifle. I then bowed at the waist, flipping the third into the fourth.
I turned to face Ibis, but was met instead with his powerful fist in my jaw. I crumpled to the floor. "Now maybe you'll believe me," Ibis said to his pained men. "Take her away, and chain her well, she's not to escape."
I came to my senses lying on a cold granite floor, with my arms and legs chained in a large X pattern to several rings mounted in the cave wall. My camisole was torn, but intact as were my panties. I pulled at the chains, wondering how strong the walls and chains were. Outside I could hear voices, but a large wooden door made it impossible to see who was out there. In the darkness of the cave I had lost all track of time, but I knew that if Daud had his way, my time on earth was running out.
(to be continued)