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....