Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Festival of Fear

Meadowbrook, Ohio, about an hour east of Queen City

“Sixty four cubed is 262,144” said the comely redhead. Her copper tresses shone in the single spotlight as she hit her mark time and again on the wooden platform that served as a stage. “Come on people, this is easy, give me something difficult.”

Her audience, mostly polite, though slightly intoxicated festival goers laughed. One man called out, “All right Sister Brain. What's the seventh commandment?”

Marcie Braun smiled. “Thou shalt not commit adultery!” She smiled and added, “And lusting after a woman is adultery too—Better watch those eyes sir.” The crowd laughed and the man turned red, then headed for the tent flap.

“What's the capital of Latvia?”
“Who held the highest all time batting average?”
“Tip O'Neill of the St Louis Browns hit .485 in 1887. In the Modern Era, it would be Rogers Hornsby batting .424 for the Cardinals in 1924.”
“When did Burgundy get absorbed into France?”
“With the death of Charles the Brash in 1477”
“Why is a Raven like a writing desk?”
“Because Poe wrote on both”
“What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow?”
“Approximately 11 meters a second or 24 miles an hour.”

For the next hour, Marcie held the crowd spellbound with her witty repartee and encyclopedic knowledge. It was on the last question though, that she was stopped.

“Who's the smartest woman in the world? Sister Brain or White Owl?”

Marcie shot the questioner a withering glare. “White Owl has a limited knowledge, where mine covers all subjects. She may be cleverer than most, but I think I would win in the end.”

“Good to know Sister Brain. Aren't you going to Queen City soon?”

“Why yes, we'll be doing two festivals up there over the course of three weeks.” She held up a hand.
“Now no more questions. I need to turn the show over to my brother; the illustrious Dr Brawn.

She stepped to one side and a small man with a dark beard stepped up. Four and a half feet tall, yet Dr Brawn lived up to his name, breaking chains, lifting heavy objects and challenging all comers to any test of strength. His showstopping act though was when he bent a quarter between his two thumbs.

The crowd politely oohed and ahhed through the show, then just as politely left.

Dr Brawn took his bows, then headed across the St Veronica parking lot towards a deluxe Airstream trailer. Some teenage toughs stepped out from between the beer tent and the poker tent and blocked his path.

“You ain't so tough. What happened? Did you get the muscles an' your sister get the looks, brains and height?” His buddies cackled, this was funny stuff.

Michael Braun sighed. Ever since he learned in sixth grade that he wouldn't get taller than 4'8”
he had struggled with bullies of all stripes. His parents had wisely channeled him into martial arts for the discipline, and the self defense skills. Michael had begun weight lifting two years later, as a resident in the juvenile court systems. He took a calming breath and said, “You really don't want to make me angry. Please step aside.”

“You hear that guys? Little man thinks he's the Incredible Hulk or something. Tell you what short stuff. You give me a hundred bucks and maybe we'll let you past.” The punk stood with his arms crossed, expectantly.

Michael smiled. “You were warned,” he said, settling into a fighting crouch. A few moments later, all four boys were out cold on the ground. The deputy on duty came running, and asked what happened..

“I ...” began Michael.

“These boys were impeding his progress, and attacked him. He defended himself,” said Father Ross, the parish priest. “I saw it from the beer tent.”

Three other witnesses, including two of the boys' fathers agreed with Father Ross, and Michael was allowed to go on to his trailer. He frowned and looked at his sister, “When do we quit this racket, Marcie?”

“Very soon Michael. After Queen City. I want to show up a snooty little brainy heroine first.”

“Do you think its wise to take her on?”

Marcie stretched out on the sofa, her coppery hair sweeping across her elegant breasts, “Maybe not wise but necessary. We've been playing the cow towns too long. Queen City is our fist big city, and I don't think their cops are any smarter than the rubes we've been dealing with. But a superheroine?
And one who says she's really smart. I want this and need this. Besides, there's a wonderful supply of money coming into the treasury substation while we're at St George's. I want to get our hands on it. Then we can retire—no more shows, I promise.”

Martin harrumphed and after getting a beer, sat in a chair looking at the small television. Marcie came over and began massaging his shoulders. “Poor dear, you're so tight,” she said.

“I'm just worried,” he said.

“Well would this make you feel any better?” said Marcie. She reached into her silk robe's pocket and withdrew a small old looking book.

“What's that?” asked Michael.

“The Bay Psalter “ One of the rarest books in the world, worth a small fortune.”

“But how? Where?”

“While you were onstage, Michael, I took it from the house of Guillermo Fiorini.”

“Isn't he a gangster?” asked Michael, a little frightened.

“I believe he is. And he lives in Queen City. This is from his country estate—about four miles from here. And no one was home tonight. A clean job and he won't know he was robbed for at least three weeks. Now if I can pull this off, then White Owl should pose no problems.”

Michael nodded an agreement. But he still slept uneasily.
The festival board meeting lasted a lot longer than I had expected, But as we left the parish house Father Timothy stopped me. “How are you doing Athena,” he asked privately.

“I'm doing much better, Father,” I replied. “Thank you for recommending Rebecca Allen to me; she's been a wonderful counselor and become a good friend.” I brushed my hair back and frowned at my priest.

“I'm concerned about the carnival group we've engaged this year Father. I don't see why we didn't engage the Grandetti's like we have for the last ten years.”

“You were out of town when we discussed this, I believe. The Grandetti's are a fine organization, but Mr Grandetti was booked in all three of the weekends we had available for the festival. Besides, the Braun shows come highly recommended by Old Man Grandetti, himself. And they were offering the same terms. I can't tell you how much that means to the festival. We pay them one rate, and then the festival gets all the proceeds. And a lot of good can come from that.” Father Tim smiled and I caved in.

“All right. I'm convinced. I'm sure you've done the due diligence, Father. I'll put the suspicions behind me.”

He laughed. “In your line of business, Athena, I'd be surprised if you weren't suspicious. But if you're really WANTING to check them out, then I believe they have a show this week at St Clements in West Bend.”

As I drove home, my cell phone chirped—a special ring meaning White Owl was needed. I picked up the phone and said, “What can I do for you Captain?”

“How soon can you get here?” he asked. I stared at the clock on my dashboard.

“I can be there in 20 minutes,” I said.

“OK I'll have the usual ready. Meet me on the roof.”

I pulled into the parking slot, and raced up the stairs. I knew Tiffany was still in Megopolis with Ultra Woman; the two of them seemed quite taken with each other. But I decided I'd brief her when she returned tomorrow.

I petted Daisy, then slipped into my original leotard, as the heat was close to unbearable. At least this way my neck would be cooler as I flew. I stepped out onto the balcony and lifted of into the night sky. I banked south to the river, then with a quick wingover, I headed west to Police Headquarters.
Captain Winslow met me on the roof, handing me a steaming cup of coffee. I smiled and took a deep drink of the coffee. It was heavenly.

“Oh this is nice,” I said. “Definitely not Police Issue.”

“No its not,” said the captain. He nodded toward the street corner. “A new place called Bagels and Brew just opened. And they're making a killing on the police.” He smiled, then got down to business.

“I just had a call from Guillermo Fiorini,” he said.

“Isn't he a lieutenant in the Cafazzo mob?” I asked. “Seems strange he'd contact you.”

“Well we do protect and serve everyone. And he's never been implicated or convicted of anything more than a parking ticket.” Winslow was seething; the Cafazzos ran most of the organized crime in Queen City and the police were having a hard time driving them out of town.

“Anyhow, Fiorini came in claiming he was robbed. His house in Meadowbrook was broken into last week and some book of his was stolen. Though I have a hard time seeing Fiorini singing songs.”

“What are you talking about, Captain?” I asked.

“That book—he said it was some sort of psalm book. Anyhow, Meadowbrook is out of my jurisdiction, and I told Fiorini. He wasn't too happy. He said he didn't want the local cops out there—he didn't trust them. Then he suggested you. Said you were an honest dealer.”

I frowned, trying to conceal a smile. “Well I suppose I can look into it a bit. Is he still in Meadowbrook?”

“Not now; he said he'd be spending the night here. And he said he's expecting you.”

I finished my coffee and nodded. “All right then. His place is in West Bend isn't it?”

Winslow smiled. “Yep, big estate overlooking the river. Be careful Owl, between the Cafazzos and the Angel gang you've made a lot of enemies.”

“Well tonight I hope to make a few friends, Captain.” I thanked him for the coffee and flew west along the river.

“So what was it like?” Tiffany asked again for the eleventh time. She was curled comfortably on my couch, with Daisy rubbing against her legs. Tiffany was scratching the cat on the chin and Daisy was elated at the attention.

“Fiorini's house? It was nice; a mansion in the truest sense. Fiorini is a collector of rare art, you know. So I saw some Degas, some Renoirs and at least one Raphael; though I think it was a clever copy. Giorgio Fiorini is more or less retired now I guess.

“No guns? No evidence we could bust him on?” Tiffany was all eager for action.

“Not this time, chica. Just a nice upper class home in a gated community. I asked a few questions, then suggested to him he might keep his ear to the ground about someone selling his book. After all, its very rare and most reputable dealers won't touch it. But...”

“But Fiorini knows some less than reputable dealers,”finished Tiffany, with a smile. So when do we make our move?”

“We don't, not against Fiorini. At least not yet as we have no proof of anything he's done wrong. In fact, we're supposed to be helping him clear this up,”

“You are anyway. I say once a criminal, always...”

“What about Mr. M?” I asked with the hint of a smile.

“H..he..that's different!” she said with no further explanation. Hastily changing the subject, she asked, “So what's the plan for tonight?”

“For White Owl? A night off hopefully. Captain Winslow said the city has been pretty quiet of late. So I thought I'd drive back to the west side tonight.”

“Back to Fiorini's?” she asked.

“No, to St Clement's festival. I want to do some homework on the group St George has hired for its festival in two weeks. Want to come?”

Tiffany did her best not to pout, but disappointment was evident on her face. “I don't think so. I have some work at the lab that I've been putting off. It should be quiet tonight, so I'll put in a few hours there. Then maybe I'll patrol.”

“Let me know if you find anything you can't handle,” I said.

“When has that ever happened?” she laughed.

I arrived an hour or so after the festival started and began walking through the small midway. I could recognize which tents were run by the parish guild and which were part of Braun's shows. The church's tents were dark blue and plain, as they would often serve for outdoor weddings and funerals in addition to the festival. Braun's on the other hand were bright orange and white striped, and generally in worse repair. I wandered past the poker and bingo tents, and found the fish fry. I grabbed a sandwich and beer, then sat watching the crowds. People were walking away from the tents with prizes, and none of the games seemed rigged in favor of either the house or the patrons.

"Forgive my doubts, Father Timothy,” I said as I finished my sandwich. I was headed back to the bingo tables when I heard the pop pop sound of small caliber gunfire. Sensing I might be needed, I raced in that direction, only to find a small target shooting stand.

“Well this is something new,” I said. I wandered up to the counter. “What's the game?” I asked.

The bored young man taking the money held up an Ace of Diamonds. “For three dollars you get 5 bullets. If you shoot all the red out of the center of the card, you win a prize.” His hand indicated a sizable selection of large stuffed animals. I nodded and put a $5 bill on the counter. The young man scooped it up and offered me a short rifle.

“It's all loaded,” he said. “All you have to do is cock the handle like this between each shot.” He cocked the gun once then handed it to me.

I took it and sighted the Ace. The gun was small, almost like a child's toy; but I could feel the weight of it. I drew my bead and a deep breath then squeezed the trigger. The gun had no kick to it and I saw a mall hole appear to the upper left side of the diamond. I adjusted my stance and squeezed the last four in quick succession. When the card was pulled back though, I saw I had failed to shoot the diamond completely.

“Sorry ma'am, but that was some good shooting,” said the young man.

“Thank you,” I said, wondering where I would have put a giant stuffed lion anyhow. I was about to go back out when I saw one other thing that looked out of place in a church carnival...a sideshow. Granted it looked like it only had two acts, but I was intrigued.

I paid my admission and found a seat near the front. A moment later, and the lights dimmed. A woman in a skin tight blue costume stepped onto the low platform that served as a stage. “Welcome to an exhibition of strength-the strength of brain and brawn. I am Sister Brain, the most intelligent woman in the world if my press clippings are to be believed. Am I? You determine. Ask me anything. If I don't know it, then we'll pay you $50. That's fair isn't it? Who has a question for me?”

A young boy in the back of the room stood up before his mother could stop him, “What's the most stolen book from a library?” he shouted.

“No need to be so loud,” said Sister Brain. “And surprisingly, the answer is the Bible.” A smattering of applause followed.

“Who was the first woman in space?”

“Valentina Tereshkova, from the Soviet Union, in April 1963 .”

An elderly nun smiled, "And what's the chemical element with the shortest name, dear?"

Sister Brain smiled. "I paid attention to my teachers, sister. That would be Tin."

"Sister Brain, what's the largest freshwater lake in the world?"

Sister Brain scowled a moment. "That would be Lake Baikal in Russia."

I cleared my throat. "That's not correct," I said. "It's Lake Superior."

Sister Brain cocked an eyebrow at me. "Oh really? Lake Baikal is the world's deepest lake and contains 20% of the world's freshwater reserves. So by volume..."

"But not in area," I replied. "In that case Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Even Lake Victoria dwarfs Baikal in size. I'd say you owe the gentleman fifty dollars."

The audience stood in stunned silence as Sister Brain frowned. Then she pointed at the young man who asked the question. "Well sir, it appears I was wrong. See me backstage and I'll make certain you're paid." She shot me another hard glance.

"I don't know who you are, but you're good." she said.

"Athena Nikos, archeologist and world traveller," I said with a gentle smile. Sister Brain's nostrils flared.

"Athena? Greek I assume?"

I nodded. "We're hosting your show in two weeks at my parish. I wanted to get a preview."

"And what's your assesment?"

"I like it. I think you'll be a hit at St George." I waved goodbye, feeling her cold eyes burning into the back of my neck.
The fair wound down at midnight, and Monica grumbled at her brother Michael, as he sat in his chair in their trailer.

"She was so smug, so condescending. 'I'm an archeologist and world traveller'" she mimicked. "God, I HATE being upstaged. And after these last two hits, we never will be again."

"So remind me again why we need to pull this tonight?"

"Because its Friday Night. STAR is going to be practically empty. Those eggheads go home to family, or mistresses, or their boats or whatever. The experiments shut down, the labs are not heavily guarded. And it's the weekend guards, not the regulars. So they shouldn't be as diligent. And finally..." Monica pulled a large cannister from under her bed. "They're going to be awfully mellow."

"What's this?" aked Michael.

"Just hook it to the air intak valve here," Monica pointed on the schematic of STAR she had illegally uploaded from the building's website. "Wait ten minutes, then go in."

Tiffany stretched, feeling the kinks in her spine popping as she arched her back. The nanite research was tedious, but she was trying to be thorough. She was grateful that White Owl had used her pull with Virgil Coleman to get her this position, though she knew her own credentials stood up as well. She looked at the large digital clock on her wall...1:34.

Tiffany drew a deep breath and smiled. She shook her head, trying to focus her thoughts but wasn't having any luck with that. "Whoa, I'm fuzzier headed than I thought." She went to her small refrigerator and pulled a bottled water from the shelf. As she opened the bottle, she heard a soft boom from the other end of the floor.

Sensing trouble, Tiffany slipped into her catsuit and zipped the red skirt into place. She buckled on her belt, then affixed the mask to the magnetic nanite interface. In less than a minute, Tiffany Johnson was gone, and the Crimson Dynamo stood in her place. She hurtled down the hallway toward the sonics lab and skidded to a halt in the R and D section.

A door stood blasted off its hinges, remnants of some plastic explosive still hanging loose. Inside the room, Tiffany spotted a small figure. She stepped into the room and put her balled fists on her trip waist.

"I'm sorry sir, but this lab is off limits without a pass. Can I see yours?"

Michael turned to look at the interfering voice. "Jeepers, another costumed chick? Who are you supposed to be?"

Crimson giggled at the funny little man. "I'm your nightmare," She swept across the room, then swung a roundhouse kick at the man's head. He ducked under it, soming up with two fists and hitting the buxom crimefighter in the solar plexus.

"Whuff!" Tiffany staggered back , stunned by the force of the blow, but the armor of her catsuit absorbed most of the blow.

"You have a powerful punch for a little guy," she commented, As the man swung again, Crimson blocked the punch, then swung through, clipping the small man on the chin. He fell backward, grabbing at the lab table. Crimson grabbed a chair and flung it at the man, hitting him as he came to his feet.. He was thrown back again, hitting his head on a cabinet in the Sonics Lab. He slumped to the floor, his head lolling then resting on his chest. Crimson looked at him, then back at the open vault. She smiled, still slightly intoxicated by whatever was in the air. She began gathering up papers, and didn't hear the man stealthily sneak up on her...

BWAHMMM!!! Stars shot through the Crimson Dynamo's eyes as they rolled up into her head. She groaned, struggling to get back to her feet. The lab chair cracked across her head one more time and the dominoed daredevil dropped to the floor, unconscious. Michael pulled himself to his full height, grabbed the case he was after and ran from the room...

“I don't understand, Theena,” said Tiffany, as she held an ice pack to the back of her head. The nanites infesting her body had already done most of the work toward healing her; the ice pack was an affectation. “Why didn't Wee Man want to grope me? Why did he let me go?”

“Consider the facts Tiffany. You were an unexpected factor in his robbery. Add to it that the guards—slower and duller than usual, but still on call; were on their way. As it was, you were lucky to scramble back to your lab and get back into your lab gear. How did you explain the goose egg?”

“Oh I told them I clonked my head on a table after dropping and chasing my pencil. As dull as they were, they bought it. Even helped me down to my car. Though I'm certain I'll get some comments about being clumsy in the next few days.”

I sat back on Tiffany's couch this time. “I'm sorry you didn't get the guy Tiffany. What did he take?”

“An experimental ultrasonic cannon. Supposedly it would be useful for punching through cave walls, undersea mining, that sort of thing. I don't know why he would have wanted something like that. Man who would have thought such a small guy could be so strong? I ache all over.”

“Wait; you said your attacker was about five feet tall?”

“Yeah, with stringy hair and a beard. Wiry guy too; since I found a cable outside the sonics lab going up to the roof.”

My mind was calculating, but I didn't want to believe the answer. “I think I may have an idea,” I said.

“Oh?” said Tiffany.

“Yeah, but it may have to wait until next Friday to get an answer.”

The rest of the week went quickly, but there was no sign of the missing Sonic Blaster, and most of the trouble in Queen City was minor league stuff; muggings, street crime, and so forth. Tiffany remained tight--itching for action and checking all the sources that either of us had on the streets.

Even so Tiffany was surprised when I told her where I thought the sonic blaster would be used.

"The Federal Reserve depository will be getting a supply of cash on Wednesday night. Since Friday is the First of the month, the banks need a ready supply of cash for government checks and paychecks."

"Won't the security be really tight?" asked Tiffany.

"Yes, but I think these theives are smart enought to avoid it. Would WE have trouble getting past it?"

Tiffany put a gloved had to her chin. "Maybe in the planning phases, but no, we'd bypass everything and get in and out quick."

"Exactly, and I think these thieves are like that too. I also think they're related to the Fiorini robbery."

"You know who they are, don't you."

"I know who I suspect," I replied. "But I don't have hard evidence." I tossed a manilla folder on Tiffany's coffee table and she scooped it up.

"Sister Brain and Dr Brawn? Of Braun's shows?" she said. "Look Athena, I know you told me you didn't want them at your festival but aren't you tilting at windmills here?"

"Just read, Tiffany."

"Michael Braun has quite a record," she said, leafing through the folder. "But its mostly petty assaults; not surprising for a guy who's only about 5 feet tall."

"I know, but there's still something I don't trust."

Tiffany sighed. "All right. The money comes in Wednesday night and is moved Thursday. So where do we come in?"

"We wait Thursday. I think they'll move then."

Thursday Night we were situated on the rooftop of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Queen City. We counted nine armored cars going into the parking decks and waited. Thirty minutes later, eight cars came out.

"Move in," I said. "They're robbing the place."

I swooped into the alleyway and up to the remaining armored car. Inside, the two guards lay unconscious and bound. Three more guards lay strewn on the conrete pad. There was no sign of any other motion.

"Be careful," said Crimson, drawing her Ion disruptor. Stealthily we padded through the door to a control room. The door was open and more guards were strewn on the floor.

"Wow, that's some damage," I said. Crimson knelt next to one guard. He had shaggy brown hair, and seemed shorter than most.

"This one isn't a guard," said Crimson, turning her attention to me. I looked as the guard raised a kubaton and smacked my partner on the head.

"Look out!" I called too late. I raced across the room where Crimson was getting herself off the floor. With a swift boot, I kicked the fake guard, then watched in dismay as he rolled, bounced and came to his feet in a fighting position.

"Come get me pigeon" He shouted.

"White Owl, No!" I heard behind me. I whirled and Sister Brain stood there, pointing a gun at me.

"Oh come on," I said. "Surely you could do better than a gun?"

She aimed low, then depressed the trigger. In my lower regions I felt a rumbling, my sex stimulated. I felt my knees turning inward and my hand reached toward my crotch.

"Wh..what the hell are you doing?" I said, feeling my thoughts and intellect racing away. Behind me, Doctor Brawn clubbed me with his Kubaton. I dropped to my knees, groggy, but managed to rally.

"You can't do that to White Owl," said Crimson, diving at the little man's feet. She dropped Dr Brawn to the ground and the two of them began to wrestle.

I got to my feet, shakily, as Sister Brain strode to me. She grabbed my hair. "I am Sister Brain, White Owl. I'm the smartest woman in the world, and I'm here to prove to you that your time is over."

"I don't think so, Sister," I said, driving a hard elbow into her ribs. Sister Brain groaned, then released my hair. I pivoted, eager to follow up, when she pointed the sonic gun at me. Once again, the rumble built up in my sex, then intensified.

"Its so easy White Owl--you're completely helpless with my new toy." I looked for help, and saw Crimson was still grappling with Dr Brawn.

"I think we have some unfinished business, red," he said, cupping Crimson's breast through her body suit.
I saw Crimson bite her lip then arch her back as her nanites responded to the sexual stimulation.

"Do you need some help, brother?" asked Sister Brain. She trained the sonic blaster at Crimson, and I saw my partner being to writhe at the extreme stimulation. Brawn managed to put a sleeper hold on Crimson at this point and began to choke her out.

Brain turned the sonic blaster at me once more, and I felt a wave of euphoria crash against me--then it felt like one hundred jackhammers were pummeling my loins and then my head. I staggered forward and dropped to the ground unconscious.

"Let's get them out of here," said Brain...

I don't know how long I was unconscious. I don't recall much of anything regarding the passage of time, but I know that I roused several times, only to have a thick pad of foul smelling stuff placed tightly over my mouth and nose. Once; and maybe more than once, I felt a heavy club against the back of my head as well.

When I regained my senses, I was leaning against a heavy wooden post with my hands shackled firmly above my head. My feet were similarly restrained and I was finding it hard to try and squirm free.

“There's no way for you to find leverage, White Owl,” I heard a sinister voice hiss. I rolled my head toward the sound and instantly regretted it. The drugs and the beatings had taken their toll. Squinting one eye, I saw Sister Brain standing in front of me. In her hand she held my tool belt costume?

“Lovely fabric,” she smirked. “Soft, shiny and sensuous on one hand, yet impervious to bullets. I have some friends who would love to get their hands on this. And these weapons; so clever. You must have felt terribly bright conceiving them.”

“Who..what?” I stammered.

“Oh ho, the bird has a tongue,” she teased. “I told you dearie, I'm Sister Brain, the smartest woman in the world. And with your death, I'll seal my place in destiny.”

“You've gone crazy,” I said.

“Oh I don't think so. You already figured out my plan once. It would only be a matter of time until you managed to come after me again; and possibly win. The wise thing to do is eliminate my opponent.”

To my left I heard a by now familiar groan. I looked over to see Crimson Dynamo, similarly undressed and bound to another post. “Let her go,” I demanded. “And I'll submit to whatever you have planned for me.”

Sister Brain smiled. “I could do that I suppose; but you costumed types are really wearying in your relentless pursuits. So I think I'll kill you both; to insure your silences and my getaway.”

“It must make you feel really unsuccessful,” I said. “To be holed up in a lousy fleatrap carnival, with your immense brainpower. Why this, and not the lab or lecture route?”

“Because my brother Michael couldn't stay out of trouble; he had to drift. But I couldn't bear the thought of him alone in the world. He's strong, but not terribly swift.” She couldn't resist, and I felt the sonic cannon's soft caress against my thighs once more.

“Oooooh!” I purred, feeling the sweat trickling down my breasts. Summertime in Queen City is exceedingly warm. I heard Sister Brain laugh.

“Oh how the citizens of this city would laugh if they knew how easily their precious protectors were taken down. You're really quite the sexually deprived little things aren't you?' She placed the sonic gun between my breasts and let it run. I shuddered, awash in pleasure and shame as my body responded to the exciting tingle. I tried to buck, but the restraints at my ankles held tight. My back arched, and I felt the raw wood cutting into the skin of my back. Sister Brain laughed.

“And as repressed as you are, your little friend here is even MORE given to stimulation.” Without moving a step, she pointed the cannon at Crimson Dynamo, and I saw Tiffany's eyes widen. A husky moan escaped from her lips as the nanites in her system became even more hyperactive. She backed against the post as well, and I could see her breasts swelling with the stimulation.

“And that's on the lowest setting,” bragged Sister Brain. “But I'm growing tired of this. Its time we see your real faces.”

She stepped over to the Crimson Dynamo and tilted her head up. Tiffany was still burbling in pleasure from the sonic stimulation, and with her hands above her head, was unable to offer much resistance. Pausing dramatically, Sister Brain pulled at the Crimson mask. I could see the skin pulling back, remembering the magnetic attraction was how it was affixed. When she pulled it free, though, I saw the scowl of the villainess.

“What is this!” she demanded. Beneath the Crimson mask, was a black painted face, in the same style as Tiffany's mask. I smiled.

“Looks like she was too smart for the smartest woman,” I mocked.

“That may be, White Owl. But what about you?” She reached and yanked at mine. I felt the gentle ooze as my own face paint settled over my eyes. Sister Brain glowered at me.

“I should have known,” she said. “Your little friend isn't smart enough to have thought of this on her own.” She stared intently into my eyes though, then grabbed my chin. I reared back but the post and chains kept me from going anywhere. Sister Brain smiled then.

“But I don't need to see your full face now, do I? Miss Athena Nikos, archaeologist and world traveller I believe.” I gasped in astonishment. Sister Brain laughed, “I rarely forget a face. Its the blessing of an eidetic memory.”

I decided it was time to take control. “So what's the ultimate plan? What are you going to do with us?”

“With you? Nothing. You're going to die, its really that simple.”

“And what do you get out of it?”

“Power, money, aand the opportunity to quit this 'fleatrap carnival' and see the world as a power broker. I have your secrets, your identity, your costumes and equipment and the ability to out think just about anyone. I'm certain there will be other secrets your cell phone will reveal to me. Its only a matter of time from here.”

I pulled at the chains, testing the tensile strength. As the sex urge declined, I could feel my strength slowly washing back through me. Outside, I could hear the sounds of the carnival going into a full tilt. Braun stuck his head back into the shed.

“Hey its almost time for your show,” he said. “And the guy in the shooting gallery wants to start soon. Are you almost done here?” Sister Brain nodded. From the table to her side, she tossed Braun a long scarf.

“Gag the redhead. Make it tight.” He moved to obey. As he approached Crimson, he grabbed her breasts and began massaging them. Tiffany squealed indignant, but the stimulation soon melted her. Braun laughed as she moaned, and shoved the knotted scarf into her mouth. Deftly he tied it around her head.

I lost my battle to Sister Brain. “Can't have you calling for help,” she said. “Imagine the shock here when dear Athena Nikos is found dead and naked in the aftermath of the fair. Your precious secret will die with you, though, so I'm doing you a favor.”

With that she gathered our costumes, and moved toward the door. With a dramatic pause she turned and said, “I don't know who it's going to be, but out there,” She pointed behind us, “There are bullets with your names on them. I hope you don't mind the wait.” And with that, she left us in the dark.

The last rays of the late August sunshine limned the doorway. As my eyes adjusted to the waning light, I could hear the sounds of the festival just beginning to come to life. The merry music of the midway droned in my ears, and I could hear Dmitri Lysander and his band warming up some distance away.

The heat and humidity of a late August in Queen City was adding to the fear and adrenaline causing my body to sweat profusely. I pulled at the chains, but was unable to get the leverage to pull the links apart or to break the cuffs attaching them to my wrists.

I glanced to my left, but could only see a dim shadow as Crimson writhed as well, with even less success than I was having.

“Pardon me Padre,” I heard Michael say. “Would you like to try our shooting gallery?”

“Oh my!” I heard Father Timothy exclaim. “I really don't think I should.”

“Come on Father, its for the Parish Fund,” said Michael Braun. “All you have to do is shoot the ace of hearts.”

“Well since its for the Parish Fund, all right.”

My blood ran cold. I had no doubt as to which target Michael would set my unsuspecting priest. I tugged again at the chains, with similar results. “Come on Athena,” I said. “Think!!”

Father Timothy was taking his time, making sure the shot was well aimed. And that moment of hesitation gave me the opening I needed. I managed to plant my feet on the ground, with the chain straddling the post I'd been chained to. I bent my knees, the threw my back into the pole.

There was a loud creaking, then a popping sound as the post bent then broke under the increased strength the goddess had given too me. It coincided with a bright flash of light and a shattering BOOM!!!

I dropped to the ground, the post splintering around me. Above I could hear the whizzz....thud as the bullet hit the backstop. I got to my feet, then snapped Crimson's manacles, setting her free.
At that moment, the roof of the shooting gallery crashed down, and the heavy rain poured over the festival; scattering merrymakers toward the church building and the parish hall.

I snatched up Crimson in my arms and flew out of the festival almost too fast to be seen. Three minutes later, we were wet, and shaking, and in my apartment. “I don't recall anything about nude crimefighting in the literature,” laughed Crimson. Then her face grew solemn. “She knows who you are, Athena.”

“I know,” I said. “But we can't let that stop us.” I smiled at her through my painted mask. “Fancy another go at them?'

“Thought you'd never ask! Meet you back in five minutes...last one back owes the winner first shots.”
Tiffany dashed down the stairs and I heard the door of her apartment shut. I knew it took her a while to get her costume all straight, so I took my time slipping into my old, form fitting Nu Silk leotard. I cinched on my spare tool belt, then ambled down the stairs from my loft bedroom. Tiffany was standing at the terrace doors with her arms crossed. “What took you so long?” she laughed. Her costume was similar to mine—a red leotard with white tights. She twirled for me.

“Its not as durable as my normal outfit,” she said. “But it does well in a pinch. Now let's go beat some bad guys.” She beat me to the balcony and we leapt off into the thick, moist air.

The thunderstorm had pretty well stopped, and the rains were decreasing as we flew back toward the festival. The grounds still seemed pretty empty, though I could see a few people still hovering in the Bingo, Beer and Hold 'em tents. But the midway was deserted. The destroyed shooting gallery was at the end of the row, and across from it was the sideshow tent, where Brain and Brawn performed nightly. I dropped Crimson behind the tent and approached from the front. I flipped open the tent flaps and caught Sister Brain, hurriedly throwing items into a trunk. She whirled when she saw me, her nostrils flaring.

“You!” she growled. “I would have thought you dead, or at least ashamed to show your face ...Athena.”

She spat my birth name like a curse.

“There is no shame in my name, or my task as White Owl,” I replied. “And if I put you away, then I can retire, satisfied.”

“You're assuming you can WIN, little bird brain,” she said. As she spoke, she pulled the sonic blaster from the stage trunk. Sister Brain whirled, then fired at me.

Or more precisely, where I had been. The vibrations of the gun caused the tent flaps to shudder, but nothing more. I dove from the ceiling, planting a pulled punch on Sister Brain's chin. She dropped to the ground and lay still. I landed next to her and gingerly put two fingers on her neck. A strong pulse greeted me, and a swift knee in my ear. I flopped to my left, grasping my head.

“You little fool!” taunted Sister Brain. “I learned street brawling from Michael. He taught me how to roll with any punch.” She rolled and lurched toward me, but I swept out with my leg, tumbling her back to the ground. She tried to crawl off, but with my forward momentum, I tackled her and cracked a fist into her jaw once again. Sister Brain's head lolled back and cracked the edge of the stage.

From behind the stage, the curtains parted and the Crimson Dynamo stepped out, holding a groaning and restrained Michael Braun. “Hey Owl,” she said. “I thought you said I could have first shots.”

“You got him, didn't you?” I said. “Did he put up much of a fight?”

“Oh he thought he could get clever with me, but the shock gloves made him pretty docile,” she said. “Of course I may have had to get a bit rough with him.

At that moment, Braun opened a blackened eye and saw his sister sprawled on the floor. “What have you done to her? I swear I'll kill you both!”

“You won't be doing much of anything, Braun,” I heard the reassuring voice of Captain Don Winslow say. Behind him came a contingent of Queen City's Special Crimes Unit. The captain quickly took charge of the scene and an ambulance was soon on hand for Sister Brain. Braun was trundled into a squad car

“How did you find us?” asked Crimson.

“Oh that was easy.” said Winslow. “Your emergency transponders were switched on; all we had to do was track them.”

I smiled. “Sounds like curiosity got the best of Sister Brain,” I said.
Three days later I was in Father Tim's office at the church.

“I'm sorry the festival wasn't very successful Father,” I said.

“As well you should be. You and your friends nearly put us completely out of business. The Metropolitan even called, wondering what we were up to. But surprisingly, we did bigger business than ever on the last two nights of the festival, even without rides and arcade games.” He sighed and rubbed his hands together.

“You don't know anything about a sizable gift do you? From a Guillermo Fiorini?” I shook my head.

“Well I hoped I could convert the man, but it seems he's a staunch Roman Catholic. Still he said it was in gratitude for all we do at St George.” I frowned, but kept my mouth shut.

Later that night, Crimson Dynamo and I waited in Winslow's office. When the captain came in he sat at his desk nervously. “Please, sit down ladies,” he began.

We took chairs and Winslow leaned across the desk. “What I'm about to say can't leave this room. At least until the investigation is completed.” He frowned. “There's really no easy way to say this. Michael Braun was found dead in his cell this evening. Right now, it looks like a mob based killing, and quite frankly we're worried about Marcie Braun.”

“Who?” asked Crimson.

“Sister Brain,”I said. “What's her condition?”

“She's out of intensive care, but she's lost her total recall. Seems she can't remember much from the last several days. It will make it hard to convict her since there weren't that many clues to begin with.”

“So she walks?” I asked.

“No, there are enough witnesses to her attempted murders and the missing merchandise WAS with her. More than likely she'll go to Meadowbrook for a while, then off to prison. Its not a perfect ending. But it is an end.

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