Hope Hazard - Part 6: Who wears a cape...
- Shortly before noon on Saturday,Tom pulled to the curb in front of Hope's apartment in his 47 Willys Jeepster convertible. She was already waiting, sitting on the bench at the trolley stop in front of her building. Tom got out of the driver's side and a shorter, red-haired young man with a bulge at his waistline got out of the passenger side. Before the other guy climbed into the back seat, Tom introduced him and his other passengers.
"Hope, meet Tade Mehlville, Janie La Roux, and Herb Simms. Fellows, this is Hope Hazard." Janie was an attractive blonde and Herb was tall, with black hair and wide shoulders. Tom turned to Hope with a conspiratorial grin. "Don't know quite why, but Tade prefers that people call him 'Tubby'."
Tubby snorted. "So would you, if you were named Tade!" The other 3 laughed, so Hope laughed too.
"I'm pleased to meet you all as well." she said, reaching into the back seat to shake hands. Herb was impressed with the strength of her handshake, totally unlike that of most women of the time.
"We've got to be going," Tom told his friends. "The game doesn't start until 1, so you guys have plenty of time, but I'm supposed to be in the clubhouse before 12:30." He handed Hope into the front seat and closed the door for her.
"Tom's such a gentleman,' Herb said.
"This morning, at least," Janie agreed, deadpan. "I wonder what makes today different?" Pat whispered to Hope to ignore their byplay.
"So, where are you from?" Janie asked curiously. "All Tom told us about you was that you work at the Sentinel - and that you're a real dish!"
"Geez, Louise, Janie! Cut it out!" Tom yelped emphatically at his mischevious friend.
"Isn't that cute? He's blushing," Janie chuckled.
"We already knew about the 'dish' part, though," Tubby added, gallantly. "We all saw you in that play, 'Pat Powers, War Nurse'. In fact, Janie went back three times!"
"Yes, she was my hero during the war!" Janie agreed. "I spent every nickel I could scrounge up on the 'Pat Powers' comics; still have them all, in fact, every one!" she boasted proudly. "So now, tell us more about Hope!"
"Only if you promise I can read your comics!" Hope insisted. "I searched this town from top to bottom for old issues when I was researching the part, and only found a few, and they aren't in very good shape."
After Janie nodded, she continued, "I'm actually from Hazard, lived here most of my life." She'd worked out a back-story for job and theatre interviews but she didn't get a chance to tell it, right then.
"Great, a native! So what do YOU think the Baffler's clues mean?" Tubby asked, covering up a yawn, followed by more yawns from Janie and Herb. Finally, Tubby finished. "How do River, Map, and Arrow relate to Radiance?"
Hope had been thinking about that a lot. Though she wasn't really from Radiance, the database the forgotten future tourist company had telepathically slipped into her brain gave her more information about the city than even the most learned local historian.
"There are 3 rivers associated with Radiance." she began. "The Arrow River is traditionally considered the western boundary of the city, the Mill River runs right through downtown and Four Mile Creek is to the east."
The three in the backseat nodded to each other as she said that, while Tom started to smile and then stifled a yawn of his own.
"Hosiah Fitz, the first mayor of Radiance after the Revolutionary War, was also a famous mapmaker, and one of his maps hangs on the wall of City Hall, next to the original city charter. Arrow River is prominent on that map. In fact the Arrow River Map Company, which is also downtown, took its name from that famous map." Janie turned to Herb and the two shook hands, grinning at each other.
"The Museum of History and Natural Science is on River Road, and right now it's hosting a traveling exhibit. A year or so ago, a Professor of America History made a fascinating discovery in the Southwest - the cavern hideout of an obscure old West masked vigilante named Swift Arrow. There were hundreds of 'trophies' in the cavern, which are now part of this traveling display. One of the artifacts is supposed to be a treasure map to a trove of Incan gold..."
Tom took his right hand from the steering wheel, clinched it into a fist and made a short jerking motion.
"I can only think of one other reference that might fit. You might not know it, but the old luxury car, the Bierce-Arrow, was manufactured right here in Radiance until they went out of business. The factory was right at the outlet of the Mill River into Presque Isle Bay, where they had their own docks. The facility has recently been purchased by Lakeshore Fire Apparatus, and they now build fire trucks there. I don't know how the Map clue fits, though."
"That's what I think is the answer," Tubby said. "The Map part is just another red herring. Herb's a cop, and he overheard the Mayor and Chief Lambert arguing over it..."
Herb interrupted, "I didn't say they were arguing, Tubby! I said they were discussing."
Tubby ignored his friend. "Hizzoner agrees with me, the Bierce-Arrow factory. But I'll bet I figured it out before he did!"
"Sheriff Lambert leans more towards the museum," Herb added.
"So what's your theory, Hope?" Tom asked.
"I'm not sure yet," she replied cautiously. "It seems strange to me that while the Baffler's first clue seemed to indicate only one target, there are at least 4 easy answers to this one. I think we're still missing something."
The three in the back seat looked stubborn, not wanting to abandon their own pet theories, but Tom looked startled - and was silent and thoughtful the rest of the trip.
"OK, you guys, have fun!' he yelled back over his shoulder as he walked into the clubhouse. "See you after the game!"
"Don't fall asleep on the field, Tommy, boy," Herb advised. "The ball might bounce off your head for a hit. Your manager will kill you!"
"Yeah, well, don't you guys fall asleep in the stands, either. Make sure you explain the game to Hope!"
It was a beautiful day for baseball. The sun was bright, the sky cloudless a cloudless blue, and the dazzling green grass and the infield in the small stadium were in perfect condition. There were maybe 800 people half-filling the bench seats in the stands, which started behind the third-base line and wrapped around behind home to first base.
"The reason there's so many people here is that today's the last game of the first half, and the Hawks and Racers are tied for first,' Tubby explained eagerly. "The winner will be First Half Champs. After the second half, the First Half Champs play the League Series against the second Half Champs for the pennant. The Hawks are the defending champs, beat the Buffalo Bisons in last year's Series." He waved at a group of about 300 people, who were sort of isolated in the third base side. "Most of them are from Redcliffe; it's only about an hour's drive west."
Hope knew the distance to Redcliffe much more accurately than that, but she'd discovered that people got unhappy when she displayed too much knowledge. But Janie, who was holding Herb's arm as they walked, jabbed him with her elbow. "Geez, Louise, Tubb - remember, she grew up here. She knows where Redcliffe is!'
Herb spoke up. "Tom plays third, so we're going to sit right behind third base. Hope those Hawks finds will be good losers!"
"Only way the Racers win is if they walk Pete Lincoln," Tubby replied, and the guys talked baseball, with Janie joining in occasionally as they stopped at the concession stand. As they stood in line, the crowd around them was buzzing with talk about the Baffler and his riddles. The four joined in the conversation, but they heard nothing they hadn't already discussed in the car until a newcomer to the line interrupted everyone loudly. Janie shook her head with disgust; this guy was already two sheets to the wind.
"I was talking to my friend Sam, who was out late last night," he almost yelled, wanting to be sure everyone heard him. "On his way home, he saw somebody wearing a trench coat or robe or something sneaking around downtown! I'll bet it was this Baffler guy, planting a bomb! The paper said he wears a cape!"
"Hey, I saw that same guy last night, up near the Presque Isle Park!" someone else threw his 2 cents into the ring. "Right around midnight."
"Couldn't'a been - that's when my buddy saw him, and he was definitely downtown!" the first one argued loudly, angry that someone was trying to steal his limelight.
"He don't need no bombs, stupid, he's got that radio whachamacallit, just point it at sumthin and it blows up!" someone else tossed out sarcastically.
Someone else spoke up sarcastically, "You don't believe that bullducky, do ya? Nobody could build somthin' like that."
"I'll bet Lex Luthor could, easy!" Suddenly people were quiet - even if the Baffler hadn't built the Remote Radio Detonator himself, there had been numerous people in the past 5 years who'd gotten hold of Luthor's inventions and turned them to their own, usually nefarious, purposes. When subdued conversation began again, the topic was about everything but the Baffler.
Early in the game, there was a disturbance after Pete Lincoln, the center fielder for the Hawks hit a home run to put his team ahead. A handful Racers fans apparently thought that the celebration coming by the Hawks fans was excessive. They rose from their seats behind home and tried to swagger into the impromptu visitors' section to make their views known. The swagger was more like a stagger, and though they were very loud, it was difficult to decipher their slurred words. A couple of ushers tried to calm them down, but they weren't having any. Herb quickly identified himself as a deputy sheriff and helped escort the drunks to the door. He rejoined his friends and the incident was quickly forgotten.
Around the fifth inning, Janie stood up anxiously. "I just realized I left my purse in the car! I'll be back in a few minutes." Herb and Tubby both started to stand, but she waved them back to their seats. Hope stood as well.
"I'll go with you," she offered. She turned to the guys. "I can tell that explaining everything to me is keeping you from enjoying the game, boys, so I'll let you off the hook for a while."
As they walked through the parking lot, they discussed the game. "It seems simple enough," Hope commented "and now I think I understand the stories in the paper a lot better. But I don't know what they see in it - it's not very exciting,"
Janie laughed. "Sometimes I think that too. But I enjoy sitting in the sun, surrounded by mostly guys, the brilliant green and great smell of the grass, the guys, the hot dogs and beer. And did I mention the guys?" They both chuckled; Hope even before Pat told her to.
Tom's car was parked at the far end of the parking lot, in the area reserved for players, next to the school bus that brought the Hawks to the game. As they got closer, Hope put a hand on Janie's arm. "Janie, there are several men hiding behind that bus!" she whispered. As Janie started to crane her head for a closer look, Hope whispered again, urgently "Don't let them know we know!"
"I don't see anyone," Janie replied doubtfully. "Why would there be anyone out here hiding?"
Hope changed directions a bit, now heading for another car parked on the other side of the bus. "It's those guys that got thrown out before. They're probably planning to jump us when we reach Tom's car."
Janie still didn't quite believe in these hidden attackers, but she decided it wouldn't hurt to be cautious. "So, why are we moving closer to them instead of leaving?" she wanted to know.
"If they want to stay hidden, they're going to have to move. That means they'll be a little off balance and it will be easier for _us_ to surprise them."
"Why don't we just leave them alone and go back inside?" Janie asked. She knew what her own answer would be, but she was curious about how Hope thought.
"That's a bad idea," Hope shook her head once, sharply. "They'll charge us for sure as soon as we turn our backs."
Janie shook her head, a little doubtfully, but she wasn't as reticent as she was pretending. It had been a while since she'd been in a good fight. At least, she no longer had the urge to yawn! "Is there anything in your purse you can't afford to lose?" she asked her new friend.
"I wouldn't want to lose the purse, but the stuff inside isn't very important. Why?"
Jamie smiled and held out her hand; Hope dropped her purse in it. Janie unhooked the long strap from one side of the purse and rehooked it on the other side. It dangled from the strap; she hefted it experimentally, checking its weight. She bent down and grabbed a handful of gravel, dropped it inside, hefted it again and smiled in satisfaction. "You'll get it back," she promised with an evil smile, "... maybe a little battered and dirty. So where's our victims now?"
"They're a little confused; they're sneaking around the front of the bus so we won't see them when we get closer. They still think they're the hunters." By now, they were close to the back of the bus. "You keep going. I'll sneak down this side and as soon as they see you, I'll jump them from behind."
She sounded so enthusiastic that Janie was a little alarmed. "No permanent damage!" she admonished her new friend. Hope hesitated, then nodded. She slipped away down the right side of the bus while Janie kept strolling towards the car parked to the left.
When they saw Janie coming closer, the group got ready to attack - and then paused in mild alarm when they realized she was alone. Before they could do anything else, Hope screamed and charged them from behind. Three of them turned around in confusion, to see a fearsome figure racing towards them, a hairy, slavering wolf-woman with vicious fangs and claws. The wolf's features melted into Hope before they could be sure what they were seeing.
Janie raced forward and swung the purse like a rock on the end of a string, smashing the left temple of one of the now-stationary ambushers, knocking him to the ground. She dropped the purse and raised her hands in a boxing stance, and her second opponent was so stunned to see a girl pretending to know how to box that he laughed. He stopped laughing when Janie tagged him with a left jab but still didn't take her seriously. He stepped forward and spread his arms to grab her, and walked into a straight right to the solar plexus, which dropped him to the ground gasping for breath.
Hope instinctively used her abilities to good advantage. She had lengthened her legs to run faster, and altered her head to be more suitable as a battering ram. She moved more quickly than her first opponent expected, and managed to smash the top of her head into his jaw before he could react. He dropped instantly to the ground and whimpered once, then stopped moving. Hope's leg stretched, twice as long and flexible as any human's leg, wrapped around the ankles of her second opponent, and she jerked him off his feet. Her hand changed into a sharp blade of bone and she punched towards his heart, but then she remembered her promise to Janie. The blade morphed back into a fist - twice as large as her normal fist and covered with hard bone. She pulled the punch up, and hit him under the jaw. He bit off the tip of his tongue and collapsed, blood starting to burble in his mouth.
The fifth man saw all of Hope's transformations, and two of his friends drop to the ground as if they were dead, and he took off running, screaming in horror. Janie picked up the purse, swung it a couple of times like a sling, and let it go. It caught him right behind a knee, which collapsed, and he fell to the ground. He grew silent as the two women approached him. He was white as a sheet and his eyes had rolled up.
Janie snorted, picked up the purse, and started walking back towards Tom's car. She reattached the strap and handed it to Hope. "That was kind of fun," she said, 'but it didn't last long, did it? You're not even sweating," she noted to Hope admiringly, as her new friend dropped into stride next to her. Janie grabbed her purse from the floor of the Jeepster, and they casually headed back to the stadium. As they passed the guy who had bitten his tongue, Janie turned him over onto his stomach with her toe. "He could drown, otherwise. Horrible way to go." She didn't sound horrified.
"Say, how'd you know those guys were there?" she asked, interestedly. "Even after you told me about them, I didn't see 'em until just before they tried to jump me."
"I don't know, exactly," Hope admitted. "I just sort of 'felt' somebody waiting to ambush me. Instinct, maybe?" she asked uncertainly. "Maybe I saw them, I don't know." Her tone changed from puzzled to scorn. "They sure didn't know much about concealing themselves!" For some reason, this puzzled her; she instinctively expected predators to be virtually undetectable until it was too late.
"Say, you're a pretty good fighter. You didn't learn that by watching War Nurse a few times." Hope was relieved that her friend hadn't said anything about her shape changing; apparently Janie's attention had been elsewhere.
"Not exactly," Janie replied slowly. "I grew up in a really rough neighborhood in Big City. It's not the first time I've had to handle a group of drunks."
So, what are we going to tell the fellas?" Hope asked.
"Why tell them anything? These guys will probably be gone by the time the game is over, and if they're not, well, they musta had too much to drink, huh?" Janie replied practically. "Herb's a cop; if we told him, we'd have to fill out a report of some kind and wouldn't get home until midnight."
The rest of the afternoon was pleasant, and, as Hope had predicted, the drunks they'd knocked down had cleared out by the time the game was over. As they were dropping Hope off, Tom helped her from the car and walked her to the door. "Mr. Wall has decided to buy the Sentinel's newsprint from Cuyahoga Mills, and we're going to sign the contract on Tuesday. So I'll see you then, OK?"
- "I followed the three muggers back to their place, and overheard the phone number they called to report to the guy that hired them. And then I called that number myself, and the Mayor answered," Steve Zodiac was almost finished telling his story to Detective Damon. "He attacked me and I flattened him. And in his safe I found the satchel with the 'ransom money' ponied up by the city last week."
"You took two shots and don't even have a bullet hole in you to show for it?" Damon asked, unbelievingly. "You one of those super heroes? Come to think of it," he mused, stroking his chin, "the Batman was here for a while, and he works with Superman all the time. Could it be..."
"Hey, hold on!" Zodiac interrupted, laughing. "Just a bulletproof vest, see?" He pulled open his shirt, which had two ragged holes in the side, to show a bulletproof vest with several dings in it. "These two, right here," he said as he touched two of the dents, which lay right under the holes in the shirt.
"Well I'll be damned! That was good work, Zodiac!" Damon replied. "So, Foxcroft was the boss and Vardol was in on it too?"
"I don't know anything about Vardol; he wasn't talking to me." Zodiac grinned, Foxcroft had been unconscious about 3 seconds after he'd seen the PI enter his bedroom, and still hadn't awakened by the time the deputies had arrived. "I don't see how he could have pulled off the bidding and permit scams without Vardol's help, though," the PI replied. "With Vardol gone, maybe we'll never know. Personally, though, I think he's somewhere on the bottom of Lake Erie, feeding the fish."
"We'll find out when _we_ interrogate Foxcroft," Damon promised resolvedly. "Thanks for leaving at least something for me and the Sheriff's Department to figure out." He paused for a couple of seconds, thinking something over. "You know, if you ever think of joining the force, let me know and I'll be happy to put in a good word for you with Sheriff Lambert."
"Thanks, Don, but I don't think so. I've decided to move to New York City and see if Steve Zodiac, PI, can make it there. I want to see the famous sites, and find the romance and danger waiting in it beneath the Broadway lights," Zodiac replied, shaking his head.
"Well, you be careful in New York. They might lock you up for breaking and entering and assault and battery if you try any chicanery like you did with Foxcroft last night," Damon warned. "If you get caught..."
"Thanks, Don. I'll just have to make sure I don't get caught, eh?" They shook hands and parted. Damon sighed, and started filling out the paperwork for the case.
Hope's new friends threw her a going-away party; everyone from the paper and the cast and crew of the play 'Pat Parker, War Nurse' were there as well. "Gee whiz, Hope, your going to New York is sure a surprise!" Janie said sadly. "We just got to know you and it was nice, having a girlfriend who knows how to fight. All my other friends think I'm some kind of weirdo!"
She turned to the woman with Hope, a blonde woman in her early 40s. "I should be angry with you, Miss Moore..."
The blonde cut her off. "Please call me Sandra," she requested with a smile.
"OK, Sandra," Janie continued. "I should be angry with you for taking my friend away. But, the chance to be the understudy to the lead on a Broadway production is what Hope really wants. How exciting to be contacted by a famous agent like you!"
"We expect Kiss Me Kate to be one of the best received musicals next year," Sandra replied. "Even if Hope never has to fill in for the lead, Holly Harris, she'll be near the top of the line for future lead roles."
"So make sure you write and tell us about the neon lights on Broadway. I want to know if there really IS magic in the air!" Janie insisted to her friend. "Wish I could come with you but Herb and I are going to settle down here. He thinks he might be first in his own line, to be the next Sheriff of Radiance when Sheriff Lambert retires."
She turned back to Sandra. "You don't seem to think it's weird that I know how to fight. Why not?"
"I was a Secret Service agent when I was your age," the blonde replied. "Got in a lot of fights myself. Got promoted fast, too. Until..." she paused and looked sad, then started again. "I was Assistant Director when the war ended. But I eventually realized that they weren't about to promote a woman to Director. So I resigned and became another sort of agent. And here I am."
Hope was swept away into the party by some of her other friends, but some time later, she found herself alone with Tom.
"I never got a chance to tell you, but you made a _great_ Batman!" Tom offered her some praise. "You fooled everyone."
"Everyone but you, of course," Hope joked. "Actually, I sort of used you as my model. Your build, your mannerisms, though I deepened the voice considerably."
Tom was flattered, but he had something else on his mind. "You wouldn't know anything about that Steve Zodiac character who busted Foxcroft, would you?" he asked suspiciously. "Damon said he looked enough like me to be my brother, even with dark, curly hair instead of blonde. Damon also said Zodiac was moving to New York."
"Never heard of him, Tom," she replied, crossing her fingers.
"Well, I hope he's successful in the Big Apple. And you, too, of course! I'm looking forward to hearing about you in the future." His smile faded. "But you had better be really careful if most people found out what you can do, they might hate and fear you!"
Hope shuddered when he said that. She didn't consciously remember it, but that was exactly the way her species was received on Earth in the 30th century.
"Thanks for the warning, Tom. And thanks for accepting me, even after you found out my power."
He smiled. "Make sure nobody else finds out. Good luck. I'm sure you'll be famous in a couple of years."
She was swept into the party again, and then swept into the rest of her life.