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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Masked Marvel in: The Everlovin’ End

“I can’t believe that you’re actually retiring, Masked Marvel,” Officer Bentley said. Rodger Burns, the Chief of Police, glared at the younger officer, but the man didn’t seem to notice.

“I’ve been at this crime fighting gig for over thirty years now,” the Masked Marvel, in his trade mark trench coat, fedora and mask, said, a grin on his face. “In my time I’ve faced down street thugs, super villains and Nazi’s. It’s time to step down and let a younger man take over.”

Now the Chief glared at the vigilante, who cleared his throat.

“But,” said the Masked Marvel, “You didn’t call me here to discuss my retirement. What’s the issue, Chief?”

The older man cleared his throat. Masked Marvel had worked with Chief Burns for fifteen years, back when he was just Sergeant Burns. The two had formed quite a friendship over the years, and Marvel would do just about anything the Chief asked him.

“Well, Marvel,” he said, stepping forward. “As you know, the city is putting on a massive New Years party in Landings Park. Well, we’ve received a note that some new villain is planning on ruining the festivities. So, we’re asking for your help, just this last time.”

He handed a large, manila envelope to Masked Marvel, who ripped it open and looked at the paper inside. It was pasted together out of letters from magazines. It at first seemed like a very amateur kidnapping note, but as he read, he saw that it was far more sinister.

“This is the time of the end,” he read out loud. “When the old shall be done away with to make way for the new. The party starts early this year, with two numbers: twenty-one, and 2.”

“There’s no signature,” the chief said, “but we received this with it.”

He handed over a playing card to Masked Marvel, who flipped it over and groaned as he looked at it.

“The Ace of Spades?” Marvel said. “Really? These so-called super villains today, don’t they realize that this stuff has all been done before?”

“I don’t follow,” Officer Bentley said, and the Chief glared at him.

“Years ago, I battled a playing card themed mad man named Ace of Spades,” Marvel said, almost off handedly. “He was insane and planned crimes based off playing cards to try and get the attention of another villain, the Black Swan, so he could ask her to marry him.”

“And it can’t be him?” Bentley asked.

“Of course not, Bentley,” the Chief said. “Didn’t you read those files I gave you?”

“Well,” Bentley said, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck sheepishly, “there were quite a lot of them.”

“Ace of Spades died,” Marvel said quickly before the Chief could hurt the young officer. “He fell off the top of Robbins Tower during our last battle.”

“Oh,” Bentley said. “Maybe it’s a new Ace of Spades?”

Masked Marvel nodded. Then, he looked up at the two cops.

“Not to sound offensive or ungrateful,” he said, “But why me? Couldn’t you ask a younger crime fighter?”

“Well, you did a pretty good job of keeping them all out of our city besides you,” the Chief said.

“Well, and Marvel Boy,” Bentley said.

“Mr. Marvel,” Masked Marvel corrected. “He changed his name several years ago, claiming he was no longer a boy. And he’s right. He’ll take over for me fulltime when I retire. So, why isn’t he here now?”

“Mr. Marvel is off in Ultra City with Captain Nobel working on another case,” the Chief said. “So that leaves just you.”

The Masked Marvel sighed. “Well then,” he said, “one last case. Let’s take another look at that letter.”

“It’s really amateur hour,” the Chief said.

Masked Marvel nodded. “The magazine letters… first, that doesn’t really fit the Ace of Spades playing card. This guy is way out of his league. Probably some thug trying to make a name for himself by taking on the legend. But let’s look at what it actually says. The ‘twenty-one’ is an obvious reference to time.”

“Nine PM,” Officer Bentley said.

“Right,” Masked Marvel said. “Which is in just an hour. But the fact that it’s spelled out in letters rather than just a number means something. Isn’t there a new club opening up tonight for the celebration?”

“Yes,” Officer Bentley said. “Club Twenty-One. We thought of that, though, and we’ve got officers watching the place now.”

“Good,” Masked Marvel said. “Let’s cover all our bases, though. Look at the last bit here. Two numbers, and the second is two. What could that mean?”

“Two locations to hit at 9?” the Chief suggested.

“A good guess,” Masked Marvel said. “And I think I have an idea what that means. There are, in fact, two Club Twenty-Ones in this city. The one tonight is the newest one.”

“That’s right,” the Chief said. “It’s actually based on the original Club Twenty-One, which was a real hot spot thirty years ago.”

“And the location of the original club is still there,” Masked Marvel said. “What is it now?”

“Last I heard, it was being used as a warehouse,” the Chief said. “Storage for a fireworks company.”

“That’s what I remember, as well,” Masked Marvel said.

“You guys really remember that kind of thing?” Officer Bentley asked. The two older men just stared at him and he lowered his gaze to the ground.

“Okay, it’s a place to start,” Masked Marvel said. “We need to figure out a plan of action. Normally, I’d send my partner to check out one building, but I seem to be partnerless tonight, so I’m going to have to ask your boys in blue to work with me tonight, Chief.”

“You got our cooperation, Marvel,” the Chief said without hesitation.

“Good,” Marvel said. “Now, as you already have men at the new club, I’ll go check out the old one. My gut tells me that the old site is his real target, and that the new club is a cover. Or that he may actually be trying to hit both at the same time, but that he’ll send men to the new club.”

“Why do you think that?” Bentley asked. “Wouldn’t it make more sense for a villain to hit a very public space? Lots of spectators?”

“That’s true,” Masked Marvel said. “But this villain isn’t looking for publicity, except where it covers his other actions. Publicity seekers are flashier, and tend to not announce their moves. No, this is either someone seriously mentally disturbed, or, like I said earlier, someone trying to gain a reputation by beating me. Which means he’s trying for something a little more subtle than blowing up a downtown night club.”

“Sounds good to us, Marvel,” the Chief said. “You still got your little communicators?”

“I do,” Marvel said, pushing back the sleeve of his trench coat and suit to reveal a wrist watch that had a speaker on it. “And I’ll be tuned into your frequency tonight, so I can keep in touch.”

“Will do, Marvel,” the Chief said. “Best of luck to you.”

****

When Masked Marvel hit the warehouse twenty minutes later, it was dark. But, he had expected that. If thirty years of crime fighting had taught him anything, it was that criminals rarely worked in the light. Not that the dark offered them much protection. Not from him, at any rate. He reached up to his mask and pushed a button, and the lenses over his eyes switched to a special night vision mode. Everything turned green, but he could see now, and better than the criminals themselves often could.

What he saw also didn’t surprise him. There were three men guarding the only door into the warehouse. They wore jumpsuits, black with a white spade on the left breast, and carried guns. Typical thugs. In all his years on this job, he never stopped being amazed that these insane super villains managed to find nearly armies worth of thugs and minions. He wondered if there were some kind of thug union, and they just called in with a uniform request.

He shook his head to clear it of use less thoughts like that. It was time to focus. Time to go to work. He shot a grappling line from his grappling gun and slid across it to the roof of the old Club Twenty-One. The guards down below didn’t even hear him. He went to the skylight, that used to be part of the club but that the new owners never bothered to get rid of. Personally, he enjoyed skylights. They gave entering a building a real sense of flair.

Looking through the skylight, he saw that there were only a few more costumed men inside, but they looked like they were setting up something among the boxes. It was time for that dramatic entrance. Taking a deep breath, Masked Marvel wrapped his jacked tight around him and jumped onto the skylight. The window made a great crashing noise, and the shards fell glittering in the moonlight towards the floor. The men below stopped what they were doing and looked up. Halfway down, Marvel let go of his jacket, and it flared dramatically behind him.

“It’s him!” one of the men said. “Scatter!”

Marvel smiled. He loved that reaction. Then, he landed, and as always, bent his legs on impact. Still, his back felt that landing a little more than normal.

“I’m getting too old for this,” he muttered to himself as he straightened to face the thugs. Most of them had, in fact, scattered, but three had stayed behind. One of them pulled a gun from a sling on his back, a wicked looking rifle. The other two got into martial arts stances, and moved forward defensively. Masked Marvel smiled. It had been a while since he’d fought martial artists.

He took a defensive posture and let them come to him. They hesitated a while, hoping he would attack first, but like most thugs, they couldn’t wait long, and charged. A few quick jabs and kicks let him know that they were masters of their craft, but it was only one art. He had mastered six forms of martial arts before even starting his carrier fighting crime. These guys would be a work out, but nothing more.

He started with some simple parries, making them waist energy trying to hit him. Then he moved to his favorite martial art, judo. Using the momentum of one thug’s attack, he rolled the man over his shoulder and threw him into a pile of boxes. The next man charged forward before Marvel had fully recovered from that throw, so instead he crouched down and spun his leg around, tripping the thug. He then leaped onto him and gave a quick jab to the face that knocked the man out.

Spinning around, he saw that first though had detangled himself from the boxes and was in a defensive position. Marvel gritted his teeth. It was time to end this. He leaped forward with a kick that was easily blocked by the thug, but quickly followed up on it with some jabs to the stomach and chest. The other man backed off, but another spin kick knocked the younger man to the ground, and a quick kick to his head ended the fight. That was when the bullets whizzed by Marvel’s head. He spun and saw that the third thug was firing at him. Without wasting time, he ducked for cover behind some crates, and then threw down a gas bomb to cover himself.

He snuck around the edges of the boxes while the thug fired blindly into the smoke. Thankfully, the gunman was as much of an idiot that Marvel had grown to expect, and stood still while he fired away. A shirt circle around the boxes and he was behind the muzzle flashes. He closed both hands together into a double fist and clonked the other man on the back of his head, knocking him out.

He did a quick scan of he warehouse and saw that it was now unoccupied. Checking things out, it appeared that the three men inside were loading some of the fireworks into a truck outside that was marked ‘Lee’s Laundry.’ The two thugs that were guarding the door had apparently run off. He shook his head again. This was chump town stuff.

And stealing fireworks? What kind of criminal does that kind of thing? This Ace of Spades was letting him down. Still, if things were going as much by the stereotype this guy had been following so far, there would be a clue here somewhere to his next hit. A quick search of the van revealed nothing, but a search of the thugs revealed a matchbook with the logo of a place called the Card Sharp and a scrap of paper with a series of numbers on it, 12124 12 2200.

Marvel rubbed his chin. He knew the Card Sharp; it was a nightclub that specialized in dealing with super villains. It’s possible that this thug was hired through that place, so he figured it wasn’t really important. Still, he kept the matchbook. He had learned that there was no such thing as a useless clue. Then, he flipped on his watch and contacted the chief.

“Masked Marvel to Chief Burns. How are things at Club Twenty One?” he asked.

“Chief Burns here,” came the crackly voice over the speaker. “We found a group of thugs herein black jumpsuits that were setting up bombs around the club. Nothing dangerous, they mostly looked like incendiary devices.”

“Like they were trying to set the club on fire?” Marvel asked.

“Yeah, from the looks of it,” Chief Burns replied. “How are things at your end.”

“Some thugs here in the same costume,” Marvel said. “They seemed to be stealing some of the fireworks here.”

“Fireworks?” the Chief said in a voice of sheer amazement.

“I know,” Marvel said. “I can’t believe it myself. Something’s not adding up here, Chief. Incendiary devices at a club with people would scare some of them, but unless I miss my guess, people would have plenty of time to get out of the club before anything really bad would happen. And fireworks? What in the hell is that about? But, I have another clue, some numbers.”

He read the numbers to the Chief.

“I don’t get it,” the Chief said. “It just seems like a random string of numbers to me.”

“It’s an address,” Marvel said. “Well, and a time, too. 12124 12th street, at 2200 hours. Their next hit. I’m on my way there now.”

“12st Street?” the Chief said. “Nothing down there but a bunch of strip malls. What could possibly be down there this late at night on New Years Eve?”

“I don’t know, but I’m planning on finding out.”

****

The address turned out to be a single store, standing between two strip malls. It was a party supply store, the kind that sells piñatas and costumes and balloons and such. Marvel really scratched his head over that one. Was this Ace of Spades planning of putting on a party of some kind? And he had to steal the parts first? This whole thing was making less and less sense. But, in the mean time, there was another two trucks, with the same ‘Lee’s Laundry’ logo on the sides. One was driving away as the Marvel-mobile pulled up. He decided to let it go, but write down the license plate number. It appeared that the thugs were still filling up the second van.

“Chief, I got a van I need you to pull over, it’s got some stolen cargo in it,” he said into his watch. When the Chief replied, he gave the license plate number and a description of the van. He also asked the Chief to check and see if Lee’s Laundry was a real business. He expected that it wouldn’t be. After that was done, he got out of his car to take care of business.

He climbed into the roof of the building from the side, out of sight of the thugs coming in and out of the front door. There were six this time, two armed with guns and keeping watch while the other four pulled stuff from outside the store. He waited until the two outside were alone, then dropped a gas bomb. When he was sure they couldn’t see anything, he dropped down between them and two swift kicks to their heads ended any fight they might have.

“Earl?” a voice came from inside the store. “Did a fog bank roll in? I can’t see shit out here!”

“You’re not supposed to, punk,” Marvel said, grabbing the man from inside and punching him in the noise a few times before dropping him. Then he quickly moved into the store. A few seconds later, the other three men came around a corner carrying boxes loaded with party stuff. They quickly dropped them and moved into defensive positions.

“Remember what the boss said,” one said. “He wants the do-gooder alive.”

“Too bad I don’t have that same order,” Masked Marvel said, and then leaped into the three of them. He moved quickly, bobbing in and out of their swinging hands, causing two of them to hit each other and never land a blow on him. The third was confused, so Marvel took advantage and delivered an uppercut that pushed the man back. He shook his head and got ready to charge forward. Marvel shook his head. There was a time when that punch would have knocked that man out.

“Let me give you some advice, son,” he said as he blocked the other man’s wild swing and lifted him up against the wall. “Aging sucks. Avoid it if you can.”

With that, he smacked the man against the wall hard, which caused him to pass out from pain. Marvel dropped him to the ground and immediately started looking around for more clues. This time, there were inside the van. This time, it was a little more blatant than before. A menu to a caterer, with a 2300 written on it. He checked his watch. It was a little under a half hour away, and that address was across town. Thankfully, he could make that drive in the Marvel-mobile.

***

He made another call to the Chief to let him know where he was going next. The Chief informed him that they were chasing down the truck with the party supplies on it, but wouldn’t be able to get to the caterer in time. They had several other incidents popping up on the radar as people got rowdy as the night went on and the drinks were consumed. Marvel nodded, unsurprised. It was an unusual night crime fighting when he got real help from the police. Not that he didn’t like the police, its just that they had their jobs to do, and it usually fell to him to focus on one thing like this. Plus, super villains had a unique mind set that cops just weren’t trained in. He had lots of experience with them, and that made him the man to sick on ‘em.

But this particular super villain was a mad man the likes of which he had never seen. Fireworks, party supplies and a caterer? It really did sound like he was ripping off a massive party. What, was the only way he could pull a super villain party to rip it all off? It would make a kind of twisted logic in the eyes of some of his enemies. Black Swan, to name one. The Wild Goose would be another. Even Dark Laughter would do something like this, just to get a laugh out of how confusing it would all be. The big question to Masked Marvel was, if this Ace of Spades was throwing some big villain party, where would he be throwing it? Then, he could stop all this chasing around and cut to the final play. Not that he figured there was much left to this chase. What more could they want for a party? Nothing immediately sprang to mind, so he focused himself on the task at hand.

The caterer was located in a small industrial mall, where there were several one-story buildings and two two-story buildings full of offices. No doubt, this place also doubled as a café, and did most, if not all, of its business from these places. The expected van was there. This time, though, they were ready for him, and some gunshots went off from the roof of one of those two-story buildings, bouncing off the car. It was times like that that Masked Marvel was grateful his alter ego owned a massive company that did mostly military contracts. Bulletproof cars were fantastic in crime fighting.

He gunned the engine and drove straight at the truck, ignoring the guys on the roof. When he smashed into the truck, he leaped out and threw down another gas grenade. He was thankful that he always kept spares of those in the car. They were ever so useful. In quick succession, he battled his way through three of the same kind of thugs he’d already taken down. Then, something smashed into his face at great speeds, and caused him to step back a few steps. He blinked and shook his head, and when he looked back up, he saw a very large, muscular man in the same black outfit the other thugs wore. He looked like something escaped from the WWE, and he was carrying a baseball bat in one hand. It looked almost like a child’s toy next to him.

Masked Marvel winced. Big guys like this were always tough to take down. It could be done, of course, he knew several pressure points that would cause muscles to freeze or spasm in pain. But getting to those spots meant getting in reach of those meat hooks. And this guy was obviously fast. A point he proved by taking a swing with that bat, causing Masked Marvel to duck quickly. He hit the man with an upper cut, and felt like his fist hit a brick wall. It affected the large man, though, so he took the opportunity to roll to the side and get some moving room.

Ducking and weaving was his only real chance. This guy moved like a wrestler, too, trying for grabs or just swinging with that bat, making boxing moves a great defense. It also made a good offense too, allowing him to jab and attack back pretty quickly. In a few short minutes, the other man was covered in bruises and looking like he was slowing down. The problem was, Masked Marvel was feeling winded himself. He berated himself for that. There was a time when a guy like this wouldn’t even cause him to break out in sweat. Now, he was feeling his age, he had slowed down, and fighting this thug was starting to hurt.

He needed to end this, and quickly. He leaped up and bounced off the wall to his side, allowing him to land on the big man’s back. Quickly, he wrapped his arms around the man’s neck in an attempt to strangle him. The other man fought back by raining blows on his back with the bat, but Marvel held on for dear life. Eventually, the other man slowed down and finally, fell to the floor, unconscious.

The Masked Marvel stood up, his back cracking and popping, and he groaned.

“I’m too old for this,” he said for the second time that night. He was really looking forward to his retirement. He stretched and then looked around. That was when he realized the other thugs weren’t there.

“Damn,” he said. The big guy was just a distraction. He ran outside and sure enough, the truck was gone. It probably wasn’t running very well, but they had escaped. That would make it more difficult to find the clues he needed. He was convinced now that this Ace of Spades was having a get together of his super villain buddies. And the note at the beginning of all this was an invite for him. No doubt, he was to be the main prize. But if such a party was really happening, than he could potentially put away several super villains all at once. That was a prize worth the risk of a trap once he got there. Wherever there was.

That led him back to the question of clues. He started looking around, and eventually searched the big guy. He found a set of matches on that guys as well, the same logo as the other set he had. He sighed. He had been hoping to avoid the Card Sharp, but there didn’t seem to be any other choice. He had questions that needed to be answered, and if those answers could be found anywhere, it was at the Card Sharp. He hopped into the car and checked his watch. 11:15. forty five minutes away from midnight, when the party would no doubt really start. If they did trap him, no doubt right after that, they would start to terrorize this city. He gritted his teeth. He would be damned if he would let that happen.

****

The Card Sharp was a greasy little dive that was nearly indistinguishable from the strip clubs around it. He parked the car a few blocks away and hoofed it the rest of the way on rooftop. This place was not keep on skylights, but there was a convenient back door that he could access without anyone noticing from the roof. He leaped down and found himself face to face with a fat cook taking out the garbage. Without hesitating, Masked Marvel gut kicked the man into the wall and watched as he slumped to the ground.

“Sorry, mac,” he said, “but it’s probably better for you this way.

He made his way through the back door and through the kitchen. Apparently, the fat man outside was the only cook on staff at this time. Must not be a big crowd for the big New Years party. He didn’t even hesitate when he hit the outer door, and slammed it open.

“Okay, boys,” he said. “Party’s over.”

The few thugs in the room immediately stood up and drew knives and a few guns. There were only ten total, and he threw down a gas grenade.

“It’s the Masked Marvel,” one of the thugs said. “I’m out of here!”

“Tut tut, boys,” Marvel said as he moved through the room, staying out of the cloud. He quickly made it to the front door and locked it shut. “No one is leaving now.”

“Aw, don’t hurt us, Marvel,” one of the men said, in a sincere voice. “We ain’t done nothing.”

“Maybe, maybe not. I need some questions answered,” Marvel said. The gas cleared out, and one of the thugs, turning, spotted him and charged with his knife. Without hesitating, Marvel grabed the man’s arm and twisted it around behind his back. The man yelped and dropped his knife. Marvel made sure to position the man between him and the other thugs.

“Ask your questions, hero,” one of the thugs with a gun said. “I ain’t in the mood for a shootin’, but if I get to itch to do so, Maurice there ain’t gonna stop me.”

“A man hired some of you recently, to pull some big job tonight,” Marvel said. “Called himself Ace of Spades, no doubt. I need to know where he was planning his big party.”

“Yeah, I remember him,” another man said. “Tried to recrute me, too. But I turned him down. New villains can’t pay what I’m worth. He did get some of the newer guys, though. Said something about a big hoo-rah at the Sports Arena, the old one that ain’t used much anymore, in Old Town.”

Sports Arena, in Old Town. Of course that made sense. Large enough for a crowd, opened topped so he could use the fireworks, but ill-used, and unlikely to be the center of attention tonight. The cops would never even think to look there.

“That’s all I need, then,” Marvel said. “Thanks Gents, as always, it was a real pleasure.”

He walked his way back to the kitchen with Maurice held by the arm. Then, he tossed the thug to the floor, dropping another gas grenade and making his way out.

****

The Sports Arena had it’s lights on. That wasn’t something that Marvel had expected. That would draw attention. He got out of the car at the far end of the parking lot and made his way slowly towards the ticket booth. He could hear the sounds of a crowd. It sounded pretty big. Just what the hell was going on here? Did this Ace of Spades have hostages, maybe? He decided that he was tired of being in the dark, and just wanted this done and over with. If there was a trap, he figured he could escape from it. Everything else from this Ace of Spades was amateur hour, why not his trap too?

He walked into the arena and saw the biggest crowed he had ever seen in the place. Every seat was packed, and the people cheered when a spot light fell on him, his image showing up on the jumbotron.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice boomed from the loudspeakers. “The man of the night. Masked Marvel.”

The crowed cheered again. What the hell was going on here? Then, a man stepped in front of Marvel. He wore an black suit and hat, similar to his own, but he had a full black face mask with a white Spade over his right eye. The Ace of Spades. Marvel took a defensive position.

“He’s been fighting his way here all night, folks, just for this moment,” Ace said into a microphone Marvel had missed before. The voice echoed through the loudspeakers. “Are you ready?”

The crowed got even louder and stomped their feet.

“What’s your game, Ace of Spades?” Marvel demanded.

“Game?” The man said. “No game.”

With that, he reached up and took of his hat, then pulled off his mask. Marvel jumped back a step in surprise. It was Mr. Marvel, his old partner.

“What?” Masked Marvel said. Then, he saw Chief Burns come out, and even Captain Nobel. They were all smiling.

“Happy Retirement,” they all said, and it was repeated by the crowd.

“What?” he said, still confused.

“It’s a retirement party, MM,” Mr. Marvel said. “We put all this on just to lure you here for a surprise party. Put on by the city, for you, their protector. Come on, enjoy some food and drink with two thousand of your closest friends.”

Marvel hesitated, then smiled. He thought back through the night and realized it all made sense. His smile broadened.

“I’m glad this was my last case,” he said. “Not only does it have a good ending, but I am just too old for this anymore.”

The End

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