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by Robin Reed
“It’s a used Protecto-car,” Randall said.
Marcus shook his head. “You gotta be kidding.”
The sleek round vehicle sat in Randall’s warehouse, looking like it wanted to leap into the air.
Randall proudly ran his hand over the shiny skin of the car. “I found the company that makes them for The Protectors. They run through them like crazy, and junk them just for little things, like cosmetic damage. I created a dummy company to buy one. I fixed a few dents, painted it black, and Knighthawk can fly again.”
“We got the vans.”
“A hero can’t get stuck in traffic.” Randall walked around the car, limping a little less than before, but still using the hospital cane. He was letting his hair grow out. That’s how Marcus knew that Randall was serious about giving up the suit. In the helmet, hair becomes a sweaty mess. If he was growing his hair, he didn’t plan to wear the helmet.
Marcus wasn’t sure how he felt about being the only Knighthawk. An armored suit wasn’t his style. If he decided to be a vigilante he would choose something lightweight and dark, and let his special forces training be his superpower. He wouldn’t mess around with a knock-out sword either. A good knife and his pistol would be all the equipment he needed.
I’m a street guy, Marcus thought. I’m a soldier, not an airman. I’m all for calling in air support, but I never thought I would be air support. The first flying car was cool, though. He remembered flying over the city, unseen above the streetlights, able to go anywhere.
“That first one didn’t last long when Buzz Kill went after it.”
“These are designed for battle,” Randall said. “And they get a lot better gas mileage. That’s kind of a joke, but not really. They run on a power cell that lasts for years. How it works is a Protectors secret.”
“They just let you buy one.”
Randall shrugged. “After I lied outrageously about being a defense contractor. They’ll never trace the fake company to me.”
“Does it have power windows, air conditioning, and a CD player?”
“No windows at all, no top so you get natural a/c, and yes. How ‘bout a test flight?”
The men brought food after a few hours. Some kind of bar that didn’t taste very good. She wolfed it down. They also put a bottle of water in each occupied cage. Maria drank it all, so fast she coughed some of it back up as she drank.
She didn’t know how many kids were in the huge space, in how many cages. The smell of pee and worse filled the air. She hugged Mr. Elephant tight.
No supeero had come to save her. She still believed that one would fly through the big door where the vans went in and out, or bust through the ceiling. They always did on TV. It better be soon, she thought.
She thought of her mother, but she didn’t expect any help from her. She often left Maria alone and hungry in the tiny apartment they lived in. She spent all the money on little bags of powder.
The boy in the next cage, who was on the van with her, was quiet. He lay at the bottom of his cage. He was younger than her, with dark brown skin and very short hair. He was like a lot kids in her neighborhood, but didn’t respond when she spoke Spanish to him. She used American words to talk to him. He didn’t say much back.
Maria poked her fingers through the wire of the cage. He was too far away to touch.
A man, wearing a black mask over his whole face, like all of them did, opened the boy’s cage. He checked off something on a clipboard, then handed the clipboard to another man.
He leaned forward and grabbed the boy around the waist. The boy woke up scared and began to flail. His left foot connected with the man’s upper arm.
The man swore and slapped the boy, then began to pull him out of the cage.
“Leave him alone!” Maria shouted.
The boy hooked his fingers into the wires of his cage. He resisted the man’s pull. His big eyes pleaded for help that Maria could not give.
Maria screamed, giving out a piercing shriek that filled the huge space.
The boy’s fingers lost their grip. He was pulled backwards.
Where was the supeero? The boy needed a supeero NOW!
Maria grabbed Mr. Elephant. She poked his trunk through the wires into he boy’s cage.
The boy grabbed the elephant’s trunk.
Maria squished Mr. Elephant until all of his fuzzy body passed into the boy’s cage. The boy took the elephant into his arms as the man pulled him out of the cage.
Now the boy wasn’t alone. Mr. Elephant would make him feel better.
The two men took the boy away.
Marcus hovered high in the air over a Hispanic neighborhood. Specifically, over the house where the Neighborhood Heroes met every Sunday afternoon.
Randall suggested, after they discussed what Knighthawk should do next, that they could hook up with Pink Poppy and her friends.
“From what you tell me, they mean well but don’t have many resources,” Randall said. “We could bring them communications equipment, transportation, a lot of stuff.”
“They ain’t no Protectors,” Marcus said. They talked in the warehouse after a successful test flight of the new car. “You got a old lady who makes people fall sleep, a young Latina who climbs walls, a magnet man with a broken leg, and a few others. They’re a rag tag bunch if I ever saw one.”
“What about Sun Man?” Randall asked.
“Poppy says he needs a lot of growing up. He wants to hit the big time more than do the right thing.”
“Okay, but his powers would help a lot. We’ll just try to guide him.”
Marcus wasn’t crazy about that idea. He met more than a few hot shots like Mike in the army. They took risks to get noticed and usually got themselves killed in the process. And sometimes other people too.
“You’ve been talking to Pink Poppy?” Randall asked.
“I called her once on the helmet phone, just to see how that kid with the broken leg was. You said that line was untraceable, and it disguises my voice. I thought it would be a short talk, but Poppy went on and on.”
Marcus and Randall decided that Knighthawk should make a dramatic entrance at the next Sunday meeting of the Neighborhood Heroes. So Marcus waited for a good opening, listening to what was going on with a long distance microphone built into the former Protecto-car.
Some lawyer in a Maserati pulled up and started talking to Mireya, the wall walker, and Mike, who was wearing a different costume than usual. He wanted them to find a little girl, but not Bonnie Pearson, who was all over the news recently.
Every hero in L.A. county, along with every cop, was looking for Bonnie Pearson. Her mother’s pleas were broadcast on local and national news non-stop. Marcus and Randall discussed what they could do to help. Every registered sex offender had already been interviewed by cops and threatened by costumes. Some of them of them were hurt badly by heroes who didn’t stop at threats.
As Randall realized long before, personally beating up badguys was rarely an effective way to fight crime, even when it felt good. When you are trying to gather information it is usually counter productive.
Bonnie’s mother offered a reward to find her daughter, and civic groups added to it. That was plenty of incentive for the gangs to keep an eye out. A little white girl would stand out like a sore thumb in south L.A. Also, for business reasons, the gangs didn’t want the cops searching their territories too closely and interrupting the normal flow of drugs and money.
It was frustrating, but there wasn’t much that Knighthawk could add to these efforts. The girl was probably long gone from L.A. anyway. Any smart kidnapper would take her out of state. Or put her body someplace very hard to find.
The lawyer was talking about another little girl, daughter of a Dominican junkie. The mother was charged with murder. Marcus thought the cops were probably right on this one. Still, he knew a good time for a dramatic entrance when he saw one.
The flying car (Randall better not name it the “Knighthawk-o-car or some damn thing like that.) settled smoothly down on the tiny lawn of the house. Heroes and neighborhood residents scattered as they saw it coming.
“Maybe I can help,” Marcus said after the car landed.
“Knighthawk!” Pink Poppy said. “Glad you could come. Cool car.”
Marcus stepped out of the car. The lawyer, Sloane, boldly walked up to him. “Who are you? My client didn’t mention you.”
“He’s all right,” Pink Poppy said.
“He saved my life,” Lodestone chimed in, thumping up with his crutches. “How are ya, big guy?”
“I would like to discuss something, but just with the heroes. And Mr. Sloane.” Marcus said.
“Let’s go inside,” Mireya said.
Sloane kept nervously glancing out the living room window as the heroes sat in the mismatched furniture. Not used to parking his Maserati in a poor neighborhood, it seemed.
The Knighthawk flying car was in danger out there too, Marcus thought. The controls were locked but someone could slash the seats just for the fun of it. Maybe Randall could put an alarm on it.
Everyone was looking at him. “I met Pink Poppy and Lodestone recently, and they Poppy told me about your group.”
“We’re not looking for recruits,” Sun Man, or Mike, said. His costume was not the slick white number that Marcus and Randall saw him wearing before.
“I just want to offer you some resources that will help.”
“We all know each others’ real names,” Mike said. “We can’t trust just anyone. Pop that helmet.”
Mireya stood up. “Mike, let the man talk.”
“Sun Man...” Marcus said.
“Light Man.” Mike looked away and Marcus was sure he was blushing under his mask.
“Light Man,” Mike said.
Interesting. Why the name switch? “I can’t reveal my face. I have my reasons.”
“But I think your group would benefit from my assistance.” Marcus was talking like he did with Randall’s white business associates. When Buzz Kill figured out that he was black from the way he talked, he realized that he gave away too much information.
“I can give you better communications, and transportation...”
“Can we have a flying car?” Lodestone asked.
“No. But we can talk about regular cars.”
“You’re just going to walk in here and buy us off with stuff?” Mike asked.
“Mike!” Pink Poppy said sharply.
“Perhaps we should let Mr. Sloane tell us about his case.” Marcus said.
While the lawyer told them about his client and her daughter Maria, and where Maria was last seen, an older Hispanic lady bustled in with a tray of snacks. Almost everyone took something, even Sloane. When the lady got to Marcus, all he could do was shrug apologetically. His helmet was not designed for eating.
Sloane finished up with “Estela is not the best mother. She has her problems with drugs. But if there is any chance that Maria is alive, her mother doesn’t deserve to go to jail for life.”
Mireya ushered the lawyer out the door with promises that the Neighborhood Heroes would do their best.
Marcus’ question to himself was, how did a junkie from the streets rate a downtown lawyer? Sloane said it was pro bono work, just because his firm believed in helping people. Marcus believed there was a reason that “lawyer” and “liar” sound almost the same.
“Now, Knighthawk,” Mireya said. “We need to vote on your offer. If we decide to accept your help, we will have a full meeting with everyone. There are people you haven’t met yet -“
“Where’s Dennis?” Mike broke in. “He’s usually here on Sundays.”
Dennis? Marcus thought.
“I don’t know,” Mireya said. “Dennis Man comes and goes.”
“You’re his legal guardian, right?” Mike asked. “Or your mom is?”
“He’s a stray, Mike,” Mireya said. “I took him in like the cats and dogs. He can do as he pleases. Now, I am talking to Knight...”
“You don’t let the cats and dogs wander the streets.”
“The animals are not superheroes, Mike.”
Mike made a disgusted noise. “He’s not a superhero, he’s a retard kid. Geez!” He left the room, stomping his feet.
Marcus was ushered out of the house politely but firmly. Pink Poppy gave him a hug, which was more than a bit surprising. In a moment he was firing up the flying car. It looked like no one cut the upholstery or tagged the car while he was inside.
As he flew away, Marcus looked back at the small house.
Yeah, he thought. These are the professionals Randall wants to work with.
Maria pretended to be asleep as the man brought another bar and water bottle. When he opened her cage just a bit, she lunged forward and bit his hand. Hard.
The man shouted and pulled his hand back. Maria pushed herself through the cage door and fell on him. He tried to grab her but she was a whirling dervish of kicks and bites.
She hit the floor and ran towards the big door of the building. It was a long way away.
Big noises echoed through the warehouse behind her. Some of the glass in the door shattered and other parts were hit. They were shooting guns. It wasn’t like TV, it was very scary.
The big door started to close. The open gap got smaller and smaller. Maria ran harder.
No supeeroes. No one would help her.
A small door opened to the right of the big door. A man with a gun came in. Maria ran straight towards him. He didn’t have time to react. She slipped through his legs and she was outside.
The man was right behind her. She ran down a long place between two high walls. The man ran faster. He caught her by the back of her dress and picked her up.
Maria gave up. She hung lip in the man’s grasp. She would never see her Madre again. She was sure of that now.
A voice cried out loudly. “Badness!” it said.
The man turned. Maria saw a figure at the end of the long place. It was a supeero!
She twisted and kicked, getting the man in his special place. Madre taught her that. Men have a special place that really hurts them. Madre seemed to enjoy the thought.
As the man collapsed, Maria hit the ground and ran towards the supeero. He was everything she expected. He was handsome, strong, and brave. He had a big letter D on his chest. His smile made her feel better.
He took her hand and they ran through another long place onto a street. The man did not follow.
“I want to thank you for your swift action,” Herbert Sloane said. The lawyer looked uncomfortable again, sitting in Mireya’s living room.
Pink Poppy invited Knighthawk to come to the meeting too. They had accepted his membership, over Mike’s dissenting vote.
All the members were there, including the gliding guy, a guy named José, and a teenager in a home made costume and cheap mask. So this is Dennis Man, Marcus thought.
“I’m glad little Maria is safe,” Mireya said. “But didn’t you say she wandered into a police precinct by herself?”
“Yes,” Sloane said. “She insisted that a superhero helped her. I assumed it was one of you.”
“Not that I know of,” Mireya said. “Is she home with her mother now?”
“She’s in foster care. Estela is still being charged with child endangerment and neglect.”
“Maria is safe but she can’t be with her mother?”
“I’m afraid...well, Estela does have substance abuse problems, but she has been better recently. Still...”
“What, Mr. Sloane?”
“Frankly, when the system gets its claws into someone it doesn’t like to let go.”
Mireya’s mother ran into the room. She almost burst into tears. “La niña,” she said. “Muerta.” She ran back towards the kitchen.
Everyone followed her. Marcus didn’t know what else to do, so he went too.
Mireya’s mother stared at a small TV.
Bonnie Pearson’s body was found, a news anchor announced in all suitable dramatic tones, stuffed into a suitcase and thrown into a sewer.
Power vs Power and all related characters are © and ™ 2007-2009 Robin Reed.