All That Glitters

Episode 14 of Relativity

by Michelle and James Lehmann

 

Wintertime in Gale City brought snow and ice. It also brought a much-needed downturn in crime. While thieves and crooks worked 365 days a year, most didn’t want to freeze their asses off in twenty-degree weather. For mid-February, it was unseasonably cold, but it was a small blessing. The night had been uneventful, and Michael looked forward to getting home before midnight and watching some late-night t.v. before bed.

As his black Maserati crawled down the side-street, a man stepped into the roadway, waving his arms.

Slowing to a stop, Torrent rolled down his window.

“Thank goodness, finally,” the man panted. “I’ve been calling 911 for over an hour.”

“You have an emergency?”

“Yes, there was a break-in. Someone robbed me!”

“Are they still in your home?” Michael asked, glancing over the man’s shoulder at the row of brownstone buildings.

“Oh no, of course not.”

The crimefighter tried not to get irritated. “I understand your concern, sir, but the city is understaffed. Police have to prioritize their calls. I’m sure they’ll be here as soon as they can.”

“Bullshit,” the man said. “I pay taxes. If I have an emergency, the cops should come now.”

Pulling his cruiser into a nearby spot, Torrent switched off the engine.

So much for an early night.

“All right, let me see what I can do.”

 

The man’s apartment was located on the top floor of a four-story building. Since the front door didn’t appear to have been tampered with, Torrent theorized a criminal would have had to shimmy down from the roof.

The decor was high-end, but the interior seemed undisturbed. The bed was made, clean dishes were in the strainer by the sink, and the living room furniture still had a thin layer of dust on it.

“You live alone?” Torrent asked as he made his way through the rooms.

“Mostly. My teenage daughter comes to stay with me every other weekend, but other than that, yes. I work late hours, so I’m not home a lot.”

Noticing a crack in one of the living room windows, Torrent walked over to give it a closer look. “What did you say was missing again?”

“Most of my jewelry, a digital camera, and a laptop. Plus I keep some cash in a can of beans in the kitchen. That was taken, too.”

Jewelry boxes and dresser drawers would be obvious targets to search. A food canister, not so much. Walking into the kitchen, the crimefighter studied the counter. “Has anyone been in the apartment, recently? Other than your daughter?”

The man paused a second, then shook his head, “No.”

Torrent stared at him. “Sir, if you expect me to help you get to the bottom of this, lying isn’t going to help. I can leave right now.”

“All right,” the man said. “There was this woman I brought home this past weekend. We met at a bar. She was very nice, quiet. We spent the night together, that’s it. It’s not like I gave her a key or anything.”

“Did she see you place money into the container here?”

“I guess she could have.”

“Have you seen her since?” Torrent asked as he opened several of the tin containers. Flour. Sugar. Beans.

“No. I never got her number. Listen, I’m not the type of guy who normally does this kind of thing, but honestly I have no clue who she was.”

Glitter.

Torrent glanced inside the canister with the beans. Something glimmering had caught his eyes.

Purple glitter.

The man might not know who the woman was, but Torrent did.

“Vera,” he whispered.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The two superheroes crept down the alley. They had followed their target in from the street and were desperate to find him.

“Blood,” Dark Flame said, pointing to the pavement.

Zephyra’s eyebrows furrowed. “He’s hurt.”

The women separated, checking behind garbage cans and under parked cars.

“I found him,” the redhead announced, pulling a cardboard box away from the wall.

There was a small dog shivering on the concrete. His leg was matted in red, deep punctures near his foot. The duo had seen the animal limping along and had decide to see if they could help.

“He must have gotten into a fight,” Zephyra said, kneeling down.

“Be careful,” Dark Flame reminded.

It wasn’t a good idea to approach a strange dog, but Melody knew they couldn’t just leave him there. She let the animal sniff her hand before attempting to stroke its head. The cocker spaniel closed its eyes and leaned into the touch. He was such a cute dog, and for a moment she wondered if Ravenswood would let her have a pet. “Poor thing is scared to death.”

“We need to get it to Animal Welfare so they can take care of it.”

A clanking sound came from above. The crimefighters glanced up.

“Someone’s up there,” Zephyra whispered.

Dark Flame nodded. “You take care of him, I’ll go check it out.”

 

The red-headed superhero hurried up the fire escape, stopping just short of the edge. Peeking over, she surveyed the scene. There was a woman dressed in a shiny catsuit at the far end of the roof, her brown hair pulled up into a beehive. She was facing away, fiddling with something that was out of view.

Sara bit her lip. It wasn’t a crime to be on a rooftop, and there was no evidence the woman had done anything wrong. Still, she knew she had to investigate.

“A bit cold to be out without a jacket, don’t you think?” It was a lame opening, but Sara couldn’t think of anything better, and she was curious to know how the woman was handling the single-digit temperatures wearing only a flimsy outfit.

“Haven’t you ever heard of long johns?” the brunette droned as she turned around. She was wearing an eye mask which obscured the top half of her face. “Oh, you’re new. I thought you were the blonde.”

“What are you doing up here?”

With a smile, she motioned with her hand. “You go first. Out for a midnight walk?”

Taking in the details of the woman’s attire, Dark Flame’s eyes narrowed. “You always walk around with diamond necklaces hanging out of your belt pouch?”

The woman’s face flushed red as she glanced down. “Only on a good night,” she purred. In an instant, she reached into one of her pockets and pulled out something round and white.

Is that a ping-pong ball? was all Dark Flame got a chance to think before the woman threw it.

The ball hit the ground, releasing a cloud of fine powder. Coughing, Sara dropped to her knees, glancing up long enough to see the woman leap over the edge.

Footsteps sounded from behind. “Oh, my God, what is that stuff?” Zephyra asked.

“I think... it’s... baby powder,” Sara said between wheezes.

“Do you want to go after her?”

“Damn right I do.”

Both crimefighters headed over the side. There was an adjoining building with its roof about five feet down, so the landing was easy. At the far end, they could see the thief standing... and waiting.

Zephyra made a clicking sound with her teeth. “Been a while, Vera.”

She knows her, Sara thought. Though she realized that should have been obvious. Melody had been doing this longer than she had. Still, she had no idea who this Vera was.

“I think you need to teach your little friend some of your moves, Zephyra. She was much too easy to take out.”

Sara snarled. “Really? How about we go another round?”

The heroes started to advance, but Vera stood her ground. “I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt. Or would I?”

Zephyra and Dark Flame had just made it to the half-way point of the roof—the slate was uneven and squeaked a bit as they walked over it. Vera’s hand quickly moved to her side. This time she pulled out a small rod-like device and pointed it in their direction. A bright white light shot out.

“Shit,” Melody cried.

Dark Flame raised her arm to shield her eyes, but it was too late. She was blinded, and she knew her partner must be, too. As she pressed her eyeslids closed, she could feel the ground beneath her feet start to sag.

A moment later, the roof gave out.

The women screamed as they plummeted down. Thankfully, the building they were on was being renovated, and the room they fell into was mostly empty. Only a few cockroaches scurried away as the two hit the floor.

Moonlight streamed in from the hole in the ceiling as a silhouette appeared. Vera shone the high-beam down at them. “Aww. Guess they weren’t done with the roof repairs. I’d love to help you girls up, but I have things to do. Good night, loves.”

Sara coughed, fighting the urge to retch. Her lungs were now covered in talcum powder and plaster dust. Though, as much as the fall had hurt, nothing seemed to be broken.

Rolling over, she stared at her friend. “You okay?”

“I hate that bitch,” Melody muttered. Rising, she brushed pieces of tarpaper and wood from her outfit. “Mostly okay. How about you?”

“Back hurts, but I’ll live.” Adjusting her wig, Sara cocked her head. “Hey, what did you do with the dog?”

 

The walk back to the car felt like forever, and Sara was glad when she finally caught sight of the red sports car.

“Who was that?” she asked her partner.

“Vera Barracuda.”

“Seriously?” Dark Flame laughed. “What a name. Is she a regular around here?”

“Kinda. She’s been operating for a few years. I really don’t like her and wish she’d just go away.”

The redhead wanted to know more, but from the tone of her friend’s voice, she decided it best to drop the issue.

A furry head peeked up and pressed a wet nose on the window.

“At least he seems better,” she commented.

Zephyra opened the door and jumped back. “Oh, my gosh, what’s that smell?”

Dark Flame leaned in and scanned the backseat. “I don’t think he’s housetrained.”

“Oh no,” the blonde droned. “I think we better drive home with the windows open.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The computer screen blinked but nothing happened. Sara cocked her head. “Try hitting Escape.”

The young boy hit the button, but the screen remained frozen. “Now what?”

“I don’t know. I think we’re gonna have to have Johnny look at it.”

“Maybe I can figure it out,” another voice spoke.

Sara looked up to see her brother enter.

“Michael!” the boy squealed, jumping up to hug the man.

“Hey, Timmy.” The CEO lifted the boy’s feet from the floor. “I swear you’re an inch bigger than when I saw you last.”

“Really? That was only a week ago. I’ll be as tall as you in no time.”

“You sure will.” He leaned over and placed a kiss on his sister’s cheek. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Sara glanced down at her watch. “It’s only four. What are you doing here?”

“Slow day at the office, so I thought I’d stop by and see how everyone was.” He rubbed his hands together. “So, what’s on the menu for dinner?”

“Salisbury steak and potatoes, I think.”

“Have they started making it yet?”

She shook her head. “They usually begin around 5 and we eat around 6. Why?”

“How about pizza instead?”

“For me and you?”

“No, for everyone. My treat.”

Timmy jumped up and down. “Really?”

“Uh huh.”

“Michael,” Sara chided. “It’s going to take ten or twelve pizzas to feed everyone.”

“I know.” He smiled down at the boy. “What kind do you want?”

“Pepperoni!”

He raised a questioning eyebrow in his sister’s direction. “Veggie,” she answered.

“Great.” He pulled out his phone. “What’s the closest place to here?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Sara leaned back, drinking down the last of her bottled water. “That was good. Thank you.”

The siblings had chosen to eat in the administrator’s office, away from the ears of the kids.

“I like helping out when I can,” Michael said. “I know these kids don’t get a lot of treats like this.”

“On occasion, when we can afford it.”

He pushed his plate away. “So, Dad said you ran into Vera Barracuda last night. Got pretty beat up.”

“Yeah. She’s quite the minx.”

“Well, I ended up checking out one of her other jobs. Some poor schmuck who hooked up with her for a one-night-stand. Seems she’s on a roll again.”

“So, what’s her story?” his sister asked.

“We don’t know. She’s mostly into petty burglaries, house break-ins and stuff. But she’s hit so many places for so long, she’s definitely on our radar.”

Sara nodded and rubbed the scratches on her arm. “That get-up of hers is something else. Red catsuit and a beehive.”

Michael laughed, recalling the first time he had run into the woman. She had been dressed in a bright yellow leotard and stood out like a sore thumb. “That’s just one of a rainbow of outfits she wears. She’s like the fashion model of villains.”

“Well, she’s got the body for it.”

Balling up his napkin, he tossed it across the room, hitting the trash can with ease. “Well, that’s a moot point for me; she has the hots for Overcast.”

“What? Seriously?”

“Uh huh. She’s always hitting on him—it’s almost embarrassing.”

“No wonder Melody hates her.” Sara studied him for a moment. “And that upsets you.”

“Upsets me?” He shifted in his seat. “Why would it upset me?”

“Because you find her sexy.” A smirk cornered her lips. “You’re jealous that she likes Overcast and not you.”

MIchael opened his mouth to protest, then decided against it. As much as he hated to admit it, Sara was right. Vera was a sore spot to his ego. He knew Ravenswood would never show an interest in the woman, but it irritated him that Vera wanted Overcast instead of Black Torrent. It always upset him when another man gained the attention of a woman he was attracted to.

Just like Tony, back in his college days.

“Well, it doesn’t matter if I’m jealous or not. Vera’s out there and we need to get her.”

Sara didn’t press the issue. Instead, she grabbed a pen and started to doodle on the blotter. “So, why is she so hard to catch? I mean, she’s just a cat burglar, right?”

“That’s the point. Her crimes are small, and we suspect a good number of them are never reported. Plus, she’s clever. Her pattern is erratic and she works in waves. She’ll hit hard for a few weeks, and then disappear for months on end. We need to get the right break.”

Before Michael could continue, the door opened and two boys rushed in.

“Michael, will you come play basketball with us?”

“Yeah. We still need to beat you from last time.”

The administrator rose and shook her head. “I’m sure Michael needs to leave soon. He’s very busy.”

“Actually, I think a game would be great. Work off some of that pizza.” The CEO stood and stretched. “You guys go and gather a crew, and I’ll meet you in the gym in ten minutes.”

“All right!”

The two hurried out.

“They admire you,” his sister said as she cleared their plates.

“I need to be a good role-model.”

“In and out of costume, eh?”

“We’ll do the costume part later on tonight.”

Sara smiled. “Maybe we’ll finally catch Vera.”

“Maybe.” Gathering his suit jacket, he let out a sigh. “I just wish we knew who she was.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Six Hundred Eighty, Six Hundred Ninety, Seven Hundred.

Linda Bonner grimaced. She had hoped to get more for her recent pull as Vera Barracuda. Two diamond necklaces, three rings, and a Rolex watch should have brought in twelve hundred dollars easily. But the pawn-shop owner had been chinchy. He reminded her that he would have to ship the goods to New York, as it would be too risky to sell them in Gale. Considering he was the only shop that took her merchandise without question, she had little choice but to keep working with him.

There was a sound in the hallway and the woman dropped the money into the drawer. Picking up a hair brush, she began to run it through her brown tresses.

Her husband appeared in the doorway.

“Who was on the phone?” she asked, looking at him through the mirror.

“Jason. He needs me to get those pro-rations figured out before the meeting tomorrow.”

“So, you’re going to work from home?”

“No, I’m going into the office.”

Linda let out a sigh and averted her gaze back onto her reflection. “I was hoping we could go out tonight.”

The man removed his tee and pulled on a button-down shirt. “If you want to keep this house and all of this stuff, I have to go in. It’s not cheap maintaining our lifestyle.”

Not this argument again, she thought. She hated when they had money problems.

“Don’t be like that. You know you like having nice things, too.”

“Yeah, but we can’t afford half of it. Not to mention, I’m not nearly as caught-up in the parties and clubs like you are. It sucks keeping up with the Joneses.”

Running her hands over his shoulders, she smiled. “Between your overtime and my doing odd jobs, we’ve managed pretty well. Besides, you know you wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far in your company if you didn’t have this social status.”

“True. But, it’s still a lot of stress. I don’t want to have a heart attack at forty.”

“You just need to relax, that’s all.” Pulling a pair of slacks from a hanger, she handed them to him. “Which reminds me, did you make the reservations for June yet?”

The man was quiet and Linda felt herself bristle. It had been three years since their last vacation, and her husband has promised to take the time off so they could get away. She had found an amazing spot on the coast of Mexico - a five-star resort where movie stars were known to frequent. It was all she had been dreaming about for months.

“Keith?” she prodded.

“No.” He looped the knot in his tie. “We don’t have the money for the down payment. When I get my bonus, we’ll be able to cover it. I just don’t know when that will be.”

“But, if we don’t pay soon, we’ll lose the slot.” The resort was almost always booked, and it was only due to an unexpected cancellation that they had managed to get the reservation.

“I’m sorry. HR hasn’t been authorizing double-time like they used to.”

Thinking hard, Linda glanced back at the dresser. Her ‘odd jobs’ helped her finance her lifestyle, but sometimes small pulls just weren’t enough. “How much do we need?”

“Fifteen hundred dollars.”

“I’ll get it,” she said with a nod. “Call them and tell them we’ll have it in a few days.”

“You’re not going to hit up Dorie again, are you?”

Thankfully, her sister lived in Australia, and Keith didn’t like her; they never talked or exchanged notes. “Well, she is wealthy, and she likes to help. I’ll make some calls and see what I can do.”

Placing a quick kiss on her cheek, he grabbed his suitcase. “I’ll call you when I get into the office.”

“I may not be home,” she said as he walked out the door. “I think I have a few errands to run.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Madge Sinclaire spun the stirrer in her drink, watching the ice cubes swirl around in a circle. The man next to her hardly noticed. He was in the middle of another story, gesturing with his hands.

Barney was the equipment repairman for the Gale Home for Children. He had been flirting with her from the first time he had come to fix their photocopier six months earlier. He seemed nice enough, and he was fairly good looking, but Madge never found herself with much in common with him—all they ever talked about was the weather. Still, Tina had insisted she shouldn’t rule out the possibility. So when he had asked her out on a date, she accepted.

What a mistake that had been.

Throughout dinner, the man talked non-stop, and she couldn’t get a word in edgewise. When the waitress came with the check and he instructed the server to give it to her, Madge knew for sure it was a bust. She’d only agreed to go for a nightcap because she really needed a drink, but she was counting the seconds before she could ditch the loser and head home.

Barney launched into a tale about a neighbor’s fence that was encroaching on his property line. Madge rolled her eyes and took a sip of her Mojito. That’s when she heard the voice.

“Yeah, I’m sure it was that chick. Picked her up at the bar and she totally cleaned me out. Must have taken three hundred dollars worth of cash and jewelry.”

Madge shifted her gaze to a nearby table. One man seemed quite upset while the other listened intently.

“Well, why did you take her home?” the man’s friend asked.

“She was hot. I mean, smoking. Brown hair, green eyes. Gorgeous. Plus, she had her hand down my pants the whole time. I thought she wanted me, not my wristwatch.”

“Madge?”

The secretary turned her attention back to her date. “What? I’m sorry.”

“I asked you a question.”

“You did?”

Barney rolled his eyes. “I asked if you thought that was funny?”

Forcing a smile, Madge let out a chuckle. “Of course it is.”

Nodding, the man smiled back. “I know, it’s hysterical, isn’t it? Now, getting back to the story...”

Madge kept her eyes on the repairman, but tried to keep her ear on the two men.

“I wonder if she does that a lot, pick up guys and rob them.”

Barney’s voice broke in. “And the police officer said they couldn’t help in property disputes. Do you believe that?”

Madge wanted to scream for her date to shut up, but forced herself to remain composed. Concentrating, she blocked out everything but the other conversation.

“I’ve seen her around a lot,” the victimized man spoke. “She frequents the bars on Bridge Street. Usually on the weekends.”

That was the piece of information she needed. Sliding off the stool, she grabbed her purse and tossed a ten dollar bill onto the counter.

“Hey, where are you going?” Barney asked, hopping off his seat. “What about my story? What about our date?”

“It’s over, that’s what. See ya.”

Madge hurried out the door and flagged a cab. She could only hope Sara hadn’t left on patrol yet.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Overcast was standing on the roof of a two-story building on Bridge Street. Black Torrent stood next to him, scanning the crowd with his binoculars. The area was well-known for its bars and dance clubs. Even though it was nearly midnight, there was still a large crowd milling in and out of the various buildings.

“So,” said Ravenswood. “There’s a woman who’s been seducing men and stealing their wallets. How do we know it’s Vera?”

“We don’t,” said Torrent. “But if we’re wrong and we catch some random female thief, it’s still a positive outcome.”

“True. Problem is, I don’t know how we’re going to recognize her. If she’s around, she’ll probably be in disguise. Or rather, out of costume. She normally wears a mask and a beehive. Not exactly low-key.”

“Brunette with green eyes. Narrows it down a bit.”

Returning his attention to the street, Overcast watched the various women walking around below. His mind had just started to wander to an episode of his favorite sitcom when a loud cry came from down the block.

“Hey! That woman stole my wallet!”

The man was easy to spot, running out of a nearby bar and heading west. Looking in the direction he was heading, the heroes spotted a woman with long brown hair and a knee-length overcoat. She was already a distance away, and as they watched, she darted into an alley.

“Crap!” Overcast sprinted to the side of the building, grabbing a gas pipe which ran up the wall. As he shimmied to the ground, Torrent pulled out his grappling gun and shot it at a nearby streetlight, swinging down like Tarzan. By the time Ravenswood made it to the sidewalk, he was amazed to see his friend a half a block ahead of him.

“Split up!” Torrent yelled as he made it to the alley. Ravenswood ran to the right as Michael ran to the left.

It was a narrow side-street with run-down apartment buildings on both sides. There was no sign of Vera, and it occurred to him that she may have simply doubled back and returned to the crowds on Bridge Street.

Or maybe, he thought, she simply hid and waited for us to run past.

The alley had a number of potential hiding places. There was a pile of boxes, two dumpsters, and a building alcove with a delivery van parked in it. Overcast decided to look behind the boxes first. They were stacked near the wall, but there was just enough room that someone could squeeze behind them. Pulling the cardboard away, Overcast screamed and leapt back as a large cat jumped out.

“Are you all right?” Torrent aske, running over.

“Yeah. I thought she might be hiding in this alley, but I haven’t found her.”

“What’s this?” Torrent bent down and picked something up. “It’s a wallet. I’ll bet it’s the victim’s.”

“I didn’t see that,” admitted Ravenswood. “Some detective I am.”

“No cash. At least he’ll get his credit cards back, and maybe the police can get some fingerprints.”

As the two crimefighters turned to leave, there was a metallic clang and the sound of trash cans being knocked over. Rushing back, they saw that the lid of one of the dumpsters was now open.

“Was she hiding in there?”

“She must have been.” Overcast peered in. “Man, it stinks. Maybe we could track her by smell.”

Torrent rolled his eyes. “C’mon, let’s get this wallet to the police.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Yule sat at the computer, clicking through the various images. Michael and Ravenswood flanked him on each side, watching as the line of eyes, noses, and mouths scrolled past.

“That one,” the dark haired man said, pointing. “Those eyes. Definitely. Almond shaped.”

Michael grimaced. “No. They were slightly upturned, not like those at all.”

The team’s leader kept clicking through the pictures.

“That nose,” Michael said. “Thin with a little point to it.”

Yule glanced at Ravenswood. “Well?”

It was his turn to grimace. “I don’t know. Leave it there and we can come back to it later.”

The computer displayed a face composite program. Much like the books that were used by the police, the program would scroll through hundreds of facial elements which could be pieced together to form a face. What the program had over a book was it could morph a feature, adjusting the size and length to make it look more like the actual person.

However sophisticated the program was, it wasn’t helping the teammates.

“That chin is all wrong,” Michael argued.

“Are you sure you saw the same woman?” the elder Bruce groaned in frustration.

“It was dark,” Ravenswood said.

“All right, we’re spinning our wheels here.” Taking off his glasses, he rubbed his eyes. “I’m sure you guys spooked her. Knowing her past pattern, we have to catch her now. She’s going to go underground soon.”

Melody appeared from the far end of the room, a stack of cookies in her hand. “Any luck?”

“No,” Ravenswood said, grabbing a chocolate chip. “Yule thinks we need to hit the streets and keep on this.”

“Right. She’s always gone back to the same area, even after Sara and Melody nearly caught her.”

“Yeah, the area with the wealthiest men,” Michael said.

The gray-haired man nodded. “Spread out and see what you can do. It’s been quiet crime-wise, so you should have lots of time to cover some significant ground.”

The detective popped the rest of the cookie in his mouth. “What about Sara?”

“She’s working on her own cases tonight. I’ll let her know the plan in case she has some time to help out.”

“All right.” Melody’s voice was stern as she turned to her husband. “But you’re driving in the car with me, mister.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said with a salute.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Vera glanced over her shoulder for the fifth time. She had never broken into a store before. She’d gotten good at picking locks on houses and condos, even cars, but most stores had deadbolts and security alarms. She’d been too scared to try one before. However, after her run-in with Team Torrent, she realized it was too risky to continue working the bar scene. Maybe in a few months, once she disappeared and things cooled down. For now, she was still several hundred dollars short and she needed a quick take.

She’d watched videos on the internet on how to deal with deadbolts and padlocks. There were even tutorials on how to get past simple alarm systems. Because of that, she had chosen a small jewelry store she’d gone into earlier that day—she could tell they were a mom-and-pop operation, and only had minimal security.

Working the door lock, she was excited when it only took two minutes to open it. She slipped into the store and pulled a small flashlight from her belt. There was a large locked chest under the far cabinet. A sigh of relief left her lips. She was worried their merchandise would be in a safe. While she had learned how to open those too, she had never done it before, and was worried how successful she’d be.

Picking the heavy duty padlock, she smiled as she opened the box to see the various gems and jewelry. She shoved what she could fit into her belt pouches, then closed the chest again.

“That was easy,” she whispered.

“Not so fast,” a voice said. The accent was British.

Not her again. “Good gravy, don’t you have anything better to do?” she droned as she turned to face the firey-haired superhero.

“I was just about to ask you the same thing.” Dark Flame took a step forward. “Can I ask you a different question, though? What’s with the name? Vera Barracuda?”

The burglar smiled wide. “It’s because I’m a man-eater.”

Even in the dark, Linda could see the superhero roll her eyes.

“Seriously, did you think you were being clever with that?”

“Well, it’s not like having an oxymoron of a name like yours, dearie.”

Taking a step forward, Dark Flame pulled a pair of binders from her belt. “My team is on their way. Looks like it’s over, Vera.”

That’s what you think. Reaching into the largest pouch, Vera grabbed three ping-pong balls. When the hero saw them, she sucked in a quick breath and held it. The burglar laughed to herself. That wasn’t the only type of bomb she had.

Squeezing to open them at the score line, Vera tossed them at the crimefighter’s feet, watching as they burst open and spilled thick oil on the floor. Dark Flame instinctively jumped back, her feet sliding out from under her and causing her to land on her behind.

“Bitch,” she cursed.

Normally, Vera would have stayed to give a taunt or two, but this was too close for comfort. She darted to the back of the store, out the door, and was half-way down the block before she stopped to catch her breath. Dark Flame still wasn’t in sight yet, but she would be soon. Grabbing the jewels, Vera tossed them inside the tire rim of an abandoned car, then continued down the alley.

It was a mere moment later that the female superhero appeared from the store and headed in her direction. At the end of the alley, a black car turned in. She couldn’t make out the driver, but she guessed it was Black Torrent.

Vera veered to the side, heading to one of the fire escapes. She managed to make it to the top just as three heroes exited the car. They all took pursuit.

This isn’t good, Linda, she thought in near-panic. Rushing to the edge of the roof, she glanced down. Two squad cars sped down the street and stopped in front of the building.

“Shit,” she cursed as Torrent appeared from the metal fire escape stairs. “All right. Plan B.”

 

Black Torrent saw the woman at the edge of the roof. She turned back, locked eyes on his, then ran to the door that led inside the building. Fortunately for her, the knob wasn’t locked and she disappeared inside.

Leaning back, Michael called down to his sister. “Get around front and cut her off.”

He jumped over the brick ledge and darted across the slate roof. The door was locked now, but it only took a strong yank to break the frame and gain entry. He headed down the stairs, taking them three at a time. He could hear sirens outside. Thankfully, his call to the police had been taken seriously; the cops didn’t always respond to superhero requests for back-up.

Making it to the ground level, Torrent caught sight of the woman pulling open the front door. Beyond were two officers. Instead of turning, Vera ran straight to them. The crimefighter sped up, catching up with her a second later.

“I’m requesting protection under the Superhero Protection Act,” the woman stammered.

That was enough to stop Torrent in his tracks.

“What?”

Vera looked back at him, a mixture of fear and smugness in her expression. “You heard me. I’m requesting safe-harbor. You cannot remove my mask.”

The police officer grimaced.

Torrent shook his head. “She’s not a hero. We caught her breaking and entering.”

“I was checking out a possible crime,” she said.

One of the cops looked her up and down, a smirk cornering his lips. “Why don’t I frisk you.”

Zephyra appeared from the doorway and ran to Torrent’s side. “I’m a woman, I can search her.”

Vera batted her eyelashes at the cop. “I don’t mind if he pats me down.”

Torrent was quickly losing patience with the situation. He clenched his fists as the officer ran his hands up and down the woman. The cop then opened the pouches on her belt.

“Nothing here,” he announced.

“What?” Dark Flame had finally joined them. Her hair was matted, and her costume shiny and slick with some sort of oil. “She took a bunch of jewels from that store.”

“I never took them. I was checking to make sure they were secure. How could you see anything anyway? My back was to you, and my body was obstructing your view.” She turned to the officer and smiled. “It was very dark. She couldn’t have seen anything.”

Dark Flame opened her mouth to argue, but couldn’t.

“Without some proof, we can’t keep her,” the cop informed.

“This is bullshit,” Torrent said.

Another car pulled up, this time an unmarked one. From the driver’s seat, William Pechyvych appeared.

“Crap,” Overcast cursed.

The rotund detective caught sight of them and rolled his eyes. “What big emergency do we have here now?”

“Just a bunch of capes, sir. Said there was a robbery, but we don’t have any evidence.”

“Go back and check that store,” Dark Flame pleaded.

Pechyvych waved off the redhead. Vera gave the man a wide smile and a bat of her eyelashes. The detective smiled back.

“I don’t believe this,” Torrent growled.

“Why don’t I take one of your men back to the shop and I’ll show him everything,” Vera purred. Her eyes locked on the cop that had frisked her.

“That sounds fair. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” The officer led the woman back down the gangway.

“I’m going with them,” Zephyra sneered.

“Oh no,” Pechyvych called. “You guys dragged my ass all the way down here, I want to know what the heck is going on.”

 

It took ten minutes to give the detective the condensed version of the story. Afterwards, the group headed back to the alley. Only the officer from before was standing there.

“Where’s Vera?” Dark Flame demanded.

“She had work to do,” the man said as he adjusted the fly of his pants.

“Did she just give you a blowjob?” Zephyra asked.

The officer shot Pechyvych a nervous look, then glanced back at the crimefighter. “Don’t be so crude.”

Torrent knew they were wasting their time with the cop. “Detective, just make sure your men check out that store. I think you’re going to find that Miss Barracuda isn’t as innocent as she made herself out to be.”

With as sigh, Pechyvych pointed for his men to go take a look, then followed behind them.

Once the police were in the jewelry shop, Torrent began to look up and down the alley. “She must have tossed the loot. She knew she couldn’t have it on her if she got caught.”

The team spread out, looking behind garbage cans and under cars. It was Dark Flame who finally called everyone over to an broken down Camaro on the side of the alleyway. She held up a single diamond ring. “I’m sure this isn’t everything. She must have grabbed the rest of it after she took care of the cop.”

“Damn,” Overcast said. “Slipped through our fingers again.”

Torrent sneered. “With this, though, we can prove she’s not a superhero. No more protection. Next time we get her, we get her for good.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Ravenswood rolled over, his hand falling on the empty mattress. He rubbed his eyes and sat up. Melody was in front of the mirror, adjusting her bra. It was one of the padded ones she used when she dressed up as Zephyra. However, she was stuffing more tissue into it.

“I thought girls only did that in high school,” he said as he switched on the light.

His wife blushed and turned to face him. “Sorry. I was just looking.”

The detective didn’t have to be a detective to see she was upset. He move from beneath the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. “What were you looking at?”

“I don’t know.” Pulling a wad of paper from her chest, she shrugged. “I thought maybe you’d like it better if I had bigger breasts and more curves.”

“Like Vera?”

Melody glanced away.

From the moment they had come home from the scene of the jewelry store heist, his wife had been quiet and reserved. Ravenswood had figured something was wrong, but didn’t press the issue when she said it was “nothing.”

“Honey, I love you.” He approached her, his hands falling on her hips. “I love your body. I love your boobs. You’re gorgeous.”

“I look like a boy,” she said, glancing down.

“You look like a woman. The woman I love.”

“But you find Vera attractive.”

“Well, yeah, I do.” He scratched his head. “You find other men attractive, don’t you?”

Her face flushed red again.

Ravenswood continued. “I think I recall you once telling me once that you though Michael was a hottie.”

“Yeah, but I meant for another woman. That he’d be a good catch for someone else.”

“I know. But you had to notice in order to say that.” He stroked her face. “It’s normal to admire beautiful forms. It’s another thing to be in love and desire the whole package.”

“She’s hot for you.”

“Yeah, and I’m hot for you. You’re bright, you’re pretty, you’re sexy, and you could kick the crap out of her in a New York minute.”

Melody giggled and that made Ravenswood smile. He pressed his mouth to hers.

Leaning into the kiss, her hands rubbed his back. “I’m not normally like this,” she said as she pushed away. “I don’t know why she drives me so crazy.”

“I don’t know, either. But does it make you feel better to know that I kinda like seeing you jealous? I mean, I always worry it’ll be the other way around, that you’ll feel I’m too old and you’ll want to run off with some younger, more handsome guy.”

“Why would you think that?”

Ravenswood raised a challenging eyebrow.

“Well, that’s not gonna happen,” his wife whispered.

“Right, and me and Vera isn’t gonna happen either, okay?”

“All right.” It was her turn to kiss him. When she pulled away again, she gave him a hungry look. “You know, I got the new issue of CosmoGal yesterday. There’s some great tips for lovers in there. Wanna try some out?”

Wiped out from crimefighting, Ravenswood wanted to pass, but instead nodded. He didn’t want her to start thinking of him as ‘too old’ already. “Sure.”

The doubtfulness left Melody’s eyes—once again she was the confident woman he knew and loved. “Maybe I’ll show you some tricks like Vera showed that police officer.”

“That’s what I was hoping for,” the detective said with a chuckle as he turned out the light.