Chapter 2

 

“You gotta stop saying stuff like that.”

The Black Torrent had barely made it into the Control Center when Ulysses David approached him. The man’s face was flushed and his voice harsh, but it was clear he was making an effort to keep his composure.

“Like what?” the crimefighter asked, pulling off his mask to reveal the face of prominent real estate developer Michael Bruce.

“Caveat something or another. Why do you insist on doing stuff like that? Ordinary people don’t use Latin in casual conversation.”

Michael ignored the man. He moved to the mirror, running his hand through his sandy blonde hair before checking the scab on his jaw. “That asshole clipped me good. I should’ve let him fall.”

Yule raised an eyebrow, his jaw hardening.

“I’m just kidding,” Michael droned.

The elder man walked over to the control console, pressing a few buttons. A screenshot of the Carnival Kid appeared on the monitor. “So what happened up there?”

“I’m still not sure.” The crimefighter moved closer, taking in the details of the picture. “I think he was planning to wire the place for a hostage situation. His coat ended up wrapping around one of the stone gargoyles. It’s a good thing, too, because that’s what kept him from falling when the wind started to gust.” The hero pulled a small bag from his utility belt and tossed it to the man. “The police have the explosives, but they didn’t want to go public with the news until they get an idea of who supplied the bombs. I managed to get a sampling of the powder, so we can see if it matches anything we have on file.”

Yule studied the black substance through the bag, then sighed. Removing his glasses, he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Listen, I know you get sensitive about this, but you really do have to be careful with what you say. We’ve been lucky so far, but if you keep shooting your mouth off, it’s only going to be a matter of time before someone puts two and two together.”

Michael had already tired of the conversation and was irritated the man continued to harp on the issue. “You know, I’ve been doing this what? Five, six years? I think you’d trust me by now.”

“I do trust you. I trust your skills and your abilities. But you have a problem with not thinking before you speak.”

Grabbing his cowl from the console, the younger man pulled it back over his face.

“What are you doing? I was going to clean that cut for you.”

“Don’t bother, I’m going on patrol.” The hero crossed the room in four long strides. “And don’t worry, I’ll keep my big mouth shut.”

“Michael...”

Torrent slammed the door. Standing for a moment in the hallway, he tried to compose himself. If there was one thing he hated more than being told what to do, it was being told what not to do. Adjusting his mask, he headed to the private utility elevator.

It took a bit under a minute to make it down to the third sub-basement. When the door opened, Michael noticed a figure waiting near the Maserati. Ravenswood Cadavre was dressed in his Overcast costume—dark trench coat with a wide-rimmed fedora on his head. The upper portion of his face was covered, but his mouth was exposed and spread into a wide smile. “So, tell me, is Carnie as ugly under that clown mask as he is with it on?”

Michael glanced back at the door he just walked through. “You know, he treats me like I’m still a little kid. Which is ironic, because he wasn’t around when I was a little kid.”

“Who? Your dad?”

“Yeah. Busting my chops because I used some Latin when I talked to the press today. Like nobody ever uses Latin.”

“Um, Michael... they don’t. Not often, anyway, unless they’re a lawyer.”

The two men headed to the end of the small private garage and into the stairwell leading to the ground level. Three flights of stairs and a long hallway later, the passageway exited into an alley a half a block from the building.

Overcast shrugged. “As much as I hate to say it, Yule does have a point. You get carried away sometimes and say things that might get you into trouble. I mean, there was that time down at the pier.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“And that time with Master Blankard.” Ravenswood chuckled. “It’s a good thing he hit his head and forgot everything. Oh, and then there was that time with Vera Barracuda—”

“Whose side are you on anyway?” Torrent spat.

Flushing red, Overcast rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry.”

Turning back towards the street, Michael sighed. “Let’s go.”

The night was cool. It was early August, but autumn temperatures already teased. A wind blew in from the west and the crimefighters could smell the food being cooked down at the Asian market. Tonight was their local patrol, where they travelled just outside of the blue light district. It was usually easy pickings—a purse snatcher or kid selling dope on the corner—a quiet patrol.

But not tonight.

A scream came from a nearby gangway, followed by the sound of crashing garbage cans and breaking glass. The men were travelling by rooftop when they heard the commotion. Sprinting across two apartment complexes and an auto repair shop, they headed to the edge of the last building and peered down. A teenage boy was running with a bag in his hand, a costumed woman following close behind.

“Well, well, well. Look who’s there. Your girlfriend,” Overcast teased. “She’s all over the place these days. So much for her being a flash in the pan.”

“I never said that.” Torrent’s eyes narrowed. “And she’s not my girlfriend.”

“You said she wouldn’t make it three weeks.” Overcast cocked his head. “How long has it been?”

Five months, two weeks, and four days, Michael thought, but answered, “A while.”

In the years following the original Black Torrent’s disappearance, there had been only a handful of crimefighters in Gale City. The first Torrent had been in operation for five years before his reign was cut short. After that, most heroes only lasted three or four months before giving up. The one exception had been the Green Tarantula, but even his tenure was a mere two years, and that was a good decade before Michael had assumed the role made famous by his father. Since then, the only real superheroes in Gale were the ones he worked with: Overcast and Zephyra.

That is until the Dark Flame had come onto the scene.

“Should we go help her?” Overcast asked.

Torrent shook his head. “Let’s see what happens.”

On the ground below, the kid sprinted into the street, moving in a zig-zag pattern. Dark Flame closed the distance between them, managing to grab the hood of the boy’s sweatshirt and jerk him back. The teen twirled around, kicking the woman in the chest. In a fluid movement, she wrapped her leg around his and pulled him to the ground. The boy reached into his pocket.

I hope he doesn’t have a gun. Torrent tensed, ready to move. Instead, the teen pulled out a small aerosol can.

“He’s got mace,” Overcast thought out loud.

The kid pointed the can at the woman’s face. The redhead instinctively turned her head, raising her right arm to block the spray. As the liquid hit, she let out a high-pitched scream. Even at their distance, the men could hear the sizzling of burning flesh.

“That’s not mace. C’mon.”

Engaging their grapplings, the crimefighters made it to the ground in seven seconds. They cleared the distance between the building and the Dark Flame in half that time.

The kid caught sight of the heroes as they were descending. He bolted down the street, then veered off into an alleyway. Glancing back, he stopped for a split-second before disappearing into the ground.

Torrent made it to the manhole first, pulling a flashlight from his belt and shining it in. “I’m going after him.”

“Don’t!” Overcast snapped, grabbing his friend’s shoulder. “You don’t want to go down there.”

“Why not?”

The hatted man looked uneasy. “Those tunnels maze all over the city. You’ll never catch him. Besides—” He motioned his head back. “Shouldn’t we take care of girl wonder?”

Glancing around, Torrent pursed his mouth. He wasn’t happy with the idea of letting the kid get away, but his friend was right. The access tunnels to the sewer system were widespread and complex—one could easily get lost.

With a sneer, he headed back towards Dark Flame.

Both men half-expected the woman to be gone. Instead, she had moved out of the street and into a small gangway. She was tending to her arm as they approached.

“Are you all right?” Torrent asked.

Even though her mask hid a good deal of her face, Michael could tell the crimefighter was upset, and embarrassed. She moved her arm around her back. “I’ll survive.”

“What happened?”

The woman’s accent was British, but with enough American inflection that it was clear she’d been in the States a while. “I was waiting here and saw that kid trying to break into one of the buildings. When I confronted him, he got scared and ran, so I chased after him. I think you saw the rest.” Her eyes dropped. “I should thank you for helping me.”

“So, what were you waiting around here for?” Overcast asked.

“I was waiting for both of you.”

The men glanced at each other. “How did you know we’d be here?”

Dark Flame shrugged. “Isn’t this the second Thursday? You always patrol this area every other Thursday.”

The men glanced at each other again, this time with apprehension. Predictability was not a good trait in a superhero.

“Okay. So why did you want to see us?”

“I have news that Rufus Thorn is in town. He got here three days ago.”

Overcast’s eyes narrowed. “And how do you know this?”

“I have my sources.”

Torrent shook his head and took a step towards her. He wasn’t making an effort to be threatening, but he did want to make it clear that he was not in the mood to play games. “Why are you telling us this?”

The tactic worked as Dark Flame started to look nervous. “Aren’t you guys the protectors of the city? I thought this is the kind of thing you’d want to know.”

“It is. It’s also the type of thing that could lead us on a wild goose chase.”

Dark Flame pulled her arm out from behind her cape, revealing a small envelope. “I thought you might not believe me.”

As Torrent took the package, he caught a glimpse of the woman’s arm. The sleeve of her costume was mostly eaten away. Underneath, the skin was blistered and smeared with blood. She grimaced as she moved and he realized she must be in a great deal of pain.

The crimefighter opened the envelope. Inside were several pictures of a man dressed in a multi-colored shirt and fringe vest—domestic terrorist, Rufus Thorn. There were several other prominent business men in the pictures, as well as the Mayor, the police chief, and the fourth ward alderman. “This is pretty hot stuff. How’d you get these?”

Torrent glanced up. The street was empty.

Overcast whirled in a circle to look around. “Damn, she did it again. Seriously, how does she always sneak off like that?”

“Misdirection,” Torrent answered matter-of-factly. The Dark Flame was notorious for disappearing mid-conversation. It was a trait that frustrated his partner, but Michael found clever. Glancing around, he noticed a shadow duck behind a car in the far distance. A smile cornered his lips.

Ravenswood clasped his hands in a pleading gesture. “Let’s go after her. I know we can catch her.”

“Ever heard of the Superhero Protection Act?”

“Oh, c’mon, I know you’re dying to know who she is, too.”

“Honestly, I don’t like the idea of someone stalking me. I’m not going to do the same to her.”

Kicking the ground like a little kid, Overcast grumbled. “You’re no fun.”

The men turned and started back uptown. “Why do you give her so much trouble?”

“I dunno. She’s not one of us. So, I don’t trust her.” A smirk crawled across the hatted man’s lips. “But you gotta admit, she does look hot in that costume.”

“I hadn’t noticed.” It was a lie, but Torrent didn’t feel like getting into a debate over his love life. “Anyway, why are you scoping her out? Aren’t you engaged?”

“Sure, but it doesn’t stop me from checking out the scenery.”

Rolling his eyes, Torrent held up the package Dark Flame had given them. “Well, the only thing I want to check out are these pictures.”

“Yeah? So it’s Thorn with some bigwigs and the Mayor. Not exactly breaking news.”

Torrent stopped and handed one of the photos to his partner. “Look who’s off to the left, almost out of shot.”

Moving under a streetlight, Overcast squinted to see the details. “Oh, my God, Martin Bling. Son of a bitch. Him and Thorn. Now, that’s breaking news. You think we’ll finally be able to bust him?”

“We can only hope.” Turning, Torrent broke into a run. “C’mon, let’s get back to the Tower.”