Chapter 7

 

I must protect the city.

The Black Torrent ran. He pushed his body forward, relishing the air hitting his face as his feet pounded against the pavement. Adrenaline was pulsing through his veins, giving him a high as he made his way along the waterfront. His speed slowed a bit, his body showing the first signs of fatigue. He grunted and forced himself to up the pace, tensing his muscles to give himself more power.

The crimefighter made it to the Sanford street bridge. Never wavering, he pulled out his grappling line, shooting it into the main supports. Once at the top, he disengaged the line and broke into a run once again.

I am a superhero. I am the Black Torrent.

A mile later, Michael felt his legs cramp, the pain forcing him to shift down. He set his sights on a nearby building. Thirty seconds later, he made it to the fire escape and climbed the three flights to the top. Moving to the air conditioning unit, he stretched his limbs a few times before sitting down. For as much as he had hated it at the time, the intense training he’d gone through had proven effective. His stamina was at the same level it had been in his early twenties, and he was much stronger than he had been when he was in college.

But he was still human.

Humans feel pain.

Michael had forced himself not to think since leaving the mansion, refusing to dwell on the details of his life. It seemed unfair that even though so much time had passed since his childhood, his family situation had only gotten more complicated. As a kid, he had often yearned to be with others. Now, in adulthood, more often than not, he simply wanted to be alone.

There was the sound of breaking glass from below. Torrent rose, moving to the edge of the roof. He could see a figure dressed in dark pants and a hooded jacket crawling out from one of the windows.

“Thief,” he spat. Tonight, he had no tolerance for petty offenses.

The hero leapt from the building, catching a nearby electric wire and vaulting off it to the ground. He pulled off his acrobatics perfectly and landed a foot in front of the criminal. With wide eyes, the hooded man cursed in Spanish before running back in the direction he had come from.

With little effort, Torrent caught him. The burglar screamed and brought his leg up, kneeing the crimefighter in the groin. Protective coverings were incorporated into his uniform, but the motion caused enough pain to make him angry.

Torrent punched the man, then kicked him. As the criminal turned to run, he grabbed his neck and whirled him back around. A shrill scream came from the thief’s mouth as he raised his arms in self-defense. But the crimefighter was unrelenting. He hammered down on the thug, pounding his fists into the crook’s face and arms, until a strong voice shouted, “Torrent, stop.”

Two hands grabbed his arm, pulling it back before he could punch the thief again. Torrent whipped around, punching at the person behind him.

Dark Flame jerked back, the crimefighter’s fist flying past her face. In a fluid movement, she grabbed his hand before he could punch again. “Stop it!”

It took a moment for Michael to come out of the haze and realize it was the red-headed hero. Fueled up and panting, he growled at the woman. “He’s a thief.”

“He’s a kid,” she said, gesturing to the ground.

The thief’s hood had come off, revealing a high school aged boy. The Hispanic teen’s lip was swollen, his eyes wide and terrified. He scooted back along the ground, trying to get some distance between himself and the hero. “Aquí lo tienes,” he cried. He pulled out a small metal box from his jacket and threw it in their direction.

Dark Flame took a step forward and picked up the cash box. “Get out of here.”

The youth stood, sprinting into the street.

As the woman turned back towards him, Torrent sneered, “Why’d you let him go?”

“Because he’s a kid,” she said again, her accent thick. “Trust me, he’s going to think twice before doing anything like that again.”

Torrent glanced around. “Where the hell did you come from?”

“I was on patrol. I could hear that kid screaming two blocks away.”

“Well, go back where you came from!”

He started walking. Even though the thief had only managed to get one good hit in, he was sore and his head was pounding. Reaching into his utility belt, he pulled out three aspirins and dry swallowed them. As he glanced down at the sidewalk, he noticed there were two shadows.

“Why are you following me?” he asked, whirling around to face the female crimefighter.

“Because I’m worried about you. Something’s wrong. You never act like this.”

Torrent moved towards the woman, his eyes narrowed, his muscles tense. “Act like what?”

“Like a jerk,” she answered, her voice shaking as she took a step back. “I expect Overcast to be an asshole, not you.”

“You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. Just because you put on a costume doesn’t make you an expert on superheroes, all right? You have no clue about me or what I’ve been through. You have no idea what it’s like to be alone.”

When Dark Flame responded, Torrent expected her to lash out, to reprimand him for his harsh words. Instead, she looked away, her voice sad. “I don’t know what happened to you and why you’re so angry, but don’t presume you’re the only one who knows what it’s like to be alone. Some of us know all too well.”

Michael closed his eyes, mentally kicking himself. He hadn’t meant to take it out on the woman. Even though he didn’t know her well, he knew he didn’t want to hurt her. “I’m sorry.”

“We’re all alone, aren’t we?” She motioned to the buildings surrounding them. “Isn’t that why we put on a costume and risk our necks every night? So those people inside can feel less alone, knowing we’re out here looking after them?” Taking another step forward, her jaw hardened, her eyes focused on his. “Sometimes, even though you’re alone, you have to believe there are people out there who care. And you have to be brave enough to let them in.”

Unable to hold her gaze, his eyes dropped to the ground.

What the hell am I doing?

It couldn’t have been more than a few moments, but when he looked back up, the woman was gone.

Without a word, the crimefighter turned and started the long trek back to his car.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It was nearing 10 o’clock when Dark Flame made it to the office building. It was situated in one of the nicer neighborhoods a few miles from the main uptown area. Martin Bling liked to keep up the appearance that his sole base of operations was Bling City. When not at home, he would conduct business in the spaces of fellow partners to keep up the facade. However, the truth of the matter was that the developer kept a private office in each of his core cities of operation: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Houston, and Gale City. Sara may have never known that fact had it not been for the night they had gone to the opera. Martin had flown in from Tennessee to take her to see Les Misérables. Afterwards they had gone to a posh restaurant where he had gotten very drunk. He had then ordered his driver to take them on a tour of the city, so he could show her the countless buildings he owned. The last stop was the small commercial building, which he revealed held his real office. He had taken Sara for look inside, stopping at his suite on the third floor for a quick tete-a-tete on the desk.

If nobody knows about the office, the police don’t know about the office, she thought. The perfect place for a secret rendezvous.

Martin had called Sara at four o’clock that afternoon to cancel their dinner. Having dealt with so many broken dates over the last few weeks, the news hadn’t upset her. What she had found intriguing, though, was his claim that the cancellation was to attend an important meeting. While she might have thought it a lie under different circumstances, Sara had glanced at Martin’s cellphone when he had stayed over the night before. There had been a text message from Rufus Thorn, inquiring when they could meet. Considering the timing, she figured this was the place to be.

Scaling a drainpipe, Dark Flame made it to the third floor of the building. The office was dark, a small stream of light coming in from the hallway. There was a stack of papers on the desk, as well as a half-eaten sandwich and cold coffee. She realized her boyfriend must have spent the afternoon there, working.

Stopping to glance at the documents, she flinched as a sound came from the other room. She crept to the door, carefully looking around the corner.

Dark Flame expected to see a meeting, perhaps Thorn and his cronies gathered around a table with Martin at the head. Instead, there was a far different scene. Across the hall there was a small waiting area with couches and several chairs. Martin was seated on one of the larger sofas, a buxom blonde on his lap. The woman was unbuttoning his shirt while Martin rubbed the woman’s thighs. His hand travelled to her hips, then waist.

“He’s going for the bra,” Sara whispered to herself.

The man’s hands moved up the blonde’s back, under her shirt.

The world spun in a tight circle and Sara felt the air rush from her lungs. First Torrent, now Martin...

I’m batting a thousand, tonight, she thought as she turned back to the darkened room.

Forcing back the tears, her eyes fell once again on the stack of documents on the desk. A smirk cornered her lips.

“Well, I know I have at least twenty minutes.”

Pulling a small camera from her glove, she started to sift through the pile.