The Black Torrent climbed back into the passenger’s seat of the car, shutting the door on his cape. Rolling his eyes, he opened it again, pulled the black fabric in, and slammed the door once more. He grabbed the small black box from the back seat and placed it on the dashboard. As he plugged the device into the cigarette lighter, there was a burst of static before the faint sound of music could be heard through the speaker.
“What is that?” Overcast asked, looking up from his cellphone.
The men had gotten to the Sanddove Hotel a little before 1 a.m. Rufus Thorn often travelled under the moniker of Jose Fisher, and sure enough when Michael had called the hotel to inquire about a guest with that name, they advised that his party was in rooms 201 and 203. They had expected Thorn and his men to be asleep, but when they got there, room 203 was lit. One man was passed out on the bed, while another was sitting up, watching television. Torrent decided to place a monitoring device on the window. When the second man fell asleep, they would make their move.
Overcast went back to staring at his phone. Torrent leaned over and glanced at the screen. “Pac-Man?”
“The best game ever,” the private eye said with a smile.
Shaking his head, Torrent pulled out his own phone. Technology had advanced a lot in the twenty years since his father had donned the suit. It was a good thing, too, since he often wondered how else he would be able to juggle being Black Torrent and his CEO responsibilities. It was one of the reasons Yule had insisted on coming back into the business to help him, since he knew first-hand how difficult it could be.
Answering a string of emails and reviewing documents for a meeting the following afternoon, Torrent then glanced at the clock. Forty-five minutes had gone by and they could still hear the man giggling at an episode of The Munsters. Michael sank back into his seat, staring at his phone. He pulled up the website for The Gale Home for Children, navigating to the bio page for its administrator.
“She’s never going to believe us, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sara. She’s not going to believe she’s my sister. We might be able to convince her of the cousin angle, but even that’s a stretch.” He clicked on a picture of the woman, enlarging it. “I don’t want her having doubts.I don’t want to have any doubts.”
“Then we’re going to need to get more proof, that’s all. I don’t know if we’d be able to unseal her birth certificate, but it’s worth a shot. Maybe Maggie had some relatives we can track down. There’s got to be something out there.” Overcast put a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll find it.”
Torrent was about to thank his friend when the small surveillance speaker sprang to life. “What the hell are you doing up?” It was Rufus Thorn’s voice. The crimefighters turned their attention to the machine.
“I couldn’t sleep,” the henchman said, his voice gruff and dry.
“I don’t care. Get to bed. We have to be at the girlfriend’s place at 8 a.m.”
“Right, and we have to use a secret code, don’t we? We tell her ‘we’re here to pick up the key... chains.‘” The man drawled out the last word, making it obvious he was talking about something entirely different.
“No, you idiot. She’s a stupid broad, she actually thinks there’s keychains and souvenirs in there. So don’t go saying anything like that and giving it away. The last thing we need is her getting suspicious and calling the cops.” There were a few moments of silence and then the sound of a beverage can being opened. “I need those guns for January. I’m already irritated we’re down two.”
“That ain’t our fault. That was Mr. Vegas.”
“Mr. Bling, get it right. And I know it’s his fault. That’s why it’s no longer a clean trade. He’s adding $25,000 to the pot. Now, turn off the t.v. and get to bed.”
There was a shuffling sound and a click as the television switched off. A couple of minutes later, heavy snoring could be heard.
“Do we go in?” Overcast asked.
“No, I think we got enough.” Torrent glanced at the picture of the woman on the phone. “Next stop, Gale Home.”
* * * * *
The Gale Home for Children was located in an area that was mostly residential, but had a few shops and businesses along the main street. The men had decided to stop back at the Tower and trade the sports car for their utility vehicle. Overcast drove the black unmarked van slowly past the group home while Torrent looked the building over. From the front, it was a large brick rectangle. A nice looking rectangle, to be sure, but nothing spectacular. In the back of the building, there was a grassy area surrounded by a wrought-iron fence which contained some playground equipment.
Travelling a block further, Ravenswood pulled over into one of the residential driveways. As it was approaching 3:30 a.m., everything was quiet and most of the houses were dark. If they were lucky, nobody would notice the vehicle was there. Quietly, they made their way back to the orphanage.
Overcast looked over the area for security cameras. There were a few, but not nearly enough to keep an eye on everything, so he chose a spot that would be unseen. Squatting down, he weaved his fingers together. Torrent stepped into his cupped hands and Overcast lifted him to the top of the fence. Michael vaulted over quickly, then thrust his arms through the fence from the other side to help his partner. He was able to lift Overcast easily enough, but the hatted man had difficulty getting himself over.
“We should have done this the other way round,” whispered Torrent.
“Next time—” grunted Overcast. He was almost over the top, but his trench coat belt snagged on one of the fence’s ornamental spires. Torrent dodged out of the way just as his friend yanked free. He managed to get his legs under himself, but it was a heavy landing. With a groan, he picked up his hat and casually brushed it off. “So, where do you suppose the guns are hidden?”
“Look around for a shed or some other external structure. They’d want to keep the weapons as far away from the kids as possible.”
The two men looked over the grounds, but there were no buildings other than the main structure itself. The back looked pretty much like the front, except there were two small additions jutting out. One was rather tiny and had residential-style windows like the rest of the building. The other was much larger and had block-glass windows, as well as two large garage doors. “They must be in there.”
Overcast went to work picking the lock while Torrent acted as lookout. Counting the time it had taken them to get over the fence, they had been there nearly five minutes and still no guards had shown up. “Security here stinks. When I make my donation, remind me to tell Sara to use some of the money to fix that.”
“Agreed.” Ravenswood opened the door. “That knob was hardly a challenge at all.”
The men shined their flashlights around the garage. Half of the room was taken up by a large white mini-bus. The other half looked like it was used primarily for storage. One wall was made into a series of shelves which were covered with cardboard boxes and tools. There was also a large collection of stuff on the floor: a lawnmower, various bikes and ride-on toys, and plastic containers filled with Christmas decorations. In the middle of the bare part of the concrete were two medium-sized wooden crates, the words “Tennessee Novelties” stenciled on the side.
Torrent pulled a crowbar off of the wall. “Come on. I’ll open this one. You get that one.”
The men soon had the tops off of the crates. Both were full of fluffy white styrofoam packing peanuts. Digging into his box, Overcast pulled out a shot glass that said “Badda-Bling! Bling City!” He reached in again and pulled out a beige coffee cup that read “Bling there or be square!”
“This is crap!” said the hatted hero. “There aren’t any guns.”
Torrent’s crate held keychains and beer steins. He pushed them all to one end, spilling packing foam onto the floor. Reaching halfway down into the box, he felt around until he located a small finger hole.
“What have you got?” asked Overcast, coming over for a closer look.
Torrent held the wooden sheet up with one hand and reached under it with the other. His hand emerged with a gun nearly as long as the crate itself.
“That’s a long-range sniper rifle!” Ravenswood gasped, nearly forgetting to keep his voice down. “You can kill someone from a half-mile away with one of those.”
Feeling around inside the crate, Torrent said, “It feels like there’s a second one... Yeah, it’s just the two.”
“And I assume two in the other crate,” said Overcast.
“Plus the crate that was stolen the night before last,” reminded Torrent.
“That was a street gang. Holy crap, there’s a street gang out there with two sniper rifles to play with.” Overcast had managed to lift up the false bottom in his crate by now. “Yep, there’s two more in here. Plus ammo, from the feel of it.”
“He must be selling these to Thorn.”
“Or giving them to him in exchange for work. Like blowing up a building.”
“I’d imagine Thorn would have trouble getting something like this on his own, particularly since the Feds are always watching him.” Michael thought for a moment. “These guns have to cost around ten thousand dollars each. You can’t just waltz into a store and buy one. Bling must have some extremely high-level connections.”
“Great. Outbid Bling on a building, he has it blown up. Or has a sniper kill you...” Before he could go any further, Overcast’s heart started to race. “Do you know what this means? We’ve done it. We got Bling. The Bling City souvenirs, in the same crates as illegal guns... come on!”
What could be seen of Torrent’s face didn’t look happy. His mouth pursed and there was disappointment in his eyes.
“What?” asked Overcast.
“We can’t. The crates are here, in the Home. Sara was dating Bling. The police are going to think she was involved.”
“But she didn’t know anything about it. She doesn’t know what’s in these crates.”
“Will the jury believe that? And ignoring that for the moment, imagine what would happen if we told the police what was here. By sunrise this place would be swarming with cops. It’ll be all over the news. Even if Sara and the Home were eventually cleared, it would be a huge scandal. She’d lose all her funding. How many people would want to adopt a child from an orphanage that’s been implicated in acts of terrorism?”
Overcast knew his friend was right. “What if we move the crates somewhere else?” .
“Without Sara’s word that Bling stored them here, there’d be nothing to tie these crates to him except the souvenirs. He’ll just say the stuff was stolen from him and the thieves used them to camouflage the guns. There’s no way we’d be able to prove otherwise.”
Ravenswood clenched his fists but said nothing.
Torrent put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We’ll get Bling another time.”
Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly. “Let’s just grab the crates. We’ll ditch the souvenirs and turn the guns in to Brooks.”
“Actually, we have to leave the crates here.” Torrent laid the guns down next to the crates, then started pulling out small boxes of ammunition.
“Why?” Overcast started helping Torrent, even though he had no idea why they were doing it.
“If Thorn gets here and the crates are missing, he might get mad and do something to hurt Sara. But, if we take the guns out and nail them shut...”
“...he’ll think there’s nothing wrong. But, won’t he check? He’ll still flip out when he sees there’s no guns.”
“He’s not going to check them in the parking lot. He’s going to take them to his hotel, or if he’s really smart, out in the middle of nowhere, and he’ll open them there. When he finds the bottom compartments empty, he’ll give Bling an angry phone call, not Sara.”
“Brilliant.” Ravenswood sifted through his crate, pulling out several mugs and shot glasses.
“What are you going to do with those?”
“You never know when they’ll come in handy. We can always use extra mugs at the shop.”
Torrent rolled his eyes.
Overcast nailed his crate shut and then picked up two of the guns. “All right. Let’s go.”
“What are you doing?”
“Heading back to the van.”
“Carrying two long-range sniper rifles in plain view? I don’t think so. Put those down and bring the van here.”
Overcast crouched, pretending to aim the gun at something. He turned the other way, pointing the other gun. With a sigh, he put them down with the others. “I’ll be right back.”
* * * * *
Overcast and Black Torrent decided to meet outside the Standard Metal Building at 8 a.m. The crimefighters rarely appeared in daylight donning their costumes, but on occasion they made an exception. During his trips into Gale, Bling usually set up a temporary office with one of his business partners. This time around, he was using the spare room of Herman Marx, one of his real estate brokers.
The crimefighters walked into the lobby, heading for the elevators. The guard at the counter looked as if he wanted to stop them, then decided better of it. As they stepped into the elevator, their intimidating looks kept most other people off, but one sleepy executive got on with them, rode up to the eighth floor, and got off as if there was nothing unusual about sharing a lift with a couple of costumed heroes. On the twelfth floor, the duo exited and approached the front desk.
“We’re here to see Mr. Bling.”
The receptionist opened her mouth, but only managed a small squeak. She gestured to the door behind her.
“We’ll find our way,” Torrent said.
Michael Bruce had been in Marx’s office enough times to know the layout, so he and Overcast maneuvered through the maze of cubicles and headed to the corner office in the back of the suite. Torrent half expected to see Bling with some woman in his lap, enjoying his new found freedom. Instead, the man was alone, his gaze out the window. Despite the fact they hadn’t made any effort to be quiet, the billionaire didn’t seem aware of their presence—he was too lost in thought.
“Ahem,” Torrent cleared his throat loudly.
The entrepreneur turned his head, flinching slightly at the sight of the heroes. Quickly composing himself, he folded his hands on the desk. “Mr. Torrent and Mr. Cast. To what do I owe the honor of your presence?”
“It’s been a while, Mr. Bling.” Torrent closed the door. “I thought we might have a little chat.”
“Really now? What shall we talk about? The weather, the stock market, the newest fashion trends in spandex?”
Torrent took a step forward. “I was thinking along the lines of politics.”
Bling’s eyes narrowed slightly, but he was silent.
Torrent continued. “You seem like such a big supporter of our justice system, Mr. Bling. You donate to a lot of political funds. I believe you even have a gambling lobbyist in Washington. So it perplexes me why you’d be fraternizing with forces who want to overthrow this country’s leadership.”
The man cocked his head. “My friends are not necessarily a reflection of me or my personal views. I mean, you seem quite intelligent and look who you hang around with.”
Overcast grunted, clenching his fists.
“It’s not a crime to be friends with someone who has a questionable past.”
“It is a crime to pay them to take care of business problems utilizing terrorist tactics.”
Bling’s eyebrow shot up, his mouth turning downward. “Whatever you’re trying to accuse me of, I hope to hell you have more evidence than you did last time. That was quite embarrassing for you with the police now, wasn’t it?”
Overcast pulled a beige Bling City mug from his pocket and set it on the desk.
“Goodness, where did you get that? I donated a large number of souvenirs to a local charity recently so they could sell them to raise funds. I assure you if there is anything out of the ordinary, you should be looking in that direction.”
Torrent felt his muscles tighten. “You’re going to throw your girlfriend under the bus?”
“Ex-girlfriend,” he corrected, dryly, then added, “And I would never implicate Sara Wolff in such things. She’s much too nice and innocent. Who would believe me? But that assistant of hers. I never trusted her. I’d totally be looking at her activities.”
Overcast’s lip curled up as he glanced at his watch. “I don’t think any of that’s gonna matter, now. I’m sure those souvenirs are long gone. Your wayward friend isn’t going to be too happy when he opens those boxes and finds the four security blankets he was expecting are missing.”
“And safely in the hands of the police,” Torrent added.
The crimefighter knew there was no way to trace the guns back to Bling, and it was clear Bling knew it, too. The entrepreneur sank back into his chair, an arrogant smile on his lips. “If that’s all you came here to tell me, then you’d best leave now before I call the guards.”
Overcast waved his hand. “I saw your security downstairs... I’m not worried.”
“There is one more thing.” Torrent took a step forward, pulling out a piece of paper which had been tucked into his belt. It was a copy of the marked-up blueprints supplied by Dark Flame. “Just in case you get any ideas of trying this another way. If anything—anything at all—happens to the Schoenberg building, this, along with other key pieces of evidence, will go straight to the police.”
Bling opened his mouth, paused, then shut it again. Folding the piece of paper, he tucked it into his lapel. “Anything else?”
Overcast nodded. “Yeah. You really need to pay someone to come up with better slogans for your souvenirs. These stink.”
“Get out of here!” Bling screamed.
“All right, I’m going, I’m going.”