Highway Robbery

A Team Torrent Story

Episode 2 of Relativity

by Michelle and James Lehmann

 

Author's Note: This story takes place at the same time as A Strange Twist.

 

Chapter 1

 

Interstate 94 was one of the main arteries running through Gale City, stretching from the middle-class suburbs into the heart of the metropolis. On any given weekday morning, it was jammed with commuters making their way to the uptown business district. Grace Hall was one of the thousands of workers who chose to drive daily. Her apartment was located in an area with little mass transportation, and Crystal Towers offered free parking for employees

The commute from Rosecrest took about an hour and fifteen minutes, but the secretary always left the house with two hours to spare. She detested being late and would much rather be a half an hour early than five minutes behind. On this morning, however, she had been in the car for ninety minutes and had only managed to make it half-way there. The cars had come to a complete stop, and though she had the radio on to listen for traffic information, there was nothing explaining why there would be a slowdown.

The exit for 49th was approaching. Though she wasn’t familiar with the area, she figured if she took local roads, she might end up being a few minutes late rather than an hour or two. Switching on her signal, she merged to the exit.

When the secretary turned onto the cross street, she started to question her decision. The area was one of the low-income neighborhoods which had been hit by hard economic times. Most of the buildings were boarded up. The few businesses that were open had security bars on the windows. As it was still early morning, there weren’t many people on the street, but she did catch sight of a homeless man sleeping on the curb and a disheveled woman talking to herself. Glancing at the street signs, she started to look for a name that sounded familiar. Congress, Flint, and finally Enterprise. She realized she was about a mile from Chatham, a main thoroughfare that should bring her a few blocks from the office.

News of a major accident on I-94 had just been announced when she made it to the second stop light. In the rearview mirror she noticed a black and white cruiser pull up behind her. The fact the police were close-by made her feel more secure, and she smiled as the signal turned green.

The blue hatchback had made it about a block further when sirens blared. Grace’s heart raced as she pulled over. One of the cops remained in the cruiser while the other approached her car.

“Good morning, ma’am,” he greeted.

The secretary glanced at the man’s shield-shaped badge, the name Wilson inscribed on it. “Hello, officer. I’m sorry, is there something wrong?”

“Yes, ma’am. You ran that light back there. You proceeded into the intersection while the signal was still red.”

Grace shook her head. “Are you sure? I’m positive it had turned green before I started moving.” She gestured her identification towards the man, but he didn’t take it.

“We saw the vehicle travel several feet before the light switched. Now, if you could please step out of the car.”

The accusation was upsetting; she knew she hadn’t broken the law. Opening the door, she reached over for her purse.

“No, ma’am. Leave everything in the vehicle.”

“I still don’t understand what this is about.”

“Step away from the car,” the officer ordered. “This is a known area for drug dealing. Lots of rich folks come here looking to buy narcotics. We have to check these things out.”

It was bad enough that she was being accused of running a red light, but now the officer was insinuating she was there to buy drugs. Instead of being upset, she started to get angry. “Officer, I am on my way to the office. I work for Bruce Development. If you’d like, you can call and they’ll verify that.”

The cop moved to the open door, glancing at the keys still in the ignition. “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to impound this vehicle.”

“What?” she gasped.

The man slid into the driver’s seat and turned on the engine. “I need you to wait here. Another officer will be by shortly to pick you up.” As the car peeled away, the police squad behind switched off its lights and followed.

Grace looked around, not quite sure just what had happened. Her first instinct was to grab her cellphone, but she realized it was in the car, along with her wallet, her checkbook, and most of her other important information. She glanced at her license, which was still in her hand. “Well, if they find me dead, they’ll be able to identify the body.”

Clenching her fists, she moved to the sidewalk to wait as the officer had told her. However, when fifteen minutes had passed and another squad hadn’t come by, she realized it had all been a ruse—she was stranded.

Sucking in a ragged breath, she started to walk, hoping she could make it to the main street quickly.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael Bruce glanced at the clock on his desk. His eyebrows furrowed and he headed out of his office.

The small waiting area was empty, the secretarial desk un-manned. It wasn’t like Grace to be late. If she made it in ten minutes past the hour, she would spend the rest of the day apologizing, despite how many times he reassured her it was okay. The fact it was nearly 10:30 and she hadn’t called-in began to worry him.

A short hallway connected his area to the main staff room. Rows of offices lined the walls, with a series of cubicles in the center. Stopping by several of the desks, he inquired if anyone had heard from his secretary. No one had. He then headed to the receptionist.

“Brittany, will you try to get Grace on her cell phone? I’m getting concerned. Try her house, too.”

The receptionist dialed both numbers. “I’m not getting an answer on either of those lines.”

Michael’s head was already playing a variety of scenarios, from a car accident to the woman having a stroke and being home alone without anyone to help. “I’m wondering if I should send someone to go check on her.”

The bell for the elevator rang, the doors opening. Ulysses David stepped out carrying a leather portfolio. “Ready to go over those numbers?”

“No. Grace isn’t in and I can’t get a hold of her.” He glanced back at the receptionist. “Keep trying those numbers.”

Returning to his secretary’s desk, Michael shook his head. “This isn’t like her at all. I think something may have happened.”

“Does she have any family we can call?”

“No, all her kids live out of town.”

Concern was starting to show in Yule’s face when the phone in Michael’s office rang. The CEO grabbed the extension on his secretary’s desk. “Hello?”

“Mr. Bruce, Grace is on line two.” Brittany switched the call over.

“Michael,” the woman said, her voice shaking.

“Grace, I was so worried. Are you okay?” He pulled the receiver away from his ear so his father could hear too.

“I had a bit of an incident.” The woman recounted the dramatic events of her morning, breaking down into tears at the end of the story. “I finally managed to make it to a gas station with a pay phone. I don’t know what to do.”

“You need to go to the police station,” he said.

“But they’re the ones who did this to me.”

“I’m not entirely sure of that.” Michael opened the address book on the desk. “You’re in the Fourth Ward, that’s Aaron Brooks’s precinct. I’ll make a call and have him send a squad to come pick you up. I’m going to send someone down there right away to meet you.”

The woman sighed and when she spoke again, her voice was more steady. “Please hurry.”

Michael hung up the phone. “I’m gonna have Darren go get her.”

“No,” Yule said. “I’ll go. You get a hold of Brooks.”

Without argument, Michael headed into his office to make the call.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Yule made it to the 45th Street station in thirty minutes. Inside the red brick building there was a small enclosed lobby with several chairs bolted to the floor. He approached the bullet-proof window which covered most of the far wall. “I’m here to pick up Grace Hall.”

“Are you Mr. David?” the female officer asked. “Captain Brooks is expecting you.”

The woman buzzed the door so Yule could enter, then led him past a series of desks to a corner office. Grace was sitting in a chair, several plain-clothed cops around her. Aaron Brooks sat behind the desk, scribbling notes onto a pad.

“Oh, Mr. David,” the secretary cried with she saw him. “You didn’t have to come to get me yourself.”

“Of course I did. Are you all right?”

“Shaken up, but fine.” Brooks stood up. “She was the victim of a carjacking. Apparently the perpetrators were posing as police officers.”

Yule studied the man. Though his voice was level, Brooks’s demeanor showed he was more than a bit nervous.

“Apparently this has happened before,” Grace added, hurt in her voice.

“How many times?”

“A few,” the captain answered. “I can’t disclose any specifics. However, we’ve had detectives working on the case for a while.”

“I heard them talking. It’s happened seven other times, all at night,” Grace said, shooting Brooks a dirty look.

“Seven times?” Yule asked. “Why isn’t this being reported on the news so people can be prepared?”

Aaron sat down, the nervousness now clearly showing in his eyes. “Because they’ve been isolated incidents. If word gets out on this, we’re going to have real violators refusing to pull over for legitimate traffic stops, claiming they’re fearful of the carjackers. We have to weigh the benefits against broader public safety.”

Though it was a sound argument, Yule realized that wasn’t the real reason for keeping the public in the dark. Not wanting to look too nosey, he waved his hand. “Listen, it’s really none of my business. I’m just concerned because one of my employees was involved.”

“I understand. However, we’re asking that you refrain from disclosing this to anyone. It could hinder our investigation.”

“I’m not going to say anything,” Yule commented. He then pointed at the woman. “But I can’t control what she does.”

Grace folded her arms and narrowed her eyes at the police captain.

“We have a handle on it,” Brooks reassured. “We’ve gotten all the information we need from Mrs. Hall. We’ll contact you when your car has been located.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Yule had insisted on taking Grace home, since he didn’t expect her to work after such a traumatic experience. But the secretary pleaded with him to bring her to the office. She argued it would be better for her to keep her mind busy rather than sit home and worry.

During the drive to the Tower, she told him everything she’d overheard at the station. The detectives obviously thought she was nothing more than a shaken old lady and weren’t careful when discussing details in her presence. She was able to give him quite a bit of information.

Once at the office, the man walked Grace to her desk and gave her strict orders to secure a rental car at the company’s expense. He then contacted Michael, Ravenswood, and Melody, and told them to meet him for a one o’clock lunch meeting.

“Hey, where are the sandwiches?” Ravenswood asked when he entered the office.

“A lunch meeting doesn’t necessarily mean there will be food.”

Ravenswood’s expression switched from confused to more confused, but it was clear he wasn’t going to argue. He took a seat in one of the chairs, Melody sitting beside him. Michael made it there a few minutes later.

“So, we’ve got a couple of guys posing as police officers, stealing cars,” the elder man started. “Their M.O. is the same as they used with Grace: Pull someone over, ask them to step out of the car, then one of them drives off with the vehicle while the cop car follows. So far, they’ve always struck at night; Grace was their first victim in daylight hours. This was the eighth incident, but there could be more unreported.” Yule glared at his son. “Criminals posing as cops is serious business. Why haven’t you been on this?”

“Hey,” Michael said, defensively “We were on it. Last I knew it was just two cars. I’ve been up to my neck in other things, so I told Ravenswood to look into it.”

The gray-haired man shot the detective an accusatory stare.

“Whoa, I did look into it. I went as Overcast and asked Brooks about it. He told me it wasn’t a major issue and had me talk to the detectives handling it. Brown and Huwi, I think. They told me it was under control. When I didn’t hear of any other jackings, I thought it was taken care of. I mean, isn’t that what you always tell us—that we’re supposed to let the police handle it and intervene only when we need to? Besides, I never had any idea there were crooks posing as cops. That was never mentioned by Brooks, or the detectives.”

Yule rubbed his jaw. “When did you talk to them?”

“I don’t know... two or three weeks ago.”

Something wasn’t right and it was bothering him.

“Maybe I should talk to them,” suggested Michael.

“Yes. I think that’s a good idea. And Overcast should go, too, so they can’t backpedal on their story. With the election around the corner, there’s too much instability in the city. Get to the bottom of this.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The Black Torrent stood in the darkened alley, carefully choosing a spot that was not lit by the nearby streetlights. He had told Overcast to take a high vantage point to keep an eye on things. Glancing up, he saw his friend peering down from the top of the three story building.

Though the neighborhood was far too dangerous for widespread foot patrols, a small number of officers did a walk of the streets in the early evening hours. Since Torrent was less than a block away from the station, chances were good that a few would pass by his position.

He didn’t have to wait long.

Once the beat cop had walked past, Torrent stepped out and stood behind him. It was a technique that gave the impression he appeared out of nowhere.

“Excuse me,” he announced in his gruff superhero voice.

The cop turned around and jerked in surprise. He wasn’t someone who had worked with Torrent before and was unsure how to address the crimefighter. “What are you doing here?” he finally said.

“Are Detectives Brown or Huwi on duty tonight? I’d like to speak with one of them.”

The cop gave him a puzzled look. “About what?”

“The carjackings. There’s been... quite a number of them.” Torrent realized that if he had said “eight,” the police might realize he had a connection to either Grace or Yule, since they were the only citizens aware of that exact detail.

“I think Brown is here.” The officer looked over at the police station. “Should I send him out here, or do you want to go in?”

“I’d prefer to meet out here, if he doesn’t mind.”

“Okay.” The officer reached for his radio, then thought better of it and walked back to the station.

 

It was about ten minutes later when two men approached the alley. Both were dressed in formal pants, button down shirts, and a neck tie—typical dress code of Gale Police Detectives. The taller man of the pair stepped forward, peering into the darkness. He pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to reveal a police badge. “Is anyone there? I’m Detective Brown. You wanted to speak to me?”

Torrent emerged from behind a stack of crates. He knew exactly how far he could walk before being caught in the glow from the streetlight and stopped just short of that. He wanted the police to think of him as a mysterious figure and hoped that remaining in the shadows would help with that. “I wanted to ask you about the carjackings.”

“What about them?”

Ravenswood had been scaling down the wall with his grappling. He leapt from the cord, landing next to his partner.

“I spoke with you a few weeks ago about this situation,” Overcast said. “You assured me it was a minor matter and was being taken care of.”

The detective apparently didn’t like the tag-team. He glanced back and motioned to Huwi to join him. “That’s right. And that’s what I’m saying now. It’s being taken care of.”

“Why didn’t you mention that the perpetrators were posing as police officers?”

“Because you’re not police officers and not entitled to that information. Sometimes I think you capes forget that.”

Torrent bristled. A few years earlier in Chesterton, there had been a movement to abolish costumed crimefighters. A local newspaper had started the campaign, referring to superheroes as “capes.” While it was an innocuous enough term, the sentiment was clearly derogatory, and its negative connotations had made it to the mainstream.

“We’re here to help,” Torrent assured. “We can’t do that if you won’t give us crucial information.”

Huwi sneered. “The city pays us to handle these things, not you.

“It concerns us that the perpetrators are still at large. It’s dangerous having criminals posing as police officers roaming the streets.”

“Listen, buddy. We’ve got a lot of stuff on our plates. Murders and drugs and other crap.”

Brown raised his hand to calm his friend. He then met the crimefighter’s gaze. “What my partner is saying is that this amounts to a handful of people getting their cars stolen. Nobody’s been hurt. Nobody’s getting killed over it. We only have so many cops and so many resources. We can’t handle everything, so we have to prioritize. You think you’re helping things by dressing up in costumes and running around the city? If you really want to help, go tell the mayor to give us a bigger budget.”

“We can catch these guys,” Torrent reiterated.

“This is a police matter. It can be handled by the police.”

“So you’re saying you don’t want our help?” Overcast asked.

“I’m saying we don’t need your help. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have work to do.”

Without another word, the detectives turned and headed back to the station.

Overcast shook his head. “Well, that didn’t tell us anything.”

“I’m not so sure about that.” Torrent motioned towards his car. “C’mon, let’s get back and talk to Yule.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Melody had already been on patrol for six hours when she made it to her new location. She ran her fingers through her cropped blonde hair. Sometimes she missed having her natural long wavy tresses, but it was so much easier fighting crime with a short bob. While the wig she wore during the day wasn’t the ideal solution, it allowed her to have the best of both worlds.

“Zephyra to base, I’m on the roof of the Pastone Hotel at the corner of 38th and Congress.”

The team was using private communicators Yule had set up a few years earlier to assist in their crimefighting. They resembled cell phones, but were actually military radios which utilized a frequency and encoding method which had been abandoned years before. Even though the devices were two decades old, Melody felt like a secret agent whenever she used them.

“Copy,” answered Yule’s voice. “I’ve got your position. Radio if you see anything.”

After speaking with the detectives, Overcast and Torrent had returned to Crystal Towers, sharing what they had learned. It was clear the police were not taking the matter seriously. Underpaid and overworked, a few people losing their cars was a low priority and not worth the manpower. So, the team had decided they would have to make it their high priority, helping the police whether they liked it or not.

Aside from Grace, the majority of the thefts had occurred between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., so it was decided that the heroes would head out and canvas the city through the night. From her vantage point on top of the hotel, Zephyra scanned the roads with her binoculars. There were only a few cars out and spotting police vehicles was easy. Twice she had seen a squad flash its lightbars, but each time it appeared to be a legitimate stop.

It started to get chilly and Melody wished she had dressed more warmly under her costume. Abandoning the hotel, she began patrolling the area on foot, jogging along the side streets. Just as she had started to break a sweat, she heard the sound of screeching tires and a loud crack; it sounded like a car had crashed into a light pole. She ran to investigate.

A dark-skinned woman was lying on the curb, flailing. There was a large wound in her leg pouring out blood at a horrific rate.

“Help me. Somebody, help me,” she screamed.

Zephyra rushed to her side. “Ma’am, you need to calm down. I’m going to call an ambulance.”

Though the military radios were incapable of accessing regular phone lines, when they needed to make a traditional call, they used cheap no-contract phones which couldn’t be traced to a specific owner. Zephyra’s call to emergency services involved a lot of yelling and repeating herself to be heard over the injured woman’s cries. The task was also complicated by the fact she was trying to use her belt on the wounded leg, as she was afraid the woman might bleed to death before the ambulance arrived.

The victim stopped yelling just as Zephyra got off the phone.

“Why did you tell them I was hit by a car?” she demanded.

“Weren’t you? I heard tires screeching and a bang, and then...”

“That bang was me getting shot! They had guns! They shot me!” The woman’s face twisted as she clutched her hand around the area of the wound. “Oh, good Lord, this is the worst pain I’ve ever felt!”

Zephyra was confused and shook her head. “What? Who shot you?”

“The cops! They pulled me over and then—” The woman bit her lip, moaning. “My... my hairdresser said that one of her other customers had her car stolen by the police. She said that if the cops ever pull you over, you don’t get out of your car for nothing. So I refused to get out. The officer grabbed me by the hair and dragged me out and then jumped in. I tried to stop him. I didn’t think they’d freaking shoot me!” The woman’s voice broke and she began to sob. “My car is gone! What am I gonna do?”

“Listen. Those weren’t real police officers. They’re car thieves pretending to be cops. The real police will find your vehicle.”

The victim just shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “My car is gone and I don’t have insurance. I can’t get a new one.”

The woman’s eyelids started to flutter, her lips trembling, and Zephyra realized she was going into shock. Pulling off her overcoat, she wrapped it around the motorist to keep her warm. Melody hated to press the issue, but the woman was the only lead they had. “Ma’am, can you describe the people who took your car? It’s very important. We need a description of them.”

“One of them... had a mustache.” She lost consciousness.

“Well, that’s something.”

It took about ten minutes for the ambulance to get there, but it felt like an eternity. The crimefighter kept wondering what she would do if the woman died in her arms, if she would be able to handle it. As the medics took over, Melody recovered her jacket. Since the police had been against crimefighters getting involved in the matter, she didn’t think it would be a good thing if they saw her when they arrived. Waiting for a moment when the paramedics weren’t looking, she slipped into a nearby alley.

“Zee to team.” She glanced at her watch. It was 4 a.m. “Come in, team. I need a pick-up.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Black Torrent stood at the boarded-up window, peering out through one of the cracks. A group of teenage boys were walking down the street, trying to talk to two girls. Though the girls acted scandalized, the smirks on their lips told another story—they liked the attention. The banter appeared innocent, so the crimefighter focused his attention back into the room.

It was a small apartment: one bedroom, one bath. The building had long been abandoned, lost in foreclosure over a decade earlier when the neighborhood had been hit by panic-pedaling and property values plummetted. The area had spiraled into a depression, turning a once-thriving community into a haven for crime. It was the same story for much of the Fourth Ward. Five years earlier, Michael had started an initiative to encourage corporations to invest in low-income communities, buying buildings that held crack houses and rehabilitating them in an effort to try to fix things. But high insurance costs and other risks kept most investors away. Bruce Development had tried to pick-up the slack, purchasing numerous properties throughout the city, but it was too much for one company, and the project was abandoned. It was actually Ravenswood who came up with the idea to keep a few of the buildings in a deliberate state of disrepair. The “safe houses” proved invaluable, giving the team various places to gather and re-group throughout the city, as well as providing secure locations to meet with informants and other allies.

The door to the apartment opened and Aaron Brooks entered. The man glanced around the room, checking to see if anyone else was there.

“I’m alone,” Torrent confirmed.

“You wanted to talk about the carjackings?”

“Yes. I understand your reasoning for pushing the matter to the bottom of the priority list, since no one was getting hurt. But now someone’s gotten hurt.”

Brooks pulled at his collar. “You know, you can’t blame us. We figured some guys bought a surplus vehicle and repainted it squad colors to grab a few cars. Thing is, they’ve never been violent up ‘til now. In one case, a man resisted and they got nervous and ran. No one ever reported seeing any weapons. We had no way to know it would get ugly.”

Torrent tried to be understanding, since he knew what the police captain was up against. However, he found it hard to be too sympathetic when a life had nearly been lost. “How many cars do you have in your fleet?”

“What? Our precinct? Around eighty, but only about two-thirds of those are patrol cars. The rest are transports, emergency vehicles, stuff like that.”

“We need to get these guys. Thing is, it’ll be impossible for us to know which cars are real cruisers and which is the fake simply by canvassing. I want to tag the vehicles so we can track them on GPS. If we can mark the fake cruiser, we can bring them in.”

“Listen, the idea sounds great, but officially, I can’t have any part of it. Downtown would have my ass if they knew I was meeting with you right now. Do what you have to, within reason, but keep me out if it; I don’t know anything about it, okay?” Brooks stepped forward, pulling a single sheet of paper from his shirt pocket. “I wasn’t able to get more, but this gives you information on what the perps look like and some of the details.”

“I appreciate it,” Torrent said, scanning the photocopied page.

“One last thing.” Brooks’s expression became more serious. “Whatever you bring in, it’s gotta be ironclad. I’m getting a lot of heat these days. I’ve tried to stay neutral, but top brass is ticked off my dad’s ahead in the polls. They want to get me on something, to boot me out if he loses the election. I can’t afford anything questionable.”

“It’ll be solid.”

Waiting until the police captain was gone, Michael headed out to his car.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The heroes had decided they would start their plan that night. To that end, Yule spent the next several hours preparing GPS devices and coaching the team on how to place them, practicing in the private garage at Crystal Towers.

The moment Brooks left for the day, the team went to work. They had devised a system—though Ravenswood insisted on calling it a game—that went like this: Each of the heroes would hide in the shadows near an intersection. When a police car stopped at a red light, they would sneak up behind the vehicle and stick the device to the underside of the trunk. They would then return to their hiding spot and radio-in the car number to Yule. Any squads with devices attached would then show up on the Control Center’s computer screen. Yule would also tell them when a car was approaching that was already tagged, so they could avoid duplicating their work.

The GPS devices were each the size of a small cell phone. Yule had purchased them in bulk from a military salvage company a few years earlier. They were rejected due to construction defects, but he had figured a way to repair them, ending up with a better tracker than they were originally designed to be.

“I was expecting something a little less primitive-looking,” commented Ravenswood when he first saw them.

Yule grinned. “If it was more sophisticated and a cop found it, they’d think they were being targeted by terrorists. This way they’ll think it’s a bunch of amateurs.”

“If I was a cop and I found something wrapped in duct tape stuck to my car, I’d think it was a bomb.”

Yule’s smile disappeared. “Yeah, that might be a problem. But I’m not worried about the real cops, we just need to get the fake ones.”

Overcast had found a street corner with a boarded-up newsstand he could use for cover. When a police car stopped, he crept out, keeping low, and attached the GPS device. After doing that for an hour, he had managed to tag only one car. He had seen three other cruisers pass by, but they had always approached the intersection during a green light and didn’t stop.

Torrent arrived and sat behind the newsstand with his friend. “How’s it going?”

“Terrible. This is gonna take forever.”

“Well, with three of us working, I’m sure we can do it.”

“Not at the rate I’m going. If only I could get the light to turn red, then maybe I could get somewhere.”

Torrent smiled and pulled out a small device. “You mean, like this?” He pressed a button. The light immediately switched to yellow, then red.

“Hey, why didn’t you tell me you had one of those?”

“Because I only have one and I was using it.” The light changed back to green.

A minute later, a police car approached their location. Overcast grumbled, “You take this one.”

“Okay.” Torrent picked up a GPS and crouched by the side of the newsstand, ready to dart out. He used the device to make the stoplight turn red. Without even slowing down, the police car turned on its siren and lights and sped through the intersection, then turned them off again.

Overcast had to struggle to keep from laughing. His friend’s mouth turned downward. “You’re right, this isn’t going to work. We need to go about this differently.” He started walking.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ve got an idea.”

 

The two crimefighters returned to their vantage point in the alley where they had spoken to Brown and Huwi the night before. Zephyra joined them this time. Torrent realized that the only way to make sure to tag the fake cruiser on the street was to assure that most of the legitimate cop cars were already marked. He had avoided doing the tagging on police property, as he didn’t want Brooks being sucked in if something went wrong. However, with things going so poorly on the streets, he realized they had to take the chance.

Pulling a small transmitter from his belt, he handed it to the private eye.

“Are you sure this will work?”

“Positive. But we’ll only have a ninety-second window, so we have to be quick.”

“Ninety seconds doesn’t sound like a lot of time,” Zephyra said, worry in her voice.

“It’s plenty of time. Trust me.” Torrent tapped the small receiver in his ear. The group used hand-held communicators most of the time, as ear plugs hindered normal ear function. However, they did utilize Bluetooth type versions of the military communicators when they needed hands-free operation. “Blizzard, come in. Give us a heads-up when there’s ten seconds left.”

Yule’s voice sounded over the speakers. “Copy.”

Overcast took the device and approached the police station parking lot. There wasn’t anybody around. He spotted three security cameras on various light poles. Taking note of the configuration and keeping low, he located the main transmission wire which ran a short length along the ground, then disappeared into a pipe buried in the earth. He attached the device to the cable and turned it on. “Now!”

Torrent and Zephyra jumped the low fence and began attaching devices to the cars. They had spread themselves out so they would each be able to canvas one-third of the lot. The device on the camera cable was generating an intense electromagnetic static that would cause the video images to be reduced to nothing but fuzz. The police inside would realize there was something wrong, but the problem was going to disappear in ninety seconds, so hopefully they would just assume it had been a technical glitch. When Yule gave them the ten-second signal, they each ran for the nearest fence and jumped over, out of the lot.

Overcast hid in the shadows, breathing heavily. He waited to see if anyone came out to check on the camera. As expected, two officers stepped out, glanced around the lot, then went back in.

Waiting a few extra moments to assure no one else would come out, the private eye returned to the location of the device and grabbed it off the cable. He then headed back to the alley with the others.

“Now what?” he asked.

“We go back to tagging on the streets.”

“Okay,” Ravenswood said with a nod. “But I get that red light thingy.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael scrawled his signature across the bottom of the page and handed it to his father. Yule glanced it over and nodded.

“I think that’s about it. I’ll get these over to the copy center and we’ll overnight them to Jones.”

Michael sank back into his chair and Yule did likewise; the two sat in silence. The quiet wasn’t from a lack of things to say, but pure exhaustion. They had managed to get in at 5 a.m. and were both running on three hours sleep.

The previous night had gone well. After tagging the cars in the police lot, they had taken to monitoring the police bands. When a cruiser was in the middle of a house call or other stop, they would determine if it had been tagged, and if not, they would GPS it. With a far smaller number of vehicles to concentrate on, they’d managed to tag seven more on the street, and by their estimate, most of the fleet was covered. However, their real hope was that one of those seven had been the fake cruiser. Unfortunately, they would have to wait until after dark to know for sure.

“What are you going to do about Sunday?” Yule asked, finally breaking the silence.

“Sunday?”

“First game of the season?”

“Oh. The Generals. Damn, I’d forgotten about that.” The Gale Generals were the city’s professional football team. Basketball was by far Michael’s favorite sport, but he was also huge football fan, having played quarterback in college. His name was big enough in the field that the Generals had approached him a few years earlier to invest in the franchise. Even though he only held a two percent interest, he had four season tickets and a self-imposed obligation to follow each season closely.

Shifting in his seat, he grimaced again. “I was planning to go, but with this case, I don’t know if I want to be tied up at a stadium if something happens. I may just throw a small party at O’Connors.” Michael thought about it for a moment and liked the idea. “If I do that, I can invite Sara.”

Yule glanced down, his expression darkening—though Michael could tell he was making an effort to keep his face stoic.

“I have to check my schedule, but I think I may be busy Sunday.”

It had been three weeks since Sara had come to the Tower to tell Michael she’d accepted the idea they were related. Since then, he and his sister had made an effort to talk on the phone every few days and had met twice for lunch. Michael had even managed to visit the Home a couple of times, getting to know the staff and the kids. Keeping with his father’s wishes, he had always kept the conversation light, focusing mostly on day-to-day stuff rather than talking about their family’s past. Sara seemed okay with that, however she had specifically asked several times about Yule. It was clear she was eager to meet her father. Thing is, Yule didn’t seem to share the sentiment. Every time Michael even suggested it, the man would change the subject or make an excuse. At first, he took it as normal apprehension, but as time went on, he was beginning to suspect there was something more.

“Why are you so against seeing her?” he asked.

“I’m not,” Yule grumbled. “I’m just a little nervous. You know, I wouldn’t even have to deal with this if you hadn’t gone and opened your big mouth.”

“Listen, I already apologized for that... several times. It was an emotional moment. But, seriously, it’s not like you could have hidden this from her forever. We would have had to tell her that you’re alive eventually.”

“Yeah, but I would have had more time to prepare.” The man rubbed his temples. “It’s only been a few weeks. I’ll see her soon enough.”

Though he was disappointed, Michael tried not to show it. “Listen, why don’t you take the tickets. Go to the game, relax, have a good time. Invite a few friends or bring some of the staff. I’ll just do the party at the pub.”

“All right, then.” His father rose. “I’m gonna head to the Control Center. I want to analyze that tracking information before you go out again tonight. Call me if anything comes up.”

There were times Michael wished he had a home away from the office, but living and working in the same building had its benefits. The main one being that it allowed for quick jaunts back to the penthouse to deal with crimefighting matters.

“Fine. I’ll meet you there later.”

Waiting for the man to leave, Michael picked up the phone. “Hello? Hi, this is Michael Bruce. May I speak with Sara?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It was nearly eight o’clock when Team Torrent headed out to finish tagging the patrol cars. Since there were only a few left, it was decided that they would each take a separate vehicle and drive around, to cover the area as quickly as possible. Whenever one of them passed a police car, they would contact Yule and he would check the map to see if there was a dot there. So far, there always was.

After they had been canvassing for an hour, Yule radioed his son.

“Here’s something curious. There’s one police car that’s stopped at a house. It hasn’t moved since you went out, so I checked the data from earlier. It looks like it’s been there since 3 a.m.”

“That’s nearly seventeen hours,” said Torrent. “Maybe the cop who drives that vehicle lives there.”

“I know some cities allow police to take their cruiser home with them at night, but I don’t think Gale’s one of them. Besides, all the other cars always go back to the station.”

“All right, I’ll check it out.”

It took Torrent ten minutes to reach the address. It was a small house on a tiny residential street. He walked up to the garage and shone a flashlight in through the window. “I think we found it,” he whispered into his communicator. “There’s definitely a police cruiser in here. It must be the fake one.”

“Don’t go in,” Yule warned. “Remember what Brooks told you. We have to make this stick. We have to catch them in the act. Get Overcast and stake-out the house. We’ll wait for them to make their move.”

 

The two crimefighters waited patiently on the street. They had parked Ravenswood’s car a block from the house that held the police impersonators. From their viewpoint, they would be able to see the cruiser as it left the garage.

The air outside was brisk and the windows inside the car were beginning to fog. Torrent adjusted the temperature dial on the dashboard and returned his gaze out the windshield, just in time to notice two shadowy figures dash down the street.

“Did you see that?”

“Yeah. Should we check it out?”

The communicator clipped to the dashboard was silent. With a nod, Torrent opened the door. “C’mon.”

The men followed the same path the figures had travelled and could hear voices just out of view. Holding his finger to his lips, the crimefighter pressed against the wall and peered around the corner.

“What is it?” Overcast asked in a harsh whisper.

“Kids.”

Torrent could see two boys who looked to be about ten or eleven. They were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, flimsy flannel jackets over their clothing. They were huddled near a mailbox, fiddling with something in their hands. Michael wasn’t sure, but he thought they might be looking at baseball cards. Then he wondered if kids even collected baseball cards anymore.

Narrowing his eyes, he stepped out, striking a menacing pose. “It’s 9:00. Isn’t it late for you two to be out?”

The boys turned and gave out a small cry, hastily shoving whatever they were looking at into their pockets. Overcast moved next to him, his eyes scanning the kids.

“Curfew’s at 10 o’clock,” the blonde-headed boy answered with a grin. He elbowed his friend.

“Uh, yeah. 10 o’clock... sir.” The brown-haired boy’s eyes widened. “Hey, you’re the Black Torrent, right? Wow, I can’t believe it, you’re him!”

“And you’re Overcast, right?” The other boy beamed. “You’re so cool in that hat. You’re my hero.”

Overcast flashed a crooked grin. “I am?”

The boys ran up to Torrent, jumping up and down. “Can we have your autograph, please, please, please?”

Torrent took a step back. “I don’t know about that.”

“Do you want my autograph?” Overcast asked with a wide smile.

The boys turned, exchanged a look, then ran to the other crimefighter. “Oh yes, yes. All the kids at school will be SOOOOOOO jealous.” The freckle-faced boy pulled a ratty piece of paper and pen out of his pocket. “Here.”

Overcast grabbed them, using his hand as a makeshift desk.

“Have it say ‘to my super good friend, Kenny.’” The kid moved in close, peering at the paper.

“And Eddie. Have it say Eddie, too,” the blonde boy blurted as he squished next to the hero to get a better look.

As Overcast scrawled the words, Torrent hoped the man was cognizant enough to not use his real handwriting.

“Here you go,” the hatted man said with a smile.

“That’s great. Thanks, Mister.”

“What about him?” Overcast asked, pointing to Torrent.

“We don’t need his. Yours is the best. Bye!”

The kids gave each other a high five and ran down the street, disappearing into a gangway.

Torrent shook his head. “There was something weird about that. Don’t you think those kids were acting strange?”

“You’re just jealous because they didn’t want your autograph.”

“If we had more time, I’d follow them.” Narrowing his eyes, he waved his hand. “C’mon, let’s get back.”

As the two stepped back into the car, they could hear Yule’s angry voice calling over the communicator. “Where are you guys? Answer me!”

“Sorry. We’re here now.”

“Don’t do that again! Your target is moving. It just turned left onto 38th street.”

“Damn,” Torrent cursed. He had hoped to get a look at the men when they left. “Okay, we’re on it.” The crimefighter noticed that Overcast was still standing next to the car. “Aren’t you getting in?”

“I was hoping you could drive this time.”

Torrent’s eyebrows furrowed. “But it’s your car.“ They had chosen to use Ravenswood’s 1963 Rambler for the stake-out, as it looked less conspicuous in the neighborhood than a Maserati would.

“I know. But I’m tired of being the chauffeur. I always drive. I figure it’s your turn.”

Of all the times to have insecurity issues... With a sigh, he slid over into the driver’s seat. Ravenswood smiled and sat down next to his partner, securing his seat belt.

Torrent shifted the car into gear and headed for the main street. Within minutes they saw a police cruiser up ahead.

“We’ve got them in sight,” he reported back to base.

“Keep a couple of blocks behind them. You don’t need to follow close, I’ll tell you where they are.”

They were nearing 45th street when Overcast began digging into his trenchcoat pocket. With a look of panic, he began reaching into his other pockets. “My wallet. My wallet is gone!”

“What?”

“My wallet! I must have dropped it, or... Those kids! Those rotten brats. They took my wallet. We have to go back.”

“We can’t go back, we’re following a suspect. Why the hell did you have your wallet anyway? Who carries a wallet when they’re in costume?”

“Well, normally I leave it behind. But we kind of left in a hurry today and I forgot.”

Torrent rolled his eyes. Part of him found humor in the situation, considering Ravenswood had been so cocky about giving his autograph to the kids. But a larger part of him was worried, particularly since this exposed not only his friend, but the whole group. Even though the private eye wasn’t well-known, it would be a short leap to gather who his partners might be.

Trying not to worry, Torrent concentrated on the vehicle ahead of them.

The team of crimefighters followed the car for over an hour as it drove aimlessly around the Fourth Ward. Most of the time Ravenswood was muttering to himself, about how he was going to have to cancel all of his credit cards and lamenting whether the kids would figure out his identity. About ninety minutes in, the car ahead of them turned on its lights, signalling for someone to pull over.

“Finally,” Torrent said, and realized he sounded a bit too exuberant that a crime was about to be committed. “Remember, we need to be 100% certain. We don’t move in until they try to steal the other car.”

“Right.”

Zephyra’s voice came over the communicator. “I’m in the area, so if they drive off before you can stop them, you guys follow the car they steal. I’ll go after the cruiser.”

Torrent parked the Rambler on the other side of the street, a couple of car lengths back, so they could watch what happened. The man who’d been pulled over looked puzzled as the fake cop exited and approached the green sedan.

“Now?” asked Overcast.

“Not yet.” .

From their distance, they couldn’t hear what was being said, but it was obvious the driver of the vehicle was arguing.

“Almost,” Torrent whispered.

After shouting and waving his fist, the motorist finally opened the door and stepped out. However, as the cop motioned for him to step aside, the man crossed his arms and refused to budge. As much as Torrent wanted to get the cop in the act of stealing the vehicle, he didn’t want any harm coming to the driver. “Okay, now.”

The fake cop’s partner was still in the police car. He started to look around nervously, turning his head just in time to get a glimpse of the heroes exiting the Rambler.

“It’s the capes!” He laid on the horn to get his partner’s attention. “The capes! The capes!”

“Crap!” The other man ran back to the cruiser and jumped into the passenger side. The car peeled away, nearly hitting the motorist as it drove past.

“Damn. C’mon!” Torrent screamed as he slid back into the driver’s seat.

The police car quickly accelerated to fifty miles per hour, weaving down the residential street. High-speed chases were dangerous on the highway, but they were even more so on local streets where there were pedestrians and parked cars.

Torrent caught up with the cruiser. “You’re gonna have to shoot out the tires.”

Overcast turned in disbelief. “What?”

“Use your gun. Shoot out the tires. We have to get these guys to stop before they kill someone.”

“I’ve never done that kind of thing before! Why me?”

“Because I’m driving, or else I’d do it.”

His partner grimaced and rolled down the window, pulling off his hat and tossing it into the back seat. While Ravenswood took aim, Torrent struggled to keep up with the police cruiser, avoid hitting things, and steady the vehicle to provide a clean shot. It occurred to him that they would all be a lot safer if the guys in the police car simply turned on their lights and siren.

Torrent heard Overcast fire his gun. The rear window of the police car shattered.

“I said the tires,” he screamed.

“That’s what I was aiming for. This isn’t as easy as it looks. Get closer.” He fired two more times.

Michael could see the car in front of them swerve as the left tire blew out. However, it maintained its speed and kept going.

“Crap!” Ravenswood cursed, crawling back into the car. “You know those tires they have now that you can keep driving on after they go flat?”

“Yeah, I saw that.”

Up ahead, a car was entering the intersection. The police squad swerved but still hit it. The vehicle flipped over and spun on the sidewalk.

“Holy shit,” yelled Overcast.

They had their communicator on the speaker setting, so Yule could hear everything that was going on. “What happened?” he asked.

“They just hit a car but kept going.” Torrent clenched the wheel tighter. “I’m going to try to run them off the road. We’ve got to stop these guys before they kill someone. We’re nearing the fair grounds. If we can get them over there...”

“Good call,” Yule agreed. “I’m going to send Zephyra ahead of you, to cut them off.”

Pressing the pedal to the floor, Torrent closed the distance between the vehicles and moved alongside the cruiser. The men glanced in their direction, terror in their faces. They sped forward.

Up ahead, a familiar sportscar blocked the road.

I hope Zee is out of there.

As he hoped, the police cruiser made a sharp turn to the right to avoid hitting the stopped car. It headed off the residential drag towards the Gale City Fair Grounds. Torrent pulled alongside the vehicle again. This time with no cars around, he swerved sharply, ramming the nose of the Rambler into the side of the cruiser. The driver weaved back and forth. Taking advantage of the situation, Torrent swerved again, hitting the driver’s door. That was enough to trigger the car’s air bags. As the white balloons burst forward, the car started to spin out of control, fishtailing before it crashed into a pole.

Both crimefighters sighed in relief as they stopped and ran over to the squad. The driver was badly bruised from the airbag, but otherwise seemed all right. The other man wasn’t so lucky. He moaned in pain, his uniform sleeve torn to reveal exposed flesh and bone. There was a crackling sound and smoke started to pour from the engine.

“You need to get out of this car, now.” .

“My arm. I think it’s broken,” the second man cried.

Helping the thieves out, the heroes dragged them a safe distance from the vehicle. Ravenswood pulled out his gun. Even though they didn’t look like they were in a position to run, it was a good deterrent.

Zephyra stopped next to them. “I’ve already called an ambulance and the police should be here soon.” She smiled wide. “We did it.”

With a nod, Torrent tapped his ear piece. “Did you copy all that, Blizzard? The carjackers have been apprehended. Repeat, we’ve got them. We can put this case to bed.”

There was silence on the other end and Michael had just started to worry when Yule’s voice spoke again. “Negative on that, Torrent.”

“What do you mean, negative?”

“I’ve been monitoring the police bands. There was another jacking five minutes ago.”