Highway Robbery

Chapter 2

 

“What are you doing?” Overcast asked.

Torrent didn’t have time to answer. The crash had only occurred a few minutes earlier; emergency vehicles and police were on the way, which meant he had to act quickly. Examining the top of the fake police cruiser, he looked at the two flashing lights mounted to the roof. As suspected, they were held on by simple bolts. Pulling a small all-purpose tool from his utility belt, he started to dismount the devices.

“See if you can remove anything from those guys’ clothing that makes it look like they’re police officers. Badges, whatever.”

The fire was now burning hot and would consume the car soon.

Pulling the lights from the top, Torrent hurried to the Rambler and placed them in the trunk. Returning to the car, he checked the interior. Despite looking like a police car on the outside, the inside resembled any other normal sedan, and there was nothing else that would make it appear to be a police vehicle.

The ambulance arrived at the scene just as Torrent rejoined his teammates.

“Listen, I need you to stay here and keep the police busy. The ambulance is going to take these guys to Metro. I want to talk to them before the cops do.” He glanced back at the paramedics, who were already moving the men onto stretchers. It had been fifteen minutes since the crash and the police still weren’t there. Even though it worked in his favor, Torrent grimaced. It was no wonder police response time was an issue in the current election. “There’s one thing, though. You can’t tell them these guys were the carjackers. You can’t let them know they were posing as police.”

“What am I supposed to tell them, then?”

“I don’t know. Make up something. We passed ward boundaries in the chase, so Brooks’s guys shouldn’t be responding. Just keep it quiet.”

Overcast didn’t look happy, but he nodded. “All right.”

The sound of police sirens could be heard in the distance. Torrent hurried to the Rambler and headed towards the hospital.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael had been happy when he heard they were transporting the men to the Metropolitan Health Center. The Director of Operations, Terrence Crow, was one of the few high-profile officials who was openly pro-superhero. The Superhero Protection Act afforded costumed heroes with many protections, and Crow was insistent his staff adhere to provisions outlined in the law. While Michael had never needed to go to the hospital while injured in costume, he knew if he ever found himself in that situation, he would insist on going to Metro. Aside from respecting crimefighters, Crow was eager to help in general. As long as Team Torrent wasn’t directly going against official orders, the director would allow them to act unrestricted while examining suspects brought to the hospital.

Torrent made it to the facility five minutes before the ambulance arrived. The man with the broken arm was rushed into the emergency room, while his partner was taken to await x-rays. The staff didn’t want to alarm other patients, so they had Torrent wait in an empty, darkened room. When the second man was settled, the hero was allowed to talk to him.

“I know, it was a stupid thing to do,” the carjacker started, heading off the crimefighter’s line of questioning. “It wasn’t my idea. It was my brother’s. He found an old police car at a scavenger sale. He has a friend with a shop that could strip the parts. We just wanted to make some money, we didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Then why did you shoot that woman?”

“We didn’t. You don’t understand, we never hurt anyone. We didn’t even carry toy guns because that could get us a weapons rap.”

“Who else is working with you?”

“No one. Just me and my brother, James. No one else. No one even knows about this other than my wife, only because we kept the car at our house.”

Torrent felt he was telling the truth, but didn’t let it show. He took a threatening step forward. “Another team of carjackers struck tonight. What do you know about them?”

The fear in the man’s eyes deepened. “I don’t know anything about that. We heard there was another carjacking the other day. We were worried they would pin that on us, too. I guess some guys would be happy to have someone copy-catting them, but we weren’t. We started to get scared. We figured we would hit a few more cars and then stop until the heat cooled down.” The man’s gaze averted. “I guess we didn’t stop soon enough.”

A young technician entered with a wheelchair. “We’re here to take Mr. Jara for his chest scan.”

Nothing more was coming out of the interrogation, so Torrent nodded and left the room. Outside, a man was waiting. Aaron Brooks.

“This isn’t your ward, Captain,” Torrent said.

“And you shouldn’t be questioning suspects without police authority.”

Torrent grabbed a small device from his belt and pulled out a tiny cassette. “Everything’s on there.”

Though Brooks still looked upset, he smiled as he took the tape. “This is why I can’t stay mad at you. C’mon, let’s get out of the hallway.”

There was a room at the end of the corridor where family could meet with medical staff to discuss treatment and procedures. Brooks stepped inside and closed the door. “They called me in because the chase started in my area.” His mouth turned downward. “I don’t appreciate your removing evidence from a crime scene.”

“I didn’t want anyone to know these were the guys we were after.” Torrent turned to face him directly. “There was another carjacking while we were in pursuit. If we go public that we have these guys, the copy-cats are going to go underground. We may never find them. Or, worse yet, they could come back in a few months, even more deadly. Right now, we have everything in place. We still have the trackers on the vehicles. With these guys out of commission, it should be easier to catch the others.”

Brooks leaned back in the chair, rubbing his palms across his eyes. “You’re right, and I know it. But it’s easier said than done. I already have Cavanaugh asking questions; I don’t need the press to get a hold of this. I may be able to keep this under wraps a day or two, while these guys are in the hospital. After that, I can’t guarantee anything.”

“Give us 48 hours. If we can’t bag them, we’ll go public and hope the exposure forces them underground.”

“All right. What do you need from me?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It was nearly 3 a.m. when Torrent made it back to the Control Center. He was starting to feel the lack of sleep, but Yule insisted they debrief to keep from losing any details of the evening.

Ravenswood and Melody were both snoring in their chairs. Michael woke them, then sat down. A monitor was set-up at the far end of the conference table, a grid of the Fourth Ward on the screen.

“Here’s the thing,” the elder man said as he picked up the remote control. “When I heard about the second jacking tonight, I saw we had a tag on the vehicle. Fortunately, it’s one of the first ones we managed to get a GPS on. I checked the data. This car went back to the station overnight.”

“I was worried about that,” Michael said. “Grace mentioned the cop who pulled her over had a shield-shaped badge, which is consistent with Gale PD. The guys we grabbed tonight had star-shaped badges.”

“So our copy-cats are real cops.” Ravenswood grimaced and leaned forward. “That would explain why Huwi and Brown weren’t so eager to help.”

“It also complicates things. Brooks gave us two days to wrap this up, but if these guys get wind of what we’re doing, they’re gonna pull back. We have to move quickly.”

Melody yawned and leaned her head against Ravenswood’s shoulder. “So what do we do?”

“Tomorrow night we head back out and we try to bag these guys.”

“We aren’t tagging vehicles anymore, though, right?”

“Right,” Michael said. “Now we have to go out as bait.”

The detective’s eyes narrowed. “Who’s going to be the bait?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Ravenswood and Melody travelled through the Fourth Precinct. They weren’t in costume, they were simply a couple of ordinary people driving around. They used their own cars as well, not any of the crimefighting vehicles. Yule insisted on adding GPS devices to them, although they were attached less crudely than the ones on the police squads.

While the two canvassed the neighborhood, Black Torrent took the Rambler to a central location in the precinct and parked out of sight. The plan was that if Ravenswood or Melody were to be pulled over, they would radio the others and then Michael would drive to their location and catch the police red-handed.

Ravenswood sighed as he turned left from Fifth onto Congress for the sixth time. He’d been driving around for hours and the police consistently ignored him. He considered running a few red lights or speeding to tempt them into stopping him, but Yule insisted that they follow the rules of the road. The carjacking victims had all maintained that they had done nothing wrong when the police had pulled them over.

As Ravenswood approached the next intersection, he saw that the stoplight in the distance was green. His eyes started to close of their own accord and he began to swerve across the road. Shaking his head back and forth, he took deep breaths to try to get more oxygen to his brain. As he did, he realized that he had already passed through the intersection and the stoplight was now red.

“Crap!”

“What happened?” came Yule’s voice over the radio.

“I just ran a red light.”

“I told you not to do that. We can’t risk you getting pulled over for a legitimate reason and ruining the sting.”

“I can’t help it, I’m falling asleep! Seriously, I’m going to get into an accident here.”

“I’m getting tired, too,” said Melody over the radio.

Yule sighed. “Maybe you guys should head home. It’s nearly four. We’ve been at this for six hours. I don’t think anything’s going to happen tonight. Torrent, return to base.”

“Affirmative,” answered Michael.

Ravenswood turned his radio off. He opened the window in the hopes that the cold air would help him stay awake. He feared Torrent had been right—perhaps the cops had gotten spooked and had put a halt to the operations.

Making a right turn on Calvin Avenue, the private eye started to head home.

 

Melody sighed and turned onto Enterprise Street. She was glad they were calling it a night. As much as she enjoyed crimefighting, she didn’t enjoy going into work the next day on so little sleep.

As she headed north on the main drag, she noticed something funny. It was subtle at first, but she soon realized there was a bluish glow inside the car, which then switched to red, and then back to blue. Her brain a bit foggy from the tiredness, she couldn’t figure out where it was coming from until she looked in the rearview mirror.

“Oh, no,” she muttered as adrenaline snapped her awake. “Guys, can you hear me? I’m being pulled over.”

There was no answer from the radio and she suddenly felt very afraid. Her car was going to be stolen and the others wouldn’t know about it. “Blizzard, Blizzard, come in.”

No answer.

The squad blared its siren once, the officer inside gesturing for her to pull over. As she veered over to the side of the road, she turned the speaker on the communicator all the way down. There were two cops in the squad. One of them stayed in while the other approached her car. Melody rolled down her window.

“Kind of late to be out, don’t you think?” the officer asked.

She noticed that he had a mustache.

These are the guys. This is good. I just need to stall them.

“I’m heading home from work,” she said, trying to sound casual.

“And where would that be?” .

“An apartment on Hyde Street.”

“I mean, where do you work?”

Unable to think of a good lie, Melody said, “I’m sorry, is it illegal to have a job that gets off at 4 a.m.?”

“Ma’am, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in this neighborhood there is a lot of illegal activity. If someone comes here in the middle of the night, it’s usually to buy drugs.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want to do that,” she said. “I’m actually here to pick up my husband. He’s on assignment nearby.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to get out of the vehicle.”

Melody’s heart raced. She tried to think of a way to delay them further, but her mind was a blank. She picked up her purse.

“Ma’am, put the purse down.”

She did as directed and then started to fumble with her seat belt. “I’m sorry. The latch sticks sometimes.”

The cop opened the door and reached across her lap. “It’s a seat belt. It’s not rocket science.” He unsnapped her belt and stood up. “Now, get out of the car.”

She picked up her purse again.

“Put the damn purse down!”

The cop had gone from irritated to furious in an instant and the mood swing startled her. Melody put her purse down.

“Get out of the car!” he repeated.

“You yelled at me.” She jutted out her bottom lip, trying to make it look as if she was about to cry.

The cop was seething, but still hadn’t reached for his gun. He forced himself to calm down and then said, “Listen, lady. If you’re in this neighborhood at this time of night, chances are you were buying drugs. I need to impound your vehicle so I can search it. Now, you need to—”

A familiar looking 1960s-model car approached from behind, crossing over the center line and heading towards them. Black Torrent could be seen in the driver’s seat.

The mustached cop glanced back, his eyes widening. “Shit!” He turned to head back to the police car, but his partner panicked. The squad drove away.

“Damn,” he cursed, reaching into his pocket. “Scoot over!”

Melody scrambled over to the passenger’s side. The policeman slid behind the wheel and shifted into gear, not even closing his door until they were already moving.

“That’s a pretty scary looking gun you’ve got there.” She tried to make it sound casual, but her real intention was to alert Yule and Torrent to the fact.

The cop said nothing. He kept looking into the rearview mirror. He started picking up speed, though Melody noticed that Torrent seemed to be keeping a distance back. She realized he didn’t want another high-speed chase. After a few minutes, the Rambler slowed down and disappeared into the distance.

The man looked behind him, confused, but still angry. “It’s a trap, a trick. He’s gonna show up again in front of me.”

Melody tried to think of a way out of the situation. As Zephyra, she could probably overpower the man, even though he had a gun—but she didn’t want to blow her cover. Also, they were in a moving car, so anything she tried might result in an accident.

“I’m nearly out of gas. You should probably head towards a gas station.”

“You’ve got plenty of gas,” he said, glancing down at the gauge. “Dumb blonde.”

The comment made Melody’s blood boil. Then she remembered Yule’s training. “Never underestimate your opponent.”

He thinks I’m dumb. He’s underestimated me. I can use that to my advantage.

“Where are we going?” she asked, trying to sound innocent. “You’re a cop, right? Is this considered kidnapping?”

The man turned to face her, waving the gun in front of her face. “It’s gonna be murder if you don’t shut up.”

They had travelled a couple of miles and were nearing ward boundaries. The man looked panicked. Melody began to wonder what he would do with her if he got desperate, and she started to get afraid again.

I’m going to have to do this. I have to get him angry.

“You know, if you let me go, I won’t tell anyone. I won’t tell them that you were scared off by the Black Torrent.”

He growled and waved his gun again. “SHUT UP!”

It was the reaction Melody was hoping for, and this time she was prepared. With lightning speed, she grabbed his hand and thrust it towards him, smacking him in the head with his own weapon. His feet slammed on the brakes, the car screeching to a stop. Melody held his gun away with her left hand and punched him in the face twice with her right.

“Bitch,” he muttered and tried to point his gun at her again. Before he could aim it in her direction, she grabbed his arm with both her hands and pushed it away. He fired and the windshield shattered. She forced his wrist up onto the broken glass. He screamed as the gun dropped from his hand, bouncing off the hood and down onto the street.

Melody suddenly realized that the man’s foot was no longer on the brake and they were rolling down the street. She tried to punch the cop again, but this time he blocked her fist and lashed out with his hand, smacking her in the temple. He grabbed her by the throat. “They’re not gonna find your body.”

There was a lurch and the car came to a stop. The door to her sedan flew open and Overcast pressed his revolver against the cop’s temple. “Let her go or you’ll be in a lot of pain.”

The cop looked back and forth between them, loosening his hold on the woman’s throat. Finally, he sighed and rested his head on the steering wheel.

Despite having gotten the best of her at the end, the man’s face was bruised, his right eye swollen shut. Melody giggled and turned on the innocent act. “Wait until the other cops hear you got beaten up by a dumb blonde.”

“Shut up,” he muttered.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The Black Torrent stood at the back of the office, peering out the window. The sun was starting to rise and the sky was a firey orange-red. Birds began to chirp in the distance. The street looked calm and peaceful, and it was easy to forget just how dangerous the neighborhood was. A sole squad car drove by, breaking the scene and forcing him back into the room.

Aaron Brooks was at his desk, scrawling notes onto a report form. He looked strung out, but he was holding up well, all considering. Every time Michael worked with him, his respect for the man grew.

The captain had personally come to the scene to pick up the carjacker. Using the information from the GPS device, police had located the man’s accomplice, cowering in his car parked behind a convenience store. With both criminals safely off the streets, there was only one other thing to take care of.

It was nearing 7 a.m. when the door to the office opened. Detectives Brown and Huwi entered. When they saw the crimefighter, their expressions darkened.

“Jones said they got the carjackers?” Brown asked, making an effort to sound casual.

“That’s right. They pulled over a young woman and claimed it was a search and seizure. They ended up taking her hostage when Black Torrent arrived.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Not seriously.” Brooks scooted forward in his seat. “It was Rodriguez and Strom.”

Torrent was studying the men and noticed Huwi’s jaw tighten slightly. Brown kept a poker face.

“We’re here now,” the police detective said, taking a step forward. “I’d like to talk to the victim. I also want to talk to the suspects.”

“It’s too late,” Torrent countered. “They already implicated both of you in the plot.”

Brown met Torrent’s gaze hard. “And you believe them? These are bad cops. Of course they’re going to try to throw the blame on someone else.”

“Based on your recent conduct, it’s not such a far-fetched idea.”

“Aaron, you can’t let some cape dictate police operations. We suspected there might be more than one group out there. If that’s true, we still have one at large. We’ve been on this case for two months. I think you owe us this.”

“The other group has already been apprehended,” Brooks revealed. Brown tried to interject, but the captain cut him off with a raised hand. “You’re right. I can’t go on those guys’ word alone, but I do have to open an investigation. Until then, you’re both on administrative leave, and the rest of your caseload is going to be passed off pending the results of the inquiry.”

“Fuck this,” Huwi cursed. He turned and headed out of the office.

Brown’s mouth puckered. “They’re not going to pin this on us. Do what you have to, but I’m gonna fight this tooth and nail.” The detective left.

Brooks swivelled his chair to face the crimefighter. “I know they’re involved. But I have to follow procedure.”

“Understood. I’m just glad we have them off the streets.”

“Thanks to you.”

“I’m sorry you got dragged into it.”

“Worse things could happen.” The man rose, stretching. “Don’t you have somewhere to go to? A job? You’ve been up all night.”

“So have you. I think we both need to go home and get some sleep.” Torrent walked to the window, opening it. “I’ll just let myself out.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It had been a couple of days since Team Torrent had caught the second team of carjackers. Since then, there had been no more false traffic stops, a sign that their efforts had been successful. But for Overcast, the case was not over quite yet. He stood in the boarded-up apartment and waited. Eventually, he heard the door open. Though it was too dark to see who came in, he knew who it was—he had invited him.

“Hello?” called Aaron Brooks.

“I’m here,” Overcast answered. He took a step forward so he was standing in a beam of light streaming through a crack in the window boards. “I heard through the grapevine that Brown and Huwi are going to get off.”

Aaron nodded. “Despite my orders, they went to the First Precinct to interrogate Rodriguez and Strom. They shouldn’t have been allowed near them—it was a terrible breach of procedure. Anyhow, after talking to them, the men retracted their statement. They now insist they were working alone.”

Overcast inhaled deeply. “But Brown and Huwi were covering it up. We know that. They threatened those guys and now they’re changing their story.”

“I believe you’re right. But we don’t have evidence to that effect. Without that, we can’t do anything.”

Overcast turned, his fists clenching.

“Even if Rodriguez and Strom had stuck with their initial claims, it would have been a hard sell,” Brooks continued. “Other than being slow in the investigation, there was nothing to connect Brown and Huwi to the carjackings.”

“I’m sure they were very clever about that.” Overcast sneered. “So everything we did was for naught.”

“Hardly. I’ve got my eye on Brown and Huwi now. They can’t sneeze in the wrong direction without me being all over them. Strom and Rodriguez are facing three counts of grand theft and one count of kidnapping.”

“What about the person they shot?”

“They plea-bargained that to Accidental Discharge of a Weapon.”

“Oh, come on!”

Brooks narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t just ask me to meet you for a run-down of how the case is going, did you? You want to hear whether or not the guilty parties are getting what they deserve.”

Overcast was silent.

“Can I ask you something? Are you looking for justice, or revenge?”

Overcast chuckled. “Don’t worry about that. I don’t care about revenge. I just... I don’t like it when someone commits a crime and then gets away with it.”

“Neither do I.”

“Then you know where I’m coming from.”

Aaron nodded. “Yes, I do. Now I want you to listen to me. You need to know where I’m coming from. There’s two crooked cops who are off the streets now. There’s two more who are under a magnifying glass. Also, your little sting helped reveal another issue. Torrent notified me of a squad that visits a crack house every day but never makes any arrests—most likely buying or selling drugs. Internal Affairs is looking into it now.”

“It’s still not right and it’s not fair.” Overcast shook his head. “And it frustrates the hell out of me.”

“I agree. It sucks having a strong sense of justice in an unjust world. Believe me, I know. But sometimes you just have to take the successes you can get and be okay with that.” Glancing at his watch, Brooks shook his head. “I have to get back, now. Give my thanks again to Torrent and Zephyra.”

Watching the man leave, Overcast sucked in a deep breath and stared at the empty room. He knew the police captain was right, but it didn’t make him feel any better.

With a loud growl, he turned and punched his fist against the wall.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Yule sat in his workshop within the Control Center. The Bruce Penthouse occupied most of the top two levels of the residential side of Crystal Towers. The third floor below it was an area which served as their central command station. He had just finished re-attaching a cable to a claw device when Michael and Ravenswood entered the room.

“Hello, gentlemen,” he greeted.

Michael took the chair closest to him while the private eye sat a distance away. “What are you working on?”

“Melody’s grappling. There was a problem with the locking mechanism, but I fixed it.”

“You want me to give it back to her?” Ravenswood asked.

“No. I actually gave her a replacement—a better design. I don’t even know why I was messing with this one. I guess I just wanted to see if it could be repaired.”

“It works, right? Can I have it?” Michael asked.

“Why? Your grappling is far more powerful than this one.”

“I know. But it might come in handy.”

Yule shrugged. “Fine with me.” The men across from him were silent and he realized they hadn’t come down merely to be social. “So, what’s on your mind?”

The friends exchanged glances. Michael forged ahead. “We need to talk to you about something. Well, actually tell you about something.”

“About what?”

Ravenswood looked nervous. “My wallet.”

“What about your wallet?”

The private eye leaned back in his chair. “Okay, it started with me getting ready for work on Wednesday morning.”

Yule shook his head, confused. “What does this have to do with your wallet?”

“It doesn’t. It’s for the drama.”

The elder of the group looked at Michael. “I’m not gonna be happy about this, am I?”

“I don’t think so.”

With a sigh, Yule leaned back in his chair. “All right. Get on with it.”

“Okay, where was I?”

“Drama.”

Ravenswood nodded. “Ah, yes, drama. As I was saying...”

Yule crossed his arms and let out another sigh. No, he wasn’t going to like this at all.