A Strange Twist

Chapter 2

 

Sara twisted the combination lock and opened the hope chest. Inside there were several heavy, opaque garment bags. She grabbed the bundle nearest to the top and pulled it out, unzipping it to reveal her Dark Flame costume.

“Going out?” Johnny asked, appearing from the kitchen. Sara had allowed him to stay in her apartment for most of the afternoon, to rest after the incident.

“I want to see if I can find some of those kids, and maybe track down Roger.”

“Well, I have something for you.” Johnny reached behind the couch and pulled out a brown paper bag.

Inside was a collection of golf balls and cording. These were different than the ones used in the ladder game. They had four balls connected to separate ropes which were tied together in the center. The golf balls were painted black and the nylon cord was a dark gray.

“You kept talking about how you needed some more tools for crimefighting. You were so good with the bola, I thought you might appreciate having a few as weapons.”

“Thank you,” Sara said with a smile.

Blushing a bit, the boy looked down at the floor. “Listen, if you need me and Madge’s help, let us know. We can make good bait.”

Pulling her hair into a bun, she secured it with a pin then slipped on the curly bright red wig. “I may take you up on that. For tonight, though, I’m going alone.”

 

Dark Flame hit the streets, now in search of two boys. She decided to bypass talking to the locals and do the search the old-fashioned way. She targeted spots where she knew there might be people walking past and where a pick-pocket might hit. With temperatures a bit warmer, there were more people out and about—lots of targets to keep thieves busy.

The crimefighter had been canvassing the neighborhood for nearly three hours and hadn’t seen anything. She was just about to quit for the night when she heard voices. In front of one of the houses, two boys were talking. They had chosen a spot mostly in shadow, but a fixture from a nearby porch gave them just enough light to see.

Taking a step forward, she asked, “Isn’t it a little late for you boys to be out?”

The kids stood up, pulling whatever they were looking at behind their backs. “Curfew isn’t until 10 o’clock.”

“Right,” the other repeated. “10 o’clock, sir... I mean, ma’am.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Uh-huh. And it’s after ten-thirty.”

The boys exchanged a nervous glance.

“What were you looking at over there?”

“Oh,” the boy said, his eyes darting back and forth. “Pokecritter cards. We collect them.”

“Yeah. Pokecritters.”

Exchanging another glance, the boys’ eyes got wide. “Oh my gosh, you’re the Dark Flame, aren’t you? You’re so cool!” They darted towards her. “Can we have your autograph?”

Dark Flame looked the boys over, taking in their full details. They were dressed in ratty clothing, thin flannel jackets over their shirts. Both of their pockets bulged. “Sure,” she said with a smile. “Got a pen?”

“Oh yes,” the blonde-haired boy said, flashing a wide grin. As he reached into his pocket, Dark Flame grabbed his hand, pulling him to her. “What are you doing?” the kid squealed.

She shoved her hand into his pocket, pulling out two wallets.

“Hey, that’s not fair.”

The brown-haired boy stood frozen for a moment, then turned and ran. Pulling the bola from her belt, Sara struggled to keep a hold of the other boy while whipping the rope and golf balls above her head. The weapon shot forward, tangling around the escaping boy’s legs and sending him to the ground.

“Yes,” she whispered, then realized the other boy was looking at her. She hardened her expression and pulled him over to his friend.

“You can’t do that to me,” the kid on the ground yelled. “That’s child abuse.”

“You’re lucky I don’t do more than that. Did you really think you were going to fool a superhero with that autograph thing?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” the boy grinned.

Dark Flame pulled a pair of plastic restraints from her belt. Since she often dealt with children, she didn’t feel comfortable using any type of handcuffs. The plastic binders were more like big cable ties. They would hold a child’s hands in place, but wouldn’t cut or hurt them.

“All right, I want you to tell me who you’re working for.”

The boys were quiet.

“If you don’t tell me, you’re going to end up in juvie hall. Now, c’mon.”

The boys pressed their lips together, shaking their heads.

Sticking her hand into their pockets, she pulled out three more wallets and a small change purse. Narrowing her eyes, she glared at them. “You wouldn’t happen to know a Roger, would you?”

“You mean the Artful Roger.”

“The Artful Roger?” Sara paused, realization hitting. She lowered her head into her palm. “And I suppose you boys are working for Fagin, too, eh?”

The blonde-haired kid’s eyes widened. “Oh, my gosh, how did you know that?”

Sara shook her head. She knew criminals often emulated things they read and admired, but this seemed almost too fantastic.

“No, no,” the first boy recanted. “We’ve never heard of those guys.”

Dark Flame grabbed them both by the binders. “If you aren’t going to tell me anything, then I’m taking you in. We’re just a couple of blocks from the police station.”

Pulling them along, Dark Flame didn’t really plan to take them to the police. If anything, she would arrange to have them transported to the Home. But she hoped the charade would scare them enough to talk.

As she stepped off the curb, a police car turned the corner, barrelling forward. Dark Flame pushed the boys back, leaping aside herself just in time to avoid getting hit. A few seconds later another car flashed past, a brown sedan with a man hanging out the window. He fired a gun.

“Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed.

“A reverse police chase,” the dark-haired kid said. “Cool!”

Dark Flame stepped back into the street, staring in the direction of the cars. She wasn’t sure, but she thought the driver had been dressed in a superhero costume.

The crimefighter’s preoccupation was enough of a chance for the boys. Their hands still bound, they sprinted away, veering into a nearby alley.

“Damn,” Sara cursed. She headed in the direction the kids had gone. Even though it had only been thirty seconds, the lead was all the boys had needed. She couldn’t see them anywhere, and after two blocks of searching, she realized they were gone. “Damn,” she cursed again. “That was so stupid of me.”

Moving into the glow of the streetlight, she pulled the wallets out of her utility belt and checked them one-by-one. All the contents seemed to be intact. “Well, at least that much is positive,” she muttered. Pulling the last one open, she sucked in a quick breath. “Ravenswood Cadavre? Why would he be here?”

Shoving the billfolds back into her belt, Dark Flame headed towards police headquarters.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The following day was dizzying at the Home. Lots of meetings, paperwork, and minor disasters to deal with. It was nearly six p.m. when Sara found a moment to breathe.

But her day was just beginning.

She managed to get Johnny and Madge together to go over the additional information she had gathered on the pick-pocket ring. The data showed a clear pattern. The group would hit an area for two or three nights, then move to another location. From the looks of it, they could rotate once every few days, making a full circle of the neighborhood in about two weeks. However, with the heat on, Dark Flame feared if she didn’t catch them soon, they might leave the area altogether.

Shortly after she had started crimefighting, Johnny had bought Sara a set of long range walkie-talkies. They were far from perfect, since anyone with a similar brand could pick up the signal. However, as times had changed, the number of people actually using walkie-talkies had greatly diminished, giving them a bit of security through obsolescence. Just to be extra careful, though, they had formulated a series of code words to help mask their talk.

They decided that Madge would walk the streets on Hyde Avenue, carrying her largest purse. Since Roger had seen her at the Home, she would wear a blonde wig and fake glasses. They had chosen that area on purpose. The train yards were to the north, so if the boys were to hit a victim, they would presumably run back to the south. Johnny was positioned on a nearby rooftop with a set of binoculars. He would be able to see the boys flee and could radio Dark Flame with their location.

Sara was positioned down the street and could see the scene from her vantage point. After about twenty minutes, two boys appeared at the end of the block and headed towards Madge. She couldn’t hear what was happening, but she could see the boys talking to her friend. One pulled out a yo-yo, showing off a variety of tricks. Madge watched intently, smiling. Without warning, the larger of the boys rushed forward and grabbed her purse as the second boy pushed her down. The two then darted back down the way they had come.

Dark Flame’s walkie-talkie sprang to life. “All right, got them in my sights,” Johnny informed. “They cut through an alley and are on Randolph.”

“Copy,” she answered. “In pursuit.”

Sara wasn’t going to take a chance of losing the boys again. She jumped onto her motorcycle and sped in their direction. She caught sight of them just as they crossed over to Clinton. Taking care not to follow too close, she watched them zig-zag through alleys and corridors, finally dashing into the basement of a building on Converse Avenue. Pulling her motorcycle into a gangway, she darted after.

Taking the stairs to the lower level, the female crimefighter leaned her ear against the door. She could hear the boys shouting, talking about how Dark Flame had been following them. There were other voices, yelling, asking questions. Then a deeper voice—an adult voice—telling them all to shut up and calm down.

“Fagin,” she whispered. Tensing her muscles, she readied to ram into the door, until she turned the knob and found it unlocked. Pushing it open, she rushed into the room and stopped dead in her tracks.

It was like stepping into Oliver Twist. There were a dozen boys, all dirty and wearing tattered clothing. One of the kids was dragging on a cigar and some others were playing poker. As she stared at them, she heard the door close and lock behind her.

Spinning around, she saw Roger, dressed as if he was from the late 1800s. He sported a heavy overcoat, a large scarf tied around his neck, and a crushed top hat upon his head. He crossed his arms, blocking the exit.

Dark Flame turned back to the room, her eyes moving to the man in the corner. If he has a gun, I’m in trouble, she thought, realizing she hadn’t planned things out very well.

The man’s eyes were wide and his breathing heavy. The boys all moved back, clearing a path.

Squaring her shoulders, Dark Flame stepped forward. “Fagin, I presume.”

“His real name is Melvin,” one of the boys shouted.

“Don’t say that,” the man yelled. “I hate that name. I’m Fagin now.”

“You know,” Dark Flame started, “Dickens didn’t write that book to glamorize this lifestyle. He was making a commentary about child abuse.”

“Child abuse? Oh yes, the world is so much better now. Instead of being taught a valuable skill and life lessons, you have runaways turned into drug dealers or forced into prostitution.”

She tried to be menacing as she moved towards him. “You really think this is so much better?”

“You may think you’re all badass,” the man said, taking a step back. “But if my boys attack, you’re in big trouble.”

Dark Flame glanced at the faces of the boys. They didn’t look very eager to get into a battle, but she did realize that by their sheer numbers, they could easily overpower her.

Eyes travelling across the room, they fell on a familiar face hiding in the corner. It was Jimmy Komarek.

“These kids need to get back home. To their families.”

“This is their family.” Fagin raised his arms, spinning around. “We are the Lost Boys, the Lord of the Flies, the survivors.” He moved towards her, inches from her face. “And you can’t stop us.”

“Survivors? These kids look like they haven’t eaten in days. You have them stealing wallets and money, and you can’t buy them a Big Mac? You may feel no one cares, but I care. I want to help.”

“You care about them?” he spat. “These kids are runaways. I did them a favor. They don’t have to worry about someone beating them up because they didn’t turn so many tricks in a night. They know where they can sleep and that they have friends... brothers... who love them.”

Dark Flame locked on the man’s gaze. “It doesn’t work that way.”

“Doesn’t it?” Gritting his teeth, he pointed at the crimefighter. “All right, boys, get her!”

Nothing happened.

Roger rushed to his side. “C’mon, guys. Get her. Get the Dark Flame.”

The kids stood silent. Some took a few steps back.

Roger ran around the room, prodding the boys. “C’mon, jump on her, hit her, bite her.”

No one moved.

A smug smile cornered Dark Flame’s mouth.

“Fine,” Fagin sneered. “I’ll take you myself. Stupid girl.”

As the man lunged forward, the crimefighter cocked her hand back, cracking him in the nose. He screamed. She punched again, hitting him in the eye. Falling to the floor, he scooted back, crying in pain. “Ow, ow, ow! Stop that! You can’t hit someone like that!”

The boys in the room started to giggle, then laughed out loud. Dark Flame had realized from the moment she’d seen him that the leader wasn’t physical, and she was pretty sure he’d never thrown a punch in his life.

As the boys squealed, Fagin stood up, blood running down his face. “You ungrateful noobs. How dare you... after everything I did for you.”

“It’s over, Melvin,” Dark Flame announced.

There was a loud cracking noise and Sara saw a bright light, blurring her vision. She groaned once and crashed to the floor. Roger stood over her, a shovel in his hand.

The room was silent, all the boys staring at the downed crimefighter.

“You killed her,” one of the boys finally said.

Another boy walked up to the hero, kicking her with his toe. “She’s not moving. She’s dead, all right.”

“Aw, man,” Fagin said. “I don’t want a murder rap.”

Roger dropped the gardening tool. “I didn’t mean to, Dad. Honest.”

Fagin glanced around, terror in his eyes. “We gotta get out of here. We’ll head to another city. We’ve done it before, right Rog? Maybe Chicago or Carousel.”

“What about us?” asked one of the younger boys.

“Sorry, kids. You’re on your own.” The gang’s leader picked up a wad of money and a stack of credit cards, shoving them into a small bag. Roger gathered some clothes into his backpack.

Fagin threw on a baseball cap and nodded back to the group. “All right, guys. Give me a half an hour and then one of you go to a pay phone and call the cops. Tell them she walked into a wall or something.”

The boys were silent as the man and Roger dashed out the door. After a few moments, one of the younger kids spoke. “What do we do now?”

“Maybe we should bury her,” another suggested.

“I’m not dead.”

Several of the boys rushed to the woman’s side, helping her into a chair.

“I have to go after them,” she whispered.

“No, lady. You’ve been injured. My dad’s a doctor and he says concussions are dangerous things. Hey, Joe, come give her some of your whiskey.”

“No!” Dark Flamed exclaimed. “You shouldn’t be drinking that stuff!” She rubbed her head, her vision hazy. “And it’s not gonna help me, anyway.”

The youngest of the group ran from the room and returned with a plastic bag filled with ice. “Will this help?”

“I think it will.” It took a few minutes, but the throbbing in her head finally subsided to a point where she could move. Standing, she took a few steps towards the boy who still sat in the corner. “Jimmy.”

Jimmy Komarek sheepishly stepped forward.

“Your father has been worried sick about you.”

“No way,” the boy said, trying to sound tough, even though he was near tears. “He probably never wants to see me again.”

“You’re wrong. He’s the one who got in contact with me and asked me to help find you.”

“Really? My dad sent a superhero after me?”

“Crimefighter,” she corrected as she rubbed the large knot on her head. “There’s nothing super about me.”

“I think you’re super,” the youngest boy chimed.

“Me too,” another said. “We got rescued by the Dark Flame!”

“Yay,” the group cheered.

The two kids she had confronted on the street the night before stepped forward. The blonde haired boy smiled. “Can I have your autograph? For real this time?”

Still a bit woozy, Dark Flame sat back down in the chair, realizing a few minutes of rest would probably do her some good. “All right. Anyone got a pen?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Though it was standard procedure to notify a parent as soon as a child was located, given the fact it was so late, Dark Flame brought the members of the pick-pocket team back to the Gale Home. They were cleaned and fed, and given beds. The police arrived the first thing in the morning to question the group, after which the staff were sent about notifying their parents and helping the kids get back to their families.

Jimmy slept in a room with Johnny and was awake at 5 a.m., eager to reunite with his father. As soon as it was practical, Sara notified Jacob Komarek that his son had been located.

The man made it to the Home at a quarter past nine. When he saw his son, he rushed forward, scooping the boy into his arms for a long embrace. Both were crying, and Sara found herself teary-eyed as well.

After the father and son had a few moments to reconnect, Jacob turned to Sara, grabbing her hand firmly. “Miss Wolff, I cannot thank you enough for this. I knew it was a long shot to come here, but you did it. You got a hold of Dark Flame and saved my boy. She’s a hero—and so are you.”

“Just doing my job,” she said with a smile. “However, I do have one request. In light of everything, I’d like to refer you to some counseling services. I think it’ll do you both a world of good to have someone you can talk to. Someone who could help you work through these issues.”

The boy grimaced, but then his face softened. “You’re right. I don’t want to be mad anymore. I just want to go home.”

Nodding, Jacob looked at his son. “It’s the least we can do to thank you.”

Sitting down in her chair, Sara pulled a folder from her drawer. “I have a list of four or five agencies to choose from. Give me a minute and I’ll make some copies.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

It was nearing three o’clock when all of the runaways had been processed. Most were returned to their families, and there had been many more tearful reunions aside from the Komareks. A few kids were in situations where they couldn’t be returned right away. so they had been processed for temporary placement at the Home. Sara led two of the new admissions out onto the lawn to meet some of the other kids.

Johnny was leading a group in another ladder game. He gestured one of the golf balls in her direction. “Wanna go at it again?”

Sara grimaced as she rubbed the lump on the back of her head. “I dunno. I think that other day was a fluke. Besides, I have a handicap with this migraine of mine.”

“Oh, you’re just afraid you’re going to lose,” Johnny said smugly.

Fighting off the throbbing in her head, Sara grabbed a bola. “Okay, fine. But the loser has to wash the car of the winner.”

“I don’t have a car,” Johnny said.

“I know.” Sara gave the bola a spin. “I don’t expect you to win.”

With a playful laugh, Johnny clapped his hands together. “All right, Miss Wolffy. Let’s get this game started.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

O’Connor’s Pub was located about three blocks from Crystal Towers. It was housed in one of the older buildings the city had preserved for its historical value. Though it was surrounded by various steel and glass high-rises, the brownstone structure remained as it had years before.

Making her way into the building, Sara stopped in front of the man at the small podium. “I’m with the Bruce party.”

“Can I see some ID, please?”

Digging into her purse, Sara smiled to herself, knowing wallets were safe again in the city.

Scanning the information, the man brushed her fingers as he handed it back to her. “They’re in the left room in the back. If you need anything, my name is Danny. Just let me know.”

Normally, Sara would have been flattered that a man was showing an interest in her, but she was too nervous to think about it. Instead, she nodded and headed to the back of the tavern.

The party room had a large t.v., several tables and chairs, and a full bar along the wall. A variety of snacks and finger-foods were placed across the counter, and a bartender was busy making mixed drinks. Sara surveyed the crowd. About two dozen people were there, most of whom she didn’t recognize. She did catch sight of Aaron Brooks and she smiled... until she realized his wife was next to him. The police chief was about the only person there she might be able to talk to, but Aaron’s wife didn’t like her.

I’m going to be here all alone.

Sara was just about to leave quietly when Michael caught sight of her.

“Sara!” He moved to her side and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Are we winning?” she asked, pointing to the t.v.

“No, this is the pre-game show. C’mon in. I’ll get you a drink. Beer?”

“Club soda,” she answered.

“Okay. Make yourself comfortable.”

The administrator sat down and glanced around the room again. At a table in the corner, there was a small group of men. They were all older, in their 50s and 60s. The man in the farthest chair glanced in her direction and smiled. He appeared to be tall, with brown eyes and grey thinning hair. Sara’s heart began to race. Was that Yule? Should she go up and say “hi”? Should she wait for him to come to her? What would she say to him? Should she hug him in front of all of these strangers?—or would that give everything away?

Wringing her hands, she didn’t notice that Michael had returned with her drink.

“Thank you,” she said, suddenly wishing she’d ordered something stronger to help calm her nerves.

Two figures appeared in the doorway. Michael glanced up and smiled. “Ray, Mel.”

A wave of relief hit her. Someone she knew. Though she’d only met Ravenswood and Melody a couple of times, they seemed like a nice couple. The two were getting married in a few months and were at the tail-end of preparing for the big day.

“You must be excited,” she said to Melody.

“I am, but I’m also terrified. I’m so scared there’s going to be some kind of disaster or something.”

Catching sight of the private eye and his fiancee, Aaron Brooks called over from the bar. “Ravenswood. I was hoping you’d show up. I have something for you.” The captain walked over to the table, digging into his pocket. He pulled out a brown billfold.

“My wallet?! How the heck did you get it?”

“Dark Flame gave it to me.”

At the mention of the name, Sara felt her face flush and she glanced down.

Brooks continued, “She asked me to give it to you personally. She said she saw the private eye license and wanted to make sure you got it back safely.”

Ravenswood opened the wallet. “Everything’s here. My license, my credit cards, and all of my money.”

“Same with the others she turned-in. She must have caught the thieves before they had a chance to empty them.” He sat down at the table, glancing at Michael. “She ended up bringing in a whole band of juvenile pick-pockets. It was pretty impressive.”

“You have no idea what a relief this is.” He paused a moment, then added, “I really wish I could thank Dark Flame, somehow.”

Sara was getting even more uncomfortable and nervously took a sip of her drink. She glanced up to notice her brother’s gaze.

“That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it? About Dark Flame?”

“Oh, yes, Dark Flame’s pretty amazing,” she said, biting her lip. “I could never do anything like that.”

Michael’s eyebrow arched. “Really? I think what you do at the Home is pretty incredible.”

“You’re supposed to think that, you’re my brother.” Sara looked at the private eye. Despite her nervousness, curiosity was getting the best of her. “How did you end up losing your wallet in the first place?”

The detective’s eyes widened and Sara could see sweat forming on his brow. “It fell out of my pocket while I was on assignment.” .

Sara frowned at the explanation. Technically, that meant he wasn’t pick-pocketed. What were the odds that he would have lost his wallet and the boys’ gang had found it?

Before she could inquire further, Michael turned and pointed to the television screen. “Oh, the game’s starting. C’mon.”

As the crowd moved to the other end of the room, Sara tugged at her brother’s arm.

“Anything wrong?” he asked.

Glancing back at the older man, she discreetly pointing to him. “I was just wondering. Is... is... that our father?”

Michael’s face softened. “No. I’m sorry. He really wanted to be here today, but I had tickets for the game. I didn’t want them going to waste, so I told him to take them. It’s my fault really.” He smiled and Sara could tell it was a bit forced. “Maybe next time.”

Sara hated the fact she wanted to cry, though she realized it was her own fault for getting her hopes up. Fighting back the emotions, she smiled and tried to look cheerful. “Oh, that’s all right. It’s no big deal. Maybe next time.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael called the Gale Home shortly after eight o’clock. Sara had left the football party early. Though she had tried to look cheerful, it was obvious she was bored and uncomfortable, and he could tell that she was upset that Yule hadn’t come.

Sara’s assistant informed him that she’d stepped out and would be gone the rest of the evening. Michael couldn’t think of a lot of things that Sara might be doing late on a Sunday night, so he figured she’d taken to patrolling in her superhero persona.

Dark Flame was not like Team Torrent. Her primary focus was on kids and domestic type matters. Because of that, she rarely worked the whole city. Her main areas of concentration were in the vicinity of the Gale Home, in the Third and Fourth Districts. Because of that, Michael decided to canvass the connecting neighborhoods. It only took asking three people and a $100 in handouts to learn where the female crimefighter typically spent her Sunday nights.

Black Torrent pulled his car up to the Taylor Candy Factory, taking care to pick a spot that was not visible from the street. He followed the length of the building, turning the corner to see the small employee parking lot. As expected, Dark Flame was there. He picked a vantage point behind a nearby trash dumpster.

Sara seemed to be doing some solo training. He watched her running and jumping. There were a series of marks on the building’s wall that appeared to be targets. After finishing her sprint, she picked up a tangle of the ropes with balls attached. Checking her stance, she started to twirl it fast before letting go. The bola hit the target in the center. She continued with three more, hitting all but one of the other marks.

“You’re pretty good at that,” he said, stepping from the shadows.

Dark Flame gasped and clutched her chest. “I didn’t see you back there.”

“Good. You weren’t supposed to.”

She took a step back, her cheeks flushing as bright as her hair. “Do you always spy on other crimefighters?” Her British accent was thick and Michael marvelled how dissimilar it sounded to her real voice.

“No,” he reassured. “I actually came to talk to you. I happened to see that you were training and didn’t want to distract you.” He held out his hand. “Can I see that?”

Dark Flame flushed brighter, her eyebrows furrowing. “It’s not very good.”

Taking the weapon from the woman, Torrent examined it. The bola was constructed of homemade items, simple but effective. In his own crimefighting, he never had to worry about weapons or gadgets. With his wealth, he had the means to acquire anything he needed. And whatever he couldn’t buy, Yule was usually able to construct in his shop. The fact Sara was operating on her own, without all of the special equipment, made him admire her even more.

“I like the design. Mind if I try it?”

“Sure,” she said.

He motioned to the one in her other hand. “Why don’t we try together. Blue targets in the middle.”

Dark Flame sucked in a deep breath, squaring her shoulders. “Okay.”

Torrent held the knot in the center, swinging it a bit to get the hang of it. “Okay, go.”

A whooshing sound filled the air as the crimefighters released them almost simultaneously. Dark Flame’s bola hit the target just an inch from the center. Torrent’s was off by at least a foot.

Staring at the spot, Michael groaned. “That was... terrible.”

“You let me win,” Dark Flame muttered.

“No, I didn’t.” He scratched his head. “Seriously, that was awful.”

His sister smiled, and it was enough to soothe his bruised ego. “It just takes practice,” she said. “I really should go soon. Did you still want to talk to me?”

Torrent nodded as he pulled something from his utility belt. “I thought you might find this useful.”

The female crimefighter grabbed the claw device, her mouth puckering.

“It’s a grappling hook.”

“I’ve seen you use them. But I don’t understand.”

“One of my team upgraded theirs. This one was just going to be scrapped. I thought you might like it, instead.”

Dark Flame smiled, though she tried to hide it. “I don’t even know how to use one.”

“It’s easy,” he said, then lowered his voice, “It just takes practice.” Smiling, he got into position, demonstrating how to swing the claw and release it. The grappling flew through the air, hooking onto the nearby fire escape. Pulling it back in, Torrent handed it to the woman. “You try.”

In the distance, a loud crash sounded, then the squeal of car tires, followed by angry yelling. Both crimefighters turned in the direction of the noise.

“You probably should go check that out,” she said, hooking the grappling onto her belt.

“Come with me,” he asked.

“You don’t need my help.”

His eyes met hers firmly. “I want your help.”

The sound of a gunshot came from the direction of the street.

“Damn,” he muttered. “We’d better hurry. C’mon.”

Clenching her fists, the female crimefighter nodded, following the Black Torrent as he darted in the direction of the commotion. Together, they disappeared into the night.