Happy Hour

Chapter 2

 

Sara sat at the table, her face buried in her palms. “Oh my God, how could I have been so stupid? I kissed him.” She struggled to keep from crying. “Of course he couldn’t like anyone like me. He’s amazing and I’m... nothing.” Her elbows collapsed and her head fell on the table. “I’m so stupid.”

Madge grimaced. “You always do this, Sara. You always get so caught up with a guy. Three dates and you’re ready to get married.”

“I do not,” she said, defensively. “And I rarely get a second date, much less a third.” She thumped her head once again on the table. “Besides, I’ve been fighting crime with him for months.”

“All right, that was an over-exaggeration. But you have to admit, you get so attached. You fall fast and hard.”

“I know.” She closed her eyes, her cheeks heating in embarrassment. “He held my hand on the way to the hospital. He’s been so nice and sweet, helping me with my training and crimefighting. He gave me a grappling hook.”

“That’s not the same as giving you a ring.”

She buried her face in her hands again.

Madge sighed, rubbing her friend’s back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be snarky.”

Sara glanced up, her eyes glistening. “I really thought he liked me.”

“Well, maybe he just likes you like a friend... or a sister or something.”

“Yeah, that would be just my luck.” Sighing, she stared at a newspaper article covering the recent arson attacks. “How the heck am I gonna face him the next time I see him?”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“How the heck am I gonna face her the next time I see her?”

“She really thought we were gay?” Ravenswood scratched his head. “I think I gotta start kissing Zephyra in public or something. You know, set the record straight, mark my territory.”

“Thanks, you’re a big help.” Michael got up from the table and headed out of the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” Ravenswood apologized. The private eye had been so busy dealing with the bombing problem over the past couple of weeks, he hadn’t had a chance to clean properly. He moved a basketful of laundry from the couch so his friend could sit down. “I guess if you had a crush on her, it would be fair to assume the feelings would go the other way.”

“I really liked her,” Michael admitted. He stared ahead, remembering the brief moment of passion. “When she kissed me tonight, I forgot for a second who she was, and—” He buried his face in his hands. “Do you know how difficult this makes everything? I was looking forward to finally telling her my identity. Now I’m scared to death.”

“How much longer does your dad need?”

“I dunno. He and Sara are getting along well. The second time she came over, everything went perfect. In fact, he ended up taking her to lunch the other day and they got along great. But you know him, he’s a military guy. He ‘doesn’t want to make a rash decision.’” Michael rose and stared to pace across the floor. “I don’t know what do.”

“Well, until Yule makes up his mind, it really isn’t going to help worrying about it.”

“I don’t feel that way about her anymore,” Michael assured. “I love Sara to death. It kinda amazes me how much I switch into big brother mode when I’m around her. I get all over-protective. I keep thinking I wanna knock Bling in the head for what he did to her.”

“I want to knock Bling in the head for a lot of things,” Ravenswood grumbled.

Michael sat back down, hunching over. “But when she’s Dark Flame, I have to switch into Torrent mode. I have to pretend I don’t know her... and things get all muddied.”

Ravenswood stepped forward, concern on his face. “Then maybe you need to tell her, to heck with your dad.”

Before his friend could answer, a loud crash sounded, the floor shaking beneath them.

“What the—”

“Explosion.” Michael rose. “That was close-by.”

“C’mon,” the detective called, already half-way to the door.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The Maserati sped out onto the streets of Gale. Torrent and Overcast assumed that with an explosion there would be fire and smoke, but they saw nothing. After driving in a wide circle, Ravenswood pulled over and the two men got out of the car.

“I don’t see anything.”

Torrent sniffed the air. “Do you smell smoke?”

“No.”

“I do.”

“That’s something, at least.”

They looked out into the calm darkness of the city. In the distance, a siren sounded. “There!” Torrent said. “Let’s go!”

As they headed in the direction of the emergency vehicles, they soon found a large office building with the front wall blown out. Debris littered the street and the inside of the building was visible through the opening caused by the explosion. There was no fire, but firefighters were spraying it down with hoses anyway. A crowd of bystanders had gathered, and police crews were working to cordon off the area.

Torrent didn’t see any officers he recognized, so he walked up to one at random. “What happened here? A bomb?”

The cop regarded him for a moment, then answered. “At first we thought it was a gas leak, but that would’ve started a fire, so now we’re not sure.”

“They have bombs that are designed to cause damage only,” Torrent offered. “That would be quite sophisticated, though.”

The officer seemed uninterested and yelled for a young boy to get back behind the yellow tape.

Torrent walked back to where his partner was waiting. “This doesn’t make any sense. Why would he try to start fires sometimes, then use a non-fire bomb this time?”

Overcast looked up and down the street. “Maybe he wanted to make sure none of the buildings nearby were damaged.”

“That would make sense. If these other companies support the current mayor or something.”

“Or maybe he’s just changing it up to try to confuse us. You know, throw us off the trail.”

Torrent gave his friend a sideways look. “Why is it that you always come up with two theories that totally contradict each other?”

Overcast wasn’t looking at him. Something across the street had caught his eye. “How about a third theory? Check out that guy over there.”

Torrent turned in the direction his friend was looking. A green car was parked across the street, the driver sitting and watching the firemen. “White male, black hair, overweight, green car. There he is, I don’t believe it.”

“Let’s grab him.”

Afraid that the suspect might drive off before they reached him, Torrent decided on speed rather than stealth, and simply ran to the car’s side. He lunged in through the window and grabbed the keys from the ignition.

“Hey!” said the man.

Overcast flanked the passenger side door, assuring the man didn’t scramble out and make a break for it. “Officers! Over here!”

Two policemen jogged over. “What’s going on?” asked one of them. His name tag said Fuentes.

“We have reports of a man with this description being at one of the other crime scenes.”

Fuentes cocked his head. He walked around the car, shining his flashlight into the back seat. He returned to the driver’s side window. “Sir, could you open the trunk, please?”

The man looked terrified. “Don’t you need a warrant or something?”

Torrent was not in the mood for formalities. He reached into the car window again and pressed a button on the dash. The trunk popped open.

Fuentes stayed with the driver while the other officer checked the trunk. “Holy shit. Big ol’ sack of black powder,” announced the officer. “Glass bottles, rags, alcohol, timers, wires, tools... and a book entitled ‘How to Build a Bomb’.”

Overcast adjusted his hat. “You could blow up half of Gale with all the stuff in here.”

Torrent forced down a smile. It wasn’t often they got so lucky.

“May I see your license?” asked Fuentes.

The driver looked like he was about to throw up, but he managed to pull out his wallet. Fuentes handed the i.d. to his partner.

Trying to look menacing, Torrent stepped forward, leering at the man. “So, why’d you do it? Why’d you set all these bombs?”

The man’s face twisted and he looked like he was about to cry. “I work for the city. The mayor lost, so I...”

“What? You don’t like the idea of working for a black man?” the crimefighter sneered.

“No! Nothing like that at all! My supervisor’s black. It’s just, you know, whenever a new mayor is elected, the first thing he does is clean house. They let everyone go and hire all their friends. Everyone kept telling me that I was gonna lose my job. So I got scared. I figured if the new mayor couldn’t handle a serial bomber, maybe he’d get thrown out of office.”

The other officer returned from his cruiser. “Terry Lohan. He drives a street sweeper. History of paranoid schizophrenia and mental illness.”

Lohan started crying. “I’m gonna get fired!”

“You’re getting arrested!” said Fuentes. “Get out of the car!”

Torrent watched as the man was dragged away, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Well, that wraps this up,” Overcast said with a grin. “They all should be this easy.”

Despite the positive outcome, Torrent didn’t feel happy. “Remind me to check up on Lohan in a few weeks, will you?” he said as he headed back to the damaged building. “I want to make sure that guy gets some help.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

News of the bomber’s arrest hit the airwaves, and a sigh of relief could be felt throughout the city. The general attitude was upbeat, however the mood at City Hall remained the same. As expected, the second recount showed Brooks as the winner and, as Yule had predicted, another court challenge was brought and a third recount ordered. Despite feeling more secure, Team Torrent agreed to keep up the pace. They continued to patrol frequently to keep an eye open for suspicious activity.

Overcast and Torrent found themselves scouting the far west side. There was an abandoned appliance factory near the Gale Railway station that was often a hang-out for gangs. The duo hadn’t been there in a while, so they decided to drive by and make their presence known. As they approached, Torrent caught sight of a familiar vehicle.

“That’s Dark Flame’s motorcycle. What’s she doing way over here? This isn’t her normal patrol zone.”

His partner shrugged. “Should we check it out?”

Parking three blocks down, the men headed towards the building, noticing the female crimefighter surveying the facility through a pair of binoculars.

“Looking for something?”

The woman jerked and Torrent had to admit to feeling a bit smug having caught her by surprise. However, his humor was short-lived. Her lips pressed tight and her eyes narrowed.

“Does it matter?” she sneered.

Overcast shrugged and tried again. “Maybe we can help. What are you looking for?”

“The bomber,” she said, curtly.

Torrent cocked his head. “Didn’t you hear? We apprehended him a few nights ago.”

“Yes, I heard, but I don’t think he was the one. I mean, he may have been one of the bombers, but I believe someone else is really behind this.”

“Why?” Overcast asked, his voice skeptical.

“Because it doesn’t make sense. A mentally challenged city worker wouldn’t have been able to pull off all those bombings. Someone has been paying gang members to help with the attacks. Lohan’s not the type of guy who’d go into bad neighborhoods to recruit kids to pitch Molotov cocktails.”

“He said he was working alone,” Torrent muttered. “Why didn’t you tell me this the other night?”

“You said you had it figured out.”

“No, I said we had some ideas—you could have shared what you knew.” Suddenly angry at her, his eyes moved back to the building. “That still doesn’t answer why you’re here.”

“I got information from Santiago that there’s a meeting going on. Whoever is doing this is trying to get new recruits to coordinate other attacks.”

As much as Torrent was starting to believe the woman’s theory behind the bombings, he also knew who Santiago was. He was the leader of the Dominican Disciples and the last person in the world he would trust about anything. “I don’t know if I believe this meeting story. Are you sure?”

“Listen, you’re not the only one who can find out anything, all right? Just because I’m not King Torrent doesn’t mean I’m stupid. Something is going on down there, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.” The woman rose, heading towards the building.

“Wow, is she pissed,” Overcast said with a whistle. “I guess she’s gonna be this way from now on. A woman scorned.”

Torrent thought of a nasty comeback, but didn’t bother. Overcast was right.

“So what do we do now?”

“I guess we wait until she goes inside, then follow her. If she’s right, we need to find out what’s going on. But I don’t want her to know we’re checking it out, too.”

The crimefighters turned, watching the woman make her way down the hilly slope towards the factory. At the far end of the building, a dark figure bolted out at breakneck speed, heading towards the train tracks that led into the city.

“Why would that guy be in such a hurry to get out of that building?” Torrent asked.

“I dunno. Unless he just planted a bomb.” Overcast’s eyes widened. “Santiago set her up.”

Torrent turned. His sister was still a distance away, but in a few moments she would be close enough to—

“Sara!” he screamed, breaking into a full run. He pushed his body, clearing the distance between them in mere seconds. The female crimefighter froze when Torrent had called to her. Leaping forward, Michael tackled her to the ground. “Get under my cape,” he yelled, pulling the fire-resistant fabric over both of them. Before she could protest, the explosion sounded. Hot balls shot outwards, pieces of brick and metal flying through the air. The heat was intense, and as the fire rolled over them, Dark Flame cried out in terror. A few moments later, the flames receded, the building continuing to burn in the distance.

Torrent stood, coughing from the thick smoke. He held out his hand out to the woman. “Are you all right?”

Taking a few seconds to catch her breath, Sara pulled up on her own. Her expression was far from thankful. “How the hell do you know my name?”

Overcast had started to run once the flames had ebbed. He caught up with the two and winced as he heard the woman’s question.

“You followed me, didn’t you?” she sneered. “You stalked me to find out who I am.”

Torrent cringed. The only thing that had flashed through his mind was watching his sister being blown to bits. He hadn’t thought of anything other than stopping her, and at that moment she wasn’t Dark Flame but Sara Wolff. It wasn’t until the name had left his lips that he even realized what he had said... or the problems it would bring.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I swear, it’s nothing like that.”

“I can’t believe this,” she said, her voice so upset that her British accent cracked. “This is totally against the Superhero Protection Act. I cannot believe you wouldn’t respect my privacy.”

“Honestly, it’s not what you think. I never tried to find out who you were.”

“Then how the hell do you know who I am?”

Taking a deep breath, he clenched his fists. “Because I’m your brother,” he answered in his own voice.

All the color drained from the woman’s face, her eyes widening. She stared at him blankly for a few moments, her hand moving to her mouth. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “Oh, my God!” she screamed. “Michael!” She shook her head. “How long have you known?”

Glancing down, he closed his eyes. “Since you came to dinner at the penthouse, right after you broke up with Bling.”

Her surprise morphed into shock. “That was months ago.” She shook her head, staring at Overcast with sudden recognition. “Ravenswood! And that means Melody is—” She turned away from them, shaking her head. “Oh, my God, all this time! And you never told me.”

Overcast stared at the burning building, then looked back over his shoulder. “You know, the cops are going to be here soon. I don’t know if we should be talking about this out in public.”

Torrent ignored the private eye. “I wanted to tell you from the beginning, but Dad wouldn’t let me.”

“He knows, too?!” Tears rimmed her eyes and she covered her face with her hands. “How could you do this to me?”

Taking a step towards her, he placed his hand on her shoulder. “Sara, I’m sorry.”

“You bastard!” Dark Flame’s fist shot forward, cracking across his jaw. The sound was so loud Overcast grimaced and flinched back.

Without another word, the woman turned and dashed off.

Michael had actually seen stars when his sister punched him, and he reeled back, struggling to gain his bearings. Grabbing his jaw, his vision cleared just in time to see her jump on her motorcycle and speed away.

“Where the hell did she learn to punch like that?” he stammered. “Seriously, did she have brass knuckles on?”

Ravenswood shook his head no.

As expected, the sounds of sirens could be heard in the distance. Torrent looked at his partner, who avoided his gaze. “I know,” he sneered. “Go ahead and say it. I fucked up again, right? Me and my big mouth.”

“You were worried about your sister,” Ravenswood said, softly. “I probably would have done the same if it were Melody.”

Stroking his sore chin, Michael stared at the burning building.

“At least you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to tell her,” Overcast said with a weak smile.

Flashing his friend a withering glare, Torrent turned and headed towards the approaching squad cars.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Torrent made it to the Gale Home exactly one hour after Dark Flame had left the Kennedy Appliance Factory. He had lingered with the police at the explosion site longer than he needed to in order to give his sister enough time to make it there before him. He thought to go to the back door, then realized she probably wouldn’t let him in if he knocked. So, he moved to the side window, peering in through a crack in the curtain. Sara was in the front room and he could hear the faint sounds of her crying through the glass. He sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. From the moment the team had decided to keep her in the dark about their true identities, he had feared exactly this would happen.

Moving to the bedroom window, he pulled up on the pane and was surprised to find it unlocked. Shaking his head at his sister’s carelessness, he climbed in.

Torrent made his way into the front room. Sara was sitting on the couch, a pillow clutched in her lap. He stood and waited, hoping she would turn and see him on her own. But her attention was fixed far beyond the room. Not wanting to delay the inevitable, he took a deep breath and cleared his throat.

Sara jerked back, gasping before she rose to her feet. Her eyes widened, then narrowed to slits. “What are you doing here?”

For the first time since he had encountered her as Black Torrent, Michael pulled off his mask. When she saw his face, her lips began to tremble and her fingers moved to her mouth.

“I wanted to tell you,” he said softly. “I’ve wanted to tell you every single time I’ve seen you since I found out.”

“It was my arm, right?” she asked. “When you grabbed my arm that night at the penthouse?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Didn’t you ever suspect it was me? I was sure you’d figure it out long before I had a chance to tell you.”

Sara looked so lost. “No, not even once.” Her face twisted, anger taking the place of the pain. “Maybe because I never imagined someone I cared about would keep something like this from me. Particularly when they knew my secret.” Clenching her fists, she shook her head. “Of course, I look back now and see it all and realize how stupid I was.”

“I wanted to tell you,” he repeated. “But Dad wouldn’t let me. There were too many things, too many risks involved.”

Sara didn’t hear him, too wound up in her own emotions. “I looked up to you, I admired you. My God, I even had a crush on you.” She shook her head. “I mean I had a crush on Black Torrent—I mean, the Black Torrent who wasn’t my brother!” She burst into tears.

Michael’s chest ached. He could feel her hurt and embarrassment, and realized there was nothing he could do to take it away.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered again, the words sounding so empty.

“I spent the last few months killing myself, busting my ass to prove I could be a part of your team. I wanted to impress you. I wanted to show everyone I could stand with the Black Torrent. Then you were being so nice to me, and I thought that I was finally doing it, I was finally strong enough to fight alongside you. Now I find out that it was all for nothing, because you knew I was your sister and it didn’t matter if I was any good or not.”

Michael looked down. He knew she had been making an effort to show him her skills, but he didn’t realize how important it was to her. “Sara, you don’t understand. You were impressing me. I wanted you as a part of Team Torrent long before I knew who you were. When I found out you were my sister, it just made me more excited for you to be with us.”

“I don’t believe you,” she sobbed. “It’s all been lies. Everything. In that closet, in the museum, pretending. I’m sure you all had a big laugh after I left, talking about what an idiot I was for not knowing it was all a facade.”

“No we didn’t,” Michael countered, his voice getting harsh. “It wasn’t fun keeping it from you—it would have been far easier and less stressful to have let you in. But we had to stay quiet, for your protection and ours.”

“For so long?” she whispered.

“Sara, you have to believe me—I never did any of this to hurt you.”

“I kissed you.” She buried her face in her hands.

He couldn’t find any other words.

“Get out,” she whispered. Her eyes locked on his, her gaze cold and hard. “I hate you! Get out now!”

Michael had fought to hold back his own tears. He rarely cried. He’d learned as a young child that tears did nothing, they only added more pain. But as he stood, staring at his sister, he felt them stream down his face. There was no way he could ever make her understand that he was as hurt as she was.

He turned and walked to the door. Behind him, he heard Sara collapse and begin to sob. Without another word, he left.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

“This is your fault,” Michael screamed at his father as he stormed into the Command Center. Ravenswood was already there and Michael realized he had probably given Yule the full run-down of the night’s events. “You’re no better either,” he yelled at his friend, shoving an accusatory finger towards him.

“Hey, don’t drag me into your family stuff!”

“Bullshit,” Michael countered, moving so he was an inch from the man. “You were all for it, telling me it would be okay, ‘just give it time.’ I wanted to tell Sara in the beginning, but you were worried she was going to backstab or betray us. Now look at it!”

“Michael, calm down,” Yule spoke, his voice level and composed. It was his diplomat voice, the one he used when he wanted to defuse a situation.

The man behind the Black Torrent mask wasn’t going to let his father get away with it so easily. “Fuck you. She hates me. She hates all of us. And you know what? She has every right to. We lied to her all this time. Months and months, pretending.” He shook his head. “She’s upset and embarrassed. I mean, of course she’s embarrassed, she tried to seduce her brother.”

Yule’s eyebrows shot up. “She tried to seduce you?”

Ravenswood winced. “Um, I didn’t tell him that part.”

“I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.” Michael stopped, his emotions crashing inward. He suddenly felt like he was six years old, standing in the lobby of the hospital, wondering how he was going to survive all alone. “She doesn’t want to see me anymore. I’ve lost my sister.” He sank into the chair, burying his face in his hands. “I should’ve just told her.”

The elder man stepped forward. “No. I should’ve told her.” Grabbing his jacket from the hook, he headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” the private eye asked.

“To fix things... if I can.” He smiled at his son. “I’ll be back.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Yule had never been to the Gale Home for Children. Like most things associated with his daughter, he had deliberately avoided the orphanage for the last several months, even refusing to look at the institution’s website. As his GPS brought him to the front door of the large brick building, he regarded it for a moment before he pulled around back. He recognized the layout from Michael’s descriptions and looked for the small attached apartment.

Tapping lightly on the door, it took a few moments, but soon it creaked open. Sara looked awful. Her eyes were swollen, her cheeks red. Seeing the hurt in her face, he found himself flashing back to Maggie, remembering how she had looked so distraught the day she had learned of her husband’s sterility.

Sara’s expression shifted from surprise to anger. “I’m mad at you, too,” she sneered, slamming the door.

Yule caught the edge, pushing it open. He made his way into the living room.

“What is it with you men? You think you can just break in here? This is my place. Get out!”

He shook his head. “We need to talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“There is a great deal to talk about, so sit down and shut up.”

Sara crossed her arms. “I’m not afraid of you.”

Yule straightened, his eyes narrowing. At full height, he was a head taller than his daughter and nearly twice as wide. He took a step towards her. “Aren’t you?” he asked in his old Torrent voice.

Sara’s eyes widened. She pulled in her arms and slowly lowered onto the couch. “Maybe a little.”

Yule tried to keep a stoic face, but he smiled despite himself. Thing is, he was growing to love his daughter very much. As he took the seat next to her, Sara turned away, staring at the wall.

“This wasn’t Michael’s fault,” he started. “He wanted to tell you right away. I was the one who told him not to.”

“I don’t care,” she whispered.

“You should care. Michael trusted you from the moment he met you. He believed in you. He fought hard. He wanted to tell you everything right away and was furious when I wouldn’t let him.” Yule glanced down. “He’s worked so long to get us together as a family. He’s devastated now, thinking that you hate him. He cares about you, more than he ever cared about me.”

“I doubt that.” Sara’s voice was quiet and tears started to stream down her face. Yule could see she was softening—it was obvious she loved her brother. “Why didn’t you want to tell me?” she asked.

“Because there’s so much to tell, and so much we couldn’t tell you. Being Black Torrent isn’t a game. It never was, for him... or for me.”

Sara’s eyebrows furrowed. “What?”

“I was the first Black Torrent, Sara. The government blew up that chateau in Switzerland to kill me and everyone else who knew my identity... including your mother. Michael became Black Torrent to take my place, because if he didn’t, someone else would have.” Yule rose, walking across the room. Sara’s apartment was small, but he felt comfortable there. It reminded him of his suite in Katra. “That’s why we could never allow anyone to know I’m still alive. There are things I know about certain people high in the government, things that they would kill for, to keep quiet.” He turned back to his daughter, his eyes softening. “It took me years to train Michael, to help him understand how important being Black Torrent is. It wasn’t as simple as telling you. I had to know who you were, and assure you didn’t have connections to those who would want to destroy us. I had to be sure that you would be able to appreciate the dangers and respect them.”

“I’m so confused,” she admitted, resting her forehead on her hand. “When I was little, I idolized the Black Torrent. I wanted to be just like him.”

“And you are.” Yule knelt down, taking her hands in his. “I became the Black Torrent because the military wanted a masked soldier. Michael became the Black Torrent because I asked him to, because I needed someone to follow after me. No one pushed you. You became a superhero without anyone telling you to, because you cared. That’s far braver than anything we ever did.” He smiled, stroking her cheek. “You took up the family business, and you didn’t even know you were in the family.”

Sara closed her eyes, more tears pressing from them.

“There’s so much I need to tell you,” Yule said softly. “So much Michael needs to tell you. But you have to be patient. It’ll all come in time. You just need to trust me.”

Sara threw her arms around the man, holding him tight. Even though they had met several times before, she had kept her distance, given him his space. Now she held him close and trembled.

“Don’t blame Michael, blame me,” he whispered, stroking her hair.

Sara pulled away and shrugged. “I’ll blame Ravenswood. He could use some blame thrown his way.”

Yule laughed hard. “I wholeheartedly agree.”

Taking his hand, Sara looked at him with love and admiration. “My father, the Black Torrent.”

“My daughter, the Dark Flame.”

Standing, Sara rubbed her eyes. “Do you want some coffee? I so need some caffeine right now.”

“That would be great.” Yule followed his daughter into the small kitchen. “Ravenswood mentioned that you had some information about the bombings. Will you tell me?”

“I don’t think it’ll help.”

“Don’t say that. Sometimes what seems insignificant can be a major clue.”

Sara shrugged. “This is silly, but I still can’t help but think the mayor is behind this.”

“To what end?”

“Well, if he burns down the city and Brooks takes office, he has a mess to clean up. If he burns down the city and he gets re-elected, then he’s the hero who will rebuild it.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Yule said with a nod. “But he’s not doing it himself. I don’t imagine he’s going to the gangs on his own. Who do you think he’s working with?”

The woman looked perplexed. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t even know Cannon, really. I just met him once at a party—” Sara’s face lost all expression, her mouth gaping. “Oh, my gosh, I know who it is.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael sat at the computer console, scrolling through the information on the various bombings—though it was obvious he wasn’t paying much attention to it.

Ravenswood sat at the long conference table and flipped through a nature magazine. He had insisted on staying until Yule returned. The detective knew his friend’s harsh words had been said in anger and he really hadn’t meant them. Michael had stood by his side during the most difficult times of his life; he wasn’t going to desert him during his.

Seeing an article about giant beetles in Africa, Ravenswood shivered and closed the book. “Find anything?”

It took a moment for Michael to snap out of his haze. He shook his head. “Nothing we haven’t already looked into.” Taking a deep breath, the CEO joined his friend at the table. “I’m worried about Sara.”

“I know.”

“It’s more than that. I’m worried that this is going to discourage her, that she’ll doubt being the Dark Flame. Despite everything, she really has helped us. I want her to be a part of our team.”

Ravenswood smiled, leaning back in his chair. “Do you remember the first time we met her? Man, were you shocked.”

“Well, I remember you being pretty dumbfounded, too.” Michael laughed. “Remember the next time, when I confronted her? She started spouting the Superhero Protection Act.”

“Then there was the time she gave us the keys to that safe box. You know, if we ever straighten this out, I’ve gotta ask her where the heck found them. We were looking for weeks with no luck.” Ravenswood smiled. He hadn’t realized how much Sara had become a part of their crimefighting, even before she had joined the Bruce family.

“Of course, don’t forget those pictures she gave us of Bling, Rufus, and the Mayor. That was pretty telling—”

Both men fell silent, realization hitting them. Ravenswood stared at his friend. “We’re idiots.”

“Rufus Thorn,” Michael repeated. “Of course. He’s a domestic terrorist and a white supremist.”

“Not to mention a bomb-making expert.”

“We have to get word to Brooks. It’s only a matter of time before Thorn targets him or his family.” Michael glanced at his watch. “He mentioned he’s working nights this week.”

Ravenswood tensed as his friend accessed the special satellite phone. The connection routed over two dozen lines, making it traceable only by top-level equipment. Even then, it would take several minutes to narrow down the true connection source, and Michael never allowed his calls to go over sixty seconds.

“Captain Brooks,” he said, switching to his Torrent voice. “Yes? Where is he? How long ago did he leave? May I ask, did anyone accompany him? All right, then. Please leave a message that Black Torrent will be contacting him soon.”

“He’s not in?”

Michael’s face was grave. “They said he got a call from the meat storage facility for the restaurants. Something about troubles with the cooling system. He went there to check it out... alone.”

A sick feeling assaulted the detective. “Who calls about that at 2 a.m.?”

“It’s possible,” Michael said. “Losing hundreds of pounds of meat could destroy a business financially. But given everything that’s going on, I think we’d better go check it out.”

The detective grimaced, staring at his watch. “Another sleepless night. You know, at this rate, I’m never going to get my apartment clean.”

“I’ll arrange for a maid,” Michael said in all seriousness. “C’mon.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

The storage facility was located in a small industrial park, which meant that it was a nondescript brick building surrounded by other nondescript brick buildings. It also meant that at 2 a.m. there weren’t any people around.

Torrent and Overcast found the address quickly enough. Aaron’s car was parked in front, and no other vehicles were in the area. The men hurried to the front door and Overcast picked the lock.

“Aaron!” they called as they entered the darkened building. Pulling out their flashlights, they rushed through the outer lobby, making their way back into the storage area. The interior was quite large, with a loading dock that could accommodate five semi-trucks. Metal shelves covered with pallets of plastic-wrapped dry food lined the sides of the room, and a bank of freezers took up the far end of the building.

“Over here!” called a voice they didn’t recognize. Two security guards were tied to a nearby support beam.

“He’s a lunatic,” said one of the uniformed men as the superheroes cut through their ropes. “He’s got Mr. Brooks locked in a freezer and he’s going to blow up the building!”

“Get to safety and call the police,” Torrent ordered.

As the guards left, one of them turned on the lights.

“Thanks,” called Overcast.

The crimefighters dashed over to the line of freezers. A faint pounding sound could be heard from one near the end.

“Aaron?” Torrent yelled.

“I’m locked inside!” came Brooks’s voice. They could barely hear him through the thick door. “It was Rufus Thorn. He locked me in here then told me he’d blow up the building in five minutes!”

Overcast started picking the large padlock on the handle.

“That was four minutes ago!” the police captain added.

“Crap!” the hatted hero cursed.

“Stand clear,” yelled Torrent.

Overcast turned to see his partner driving a forklift at breakneck speed straight towards him.

“Aaron, get back,” he screamed, diving out of the way as the machine crashed into the freezer. The door bent inward, crushing like a tin can.

Brooks scrambled over the twisted metal. “We have to get out of here, now!”

“How much time do we have?” The three of them started to run before they heard the answer.

Aaron looked at his watch. “Ten seconds...”

They all ran faster.

“Six seconds...”

They cleared the large room.

“Three... two...”

They hadn’t made it to the front door yet.

“One...”

Still running, they all braced themselves for the explosion, but nothing happened.

“Maybe we’re off by a few seconds,” Overcast suggested. But no one was taking their chances. They kept running, out through the door, dashing across the small walkway, and leaping behind the Maserati. The three men ducked down, shielding their heads.

Still nothing happened.

“Do you suppose Thorn was bluffing?” Overcast finally asked.

“Thorn’s not the type of person who bluffs... ever,” Aaron panted. “Something else is going on.”

Torrent stood up, looking around. “Do you guys hear something?”

Overcast was about to say that he didn’t when the words “Let me go!” were screamed some distance away—in a thick British accent.

“I heard that,“ he said, but Torrent and Aaron were already running in the direction of the cries. Adjusting his hat, he followed behind.

 

Torrent’s heart was already racing from the mad dash to exit the food storage facility, but it sped up even further when he heard the cries of Dark Flame. They came from the far side of the neighboring building—far enough away that someone would be safe from an explosive blast.

Rushing around the corner, they caught sight of a large white unmarked van, the female crimefighter, and three men dressed in black. One man was on the ground, unconscious. Another had his large, beefy arm around Dark Flame’s throat; he was so tall that she was held up off the ground by him. Even though she couldn’t breathe, she managed to put up a fight, kicking savagely at his legs.

Also present was a man they all recognized as Rufus Thorn. He was dressed in a dark pullover and slacks, instead of his usual hippie bellbottoms and vest. His face was covered in scrapes and bruises, and his lip was swelled up on one side. From the looks of it, Dark Flame must have beaten him pretty thoroughly.

The lack of oxygen was getting to Sara and her kicking started to slow as her eyes sagged. Thorn was holding a gun and motioned to his goon. “Put her down, Mitch. She won’t give us any more trouble.”

The large man released her and stepped out of the way of his boss’s line of fire. Flare gasped and tried to catch her breath.

“Now,” said Rufus. “I made Mr. Brooks a promise and you’ve prevented me from keeping it.”

“You’re too late,” Aaron announced.

Thorn looked up. “Well, shit,” he groaned. He kept the gun trained on the woman. “Don’t make any sudden moves, or I’ll kill her. You know I’ll do it. I would much enjoy it, to be honest.”

Still too exhausted to move, Dark Flame looked up at the others apologetically.

“Mitch, open the back doors of the van, get in driver’s seat, then start the engine.”

As the man did as he was told, Thorn walked over to the vehicle, keeping his gun aimed at the woman’s head the entire time. He reached into the van and pulled out a small box with an antenna on top. “This is what that bitch stopped me from getting. If I press this button, the Brooks warehouse goes boom. It’s not as good as a human hostage, but serviceable.”

The terrorist wasn’t able to keep the gun pointed at Dark Flame and climb in at the same time. Torrent started forward but Aaron stopped him. “Don’t risk it.”

Rufus stood in the back of the van and faced them. “I’ve got my eye on you guys. Don’t try anything until I’m too far away to see you, got that?” He shook the remote control box menacingly. “Start driving, Mitch!”

As the van sped off, the three men rushed to Dark Flame’s side.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, still having trouble breathing. “This is my fault.”

“No,” Torrent said. “You saved Aaron’s life. You saved all our lives.”

“And you went up against Thorn and two of his goons,” Aaron added. “That’s amazing.”

Dark Flame tried to smile, but her heart just didn’t seem in it. She grabbed her throat and coughed again.

While Torrent helped the woman up, Aaron moved to the unconscious man, assuring he was no threat. He then moved to the area where the van had been parked. Overcast joined him, examining the collection of wires and small machine parts lying on the ground.

“That’s stuff that fell out during the fight,” Dark Flame explained.

“Don’t touch it,” Brooks ordered. “We may be able to get prints off of it. If we can’t get Thorn now, at least we can connect him to the bombings.”

Noticing some debris a distance away, Torrent walked over and studied it. “This is some powerful stuff. I think he meant to demolish that building completely.”

“Yeah, with me in it.” Aaron rubbed the back of his neck. “Though, I’m glad he chose me and not my dad. I don’t think he’d have made it out of there.”

“I think choosing your father would have been too obvious. He still had to make it look mob-related.”

Dark Flame slowly crept backwards as the men concentrated on the bits and pieces on the ground. Torrent caught sight of the movement and glanced in her direction. She stopped her retreat, but pleaded with him with her eyes.

“Go on,” he mouthed silently.

As she left, Torrent returned his attention to the men.

“I hope this means the bombings are really over now,” Aaron said.

“Me, too.” Overcast removed his hat to scratch his head. “Though I can’t imagine the gangs are gonna want to torch any more buildings if they aren’t getting paid for it.”

“True.” The police captain turned. “Hey, where’s Dark Flame?”

Overcast looked around and grimaced. “She does that a lot.”

The sound of sirens could be heard and the two security guards they had freed earlier approached.

“Are you guys okay?”

“We’re fine,” Brooks called. “Let’s head back to the building.”

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Michael lay in the bed, staring at the ceiling. He was exhausted, yet his body wouldn’t allow him to sleep. His mind whirled, going over the events of the last few years. Things had seemed so complicated when he was alone. Now that he had what he had dreamed of—a family—things were more convoluted than ever.

There was a quiet buzzing and he jolted, turning over to look at the clock. 5:00 a.m. However, it wasn’t the alarm. The sound was familiar, and he realized it was his cell phone. It played the song “Sara’s Serenade,” the ringtone he had set for his sister.

“Hello?”

There was a pause. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

He sat up, leaning against the headboard. “No. I can’t sleep.”

“Me neither,” Sara admitted.

“Are you all right? Are you still hurt?”

“I’m fine. Have a few nasty bruises, but nothing a little makeup can’t hide.”

Michael was silent for a moment, struggling to find the words. There was so much he wanted to tell his sister, so much he wanted to make right. But instead, he only found himself able to repeat what he had already said so many times before.

“I really am sorry.”

“I know. I’m sorry, too. I was just surprised and hurt.” She sniffled. “I’m scared. I was just getting used to things, and now it’s all going to be different, again.”

“But not in a bad way.”

Her voice lowered a little. “I’ve been thinking a lot. If I had to choose between you just being... him... or you being my brother, I’d choose you being my brother.”

Michael smiled. “But I’m both. And so are you. We have to deal with that.”

“I know, and I’m okay with it, really. Well, at least I think I’m getting there. I just need a little time.”

“I don’t blame you. I needed time in the beginning, too. Just ask Dad how long it took. He was about ready to wring my neck.”

Sara laughed, then let out a wistful sigh. “Dad’s incredible. So are you.”

Clutching the phone tighter, Michael struggled to hold back his emotions. “You’re my sister, Sara, and I love you. I want you to always remember that.”

“I’ll call you in a few days.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

The line disconnected. Michael took a deep breath, replacing the phone on the nightstand. He sank back into the pillow and drifted off to sleep.