“The moon wanes, but not crime. They think they can hide from me. That they are safe in their alleys. In their shadows. But I see them. Oh yes, I do. That’s right! Raise your hood! Block the light! But even in the dark, I know you. I know your deeds, your hearts. Blacker than the darkest night, you prey on the weak, the helpless. People huddle in their homes, behind locked doors, fearing that it won’t be enough. That their metal and wood won’t be able to keep you out.
“They are right.
“But you aren’t up against wood and metal. You’re up against me. And you’ll find me harder than the immovable object, more dedicated than the irresistible force. I’ll find you. I’ll bring you to justice. And the city will finally be…”
“You know that was all out loud?” I called from the shadows.
The caped man nearly jumped out of his spandex-covered skin. He spun around, his hand shooting to his belt, a high-pitched scream cut off with an audible snap of his jaw. He pulled the goggles off of his eyes and located me near one of the large air exhausts at the top of Lucius Tower. He lowered his hand from his belt and adjusted his cape, covering the slight bulge of his belly.
“Citizen!” his voice was gravelly, “What can Condor do for you this black night?”
I glanced up. The moon was three-quarters full. “It isn’t a black night.”
His head bobbed side to side, slightly, “In comparison to day?”
I sighed, “This is your deal? You sit up here and talk to yourself?”
“No, citizen. I’m scanning the night,” his tempo quickened, “seeking out evildoers. From my vantage point up here, I see…”
“But you’re not a super?” I interrupted.
“I mean, you don’t have a power?”
“You invented all of that crap you wear?”
“Um…helped invent would be more…”
“What’s the deal with your voice? Is that some sort of distorter? You sound like you’re talking through the ass of a tiger.”
“No!” he reached up to his throat, “This is the voice of justice!”
I laughed, “No. That’s the voice of a pathetic little man playing super.”
His eyes narrowed, “Condor fights for the people. Condor brings evildoers to justice.”
“Condor likes to talk about himself in the third person.”
“Probably because Condor spends too much time up on rooftops spying through the windows of showering ladies.”
“Now, that’s not true!”
I sighed again, “According to police reports, there have been numerous complaints.”
He shifted uncomfortably, “Um…numerous?”
I nodded slowly.
“Oh. Well, I can explain…”
“Do you know who I am?”
The masked man shifted again, “Ah…” he reached down to his belt and brought out a gun.
I quickly pressed the button on my thigh that activated my Inertial Dampener before he could aim. He pressed a switch and the gun disassembled in front of my eyes and reconfigured into a pair of reading glasses. I exhaled and felt the tension drain from my shoulders as he held them over his eyes.
“No. Can’t say I do. A super of some kind, I presume,” he placed the glasses, again in the shape of a gun, into a pocket on his belt.
“Bob Moore? Bob Moore Investigations?”
His mouth dropped open slightly.
“Oh, I see. You’ve heard of me.” I stepped out of the shadows and closer to the Condor.
He wore an all-brown costume that appeared to be constructed out of some sort of armor. On his chest was a solid orange image of a bird taking flight, and his belt was oversized and looked to be metal. Probably full of more devices. His mask covered everything but his mouth, and where his nose should have been was a large, yellow beak.
“This is the deal, William Dollar,” Dollar looked like I’d slapped him in the face. I shook my head. His parents had probably wanted him to make them lots of money. Instead, they’d gotten someone who’d spent it all on a costume. “I’m here for two reasons. First, do you know Dorothy Schmitt?”
He shook his head.
“How about her son, Jeremy?”
“All right,” I took another step, “answer me this: where is your sidekick?”
Dollar’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. Finally, he managed to stammer, “Took the night off?”
I lowered my head, “You killed another one, didn’t you?”
“Of course not! How could you say that about my foster son!”
I scowled, “And here I thought my reputation preceded me. You have no foster son. You never did. Your sidekick, whatever you’re calling him, is really Jeremy Schmitt. Well, at least he was.”
I took two more steps, backing Condor all the way up to the building’s edge. I poked a finger into the orange bird on his chest. I was right; it was some sort of rigid plating, “Don’t lie to me, Bill. You think Jeremy’s parents wouldn’t recognize him no matter what stupid costume you put him in?”
“I swear, one more lie and I’ll go straight to the press with your identity. I happen to know that the police are looking to crack down on you demihero idiots. You’d make the perfect example to show how serious they are.”
Bill gulped, his eyes wide behind his mask. Finally, he nodded.
“Okay, once again, you killed another one, didn’t you?”
He nodded glumly. “Thug took a shot at me. Hatchling bravely dove in front and took the bullet for me.”
“Hatchling?” I rolled my eyes. I bet it was more like Bill had used him for a shield, but that wasn’t important.
“I didn’t know!” he protested. “They told me no one would know!”
“A clone. They are clones, right?”
He nodded again. “They told me they were from long dead people. No one would recognize him.” He grabbed my shoulders, “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I just wanted company.”
I shrugged his hands off, my skin crawling, “I don’t know what you wanted, but I hope you were just looking to sell a more wholesome image and not live out some sick fantasy.” I turned and took a step away. “I’m here on behalf of Jeremy’s parents. Stop it. Stop using their son.”
“I swear!” he put up his hands. “It was only for stopping crime! I treated him like my own son!”
“You treated them like your own sons.”
“Stop it.” I turned back to him, locking my eyes with his. “I know many things about you, Mr. Dollar. Things that could land you in prison for a very long time. If I see you with ANY underage sidekick again, I’ll turn everything I know over to the police. Or the supers. Whichever amuses me more.”
He nodded vigorously, “No problem, Mr. Moore. It won’t happen again.”
“And tell the family…”
“Oh, I’m not done, Bill. You’re going to figure out a way to help out his family in a very anonymous way. First, you’ll be covering my costs, which have been considerable. Then you’ll figure out a way to make them financially secure for the rest of their lives without them knowing it was a payoff from you for molesting their son.”
I put up a hand, my voice quivering with rage, “Whatever you did or didn’t do, it was molestation. You took the memory of their son and waved it in front of their faces without a care for how that would make them feel. Did you ever consider the implications of your actions? Of what that could do to them?” I ended on a barely contained yell.
Dollar shrank under my verbal assault, “They told me…”
“And now we get to the meat.” I paused, Condor’s wide eyes on me, “Who, Mr. Dollar. Who told you?”
He swallowed and took a half-step back, his heel dangling over the edge of the building, the orange bird on his chest glinting in the moonlight, “Oh, I don’t know if I should…”
“Don’t think, Mr. Dollar. Thinking is what got you into this mess.” I could feel the sweat beading up on my upper lip. He had to tell me. He had to! “Who? Who made the clones for you?”
Condor paused, his eyes wide. Long moments passed. I didn’t let my eyes waver, though it was hard not to glance at the bird on his chest.
Finally, his eyes dropped. “Fine. Okay. Just…fine.” He dropped his head, speaking to his boots, “I don’t know exactly who. I went through an intermediary. The man’s name was Gideon. Gideon Sans. I’ll give you his number.”
I wrote down the number on the back of my hand with his pen. Of course, it was a quill. He kept talking, making excuses. I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention. Plus, he moved his arms when he spoke. It made the bird on his chest look like it was flapping its wings. Which reminded me…
“Did you know, Mr. Dollar, that supers have been directed not to harm tippys? People like you and me without powers? That we’ve been called off limits?”
Bill adjusted his mask, “I’d heard something about that, yeah.”
“And you’ve been using that, haven’t you? You and all your demihero buddies. Tippys dressed up as supers. As long as you don’t make too much of a spectacle, they’d have to leave you alone.”
He nodded slightly, his eyes tight, “I’m not sure what you’re saying.”
I smiled, “I’m not a super, Mr. Dollar.”
“Uh…” Bill’s eyes grew wide, “Listen, Mr. Moore, you’ve got to understand. I meant no harm.”
“No harm?” My hands clenched, “How many? How many of them died for your hobby?”
“But…I mean…it wasn’t like they were real,” Bill pleaded.
My breath caught in my throat, “Not…real?”
“They were just clones, you know…if I hadn’t paid for them…”
I interrupted, my voice low and full of ice, “That suit. You can fly in it?”
“Um…” Bill stuttered, confused by the change of topic. “No, not exactly. I can gli…”
I kicked the Condor directly in the chest, sending him floundering over the side of the building. I watched as the bird on his chest, as if in slow motion, fell back over the edge, his flailing arms causing the wings to flap. I debated looking to make sure he was alright, but decided I didn’t really care.
All those kids. All those clones. A part of me hoped I’d see the puddle of him at the bottom of the building, though I doubted I would. I fingered the keychain in my pocket absently.
I wiped my palms on my slacks and took a deep breath of night air. Up above the city, the air smelled crisp and clean. I’d been on many buildings in my life. Usually the view was spoiled by flying supers. But not tonight.
The Lucius Tower was, by far, the tallest building in the city. It loomed over all the others by many stories. Every time someone tried to build a bigger one, the owner, some sort of uber-rich super most likely, would add floors.
To the bottom.
The building was a living history of the changes in architecture over the years. The top was built back in the forties or something. Adorned with gargoyles, spires, and all manner of things included for their aesthetic rather than functional value, it was my favorite building. But only at the top. Around thirty floors down, it started to take on some of the more modern styling of glass and steel, odd cutouts and balconies, and even a huge separation where one part of the building floated two stories above the others so that a true outdoor experience could be achieved. The bottom floors were as impressive as they were grotesque. I much preferred the feel of brick and concrete the top provided.
I took the elevator down to the ground floor, retrieved the Multikey I had placed in an outlet, and walked out. The overridden building security would come back online long after I’d left. There would be no record of my being in the building and no evidence that anything had been tampered with. I was completely in the clear.
Alan popped open the door to the car as I approached. “Did I just see someone fly off that building?” he asked.
I sat, putting on my seatbelt, “Fly, fall…there’s such a fine line.”
“Fall? Did he jump?”
“Another of your fine lines?” Alan laughed. “But seriously, you didn’t really push someone off that building, did you?”
“No.” Technically, I’d kicked him. “Plus, it was that Condor guy.”
“Can’t he fly or something?”
“Or something…I hope.” I smiled.
Alan turned a critical eye on me, and I turned away to watch the streetlights pass, my thumb on the keychain in my pocket. Nineteen. She was so close.