Spacer Death of a Three-Time Loser311
  | Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Villains & Vigilantes | The Revolution | Fifty Years Ago | Death of a Three-Time Loser |





    There was a slight discrepancy, however. The responding officer, Harry Bow, had stated, "I heard the two shots, one right on top of the other." That left no time for the described struggle. He closed his eyes, picturing the front hall of the Turnbull house, where these events had been said to take place. There was a large oak table there, and a mahogany cabinet. Not particularly smashable objects, at least if one is a normal person. Hm. The Commissioner had lauded Bow's prompt action while deploring the fact that such a crime could happen under the watchful eye of the NYPD. Justice had been served.
    The robber/murderer had been named John Christmas, a man who had been in and out of prison for armed robbery, and apparently an idiot. The Turnbulls had indeed planned to be away from their home—the following day. He hadn't had a getaway vehicle, there was no sign of what he might have planned to steal, and his clothes had been ripped up, although how they got that way was unclear.
    The house was still locked up, its ownership in question since the Turnbulls had never modified their will, everything was still supposed to go to Elsie, which of course wasn't possible.
    Something is very wrong here, he concluded. Miles returned to his hotel room and unpacked his costume.

    Years before he had discovered the secrets that allowed one to draw upon the powers of the planets, each aspect changing his form slightly and endowing it with different abilities; it was only after belatedly realizing the abuses that could grow were this knowledge to become general that he assumed the name of Astro-Man.
    He made his way to the hotel roof unseen and assumed the aspect of the planet Neptune, flew to the Turnbull's home and switched to Pluto, passed through the roof of their home and began looking around, keeping away from the windows. Switched to Uranus and listened intently, heard no signs of anyone else in the house. He went downstairs.
    He had not misremembered the furnishings, and he had only seen damage like this before because he had caused it, using his Saturn form. No normal human had lifted the mahogany sideboard and smashed it like that. The chalk outlines were still on the floor where his friends had fallen. He looked around further, trying to find some sign of what they might have needed to tell him.
    It seemed they had taken in a lodger, though the newspapers had mentioned no such thing. He found a room that was not theirs, not Elsie's (still untouched after all these years), with a bed, chair, and desk, clothes in the closet cut for a broad-shouldered, tall man. Some of the hangers were empty, some on the floor, and there was no suitcase. On the desk were thick pencils and loose paper, crayons and loose, childlike sketches.
    Very strange.
    He returned downstairs and looked for the door to the basement. It was locked; that was not a problem. He remained incorporeal on the other side, just in case. Peter's lab was down there, blackboards covered in sketches and notes, the theories in the same advanced realm as Miles'—it looked like Peter had been working on an attempt at extra-solar communication—and he noted some flaws in the logic then moved on. Hazel's working space was down there as well, her theories of linguistics, education, and means of opening communications between speakers of different languages.
    There was also a room with a large steel cage, long unused. Perhaps they had indeed made contact with alien life....
    Where does Christmas fit into this? he wondered. Had he appeared and set free whatever was kept here? A horrible thought arrived: perhaps they got to the point where they could speak to whatever it was, and perhaps they had helped it along, only to be turned on... but then, again, how did Christmas fit in? And where was the creature now?
    He decided to visit the local police, shifting aspects rapidly to make the journey. Then he strode through the door in full costume.
    "Yeah, whattya want?"
    "I'm looking for Patrolman Harry Bow, is he around?"
    "What are you doing dressed like that? What kind of a freak are you?"
    "I am Astro-Man," he replied gravely.
    "You hear that, Sarge? He's Astro-Man."
    "May I speak with the captain on shift please?" he requested, remaining polite with an effort.
    "Why're you wearin' your underwear on the out—"
    "That's plenty enough," the captain joined them. "I see that you're dressed as Captain Astro sir, can I have some—"
    "That's Astro-Man."
    "Astro-Man. Can I see your proof of identity?"
    He switched to Neptunian form and floated up to the ceiling, then down again.
    "That's sufficient. If you'll come through here, Astro-Man...."
    The desk sergeant remained skeptical. "Astro-Man, who the—"
    "He's from California."
    "Well what is he doing out here?!"
    "Mystery men travel, too, you know," he told them in passing.
    "What can I do for you, sir?" the captain wanted to know once they were in the office.
    "Captain, I'm in town on something of an investigation. I was wondering if I could speak to Patrolman Bow, the man who captured Jack Christmas?"
    "Well, captured's a bit of a stretch, but I'll—"
    "Killed," he amended. "I'm familiar with the details."
    "Hang on just a moment." He picked up the phone. "Sergeant, can you get Patrolman Bow in here? He should just be coming off shift."
    Introductions were performed.
    "It's a pleasure," Bow said. "What can I do to help you... Astro-Man?"
    "To be honest, I'm investigating the deaths of Peter and Hazel Turnbull."
    "Oh. That."
    "I believe there may be more to it than the late Mr. Christmas and was wondering if I could ask you exactly what you saw on that night."
    "I was heading by the Turnbull's. I stopped by there every night on patrol, they would invite me in, I'd have a cup of coffee, get out of the chill for a few minutes. They were a really nice old couple, and it never hurts to have those stops when you're doing the walk, and community... anyway. Just hit me," he apologized after a faltering moment. "Anyway, so I'm on my way there, and I hear these two gunshots, bang, bang, then there's a hideous crash—and by then I'm already running—so I'm closing on the front door just as this Christmas guy is coming out down the stairs. And he's just got guilty written all over him. He's got a pistol in his hand with smoke still coming out of it. I yell for him to stop, he turns, points his gun at me, I've identified myself as a police officer... I fired. I'm usually not a very good shot on the range, but...." He shook his head. "I wish I hadn't killed him."
    "The papers mentioned something about his clothes being shredded?"
    "Yeah. Yeah. After I hit him he tripped and fell and rolled. I got up to him, the jacket he was wearing had been ripped apart. You think—I didn't think that much about it at the time, I checked and he was definitely dead—in fact I think it got stripped off of him when they were picking the body up."
    "Stripped off how?"
    "It was barely on him, it was in tatters, and they pulled him up and it just fell off. It was so open and shut, I don't even know if it made it to the coroner's office."

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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson