The show must go on. - Various
"Do you know what I've always wondered? How did you two get started in this?"
Sphinx and Muse both looked away from the screens to Stevie, who was busy building something large and maechaical for their employer, then at each other, then back at Stevie, trying to absorb the import of this non sequiter.
"Are you asking for our secret origins, sir? What would that do to our mystery?" Muse asked in return.
Stevie waved his screwdriver in the air as if to magically clarify his point, "No, no, not that. I was just wondering, like, how you two guys got started. What it was like for you when you started. I was just thinking about Stephanie, and how she's just getting started. So?"
Sphinx scratched his head. "Just a moment. I'm trying to parse that." He tilted his head sideways in a very feline motion. "You want to hear about our first crime?"
"Er, yeah. That'll cover it."
Muse waved his arms expansively, indicating that Stevie should take a seat. "If that's what you wish for, then you're in luck, For it so happens that Sphinx had his first showing in The Game at my side, in this very city."
Sphinx rubbed his shoulder and winced at the memory. "He's right. I hadn't thought about it in years."
"Of course not, sir, whereas I have every reason to remember that glorious evening. The ocean breeze, the leaves falling around us, our first dance...."
Stevie looked very confused. "What?"
"He's waxing rhapsodic. He does that when her name comes up."
Sphinx shook his head. "I'll let him tell it in his own way. It's better than listening to the TV crews coming up with another asinine name for today's events." He gave Muse a pointed look, "Rest assured that I'll correct you if you get too far away from the truth."
"A true master need never edit a performance," Muse admonished. "Fetch yourself the beverage of your choice and prepare to hear of the young Sphinx's first appearance, mentored as he was by someone about whom modesty forbids my going into too much detail...."
* * *
Augustus Madison, film star, vegetarian, teetotaler, vitamin shake booster, and unbeknownst to most people the high-profile costumed hero Captain Vanguard, having just wrapped filming on his latest movie, was in Boston on his own in order to take in the sights of the city and enjoy the historical ambience, the fine restaurants, and the prettier locals, as his studio-sanctioned girlfriend had gone back to Hollywood with the rest of the team.
Michael Hunter, wealthy Philadelphia socialite and secretly the stalker of the supernatural known as the White Rose, had come to the city to investigate a crime that had taken place on his home ground. Forty-eight hours previously, under the noses of the Philly police, who had even been warned ahead of time that this would happen, the mid-sized yacht The Lias' Pride had been stolen. The warning of course meant costumed criminals, particularly since it had been delivered in the form of a playbill. The Pride's owner was an acquaintance, and Hunter knew that the yacht was brand new and included all the latest comforts and accoutrements. The playbill had stated that this was "Act I: In which our heroes gather unto themselves the vessels they will need for their journey." He had quickly traced the yacht to Boston.
Lydia Holt, heiress to the millions of the Holt plastics business, accomplished world traveler, and also the vigilante known to the press as Argus, made Boston her home. Through her network of agents she had discovered that the communist group the Levelers were planning an attack on a party at a pricey restaurant near the waterfront. The Levelers liked nothing better than to humiliate and rob the wealthy; they claimed that the money was distributed to the poor, but there were suspicions to the contrary. She had discovered the time and date of the attack and now from the mouth of a nearby alley surveyed those entering the party; quite the glamorous collection, it appeared... that was Roger Fitzgerald, scion of a local millionaire and the man who would be playing the lead in the production of Oedipus Rex opening this week. And was that Augustus Madison with a starlet on his arm?
Meanwhile, the White Rose was investigating the docks for leads on the missing yacht. As he lurked, several men in heavy jackets strode down the gangplank of the one of the tankers. They were heavily dressed for early spring, the kind of jackets oft used for concealing things. Like guns. The one in front was a bear of a man nearly seven feet tall, and the Rose recognized someone with a touch of lycanthrope in his family background. He followed them, curious to see what they were up to. The leveling horde made their way through the streets toward the party, unaware of the hunter on their trail. Outside the restaurant the big one gestured and two of his followers split off to go around the back.
From the alleyway, Argus nodded in satisfaction; they were right on time, and the Leveler himself was with them, and it looked like he was following his usual troop disposition of two around back, two to watch in front, the rest following him inside. Then she frowned, as she barely glimpsed a third figure in the shadows behind those headed toward the back door; this was not someone she had information on. She disliked that intensely, her usual mode being to wait and gather data, then time her rare public strikes with surgical precision. If the Levelers had somehow acquired the services of some master assassin or something like that... no, she decided, the attack would go on as planned. The chance to remove the leader of this particularly disruptive lot was too good.
Madison was engaged in pleasant conversation, nibbling vegetarian canapés and eyeing the local lovelies. "Did you know that there's an average of ten pounds of impacted meat in your colon right now?" he informed a bystander.
"Fascinating." His current victim changed the subject. "Saw your latest film...."
Madison knew little of the guest of honor, Fitzgerald being a stage actorand to be honest, one who could most certainly out-act Madison any day of the weekthough he had heard rumors they were trying to get him into film. Like most "real" actors he seemed to be most interested in two subjects, himself and Acting, holding forth in the midst of a crowd of admirers. Despite his almost immediate dislike for the man, Augustus could not help but overhear bits and pieces of the conversation, from which he gathered that one of the onlookers was the rising star's mother, while some sort of family schism had prevented the father's presence. Mrs. Fitzgerald was well-preserved, but even so Madison was disconcerted to find himself fending off her advances as the evening wore on, while the starlet he'd arrived with bared her claws at her rival.
Suddenly the door to the restaurant was smashed in; the man standing in the doorway reached under his coat and produced an enormous sledgehammer. Madison promptly looked around for the men's room, moving with speed that would have surprised most watchers. The starlet was left wobbling on one high heel, with a betrayed expression.
"I'm sorry, this is a private party," the maitre d' said, stepping in front of the large intruder.
"I am a member of the only party that matters! Ha!" the Leveler scoffed, picking the man up by his shirtfront.
"Time for Captain Vanguard to defeat these rampaging communists," the Californian mused to himself, changing into his costume. He climbed up into the drop ceiling and moved toward the noise.
The White Rose, clinging with fingers and toes to the brickwork some twenty feet above, saw the two men he had followed pull shotguns from their coats and prepare for their part in the assault. He dropped on them. They barely had time to be surprised before they were unconscious, one in a dumpster, the other knocked entirely out of his coat.
Captain Vanguard checked the special radar gear built into his helmet. The big man had moved into the room, two of his thugs behind him. Vanguard smashed down through the ceiling and landed on the Leveler's back. He staggered under the impact, but at his size that alone would not suffice.
"It's Captain Vanguard!" someone shouted as he drew his radio gun.
Argus checked her gear, mounted her silenced motorcyclemade of the same matte black plastic as her armor, and like the armor marked with a peacock eyeand drove straight at the door. Eight men were still milling around outside the front door; they wouldn't want to cause too much collateral damage just to make an entrance, the restaurant's owner was close enough to working class. She rode down the two men between her and the Leveler; one scrambled out of the way, the other was knocked to one side, and out cold. She straightened out of a near-slide and kept going toward Leveler.
29 June 2002
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson