Crimson Flare: Apes Grab for Power
Too dazed to fully grasp
her desperate situation, Crimson Flare hung from the guardrail, trying to
gather her senses about her. Apes departing blow had been awkward,
but effective. She swooned in and out of consciousness, partially aware of
time passing, partially aware that she was losing precious minutes to save
herself before the TV crew would arrive to see who or what was suspended
from the metal railing. Through unfocused eyes, she looked down and saw the
polished black leather of her boots swinging freely in the space above the
shelf below her. Nearer, she saw the black leather of her belt resting on
top of her hips, and the holster holding her baton hanging from it, useless.
The heroine couldnt feel her arms below her shoulders, the circulation
to those areas cut off by the weight of her suspended body. But she
mustshe shouldbe able to free herself, to escape before
her rescuers arrived.
Too late! Crimson Flare felt the ropes holding her wrists loosen, first one, then the other. Lazily, she swung her head from one wrist to the other, wishing through the fog of her semiconsciousness that it would all go away. Her hands swung freely and she now hung only from the chains that circled the rail and her shoulders; she felt hands grab at her from above, pulling her unresisting body upward. She wanted to fight against her rescuers, to save herself from the ignominy of having to be liberated. All the heroine could do was feel the shame of being pulled upward as her shoulders were freed from the chains. But the beating she had endured was too severe; the pain she still felt would not allow for effective resistance. This was her moment of greatest humiliation: Crimson Flare, Americas Darling, and the saviour of Mitropoulos, rescued by TV newsmen.
Unceremoniously, her petite body was pulled over the metal guardrail and dumped onto the gravel of the shoulder. She moaned softly as she lay on her back.
Get up! Come on! she heard a womans voice cry out. Theres no time! Follow me! A pair of hands yanked her to her feet and pulled at the Champion as she clumsily ran across the Parkway. She heard the leather soles of her boots clicking on the road surface. Looking down, Crimson Flare saw highway passing beneath her feet. As she looked up she saw the hazy form that was pulling at her arm.
A young woman, with long, black hair tied into a ponytail, dressed in bright blue spandex tights and a similar bright blue loose-fitting warm-up jacket, focused on a parking lot on the far side of the roadway. Around her head was a similar bright blue sweatband. Her peaches-and-cream complexion was flushed, but she seemed not to be breathing hard as she pulled, tugged, and generally dragged Mitropoulos Champion after her.
There was no traffic on the highway, so Crimson Flares stumbling steps were no impediment to reaching the safety of the blue van parked under an overhead lamp. As the two young women approached the vehicle, the blue-clad rescuer touched her keyless remote and the side door of the van sprung free. With her left hand she grabbed the door and pulled it open at the same time she pulled up to a sudden stop next to the van; with her right hand, as Crimson Flares momentum took her past the halted blue figure, the brunette pushed the masked beauty sprawling onto the floor of the vehicle. The door slammed shut behind her.
Seconds later the drivers side door also slammed and the engine turned over.
A short while later the van entered a parking garage beneath one of Mitropoulos new high-rise condominiums. At this hour there was still very little traffic moving in and out of the garage and Crimson Flares rescuer was able to get the still-dazed heroine to the elevator without encountering any other early morning commuters.
The elevator stopped at the twelfth floor. When the door opened, the brunette stepped to the entry and looked carefully in both directions, up and down the short hallway. Seeing no one on the floor, the girl in bright blue turned to face the Champion. But by this time Crimson Flare had sunk to her knees on the floor of the car. Her body was hunched over and threatening to collapse forward. Her masked face was invisible; all that could be seen was the cowl at the top of her head.
The girl took a quick two steps to the fallen heroine and stooped beside her. She put her right arm around her back and placed her hand underneath Crimson Flares shoulder. She lifted from beneath, at the same time rising to a standing position herself. As she did so, Crimson Flare stumbled forward as her feet became unsteady under her. The girls left arm reached out to brace the two of them against the front of the elevator. As she shot a glance toward the heroine, the brunette for the first time saw the torn, cracked, and crushed vinyl mask and cowl covering the face and head of Americas Darling. She saw the rivulets of blood running down her face from the cuts below the mask, the gashes made by the chains wielded against her. The girl heard herself take a sharp intake of breath as the shock of the heroines appearance registered on her. With that, she changed her position and with surprising ease lifted the Champion onto her shoulders in a firemans carry. The girl in blue held the gloved wrists of the barely conscious avenger in her own right hand, while with her left she fished out her apartments key from her pocket. She moved quickly down the hall to the corner residence, pushed the key into the lock, and stepped inside as she opened the door.
As the door slammed behind them, the girl in blue plopped the sequined form of the heroine on a large white sofa in the middle of the living room. Crimson Flares form sank deep into the cushions and she moaned again. At last, safe but exhausted, she was unconscious.
The brunette in blue stared at the glittering form resting on her sofa. It was entirely still, except for the slow, even movement of her rising and falling chest. The rescuer hastened to the bathroom, returning momentarily with a few small bottles and a box of cotton balls. She placed these items on the end table near Crimson Flares head, and then she gently turned the body of the unconscious heroine so that she lay flat on her back.
Then she stood. She looked down on the supine form of the saviour of Mitropoulos. Dried blood streaked the exposed skin of Crimson Flares face below the shiny black vinyl of her mask. Broken skin was likewise caked with ridges of blood. The vinyl mask and cowl that covered her head was shattered in many places, broken, crushed, torn. It was beyond the young woman, as she stared at this heroine whom, it must now be admitted, she had admired for so long, how the petite woman could have undergone the attack that created these results and still have survived. She saw bruises around her upper arms and near her shoulders, where chains had been wrapped around her, securing her to the roadside guardrail. The ends of her gloves were ripped, exposing more tortured flesh. She saw gashes at the wrists of both satin gloves, where the ropes had been viciously tied, holding her securely in place, suspended, waiting for for what?
The crimson and gold costume shimmered in the early morning sun that shone in through the window. It clung to the lithe form of its owner like a glittering second skin. From her neck to her crotch, the uniform lay taut across her body. Her small breasts made round and distinct mounds, each with a small knob at its peak, rising and falling as her unconscious form began its recuperation. The tight costume displayed her feminine form without apology. Around her waist, the black leather belt holding her weapon emphasised her form. Below the high-cut leotard she could see a dim luminescence reflecting from her tights; though covered with dirt and dust, the well-rounded muscularity of the heroines thighs was still clear. She had read, on the net and even in the newspapers, that these legs drove men, particularly her enemies, mad with lust. Looking at them now, she tended to agree. The shape, the muscle tone, their length, all seemed to indicate a high level of physical conditioning. And a genuine hint of sexiness.
She went to the kitchen now to retrieve a small amount of water, to begin the process of cleaning the face and the wounds of the Champion. As she rubbed the washcloth against the dried blood on first one cheek, then the other, the smooth clarity of the heroines skin shone forth. The streaks and specks of blood disappeared and the young woman rinsed the cloth again and again, the water in the pan by her side gradually reddening. When she ran the damp cloth around her patients mouth, she saw that the lips were cracked and dry, the red lipstick that she wore almost entirely gone.
Having refreshed the water for a third time, she next turned to the source of the blood flow that had marred Crimson Flares face. Using a cluster of cotton balls as a swab, she pressed the alcohol-soaked material against the broken skin, gently brushing away the clotted blood, revealing the savage tears in that soft, smooth organ. As the alcohol-laced fumes tried to penetrate her unconsciousness, the heroine reacted to the painful sensation of the alcohol encountering the torn flesh, turning her face and groaning weakly in her oblivion. The blue-clad girl, now perspiring heavily as she worked diligently over her agonised charge, placed her left hand on the far side of Crimson Flares face and gently tried to hold her head in place. She noticed that the unconscious heroine squirmed, now drawing her knees up toward her stomach, and sought escape from the pain inflicted. Crimson Flares hands raised toward her face, but, instead of tugging at the young womans soothing, merciful effort, the heroine held them crossways over her head, as if still trying to thwart the attack that had ravaged her mask and cowl and had created such devastation on her exposed flesh. In her agony, Crimson Flare grunted and moaned.
Having cleaned the heroines face, the girl turned next to her arms. First, she determined that there were no broken bones. Finding none, and knowing that there wasnt much she could do about the bruising around her shoulders, she began to pull the torn and ripped satin gloves down her arms. What she saw beneath was the greatest shock she had experienced. Not the contusions and cuts, which she had expected, but the faded track marks at the veins at the crook in Crimson Flares elbows.
So the rumours were true! Crimson Flare had been hooked on drugs during her battle against the Normans. The tracks were old and relatively few, but, distinctly, these were the patterns she had seen on the arms of junkies. Impulsively, she rubbed the cotton against the track, as if trying to rub them away. But, then, focusing again on the project at hand, she turned to the cuts on her forearms, made by the chains, and at her wrists, made by the binding ropes.
Having removed the dried blood from all visible areas, the girl next looked to Crimson Flares mask and cowl. For a long time she stared at the covered part of the Champions face, as if wishing her back to consciousness, so that she could ask permission to remove them. She knew that the heroines secret identity was a closely guarded secret, but the condition of her body called out to take the healing to the next level. Hoping that Crimson Flare would understand, the blue-clad young woman pulled the black vinyl mask from the heroines face.
She was glad to see no cuts, but rather only more bruises and abrasions around her eyes and forehead. The vinyl mask had protected her against the beating that had been delivered.
She next opened the black leather belt, pulling the two prongs from the double row of eyelets. As she pulled the strap from beneath the back of the heroine, she though how very light this weaponwhat was it called? this batonseemed to be. It was almost weightless. Thinking now of the comfort of her charge, the young woman moved to Crimsons black leather boots. She stretched out the Champions legs again, then pulled the zipper of the left boot toward the heroines ankle. The rasping sounded loud in the closed living room, but finally the black leather hung open around the Champions calf. Beneath the dirt and dust, she saw that the leather was highly polished. She lifted the Champions left leg and gently wriggled the leather boot from her foot. Crimson Flares left foot, covered in her colourless tights, dropped soundlessly to the sofa. Then the rescuer did the same with the right boot.
When the relieved girl in blue turned back to the face of her patient, she saw that her eyes were open and aware. Pleased to see the green eyes measuring her, she sought to reassure the heroine of her safety. Do you want some water? she asked, knowing the answer and rising to her feet.
Crimson Flare tried to speak but nothing emerged. She just nodded. Her rescuer left the room and returned shortly bearing a large glass and a 2-litre plastic bottle of water.
It was only after Karen had taken a long drink that she saw her black vinyl mask lying next to the sofa and realised that her identity had been revealed. A mild shock spread over her face, but the calming look of this good Samaritan gave her to know she need have no fears. Thank you, she said, and laid her head back on the plush cushion.
We should all thank you, came the response. There was a moment of silence, but the brunette ended it quickly. Im Lynn, she said. You dont have to tell me your name
Im Karen. You saved my life. Why should I keep secrets?
But dont you need to protect your secret identity?
I wont need it any more. I failed tonight because I was too weak. She paused, resting. When I fought the Normans, they they did something to me.
I know, Susan told her. She reached out and gently brushed the tracks on her near arm. Ive heard the rumours. Do you that is, uh, are you ?
No. Thanks to my physical strength I was able to fight off the need. But tonight Ape said .
Ape?! Ape Greystook? Hes back? You fought Ape? No wonder you look like hell.
Karen flushed and smiled a little. Ape didnt do this to me. But he told me that I lost because Ive had lost my edge. He was right. The drugs did that.
Lost your-- ? Wait a minute. Lynn stood and rushed to the kitchen. In a moment she was back carrying the morning paper. I thought there was something here. And she handed Karen the news section of the Mitropoulos Daily Plaudit.
SHES BACK!!! screamed the huge black headlines. AND AS GOOD AS EVER, it said beneath in smaller print. There were photos of the liquor store clerk talking to police and separate coverage of the muggings and robberies Crimson Flare had stopped earlier in the evening.
Lynn pushed the editorial page at her next. Sure enough, they had obviously run an extra early edition to include comments welcoming the return of Mitropoulos heroine. Gone for too long, missed by too many, needed by as many more, Crimson Flare has become a necessary part of our citys crime-fighting weaponry, it said. We hope that she will stay.
They didnt see me get beat up by Ape Greystooks girl friend, was all Karen could manage after a moment.
There are not many people that can be considered Needed, Karen. Maybe you cant do everything, all the time. But you do enough.
But what good can I do when I cant count on my senses to protect me? If Ive lost my edge, I become a danger to myself and perhaps even to others.
Last night you saved at least three people from injury and danger. Obviously, the drugs that were used against you didnt hinder what you did then. Maybe you shouldnt try to do everything. Until youre back at full strength , well .
Until Im back to full strength, Im liable to get someone killed. Maybe even myself. What happened tonight happened because I wasnt fully aware of what was going on around me. I was lucky Ape decided to try to embarrass me rather than kill me. By all rights, I should be dead.
Then youve got a second chance. Hone your skills again. Sharpen your mind. So that the next time you face him, there will be no chance for him to catch you off guard.
Karen stared at Lynn. She had to make sure she wasnt listening to Stacy. Lynn was saying the same things that Stacy had said time and again, every time doubts had been raised about her mission. So often, Karen had found herself questioning not whether Crimson Flare was necessary or doing the right thingthat much was obviousbut the risk. Even with her strength, Karen regularly felt fear, especially after the close calls with the Savoyards, and the Normans, and last night, with Ape. And now, werent the odds stacked even higher against her, given the effects of what the Normans had done?
Lynn continued, Dont you see that its not just what you do, Karen? Youre my hero. You made me want to do something about the mess thats out there, too. I went back to school and got a degree, and now instead of simply sitting home, watching, Im setting up programs to help direct kids away from gangs and drugs. You did that. You showed us that women can take the initiative. There are many women who have followed your lead.
As Karen reclined on the sofa, listening to this strange voice saying such familiar words, tears began to roll down the side of her face. Once again, she drifted back and saw Stacys body lying on the subway platform. And once again she cursed herself quietly for letting it happen.
They spoke for more than an hour. Each time Karen seemed to drift back in time to her innumerable conversations with Stacy, recognising in Lynns comments and support the same admonitions and encouragement she so long had heard from her best friend, Lynn would surprise her, noting how her own life had been affected by Crimson Flare, and recalling her to the here and now. The tête-à-tête exhausted the recovering heroine, whose body sank deeper into the soft white cushions as time passed. It seemed there was nothing more to be said. Karen knewshe knewshe had found a friend who was worthy of succeeding Stacy; someone she could talk to about anything. Then, just as she began to relax, Lynn surprised her one final time.
Whats with the sequins?
Why do you have those sequins on your costume? You know they make you look like a high school majorette.
Oh. Its Freud. Somebody explained that Freudian theory says that football is like a rite dating back to precivilised times. The band provides the music or chanting, the prayers. The majorettes are the priestesses and ritual virgins. Stacy and I decided that criminals particularly have a need for virgins and virgin sacrifice. We thought it appealed to something deeper than they could understand. Stacy said that criminals brains are between their legs anyway. This would give Crimson Flare an advantage by appealing to something they would never be able to grasp.
Did it work?
Crimson Flare would never have any trouble getting dates, if thats what you mean. But Ive never seen so many men look at any woman like they look at her. I know that it may make the situation more dangerous, whenever she falls into their hands. But that really hasnt happened much.
Karen smiled. Believe it or not, that was the result of a girlfriends jealousy. Its the other side of the coin, I guess.
Does it hurt?
Of course it hurts. I was bleeding, and there was a danger of broken bones in my face. But I seem to be able to handle it. Its my constitution.
How long before you can go out again?
Oh, a couple of days.
A couple of days? You look like hell!
I seem to heal quickly.
Sure enough, three nights later, Crimson Flare was again on patrol across the city of Mitropoulos. Only a small touch of pancake makeup was necessary to cover the small remains of the cuts that had marred her face and arms. And this time, when she went out, she was in constant contact with Lynn Simms, who would monitor police traffic and provide computer-based information on criminal activity. Crimson Flare was not alone any longer.
The first night, the new team worked well together. Crimson Flare stopped a burglary and two muggings, as usual leaving each perpetrator bound and awaiting police. From the heroines point of view, very little hand changed. She continued her activities almost exactly as she had previously. But the occasional reassuring clicks in her ear, provided by the mini-earpiece that served as a receiver, allowed her a greater sense of security as she went into the dangerous areas of the city, as it told her that Lynn was eavesdropping on her whereabouts and activities. Occasionally, Lynn would alert the heroine to police calls and responses to crimes in progress.
More important than the crimes prevented, however, was the information she had picked up about Apes doings: he was trying to gather the remnants of the Savoyards and the Normans into a new gang, centered on himself. The whole enterprise was to be financed by a drug deal taking place in a week. If it went through, rumour had it, Ape would be the new gang kingpin. Crimson Flare decided that she had to intercede.
When she returned from her tour of the city, Karen called Lynn and told her that they needed to make their plans to pre-empt Apes drug deal. As far as Crimson Flare was concerned, a problem in communication existed. While Lynn could regularly contact the heroine on patrol, and advise her of police responses or alarms, there was no way that Lynn could be contacted by Crimson, short of carrying a cell phone into combat.
Over the course of the next week, the two women gathered information on the drug deal that hung over the criminal and the law enforcement worlds of Mitropoulos like the Sword of Damocles. The police kept trying to gather more information, but their computers revealed one brick wall after another thrown up to block their progress. Any time they got a lead on time, location, or the names of those involved, the information proved wrong or a potential informant wound up dead.
The criminal nets were no more help to the heroine and her new helpmate. Many sources that had promised leads on the event suddenly went silent. When Crimson Flare patrolled, seeking to eavesdrop on conversations, no one was talking; when she investigated some of those who might be involved, or who might have information, none were in town and no evidence was available. It was like the earth had swallowed up both Ape and his conspiracy.
Then, a break in the case. On Saturday afternoon, Lynn happened across a small story that mentioned that an unknown buyer had just purchased the old McLeod-Slaughter mansion on the edge of downtown. The place had been available for years, but the location, right on the edge of the high-crime city center, and the condition, dilapidated would have been too kind, had precluded any interest. Over the last few years, the place had become a haven for the homeless and for the citys drug users. Part of the first floor had been burned out in a fire last winter.
But, within the last two days, the Stubing Agency had reported that a large cash payment had been made. It was the fact that the payment had been in cash and that the actual buyer was not named that raised Karen and Lynns suspicions. The location was perfect for Apes meeting, and it could be used for storing or distributing the drugs he would purchase that night.
Another story indicated that unidentified toughs, hired by the new owner, had rousted the homeless residents of the mansion out of their slumbers this morning and a new high quality security gate had replaced the crumbling heavy metal gateway that had done nothing to protect the house. Evidently, the new owner had reasons for keeping the building secure for the immediate future. If Ape were indeed that owner, and the drug deal were going down tonight, as the original information had indicated, then the gate and the guards made perfect sense.
That night Crimson Flare made her way toward the solitary house on the river, upstream from the crime-ridden downtown. She approached the new gate from the cover of the thick brushwood along the rivers edge. She knew immediately that she and Lynn had guessed correctly. Standing both inside and outside the new heavy metal structure were young men wearing the mixed gang colours of the Normans and Savoyards. Evidently Ape had gained a measure of success in bringing together these former rivals.
Lynn Simms bent her head over the keyboard as she entered more and more information into Crimson Flares crimefighting program, the one that Stacy had had developed. Although Karen had worked closely with her for the last two days, she was still very slow at inputting data and getting the program to offer the alternative courses of action at each moment. Right now, she was getting nothing from Crimson Flare, who was, she suspected, at this moment, approaching the McLeod-Slaughter mansion. The mansion was supposed to be the site of a major drug deal. But according to current police reports, nothing was going on anywhere near that site.
According to those same reports, however, all hell had broken loose all across the city. From the wealthy West End to the rural suburbs of the south, robberies, break-ins, and disturbances rocked the city. But there was almost nothing from the crime-ridden city center. The police strove mightily to deal with these circumstances; their manpower was being stretched to its limit.
The computer program fed back its first conclusion on the basis of the data, and Lynn looked at it for a long beat. The manpower necessary for this sort of concerted action was greater than any single gang known to be present in Mitropoulos. So, either this was a general riot, which was unlikely due to its dispersal, or this was a new gang in action. But Crimson Flare had turned up no evidence of a new gang in Mitropoulos.
She would have to ask Karen about that after the nights work was over. She set it aside for the moment. Right now, she was looking for information that might be useful to the heroine in what might become a dangerous situation.
Over her police scanner, Lynn heard another police call. Shots fired! Officer down! Lynn sat up when she heard the next remark: Where the hell is Crimson Flare?
Seeing no one, Crimson Flare sprinted the last twenty feet to the patio. Her leather boots click-clicked quietly across the stone floor and she headed for the French doors to the inside. She continued to scan the area nearby as she tested the doors. Not only locked, she could tell immediately, but reinforced. She pulled her baton from its holster and whipped it out to its full two-and-a-half-foot length. Now listening intently as well as searching the patio area for any lookouts, Crimson Flare used her weapon to crack the augmented locks on the door. It took only a relatively weak burst of power and one of the doors sprang open.
Inside, the room was dim, lit only by lights from the interior of the building. As she pulled the door shut, Crimson noted that the bolt from the baton had broken the lock and the door could not now be secured. Tearing a length of cord from the curtain, she pulled the French doors shut and tied the two handles together. In the dark room a cursory glance would not reveal the cord. From the outside, the doors appeared as secure as before. She hoped no one would make a closer investigation.
More and more activity turned up on both the police scanner and the police computer, tapped by Stacys program, revealing a hitherto unknown number of criminals at work in Mitropoulos. Lynn was starting to panic, overwhelmed by the sheer number of events. Karen and she had anticipated some small activity to indicate that Apes drug deal was taking place, but if this was to provide cover for the transaction, then it was certainly overkill.
And time and again, a police voice would sound over the scanner, Where is Crimson Flare? Sometimes it sounded panicked, sometimes exhausted. Lynn hadnt realised how integral the heroine had become to the polices work. She wondered whether Karen fully understood how even regular law enforcement had become dependent upon her. She would have to let her know about this the next time doubts about her role arose.
As she listened, one policeman after another raised the question. Where is Crimson Flare?
Crimson Flare watched and waited, hidden in a shadowed corner of what had formerly been a sitting room in the front of the house. The original rumours had said that the deal was to go down after midnight. Midnight was less than an hour away. If her information about Ape were correct, he would be running from pillar to post, making sure that everyone was in place and doing his job: Appearances, appearances for the sake of his contact. He might want to do business again, and he wanted to make a good impression. Something outside of his plan might be overlooked, simply because he didnt expect to find it there.
Suddenly, she heard the heavy footsteps of Ape come crashing down the staircase. Sure enough, he was racing to ensure that everyone was doing what he was supposed to do. Crimson Flare heard him stopping on the steps and speaking in low tones to the person there. Then the two of them came downstairs together. As they separated at the foot of the stairs, she heard Ape give the command, Spread the word. Find her!
Did they know she was here? The sequined beauty tried to push herself deeper into the shadows as she heard the footfalls of the other person rush down the hall, heading for the exit.
She heard the familiar, reassuring click in her ear. Then came the whispered words, carrying a certain complacency: Outbreak of crimes all across the city. Police everywhere calling for Crimson Flare. See, Karen, even the police need you. Lynn felt she had been proven right.
The news emptied a giant hole in the pit of her stomach. If Lynn had a police scanner, why wouldnt Ape? If Crimson Flare wasnt in any of those other places where crimes were occurring, then where was she? Why, of course. She must be where crime is not! Here! Ape had ordered a citywide crime spree to track her location.
Lynn smiled as the many inquiries and demands for the aid of Crimson Flare were repeated over the air. Surely, this would convince Karen that what she did was worth the effort. Even the police relied upon her for help.
As a large truck moved slowly past the front of the house, the headlights flashed through the windows of the sitting room. Crimson Flare was briefly illuminated, but then darkness swallowed her up again.
The truck stopped directly outside the door. The driver got out and waited as a dark car pulled up behind it. Two men emerged from the Buick, and then the three of them walked up onto the stoop. There they were met by three other men, obviously in Apes pay, who accompanied them inside the foyer and up the stairs to the second floor. No one spoke a word.
Four armed men formed around the truck, left running in the driveway. This was what Crimson Flare had been waiting for. Rather than take on both Apes men and those of the drug suppliers, it would be easier and more direct to attack the drugs themselves. Destroy the drugs, destroy the drug deal, and with them Apes grab for power. She was across the room is four strides, surveying the layout of the driveway. Aside from the four guards, there seemed no one else in the vicinity of the truck. She saw shadows moving toward the hill, beyond which was the new gate, so there was security there. She was sure that she would have control of the truck before they could stop her. Now was the moment to attack!
At the same time she smashed through the window and raced at the nearest guard, she saw more security men rushing down the hill toward the truck. Evidently, the henchman, who had been sent round to warn the watch of Crimson Flares presence, had sent sentries to augment those protecting the shipment.
And what a shipment! The truck was a military six-by, large enough to carry as much as a couple of tons of drugs. Ape was making a huge purchase, and he would be flooding the market with his product. Not only was it necessary to block Apes grab for power, but it was also necessary to eliminate these drugs from Mitropoulos.
Her small form bowled into the nearest armed man, who stood at one corner at the rear of the truck, her shoulder taking him in the stomach, below the weapon he had raised to protect himself. She heard the air whoosh! from him as she raised up and he toppled over her shoulder to fall flat on his back, too dazed to do more than merely lie there. In a second, she took more two steps and landed a sharp jab to the face of the other man protecting the rear of the truck, her great strength flattening him with no further ado.
A shot struck the ground near her highly polished black boot as the approaching men, still many yards away, opened fire on the heroine. She was less than ten feet from the third of the four men guarding truck. She focused directly on him and ran to face him. He raised his rifle only to have it slapped away by Crimson Flares powerful forearm. It twirled in the air and crashed to the ground ten yards away. He next took a swing at the Champion; she ducked and responded with an uppercut that lifted him off the ground. The only remaining sentry was on the other side of the truck, so Crimson climbed up into the drivers seat and put the vehicle in gear.
It jerked forward, then smoothly accelerated. At the first jerky motion, the remaining sentry, attempting to get out of the way of the large vehicle, was too slow, and he disappeared from view. As soon as the vehicle had passed over him, he jumped up, apparently unharmed. He immediately fired his weapon after the still slowly accelerating behemoth. Crimson Flare heard the bullet crack! through the cab and saw that a hole circled by what looked like cracked ice had formed in the windscreen.
The sound of that rifle report was swallowed up by the many other shots being fired toward the truck. By now Crimson had the truck rolling at a speed that would outrun any footbound pursuer. In the side mirror the avenger saw figures appear in the door of the mansion, illuminated by the bright light from the hallway. As the figures receded, round after round penetrated the cabfrom the rear from the sideas she made her way back down the driveway from where the truck had originally appeared. Its headlamps illuminated the narrow roadway, but were too dim to allow the heroine to see very far ahead.
She was not looking to follow the drive, in any case. She was looking for a small black-and-white shack about a quarter of a mile from the front of the house. This was nearest the river came to this road, and would be perfect for the disposal of the trucks cargo.
The shed moved by in the gloom and Crimson Flare smoothly downshifted and turned the large vehicle onto a dirt path that ran beside it. The shooting had subsided, but the slowing of the vehicle for the turn allowed some of those shadowing her to get closer and draw a bead on the large target. Once again, the shots tore through the truck. Miraculously, thus far, none had struck the Champion.
As she rumbled along the road toward the river, the sounds of firing swelled. She felt the drag of the vehicle increase, indicating that tires were punctured. She floored the accelerator, hoping to put distance between the truck and her pursuers.
A chain link fence appeared in front of her along the crest of the riverbank. Like the gate it was new, and Crimson Flare had not anticipated it. She pushed the engine higher, and smashed into the barrier. It broke but the trucks front tire was caught on the links. Crimson Flare felt the right front tire rise up and the vehicle pulled sharply to the right, now out of control. When the wheel ripped free, the drivers side of the truck hung momentarily over the edge of the bank. It was there for only an instant. Before Crimson Flare could draw a breath, the large heavy six-by tumbled head over teakettle down the slope. Its weight crushed the small trees and large weeds that populated the bank. However, when it struck a large tree trunk with its hood, the plummeting vehicle spun violently clockwise while continuing its tumbling motion. The drug-filled bed of the truck hit the river first. The weight in the rear of the vehicle raised up the cab and engine compartment. It looked like an awkward Titanic, just before she split in two. The truck teetered for a moment, but gravity won the battle and the vehicle splashed fiercely into the deep, dark waters of the river. Some of the packets had been torn open in the crash, only to be scattered on the river and the freed white powder was swept away by the current. Other packages, still intact, scattered like a deck of cards across the dark surface. Still other packages, secure in their wrapping and on board the vehicle, were taken to the bottom of the Hutson, still wrapped for delivery.
Crimson Flare was thrown this way and that inside the cab. The wheel crashed against her chest; her head was smashed against the roof, the door, even the front windshield; her legs were wrenched from their place in the well below the steering wheel and her body was slammed freely around the cab. Just before the truck hit the river, the passenger side door sprung open and she was thrown to the rocky shoreline. She flopped like a clumsy doll when she landed on her stomach, and then she lay very still.
The high polish of Crimson Flares black leather boots reflected the lights from the factory area across the river. Her legs were straight, the smooth roundness of those extremities highlighted in the faint glow that glimmered off of her colourless tights. Her skin-tight leotard glittered in those same lights; the steady breeze, blowing off the river and stirring the sequins of her costume, allowed for the only movement. The battering her body had received in the trucks cab and the violence with which she had finally been thrown to the ground had caused the crimson costume to be pulled up, so that its usual narrow covering for her posterior, which always offered an enticing view of the muscular curvature of her ass, now provided a truly tantalizing and beguiling vision. She was almost fully face down on the rocky soil beneath her. Her arms, which stretched up past her masked face, hid the new scratches inflicted by that treacherous surface. One of her crimson satin gloves was pushed all the way to her wrist, so that the smooth flesh of her forearm was exposed, along with the diminishing remains of her bout with drug dependence inflicted by the Normans.
A group of men stumbled toward her down the hill, led by the hulking figure of Ape Greystook. They approached the still figure lying in the rock and silt next to the Hutson River. The very stillness and the implicit helplessness of the figure only added to the sensuality of her form. Apes immense figure drew up next to the defenseless heroine; he stared down on the dimly glimmering body. The murmuring subsided among the four men who accompanied him, as they watched him watching her.
His gaze switched back and forth from the unconscious Champion to the spot in the river where the truck had disappeared. A few bubbles still drifted to the surface to mark the point where a fortune in drugs had gone to the bottom. You cost me a lot of money tonight, he said to the unhearing Crimson Flare. Then, the anger he felt was captured in a roar as he shouted, You cunt!! and he kicked the heroine sharply in the side. The force of the blow rolled her over several times; the heroine wound up on her back and her body now rested in the lapping waters of the river.
As the police calls began to diminish in number, Lynn got the computer program caught up with events. She completed her in putting of data and waited for the conclusions to be offered. As she stared at the computer screen, she felt good about making her contribution to Crimson Flares role in the community. She basked a bit in reflected glory and hoped that somehow, someone might know that what Crimson Flare did was not by her own efforts alone.
The program spat out a number of determinations, and Lynn pulled up the mike to pass these ideas on to the heroine. She might find them useful in her fight against Ape Greystook.
The largest of Apes henchmen, the one called Hagood, was nearly as big as the criminal who sought to be master of Mitropoulos. He carried Crimson Flares body easily, tossed over his shoulder like a bag of mulch. Her feet hung down his back, swinging freely. Her chest was on top of his shoulder, with his right arm wrapped around her body. Her head was next to his chest and his own head stared at the ground as the large man made his way toward the mansion. In the dead of night, it was almost completely silent as he walked down the driveway.
Ape had run on ahead and was already at the mansion, apparently trying to smooth over the difficulties that were now rising concerning the loss of the shipment. These drug dealers were from out of town, and Ape had no reputation beyond being an enforcer. They would expect to be paid.
As Hagood walked along he heard a faint sound of a voice. It was not coming from the house; he noticed that the caravan of cars had disappeared from the drivewaythe dealers must have completed their deal with Ape. He still heard a voice, though it was much too weak to determine what was being said.
Hagood stopped and listened, looking for the source. It wasnt one of the communications devices used by Apes men: they would have provided a much louder and clearer sound. Turning his head, seeking the sound, he realised it was coming from Crimson Flare head, only a few inches from his own right ear. He put the unconscious crimefighter down and then pulled her black vinyl cowl away from the side of her head. It slipped up onto her short, dark brown hair, and as it did so, a small piece of plastic dropped onto the blacktop of the driveway. Hagood picked it up and heard the end of Lynns listing of options that the computer program had provided. He put the receiver in his pocket, hefted the tiny figure of the heroine back onto his shoulder, and continued toward the now-brightly lit house.
Ape was furious. Fareed Gouyannou, the drug dealer from Alexandria, had just left, and had refused to extend credit on the destroyed shipment of drugs. He had even refused to send a second shipment until the destroyed shipment was paid for. Ape owed that mixed Greek-Arab bastard millions of dollars for drugs he didnt have. His hopes for power in Mitropoulos were quickly evaporating.
And it was all the fault of the super-cunt!
Ape watched as Hagood approached the doorway. The large man moved with such fluidity that the only disconcerting movement came from the vinyl-covered head of the superheroine, slowly bouncing against the large chest of his henchman. That small movement became the focus of all of his attention, of all his hatred.
As Hagood entered the foyer, his chief snapped out an order, Take that slut upstairs! Have Nancy keep an eye on her.
Hagood knew better to mention the plastic piece he had found when Ape was in this mood. He could bring it to his attention later.
As Crimson Flare struggled back to consciousness, she knew that her hands were tied. The tautness of the ropes produced a pain at her wrists, coupled with the drained feeling, a feeling she had come to recognise, the sense that her strength had been drawn from her.
She tried to move, but couldnt. The heroine tried to assess her position. She lay flat on her back. Her legs were separated and secured. There was a hard leather pad beneath her. As she opened her eyes, the light in the room was almost overwhelming. Americas masked Darling shut them tightly to allow for a period of adjustment, squinting them open, little by little. Even before she was able to begin looking around the room, she heard a feminine chuckle. She wasnt alone! Looking around cautiously, her eyes fell upon the tall redhead, still wearing the denim uniform, and with a new chain accessory belt.
Poor baby, she said softly. Nancy chuckled again.
Crimson Flare took in more of her predicament. She was lying on her back with her arms extended over her head. Her wrists were bound, eradicating her great strength. She couldnt move her arms and hands very far, so the rope at her wrists must be secured at the wall that was just beyond them. Her legs were separated and secured in place by her ankles tied to metal posts. She looked like an upside-down Y. The heroine tried to move but she realised that her waist and hips were also tied in place; a second rope circled her waist and still other loops held her in place at the top of her thighs. Beneath her there was a break between the leather pad that supported her upper torso and the one beneath her lower body; in that space, the ropes from her waist and thighs were tied into a series of eyelets. It was almost impossible for her to move her hips beyond a small shift from side to side. She was helpless, powerless to move, and in the power of her enemies.
Nancy moved to the side of the defenseless Champion. As the tall redhead looked down on her charge, her mouth turned up into a sort of a smile. You know, Ape is very upset with you. You destroyed his drug shipment and put him a great deal in debt. I wouldnt want to be in your tights. She laughed at her own joke.
Crimson maneuvered her wrists, trying to get them into position so the claw could be used in cutting her way out of her predicament. The ropes that circled her wrists were well below the point where the claw could come into play, so she tried to pull the bonds closer to the flats of her hands. But because of the separate rope that secured her wrists to the wall, the loops would not budge. She tried to wriggle the rope into position, squirming her hips and her chest from side to side, pulling, tugging, moving her arms up and down. Disregarding the presence of her guard, she tugged with more desperation and the pain she felt told her that she was not succeeding. But the sensual movement of her hips brought a light of desire to Nancys face.
Nancy continued to smile down on the helpless heroine. No, I wouldnt want to be in your tights. She placed her hand on Crimson Flares sequin-covered Mound of Venus and began stroking, at first ever so gently. Nancy smiled again when the heroine drew in a deep breath. The sensations of this stimulation and movement began to register on the masked maidens consciousness. Her breathing became shallower and she tried to focus on freeing herself. Crimson Flare tried to elevate her hips, fighting against the ropes that held her in place. Nancys expert fingers increased and decreased pressure on her sensitive areas, ever circling, ever reaching toward the now-protruding organs, hidden beneath her glittering uniform. In moments, the avenger groaned as she felt a thousand pins pricking her vagina, inside and out, sending her ever upward into paroxysms of bliss. The sensation was heavenly and she tried to sustain the feeling; she pushed her thighs together, pressing them upward against the tingling areas. An involuntary sigh escaped her ruby lips. At the same time, the heroine knew that it was distracting her from her effort to escape. She didnt care: the desire that swelled within her was undeniable.
Nancys middle and ring fingers moved in circles, increasing and decreasing in diameter, increasing and decreasing the pressure on the costumed avengers most sensitive area. She broadened the circle to bring her middle finger again and again brushing against the heroines pudenda, occasionally even pressing under the edge of her spandex costume to find the exposed organs, enlarging even now, underneath her glistening tights.
I lied, Nancy said softly. She leaned down toward the helpless heroine and with her free hand lifted the edge of the vinyl cowl, so that it slipped from her head revealing the short, dark brown hair beneath. Nancys face was next to Crimsons ear, as she began to breathe into the ear of the Champion. I DO want to be in your tights.
She stuck out her tongue and proceeded to lovingly lap first the earlobe and then the full outer shape of the organ. She nibbled the long upper curve drawing it into her mouth, feeling the bow and enjoying the hollow of that curvature. Then she moved deeper into the orifice, her tongue exploring all the edges of the void, mapping every nook and cranny leading into the heroine at this point. It took full minutes to uncover and enjoy every cleft that was offered.
In the meantime, Nancy provided no letup in her delicate and expert handling of the dampening sex of Americas Darling. Ever more often, her fingers pulled the spandex away from the angle that marked her victims sex. Nancy used her fingernail to stimulate the vulva and other exposed parts of the heroines sex, encouraging the jutting clitoris and labia to protrude even more markedly. As she brushed her nail and then the full finger against the projecting organs, Nancy responded as though she felt the sensation herself. She shuddered, though Crimson Flare was relishing her own sexual ecstasy to notice. Nancys eyes fell on the even more distinct mounds that were the heroines breasts, now swelled to their fullness under her ministrations. The tiny knob at the top of each was distinct and when Nancy reached her other hand toward them, she was rewarded by a marble-hard nodule. Thats it, my Darling, the denim-clad tormentor whispered. Give yourself to me.
She returned her primary attentions to the slowly undulating hips of the Champion. Through her tights, Nancy felt the enlarging clitoris and she stimulated it further. Underneath the familiar costume, the colorless tights showed the first signs of staining, a result of the stimulation inflicted by Nancys deft manipulations. Nancy moved her large and full lips to the avengers panting mouth and clamped herself over those open, panting lips and drove her tongue almost to the epiglottis.
With her resistance failing, Crimson Flare absorbed the redheads treatment, responding more and more frequently with a sigh, a moan, a groan. She pushed her head forward to take more of Nancy tongue, also trying to raise up her hips to place her more directly under the spell of the magical hands and digits she could no longer defend against.
Crimson Flare felt the heat rising in her. This was her most secret fantasy, perhaps even the source of her loss of strength. Bound, helpless, the expert digits of an enemy beginning the process of manipulating her beyond the bounds of her most exquisite fantasy.
Aaaagghh! the petite Champion moaned again, as Nancy released her lips.
AAAaaaggghhh!! This time Americas Darling tried to lift herself fully from the pads beneath her and the cry of ecstasy was full-throated and hoarse.
AAAAaaaagggghhhh!!! she screamed as she came for the first time. It would not be the last.
End of Chapter Two
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