"Here There Be Monsters"
Part 2: "Battle Not With Monsters"
Police Commissioner Woolfolk's call to Billy Batson came in about ten minutes after Joan had waved to Captain Marvel.
"Sorry, sir," said Joan. "I can have Billy call you back as soon as he gets in, but he's not expected back for about an hour."
"Well, have the ki--have Billy return my call," said Woolfolk. "This is urgent. We need Captain Marvel's help at once."
Joan, cradling the phone on her shoulder, checked the window again. "I just saw him fly by not ten minutes ago, Commissioner. Maybe he'll take care of what's bothering you on his own."
"I doubt that," said Woolfolk. "But thanks anyway, miss. Just have Batson give me a call back as soon as he gets there. That's all."
"Thanks, sir, goodbye," said Joan, and punched another button on the phone which was lighting up. "WHIZ, Billy Batson's office," she said.
"Hello, ma'am," said a voice Joan didn't recognize. "Is Mr. Batson in?"
"Sorry, he'll be out for at least an hour. Can I have him call you back?"
"Yes, ma'am, that would be fine. Just have him call this number." The caller dictated the number and Joan wrote it down.
"Can I ask who's calling?"
"No, ma'am," said the voice. "But he knows me. We met during the war."
"Okay, thank you," said Joan, and rung off. She replaced the receiver and got back to typing up notes for Billy's evening broadcast. There had been nothing threatening about the second caller's voice, and no reason to suspect malice on his part. After all, Billy had been a correspondent during the Big One. He'd met a lot of people.
But all the same, Joan decided that she'd feel a lot more secure when she heard that familiar sound of the window to Billy's office being closed again.
And, she figured, so would the world.
There were three big problems to pulling a heist in Fawcett City, and they all came in colorful longjohns.
The thing was, crooks still had to make a living, no matter what the circumstances. Also, there was still a lot of money to be had in Fawcett City, through robbery, extortion, dope dealing, vice, gambling, kidnapping, murder for hire, and all the other assorted manifestation of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Thanks to the Marvels, Fawcett was a lot cleaner city, crime-wise, than other burgs of its size. But the crooks were still there, no matter how many they caught. To make a living, the crooks had to rob. So they took the risk. After all, getting caught was getting caught, but at least the Marvel Family didn't shoot you.
Sy Wheeler's liquor store had just been knocked over by a pair of punks in a green DeSoto who were proceeding at a more-or-less safe rate of speed down Toledo Lane. Their velocity picked up considerably when they heard a police siren several blocks behind them.
"Whadda we do?" asked one punk of the other.
"Whaddya think we do? Run like hell!" said his partner, who was driving, and proceeded to try to fuse the foot-feed to the floor.
Toledo was residential, even though it wasn't what you'd call an upscale neighborhood. Several kids were out playing in the street. As the DeSoto made an abrupt right-hand turn, the children scattered like shotgun pellets. One just barely made it, flinging himself out of the path of the car two seconds before it entered what had been his space.
There wasn't much thought in the two men's minds as to whether or not the two hundred fifty bucks they had taken from the store owner's till was worth it. The money was a necessity, to be sure. But what really turned them on was the getting away with it. The physical intimidation, the quick strike, the vanishing into the city. The thrill was what made the risks worthwhile.
But this time, there was more thrill than they bargained for.
The driver was the first to notice what was going on, by a fraction of a second. There was a jostling of the back of the car, as if, impossibly, someone had managed to jump on their trunk. That despite the fact that they were pushing 100 miles an hour.
"Lennie, what," said his partner. And that was about all that he could get out.
The car wasn't moving forward anymore.
They felt the thing tilting from the back, and both of them, impossibly, were crammed against the wheel and dashboard by gravity.
The back wheels had left the road and the car was being elevated at an increasingly sharp angle. Within seconds, it was at a rough 90-degree angle to the ground, and was being pulled into the air.
The two crooks scrabbled around inside the car, trying to get to a position where they could somehow orient themselves sanely--a hopeless task. The driver managed to stick his head out of the window. He saw the roofs of the neighborhood they had been fleeing through, at least forty feet below them.
The driver quickly withdrew his head. He didn't even like to go on Ferris wheels, for cripes' sake.
"Lennie," said the other thief, looking like he was going to bolt, if he could find a place to bolt to. "Lennie, I'm scared. Lennie, what's going on?"
Looking through the back window of the car, Lennie caught a glimpse of what looked like two red arms. He swore, jerked a thumb in the arms' general direction, and yelled, "We been hijacked!"
"It's him," said his partner. "Oh my God, it's Cap..."
"Yeah," Lennie said, glumly.
The other thief tried to open the door. It was rough going, from the position in which he found himself. Whether he meant to chance a leap for freedom, or just suicide, Lennie had no idea. He just grabbed the kid's arm and pulled him back. "Lemme go," said the kid.
"Relax," said Lennie. "We can't do nothin' now. Just sit back ‘n' wait."
As they waited, the car continued its upward motion, until it was at least 100 feet above the surface of the Earth. Then it moved forward, propelled by the half-seen being that held it. The kid yelled, "He's gonna drop us!"
"He ain't gonna drop us," said Lennie. "I've seen him work before. If he's strong enough to lift us, he's strong enough to hold us."
And he was.
Within five minutes, the DeSoto began a descent into the impounded cars' lot near the city's main police station. The two thieves thought they heard some cheering from below, but they weren't paying that much attention. Lennie hadn't turned the motor off, but he wasn't holding the wheel, either. He wondered, numbly, what would happen when the back wheels touched the pavement.
"I'm gonna jump," said the kid.
"You jump, and I'll shoot you," promised Lennie.
There was no talk of jumping after that.
As it was, the first part of the car to touch pavement was its right front fender. The car was laid to rest on its right side, which made both crooks slide in that direction. Lennie and the kid fumbled and cursed, trying to right themselves.
A bare hand, with a red-and-yellow sleeve on its arm, reached in through the driver's window, grasped the keys, turned off the engine, and pulled them out. A few seconds after the back wheels had stopped spinning, the car was eased back onto all four wheels.
Lennie scrambled for the window, stuck his gun out, and pumped four shots at the chest of the man who stood beside the car.
As he expected, the shots ricocheted off the man's red-clad chest, doing some damage to the vehicles in the lot, but, thankfully, hitting no human flesh. Lennie had figured what had happened would happen, but he had to make sure, dammit. At any rate, it made him feel a little better.
The door was yanked open, the lock tearing like paper. A hand closed over Lennie's wrist, strongly enough to make him cry out. The man reached out his other hand, grasped the gun by the tip of the barrel, and plucked it out of Lennie's grasp. He dropped it on the ground.
Then he yanked Lennie out and tossed him on the asphalt like a sack of wheat. Lennie didn't get up.
The man looked inside, saw the kid cowering against the right-hand door, and held out his hand. "Give it here," he said.
Obediently, the kid turned over his own weapon.
By that time, two bluecoats were on the scene, their own service revolvers in hand. "Hi, Cap," said one of the cops. "What's the charge on these two?"
Captain Marvel beamed at the two officers. "Armed robbery, flight, endangering citizens, and--" He handed over the gun, then stooped, picked up the other gun, and handed it to the other cop. "--For this one on the ground here, resisting arrest and attempted murder."
"Maybe he knew he couldn't murder you," said the first cop.
"The law's the law," said the second cop. "You shoot at somebody with intent, they can have a bullet-proof vest on and you still get charged for it. Thanks, Cap. You got time to help us with ‘em?"
"Sorry, officers," said the man in the red-and-yellow costume with the white cape. "Got to get back to work." He crouched against the ground, then leapt upward. He didn't stop his ascent until he reached approximately 100 feet above street level, at which point he levelled off and flew away.
The kid had finally gotten out of the car, and had his hands up. But he was looking towards the sky, at the flying figure speeding out of sight.
"So that's what it's like to get busted by Captain Marvel," he said.
On the ground, Lennie snapped, "Kid, will you shut up?"
Freddy Freeman's favorite customer had shown up around 1 p.m., after the lunch mob had bought their papers, which gave him a good excuse to shut down long enough to grab a burger with her at the place around the corner. To be sure, Mary had a chauffered car, but she could drive herself and she didn't like to take a limo to a lunch date with Freddy. She'd parked her Plymouth in front of Freddy's stand.
They sat at the booth with the music selector on the wall, into which you could plug your quarter for three selections. Freddy had chosen a Frankie Laine, Mary wanted to hear "Deep Purple", and both thought an old Glenn Miller tune was okay. None of that stuff that Moondog was playing on that all-night r&b show, but they weren't really into that, anyway.
When they weren't holding food, they were holding hands.
"So what's the latest? You look like you've brushed by the blues this morning, Mare," noted Freddy, spearing fries with his fork and swishing them in catsup.
She sighed, pretty as a high school yearbook photo in a checked dress. "I talked with Mom today, Freddy."
"Among other things. Freddy--she knows."
He tensed. "She knows what?"
"She knows. Who I am."
"You mean," he said, "who you are--all the way?"
Mary Batson nodded.
Freddy shook his head. "I knew this would happen to us someday," he said. "How did it happen? Does she know about me, too? And our friend?"
Mary toyed with her cottage cheese. "She knows about you. And I'm pretty sure she's figured out that Billy's in on it, too. She spoke about the three of us. I didn't give us away, Freddy. She just figured it out."
Freddy held his half-eaten burger as if he'd forgotten about it. "It ought to be easier than we hoped to figure it, " he admitted. "We're the only ones that don't get older."
"Yeah," said Mary. She spooned up curds and whey and ate them, to force Freddy to carry the conversation.
"We may have to do something, Mary," said Freddy.
"Like, I may have to move, or something."
"Oh, come on! Mom isn't spilling anything. I know her. And you've got a business here. You can't just pack up and leave."
"Oh, yeah. Big business, selling newspapers on a corner. Like I've been doing since just before Pearl Harbor."
"You do more than that, Freddy. And you've also got me."
He looked at her. "Do I?"
"What do you mean, ‘Do I?' What kind of talk is that?"
"What does your mother think about us getting married?"
"She likes you, Freddy. But she hasn't given her consent yet."
"So who needs consent? We could just elope. She isn't going to cut you out of the family fortune on account of me, is she?"
"Yeah, we could just elope," said Mary. "But that's not how I want it to be. I want a real wedding, a decent one, out in the open, in a church and all."
"With your mom paying for it all," noted Billy.
Mary admitted, "I guess she'd have to."
"‘Cause I sure don't have the money for something like that."
"No, I guess you don't."
Freddy began to eat his burger again. "Wonder if I could go gold mining in outer space or something. Maybe she'd respect me then."
"It isn't that, Freddy. It's just...well...there's a lot of stuff to get past. She isn't a snob."
"But," said Freddy. "She does business with a snob clientele."
Mary didn't say anything.
"And they wouldn't think highly of her if she let her daughter marry a newsboy," Freddy went on. "Is that it?"
"I don't know," said Mary. "She's foot-dragging, but I'm not sure why."
"So what are we supposed to do? Say our words and never come back again?"
"Oh, come on, Freddy."
"I've thought about it more than one time," said Freddy. "I've thought about just changing over and not changing back." He studied Mary. "What about you? Ever thought like that?"
She nodded. "Yes. But I'm not sure the Old Man would like that."
He placed the burger on his plate. "Mary. Are we running our lives, or is the Old Man running our lives? If we don't have lives outside of that other stuff, then what kind of lives do we have?"
"I don't know, Freddy. I just don't know."
"Well, we'd better find out," said Freddy. "I may look like a kid, but I'm not a kid. And neither are you."
"No, I'm not," Mary admitted.
"And neither is Billy. Whether he wants to admit it or not."
"I--don't think he does want to admit it, Freddy. Sometimes I think he wants to be 16 forever. Not just in the body, but in the mind."
He finished up what was left of his burger. "This can't go on forever, Mary," he said.
"No, it can't," said Mary. "Oh, good heavens, what did I say? What did I say, Freddy?"
"You said that it can't go on forever," said Freddy. "And it can't."
"So what do we do?", she asked, feeling as vulnerable as a snail without its shell.
Freddy took hold of his crutch, used it to brace himself, and hauled himself up. "We're going to have to talk. With Billy. With your mom. And even with the Old Man."
They went up front, paid for their lunch, and went back to two separate lives.
For the moment.
Billy quietly appreciated Joan Jameson's timing. She knew, almost to the fraction of a second, how long it took him to come in, close the window, and do the changeover from Captain Marvel to his boy-self before she buzzed him.
"Billy, two calls for you," said Joan. "One from Commissioner Woolfolk. The other didn't give his name, but he said he knew you from the war. The number's on your desk. I'm pretty sure Woolfolk wants you to get in touch with the Captain."
"Thanks, Joan, you're a peach," said Billy. He punched an unused line and dialed the Commissioner's number.
"Woolfolk," said the man on the other end.
Billy said, "Mr. Commissioner, sir, it's me. Billy Batson. What can I do for you?"
"Batson, good to hear from you," said the gruff voice. "It's Captain Marvel we need. Can you get hold of him? At once?"
"I think I can manage to find him," said Billy. "What's the problem?"
"The problem is a series of prison breaks throughout the nation, over the past year. They've been spaced out far enough between that we haven't noticed a pattern before recently. But the ones who've gotten out and stayed out haven't surfaced again. And they all have something in common."
"Gosh, sir, what's that?"
"They've all fought super-heroes. Including Marvel. I need to talk with him right away. But I'm trusting you, Billy, not to publicize this just yet."
"You can count on me, Mr. Commissioner, sir. And Captain Marvel."
"When can I see him?"
"I'll try to have him stop by this afternoon, sir. Will you be in your office?"
"Sure. Thanks, Batson."
"You're welcome, sir," said Billy, and hung up.
He whistled. How he was going to fit this one in with his schedule, he didn't know. He could probably drop out for half an hour around 3 p.m. and still be back in time to get things ready for the evening show. It was a good thing Mr. Morris was so understanding, as long as folks kept listening and watching. And it was great that Joan Jameson was in on his secret.
It had to be Sivana. Even though he'd tangled with the old creep recently, the guy always seemed to have two or three backup plans going on. Plus there was his son and daughter to deal with. Lucky that his other son and daugher, Magnificus and Beautia, had turned out so well.
But there wasn't anything to do about it but say the old word later that afternoon, and let Captain Marvel do what he could.
Billy scrutinized the phone number on the piece of paper Joan had left for him, not recognizing it. He dialed it, wondering what else he was going to get himself and his other-self into.
A voice answered. It seemed familiar, somehow. "Yes?"
"Sir, this is Billy Batson," he said. "You left a message for me with Miss Jameson earlier today, and I'm returning your call."
"Thanks, Mr. Batson, but I really need to get in touch with Captain Marvel. Can you contact him for me?"
"I'm afraid he's going to be a little busy today," Billy replied. "But if you can give me your name, and tell me what it's all about, maybe he can get in contact with you later."
"The name's Pepper. Pep Pepper. I'd prefer to leave the rest with him alone. Have him get back to me as soon as he can."
After a long pause, Billy said, "I'll see what I can do, Mr. Pepper."
"You do that, Billy. Thanks."
He hung up.
Billy sat there for a few long moments.
No wonder he'd sounded familiar. It'd been years since they'd last met, but he knew the man, all right.
After another few minutes, he said the word.
A bolt of lightning that seemed to have no visible source struck within the room, but did no harm, and a small thunderclap was heard.
Captain Marvel sat in Billy Batson's chair.
Then he dialed Pep Pepper's number, and waited for the pickup.
Dr. Sivana walked outside and smiled, though he did not give his characteristic laugh.
The meeting had gone well. Before long, he'd be ready to load up the transport rockets and send his cronies and hirelings from the soil of their Venusian base here back to Earth, with his own two brats along to coordinate things. Junior, for all his brilliance, Sivana wasn't sure of. But he knew Georgia was mean enough to keep things on track.
Of course, there were two members of the Society who hadn't been at the meeting. They were simply too big for the hall. He gazed on them now, both of them near the rocket field. One was asleep, the other stood immobile, like a steel sentry.
The Red Crusher was on loan from the Communists. Getting Mr. Atom took a bit more finesse, but Sivana had managed it.
Of course, they were only means to an end, however powerful they might be. What really counted was the completion of his project here, and that was well-nigh finished.
Dr. Sivana looked up, through the cloudy sky of Venus, at the bright spot that was the sun.
And he laughed: "Heh! Heh! Heh!"
Somehow, it wasn't very funny at all to hear.
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