by Martin Maenza
In the parking lot of the Capital Club, one of the premiere fitness centers just off the Beltway, a fit looking, five-foot-seven-inch-tall, red-haired young woman crossed over to her car carrying a duffel bag.
Suddenly, a white convertible pulled into the spot next to her, cutting her off. The stereo system in the car was booming She’s a Beauty by the Tubes. The driver was clean-cut with short black hair. His passenger was blonde, similarly clean-cut. Both men were in their mid-twenties and wore Ray-Ban sunglasses.
“Hey, Chip!” the driver said turning off the engine. “Check out the fox!”
The passenger tilted his shade. “Awwwooo!” he said. “Now there’s a beauty!”
Lorraine Reilly rolled her eyes. She didn’t need this. She recognized the type well enough by the type of car and the way they dressed — preppy, wearing tennis whites, and dripping of cash. They had to be either rich politicians’ kids or lobbyists with pockets lined by corporate dollars. She didn’t have an interest in either of them. She started to make her way around the car.
“Hold up, gorgeous!” the driver said, hopping out of the car. “Don’t we get at least a word? A name, a phone number, something?”
“Yeah,” Chip replied, hopping out as well. “I’m Chip Vandervelde, and he’s Robbie Newell. We work on the Hill.”
“Good for you,” Lorraine said flatly. She started to unlock and open her door, but Robbie closed it on her. This was why she hated visiting D.C. “Do you mind?”
“Just give us a sporting chance,” Chip said.
Lorraine had to control her every impulse to let these guys have it with both barrels. “Look, I’m late for an appointment with my father. He’s a senator. And I’d really hate to have to drop your names to him. Might make things difficult for you boys, if you get my drift. Chip Vandervelde and Robbie Newell.” Her blue eyes had a deadly serious look to them.
Robbie and Chip glanced at one another, then Chip stepped away from her car. “Whoa, sorry.”
“Yeah, just having fun,” Robbie added. The dark-haired young man then noticed a pair of young women crossing the lot on the way inside for an aerobics class. “Chip, c’mon.” The blonde spotted what his friend was eyeing and eagerly joined his friend. The two guys ran off, rackets in hand. “Hold up, gorgeous!”
Lorraine shook her head, disgusted. Why were men such pigs? This was one reason that she was glad she’d moved out of this town. Pittsburgh, while not as glamorous, tended to have men a bit more well-mannered. Still, she was still a bit angry.
She glanced around the lot and noticed that she was pretty much alone. Lorraine moved to the front of her car, crouched down between it and the bushes, and concentrated.
In a brief flash, gone was the red-haired young woman in her workout clothes. Instead, she was now golden-faced with red eyes, her hair replaced by a white-hot flaming hairdo. Her clothes had become a skintight costume of blue with a phoenix motif across the chest. It was time for a little payback, Firehawk style.
The heroine, still crouching, eyed the sports car’s front hood. Those boys think they’re hot stuff, she thought. Well, maybe their ride should be, too. Carefully, she sent a beam of white-hot energy toward the car, not intending to damage the engine but merely heat it up a bit. After a few seconds, she stopped and transformed back to her normal self.
That should do it, Lorraine Reilly thought as she climbed into her own car. As she started the engine, there was a bursting sound from underneath the convertible’s hood. Steam started pouring out of the car as she pulled out of her spot. “Ooops, someone’s got an overheated radiator.” And she smiled as she drove out of the parking lot.
About twenty minutes later she arrived at the home of her father, Walter Reilly. “There you are, honey,” he said, welcoming her back. “How was the workout?”
“It ended up being a bit rewarding near the end,” Lorraine said.
“Well, I’m glad you’re back,” Walter said. “I was worried you’d get hung up. I wouldn’t want us to be late.”
“No problem, Daddy,” she said. “I already showered at the gym. I’ll just run upstairs to change, and then we can be off. I know it’s good for your career to be present at the ceremony this afternoon.”
“It should be big,” Walter Reilly agreed. “Both Reagan and Bush will be in attendance.”
Lorraine headed for the step. “I’ll be right back down, then.”
Last-minute preparations were underway in the Capitol for the ceremony. The Secret Service was busy insuring the area was secure for the president and vice-president’s appearances. One particular blond man in a dark blue suit with sunglasses pulled out his radio. “This is Agent Zimmer,” he said into the device. “Checkpoint Delta secured for Rawhides’s arrival. Over.”
The box in his hand squawked back. “Confirmed, Zimmer. Proceed to checkpoint Charlie. Over.”
Zimmer failed to notice a figure creep up on him from the alleyway behind him. A strong arm grabbed him across the mouth and neck, pulling him backward. The radio fell from his hands to the ground, and his glasses were knocked away. The shadow of a knife raised over him and plunged down.
Zimmer felt a sharp stab in his back — once, twice, and then a third time. Before he could gasp another breath or cry out, his body was pulled back into the alley and dropped to the ground.
The macabre-looking Chiller held a stiletto knife covered in blood. He smiled as he wiped the blade clean on the man’s suit coat and put the weapon back into its sheath in his armor. “It’s all so easy,” the creepy assassin said, standing over the lifeless body.
He raised his hands up to his bone-white face and began to knead the flesh. “I only gotta mold my face, shape it, will my skin to change color, and get the hair to match his!” Indeed, the man easily manipulated his features with his hands and his thoughts. He then touched the controls of his armor, causing the neck piece to release some gas with a hissing sound. “Then a shot of this freezing compound, ‘n’ Zimmer is gonna make it to checkpoint Charlie after all!”
The assassin discarded the body of Agent Zimmer into a nearby Dumpster after grabbing the needed government credentials from the corpse. Sometimes things got a little messy. Good thing he knew all about what the Secret Service wore; thus he had a backup suit already waiting for him.
Now all he needed to do was wait for the right moment to put the whole plan in motion.
The crowd was rather large outside the newest building in the Capitol. Invited guests included prominent senators and congress members both present and past, representatives from the various chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, noted figures from the Women’s Rights movements from the 1960s, the media from the major networks and cable news, and noted figures of the press, including female commentators, reporters, and publishers.
Barricades and security kept the crowd back from the steps that led up to the building. A red ribbon had been strung between the main archways. A podium was placed also at the top of the steps for the various speakers to address the crowds. There was a murmuring of the crowd as they waited as patiently as they could on this warm August afternoon.
Kristin Wells looked around as she stood with Barbara Gordon. “Isn’t this all so exciting?” she said.
“It is a long time in coming,” Barbara said. She would nod and smile as she recognized faces she knew in the crowd. “Nice to be part of a historical moment. So, how was your flight out?”
“Fine. I’m pretty good at that now, after lots of practice,” Kristin said.
“You flew yourself?” Barbara asked. “Under your own power?”
“Sure,” Kristin said. “Why not?”
Barbara shook her head. No sense in getting into it now.
Just then, someone called to her. “Barbara? Barbara Gordon?” the male voice called.
She turned to see a man with a young woman approaching. “Walter Reilly,” Barbara said, giving the man a friendly hug. “I haven’t seen you in years.”
“It has been a while,” Walter said. “Not since you left office back in ’82. I sure miss that spitfire attitude of yours. Ever consider running again?”
“I don’t think so,” she admitted. “I’ve been keeping rather busy since then. Say, is this your daughter all grown up?”
“That’s right,” Walter said. “You saw pictures of Lorraine when she was still in braces and pigtails.”
“Dad!” the young woman said.
Walter Reilly put his arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “Ah, but my baby’s all grown up now. She’s over at Vandermeer University in Pittsburgh.”
Barbara smiled. “That’s nice.” She offered her hand to Lorraine. “Well, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Lorraine took her hand. “Same here.”
“Did you come alone, Barbara?” asked Walter.
“Actually, I brought a friend,” Barbara said. “This is Kristin Wells. Kristin, this is Walter and Lorraine Reilly. He’s a senator from New York.” Kristin smiled and shook both their hands.
“My,” Walter said. “I’m surrounded by beautiful red-headed women today.” The three woman chuckled. “Say, Kristin, what do you do?”
“Oh, I’m a historian,” she replied.
“Well, I’m certain we’ll be seeing some history in the making today,” Walter replied.
“Barbara was saying the same thing earlier,” Kristin said. The group continued to chat until the first speakers came up to the podium. “Oh, it’s time!”
Maya Angelou began the ceremony by reading a special poem she had composed just for this occasion. This was followed by direct descendants of great women like Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, and Eleanor Roosevelt, all speaking briefly about the contributions of their ancestors. Then the first lady took the podium to speak briefly.
The president was next to the podium, while the vice-president stood diligently behind him. “One of the things which makes this very country the great nation it is today is the fact that women have contributed in so many ways to our success,” said Ronald Reagan as he began his speech.
Just off to the side, a blond Secret Service agent watched silently. Enjoy your last speech while ya can, big-shot! thought Chiller disguised as Agent Zimmer. The fun’s about to begin. He pressed the button on a small device in his pocket, sending forth a signal.
Moments later, the reply came in the form of a great rumbling of the ground.
Everyone was rather surprised, to say the least. Washington was not known to have earthquakes, and yet indeed the ground was shaking quite violently. People were clinging to one another to try to keep their balance as the tremors grew stronger and stronger. “What the devil is that?” the president asked.
“This could be an attack!” a dark-haired agent said. “We need to get people secured!”
“I’m on it!” Agent Zimmer said. He rushed toward Reagan and Bush. “Sirs, if you will follow me.”
“What about Nancy?” Reagan asked.
“The others will tend to her,” Zimmer replied as he began to usher the two off the podium.
Barbara Gordon noticed the flurry of activity as the president was being ushered off. She leaned in to Kristin. “I don’t like this at all,” she said. “Something tells me this quake might not be natural.”
Kristin nodded. “Let me go check it out!”
Barbara Gordon heard a feint buzz coming from her special earring. “One second, Kristin,” she said. “We’ve got an incoming.” Kristin used her super-hearing to pick up the transmission that Barbara was able to hear from the unique item hanging from her left ear.
“It’s Oracle,” said the voice of Lyla, the third member of the Birds of Prey team. “I know you’re in the D.C. area and thought this information might help. The news reports are buzzing about the tremors, and the cause is a known entity: Shockwave.”
“Kristin’s here, too,” Barbara said for the tiny microphone to pick up. “She’s on it right now.” She nodded to Kristin. The red-haired woman from the future slipped into the crowd to work her way to someplace she could change into her costume.
“Good,” Oracle replied. “I’ll continue to monitor the situation from here and keep you posted.”
Barbara Gordon merely nodded silently.
Walter Reilly, meanwhile, felt a similar concern. “I wonder what’s going on,” he said to his daughter.
“Maybe I should look into it,” Lorraine replied. “Back in a bit.” She, too, slipped off into the crowd.