The Flash: Evil to Burn, Chapter 4: Conflagration

by Hitman 44077

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Not long after arriving at Central City Police Headquarters, the Flash made his way toward a detective who informed him who was involved in the arson investigation. A few quick seconds later had him at a table, and he spoke to several officers with the insight of what he’d just learned.

“I heard someone left a message for me,” he said. “The arsonist, I assume?”

One of the detectives, a balding man who still appeared fit, lit up a cigarette and wore an expression of exhaustion on his face. “Yeah. We had to scramble for what we could, but here’s the message he left.” He extended his hand, and Flash accepted it. “By the way, the name’s John Flint. I used to work with Frank Curtis several years back.”

“Good to meet you, John,” Flash said.

With that, the detective pushed the button on a playback device, and the message began. By the two separate voices, it was obviously a conversation between the arsonist and the police officer who received the call and began recording it midway through.

“–before I made an impact, right, officer?”

“Who are you?”

“Heh — you’ll know my name soon enough.”

“Look, I’m sure this can be talked out.”

“My actions do the talking, friend. But you can do me a favor.”

“Wh-what is it?”

“The Flash — it’s time we spoke.”

“We don’t have him on some standby.”

“Then maybe the city needs to suffer further.”

“No — we’ll find him, but where can he find you?”

“Amongst the trash that makes up this city. But you and he might want to hurry. My patience is running low, and this day isn’t over.”

“All right, bu–“

Click.

“That’s all he said.” Detective Flint took a puff from his cigarette. “The cryptic message could imply just about anything.”

The Flash stood silently, taking in what he’d just listened to, and began thinking quickly. “The voice had anger — an attitude — as if he were… better than others. Trash could mean anything, from garbage to — wait a minute. It’s a stretch, I know, but the disregard of human life already shown by this guy makes me believe there’s a class of people whom he feels are definitely lower than him. A hatred of criminals would explain the bank arson, but not the parade, where so many lives were jeopardized. This guy definitely has an appetite for destruction.”

“This guy’s cold as ice — colder than this weather,” the detective said in disgust.

The comment resonated through the Flash, even as his mind raced into overdrive. The homeless! Of course! In their surroundings, trying to make the best they can, would someone so twisted view them as trash — expendable? he thought angrily. Turning back toward the detective, the Flash said, “Find me any files that would list parolees living in the Bettner section of town — someone with a record involving arson or other crimes involving fire.”

“That’s a rough area, but wait a sec. I’ll be back in a minute,” the detective said quickly, realizing something. He walked away but soon returned with a file. “Here,” he said, handing the folder of papers to the Flash. The speedster looked through the pages even as the detective continued. “I think we have a prime suspect,” he said as the Flash found a police photo and compared it to an arrest photo.

Edward Hobart — I’ve heard of this guy! the Flash thought as he pulled other papers to the front.

“I walked a beat with this guy when I was a rookie, and I’d heard he’d become a parole officer until he decided to screw up,” John said in disgust.

“Makes more than enough sense now. I’ll be back,” Flash said, his mind racing.

“Good luck.”

“Thanks,” he responded as he took off toward the Bettner section of the city.

Years ago, Ed Hobart decided he wanted to frame a certain parolee named Mick Rory. He stole a Heat Wave costume and committed crimes to ruin Mick’s chance at redemption. (*) Now, it seems he blames this entire city for what he did to ruin his career. It’s always someone else’s fault in their eyes, Flash thought bitterly. But they have no one to blame but themselves.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Dead Heat for a Scarlet Speedster,” The Flash #312 (August, 1982).]

Seconds later, in the Bettner section of Central City, Flash looked at the many run-down buildings making up the so-called housing for Central City’s less fortunate.

I’ve tried to do some good here — donated money towards food and lodging — but they need more than I can give them. Even a hero can only do so much. If everyone in this city could give a little more than just at certain times of the year, then there’d be more good to come, the Flash thought before turning his attentions back to the scene at hand.

He looked around to see if anyone occupied the buildings before doing anything. These aren’t the most stable of buildings, but… Flash thought as he spotted one single light, almost like firelight, peeking through a window on what appeared to be the top floor. “Bingo!”

The Flash entered the building where the light was coming from and slowly made his way through the building. I’m not stupid. There could be several traps in store. Hobart wouldn’t leave such a blatant clue unless he had something planned.

The inside was dark, the temperature almost frigid with the night cold pouring through the boarded-up windows, but the Flash continued up the stairs. Several cautious minutes later, Flash had arrived to the top floor of the building and headed toward the direction where the firelight was emminating from.

So far, so good. If I can take him by surprise, then this’ll end before it even starts, the Flash thought as he inched closer to the door.

The Flash reached the door and kicked it open. What he saw was a figure clad in a Heat Wave costume who, for some reason, had his knees to the floor. He’d yet to turn around.

“It’s over, Hobart! You’re heading back to–” the Flash yelled before noticing something completely odd. As the figure kept kneeling still, began to be surrounded by a slowly forming puddle of blood. “My God!” Flash shouted, speeding toward the kneeling figure. When he reached him, he saw that the man behind the mask had his wrists tied to a metal wall-grate, his mouth covered with tape. Pulling the tape from the dressed-up villain, he saw that it was indeed Edward Hobart, or how he looked like as the second Heat Wave. He was in a lot of pain.

“I’m getting you out of here,” the Flash said as he began to realize that someone had definitely been set up.

“N-no, leave! I’m dead already!” Hobart said, pleading through pain. “It’s a trap! He put a–“

Hobart never finished his sentence. In that instant, he exploded.

Even though the Flash had started to move at super-speed, he was still caught off-guard by the blast. The impact threw Flash back into a wall, even as several more explosions went off in rapid succession. The place almost immediately erupted into flames, even as Flash found himself on the floor, now surrounded by flames. Super-speed may have saved my life, he thought, when suddenly he felt a sharp pain hit the side of his neck. “Aghh!” he yelled, pulling what appeared to be a large dart from near his neck.

“I wondered when you would show,” a masked voice called from the shadows. “Looks like Hobart didn’t die for nothing.”

The Flash moved at super-speed and grabbed the person standing in the shadows who’d fired the shot. But before he could react, he suddenly felt sick — dizzy. He released the criminal and fell to the ground.

“Morphine can do such wonders when it hits the proper place,” the attacker said as he twisted and contorted in Flash’s blurred sight. “And when it’s a lethal dose injected in the carotid artery, it’s almost like going to sleep.”

The Flash pushed himself up, desperately trying to mount any type of defense, but fell to the floor, which now appeared to spin. “Who… unhh… whooo are… yooou?” he said, clenching his eyes shut. But the image of this figure was already seared in his mind. The arsonist looked similar to Heat Wave but had some distinguishing features, namely body armor covering his legs and arms, what appeared to be nozzled fingers, and a helmet and backpack combination with reinforced tubing that connected to the gloves.

“You can call me Firefist, the fire-bringer — and your killer!” the villain shouted, raising his hand toward Flash’s body.

The Flash, despite his dizziness and blurred vision, knew he had to react — there wouldn’t be a second chance. It wasn’t quite packed with super-speed, but he managed to jump up and place all he could behind a punch into Firefist’s gut, which was powerful enough to break a rib or two of the villain.

Firefist flew backward in pain, even as Flash tried desperately to react further. “Y-you — aggh! — damn you!” the villain shouted, clutching his ribs. He staggered toward the doorway and used his fists to shoot flames throughout the room, further engulfing the scene. “You’d better pray we don’t meet again, Flash. You’d better pray for death!

With that, Firefist pulled one of the cylinder devices he’d used in his crimes from his belt and threw it in Flash’s direction. The Flash, still dizzy, managed to avoid a blast by ducking out of the way, but the device exploded, shattering the floor. Flash fell one floor to the floor beneath him, barely coherent enough to notice either that the villain had escaped or that fire sirens were blaring from some unseen distance.

***

In the present, the fire had spread rapidly since the time Flash had first faced off against Firefist, all but consuming the building in various places. But once more, Flash started to stir, this time with a more desperate pace.

Got… to… move… the Flash thought, opening his eyes. His vision was still awry due to the large dose of morphine in his system, but he tried to focus. He pushed himself up to his knees, almost losing balance, and stared into the blurred flames. Through the fire, he could almost see images of what occurred this day — the events leading to Darryl Frye’s fight for life and the various investigations into the arson, all leading up to the death of a released felon and the murderer behind it. The visions of Firefist seemed to mock the Flash. They seemed to be laughing at him, though all he could remember were the villain’s eyes.

“You’d better pray for death!” the villain’s threat continued to ring inside the Flash’s ears between peals of maniacal laughter.

Never…” the Flash seethed aloud, his own inner fire beginning to light.

“Central City will burn to the ground, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it!” the villain seemed to say in his mind’s eye.

“I won’t let you!” the Flash screamed in anger, finally standing, even as the image faded.

The Flash almost stumbled, but kept himself from falling back to the floor. Gotta focus… try to… use my speed. Try to… burn whatever’s in me out… and try to stop the fire… too, the speedster thought.

He gathered what concentration he could and started to move, spinning rather slowly at first, then somewhat faster and faster still. He continued to spin, and soon the flames began to disappear from the floor he’d fallen onto moments earlier. He sped faster yet and safely descended down the ravaged flight of stairs, putting out what flames he faced.

On and on it continued, and the Flash sped faster yet. When he had finally reached the ground floor, there were little more than some random flames that the firefighters could easily put out. But the morphine still wasn’t quite expelled from the Flash’s body.

Can’t afford… to stop. Lives depend… on me, Flash thought, still feeling very disoriented from the dart.

The Flash’s actions did not go unnoticed by the firefighters at the scene. Those who had arrived to fight the fire were dumbfounded at the once-powerful blaze now reduced greatly by some unseen force inside.

“What on Earth is happening in there?” the fire chief asked in amazement.

“Is there… hope for the building?” one of the homeless men asked him.

“I — I don’t know. The building was already in an unliveable condition. Even though the fire’s under control, I don’t think it can be saved,” the fire chief reluctantly admitted.

“Look there!” a homeless woman said, pointing toward the flying costumed woman in the air. It was Polara.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Polara asked urgently.

“What can you do?” the fire chief yelled to the heroine.

“I’ve got magnetic powers. Tell the men to stay back,” Polara replied before another thought crossed her mind. Where could Wally be? she thought to herself. Perhaps in chase of whoever set this? I hope he catches this guy!

“OK, men, move away from the building!” the fire chief ordered. The firefighters complied, and from there Polara went to work.

Using her powers, the heroine lifted several fire trucks and floated them over to where the flames were still at their worst. She controlled the metal on the hoses and pointed them in the thick of the flames. And when those were put out, she moved the fire trucks to other areas to continue the fight. But as this was being done, the structure of the building suddenly began to break, beginning to collapse.

“There’s nothing more we can do, Polara! Get yourself away from the area!” the fire chief yelled, knowing what was soon going to happen.

Polara, knowing herself that there wasn’t anything more she could do, positioned the fire trucks out of harm’s way and lowered herself to the street, where she joined the fire chief.

Inside, the Flash continued spinning, not knowing that he no longer had control of the powers he was displaying. He was literally speeding so fast that he was sucking the wood-rotted and fire-damaged building into itself, almost as if the building was imploding. The only good news was that he finally began to find enough clarity in his mind that the morphine seemed to have less of an effect the faster he went.

Those watching from the streets couldn’t believe their eyes, even as the building finally completely collapsed into itself, the structure remaining resembling a medium-sized burnt bunker that barely smoldered at this point.

“Oh, my God…” the fire chief said, almost whispering.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Polara thought aloud.

Seconds passed, then a minute, and then finally a spinning scarlet form shot out from the center of the structure, startling everyone until the object quickly slowed to a stop.

“Flash!” Polara shouted in horror, not realizing until that moment that the speedster’s very life had been in peril all this time.

The Flash fell to his knees, coughing aloud from the smoke inhalation he’d faced while within the blaze, battling though consciousness and preventing a more permanent fate.

“Thank heavens you’re alive, Flash! We had no idea you were inside!” the fire chief shouted.

The crowd of firefighters and homeless let out a cheer, thankful that the city’s champion was still alive. It didn’t matter to them what had happened earlier. To them, the Flash and the man behind the suit always gave of himself selflessly, and there was still hope. Flash appreciated their support, but it did little to ease the anger inside him — the anger toward a new enemy named Firefist.

“He–” the Flash began, coughing violently, “–he got… away.” He seethed with fury through his exhaustion, the lingering effects of the blaze, and what was left of the morphine. “He got away.”

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