Dan Cassidy looked at the map in the sheriff’s office. Maybe it would help to get a look at the scene of the crime. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I could get a car?” he asked. “I seem to be short on transportation.”
“I’ll drive you,” said Sheriff Cinnamon Savage. “It will be a treat to watch a real super-hero at work.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Blue Devil, trying not to be annoyed. “I’m not really a super-hero.”
“Let’s go,” said the elderly officer. “You can tell me your life story on the way.” She smiled slightly.
“Not much to tell,” said Dan, following her out to a dusty yellow Jeep parked in the street.
The sheriff drove rapidly to the first site. All the while, she kept Dan talking about what it felt like to be stuck in a movie monster outfit. He found himself liking this stranger, despite himself.
Blue Devil and Sheriff Savage toured the sites of the animal attacks. The ones on the people were close to the highway between Dos Rios and Pineston. The animal attacks dotted the landscape. Dan noticed that most of the animal attacks circled a hacienda on its own in the desert.
He saw it in the distance as he finished his tour and realized he had been seeing it from different angles all day. “Who lives in that house over there?” he asked, indicating the square building.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it living,” said the sheriff. “Lazarus Lane lives down there. He’s a catatonic. Some of the local Indians support him and take care of him and the property. He was a blood brother to one of them a long time ago. No one knows how old he is. Seen him once. He just sits in his chair all day.”
“I guess we can’t expect him to tell us if has seen anything,” said Dan. “Still, it’s odd that a lot of these animal attacks are going on around his place.”
“Let’s go over and talk to Bob and Sara,” said Sheriff Savage. “Maybe they’ve seen something to point us in the right direction.”
“Bob and Sara?” said Dan.
“They’re Lane’s keepers,” said the law woman. “They just took over from their cousins.”
“It can’t hurt,” agreed Dan.
The sheriff drove her Jeep to the hacienda. She parked in front of the main doors. “You might want to hang back,” said Sheriff Savage. “A devil is probably the last thing they want to see right now.”
Blue Devil touched a curved horn with a blue hand. “I see your point,” he said.
Sheriff Savage’s door knock was answered by a young woman in jeans and a white shirt. Her dark hair was cropped short. Her brown eyes glanced at the elderly woman, and then at the seven-foot-tall Blue Devil.
“I see you have been practicing bad medicine, Sheriff,” she said with a grin.
“Hello, Sara,” said Savage. “This is Dan Cassidy. Dan, this is Sara Wise Owl.”
“Pleasure,” said Dan, holding out his hand and taking Sara’s firm grip in his own.
“Nice to meet a celebrity,” said Sara. She almost laughed at his grimace.
“We’re here to talk to you about these animal attacks,” said Savage.
“You’re a bit out of your jurisdiction, aren’t you?” asked Sara. “Anyway, there’s not much for me to tell you.”
She led them into a sitting room and gestured for them to sit. Dan glanced at the room’s occupant with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes, that’s Lazarus Lane,” said Sara. “Don’t worry, he’s a catatonic, so anything said will stay in this room.”
“That’s nice to know,” said Dan. “A lot of these attacks are happening around the house here, and we were wondering if you had seen or heard anything.”
“I found some of the bodies afterward, and I didn’t hear anything,” said Sara. “Of course, I’m not a light sleeper. If it, whatever it is, broke into the house, it would be able to have dinner in bed.”
Blue Devil found his gaze straying to the comatose Lane. “What’s his story?” he said, to get away from the morbid talk. He was considering the advantages of vegetarianism over steaks the more involved in the matter he got.
“No one knows for sure,” said Sara Wise Owl. “My great, or great-great uncle was his blood-brother a long time ago. So our family has been taking care of him for a while. Family legend says he was struck by lightning for an act of cowardice, and has been a vegetable since then. Physically there’s nothing wrong with him, according to the doctors who have seen him. He just sits in his chair and stares.”
“How long has he been like that?” Dan asked, thinking the answer was something he really didn’t need to know.
“A hundred years, maybe,” said Sara.
“You’re kidding, right?” asked Dan. “How has he survived for that long out here?”
“The dryness of the desert is a great preserver,” said Sara. “That’s an odd question for someone who has seen people fly.”
“Only once or twice,” said Dan. “I admit Man-Bat is someone you don’t forget, no matter how much you try.”
“Just one more question,” said Sheriff Savage. “Then we’ll be on our way.”
“Go ahead,” said Sara.
“Just want to know if you saw a pattern in all of this.”
“Night-hunting like a cougar or coyote,” said Sara. “It’s too smart to be a cougar, though.”
“Thanks,” said Savage. “Let’s go, Dan.”
“What’s your idea?” asked Dan as the two walked back to the sheriff’s Jeep.
“What makes you think I have an idea?” Sheriff Savage asked mildly.
“Because you have that gleam in your eye that means I’m about to get beat on for not minding my own business,” replied Blue Devil.
“It occurred to me that the thing in question has been attacking pretty close to the house,” said the sheriff. “Ordinarily, I would need a group of men on watch for a creature like this, but I figure one Blue Devil should be enough.”
“Your idea is to wait for it to approach the house and then ambush it?” said Cassidy, grimacing at the thought.
“Yep,” said the elderly woman.
“We can try, I guess.”
By nightfall, Dan Cassidy and Sheriff Cinnamon Savage had taken a post overlooking the hacienda. Blue Devil had pulled his fighting wardrobe from his bag and summoned his trident in the intervening hours. They waited silently, listening to the night noise.
Suddenly, all of the insects stopped their chirping. The Blue Devil’s huge ears detected movement approaching the house. He pointed at the general direction of the sound he was detecting. The sheriff drew her pistol and waved him ahead to check on the noise.
Dan nodded, then leaped into the air and landed yards away. After doing so once more, he could just make out a figure trying a window. The silhouette moved down the wall, trying each window in turn. Finally, one opened, and the figure slipped inside.
Blue Devil headed for the window at top speed. There was no telling what that thing would do to Lazarus Lane or Sara Wise Owl, now that it was inside the house. Diving through the open window, he shoulder rolled and came to his feet. The thing was gone from the room.
Running to the door, Dan saw that the shadow was moving down the hall. He went after it as silently as he could. The shadow entered the room where Lane had been sitting that afternoon. It moved along the shelves and fell across Lane’s rocker.
“Hands up,” Blue Devil said, pointing his trident at the intruder.
The shadow turned slowly, raising its hands. Blue flames leaped into life around the appendages. A hideously scarred face resembling movie bogeyman Freddy Krueger leaped into focus under the flickering light.
Dan was startled by the hideous face. Then those burning hands were heaving bolts of flame at him. He leaped over the twin streams with the amazing agility he had built into his suit’s micro-motors.
Blue Devil leveled his trident and blasted at the intruder with fire of his own. The monster turned, letting the flame pass by on one side. The walking corpse then leaped through the nearby window in a shattering of glass and wood.
Dan ran over, but the thing had vanished in the desert night. “Who was that?” Dan asked himself. He turned and beat the small fires out with a rug.
Sara Wise Owl paused at the door, tying the belt of a bath robe together. “What’s going on here?” she asked, eyeing the Blue Devil angrily.
“The sheriff and I were…” Dan began, as he beat the last of the fire out. “The sheriff!”
Blue Devil turned and threw himself through the window. He ran for where the old lady’s Jeep had been parked, trident ready to fry. “Oh, no,” he groaned when he saw the vehicle was empty. “I should have seen this coming.”
A note had been left on the seat for him. He picked it up and read it, rubbing his goateed chin. “Excellent,” he sighed through gritted teeth.
“What’s going on?” Sara asked as she walked over from the front door of the hacienda.
“The guy who broke in to the house took the sheriff,” said Dan. “He wants some kind of book that Lane has. Otherwise, she’s barbecue.” He handed the note over.
“I know this book,” said Sara. “It’s on one of the top shelves in the library.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
She glared at him.
“OK,” said Dan. “Get it. I’m going after the sheriff and getting her back from this nut. If he wants a book, he’ll get one.”
Sara ran back into the house, and then to the library, singing a song from her childhood as she went. Her father had told her it would help her in times of trouble. She had forgotten it until now, but this seemed like the right time to do so. If there ever was a need for help, now was that time.
She returned with the book, the binding of which was strangely alluring to her. She decided to read it after the Blue Devil had gotten Sheriff Savage back. Dan didn’t feel a thing as he took the book, as his mind was completely on dealing with the fruitcake.
“Good luck, Mr. Cassidy,” Sara said. “I’ll call the highway patrol and the sheriff’s office and explain things.”
“Thanks,” said Dan, leaping away quietly in the night air.
Dan Cassidy didn’t know it, but he was being followed by a shadowy figure on a motorcycle. The rider wore a billowing cloak and a straight-brimmed hat of pure black. A red mask covered the upper part of his face.
The two made their way toward where Dan’s car had broken down on the way to Pineston. Eventually, Dan saw the abandoned mine mentioned in the note. He landed carefully and looked at the entrance of the mine with the vision enhancements in his artificial eyes.
A small fire was going in the mouth of the cave. He could see the elderly sheriff sitting by the fire, but not the intruder. He decided to move closer. Maybe the guy was away eating something.
“That’s far enough,” said the rasping voice that Dan knew so well. “Do you have the book?”
“Yes,” said Blue Devil. “You send the sheriff over, and I’ll throw the thing to you.”
“Throw it first.”
“Don’t you trust me?” Dan asked.
“No,” said the rasping voice. “Throw the book here in the mine, or the woman fries.”
Blue Devil tossed the book short of the entrance. He could see it in the light from the fire. “Send out the old lady,” he said.
A blue flame leaped to life. It gestured, and the sheriff got up and started walking slowly toward Dan. The former stuntman waited, gauging the distance with a squinted eye. He didn’t know if he could take a hit from one of those fire bolts, and he didn’t want to find out. All he had to do was get the sheriff to safety and then knock this nutcase for a loop. He had the feeling that was easier said than done.
An unlit hand shoved Savage forward while the monster bent to pick up the book. But with the sound of a whip crack, the book vanished into the night.
“What kind of trick is this?” asked the ghoul.
“Got me, buddy,” said Blue Devil, snatching the sheriff up in one arm. He leveled his trident with the other.
Eerie laughter echoed over the desert.
“El Diablo!” cursed Lazarus Tremaine in fury.
“You haven’t learned much since the last time we met, Tremaine,” said the caped figure, holding the book nonchalantly in one hand.
“Who’s this?” whispered Dan, slowly backing away from the two other devils.
“El Diablo,” said Sheriff Savage. “I have always heard about him, but to see that this myth is real is something I could have done without.”
“Tell me about it,” said Dan.
“Give me the book, old man,” said the angry ghoul.
“Take it if you can,” said El Diablo, his white goatee stirring in the wind. He laughed quietly.
Incensed, Tremaine raised his hand and slung a bolt of azure flame. El Diablo held the book in both hands to catch the flame. A roaring commenced, deafening those present. A hole appeared in the air as the book sucked the flame in.
Blue Devil saw Tremaine begin to slide across the desert floor as the hole pulled him toward it, feeding on his power. Dan rushed forward, tempted to grab one of the scarred hands and hold on with all of his strength. Then he thought about the dead that had been littered along the highway.
Instead, he swung a fist directly into Tremaine, knocking him through the portal. It immediately closed on his screams. But when Dan looked around for El Diablo, the masked man was gone.
Dan Cassidy and Sheriff Cinnamon Savage walked out of the desert as the sun came over the horizon. Ahead lay the house of Lazarus Lane and the Dos Rios Sheriff Department’s Jeep.
They had spent the time working out a story for the townspeople of Pineston and Dos Rios, if it was required. The last thing Sheriff Savage was going to say was that the mythical bogeyman of the desert, El Diablo, had saved her life in a confrontation with a mummy. They would lock her up and throw away the key.
The police were already there as the two walked up to the house. Blue Devil pushed through, letting the sheriff answer any questions. He walked into the house and then into the library.
“Thank you,” he said to the catatonic Lazarus Lane.