by Martin Maenza
It had gotten cloudy rather fast, and the rain had begun to fall when two of the teenagers arrived at their destination. “You sure this is the place?” Donna Troy asked. She looked across the street to Hatie’s Cross, a seedy-looking pub near the waterfront. From its appearance, the building was rather old and had a couple of boarded-up windows. Still, patrons could be seen staggering out the doors, even though it was only mid-afternoon.
“According to Richards, this is where his former henchmen are known to hang loose,” Roy Harper replied. “Might as well drop in and ask around. Beats catching our death of cold in this rain.”
Donna gestured toward the front door. “Lead on, sure-shot.” When they entered the dark-but-crowded pub, Donna felt as if all eyes were upon them. The two stood out on so many levels: being both obviously under age and dressed slightly better than most. She felt even more self-conscious, as there did not appear to be any other women in the establishment. She pulled the belt strap on her short raincoat tighter and leaned in to her friend. “You’d better do the talking.”
It took a few moments, but Roy was able to clear them a path to the bar through some smelly patrons. “Hey, barkeep!” he called out, attempting to get the attention of the rugged man slinging drinks. He tapped his knuckles on the bar loudly. “Barkeep!”
The man finally made his way down to the end of the bar where Roy stood. “You old enough ta drink here, sonny?” he asked. “You barely look like you even shave.” A few of the men on stools nearby chuckled.
Roy shook his head. “I’m not here to wet my whistle, pops. I’m looking for two guys who are supposed regulars here. Are Alfie Groll or Brucie Lawrie around?”
Someone behind Roy grabbed him by the shoulder firmly and spun him around. It was a rather burly man with a scraggly beard and crooked teeth. “We don’t like strangers nosing around ‘ere, junior!” He swung his large fist toward the red-haired youth’s jaw.
Roy instinctively ducked, letting the fist slam into the bar.
“Owww! ‘old still, you!” the man exclaimed. He swung his fist once more at the boy, but it was stopped short when he was grabbed by the wrist. “What?”
Donna Troy held his wrist firmly until she was satisfied his momentum had been completely halted. “Cool it, man,” she said. “There’s no need to blow your jets.” The young Amazon then released his wrist and wiped her palm on the material of her coat. “We’re just looking for those two guys to rap.”
The brawler mumbled, “I ain’t seen ’em,” and skulked off before his mates could give him a hard time about being stopped by a mere girl.
Roy turned back to the bartender and the men around the bar. “How about you guys? Any of you got the poop on Alfie or Brucie?” He glanced back and forth, trying to see if any of the facial expressions revealed something that the silent, negative nods were not. He then turned back to Donna. “Maybe I should let you shake a few of them down.”
“No need to do that, mate,” said a male voice from the side. A man approached the two teens. “I can tell ya where those blokes have gotten off to.”
“We’re all ears,” Donna said.
He led them over to a small vacant table. “The two ye be looking for signed up with Her Majesty’s Navy. They shipped out ’bout two weeks back for Australia.”
“You sure?” Roy asked.
“Sure of me own mum’s name,” the man replied. “Saw them off, I did.”
Donna turned to Roy and nodded slightly. Then she addressed the man. “Thanks for your help.” The two teens departed the pub. “I hope the others are having more luck than we did.”
About ten miles away in an office building in downtown London, the other members of the teen quartet were following another lead. “This the right place, Lilith?” the black male asked as he opened the stairwell door.
“I think so, Mal,” answered the red-haired woman. “You know my hunches aren’t always so crystal clear, but I think we’re on the right track.” The two started down the second-floor hallway.
“I hope so. I really want to show up that loudmouth Harper.”
“What’s with you two, anyway? You’re like oil and water sometimes.” Lilith then added, “No offense meant.”
Mal stopped before an office door. The name stenciled on the glass said Christi O’Dour Designs. He turned back to Lilith. “None taken. I’m not sure exactly what it is with Roy and me. It’s like he’s always quick to bust our chops because we’re the newbies. Not part of the original fab five.” Mal paused. “Or perhaps Roy’s a bit of a bigot, treating me inferior because the color of my skin.”
“Oh, I doubt it’s that!” Lilith exclaimed.
“Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it just gets me so hot sometimes!” Mal turned back to the door and grabbed the round knob. “Yowww!” He pulled his hand back from it quickly.
Lilith shot him a curious look. “What is it?”
“It’s hot! The knob!” Mal motioned for her to stand back. He then threw all of his weight into the door. On the second try, the door gave way and fell into an inferno. Flames danced around the entire office inside.
They stepped back to distance themselves from the heat and smoke. Lilith paused for a second. “Mal, I hear something. It sounds like a muffled voice coming from inside.”
The black youth removed his jacket and put it over his head. “Stay here!” Mal leaped into the flames.
The fire surged out, so Lilith turned away. As luck would have it, she noticed a figure rush by the end of the hall. Hold on there, she thought to herself as she chased after the fleeing person.
Inside the raging fire, Mal crawled close to the floor. Despite his best efforts, the smoke was starting to get to him. “Hello? Where are you?” he called out, trying to pinpoint whoever was in the fire. After a few moments, he managed to locate someone in one of the alcoves.
A beautiful blond woman had been gagged and bound to a wooden chair with a number of leather belts. Mal quickly removed the gag and went to work releasing her from her confinement. “Thank you, thank you!” the woman gushed.
“Save those for later,” Mal responded. “We still have to get out of this hot spot!” He took her hand, crouched down, and began to lead her out.
Meanwhile, the figure had a lead on Lilith when she reached the stairwell. “Stop where you are!” she said as she leaped for the railing and vaulted down to the next landing.
The figure’s green cloak whirled about as he knocked her away before she could land on him. Lilith began to tumble, but she grabbed the edge of the material firmly in hopes of pulling him down with her. Instead the cloak came free, and the man continued to run once more. Before she could rise to her feet, he was already out the door to the street.
“I blew that one,” Lilith said as she clutched the cape. She then stopped for a second to analyze the garment, with the label on the inside providing her with a revelation. “Ah-ha.”
A voice from the stairs called down to her. “Lilith! Lilith!” shouted Mal. “I saved Ms. O’Dour!” Lilith quickly hurried up to meet them halfway. “We better ring the fire department before her entire studio is destroyed.”
Lilith replied, “We’d better ring the others, too! I think I’ve got our killer couturier!”
In a secluded area in back of the stage, French designer Millard Heuse met with his red-haired assistant in preparation for the upcoming fashion show. “Looks like that O’Dour chick survived the fire we set,” remarked Jacques, the tall male assistant. “Maybe I should’ve offed her directly, like I did Blackwater.”
“We do not need to worry, though, mon ami,” Heuse answered. He was in his mid-thirties with straight dark hair. “The fire you started managed to destroy a bulk of her collection. Her role in this show will be minimal at best.” The designer unpacked another outfit, a patterned turquoise mini-dress, and hung it on the rack with his other creations.
“So you convinced the backers to go on with the show?”
“Oui! Tonight, my fashions will take the spotlight and will be the talk of the fall season. That will guarantee my business to skyrocket.”
“Bag that idea,” said a male voice from the side. Mal stepped out from behind a curtained area, with Lilith, Donna, and Roy following close behind. “It’ll be hard to push those glad rags from the big house!”
Millard Heuse stuttered. “What — what are you talking about?” He wasn’t sure exactly how much the newcomers had overheard.
Lilith smiled and held up the green cape she had acquired the day before in one hand. “Between this little item your assistant left behind at Christi O’Dour’s…” She then held up a small tape recorder with a powerful built-in microphone. “…and your own confessions on this tape, I think the police will have plenty of evidence to put you in jail.”
“Yeah,” Roy added. “When you’re done doing time for murder and arson, these clothes of yours will be coming back in style, for the second time.”
“Get them!” Heuse yelled. His assistant reached inside his coat pocket, pulled out a hand gun, and began to fire at the quartet of teens.
“I’ve got this!” Donna Troy said as she stepped before her friends. Even though they currently did not wear their costumes, she still wore her Amazon bracelets. Just as she had been taught by Diana on Paradise Island, Donna easily reflected the six fired shots. “Obviously, they’ve underestimated the power of youth.” The assistant looked dumbfounded as his gun ran out of bullets.
“Good work!” Mal commended. “Now to take out the trash!” He vaulted forward and nailed Jacques with a right hook to the jaw. The man fell to the floor. “That’s how we did it in Hell’s Corner.”
Millard Heuse, meanwhile, used the distractions to make a run for it. Lilith saw him bolt across the room. “He’s getting away!”
“No, he won’t!” Roy started to pursue the man and grabbed one of the heavy wooden hangers from the rack as he passed. He cocked his arm back, then jerked it forward in one smooth motion. The hanger flew from his hand in a fast, whirling motion and squarely hit the French designer on the back of the skull. Millard Heuse dropped to the floor. “Just call me Captain Boomerang.”
“I gotta admit it,” Mal said. “Even without a bow, you’ve still got a good aim.” He firmly patted Roy on the back.
Roy half-smiled. “You’re not so shabby in the fighting department yourself, brother.”
Donna was pleased to see the two trying to be civil toward one another. She found some rope, offering it to Mal and Roy so they could bind the two men. “We’ve got all the evidence we need,” she said.
Lilith had been nosing around the work table area and opened one of the drawers. “I’ve got one more item to add,” she said as she produced a small card from the drawer. It matched the same one that was left at the scene of the Blackwater murder — one inscribed with the words the Mad Mod.
“I guess you could say we’ve got this case all sewn up,” Roy quipped. The other three groaned at his bad joke.
Outside the London jail, five people were waiting when Neil Richards stepped out into the fresh air. “Ah, freedom! Feels good to be back in me own clothes, it does.” He turned to the Americans. “And I owe it all to you and your friends, Mr. Jupiter.” He offered his hand in thanks.
The businessman smiled and shook Neil’s hand. “My pleasure, Mr. Richards. It does my heart good to see an innocent man go free.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a business card. “Here, take this.”
“What’s this?” Neil asked as he examined the card. “Your telly number in the States?”
“Yes, it is,” Mr. Jupiter replied. “I wanted you to have it, just in case you ever got into further trouble and needed assistance. You’re a bright man with a lot of potential in front of you.”
Neil Richards was a bit speechless, and a tear was forming in the corner of his eye. “Thanks, mate. You don’t know ‘ow much this means to me.” The man tipped his head and headed off down the street.
The four teenagers gathered around their mentor. Donna spoke up for the group. “That was a very nice gesture, Mr. Jupiter. You’ve given him another chance.”
“That’s just the way I am,” Loren Jupiter responded. “What good is all my money if I can’t help out people, especially those who are trying to recover from a bad break? Hopefully he has reached a turning point, and our help will lead him down to a better path in the future.” The four youths nodded, knowing firsthand of the man’s generosity and support. “Time for us to head home.”