Bonnie, Get Your Shield!

April 1955

I’m Bonnie

Hi! I’m Bonnie Marlow, and I’m a private detective, one of the Partners at Marlow, Thomas, Mason Investigations, the best agency in Chicago. And it ain‘t easy, being the ‘girl’ of the group. In fact, the boys thought they hired me to be their secretary, but I set them straight on our first case together. As far as legwork and that deductive stuff, I’m the best of the bunch. Cody Mason is really great at forensics and Tomas Thomas is our strongman, but whatever you need a private investigator for, any one of us will get your job done, and done right!

It was even tougher being the only partner who wasn’t a mystery hero. Early in the World War II years, Cody had a short, spectacularly unsuccessful stint as Kid Lambda, partner to Dr. Lambda and Lady Lambda, but that didn’t work out well. These days, though, he is also the very successful mystery hero known as Red Rocket. And Tomas is the dashing Tom Atomic. If you live in Chicago, you've certainly heard about them, and now they’re starting to make a national name for themselves. A couple other very important things about them: they are my best friends, and Cody is my husband. Cody is tall, fair, and handsome, and pretty serious; he could be on a Air Force recruiting poster. Tomas is taller, wider, and swarthy – with his mustache, he looks almost sinister, like the bad guy in a Saturday serial. He's pretty handsome, too, and a free spirit – he's probably dated most of the attractive single women in Chicago, and always has to fight off the dames.

One other guy you need to know a little bit about is the mystery villain Discharge. He’s fought Tom Atomic a couple times, so I know more about him than the general public. His body can absorb kinetic energy from violent impacts, such as being punched, and he can release that energy as a lightning bolt – like a discharging capacitor, get it? He would be seriously dangerous if his power lasted longer, but he has to recharge after every few bolts, and after about 20 minutes of going all out, his power fades totally and doesn’t return for a few hours. You’ll recognize him – he’s the one dressed in black! There’s a couple of other good guys and a few other bad guys in this story, too, but you’ll learn everything you need to know about them we go along.

Me? I was a nurse in a MASH unit in the Korean War. A lot of stuff happened during the war, some of it pretty awful and some not quite as awful (sorry, there was nothing good about that war except the day it ended!). I got captured by the Chinese, escaped, learned martial arts, became a Fully Certified Trained Private Investigator through a correspondence course, received on-the-job training with a machine gun when our unit was almost overrun, killed some enemy soldiers, helped save a lot of lives, including an enemy soldier I shot myself, and ended the war as a Captain who coulda been on the fast track for Major (if I wanted to be a nurse in charge of other nurses for the rest of my career.) Plus, there was a whole lot of other crap in between. Pretty typical experiences for that war, by the way. If you were there, a lot of these things happened to you, too.

Enough about the war. This story is about Bonnie! I'm blonde, very fair-skinned and what they call 'statuesque', and, I look almost exactly like a World War II era comic book heroine named Joan Wayne, in some other world, in some other war – you'll get the connection later. In fact, that connection is pretty important to this whole story. So let's get started: it began in the bank…

New Hero in Town?

It had been a pretty typical day for Bonnie Marlow, P.I. For her next case she was going undercover as a lab technician, but that assignment wouldn’t start until day after tomorrow, so she'd been catching up on paperwork and taking care of the routine office matters at MTM Investigations. She was standing in line at her bank at lunch time, waiting to deposit an unexpected check – a bonus from her last client, who was very satisfied with the report Bonnie had given her.

Two men, waving tommy guns, were suddenly standing in the middle of the bank. Nobody had noticed the two men enter the bank – it almost seemed as if they had appeared out of thin air in the middle of the bank lobby. They began screaming at customers to drop to the floor, and they weren't kidding! They shot one of the guards because he was too slow to hit the deck, and they shot a customer who tried to run away. Right now, everyone but one teller was lying on the floor, and she was busy stuffing money into a bag while being closely watched by one of the robbers.

Suddenly the bank doors crashed open as a large man in red, white and blue slammed through them. He raced into the lobby, and before the thugs could move, he’d knocked the one holding the gun against the wall. As the crook slumped to the floor, his gun skittered away across the floor. Bonnie quickly grabbed it and rolled to a sitting position, covering the dazed crook with his own gun. Meanwhile, the costumed hero threw his shield, a slightly concave manhole-sized red, white and blue disk, at the other robber, hitting him in the stomach. The unfortunate bad guy doubled over with an ‘Oomph’ and collapsed on the floor. The hero kicked him in the head, and kicked his gun away, and then turned to check on the first thief.

"Damn!" the slouched thief complained loudly, to no one in particular. "It's one’a dem long underwear guys! The Boss told us he'd take care of alla dem!"

"When you can't trust your boss, you really oughtta find another job!" the hero pontificated as he recovered his shield. "Lucky for you, you’ll be fully employed making license plates for the next few years and won’t need to worry about your boss letting you down."

At that instant, there was a deafening explosion just outside the bank, blasting a hole the size of a garage door where the bank doors had been. A small dapper man, impeccably attired as a stage magician, with slick black hair and a Fu-Manchu style beard and mustache underneath a black top hat, strode into the lobby as if he were an Emperor. He was carrying a white staff a few inches taller than he was, apparently carved from ivory, alternately banded in gold and patterns of precious stones. The staff was topped by a half-sized replica of a human skull, made of white gold, with blazing red gemstones for eyes.

The hero immediately charged the wizard, leading with his shield. The mage barked a single word: “Xuvalu!" and a white beam lanced from the right eye of the skull. It struck the shield, which refracted it in a prism-like multi-colored effect and redirected it across the room. The mystery hero was staggered, and Bonnie was drenched in a spray of pastel-colored magical energy. The wizard hadn’t expected the shield to hamper his spell, but recovered quickly and spoke another guttural, incomprehensible phrase. Every person in the lobby was instantly frozen in place.

The mage spoke in English in a deep sonorous tone, the voice of a man at least a foot taller and much more massive than he: "When the police arrive, be sure to tell them that The Magist has returned, and I am more dangerous than ever! I leave this hapless, hopeless, so called ‘mystery hero’ alive as a warning to all heroes - but I will not be as merciful to the next hero who tries to interfere with me or my minions."

Finally he barked one final word: “Xuvalu” and stamped the staff on the floor. Beams of red flared from the skull and enveloped the henchmen, their guns, and Bonnie, who was still holding one of the guns. The henchmen and guns vanished. Bonnie succumbed to the combined effects of the various spells which had just buffeted her and passed out.

***~~~***

She was hastened back to awareness by a loud argument, between the unknown mystery hero and a cop. As she sat up, she finally got a clear view of the red, white and blue-clad hero. His skintight costume had red and white vertical stripes on the legs and arms, while the entire torso was navy blue covered with randomly-scattered small five-pointed white stars. Cowl, gloves and boots were the same blue, without stars. The shield was tri-colored as well, a white ice cream cone shape bisecting red and blue fields, and he was currently wearing it strapped to his back.

Bonnie recognized the cop, Captain Tony Spinelli of the Chicago Police Department. She’d run into him on a couple of MTM cases. Probably by luck (good luck or bad?), Tony had handled more cases involving super powered men and women than any other 3 CPD officers, so he was their de facto expert on mystery villains and mystery heroes. Something he said had angered the costumed man.

“Listen you damned ginzo!” he screamed. “I’ve told my story a dozen times, and I’m tired of your questions. You got more questions, ask the skirt on the floor!” He gestured at Bonnie. “The bimbo saw everything – up until she got yellow and fainted. No balls at all.” He turned and stalked toward the door. Nobody got in his way.

“Hi, Tony!” Bonnie greeted Spinelli who gave her a sour smile in return. She was fighting down a flash of anger – if the new hero hadn’t left, in a few seconds she would have been doing her best to flatten him! Spinelli was her friend – and she wasn’t a bimbo, or a coward, either. She took a deep breath and pointed out the door. “Kind of gaudy, isn’t he? One might even say ‘motley’. Who is Mr. Sunshine, anyway?”

“Calls himself Captain Democracy. He’s an ass. Called O’Bannon a mick, insulted Jackson based on his skin color, and claims he became a mystery hero because he admires Red Rocket.” He practically spit the words. “Claims the guy with the gun was just about to start spraying, and he saved the lives of everyone in the bank. Full of crap, if you ask me.”

“Well, he did break up the robbery,” Bonnie replied slowly. “And if the Magist hadn’t shown up, you’d have two would-be bank robbers to process. So there’s that. But the rest of that stuff? Crap indeed. I can’t imagine Red Rocket would be pleased to know he’s inspired a reckless bigot to wear a mask.”

She told her story and eventually Tony’s crew finished their investigation. Bonnie had to return to the office and complete her paperwork – she never did get to cash that bonus check that day.

Crosstime Vision

That evening…

"Police Commissioner Graham asked Red Rocket and Tom Atomic to find the Magist," Cody Mason told his wife Bonnie as he sat at the dining room table, industriously mashing the tiniest lumps from this evening's boiled potatoes. He hated lumps in his spuds, and Bonnie didn't have that much patience. “Won’t leave me much time for MTM for a few days.”

“He said it was his return, but I’ve never heard of him before. What’s the deal with him?” Bonnie asked curiously.

“Tony had some newspaper clippings. Minor wizard, had some kind of wand that allowed him to animate stone. Around 1950, he brought a statue of Major Power to life and sent it on a rampage. Power ended things quickly, ‘confiscated’ the wand, and the Magist was in prison since then. Escaped a month or so ago. Without the wand, he was just small potatoes. Looks like he’s found himself another one, more powerful than the first. Should be an interesting case.”

“Well, since I’m free tomorrow too, I think I’ll see what I can find out about Captain Democracy,” Bonnie replied thoughtfully. “I feel like I’ve seen him before, but I can’t remember where.” She noticed that Cody was mashing the potatoes with increased intensity, while staring holes in the bottom of the mashed potato bowl, and changed the subject. He had reacted badly to the Captain Democracy story. “Can you believe how hot that Ernie Banks is? Two home runs and six RBI, and he threw a guy out at the plate after an impossible over-the-shoulder catch on a popup to short left.” They left further professional talk for tomorrow.

Later, when Cody was watching Alfred Hitchcock on TV, Bonnie went down the basement and found a trunk she’d packed before she’d shipped out to Korea with her MASH unit, way back in 1951. She smiled triumphantly as she opened a long shallow box. Carefully wrapped inside were a framed picture and a single comic book. The painting and the cover showed similar scenes, both as beautifully done and as realistic as a scene from a movie. A blond woman, dressed in red, white and blue and trailing a cape, was fighting against a half dozen German soldiers. Bullets bounced from her voluptuous body as she flew towards them, grasping the gun barrel of the wrecked tank and wielding the turret like a club. The wrecked tank was in the background, handprints pressed deeply into the armor showing that it had been ripped apart. In the sky, like a mythical Olympian goddess watching an earthly scene, was a pencil sketch of a woman's face, critically surveying the battle – and the goddess looked exactly like Bonnie. An engraved bronze plaque named the painting "Miss Victory, circa 1943". Bonnie grinned - she knew Cody would love this! ‘Sure could have used her in Korea! How could I have left this stuff in storage for so long?’

She picked up the comic book. "Not just any comic book – there's not another one like it in the whole world!" she proudly told the quiet basement. She knew it was drawn, painted, inked, lettered, and bound by hand. The most stunning thing about it was the title: "The Adventures of Miss Victory", Volume 1, Issue 1, dated August 1941. The cover boasted "All In Color!" "4 Complete Stories" and the cover price was a nickel. And Bonnie was Miss Victory's exact twin.

Many years ago, just before her deployment, she’d bought the painting from a local artist – she remembered a tall, fair skinned, older man with an easy drawl and a friendly face, who had immediately addressed her as Joan Wayne, the mythical Miss Victory’s civilian identity. She’d corrected him and began browsing his collection of paintings of patriotically clad mystery heroes, none of whom she recognized. As she browsed, she learned that he was a veteran and she told him she was an Army nurse being deployed to Korea shortly. Once she’d seen her face in the Miss Victory painting, she absolutely had to have it. The artist had tried to simply give it to her but she’d insisted on meeting the price on the tag. Eventually, she’d gone on with her day, pleased with the encounter and the transaction.

The day her last stateside leave ended and she was scheduled to report for transport, the comic book had been delivered to her home by a special courier. She barely had time to read it and then pack it safely away, and had never had a chance to thank him. Maybe she could remedy that tomorrow, if she could find him.

Today, she was certain she’d seen a picture of Captain Democracy in his shop back then – but she couldn’t remember the artist’s name. There was no signature on the painting or the comic, either, but then she noticed the serial number on the wrecked tank: GG 1949 which gave her the final reminder she needed. Grant Gardner!

She closed the trunk and took the painting and comic back upstairs. She and Todd had a 'Marlow/Mason Wall of Fame' where they kept their favorite family pictures, and she added this painting. ‘Wonder how long it’ll be until Todd notices?’

The next step of her investigation led the best private detective in Chicago to... the phone book, a valuable resource overlooked by many of her peers. There were lots of Gardners but no Grant Gardner. So she searched the Yellow Pages while humming ‘Let your fingers do the walking…’ and in the Art category found a listing for Gardner Art Studio. "That almost has to be him!" she crowed aloud in triumph. “I’ll check it out tomorrow.”

~~~***~~~

The gentle chiming of the bell above the front door announced her. Even after 6 years, Gardner recognized her immediately, and greeted her warmly. “Why, Bonnie Victory! It’s wonderful to see you!”

"Why, thank you Mr. Gardner! I still go by Bonnie Marlow these days, though. How sweet of you to remember." She handed him her business card; he glanced at it and dropped it into the pocket of his vest.

"Not at all, not at all. In all my years of painting, I've never met anyone who looked so like someone in one of my paintings! And please, call me Grant.”

His voice was young and vibrant, but his hair, mustache and goatee were shining white. He spoke with a pleasant, easy drawl and his dress was old fashioned, with dark blue trousers and a red vest, heavy golden chain hanging from the watch pocket, over a white shirt and a tie with red and blue diagonal stripes. His face was pleasantly lined, and Bonnie realized that she had no idea how old he might be. Of what wars might he be a veteran? As far as she could guess, it could have been the Spanish-American War, or World War II, or anything in between.

“You know, Mr. Gardner… Grant, I never got a chance to thank you for the Miss Victory comic. It’s absolutely beautiful! It arrived just before I shipped out, and I barely had a chance to read it, but the stories felt more like I was living them than reading them. I felt like I WAS Miss Victory!” She paused, remembering the thrill as her look-alike doppelganger fought criminals and spies at home, and enemy soldiers on foreign soil. She could still visualize every panel of those stories.

“I took an instant picture of the cover, and brought it out often, just to remind me that I hadn’t spent my whole life in Korea fighting that awful war. It helped get me through the toughest times.” Indeed, the picture had eventually shredded from being handled so often, but now she had the original again.

“It was a gift thankin’ you for your service, Bonnie Victory. And if you don’t mind me tellin’ my other customers that wonderful story of yours, my sales will probably take a heck of a jump! Not usin’ your name, of course!” he hastened to reassure her.

She was pleased and a little relieved to hear this. Even back then, his price for custom, one-of-a-kind comics was $100 and more, and she’d felt a little uneasy taking such an expensive gift from someone she barely knew. Not that she’d really had a choice at the time, but still… If her story helped him sell even a single painting, she’d be pleased.

They’d been browsing his paintings as they talked, and Bonnie commented on how realistic they looked. “If you don’t use live models, you must have a vivid imagination!”

He looked a little uneasy as he replied. “Well, Bonnie Victory, I kinda sorta do use real models. I think. See, I see them in my head – but I think I’ve got some kind of magic that somehow lets me see real people, but living somewhere far away. Really far away.” He watched her carefully, waiting for her to laugh. Instead…

“That sounds like Andrew North’s ‘Crosstime’ reality stories!” she agreed enthusiastically. North was her favorite author, and the Crosstime series her favorite read. She passionately explained the theory of crosstime, in which there were other realities where alternate Earths existed with similar, but different histories to our own.

He was relieved at her acceptance. “Most people think I’m a weird’un, when I tell them that.”

“Several members of the Alliance of Mystery Heroes have much stranger magical powers than seeing crosstime,” she assured him. “And Dr. Aeon actually comes from an alternate reality.” Red Rocket and Tom Atomic weren’t members of the AMH, but they had occasionally worked with some of the Alliance heroes, so Bonnie knew more about the team than the general public.

“So that’s it, then: alla these guys and gals live in some other crosstimes.” She was a bit amused at how readily he accepted the concept and adopted the new term.

“Just finished this one.” He pointed to a picture of a tall, trim black-haired woman in an outfit like a red, white and blue one piece skirted swimsuit, with blue boots, bracelets the color of blued steel, and a flowing blue cape, standing proudly in front of the Statue of Liberty. It still stood on an easel, and for some reason, Bonnie’s attention was drawn to the easel next to it. Gardner was just getting started on another painting, and so far, all he had completed was a light pencil sketch of a figure carrying a shield. Bonnie thought it might be another woman, but at this stage it was hard to tell.

“This is Miss Amiracle, or Laura Mason at home.” Grant touched the completed picture. “In her crosstime, a mysterious phantom claimin’ to be the mystical essence of the Statue of Liberty gave her super powers. She reminds me a powerful lot of you, Bonnie Victory, even though she’s about as different from you as can be – but you both have the same fighting spirit!”

Such praise would have made her uncomfortable years ago, but she’d persevered through experiences in the war that had devastated many of those around her, of both genders. “When I was in Korea, I often dreamed that some mystical spirit would give me powers like Major Power or the Thunderbirds, so I could be a mystery hero and help end that mess,” Bonnie mused, feeling the same empty sadness she felt whenever she remembered the horrors of war. “But that never happens to regular people.”

“Well, Bonnie Victory, stranger things have happened,” he chuckled and winked. “Weren’t most’a your AMH heroes just reg’lar folks before they got their powers from mystical spirits or the like?” She nodded agreement.

“Do you know who this is?” Bonnie changed the subject as she showed Grant a police photo of Captain Democracy, and wasn’t too surprised at his affirmative response.

"Surely do, that's Captain Democracy. Or Barnaby J. Buchanan in his civvies, least in his own crosstime. I painted his picture even before yours, but only sold it ‘bout 2 years ago. Carries an indestructible shield, has superior strength, agility and stamina. Got his powers from an 'accidental' transfusion of blood from a gorilla. At least, that was his cover story.” He looked at her curiously. "How'd you get a photograph of him? Don’t tell me you have a magic crosstime camera?”

"He broke up a bank robbery the other day, while I was at the bank. I thought I remembered his painting from your store, and I was curious to see if there’s a connection. Do you think it could be the guy who bought the picture?”

“Sure looks like somebody used my picture as a model for that costume, I agree. Wouldn’t feel easy tellin you much about that buyer, though, just like I’d never tell anyone your name.”

Bonnie was a little disappointed at this answer. By now she was sure he knew Captain Democracy and she was about to ask more questions, but Gardner had a question for her.

“Did he do something wrong?”

“Well,” she hesitated for half a second, “he acted like an ass, insulted the police and a friend of mine, pissed off everyone he talked to, and called me a bimbo and a coward,” she replied, a touch of anger roughening her voice.

“Now, I agree he shouldn’t’a done that, Bonnie Victory, no denyin!” She could hear his disapproval of the rookie hero’s behavior. Then he turned thoughtful. “But there’s no law against bein’ an ass, is there?” he asked. “Not that I’m advocatin’ it, mind,” he added quickly. “I’ve always thought that sooner or later, that kind of behavior catches up with you and bites you on the ass, beggin’ your pardon.”

She nodded reluctant agreement while chuckling at his politeness – she’d heard a lot worse!

He continued: “Not a good enough reason to have the best private detective in Chicago hot on his tail.” He grinned at her surprise – he had her card, but how’d he know that she was the best? “Mosta your mystery hero guys and gals keep their real IDs secret, and for good reason, I’m thinkin’. Probably wouldn’t be thrilled to know you’re trackin’ him down.”

This made Bonnie quite uncomfortable; she’d actually had the same thought on her way here. After all, both her husband Cody and their partner Tomas Thomas made a point of concealing their identities as mystery heroes, and she certainly understood their reasons.

“You’re right, of course, Grant,” she agreed. “Probably he was just having a bad day.” She checked the time. “Nice day for a walk, and I should get back. Thanks for your time!” She pointed at the incipient painting. “Give me a call when that one’s finished, will you? I’d like to see it!”

As she left the shop, Bonnie wasn’t quite sure what to make of the meeting. Gardner hadn’t quite admitted to knowing Captain Democracy, but he certainly hadn’t denied it, either. She was almost certain he did, and she suspected, with a little satisfaction, that the rookie hero might be due for a lecture on etiquette.

‘Guess I’ll have to be satisfied with that,’ she thought, and headed for the office, humming the catchy tune of the Everly Brothers hit Wake Up, Little Susie to herself.

Great Balls of Fire!

It was a beautiful day, and Bonnie decided to walk back to the office through a neighborhood that she normally avoided. Everyone else avoided it too, except those unfortunate enough to live there; there were no other pedestrians and almost no cars passing through. She figured that a brisk walk through a few blocks on a public street in broad daylight should be uneventful. She was wrong.

A couple of blocks ahead, there was a small store on the corner, and 4 guys hanging out on the steps in front of the store. They were dressed typically for street toughs: hair greased back in a DA, black T-shirts, heavy silver chains connecting their wallets to their belts, black leather boots. They slouched against the wall and watched Bonnie closely as she approached. She surprised them – almost every other pedestrian who saw them at least crossed the street, and usually went around the block. But Bonnie came on steadily.

As she approached, the four began making crude remarks. She wondered if they might come up with something original, but they didn’t – she’d heard it all before. They got louder and cruder, but no more original, as she got closer, and she was beginning to wish she’d gone the other way, not because she was worried, but because she usually preferred to avoid trouble. But changing directions now might cause even more problems. So she just kept walking, eyes straight ahead, ignoring them and breathing deeply to keep a tight rein on her growing anger.

She was by two of them and almost ready to believe they were going to let her pass when one of the ones behind her unslouched and grabbed her shoulder. She easily shrugged it off, a move she’d learned early in Army Basic Training, and turned to face the four of them.

“I’ve been trying to ignore you juveniles because you are obviously ignorant about how to treat women. But now I’m warning you – the next one of you who touches me is going to eat his hand – and if you get any of your filthy grease on my clothes, you’ll pay for a new outfit. Now get out of the way”

“Ah, c’mon baby, you know you want it,” another one sneered, “or you wouldn’ta walked right up to us.” Now the other three of them left the support of the wall and moved to surround her.

“Last chance, shitheads – get out of the way.”

“Listen, boys, she’s warnin’ us. And just listen to that unladylike language!” the one who’d touched her before mocked. “Don’t worry, baby, you’ll be begging for more soon!” said another. Another stepped in to grab her – and she’d had enough!

After Bonnie had been captured and escaped in Korea, she promised herself she’d never put up with mistreatment by men again. She’d spent countless off-duty hours learning Korean martial arts, and she’d learned some nasty fighting tricks since then from her mystery hero partners.

Instead of cringing backward as the young thug expected, Bonne stepped forward with one leg, and still moving forward, brought her other knee up hard between his legs, and dropped her elbow to the back of his neck as he folded forward. She stepped aside and he dropped instantly to the pavement, in too much agony to even scream. His friends were so stunned that they didn’t move for an instant, and Bonnie was well trained to expect and make use of that instant. She stepped back from the falling thug, turned her back step into a spin, bent low at the waist, and kicked the thug behind her in the side of his head. He staggered backward into the brick wall of the store and slid to the pavement. By now his two remaining friends were going for their knives, and they had finally recovered enough to speak.

“Let’s gut this bitch, Rocko,” one said to the other as he dropped into a crouch with his knife extended in front of him.

“Really, I don’t have time to play with you boys,” Bonnie said, feigning regret as she swung her purse through a short arc until it smashed into the side of the talker’s temple. The half-pound roll of half dollars she always carried hit with a crunch, and he collapsed as well.

The last one was starting to get very nervous, but he spoke with bravado as he lunged, his knife held out stiffly in front of him. “I’m gonna cut you up for that, bitch!”

Instead of backing away or dodging as he expected, she grabbed his wrist and stepped towards him, legs bent, turning so his arm was draped over her shoulder. She leaned forward, pulling the arm down and forward, then lifted with her knees, and he flew forward, did a half flip, and landed hard, flat on his back.

She found the knife he’d dropped, a 15” long switchblade, put the tip of the blade on the top of the curb, and carefully stepped on the handle to snap it into shards, then kicked the pieces into the sewer grating. She took some tissues from her bag and picked up the other knife, a survival blade almost a foot long.

“To help you guys stay out of trouble, I’m going to take this with me. Consider it as payment for my dry cleaning bills, fellas,” she told the air cheerfully, since the hoods weren’t really listening. “Once I have a chance to degrease it, it will make a nice souvenir.” She wrapped the knife well in tissues and carefully dropped it into her purse.

The knee to the groin, she’d learned in Basic; the side kick and throw were Sul Sa Do, and the dirty tricks came from Tomas, who had been a Marine in the years between the wars, and if his stories were to be believed, had visited bars around the world and gotten into fights in most of them, just for fun. She didn’t quite get the ‘fun’ part, but she did find the winning to be very satisfying. She strode on briskly, serenading the empty street with Great Balls of Fire!

New Case, New Job

Today Bonnie Marlow had started a new job, as a lab technician at Acme Research & Development Incorporated, less formally known as ‘Artie’ (from ARDI) or just Acme. Over the past few months, several Soviet Union scientists had announced new technological innovations in arms and armament that seemed to be identical to some of Acme’s top secret weapons research programs for the US military. While the FBI was now involved, Artie’s board had decided to do their own independent investigation, and they had hired Marlow, Thomas & Mason. Bonnie had expected that it would take months to get results; she certainly wasn’t expecting the Artie facility to be invaded by a mystery villain on her first day on the job.

***~~~***

Bonnie was started when an alarm started blaring throughout the Acme facility. “That’s the emergency evacuation alarm!” one of the other technicians yelled at her. “Follow us!”

Apparently the employees were well-drilled, as they began an orderly evacuation. Then there was the sound of an explosion out front and the alarm cut off instantly, and the evacuation became less orderly as all the people heading towards the front of the building started rushing the other way. Bonnie grabbed a first aid kit off the wall and pushed through the rush in the opposite direction. If anyone was injured, she could help.

The Acme facility was 4 buildings, arranged in a cross shape, with the front doors opening into the square courtyard they formed. Bonnie cautiously peered out the front door of her building, to see a pair of costumed figures battling furiously. Captain Democracy was fighting with a mystery villain Bonnie recognized as Discharge, a very large man wearing a totally black leather costume with a pointed black hood that covered his entire face and head. In a short fight, he was deadly, but if Cap could survive for 20 minutes while the villain unleashed his full powers, the hero’s reward would be that he was now fighting a normal human being – a highly skilled, experienced fighter, but human nonetheless.

Discharge pointed at the red, white and blue clad hero and a bolt of lightning blasted from his hand. The mystery villain shook his head in disbelief when the brilliant arc was deflected by the shield and blasted a hole in the ground. He readjusted his aim and blasted again. Captain Democracy stumbled over the debris at his feet, and as he fell to the ground, the second lightning bolt cut the air just above his falling form and blew a hole in the side of a building. When the mystery hero regained his feet and again charged forward, Discharge dropped the large sack he’d been carrying and braced himself for hand-to-hand combat.

Democracy wasn’t in the mood for a long fight. He swept his shield around in a vicious backhand arc which slammed into the villain’s extended arms and spun him partially around. Cap released his grip and shed his shield as he stepped behind the hooded villain, wrapped both arms around his chest, and lifted the larger man from the ground. Too fast for Bonnie to follow, Discharge was spun 90 degrees, and Cap dashed him to the ground in a perfectly executed body slam. Before the stunned villain could react, Democracy pinned him down with a knee in the middle of his back, and was forcing his wrists together to clamp on a pair of handcuffs he’d pulled from a pouch on his belt.

Bonnie knew that body slam had been a mistake! Those 2 consecutive lightning bolts had temporarily drained the villain’s power, but the body slam was enough to at least partially recharge him. Though he was still a little dazed, he managed to release a very strong electrical burst into Captain Democracy’s body, and the hero was thrown backward against the wall of a nearby building. Before he could move, Discharge fired another lightning bolt. It was weaker than his earlier bolts, and his aim was a little off, and the bolt blasted into the concrete wall of the building next to Cap, producing an explosion which peppered the hero with fragments of concrete and steel rebar. Democracy tried to rise, and fell back to the ground, screaming in pain, bleeding from multiple locations.

Discharge took a step closer to the fallen hero and raised his arm for a final blast, when a pistol shot rang out. A bullet struck him in the chest, and as he staggered backward, Tony Spinelli raced from cover between buildings. He fired as he ran, and hit the villain twice more. He reached the bleeding, almost unconscious hero and dragged him toward the door Bonnie held open. Fire from other cops covered him, keeping Discharge off balance, but the instant before Tony got through that door, a bolt of lightning hit him and dropped him to the floor, virtually paralyzed.

Once again, Bonnie knew the cops had made a mistake! Discharge wore a bulletproof vest under his costume, and Tony’s first shot had recharged him again. When his charge was high enough, for a short time he could generate a magnetic field around his body that could deflect bullets, while absorbing even more energy from them, so all the shooting the cops were doing to cover Tony’s rescue attempt was making the villain more powerful. He had recently improved this trick – he could extend the field and electrify it so that anyone trying to pass through it would receive a powerful electric shock. He took a couple of steps until he had line of sight on Spinelli and Democracy, and raised his arm to deliver the most powerful lightning bolt yet.

Without thinking, Bonnie charged out the door and picked up Captain Democracy’s shield. She didn’t have time to be surprised at how light it was; she slipped her arm through the strap and charged the mystery villain, screaming as she ran. The high amp bolt struck the shield and knocked Bonnie backwards as if she’d been trying to tackle Jim Brown. As it had done against the Magist’s magic, the shield somehow diffracted the bolt and a rainbow of energy flowed around Bonnie for a split instant. Her lab smock didn’t have the insulating qualities that Captain Democracy’s battle costume did; she felt as if she’d just put her hands on a Van de Graff generator – every hair on her body stood out straight, and the entire surface of her skin tingled. It might even have been pleasant, if she’d had the time or inclination to enjoy it.

When the police realized that their bullets were only bouncing from the bad guy, they had stopped firing. They charged from cover, trying to aid Bonnie, but were unable to pass through the electrified field. Discharge wanted to fry Captain Democracy before his charge ran out, so he turned away from Bonnie. She wasn’t about to let that happen – she forced herself to her feet and charged again, wailing like a banshee. She knocked his arm aside and a powerful bolt blasted through the wall of a building. Discharge snarled and turned back to Bonnie – he was in a really bad mood and he was going to take it out on her by beating the crap out of her!

Bonnie couldn’t believe how easy it was for her to use the shield. It felt as if she’d trained with it for years. She easily blocked most of Discharge’s punches, but she had less luck on offense. She could drive forward and use the shield to push her foe back, except that Discharge outweighed her by a hundred pounds or so – if he didn’t want to be moved, she couldn’t move him. She couldn’t really punch with it, although she got in an occasional backhand to good effect. Her most effective attacks were kicking with her right leg, using the shield to improve her balance.

They exchanged blows for a short time, and Bonnie realized that even with a shield, she wasn’t likely to beat him – he was much larger, a highly skilled fighter, and his costume blunted the force of most of her blows. She was holding her own, but being battered and taking a beating, and she knew she couldn’t last much longer – she needed help! But Discharge was still using the kinetic energy he was absorbing from her blows to keep the police black, and Tony and Captain Democracy seemed to be out of the fight.

Suddenly, Captain Democracy surged from the door and tried to get into the battle. He was moving as fast as he could, but he couldn’t put much weight on his left leg, so he lurched forward, his gait resembling a drunken stagger.

“Hey, Blackie!” he yelled at Discharge as he plodded inexorably towards the villain. “You had your chance at me, and YOU FUBARED that chance. Now it’s my turn!”

Discharge decided that Democracy was the greater threat, whirled, and threw lightning at the rookie hero. But it was the weakest bolt yet and he realized he’d almost reached the limit of his power – it was time to escape! He snatched up his bag and turned to run – he’d hidden his motorcycle nearby and if he could reach the bike, he knew he could outrun the police, and his body would restore his power in a couple of hours.

Cap’s costume offered some protection from that weak bolt, and whatever was holding him up seemed to lend him extra strength. He stumbled and fell, turned his fall into a forward roll, and when he came up he pushed off with his good leg and launched into a perfect tackle. He wrapped his arms around the villain’s knees, and they both tumbled to the ground in a heap. Cap held on desperately, and endured a couple of minor shocks, and then Bonnie and a handful of cops arrived to help restrain the bad guy.

Spinelli had forced himself to a sitting position, and he was yelling orders to his men: “Cuff his arms behind his back, cuff his ankles, get him wrapped in a blanket – and then STAY AWAY FROM HIM! Nobody hits him, nobody even touches him, nobody tries to move him until I give the say so!” As the Chicago PD’s resident mystery villain expert, he knew that it took violent impacts to recharge the villain’s powers; as long as they could keep him relatively motionless, they could hold him – for a while, at least. Maybe they could tranquilize him until they could figure out a safe way to imprison him.

Democracy was lying on his right side, sobbing in pain. Bonnie rushed to help him, and was sickened to see a shard of steel rebar, like a jagged knitting needle, protruding from his hip. She didn’t dare try to remove it, not knowing what it might tear on the way out. There was a hole in his lower back, and deep inside she could see the gleam of another shard. She did her best to keep him from moving, and talked quietly to him. When some Acme employees cautiously peeked out into the courtyard, she sent one of the to the chem labs to get another first aid kit, a can of ether and a bottle of alcohol. A few second later, Cap relaxed into merciful unconsciousness due to her expert administration of the anesthetic. She started cleaning and covering his wounds as gently as she could.

She’d done everything she could for him by the time the police ambulance arrived. Tony had been on the radio, making arrangements with a hospital to keep Democracy’s identity concealed, as much as possible. He reassured Bonnie that a surgical team was standing by and that the injured hero would get the best care available. She wasn’t comfortable relinquishing a patient, but Tony wouldn’t let her in the ambulance. It reminded her of Korea, when there had been times that she had been forced to triage a patient and move on to the next. Sometimes, she hadn’t ever found out if the last guy had lived or not.

Acme’s president sent everyone home for the rest of the day, and gave them tomorrow off, with pay. Before she could leave, Bonnie went through a routine that was beginning to feel too familiar: an hour or more giving her story to Tony’s team. When he finally let her go, Tony promised that he would stop at the hospital to check on Cap’s condition and keep her updated.

Surprise Gift

The day after the attack on the Advanced Research and Development Incorporated plant, Bonnie showed Cody the front page story of the Tribune. “Mystery Villain Theft Thwarted by Unknown Hero and Police.” Discharge had been stealing some top secret electronic gear, Captain Democracy had defeated him and vanished. There was no mention of Bonnie’s role or Cap’s injury. CPD Captain Tony Spinelli of the Homicide Squad was quoted on Captain Democracy: "He's young and he made a couple of rookie mistakes, but he's brave and he came through when the chips were down. I don't know when we'll see him again, but he has my gratitude."

Bonnie quickly got on the phone with Tony Spinelli who chuckled as he answered her intense flood of questions.

“Yes, Captain Democracy is expected to live. His left hip is torn up and there is a shard of steel imbedded in his spine that the surgeons are afraid to remove. At least one of the doctors thinks he’ll be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I think he’s wrong – I’ll bet Cap’s going to insist on walking today or tomorrow! You know, I’m actually starting to like that guy.”

“Yes, I made the surgeons promise to conceal his secret identity. No, I won’t tell you that ID. I’m sure you could figure it out, but I’d really prefer that you don’t.” (It sounded a lot like an order to Bonnie, who grudgingly agreed.)

“Yes, I’ll ask him if he’d like you to visit him in the hospital. Clever lady, you might learn his identity after all!”

“Sure, I’ll keep you updated. Oh, and thanks for asking, I’m OK, just some bad burns in inconvenient locations, and a couple of flesh wounds. A couple of stitches, a pint of blood, and I’m as good as new. Well, actually, I’ll be on desk duty for a couple of weeks, even though it hurts to sit down”.

“Yeah, stop by for coffee when you're downtown again. Gotta go, they're paging me, thanks for calling!”

***~~~***

About a week later, a courier delivered a beautiful bouquet of roses and a package to Bonnie. The package was pretty large, about the size of a storage box for a wedding dress, and quite light. Something about getting a package by courier touched a memory – the only other time she’d received a delivery by special courier, it had been Grant Gardner sending her the Miss Victory comic. She quickly opened the box and gasped at what was within – a silvery shield, the size of a manhole cover. It had to be Captain Democracy’s shield! There was a card on the flowers, and a handwritten note taped to the shield.

The card and the flowers were an apology. “I was a real jackass that day in the bank. (And most of the rest of my life, I guess). When you and Tony saved my life it opened my eyes – I think I’m a better person now than then. I apologize for my words and actions that day. Captain Democracy (retired)”

But the note was even more fascinating:

“Bonnie Victory, I won’t be needing this any longer. A couple of mutual friends suggested you might be a good next owner. After seeing how well you handled it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you decide to put it to good use! Barney Buchanan (just getting started!)

P.S. I suggest Benjamin Williams enamel, then a clear lacquer layer, finished with a coating of clear epoxy. But get it right the first time – it’s hard as heck getting that stuff off!

P.P.S. Someday I’ll tell you the whole story behind that little piece of hardware. It’s worth sharing.”

New Heroine in Town

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times – and I’m not telling you again!” an angry Bonnie Marlow crossly addressed her partners. “I don’t want any of your super scientific gadgets in my costume!” They were in their well-equipped electronics lab, where Cody and Tomas built most of those super-scientific gadgets.

“But Bonnie – what are you going to do when you fight some mystery villain with super powers?” her husband Cody asked plaintively.

“I don’t plan to fight mystery villains with super powers – that’s your job, you and Tomas. But while you’re flying around chasing down the Magist and Tomas is duking it out with powerhouses like Discharge, my friend Maggie’s parents are going out of business because they can’t cover the ‘protection’ fees on their grocery store, punks are pushing reefer and H in our high schools, and if you leave your car on the street, when you come back, if it’s still there, it’s got no wheels. The menaces you boys fight are just so big and powerful that you don’t have time for the average person on the street.” She saw their brows starting to darken, continued quickly. “I’m not saying what you’re doing isn’t important – it IS. Why, you two probably saved at least a million lives last month when you stopped Dr. Daytona and Nick Nuclear from blowing up the pile at UC. But I want to see the people I help, one at a time.”

“I won’t let you go out unarmed. It’s dangerous out there,” Cody replied. Tomas was wisely staying out of this one! He already knew how it was going to turn out, and he figured that a little later would be the right time to step in with a suggestion. He pulled something out of a cabinet; neither of his partners noticed.

“You won’t let me? YOU WON’T LET ME? And just how do you think you’re going to stop me?” Bonnie practically exploded. “I’m pretty damn dangerous myself, you know. Or do I have to kick your ass around the block yet again, to prove it?” When he didn’t answer right away, she snarled and moved into a fighting stance. “OK, big boy, let’s go! Just remember, you asked for it.”

She couldn’t actually kick his ass around the block (could she?), but Cody knew he’d be hurting tomorrow if she went all out – and he wouldn’t be welcome home for months afterward, if ever. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. Fortunately, Tomas decided it was a good time for him to speak up – even though he felt like he was about to step between a trapped wildcat and an angry wolverine. He held up a bolt of cloth, colored a dingy grayish-tan.

“Surely you won’t object to being bulletproof?” he asked Bonnie. “Dr. Ned has finally managed to duplicate the sample of armor cloth I sent him.”

Dr. Ned was Dr. Ned Quest, also known as Dr. Lambda. Armor cloth was a miraculous fabric, supple as silk with incredibly high resistance to tearing, which became almost totally inflexible when subject to high energy impacts, such as bullet hits. Tomas told a highly entertaining (and, Bonnie thought, highly unlikely) yarn about how he had obtained the original bolt of armor cloth early in his career as a PI. Once he had it, he had used almost the entire bolt creating the battle costumes of Red Rocket and Tom Atomic. (And he’d taken flak about the design, the color scheme and the fit ever since!) Since they both knew there wasn’t any more, neither Bonnie or Cody had ever considered creating her costume from the elusive miracle fabric – until now.

“I won’t trust it until we test it ourselves,” Cody insisted gratefully, tacitly giving up the fight. He’d known he was going to lose all along; Tomas had just provided a way for him to surrender without losing face – or having to defend himself as his wife tried to beat the snot out of him! And, knowing Ned, this new bolt of cloth would be even stronger than the original.

“As long as it holds dye. That color is awful!” Bonnie agreed. “Thanks, Tomas!” She really hadn’t wanted to fight with her husband – it was a fight they’d both lose, regardless of who won. “But,” she cautioned, turning back to Tomas, “My design, my needlework. I don’t want to end up looking like one of you two!”

Insurance Racket

A woman, with her white hair pulled back in a bun, bent at the waist, and with a slight hunchback pushed open the door of Schmidt’s New York Style Deli. She was wearing a gingham dress with a string of white ‘pearls’ around her neck. Her cane made sharp clicking noises with each step she took. But her voice was high and firm as she spoke to the man behind the counter.

“My daughter tells me this is the best deli in Chicago. I’m cooking German tonight, so I want 2 pounds of kielbasa, a pint of sauerkraut and a quart of German potato salad.” She peering intently this way and that as if she wasn’t quite able to bring the room into focus.

One of the three men standing at the counter replied; he was older than the others, with salt and pepper hair and wearing an apron, and his voice was thin and tremulous: “Sorry, ma’am, ve’re closed. You haf to try somever else.”

“Balderdash, sonny!” she snorted. “Yer door is open, yer sign says ‘Open’ and there’s customers in line.”

The man behind the counter answered. “Listen, Granny, the store just closed. Beat it!”

“Why, you young whippershapper, how dare you talk to me that way?!” She pushed further into the store, accompanied by the sharp clack, clack, clack of her cane.

“Listen, you old bag, this is your last chance. Get out or get hurt!” This man was standing in front of the counter. He had on a suit and his hair was greased back. He had one hand in his jacket pocket; the other was on the arm of the older man.

“Does your mamma know you speak to women that way, you young thug?” She raised her cane and poked him solidly in the chest. “You need to learn some respect.”

He knocked the cane away. “You ain’t gonna be the one to teach me, witch! Clip her one, Snake!” he ordered the other younger man.

“Geez, Tenner, I can’t hit an old lady!” Snake replied.

“Do YOU wanna be the one what tells the boss we’se late ‘cause a one old bag?” the man behind the counter asked. “I’ll take care of her.”

Just as she recovered and started swinging her cane at Tenner’s head the man behind the counter pulled a gun and fired a single shot. She took the shot in the chest and stumbled back a half step. There was a spark on her chest where the bullet had struck, and a kind of high pitched ringing noise which stopped instantly as a bottle on the shelf behind the counter exploded. Everyone ducked!

“Cheez, da bullet just bounced off her,” the shooter exclaimed in disbelief. He’d dropped all the way to the floor, and was bleeding from glass cuts to the back of his head and neck.

“Stay down, Papa Schmidt!” the woman ordered. She was no longer moving like an old lady; her actions had the grace of a highly skilled athlete. Tenner was pulling his hand from his pocket, and it held a gun. She stomped on it, and heard some sickening crunching noises, and kicked the gun across the room. “I’ll bet that hurts you a lot worse than it hurts me!” The whimpering noises Tenner was making suggested she would probably win that bet!

Papa Schmidt was crawling toward the end of the counter, and for just an instant, Snake looked after the old man. If the boss heard that they hadn’t collected today’s insurance premium, well, he didn’t want to know what would happen. He should have paid more attention to the old lady, who kicked him hard under the chin.

The ‘old lady’ stood straight and tall. “OK, punk, time to come out. Yeah, I mean you, hiding behind the counter.”

The punk didn’t say anything. Instead he fired twice through the back of the counter at the spot where he placed her voice. He was rewarded with the zinging noises of bouncing bullets. “Alright, I’m not afraid of no old bitch whether bullets bounce offa you or not.” He started to push himself to his feet, then crashed back to the floor as Papa Schmidt broke a ketchup bottle on the top of his head.

Papa crawled timidly from behind the counter, shivering in terror. He had acted by instinct, but he had just realized what he’d done. When these goons awakened, he was dead – worse than dead! His voice cracked as he whimpered: “I’m as gudt as dead, ja. Shey’re goint to kill me und Mama und Maggie and burnen down der store…” He stopped dead when he realized what he was seeing. Standing in front of him was not an old lady, but… well, he wasn’t quite sure what, but it definitely wasn’t a little old lady!

***~~~***

Tenner was snapped back to consciousness in a mixture of terror and ferocious anger. Anger: he was going to make an example out of Papa Schmidt and that old woman. NOBODY in this neighborhood gets away with defying Tenner! Terror: if he didn’t get back to the boss with this week’s insurance premiums on time, the boss would send his goons out after him, and what they would do to him would make what he planned to do to Papa and the hag look like love taps. He certainly wasn’t prepared for what he found when he opened his eyes.

He, Snake and Ratface were all lying on cots in Papa Schmidt’s store. His hand was in a cast. They were surrounded by their clients, all of whom looked appropriately concerned. As soon as Papa realized he was awake, the old man hustled over to him. He had a roll of bills in one hand and Tenner’s rod in the other. And he was abjectly apologetic.

“Mr. Tenner, I am so terribly sorry dat such a terrible terrible tink happened in my store. I don’t know dat voman; none uf us haf ever seen her before, nein!” There was a rustle as all of his clients nodded, almost in unison. “But vee run her off, ja! We don’t need no trouble here, nein, so we haf all got toggeder here to make sure you can collect your premiums for dis veek vitout any other troubles, ya! I haf dem here.” He dropped the wad of bills and Tenner’s rod on the cot next to the insurance agent, who tried to push himself into a sitting position. He gasped in sudden pain as he pushed with the hand in the cast, and Dr. Fine, another of his clients, quickly stepped toward him.

“Mr. Tenner, you have two broken fingers in your right hand. I took the liberty of setting them. The cast will keep them immobilized until they heal. I should be able to take it off for you in two weeks. Meanwhile, if you need it, here’s something for the pain.” He placed a pill bottle next to the cash. “Be really careful with this – it’s morphine, and you should only use it when you absolutely need to.” He’d already given the thug a morphine shot; maybe it would put him in a better mood.

“Gimmie one now, Doc!” Tenner commanded. Fine hesitated until Tenner picked up his pistol and pointed it and Fine’s waist – a little awkwardly, since he wasn’t used to holding it in his left hand. “Now, I said.”

Fine shrugged and opened the bottle, shook out one pill, and handed it to the thug. He put down his pistol and popped the pill into his mouth. Then he picked up the roll of bills and awkwardly started counting.

“It’s all dere, und a bonus for vorking so hard to protect us,” Papa insisted, and those around him all murmured their agreement. Many of them didn’t look very happy, but Tenner didn’t care what they looked like as long as they ponied up.

There was about $100 extra – Tenner figured he’d give $15 each to Snake and Ratface, and nobody had to tell the boss about any of today’s unusual events. As he realized that not only wasn’t he going to get on the boss’s shitlist today, but was going to make pretty much double what he normally got paid a week, plus a stash of morphine, he started to feel pretty good.

Only one thing continued to bother him. What had happened to the old dame who bounced bullets? And then another worry popped up – what was he going to tell the boss about his hand? He was thinking hard. If the boss ever heard he got knocked out by an old broad, well, that would probably be worse than coming in short one day. But he did have a little leverage here.

“I thought alla youse told me ya was all tapped out and couldn’t afford your premiums – and here you are givin’ me and the boys a little extra. I tell da boss and he might think youse been holdin out on him, huh? He’d probably give me a raise if I tell him, and send a couple’a da other guys, youse know, da real mean ones, along wit us next week.” There was real outrage on the faces around him as the crowd started thinking he meant to screw them after they had gone out of their way to help him out. He realized he’d better stop pushing or someone would run to the boss with the whole story.

“But youse knows me better than that, don’t youse? I’m a stand-up guy, don’t rat out my friends, long as they treat me the same. And alla youse wanna be my friends, doncha?” There were some uncertain nods – they didn’t know where he was going. “So I tell youse what. Next week, we’s back on da normal collection schedule. You’se keep dat little bit’a extra and buys something nice for your dames. But just remember, da next time da Boss raises da premiums, old Tenner done you a favor.” There were now looks of disbelief on half the crowd, or more. “And remember dat golden rule: friends don’t rat out their friends!”

He stood up and left, followed by his crew. He’d drill Snake and Ratface on the story on the way back – they had NEVER seen bullets bounce off an old lady, and he’d had to punch out one of clients and the guy had fainted, and he’d punched the wall instead. It might cost him an extra $5 each, but he figured by the time they got back, those two meatheads wouldn’t even remember what had really happened.

They piled into their black 1957 Lincoln Premier, with Ratface driving since Tenner figured he’d have trouble handling the stick with a cast on his shifting hand. He was already reminding them how he’d hurt his hand by the time they pulled away from the curb, and nobody noticed the motorcycle tailing them.

Introducing… Adventurine

Tenner probably would have recognized the stooped old lady checking out The Gin Mill. The place looked like it had been built right after the Chicago Fire and hadn’t seen a maintenance worker since the next day. There were a couple of big guys just hanging out in the alley behind the place and she could barely see a couple more sitting at a table behind the grimy front window. Ratface had pulled to the curb behind 3 other big, black cars, all new and all expensive. One was blocking a hydrant, and all the meters were expired. A cop had walked by and simply ignored the parking violations.

The old lady didn’t seem to be in a hurry, or have anywhere else to go. She pushed her bike into an alley across the street, and pulled out a camera with a telephoto lens. She unfolded a one-legged seat stick, settled into a comfortable position in a shadow which would make it impossible to spot her from outside the alley, and waited patiently. After a while a group of 3 men came out of the bar, got into the first black car and drove away. She got good shots of their faces and the license plate on their car. A few minutes later, 2 other teams of 3 ‘insurance agents’ each had similarly exited the bar and been similarly photographed. She regretted having to let them go, but she was interested in their boss today, not his collection teams. With the pictures and the plates, she’d be able to find them easily enough – she was the best private investigator in Chicago, after all.

There was a big air conditioner running hard on the second floor. She figured Tenner and his crew were still telling their story; she’d better make her move now, before more goons showed up or the big guy got away somehow. She shucked her disguise, revealing a green-costumed mystery heroine nobody had ever heard of before. A press of a button on the bike’s console, and 4 legs folded down from the front and back struts; there was a slight sighing sound as powerful hydraulics lifted the bike an inch off the ground. She unfolded another apparatus from the handlebars, something like a giant slingshot with a gun sight on the end of each arm. She carefully aimed both sights at a closed second floor window, then climbed back onto the seat and pressed a button. “3… 2… 1…” The catapult built into the seat fired, and the woman was thrown through the air like a green missile.

Bonnie (who else?) was a little nervous. The catapult and aiming system had been invented by her partners and the three of them had tested it extensively, but this was her first “for real” use. She held her shield out flat in front of her like a flying saucer, with both hands on the special handgrips, and by tilting it gently one way or another she had a bit of directional control. But she didn’t need it this time – her aim was perfect. Just before she hit, she pulled the shield in close, tilted it to protect herself, and she blasted through the window, rolled once and came to her feet, moving forward quickly.

She’d figured exactly right. There were two men sitting at a table, one very big, very ugly goon standing behind them, and Tenner, Snake and Ratface standing in front of them. Or maybe Snake and Ratface had been supporting Tenner – when they wheeled in shock Tenner fell flat on his face.

“Who the hell are you?” one of the men behind the table got out – a rough looking guy that Bonnie figured must be the boss. Then Bonnie slammed her shield into Snake’s gut and jerked it upwards as he started to hinge forward, slamming him under the chin. A backhand sweep with the shield dropped Ratface, and left Bonnie exposed to the boss and the troll.

“Fancy moves from a dead dame!” the boss mocked as he pulled the trigger 3 times in rapid succession. He was a pretty good shot – all three bullets hit her torso. She staggered jerkily backwards a half a step, but didn’t fall, and the bouncing bullets sprayed through the room. He was a little astonished – when he shot people, they fell down, damn it! Before he could recover enough to fire again, she swept her left arm forward, released her grip on the shield, and it rocketed away, the edge slamming into his chest. The boss tumbled backwards, still in his chair, and hit the ground hard. The other seated man, who Bonnie figured must be the accountant, had dived under the table.

Bonnie hated being shot! The spots where the bullets had struck stung like she’d been stung by a wasp, and she knew she was going to have ugly welts or bruises later. And the impact of the stiffened armor cloth against her body was painful, too. She was glad that the troll didn’t pull his gun, but seemed content to clobber her with his hands.

She had to make this quick – the guards from downstairs must already be on the way up! She leapt toward the troll, and he obligingly wrapped both arms around her and began to squeeze. As he pulled her to his chest, she slammed her cupped hands over his ears and as he released her, pulled his forehead down to hers in a vicious head butt. The armor cloth protected her, and made her own blow much more powerful, and he dropped to the ground like a sack of flour. In an instant, Bonnie had the boss’s gun in hand and when the door smashed open and two more trolls rushed through, she was holding the pistol to his temple.

“Drop ‘em, boys! Or the boss here buys the farm.” They stopped, but didn’t drop their pistols. “Hmm, maybe you don’t know what that means? OK, drop your guns or I’ll splatter his brains on the wall!”

The boss was wasn’t actually too worried. “Tank, Half-track, drop ‘em’” he confirmed. They’d be back out on the streets in a couple hours, and the cops would be after her for busting up a legal meeting of hard working citizens – he damn well paid them enough. And then they’d hunt her down, whoever she was, and she would pay for this indignity for a long time!

One of the ‘super scientific’ gadgets that Bonnie had agreed to was a coil of light nylon rope in a pouch on the inside of her shield. It didn’t take long before she had them tied up. The other gadget Bonnie had agreed to was a radio built into her cowl, and she was already on the police band. The dispatcher had yelled at her to get off the police frequency, but when she’d insisted he tell Captain Spinelli that the new mystery heroine in town, that babe with a shield, wanted to talk to him, he’d been on the radio in less than 2 minutes – and promised he’d be there in less than 10 more.

Spinelli was as good as his word, and along the way he’d contacted the crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Bonnie hadn’t planned on quite this much publicity on her first time out, but Cody and Tomas had warned her that events involving mystery heroes were often more than a little chaotic.

The boss and his insurance agents spent a good deal more time in jail than they had expected. Spinelli’s reputation as the ‘mystery hero’ expert on the CPD got a boost. The crime reporter got the front page story in that Sunday paper’s news magazine, and the city of Chicago was introduced to the newest mystery heroine – Adventurine!