“So what happened after that?” Giles said.
They sat in the kitchen table at Joe’s house, both of them holding bottles of beer.
“The guy pulled out a gun and shot me.”
“Yeah, I know,” Joe said. “You know how I had the car on its side? I flipped it onto its top and started pushing it down the street. I’m not Reg, but I got the car up to the speed of traffic.”
“How did they take that?”
“They didn’t like it much. Chunks of packed snow and ice were coming in through the windows. You know, the big chunks that build up behind the wheels? You should have heard them cursing at me. After a couple blocks, I came to Harris Hill and pushed them down it.”
“The hill where we used to go sledding when we were kids? How’d they take the big bump?”
“Not well. The car rolled.”
Giles laughed for a while.
“I stayed until they got out,” Joe said. “They were all walking and didn’t look too badly hurt. That made me feel a little better, but I still don’t think I’d do it again.”
“Well, with no windows it would be all too easy to stick an arm out and crush it under the car.”
“Ah, but they’re all parasites,” Giles said. “They don’t make their own money. They steal other people’s. I’d say they deserve whatever comes to them.”
“I’d say you’re right except they wouldn’t have been hurt in the name of justice. They’d have been hurt because I was angry that they shot Chuck.”
Giles shrugged. “The law will never catch up to them. I’ve spoken to the mayor and the chief of police. They don’t have any evidence on these people. We’re as close as it gets, mixed motives or not. I’d say they still got treated better than they deserved.”
Joe mumbled, “Could be.
“Well,” Giles said. “We’ve got their attention anyway. A couple of them stopped by while Chuck was at the restaurant today. They told him that he was to call them if any of us came by or if he had any clue as to who we might be.”
“Did Chuck lie or just play dumb?”
“Oh, he played dumb. He turned on the charm and pretended he was just another scared little lap dog. I don’t think they have any idea what’s coming. Which reminds me, how’s Romy doing?”
“I think she’s got just about everything we need.”
* * *
Joe stepped into Cannon’s Hardware to check on a couple more things he’d ordered. Just like the last time he’d been there, he marveled at the care that someone had taken for the store. Everything that needed to be labeled had been, and the floors appeared to be spotless despite the constant stream of customers with dripping boots.
Either the store owner was a fanatic about cleanliness or the employees were extremely bored.
Judging from how the owner kept the sidewalk, Joe would bet on the former.
He walked up to the counter to find the same teenager as before. The Grand Lake Sentinel lay folded over on the counter. On the bottom half of the page, he saw a story entitled, “Armored Man Pushes Car Down Hill.”
The notebook lay open to an empty page.
The kid stared at the paper.
“I can’t believe he’s alive. I figured he’d died in the war.”
“Who,” Joe said, “the Rocket? Why did you think that?”
“He didn’t do anything after the war, but the other guys in his unit did. I just don’t understand why he’d go after Mr. Monroe’s people.”
“Did you know the guys in that car?”
“No, but the article says they work for Mr. Monroe. The guy who owns the garbage collection business. He’s a nice guy. When I was little he used to have my family and a bunch of others over for a Christmas party and play Santa for the kids. I don’t get it.”
“I’m sure that the Rocket’s got a reason.”
“It can’t be a good one. This just makes no sense.”
* * *
Joe stood in the sub-basement, completely suited up except for the helmet.
He attached the flamethrower under his left arm, a modified Browning automatic rifle under his right.
Crazy, he thought. Here he was back home and armed for war. If he kept on doing this, he would have to swap the attachments out for something less lethal. He’d far rather hand over a living criminal to the cops than a bullet-riddled, burning corpse.
He picked up the helmet and walked over to the tunnel that led up to the basement, shouting, “Romy, are you ready?”
A voice behind him said, “Before you were.”
He turned around to find no one in the room.
Then she appeared in front of the band saw, changing from transparent to solid. She wore a solid white costume with a mask that covered the upper half of her face. A semi-automatic pistol hung from her utility belt.
“You’ve got a new costume,” he said.
“The old one had too many swastikas,” she said.
“Do you really need the gun?” He said.
“Says the man with a flamethrower and a machine gun?”
“And yes, I do,” she said. “But if you’ve invented something better, I’ll use it.”
“I didn’t think I’d need to,” he said.
“Then you’ve got something to think about for next time.”
“What makes you think there’s going to be a next time?”
She smiled at him.
“Normal people don’t build underground laboratories.”