Unfortunately, if he didn’t do anything about it, who would? No one, unless Romy found the guys soon.
He could just wait, but who knew when Romy would be back. He could try to talk some sense into the kid, but it hadn’t worked so far. At this point, Joe figured the best thing he could do would be damaging the kid’s suit enough that he couldn’t fight.
Down below, Man-machine raised his gun arm and began to fire. None of the shots hit, but Joe cursed himself and started moving, thinking how much of an idiot he had to be to hover when his opponent had high powered weaponry.
He aimed himself for the air above the factory, giving the jetpack all the fuel it could take.
Man-machine fired at him continuously.
Stupid kid, Joe thought. Didn’t he realize all those bullets had to come down somewhere?
Crossing the factory’s roof, he shot toward its north side where it met Elm street. Then he came down on the other side, landing just around the corner.
Out of Man-machine’s sight for a moment, he rechecked his own gun. It was ready, armed with armor piercing rounds.
He leaned just enough to the side that one eye could see around the corner. Man-machine stood in the street in front of the factory where he had been, not seeming to know where to look. Sometimes he’d look up where the Rocket had disappeared, sometimes nervously in one direction or another down the street.
Joe stepped out from behind the wall and started firing — single shot, not automatic — at Man-machine’s legs.
He fired carefully, using the sight inside the helmet.
The first shot grazed the outside of the right leg.
The second hit the leg solidly, making a hole in the middle of the upper part of the limb.
Man-machine pulled up his arm, beginning to aim the gun.
Joe jumped into the air, punching the button in his palm that gave the jetpack fuel, weaving in the air to make himself harder to hit as the jetpack’s thrust closed the distance between him and his opponent.
He aimed for the middle of Man-machine’s chest, but at the last moment twisted to grab Man-machine’s upper arm, hitting the right shoulder of Man-machine’s powered armor with his left shoulder.
For a few frightening moments, the Rocket suit’s thrust dragged the both of them down the street, bumping across the snow and bare sections of concrete and ice.
Snow sprayed up from the street, hitting Joe’s helmet.
Flailing, Man-machine tried to get a grip on Joe’s armored leg, but failed, unable to bend his arms far enough sideways.
Halfway down the street, Joe cut fuel to the jetpack, then let go of Man-machine’s arm, pushing off the street with both of his own arms. Man-machine slid forward past him.
Joe landed on his butt, but pulled himself to his feet while Man-machine struggled to coordinate both legs. The right leg wouldn’t straighten out.
Deciding that it was time for the fight to be over, Joe pulled up his gun arm and fired at the lower half of Man-machine’s torso. Hole after hole appeared. After a moment, several began to leak fluid. Joe guessed it might be battery acid.
Man-machine’s suit fell to the street and the limbs stopped moving.
Joe walked closer. “Are you okay in there?”
“I don’t know if you’re hurt or just pretending to be, but I’m going to have to rip open your armor to make sure.”
In a noise just short of an explosion, the armor cracked open. Steam filled the air above it as a man in a black mask and jumpsuit leaped out of the wreckage and began to run away.
Joe didn’t give chase.
* * *
Holding the phone to his ear in the kitchen five nights later, Joe said, “Well, how was I supposed to know the kid was going to do that? He must have had more than one set of armor.”
The Grand Lake Sentinel lay on the kitchen table with the headline, “Man-machine Destroys Monroe’s House: Kills 2.” Lower on the page, another headline read, “More Documents Link Monroe to Chicago Mob.”
“The article says the deaths were accidental and I’d believe it. He didn’t seem like a killer to me. I think he’s just got a temper and an oversized sense of personal injury.”
He listened a little longer. “Sure, Chuck, I’ll be at the meeting.”
“Yes, Romy’s coming.”
“I’ve got to go. I need to drop by a couple places before they close…. Right. Good-bye.”
He hung up the phone.
Romy stood in the doorway to the living room. “Are you sure about this?”
“I’ve got a duty to the thing,” he said. “I should check in on it.”
“Well, the soup will be ready when you get back,” she said. “Don’t be long.”
He pulled on his coat and hat, put his galoshes on over his shoes and walked out to the garage.
He stopped at Cannon’s Hardware on the way. He walked to the back and grabbed a wrench. He’d needed one in that size for a while anyway. The store still looked clean, but the sidewalk outside hadn’t been shoveled as well as it had been. A thin layer of snow had been trampled into a flat, hard snow/ice mixture. Someone had put sand on top for traction.
Joe noticed sand and melting ice on the floor next to the front door as he walked up to the cash register.
The tall, middle-aged man behind the counter looked like an older version of the teenager.
“I expected to see your son,” Joe said, putting the wrench on the counter.
“Yeah. He’s out doing something. Hasn’t been worth much of anything this last week.”
Joe tried to think of a way to get a little more detail, but the man spoke again.
“Jerry’s been all broke up. Came home last week with bruises all over his body. Wouldn’t tell me how he got them. Then he saw the paper a couple days ago and blew up. He’d always liked Harry Monroe.”
“The mobster?” Joe said.
“Yeah. I’ve been paying him protection money for years. I never explained it to the kid. I didn’t want him to be afraid. Besides, Harry, he played it like we were all friends, and he was just visiting because of his garbage business.”
The man picked up the wrench and read the price tag. “That’ll be two dollars even.”
Joe pulled out his wallet and paid.
Handing him the receipt, the man said, “I just hope he gets over it all soon.”
“Ah,” Joe said, “he’ll get over it.”
He waved as he left the store.
Starting up the cold car a moment later, he wondered if the kid would get over it. Losing two childhood heroes in a week and then killing two people accidentally. It seemed like a lot to “get over.” Still, he’d been through the war. He didn’t even know how many people he’d killed. But hadn’t he gotten over it?
He hoped so.
On the other hand, he’d spent the last couple years digging a bunker and recreating his weaponry. What did that say?
He shook his head. Nothing he could do about it now.
Next stop, the dog pound.