It was a dark and stormy night. That gave me my first clue the story was about to begin. I got my second clue when she showed up. Most stories start with a girl, or a rug, and this one was no different. Coming in out of the rain, she stood in my doorway, a tight red dress clinging to her perfect form, dripping water. Ruby lips glistened in the dim light, as she sensually ate a cookie. Water drops and crumbs from the cookie fell onto my rug. Damn it, did she want ants? Didn’t she know that’s how you got ants?
I recognized her immediately: Femfa Tall, Hollywood’s biggest starlet. The talk of the town, she had taken Hollywood by storm. Despite the mess she made on my carpet, I gave her my trademark smile and winked. She blushed, and I’m sure, almost fainted. My smiles have that effect on women. And men. My charm doesn’t discriminate.
“What can I do ya for, Dollface?” I asked as I stood up from my desk.
“Are you Max Power, secret agent, Nobel laureate, private eye, and rock star?” she asked, her voice quivering. She might have just been cold from the rain, but I knew it was the awesomeness of my presence.
“The one and only,” I said, even though, technically, that wasn’t true. A group of scientists had cloned me a few years ago, under the belief that with more of me, all the world’s problems could be solved. Unfortunately, the clone had been stolen by the evil Dr. Guy and turned to the dark side.
“I need your help,” Femfa said. “Someone’s trying to kill me.”
“You should go to the police. I try not to get in their way. It wouldn’t be fair for me to solve all of their cases,” I replied.
Femfa looked at me, desperation clear on her face, “They can’t help me! Help me, Max. You’re my only hope!”
I frowned. My case load was pretty full at the moment. I had several experiments to finish in my quest to end global warming and world hunger. I also had a music tour in a few days. But I never could say no to a beautiful woman.
“All right, I’ll look into it,” I said with another smile.
“Oh thank you, Max! Thank you!” Femfa said.
Finally, unable to restrain herself, she fell into my arms. As she did, two ninjas saw their opportunity to strike. The assassins leaped out of the shadows. With Femfa in my arms I couldn’t fight them off. With the guitar I had been playing earlier still in my hands—I mentioned that, right?—I swung it in a wide arc, intercepting the throwing stars aimed at my head. Femfa screamed, and I shoved her behind me, out of danger. The two ninjas continued to advance.
Thinking fast, I hurled the guitar at one of the ninjas. The instrument hit the shadow warrior on the head, knocking him unconscious. The impact dislodged the throwing stars he held, and they sailed through the air, right into the gut of the second ninja. He dropped to the ground, writhing in pain.
Sometimes I amaze even myself.
I grabbed Femfa’s hand, and we left.
After an evening of sweet, sweet love-making, oh yeah, I left Femfa at my place for safety. My robot butler, ARNOLD, could protect her for now. I needed to get more information.
Naturally, that made my first stop Murray. I found the fiery-haired little monster sitting in his usual spot, the steps of an apartment building next to a beat-up old silver trashcan. A “Baaa” sounded as I approached. Murray had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow, and their relationship was a bit . . . unusual.
“What’s the word on the street?” I casually asked, setting a bag down by the garbage can—tribute for Murray’s boss, the Grouch.
Nodding at my payment, Murray said simply, “Today’s word is ridiculous.”
That about summed things up, I thought. That anyone would want to hurt the beautiful Femfa Tall was definitely ridiculous. That had to mean something.
“What can you tell me about ninjas?” I asked. “Foot clan in town?”
“Nope.” Murray wasn’t big on details. But that did narrow down the list of suspects. Not many bad guys could afford ninjas. With the biggest supply of them out of town, that narrowed the list even more.
“You heard anything about someone wanting to off Femfa Tall?”
Turning to me with a shocked expression on his face, Murray said, “No, this is a new one. Who would want to kill her?”
“That’s what I was hoping you could tell me,” I said.
Rubbing the orange hair covering his face, Murray thought. He glanced around cautiously. I hadn’t seen him this nervous before. “You didn’t hear this from me,” he finally said, “but word is that Nicki the Nose had loaned some of his goons out. Can’t be sure they were his ninjas. Don’t know who they were loaned to. But I’d start there.”
“Thanks, Murray,” I said, and I tossed a snack to his lamb.
My job just got more difficult, I thought as I walked away. Nicki the Nose had a bad rep. Rumor said he got his name because he liked to collect the noses of those that got in his way. I understood Murray’s reluctance to talk. He had a real nice nose and wouldn’t want to be separated from it.
I made my way toward the Boom-Boom Room, the club Nicki the Nose ran. I skipped the front line and headed straight for the back entrance. One of Nicki’s goons, Scumbag Steve stood at the door. The sleaze wore a brown fur coat and hat despite the heat.
“I need to see your boss,” I said.
“Nobody gets in to see the boss,” Steve said, drawing a weapon and holding it sideways. What an idiot.
“He’ll want to see me,” I said. “Tell him Max Power is here.”
Steve lowered his weapon and went pale in the face. Nicki the Nose wasn’t the only person with a reputation on the street. Goons knew to not mess with Max Power.
Deciding not to waste any more time with Scumbag Steve, I pushed past him and into the building. A shout rang out, and another goon appeared in the cramped hallway. As he drew his weapon, I lashed out, quickly dismantled it, and dropped the parts to the floor. The goon made his second mistake by raising his fists into a fighting position. I shook my head and quickly incapacitated him, sending his unconscious body sliding across the floor and into the next room. I calmly walked behind it and entered Nicki’s main room. Goons all around the room looked in surprise from their unconscious companion to me.
“I didn’t want any trouble, Nicki,” I said. “You need to teach your goons some manners.”
Sitting behind a table covered in stacks of money, Nicki the Nose puffed on a cigar. Smoke billowed from the gaping hole in his face where most people had a nose. He stared daggers at me for a long moment and then gestured for his goons to stand down. Smart move on his part, I thought.
“What can I do for you, Max?” he asked, gesturing toward the chair across from me. I stepped up and took a seat. He offered me a cigar but I declined. One time I had allowed myself to fall victim to an exploding novelty cigar. Never again.
“I need to know who you lent your two ninjas to,” I said, getting straight to the point.
“Ninjas?” Nicki said innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play coy with me,” I said, slamming my hand down on the table. “I want the truth!”
“You can’t handle the truth!” Nicki retorted, a sly smile on his face. He continued to smile maliciously at me for a moment. But then, to my surprise he shrugged. “But, who am I to stand in the way of Max Power? You’ll want to talk to George Creepy.”
I raised an eyebrow. “The studio exec?”
Nicki just smiled. This case was getting more bizarre by the minute. George Creepy had made a killing producing Femfa’s biggest movies. What did he have to gain by killing her?
When I arrived at Massive Giant Movie studios, the guards let me in, saying Mr. Creepy had been expecting me. This raised a warning flag in my head. The ninjas must have reported my involvement. But that was why I left them alive, after all. With luck, just knowing I was on the case would cause Mr. Creepy to back off.
The secretary showed me right into Mr. Creepy’s office. Large movie posters lined the walls of the room. Several of them prominently featured Femfa. A life-size cardboard cutout of Femfa from her latest movie stood in one corner. Mr. Creepy felt no need to hide his obsession.
I waited in the office for several minutes. Getting bored, I went to stand at the window beside the desk. That’s when I noticed the body.
In the large executive chair, turned to face the window, George Creepy’s corpse sat in grotesque finality. A dagger stuck out from his chest. The old man’s face bore a frozen expression of surprise.
Studying the body, I made some deductions. Clearly, more was going on than a perverted old man lusting after a starlet. Based on the temperature of the corpse, he had died only moments before I arrived. Whoever was behind this didn’t want me to learn anything from him.
While I studied the body, the doors to the office burst open. A squad of police officers stormed in, their guns drawn. They shouted at me to put my hands up. Deciding to humor them, I complied. Raising my hands above my head, I stepped back. All of the cops kept their weapons trained on me, clearly nervous to be so outnumbered. They knew I could take them down if I wanted to.
Following the beat cops, a woman in a power suit came in. She bore a perpetual frown, which lifted at the sight of me at gunpoint. Walking up to me and the body, she took out a set of handcuffs.
“Max Power, you are under arrest for the murder of George Creepy. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,” she said, her voice giddy. Detective Diane Dastardly had wanted to arrest me for years. She blamed me for the death of her husband. While it was true I had killed him, he had been plotting to assassinate the president at the time.
It appeared as if I had been framed. But by whom? And why? I had a lot of enemies. Even I can’t be universally loved. Had this been a setup by Nicki the Nose or someone higher up the food chain?
With no choice, I allowed the police to arrest me. I could have escaped, of course. But not without hurting several innocent police officers just doing their jobs. And if they were injured, who would be out stopping the regular bad guys?
The police took me to the local precinct and booked me for murder. I spent the night in the tiny holding cell trying to figure out who had set me up. By the time Detective Dastardly took me to an interrogation room the next morning, I knew I needed more information. There were just too many unknowns.
“Why did you kill him, Power?” Dastardly asked, her tone fierce.
“Why don’t you tell me, Detective?” I asked in reply. “What possible motive could I have to kill him?”
“Revenge. We know Ms. Tall came to see you. She hired you to kill him for her,” Dastardly said with a grin. “As soon as we bring her in I have no doubt she’ll roll on you in exchange for leniency.”
I gave Dastardly one of my best smiles, “Well, then what do you need me for? It seems you have this case all wrapped up. No need for a coroner's report, fingerprints, or any other forensics.”
“Nice try, Power,” Dastardly said. “I’m going to do this by the book. You aren’t getting off on a technicality. The body's with the coroner now. We’ve already matched your fingerprints to those found at the scene.”
I frowned for a moment, but then said, “Of course, I was there, after all. But that doesn’t prove I killed him.”
“It does when those prints are found on the murder weapon,” Dastardly said with a triumphant smile. “We’ve got you this time, Power.”
It clicked into place. The evil Doctor Guy must be behind this. He had used his clone of me to commit the murder. That would explain the fingerprints. But Dastardly would never believe that. She had it in for me, though I doubted she was involved. She was a good cop most of the time. After this discovery, I knew I had no choice but to escape. As long as the police held me here, Doctor Guy would have free rein to carry out his nefarious plans. Getting me framed kept me out of the way.
The interrogation continued for another hour, stopping only when another cop came into the room. He spoke quietly to Dastardly, who frowned. She cast a dark look my way. The cop finished speaking, and she turned to me. “All right, Power. It seems your robot butler won’t let our boys into your house for a search.”
I smiled. “That’s ARNOLD’s job, keeping unwanted people out of the house. I wouldn’t force the issue if I were you.”
She growled, “Yes, I know. We’ve seen what he can do. You need to turn him off.”
“Very well,” I said, trying to sound reluctant, “in the interest of not seeing anyone get hurt. But you’ll have to take me there. He needs to receive a positive ID from me to disengage protection mode.”
Dastardly squinted her eyes, clearly trying to find my angle. She knew I would use this opportunity to escape. She probably knew there was nothing she could do about it. Even though she didn’t like me, she knew how awesome I am. With a smile at me, she turned back to the cop. “Call them off. We should have enough to convict him without a search of his place. We’ll go back later if we have to. But we’re not giving in to him so easily. Take him back to holding.”
The cop nodded and unchained me from the table. I winked at Dastardly as I left the room. Once out of sight from Dastardly, the cop stopped and pulled out a key. He unlocked my cuffs.
“Thanks, Joe,” I said, rubbing my wrists.
“Anytime, Max,” Joe said. “There’s an emergency exit just down the hall. You should be able to get to safety before anyone spots you.”
“Right,” I said and then gave him an apologetic look. “I’m sorry I’ll have to do this. Wouldn’t want you to get blamed.”
“I understand,” Joe said, steeling himself for the blow.
I made it quick, a sharp judo chop to knock him out. He’d have a headache but wouldn’t suffer any permanent damage. His career would also be safe. Who could blame one cop for being taken down by me?
After slipping out of the police station I began the twenty-six-mile run back to my place. It took me just over two hours, one of my worst records. But then I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean, know what I mean?
Slipping in the back to avoid any cops watching the place, I found Femfa in the shower. The steam filled the room, obscuring my view of her beautiful form. I considered waiting until she finished, but since I had just run twenty-six miles, I really could use a shower myself.
Later, ARNOLD prepared breakfast for us while I began the interrogation. The evil Doctor Guy had to be behind the murder and setup, but was Femfa in on it or just a pawn in his nefarious plan?
“Why would George Creepy want you dead?” I asked.
Femfa gave a little frown. Thinking clearly took a lot of effort for her. “A few days ago he made a pass at me, but I turned him down. He had never really paid much attention to me before that.”
So this was a new development, I thought. Recalling the preponderance of posters and memorabilia of Femfa in Creepy's office, I wondered how recent it had really been. At least now I had a time frame to help my investigation. “What changed a few days ago?”
"He suddenly started showing up on set, sending me notes. He came to my dressing room on more than one occasion," Femfa said with a slight shudder. "He was a despicable man, but I'm sad he's dead."
Something in Femfa's tone as she spoke triggered a thought. Despite her words, I couldn't detect any hints of sympathy in her voice. As an expert in the ways of the female psyche, I had a pretty solid handle on what they were feeling. Femfa was most definitely not feeling sympathy at the moment. That could only mean only one thing—she had been part of the conspiracy to kill George Creepy! She wasn't a pawn in all this but one of the driving forces. How had I not picked up on this earlier? How had she masked her true nature from me?
Operating on a hunch, I stood up from the table and went to the window. The shades were drawn in order to hide us from any snooping police. I would have to risk my exposure to them. With a quick motion, I pulled the curtains back, letting in a stream of sunlight. As the sun's rays bathed us in light, Femfa started to sparkle. This confirmed my suspicion. Femfa Tall was a sparkle vampire, devoid of emotion and intellectual thought. There had been no deception for me to pick up on. She wasn't capable of levels of thought high enough to lie. Sparkle vampires were good at one thing and one thing only: sucking.
But while she was not much more than a mindless, emotionless body, she was dangerous. And I had just exposed her. When the sunlight hit her, her instincts took over and she leaped up from the table. Reacting with my highly trained skills, I pulled a katana from its display on the wall. As Femfa barreled toward me, her skin sparkling and twinkling, I lashed out with a quick fluid motion. The sword severed her head cleanly from her shoulders. I then gracefully sidestepped and allowed the now blind body to plow straight through the window.
Sparkle vampires could continue their attacks even after decapitation. They didn't use their heads most of the time anyway. But even though they could continue to function as brainless murder machines, they still needed eyes to see. If I let her go she would likely never find me, but that didn't mean she wouldn't kill some innocent. Replacing the katana on the wall, I calmly retrieved my trusty flame thrower from the next room. I followed the headless vampire into the yard. She was in the process of deflowering one of my prize bushes, and I regretted the loss, but I activated the flames and burned the body and bush to ashes.
By the time I finished, I could hear the sound of sirens growing closer. If the police weren't watching my place before, then a neighbor had surely seen the smoke from the burning bush. I didn't have much time. I would soon be arrested for a murder I had committed on top of the one I was falsely accused of.
"ARNOLD!" I shouted as I came back inside. "Make the house’s security footage available to the police and allow them to enter once they arrive. You are to cooperate fully with them. Understood?"
ARNOLD said nothing in response, his way of acknowledging. I tossed him the flame thrower and went to the vehicle garage. Looking over my vast array of advanced transport, I considered what would serve me best. I dismissed all of the cars immediately. I couldn't get bogged down in a high-speed chase. I would have to take to the air. I briefly considered my fully functional AIRWOLF replica. I had built it last summer on a whim, but didn't want to feel obliged to go hide in my volcano base. In the end, I elected to strap on my trusty rocket pack. It was fast and maneuverable and would allow me to fly under the radar. Literally. Gathering what equipment I could carry onto my trusty utility belt, I opened the roof. Just as several police officers burst into the garage with their guns drawn, I gave them a small wave and rocketed into the sky.
I spent a week keeping my head down as I worked out my next move. The police were after me. Detective Dastardly wouldn't let the fact that I had been attacked by a sparkle vampire influence her pursuit of me. This forced me to cancel my next rock tour, which was a huge disappointment to my fans. They would undoubtedly be harassing the police for having wrongly accused me. Above all, I was mostly mad at myself. Being led astray by a sparkle vampire was amateur stuff. I’d walked right into the trap, a willing participant. Her only purpose had been to lay a trail that led me straight into Creepy’s office. At least the sex had been good.
In the end, I decided the best way to ferret the evil Dr. Guy out from under his rock was to keep my head down. In time he would pursue his nefarious plan, and then I could make my move. I just had to remain free until then.
Using my advanced skills, I crafted a perfect cover identity and headed for New Gotham-York. The enormity of the metropolis would make hiding easier. Since the city was usually full of up-and-coming crime lords, I figured I might be able to do some good while I waited. The plethora of wannabe superheroes would provide my heroics some cover from scrutiny.
Figuring the best place to hide was in plain sight, I applied for a job as a photographer for the Bugle Planet newspaper. As I came in for my interview, despite the room's being full of reporters, not one recognized my true identity. I figured half of them were minor superheroes anyway. By unspoken consent, none of them looked too closely at each other. Sitting in the conference room were two big-shot reporters: Peter Kent, a compact redhead, and Lana Lane, a leggy woman with skin the color of a mochaccino. Even with my disguise, I couldn’t keep my natural charm from bleeding through. This prompted bashful smiles from both of them.
“Greetings, Mr. . . .” Lana began, looking flustered as she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide that her lustful eyes were checking me out.
“Bruce Parker,” I said flatly, trying to suppress my charm some, to no effect.
“Yes,” Lana said, still flustered. She looked to Peter, who was in worse shape, as he just sat there, undressing me with his eyes.
Suppressing a sigh, I decided I would have to really get into my cover identity. Clumsily, I reached out and attempted to take a sip of coffee but instead spilled it all over the table. I let out a high-pitched screech and attempted to clean it up, knocking over their coffee in the process. The spell broken, I stammered out an apology, and after cleaning up the mess, we started the interview again. Down to business, Lana gave me a stern look, “What makes you think you’re qualified to be a photographer for the Bugle Planet?”
Continuing my stammering persona, I said, “I . . . I know how to take good pictures. I . . . I used to work for the Daily Daily. Here’s a shot I got of Catman and Batwoman.” I slid the picture across the table, forcing down my usual confidence. I had to let the picture speak for itself. Fortunately, Catman and Batwoman were friends of mine and had given me a great setup as they saved a baby.
Thoroughly impressed, Peter said, “I’m thoroughly impressed.”
“If you can replicate this kind of shot for us, then you’ll be perfect,” Lana added.
“Just tell me who to shoot,” I answered.
Lana and Peter exchanged a look for a moment. Lana nodded and Peter shrugged. “All right, we’re tracking down a group called the MDK gang. Their leader, the Boss, is very secretive and we need to get a picture of him. It will be the scoop of the century!”
“What does this gang do?” I asked. In New Gotham-York, a gang could mean anything from street thugs to an organization hell-bent on world domination.
“They’re responsible for a lot of Murder,” Lana answered.
“And Death,” Peter replied.
“So they’re into Killing,” I mused and then remembered my cover persona and stammered, “Soun . . .sounds dangerous.”
Peter chuckled, “Don’t worry. We’ll be the one flushing him out. You’ll just need to get a picture. You can use zoom.”
I nodded, trying to look nervous. “Well, I . . . I’m your man.”
Needless to say, I got the job. Most of the next few days were spent taking boring photos of public events, while Lana and Peter continued their investigation. I considered helping them out, but I couldn’t risk reaching out to my usual contacts. Besides, I was just a nervous photographer, not a first-class investigator.
Finally, after more than a week, I got the call from Peter to meet them at the corner of 42nd Street and 42nd Avenue. Excited to be doing something dangerous for a change, I raced to meet the reporters. I found them standing underneath a poster for a theater show.
“What . . . what’s up?” I asked, forcing a stammer.
“We got a tip that the Boss will be taking in a show at this theater,” Lana answered.
I looked again and nodded, “Good choice. I hear the lead went out a youngster and is now a star.”
“Right,” Peter said impatiently. “Since we don’t really know what the Boss looks like, we need to find you a vantage point where you can get a shot of everyone who comes and goes from the theater. Lana will go with you to find a spot. I’ll stay here and try and draw him out. He’s supposed to like redheads.”
Lana frowned, probably at the idea of Peter using himself as bait, but I just nodded. He wouldn’t really be in danger, not with me close, so it sounded like a good enough plan. Pulling out my camera, I gave Lana a thumbs up.
I followed Lana down the street and found myself gazing at her. She really was a pretty lady, and those legs went all the way to the ground, as most do. Due to my need to maintain my cover, I hadn’t been with anyone since Femfa. Despite a hundred showers, I still found glitter everywhere.
She ignored me, continuing to look back at Peter. After a few moments, she did turn her attention to me. “You seem awfully calm. Aren’t you worried about him?”
Not sure how to respond, wondering whether she was seeing through my cover or just deflecting her feelings, I stammered, “Sho . . . should I be? Can’t he take care of himself? He seems quite strong.”
Realizing my desire wasn’t limited to just Lana—after all, I was half gay, half straight, half bi—I looked around for a way to change the subject. Spotting a shop window, I stopped and stared. At first, I was just pretending to be distracted, but that soon changed as I realized what I was looking at.
“Oh myyy!” I babbled, staring into the memorabilia shop. “Would you look at that.”
Confused, Lana turned and asked, “Look at what?”
“It’s Chekov’s gun!” I gushed. “The one Walter Koenig used in the classic Star Trek episode “Space Seed” when he faces Khan. Oh my, oh my. I need to get that. It would complete my collection.” Rushing into the store, I quickly made the purchase and came out proudly holding the prop phaser. My good mood soured when I remembered the damage done to my house by the vampire and undoubtedly by the police. The rest of my collection would probably be ruined.
Lana just frowned at me. I froze in place for a moment, suddenly realizing I had let some of my true personality shine through. Had she identified me? Max Power was well known for his incredible collection of memorabilia.
“We don’t have time to indulge your hobbies,” Lana snapped.
“Righ . . . right. Sorry,” I stammered, relieved she hadn’t seen through me.
We continued away from the theater until we found an outside café with a clear line of sight. We took a seat to wait for people to begin arriving for the next show. I tried to engage Lana in conversation, but she responded with noncommittal responses. My skill at deflecting her with an annoying persona had, like everything I do, done an amazing job at turning her off.
I contented myself with examining my purchase. I’d had prop replicas aplenty but only a few originals. Despite the inherent value of that, I still considered how I might be able to tweak the prop to make it fully functional.
“Okay, they’re arriving,” Lana said, after answering a call from Peter.
I picked up my camera and zoomed in on the theater entrance. I saw Peter standing near the door, looking very much the hopeful escort. I admitted, I would have had a hard time not stopping to talk to him. Panning the camera over the crowd, I began snapping shots of everyone who went into the theater. Fortunately, it was a Sunday matinee and not a huge theater. This gave me time to get a good shot of everyone, and two of anyone who stopped to talk to Peter.