Chad Rohrbacher posted a challenge not too long ago and far be it for me to turn down a challenge. Below is my entry. There are even prizes but I don't care much about that. He is giving away some Victor Gischler stuff which is a great prize but I already have The Deputy and the comic stuff I don't care about, but then that was the challenge. Write a crime story with some superhero element to it. This puts me distinctly out of my comfort zone so I ran with it. Of course, I just cannot go to the costumes, super powers and evil villains so my take on it is a little different (I hope). I certainly look forward to what everyone else comes up with. It won't win and I know that but I enjoyed writing it. Who knows? Maybe I'll start to like super hero stories.
by Eric Beetner
You’d think the first thing I would have noticed was the razor and all the blood, but it was the tights. At first I thought they were red but that was just the gore. He must have hit an artery or something. I saw they were really green when he turned and started pacing.
A guy who committed murder is part of my job, sure, but a grown man in tights is not a regular thing. Even after five years in homicide I was seeing something new nearly every day.
I’d been called in after the body was found but then when I arrived I found out that the killer, y’know the dude in the tights, was still in the house. The beat cops who first came on the scene hadn’t done their due diligence in sweeping the place. Imagine my surprise when he stepped out of what he called his “secret lair” but was really just an old coal closet in the basement of the hundred-year-old house.
The mask wasn’t even real, just drawn on in coal soot around his eyes giving him a decidedly raccoon look.
With everyone else upstairs it was just me and him down in that basement. Tony, the M.E., was already loading the body into the meat wagon and the guys who answered the 911 call were already filling out paperwork. I was just doing my job and looking around for clues. Found one!
Upstairs, looking at the body in the kitchen, all four of us gathered on the sidelines beside a lake of blood. I stayed far away, keeping my shoes clean. A trail of imprints led to and from the body where Tony had done his paid duty and examined the corpse. He said, “A large knife or razor. Maybe a box cutter. Safe to say the cause of death is loss of blood.”
Safe to say. I could have painted my deck with all that red. I wonder if the wife would stop busting my balls over it if I used the blood of a teenage boy.
He paced like a lion in a zoo. I could have just shot him. He had a weapon in his hand after all. But those tights...I just had to know.
“Are you Donald?” I asked him.
He looked up, his face curled into a question mark. “I’m The Avenger.”
The beat cops had given me the run down when I arrived on scene. The house was in the name of one Donald Gilbrand, age 45. He worked I.T. for a big cable subscriber. A widower with one child, also dead as of one year ago. I could wait for Tony to I.D. the body upstairs and tell me the connection but I figured why not ask the source.
“So, why did you kill him?”
“I’m the Avenger.”
“Yeah, I got that. But why did he need avenging?”
He stopped pacing. He lifted his head to me and spoke as if he was reciting the pledge of allegiance, all high and mighty like.
“Wherever there is justice gone unpunished, The Avenger is there. Wherever a criminal is free, The Avenger is there. The sentence has been delivered, I am merely the messenger.”
He started pacing again. As he walked he let the razor tap against his leg. My eyes had adjusted to the dark in the basement so I could see now that he was deepening a wound on his thigh as he slid the razor back and forth across it. Turned out not all of the blood on those tights was from the kid upstairs.
“Donald, why don’t you drop the razor and come with me.”
“To the hall of justice?”
“Yeah. The hall of justice. Sure.”
“They failed me!”
His sudden burst of anger made my hand flinch down to the weapon on my belt. His eyes went wide and the whites stood out against his dark smear of a mask. Sweat and blood ran the coal dust down in streaks like black nails across his cheeks and onto his neck. For a superhero mask design it actually worked on him. Made him look kind of bad-ass.
“Who failed you, Donald?”
He lifted the razor, threatening. My hand stayed put on the butt of my gun. Our eyes locked and a glimmer of the real Donald showed through.
“He killed them. And he got away with it.”
God dammit. My job is hard enough without some freaked out Dad getting all vigilante because I couldn’t nail some jerk with a smart lawyer. All I can do is put them in the courtroom. From there it all goes to shit. I didn’t doubt I’d do the same thing if someone killed my wife and kid. I’d skip the tights though.
“You know he killed them?”
“He did. He knew what he did.”
“This is your wife and daughter we’re talking about?”
Fresh tears cut white lines in his coal mask.
I looked to the stairs, wondering when someone was going to come check on me or if they would just pack it in and drive away, leaving me like that kid in the movie. I didn’t even hear feet shuffling above me anymore.
“Donald, I need you to put the razor down and come with me.”
“He was drunk.”
“Kyle. He was drunk. He drove Lillie into a tree. He walked away with all of five stitches.” The basement faded away. The kerosene smell, the damp in the air. We were two Dads sipping a Vodka tonic and sharing the worst days of our lives with each other. “Kelly, my wife, couldn’t handle it. She hung...” he choked on tears. “She hung herself.”
That was the point when I would tell the guy on the ledge all about my similar experience. Explain how we’re all filled with regret and tragedy but we soldier on because that’s what men do. I drew a blank though. I had nothing for him. Nothing to rival the feeling of bloody revenge.
“I understand,” was all I could muster.
Donald looked at me and his shoulders slumped with severe disappointment. He wiped the back of his razor hand across his face and streaked the coal making his face a blur like he was in motion.
“The Avenger will now return to his secret lair.”
He turned and walked, stoop-shouldered, back to the tiny coal closet in the corner. He looked anything but heroic. He was a middle aged schlub beaten down by life. I did understand him. More than he knew.
“Donald,” I said. He stopped, back to me. “I have to take you in.”
“For justice?” he said.
He turned to me. I knew he was filled with questions I had no answers for. Thankfully he didn’t ask them.
He lifted the razor to his throat. Our eyes were locked together like soldiers on opposing sides, away from the gaze of generals and stripped of our uniforms. Just two men. I lifted my hand off the gun and let both arms drop to my sides. I didn’t tell him to stop, didn’t scream no.
He dragged slow and steady across the great divide of his neck. If I hadn’t already seen it upstairs I’d have been shocked how much blood could pour out of a human.
His arm reached as far out as it could go, his elbow back behind him. He hovered for a moment, his neck a fountain of red. Then he slumped and fell face first onto the concrete.
The iron blood smell cut through the chemical basement odor and gave the moist air a warmth like a summer night.
“Ron? You coming or what?” Tony called from the top of the stairs. A guy just doing his job, just wanting to get back to the station and clock out.
I was all about giving people what they wanted.
“Be right there,” I said.