Oliver looked at his computer monitor. The green progress bar held the same reading it did for the last three nights, 99%. In the column under the bar, the same number was present as well, zero.
“I came to the same conclusion,” Oliver said to himself. “I just wanted to be sure. There’s still that one percent.” He pushed back from the table and the casters on his chair carried him into the middle of the tiled floor of his dining room. Leaning back, he looked at the ceiling.
With short, quick steps, he pulled the chair back to the computer screen. The progress bar had taken the last one percent. “Well now,” Oliver said a smile pulling at his mouth. The number below the progress bar had not changed. “I waited three days for that last percent and no change.” He banged a hand on the metal desktop. “Crap!”
Oliver stood, his knees knocking the chair over. He turned for the short hall and walked into his bedroom. Rummaging through his closet, he pulled out a cardboard box. Using a key, he cut the tape around the edges. Flipping the top open, he pulled out the old flip phone. On the outside a piece of masking tape with when you’re ready handwritten on it. “Like I have a choice,” Oliver said and flipped the phone open.
Pressing the green power button, he waited as the device powered on and showed the ready message on the screen. Looking at the screen he saw the indicator for the menu. He pressed the button indicated. Next, he followed the menu for the phonebook. Once it was displayed, he saw only one entry, and it was highlighted. Surrender.
“I fucking hate this,” Oliver spat through clenched teeth. His thumb hovered over the dial button.
DEET, DEET, DEET.
“Shit!” Oliver fumbled the phone in his hands. With a quick snatch, he steadied himself and pressed the answer button. “Hello?”
“That was fast,” came the voice on the tiny speaker. “I was expecting the voice mail.”
“Who is this?” Oliver shouted.
“We need to meet,” the voice said. “I have a proposition.”
“Why should I meet you?” Oliver said. “I don’t even know who you are.”
“I’m the person who gave you the phone,” the voice said. “You do know me. And I know you, Oliver Samson.”
Oliver pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it. “No fucking way.” He closed the phone with a snap. “This shit can’t be happening.” His fingers curled around the phone and he focused his power with a thought.
DEET, DEET, DEET.
Shaking his hand again, he dissipated his power and flipped the phone open. “Who the fuck is this?”
“Oh, come on, Oliver,” the voice said. “You know. I know you know. You even threatened me a few times. Outside of work.”
“Crusader?” Oliver said. “If this is Crusader, that means you are Thomas Fitzgerald.”
“See I told you,” the voice said. “You guessed, though. Your other choice was Gabriel Moreno, wasn’t it?”
“That used to be my guess,” Oliver said and walked out of his bedroom towards his dining room. “He, however, is in a coma.”
“Really?” Thomas said. “You didn’t put him there, did you?”
“Nope,” Oliver answered. “Car accident.”
“You truly are a mastermind,” Thomas said. “Like I said before, we need to meet.”
“Why would Crusader and Mace need to meet?” Oliver tapped a few keys on his computer. A map of the city displayed. Another box showed with a progress bar and TRACING blinking.
“I need something from you,” Thomas said. “It’s important.”
“Our last encounter didn’t go so well for you,” Oliver said. “What could you possibly need from me?”
“I’ll tell you at Mendelson Park,” Thomas said. “One o’clock. No suits.”
“Fine,” Oliver said. “That’s in three hours.”
The line clicked.
Glancing at the computer display, it showed two lines crossed. An address appeared in a box along with a name.
3498 Blossom Blvd.
“That bastard has a different house,” Oliver said and smiled. “It makes sense. Can’t have everyone in the downtown condo wandering through the building and finding your lair.” Oliver updated his database with the information and closed his computer down.
Oliver moved through his house and opened his hallway closet. “No suits does not mean no equipment.” He pulled on a handle of a foot locker. It slid on the carpeted floor and out of the closet. After a few twists on the lock, he pulled the lid open. “This is all the stuff I planned on using. It’s all new, so he won’t be expecting it.” Reaching in he pulled several items out placed them on the dining room table. “Only small items that’ll make slow him down and get me outta there. That should do it.”
He closed the lid and spun the lock dial. “That’ll hold until I get back.”
After eating a sandwich, Oliver secured his small devices on his body and put on a windbreaker. He locked his front door, and drove to his meeting at Mendelson Park.
Oliver sat at the picnic table and thumbed through his phone. The shadow rolled over him as the time in the upper right hand corner changed to one pm. “Punctual as usual.” He looked up at the face of the man in front of him. Standing, Oliver extended a hand. “Thomas?”
“Oliver,” Thomas said and shook the offered hand. “Glad you made it.”
“What do you want,” Oliver said as he sighed. “I have a schedule to keep.”
“Of course,” Thomas said moving to the seat across from Oliver. Sitting, he spoke. “I have a favor, sort of, to ask.”
Oliver lowered to his bench seat and locked his eyes on Thomas’. “Get on with it.”
“Blunt,” Thomas mumbled. “Just like your alter ego’s name.”
Oliver put his palms on the table and lifted form the bench. “I don’t have time for chit chat.”
“OK, OK,” Thomas said and reached a hand out. “Stay. This isn’t easy to say.”
“Fine,” Oliver said, lowering back to the bench. “What is it?”
“I’m dying,” Thomas said, looking at his hands. “My doctor, who knows about my other identity, says there is nothing to be done.” Thomas sighed and looked around. “It’s linked to all the stuff I did as a hero. All the dangers and catastrophes I’ve adverted.”
“Well,” Oliver said, raising an eyebrow. “I see how you got sick, Thomas.” Oliver looked at the table surface. “I’m sorry to hear that. You were – I mean are a good hero. You’re quick to respond and ensure there isn’t a lot of collateral damage.”
“I worked at it.” Thomas flashed a flat smile.
“What can I do for you?” Oliver said as he crossed his arms and etched a scowl on his face.
“I want to go out with my mask on,” Thomas said. “I want you to pull a job. I’ll show up to stop you, and you will kill me.”
Oliver’s jaw fell open as his eyes connected with Thomas’ “Are you kidding me?”
“No,” Thomas said shaking his head. “I am deadly serious.” He quietly laughed at his own joke. “Make some trap or death ray. I’ll ham it up, and have a crack team of medics to squirrel me away. My publicist will handle everything else.”
“What about the cops?” Oliver shifted in his seat and leaned forward. “They’ll kill me on sight. Plus the press will make me a pariah.” Oliver’s teeth clenched and he pounded a fist on the cement picnic table. “I would have to move at least two states away.”
“Shhhh,” Thomas said and looked around. “Those would probably happen. I bet you could get away from the cops. You’re pretty good at that.”
“Yeah,” Oliver said, “so what. How do I start over in another state? In case you haven’t noticed, I rarely got away with what I went after.”
“I figured you’d have a few patents on some of your equipment,” Thomas said with a shrug. “They should net you a few hundred thousand dollars by now.”
“Think about that,” Oliver said, poking the table with a finger. “I submit one of my weapons or pieces of tech for a patent, the law figures out who I am, then I end up in Stone Hold.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said, “I guess you would. It’s a good thing I have a contingent set up.” A smile appeared on Thomas’ face and he showed plenty of teeth. “You know I’m filthy rich. And I have a lawyer that will do whatever I tell her.”
“How does that help me?” Oliver said and tilted his head with a sigh.
“Simple,” Thomas said. “I’ll have some money wired to whatever account you want.”
“I’ll have to get that information to you,” Oliver said. “Plus I need time to get a plan together.”
“Excellent!” Thomas spread his arms wide and beamed a smile at Oliver. “Take this.” He slid a card across the table. “Call that number any time of day. The voice on the other end will take the information from you. Plus,” Thomas reached inside his jacket, “this should help you get started.” A fat, white envelope slapped the table.
Oliver reached a hand out and pulled the envelope towards him. A quick tuck of his hand, and the envelope disappeared. “I agree to your terms.”
“One more thing,” Oliver said. “What do you get out of this? It’s not like you get paid to be a superhero.”
“I get nothing more than going out as a hero should,” Thomas said. “Defending his city and being a positive force even after I’m gone.”
“So martyrdom,” Oliver said and smirked. Standing, Oliver nodded. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” He nodded, tugged on his jacket and left.
Oliver pulled into his driveway and parked. As he walked through his front door, he tossed the envelope to the side table along with the business card. “So all I have to do is pull a heist and pretend to kill Crusader.” He moved to his computer desk and plopped onto the chair. “Yeah, that’s all I gotta do.”
After logging into his computer, he pulled up a list of targets nearby. The list contained several banks, five chemical storage facilities, and three inventing labs. Next, he opened a directory with the same name as one of the labs. “This should do nicely,” he said as he opened floor plans and other documents containing specs and other information about Bladsell Labs. After several hours, Oliver logged out of his computer and reached for his phone. With the white business card in his other hand, he tapped on the number then put the receiver to his head.
“No names,” the muted, synthesized voice on the phone said. “Numbers?”
“Right,” Oliver said. Then he recited a stream of numbers.
“Thank you,” the voice said. “Location, date, and time.” Oliver paused as he rolled the ideas over his mind. After a heart beat, he gave the information.
“Thank you, again,” the voice said. “You have a nice day.” The line disconnected.
“This all just feels weird,” Oliver said.
Over the next few days, Oliver worked on his plan. He laid out entry points, exits, and even staked out the lab to get shift changes. Noting the times and dates, he formed a schedule. “He only knows when I’m starting, not when I’m ending. And he is supposed to die.”
Over the next few days, Oliver worked out his plan. He also adjusted his costume, and added several of his newer gadgets.
The date arrived.
Eight in the evening arrived, and Oliver departed his house. Wearing his costume, he flew his jet pack towards Bladsell Labs. He poured on the speed, his pack whispering in the night. “There we are,” Oliver said and aimed for the roof. Touching both feet to the graveled surfaced, he walked to the door. With a glance at his watch, he mumbled, “Evening rounds begin.”
He pulled a device form a pouch on his belt and placed it next to the keypad. LEDs flashed on the device then a high-pitched beep sounded. A clank sounded from the door and Oliver pulled it open. “I still got it,” he said with a smile.
Stepping inside, he pulled the door closed behind him. He placed the device next to the inside keypad and touched a button on top. The door clanked again. “Locked,” he said, grinning. “Don’t want to leave a security breach.” Stowing the device, he moved down the maintenance stairs and into the hallway.
His lips moved as he walked. “Three doors, then right at the intersection. Pause for the camera on the corner.” Oliver pressed his back against the wall and focused on the small orb at the next intersection. A red light blinked. “Two. One.” Pulling from the wall, Oliver fast-walked through the intersection and stopped at a white door.
“Triple lock,” he said as he fished out two devices from his belt. “Fingerprint first.” Placing the forefinger of his left hand on the small black panel, he thumbed the side of the knuckle. The red light over the scanner, turned green. A red light over the number pad on the right side blinked. Oliver placed a device of the pad and pressed two buttons on it. Four seconds later, the light over the number pad turned green.
A panel slid on the wall, exposing a grate. Oliver turned his head and placed the second device over his mouth. His mouth spoke. “Racecar or dragster. It don’t matter. They are both cars.” The voice exiting the device carried a different voice, one with a drawl and higher in pitch.
A clank sounded and the door opened.
Oliver removed his finger and put his devices back on his belt. Using a foot, he nudged the door open further, then pushed through it. “The power supply should be in here.”
Scanning the room, he saw four tables, each with different items strewn on them. He moved to the furthest and saw a cylinder the size of a football. “Hmmm..” Another device appeared in his hand and he held it close to the cylinder. The display on the device registered different readings. “Got it. First try, too.” He clipped his scanner to his belt, then picked up the cylinder. Using long strides, he moved back through the door.
Tracing his path back through the hallway, he ascended the metal maintenance stairs. Repeating the process from earlier, he unlocked the door and opened it.
“You are a sneaky bastard,” Thomas said, wearing his Crusader garb. “Locking the door behind you was a brilliant move.” He wagged a finger at Oliver.
“Is this were we fight?” Oliver placed the cylinder on the ground and took a step to the side. “Where you perform your swan song?” A smile spread on Oliver’s dark skin.
“About that,” Thomas said.
“Yeah,” Oliver said. “I figured.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said. “So did I.” Thomas moved a step closer and spread his hands. “You’re smart. But you’re also an egomaniac.” His perfect white teeth took up his lower face.
“I am smart,” Oliver said. “As for egomaniac, that’s more of your wheelhouse.”
“Really?” Thomas asked with a laugh, shifting his hands to his hips. “How do you figure?”
“You gave me information that connected directly to your computers,” Oliver said. “You seriously think I don’t have countermeasures coming out the wazoo? I’m the villain. Duh!”
“Whatever,” Thomas said and raised his fists. “I finally caught you actually stealing. Plus, we both know I can take you in a fight.”
“A straight fight,” Oliver said, nodding, “Sure. But what if the fight isn’t here? Or even all that direct?”
Thomas lowered his fists, and shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“My countermeasures,” Oliver said. “You had to bait me. So you gave me real information. Enough to tempt me, because you knew I would check. So I did what I do best. I made technology to burrow into your system and steal all of it.” He touched a spot on the back of a gloved hand. “Now I have you here, you can’t stop it.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Thomas smirked. “That is pretty lame. Especially for you.”
“Tommy,” Oliver said. “I have all your money. All your information. And I even where all your secret caches are located. You’re done.”
Squinting through the eye holes of his cowl, Thomas stepped back three paces. He pulled a device that looked like a large cellphone and tapped a button. “What the hell?” Shoving the device back where it came from, he pulled another device out and pressed the small button. Looking around, he pressed the button again.
“Is that satellite debris?” Oliver pointed to the sky. Four white streaks appeared across the clear blue sky. “Your sneaky. Putting five small satellites in space that will connect together to form a bigger one. Crusader’s eye in the sky. It looks like that eyes is crying.”
“How?” Thomas looked at Oliver.
“Highly intelligent villain,” Oliver said, pointing back at himself. “It’s what I do. I figured you are like me. It’s been several months, close to a year, since you had a bad guy to take on. You knew who I was, or at least had a good idea and followed your nose. Retirement was looking good for me. I could get a regular job and finish out my life and go out in mediocrity. Now, I’m going to retire in style. I did leave you the cars and mansion. They’re too flashy for me.”
“I suppose you’re going to knock me out,” Thomas said. “Leave me somewhere to be found.”
“Nope,” Oliver said and scooped up the cylinder. “You’re on all the news sites and stations now. I don’t have to do jack squat.” Activating his jet pack, he waved at Thomas. “Have a nice day.”
In the clouds, Oliver said to himself. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”