A Bird In The Hand
by Nicolas Juzda
The bartender at the Cheap Dri never asked customers for identification before serving them. The working theory was that anyone able to make it from the front door to the bar in one piece was old enough to know what they were doing. And if they weren't, it probably wasn't safe to say it to their face.
The Cheap Dri was located pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Take a highway, then turn off onto an unassuming road, then turn off that onto a path that looks like it hasn't been used in a decade or so, and you might just wind up there, or somewhere like it.
The clientele preferred the isolation. It let them drink in peace, away from any law enforcement officials who might disturb them.
The three gentlemen who had just entered the bar did not look like they belonged there. The rest of the customers were mostly dressed in nondescript clothing, varying from a casual jeans and t-shirt combination up to a few cheap suits, with the exception of a group of leather-clad bikers at one of the tables.
Despite the scorching heat that permeated the non-air conditioned environs of the Cheap Dri, the first of the newcomers was dressed in a blue and white parka, with the hood pulled up over his head. He surveyed the room slowly from behind large blue framed glasses. A slight frown appeared on his face as he asked, "Is he here, Jim?"
The man beside him was also scanning the crowd, but his face was clearly nervous. "Maybe we shoulda come in our civvies, myte?" he asked. He glanced down at the flowing blue shirt decorated with white drawings of boomerangs that he wore. The outfit was completed by a scarf and the type of military cap called a wedge. It definitely was attracting attention.
"It'll make a bigger impression on the client this way," the final member of the trio replied. "Remember, it's all about manipulating people's attention." His own costume was even odder than his companions. A gaudy display of orange, yellow, and blue stripes accompanied by a matching pair of pointed shoes, cape, and small mask, he looked like he belonged in a circus. In fact, he actually had worked in a circus during his youth.
"Oh, we've got their bleedin' attention, too right," the second man said, tilting his head towards a bulky patron who had stood up from the bar and begun heading towards them.
"Leave him to me." The first man whipped out a device that looked more like a hair-dryer than a pistol, and aimed it at the approaching man. As soon as the trigger was pulled, a beam of light shot from it, and a second later the potentially threatening customer of the Cheap Dri was frozen solid.
The rest of the clientele simultaneously and suddenly decided that their drinks were far more interesting than these three perfectly normal customers who weren't worth any attention whatsoever.
"Great, Len. That's what I mean. Now, follow me. I've spotted who we're looking for." The most colourful of the three led the way towards a dark corner at the back of the bar.
There were three empty chairs. The fourth, deep in the shadows, was occupied by a figure at least as strange as the people joining him. He (if it was a he) was humanoid, barely. His nose was an elongated snout, and his ears stuck up above his head. He appeared not so much to be clothed as covered in fur.
The newcomers didn't sit down immediately. Instead, the one who had been leading cleared his throat. "Good evening. My name is James Jesse, more commonly known as the Trickster. These are my associates, Leonard Snart and Digger Harkness. They've earned notoriety under the noms de guerre of Captain Cold and Captain Boomerang."
The shadowed figured didn't speak. Instead, it pulled from beneath the table a small wooden sign. On it were printed the words "YOU'RE HERE ABOUT THE JOB?"
"That's right. We hear you've got trouble with a super-speedster. Well, we three are among the foremost experts in the world on combating them. So let's talk business." The Trickster smiled and took a seat, waving for the others to do likewise. After a second, they complied.
Another sign was proffered from under the table. "HAVE YOU KILLED ANY?"
"Too right we have," Captain Boomerang replied a bit too smoothly. "I mean, sure, we ain't had a lot o' luck with ol' Flashie himself, but that doesn't mean we ain't done in a few of the drongos over the years. I just killed Speedy, m'self."
"Speedy's an archer," Captain Cold hissed.
"Is he? Strewth. Then I musta got the name wrong. Me memory ain't what it used to be. I meant, uh, the Terrific... Whatsit." He paused for a second. "I'm going to get a beer. Can I stand any of you mates one?" They all shook their heads, and he departed.
"The point is," the Trickster interrupted, "that our track record is beside the point. It's not who we've killed in the past that should interest you. It's what we can do about your particular problem."
The first two signs had vanished somehow, but a third emerged. "THE DETAILS ARE IN THIS BAG." An arm reached across the table, grotesquely elongated and covered with short brown fur. It dropped a duffle bag in front of the Trickster.
"What's that ya got in there?" asked Boomerang as he sat back down, glass of beer in hand.
The Trickster opened it. Inside were a typewritten piece of paper and several maps. "I'm sorry, but we'll require fifty percent of the fee in advance."
Another sign. "I DON'T THINK SO."
"Cash or no deal," Boomerang said. He took a sip of his drink, and grimaced. He disliked American beer under the best of circumstances, and these were hardly those. The alcohol at the Cheap Dri was diluted, and given that no one sane would use the washroom facilities there, Boomerang suspected he knew with what. Turning his head to the side, he spat it out.
"Now, I can understand that you're reluctant to pay us before we've fulfilled our part of the bargain," the Trickster said in a soothing tone. "But if you'll hear me out, I'm sure you'll be able to see why it's in your own best interest to do so. First, you should- Hey! Digger, you just spat all over my shoes!"
"IT'S NOT NEGOTIABLE."
"Maybe I'll negotiate with this," Captain Cold said, aiming his weapon across the table.
"Len, please let me handle this." The Trickster's voice betrayed no trace of his rising sense that this negotiation was not going as planned. Perhaps bringing the other two along had been a mistake.
"ONE MILLION DOLLARS UPON DELIVERY, DEAD OR ALIVE. NO ADVANCE PAYMENTS."
"Where's he gettin' those signs, do y'think?" Boomerang asked.
"Please, if you'll just hear me out," the Trickster said, his voice utterly calm.
"GOOD DAY." The creature threw the last sign down onto the table, then withdrew into the shadows.
"Hey, we weren't done," Cold said. He started to lean across the table, but drew back upon hearing the animal growl their would-be employer emitted. There was just enough light to make out bared fangs.
"Let's go," the Trickster said. "We've got work to do."
As Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, and the Trickster emerged from the Cheap Dri, the latter two had to hold up hands to shield their eyes. The midday sun was blinding in comparison with the darkness inside.
As his companions stood blinking until their eyes adjusted, the visored Captain Cold smiled sardonically. "The Terrific Whatsit? Was that really the best you could do?" he asked.
"Shut up," Boomerang replied. "Hey, didjer get a dekko at that bloke? Strewth, I'd swear he was a bleedin' co-"
"And Grodd's a gorilla," Trickster interrupted smoothly. "So we should be used to it. The world's a strange place, Digger."
"I don't care if he's a pink elephant," Cold sneered. "Just so long as his money's good."
The three of them crossed the small parking lot in front of the Cheap Dri to the red WayneMotors convertible they had arrived in. It was the Trickster's car- that is, he was the one who possessed the keys and had picked the other two up. Actual legal ownership of the vehicle was another question entirely, one that neither of his companions had felt any inclination to ask.
It might seem surprising that an automobile that desirable had remained in the parking lot of such a disreputable tavern unattended. The explanation lay, among other places, in the very name of the bar. Once, it had been called the Cheap Drinks, after the large painted sign above the door. The last time someone had tried to steal a car from out front of it, he'd been caught by the vehicle's owner, and the would-be thief's blood still obscured the final three letters of the sign upon which his skull had been cracked. Since then, the parking law of the newly rechristened Cheap Dri had not seen a single theft.
"Hop in," the Trickster said. He got behind the wheel, Captain Cold taking shotgun and Captain Boomerang hopping into the back. "You mind handling the directions, Len?"
"No problem." Cold pulled the map out of the bag they'd been given, and they were off.
"So, what's with yer signin' on fer a hit, anyway, myte?" Boomerang asked the Trickster as they made their way back to the highway. "I thought you was walkin' the straight an' narrow these days."
Captain Cold snorted. "Jim tries to clean up his act every few years, but he's still a rogue at heart. Remember when he was in California?"
The con man smiled. "Yeah, that was my first shot at reforming. I managed to stick with it for a while, too, helping out Danny."
"You were never anything but a crook at heart. That so-called 'reformation' was when you set me up with that no-melt ice cream thing." Cold's expression suddenly darkened. "Did we ever even the score on that?"
"Of course we did, Len. Remember? That jewel heist in Midway?" The Trickster gave a slight chuckle.
The other rogue's frown didn't waver. "No. I can't seem to recall ever pulling a jewel heist in Midway. Now, why do you suppose that might be?"
"Len, buddy, I can't believe you forgot. I mean, there I was about to get away clean when you hit me with your anti-cinematic accelerator- I mean, anti-kinetic accessorator- anti-kintastic-" He broke off from stumbling over the term.
"Anti-kinetic accelerator," Cold supplied in exasperation.
"Right. Marvelous device. How's it work again?"
"It reduces various types of kinetic motion occurring on a microscopic scale, mainly the molecular vibrations of particles. In layman's terms, it cancels heat and leaves whatever it hits frozen solid." His harsh voice, which spat every syllable like a threat, seemed oddly incongruous delivering scientific explanations.
"Fantastic. I wish I had something like it."
"It is a nice piece of work, if I say so myself. It's brought a lot of people to bad ends over the years," Cold said, patting his gun fondly.
"Did you build it yourself?"
"I stole the initial theoretical work, you know that, but I've made quite a few improvements of my own over the years."
The Trickster smiled. "Anyway, Len, I think you were telling me about what you were planning to do with your share of the million bucks."
"Was I? Sure, I was thinking I'd- Hey, what are you laughing at, Digger?"
"Nothin'. Sorry, myte."
"Hey, Dig," the Trickster said. "How come you made up that nonsense about killing Speedy? I thought you really did kill a speedster once."
"Y'mean that Jaculi bloke, when I was with the Squad? Strewth, I ain't tellin' no stories about the Squad t'some earbore I just met. If news that I been tellin' tales gets t'the Wall, she'd probably send Lawton after me arse."
"So how come you told me?"
"Well, where'd I be if I couldn't trust me own mates?" Boomerang started laughing again.
"I still don't know what's so damn funny," Cold muttered. "Crazy Aussie."
Boomerang's laughter had died down to gasps by the time he spoke again. "Len, y'ever think of sellin' yer cold gadgets? Like that Aunt Kimberly thing you was just talkin' about?"
"Nah. If everybody had access to gear like mine, I'd lose my edge over the competition."
"Seriously, if ya sold yer stuff, ya wouldn't need to be a criminal. Ya could go straight, like ol' James here."
"What would I do then? Relax on a beach? It's not about the money, Digger. It's about beating them. Showing that you can do whatever you want."
"Here, here," echoed the Trickster. "I mean, did you ever wonder why I don't sell the design for my shoes even when I'm trying to be reformed? People would pay tons of money for footwear that let them walk on air. It's the next best thing to flying. But I'm not a businessman. I don't want to do an honest day's work." He gave a visible shudder at the thought. "No matter which side of the fence I'm on, I'm a trickster."
"I getcher. I mean, I ain't sellin' me special boomerangs either. An' when I was with the Squad an' the Wall told me I had to stay clean, I bludged Scudder's gear to pull a few jobs on the side as Mirror Master. I was just curious."
"Speaking of Mirror Master," the Trickster said, "Len, I heard you had dealings with McCulloch recently?"
"Oh, we and Kid Flash got sucked into some dark parallel dimension. A lot of nasty stuff went down there." A slight smile touched Cold's face. "I had fun."
"Y'should watch yerself around him, myte," Boomerang said. "He did work for the bloody JLA a while back, spying on rogues! That's not fair dinkum. He's an untrustworthy bastard. An' besides, that accent o' his is bleedin' impenetrable, innit?"
There was a long moment of silence as the other two men stared at him.
"Take a left here," Cold finally said.
The car turned onto the Interstate. There was no other traffic around; this was a little used section of highway.
The surrounding area was a barren desert. Endless orange plains stretched on either side of the road. Up ahead, it seemed that they'd be passing into a mountainous region, but the terrain looked like it would be the same orange rock.
The sun beat down from overhead.
"Y'know what this reminds me of?" Boomerang asked.
"The Outback?" Trickster guessed.
Cold gave a slow nod. "Yeah, it was kind of like this, wasn't it?"
The Trickster shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He hated being reminded of the entire Neron affair. His friends had already endured a stay in the realm infernal; his own damnation as a result of that incident remained ahead of him.
"I could cool you down, if you wanted." Cold turned in his seat to aim his gun at Boomerang. "What do you say, Dig?" There was nothing to indicate he was joking.
"I'll pass, myte. Doesn't this car have any bleedin' air conditionin', though?"
"It's broken," Trickster said.
"So, how are we going to do this?" Cold asked as he reholstered his weapon. "I want a shot at killing this thing." For emphasis, he smashed a fist into his other hand.
"Len, you always were a thug at heart." Trickster gave a small smile.
"It's my charm."
"I don't mind yer takin' first crack," Boomerang said.
"You want to see what happens to me, is that it?"
"Too right. One thing I learned on the Squad: watch the other blokes and figger out what's likely to get yer killed, an' don't do it."
"I spent some time on the Squad too," Cold replied. "And I learned that the best way to keep from being on the receiving end is to be the one dishing it out."
"Gosh, I wish I too had learnt a heart-warming lesson from government black ops," Trickster said. "Regardless, unlike Digger, I wouldn't mind first shot at this thing myself."
"So, what do we do?"
"How about we draw cards? High card goes first?"
Cold thought for a second. "Alright. Do you have a deck?"
"In the glove compartment."
Captain Cold reached forward and opened it, pulling out a sealed pack of cards. He slit it open and pulled out the deck, shuffling it. Then he passed the cards back to Captain Boomerang. "Hold them out for us, would you, Digger?"
"Len, myte, ya never cease to amaze me." Boomerang held out the cards in a fan, like a magician, and both of the other two rogues turned around to draw one.
"Jack of clubs," Cold said.
"Tough luck. I have the queen of hearts."
The hooded man's face resumed its customary frown. "You cheated me, didn't you, Jim?"
"Me? You opened the deck and shuffled it. I never even touched it."
Cold's hard gaze bore into the innocent expression on the Trickster's face for a long silent moment. Finally, he gave a harsh dry laugh. "You did cheat me. But I have to respect the talent. Fine, go first. So, what's your plan?"
The con man grinned. "Wait'll you hear this..."
"So, whatcher tellin' me is that this thing we're supposed t'kill follows a pattern," Boomerang said.
"That's what it says here," Cold answered. "It follows the roads. And it's predictable."
"Which means we can have it right where we want it," Trickster continued. "It's almost too easy."
"But why? I mean, it ain't human. It's a mite unusual for somethin' like that to follow roads, innit?"
Cold shrugged. "That's what the information we have says."
"Besides," Trickster said, "it's not like it would have much choice around here."
The Australian shuddered. "Don't remind me. I just wish ol' Flashie had been as predictable."
The path the map described had eventually led them to a road that ran up the side of one of the mountains. On their left was a sheer cliff face leading up hundreds of feet. On their right was a sheer drop of hundreds of feet onto the ground below. But somehow, a section of paved road had been build onto the narrow plateau that divided those two near-vertical walls of rock.
They had stopped the car just around a sharp curve in the road, where it would be hidden from the oncoming quarry by the mountain itself. The Trickster had opened the trunk to reveal that he had filled it with various pieces of equipment in advance.
Carefully, he unloaded the various items, and carried them one by one around the bend.
"You just happen to have this stuff lying around, Jim?" Cold asked.
"Always be prepared. When I first heard about the job, I did some preliminary research, and this seemed like it might come in handy." What he was doing was closing off the road. He had already set out barriers of the sort used to ward off construction and a "Road Closed" sign next to them, and now was removing another sign, this one saying "Danger: Falling Rocks" and bearing an appropriate illustration. "I'll have to put this a few hundred yards off."
"Why bother, myte?"
"How often do rocks fall onto the road right where there's a danger sign? It's not believable."
"You really think it's going to care?" Cold asked.
"One thing you learn in the con game: people are dumb about big things, but they can be surprisingly smart about the details."
"Whatever you say. You're the one who has to carry it."
The two Captains waited for their companion to return, both trying not to look toward the drop less than a dozen feet away. "Ya'd think they'd at least put a bleedin' guardrail up," Boomerang muttered.
When the Trickster returned, he began picking up the small pieces of rock that had accumulated on the side of the road that was the base of a cliff. He arranged these over the pavement, surveying his handiwork carefully before he chose where to position each one. "In order to fight a speedster without possessing the ability to negate that speed directly, it is necessary to do one of two things: have him move where you want him to or get him to slow down."
"Or ya could be like Kadabra and turn the bloke into a giant livin' puppet?" Boomerang asked. He broke into a fit of laughter, and the Trickster joined in after a moment. Even Cold chuckled.
"As I was saying," the con man continued when the hilarity had died down, "either way, it's a matter of controlling the speedster somehow. Now, if you're Grodd, you can try to control the foe's mind directly. Obviously, that's not an option for us. So, we have to manipulate the speedster into choosing to go where we want or slow down."
"Or just go the direct route and crack his skull open," Cold interrupted. "What's the point of this lecture?"
"The point, Len, is precisely that we can't just attack while the opponent moves faster than we can think. After all those years fighting Barry, you know that as well as I do."
"Yeah, yeah. But that's why I came up with this beauty." Cold pulled out his gun. "It does the job, even against the Flash himself."
"Point taken. Very well, then. For those of us who lack your weapon, other means are necessary. And this, gentlemen, is mine." With a flourish, the Trickster gestured toward the road he'd littered with rocks.
"Pebbles, myte? I mean, those marbles y'had once, they was able to trip up ol' Flashie, but I think this might not be enough."
"No, no. See that?" Trickster pointed to the barrier.
"Oh yes," Cold said. "That'll stop a speedster for sure. Frankly, I think you're slipping. Maybe it's time to let that new kid take over as Trickster."
"You never did appreciate a good con, Len. What this is is an authentic recreation of a section of road closed because of a rockslide, mostly hidden just out of sight by that bend in the road-"
"Where we parked the car?"
"Yes. But to someone who doesn't know that, where the road is completely blocked by fallen boulders. So, they rush up, see that they can't keep going, stop-"
"And wham!" Cold cut in. He gave a slight nod. "Now I get it, Jim. But how are you going to kill it?"
"Wait here." The Trickster once again left the other two Rogues alone, but this time he headed around the corner to where they had left the car. When he returned, he was dressed as a road worker. "I'll be standing right behind the barrier, telling anyone who comes along that they have to turn back. That should let me get close enough to unleash this!" And from out of his sleeve popped something that looked like a butterfly net. "I'm still wearing my costume under this, with all my gadgets." He stuffed the net back into its hiding place.
"You're taking it in alive?" Cold sneered. "You've gone soft, Jim."
"Well, I am reformed now."
"Hey, how much time do we have before this thing shows up?" Boomerang asked.
Cold checked his watch. "About three minutes."
"Okay," Trickster said. "You two wait by the car and try to keep quiet."
As soon as he was alone, the con man tried to get in character. He would have been here for hours, so he'd be bored. He shouldn't be looking down the road like he was expecting traffic. He should lean against the cliff-face, look out at the view.
It really was spectacular. It was largely lifeless, lacking either vegetation or civilization, but it was barren on such a grand scale that it was almost majestic. All he could see was an endless orange vista, like perhaps Mars would look.
The fact that his view derived from elevation didn't bother him. As a child, he had suffered from a fear of heights, a definite problem for a child being forced to enter the family business of tightrope walker. So, out of childlike innocence combined with genius intellect, he had created the solution to his problem by inventing shoes that let him walk on air. Ever since, he had worn them constantly, and no longer feared heights.
Even now, he had them on beneath the black work boots of his disguise. It was uncomfortable, but he wouldn't have risked being this high up without them on for a billion dollars, let alone a measly million.
There was a rush of air, and he suddenly knew that his quarry had pulled up to the barrier he had erected.
"I'm sorry, but we've had to close the road due to a rockslide," he said, standing straight and turning to look at the being he had been offered a million dollars to capture, dead or alive.
The creature was vaguely avian, but like no bird he'd ever seen before. It was as tall as he was, though most of that was from the legs and neck. The thing was purple, a bright purple that no animal had any right to be. Looking at its face, at those huge eyes, the Trickster realized that this monstrosity was intelligent, but in a way that might be alien to a human mind.
It was standing about four feet from him, more or less halfway between his position and the edge.
"So, uh, you can't, uh, can't go this way," the Trickster continued in a stammer. He mentally chastised himself for the lack of calm he was showing. But would a real road worker, faced with this demon, have been any less unnerved?
More to the point, did it understand English? The information they'd been given said it would, but now he wasn't so certain.
And if it chose to attack, he had no idea what would happen. Desperately, he reminded himself that it was supposed to be unaggressive.
The Trickster called upon his years of training in high stakes swindles and finally found the inner calm that had served him so well. When he spoke again, his voice was level. "I'm afraid you'll have to turn back."
The thing nodded at him, then gave a chirping war cry twice. It turned around-
And the Trickster leapt for it, net popping into his hand-
The prey took off, an oddly circular dust cloud left in its wake-
The Trickster kept going, through the cloud, his momentum taking him right over the edge!
He staggered for a few steps more, walking out over the sheer drop, before finally coming to a stop. Below him was nothing but hundreds of feet of air.
"Damn," he said. He shook his head. "I thought I had it." He turned around, so that he once again faced the plateau upon which the road had been built, and took a step back toward solid ground.
That was when he heard the crackling sound.
It seemed to be coming from where his feet were.
A sudden thought passed through the Trickster's mind. It was of Captain Boomerang spitting beer onto his shoes at the Cheap Dri. If somehow that had gotten into his footwear's circuitry...
The crackling was getting louder, and now he could smell something burning.
Irrationally, he fought the urge to look down as he took another step, as if not acknowledging the problem might make it go away. But when he put his foot "down" only to find his balance uncertain, he had to know.
He looked down at his feet, and had just enough time to see the electrical sparks that were penetrating even the thick boots that covered his air-walker shoes.
Then they gave out entirely, and he fell screaming to the ground below.
"Tough break for Jim, innit, myte? Sixteen broken bones, the doc said."
"He was lucky," Cold replied without particular sympathy. "His shoes must have partially kicked back in at the last second to break his fall. Otherwise, he'd be dead."
"I suppose yer right."
It had been twenty-four hours since the first attempt to fulfill their contract. They were deeper into the mountainous terrain now, in a narrow valley that was marked as part of the route the prey would be following that day. On either side of them rose up cliffs of the same sheer orange rock that dominated this area.
It was just the pair of Captains now, Cold behind the wheel and Boomerang in the passenger seat next to him.
"Anyway, the best get-well card I can think of is that thing's head." There was genuine anger in Cold's voice.
"So, ya do care, myte. Ya can't hide the truth from ol' Digger."
The hooded man turned to face his companion, but he kept an eye on the road. His weathered face was completely unreadable, even to his old friend. "I want it dead. I don't want it getting around that the Flash Rogues Gallery can be messed with. Some of us care about our reputations, while the rest give the bunch of us bad names."
"Ya wound me, Len."
"Don't tempt me."
Boomerang waited a long moment before replying, staring at Cold. Finally, his face broke into an uneasy grin. "Ya almost had me there. But you'd never hurt a mate, wouldya?"
There was another long moment of silence. Then, to the Australian's visible surprise, Cold looked away. "You're right." His voice was so quiet it was almost a whisper. "Seeing Jim like that, it reminds me of my sister. They say only the good die young, don't they? So how come us rogues keep being the ones to buy it?"
"Din't keep us down, did it?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but I didn't enjoy the experience, and I'm not anxious to repeat it. It was... hot." Cold literally spat the word, his saliva flying outside the confines of the open convertible. He looked back at Boomerang as he continued. "This job wasn't supposed to go like this. It was supposed to be a quick and easy hit to make some cash and have a bit of fun doing it. I'm on edge, Dig."
As far as Boomerang knew, that was as close to an apology as Cold had ever come.
"Cheer up. Jim'll be fine."
"Right. So enough of this touchy-feely crap. Let's get back to doing what we do best; let's put that thing on ice."
"Well, it's yer turn, Len. Whatcher gonner do?"
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to flatten that horror like a pancake, Digger."
"See, Jim's problem is that to him, everything is a con game. That's what I was trying to tell him. Sure, tricking people's part of being a rogue. But it's also about breaking them in two. And that's what this situation calls for. None of these head games. Just some good old fashioned pain."
"Ya enjoy this, dont'cher, Len?"
"You're not getting squeamish, are you?"
"Me? Perish the thought, myte."
There was a bend coming up in the valley. It wasn't a sharp right-angle turn, but the road suddenly veered to the left about thirty degrees away from the direction it had been going. "Perfect," Cold said. He stopped the car a bit after the turn, and got out.
"What's this yer up to?" Boomerang jumped out and followed his friend back the way they had come.
"Watch and learn." Cold proceeded to aim the gun at the road. The beam that emerged was very faint, not the flash of light that had illuminated the Cheap Dri, and it was constant. Slowly, Cold moved his aim back and forth over the road.
"I don't see anythin' happenin'."
"You're not supposed to. I'm covering the road with an incredibly thin layer of ice. It's invisible to the naked eye. And it's very very slippery. When that thing comes barreling along here, it'll skid and won't make the turn. Instead, it'll hit that wall going at- oh, I think that looked like a thousand miles per hour or so it was going, didn't it?"
"Ya think hittin' the wall is gonner stop it?"
"No, but I'm hoping it'll hurt like Hell," Cold sneered. "That's just half of what I've got in store. Now we have to find a way up there."
Boomerang craned his neck. "Ya really want t'go up there after what happened t'Jim?"
Cold shook his head. "You always were a bit of a coward, Dig."
"I prefer t'think of meself as a survivor."
"Come on. Unless you prefer to wait here." Cold was already heading back toward the car.
With a shake of his head, the other rogue followed.
It took them a few hours to find a road that led them to near where they wanted to be, and the journey had to be finished on foot. Boomerang complained a few times, until Cold gave him a warning that the Australian felt it would be wise to take to heart if he didn't want to end up frozen solid.
"Ah, here we are," Cold said, looking down over the edge of the cliff at the valley below. Directly beneath him was the bend in the road where he had created the layer of invisible ice.
"This is as close as I'm goin' t'get t'that drop, if ya don't mind." Boomerang was at least thirty feet away from the edge.
"Suit yourself. Now, let's see." Again, Cold whipped out his gun, but this time the results were quite visible. A giant pile of snow topped by an eight foot tall boulder made of solid ice was created right at the edge of the cliff. The construction was obviously quite precarious.
"If I've got this figured right, when that monster hits the ice, it'll slide into the wall right beneath this, and the shock wave should be enough to send this stuff crashing down on top of it while it's still too dazed from the collision to take off. All that will be left for us will be collecting all the mashed pieces of its corpse."
"Yer a nasty one, Len. Must be why we're mates."
"I think we've got a few hours left, don't we?"
"What do you want to do?"
"There's a pack o' cards still in the car. Care fer a game?"
The two rogues fetched the deck, and as they began playing poker, they caught up on recent events and remembered old ones. Time passed.
Finally, Cold stood up from where he had taken a seat. He walked over to the edge of the cliff, a few dozen feet down from where he had set up his avalanche. "Any minute now," he said.
"I'll just stay back here, if it's all the same to ya."
Cold didn't bother replying. His eyes scanned the valley below. The glasses he wore limited his field of vision, so he had to move his entire head to get a full view.
In the distance, a dust cloud was visible, moving towards the trap at incredible speed.
Within seconds, it had arrived at the bend in the road-
And gone right by it, unharmed.
"How the Hell-" Cold spat.
"It didn't work. Let's get moving, Digger. I need to see what went wrong."
It was almost dark by the time they had made their way back to the car and driven down to the valley. "I'm glad the sun's settin'; I've had enough of this bleedin' heat," Boomerang said.
Cold turned to face his companion. "At night, the temperature in deserts can get cold enough to freeze a man." He gave an uncharacteristic wide grin, which gave his hardened features a disconcerting resemblance to a corpse.
"Y'don't say? If it's not one thing, it's the other, innit? I wish we'd brought Mark along. Strewth, y'never have t'worry about the weather when he's on yer side. I remember one time we was pullin' a job in Coast City-"
"Why is it whenever we rogues get together," Cold interrupted, "we spend half our time talking about whoever didn't show up and the other half remembering the old days?"
"'Cause we're sentimental blokes at heart. Look at Jimmy. He calls us in to help him and what's he decide to wear? The costume he used back when we was all fightin' with ol' Flashie in Central. And yer as bad as any of us beneath that gruff exterior. Jim calls us up to take part in this little reunion, and you come along even with no cash up front. Admit it, myte."
The hooded man grunted. "Don't expect a hug."
They had finally arrived at the bend in the road. Cold stopped the car and hopped out, then walked the final stretch to where he had covered the ground with ice.
"Damnation!" he swore.
"So, what happened?"
"The thing moved so fast, the friction from its feet burned right through the ice as if it wasn't even there! How could I have been so stupid?" Angrily, he lashed out at the cliff beside him, punching it with all his might. He hit it so hard that his fist actually hurt.
"Hey, Digger, do you hear that?"
"Hear what, myte?"
"It sounds like rumbling. And- is it getting darker?" Len looked down at the ground, to see himself standing in shadow. A shadow that was rapidly getting bigger.
His head snapped up. "Oh, fu-"
The ice boulder exploded upon impact with the ground (and incidentally Captain Cold), sending a flurry of tiny ice particles through the air like snow. The contrast with the orange rock was actually quite beautiful.
"This is like bein' back on the bleedin' Squad," Captain Boomerang muttered to himself. "Len and Jim both in the hospital... Well, Digger, time fer ya to show yer stuff. If I collect that million dollars, me mates can use their shares for their medical bills."
He had parked the convertible just off the side of the road. This was beyond the mountain range, back out in the endless plains. After seeing his comrades' fates in the less level area that the target roamed, Boomerang had decided he'd rather not deal with anything but flat ground. Nowhere to fall, nothing to fall onto him.
"They're me mates and all," he continued, "but sometimes they act like real drongos. Len's big trap was as daft as Jim's con games. Ya want to kill somethin', the best way is the direct way."
He reached over and picked up the boomerang lying on the passenger seat. "Ya get a weapon and ya throw it at yer target. Simple as that."
Boomerang emerged from the vehicle and walked over to stand just off the pavement, staring down the road to where it met the horizon. After a second, he turned his head to look at the thing in his hands.
"Now, yer just the thing t'do the job. A jet-propelled high-explosive boomerang. A thing o' beauty, specially crafted by yers truly. Ya don't get somethin' like this out of a mail order catalogue, that's fer sure."
He smiled as he heard the sound of his prey approaching from behind him. "Showtime."
In the blink of an eye it had gone past the man, rocketing off into the distance.
Without hesitation, Boomerang hurled his weapon after it, watching as the jets kicked in and sent it racing after the monster that had caused two of his friends to end up in the hospital.
They were both out of visual range within seconds. The rogue went back to the car and took out a pair of binoculars to watch the chase.
The boomerang was faster than the quarry, but only just, so it was taking a while to narrow the gap. Still, he could see it get closer to the beast, closer, closer...
Now it seemed to be holding a constant distance.
"That's odd," he muttered.
The creature had begun to widen its lead again, but it hadn't accelerated. Instead, it seemed his projectile had actually slowed down. More than that, it almost seemed to be coming back toward him.
Yes, it was definitely headed back at him. And it was picking up speed.
"Oh right," he just had time to say. "It's a bleedin' boomerang, innit?"
The Cheap Dri was exactly as it had been the last time the three had visited it. The actual identity of the clients might have varied, but they had the same air of merciless cutthroats as the bar's patrons always did.
But despite the casts on both of the Trickster's arms, Captain Boomerang's crutches, or Captain Cold's neck brace, not one of the lowlifes who turned to watch them enter gave them a hard time. Perhaps news of Cold's actions the last time the trio had stopped by the bar had gotten around.
Or perhaps there was just something on the faces of the three that said that they really weren't in the mood to be messed with.
Their client was at the same table he had been on the previous occasion. This time the rogues didn't wait to sit down; they each grabbed one of the empty chairs immediately.
When none of the three humans spoke for a minute, the shadowed figure pulled out one of its wooden signs. "IS IT DONE?"
"No." It was the Trickster who answered.
"THEN WHY ARE YOU HERE?"
"We thought we'd like a word with you," Cold said very softly. "You see, you set us up. Sent us against that thing without warning us what it could do. And we don't like being set up. We don't like it at all."
"YOU ASSURED ME YOU COULD DO THE JOB."
"We did our best, believe me," the Trickster said. "We tried elaborate ruses-"
"- Deadly traps-" Cold continued.
"- And specially crafted gadgets. An' nothin' worked," Boomerang finished.
There was just enough light to see the figure blink its large eyes. "I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU THAT WOULDN'T WORK."
"Well, why din'tcher?"
"YOU'RE SUPERVILLAINS. I THOUGHT YOU DID THINGS DIFFERENTLY THAN I DID."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Cold asked.
"Maybe it's time you played straight with us. I know a con when I see one, and you played us," the Trickster said.
"And we don't like being played," Cold hissed, pulling out his gun.
"Thank you, Len, I think he's gotten the idea."
"I REGRET THE DIFFICULTIES YOU HAVE ENDURED."
"Too right ya do, because now we're goin' to cause you some 'difficulties'," Boomerang said. "I don't mind a suicide mission. I been on more than a few in me day. But I like to know what I'm goin' up against. Ya din't tell us what that thing's capable of!"
"WHAT SPECIFIC ABILITIES DID I NOT MENTION?"
"Well, uh, that is, I, uh... That's not the bleedin' point!"
"We want our money." Cold's gun was aimed right between the shadowed figure's eyes.
"THE BIRD STILL LIVES. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO NOTHING."
"We're entitled to compensation for what we went through trying to kill that thing. This is your fault, you goddam- whatever the Hell you are."
"I DEALT FAIRLY WITH YOU. YOUR FAILURE IS YOUR OWN PROBLEM."
Captain Cold fired the gun. For a second, the room was filled with light. When it cleared, the figure across the table was encased in a block of ice.
"Aw, Len..." the Trickster moaned. "Wait, Digger, don't-"
But the Australian wasn't paying any attention. "Ya stupid grongo." With that, he hurled one of his trademark boomerangs at the rigid figure.
The weapon shattered it into millions of slivers of ice, sending shards of frozen carcass all over the place.
The three rogues turned away to shield themselves from the sub-zero shrapnel that had been their would-be employer. Bits of ice and fur and flesh and bone pelted their backs.
A few of the Cheap Dri's other customers turned to see what the fuss was about, but decided once again that it wasn't their business.
And yet, somehow, when the rogues turned back to see what remained of the mysterious silent figure, they were all astonished to see that he (or it) was apparently unharmed.
"THAT WAS UNPLEASANT."
Boomerang found his voice first. "What the...?"
"I CANNOT DIE. BUT I CAN BE HURT. DON'T TRY THAT AGAIN. UNLESS YOU WANT TO DEAL WITH ME. DO YOU?"
"Guys," the Trickster said. "It just occurred to me that we've been gotten the better of and there's nothing we can do. It pains me to say it, but I think we should cut our losses and go."
"Y-yeah," Captain Cold stammered.
"That's just what I was thinkin'," Captain Boomerang agreed.
Slowly, the three rogues got up from the table. They kept their eyes on the enigmatic figure until they were halfway to the exit, but by then they couldn't make anything out at all through the shadows.
"Y'know what really gets me narked, though?" Boomerang said as they approached the door. "We went through all o' that, got no money, and din't even get to kill a bleedin' thing."
"Then maybe I can oblige you gentlemen, if you will aid me," called a bald man sitting at the bar. "Tell me, would you be willing to help me kill a most annoying wabbit?"
Fiction editor Nicolas Juzda
is currently studying law in Saskatchewan. He fills the void that was left in
his soul by contributing to Fanzing. He has twice been among the winners in
the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by Nicolas Juzda
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
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